A Rock and a Hard Place

Recently a writer tweeted a comment in reaction to a female politician’s actions.

Women on Twitter correctly pointed out that in their experiences, as actual women, that particular advice

1. Wrongly shifts the burden onto women
2. Doesn’t do fuck all
3. Often has the opposite effect
4. Could be downright dangerous

Instead of actively listening to thousands of women who were contradicting his (likely well-meaning) advice with their real life experiences, he doubled down, effectively proving #3 above.

I guess women asserting themselves more forcefully only works if it’s not back at him.¹

I don’t think this writer’s advice was overtly malignant or malicious. More than likely it was poorly thought out, badly expressed or even just hasty. Or perhaps he really does hold the naive view that saying “No” more assertively is going to change the world. Heck, we all express ourselves badly on occasion. We all hold views that could be more nuanced, can all learn things from listening to those who are more experienced at living through a certain filter.

In this case there were literally thousands of women responding that in their experience–again, I can’t stress this enough, as actual women–his advice didn’t hold water.

Why?

Welcome to life between a rock and a hard place.

A woman exists in this space, caught between a rock and a hard place–whenever she must trust her own instincts (and the communal instincts passed down from woman to woman, girl to girl, generation to generation) in order to survive a given situation. Most  times it’s not life threatening–being talked over, interrupted, having your ideas stolen without credit. Being leered at, touched without consent, told to smile.

But sometimes there’s more at stake than your ego or a publication credit.

It’s quaint to think a loudly shouted “I said NO!” is enough to stop a rape or sexual assault. It’s just not true. What is true is sometimes a woman’s best chance of survival lay in another direction entirely. Yet if she doesn’t say no, the law, the courts, society (men AND women) assume consent.²

Death or rape?
Survival or assault?
Raped more violently or believed in court?

Rock and a hard place.

Even when a woman does say “no”, if it’s not loud enough, repeated enough, in the right pitch, tone, and key–we can come up with 1000 different requirements–it’s not enough. Why? Because even when a woman says “no”, all it takes is her rapist to contradict her. Report it and risk having her actions, dress, sexuality, alcohol consumption, and life choices questioned and judged, likely for naught…or try to move on with her life knowing her rapist got away with it. Rock and a hard place.

A woman who is sexually harassed at work must decide whether to speak out and possibly risk her career, a promotion, her professional reputation. She has to decide if reporting her grope-y boss to HR is worth that risk. If your employer is the US military, the ante just got upped.  Rock: ass-grabbing, leering boss. Hard place: a bad reference which could kill her job prospects.

A woman in a domestic violence situation must calculate the likelihood of her abusive partner following through with his threat to kill her, her extended family, or her children. She may have to decide between the rock of financial destitution or the hard place of a fist to the face every other Thursday.

A woman who is cat-called on the street weighs the risk of answering back. A woman told to smile more must decide. The rock of humiliation and anger? Or the the hard place of the real possibility of being followed, stalked, or physically threatened?

Women are killed for less.

Women know, instinctively and through experience, that saying “stop” or “no” more loudly, indeed saying anything at all, is sometimes dangerous–economically, physically, socially. When it is, she is forced to choose the least worst option.

When the least worst option is the humiliation of having to put up with a grope-y boss or some mouthy teenage boys calling you hot mama, you do those calculations in your head lickety-split.

It doesn’t mean you like it. Or invited it. It doesn’t make it okay. It doesn’t make it right. 

And yet time and time again, a woman’s choice between two shitty options is used against her. She must have liked it. If it really bothered her she would have said something. If it was true she would have come forward. I see well-intentioned comments to that end all the time .

If it were me I would have….

punched him
screamed
walked away
fought harder
divorced him
stood up for myself

Life is black and white to those who haven’t walked in someone else’s heels.

Contrary to the stereotype, women are great at math. Let me tell you about the mental calculations most women do at various points in their life. The ones involved in calculating the odds of walking home alone at night and making it home safe, alive, and un-raped. The odds of being free to continue walking if you snap back at someone cat-calling, dividing the salary you might lose if you report your co-worker by the rent that’s due. Women grow up tabulating these odds in the back of their heads. It’s second nature. When faced with these situations, you choose. And that choice is sometimes between a rock and a hard place.

This is what the women on Twitter and in feminist spaces are reaching out to say. Equality, even within laws that protect against things like assault and harassment–is far more complicated than simply saying no, or leaving, reporting.

If all it took was women saying “no” more firmly the world would be a different place. And a hell of a lot louder.

It is not fair to put the burden of survival, of a life unmolested solely onto women. Yes, women should and must be vocal, assertive, and aggressive at times. But men must also learn to listen. The burden is never on a woman not to get raped. The burden is on a man not to rape. The burden is not on a woman to say “No!” more loudly, to come forward more quickly, or to speak up. The burden is on the men who are doing those things to stop doing them in the first place. ³

What you are seeing now-the clap back, the outrage–it’s not a small coven of women intent on making the lives of men miserable. Women don’t hate men. On the contrary, most of us love them. We’re married to them, raising them, friends with them.

The sound you hear now is women chipping away at those rocks, pushing back against those hard places, securing even more public space for themselves. It’s women trying to forge a broader space to live, love, and work within so that they are not caught between those two shitty places. Rock. Hard place.

It doesn’t mean there’s no room for men. It just means that men must get better at sharing that space.

 

¹ Outrage Twitter may as well have been ‘hysterical’, ‘shrill’, ‘uppity’, ‘angry’ or any of the myriad of words used against women who are outside their ‘space’.

² Consent: It’s a Simple as Tea is an excellent way to teach consent to children and teens.

³Increasingly we are recognizing that men are victims of rape too. This is not meant to belittle the trauma of male victims, or to excuse female rapists, solely that it was an authorial decision to focus on male upon female rape/assault in this article.

Let Her Speak: Why Hillary Clinton is More Relevant Than Ever

Regardless of whether you love Hillary Clinton or hate her, the truth is this:

Hillary Clinton has been the standard-bearer of women working the US legal and political system for nearly 40 years. And for nearly 40 years, people have been telling her to sit down and shut up.

While I was trying to write about this without resorting to copious usage of the word f*ck, I came across a FB post about another woman. A woman who, outraged at listening to a male moderator explain scientific theory over the top of the expert who actually held those theories, stood up and demanded he let her speak.

Let her speak.

The FB post resounded with many women, perhaps the same way the continued vilification of Hillary Clinton resounds with me.

It resounds because it’s familiar. It’s a familiarity that starts as a tingle in the back of your throat, a nudge from some deeply rooted memory. And as that seedling of familiarity grows, it becomes something else. Sadness. Anger. Despair. Frustration. Because while not every single woman in the history of womankind recognizes the humiliation implicit in being told to sit down and shut up, a lot of us do.

It happens in ways that are obvious, and in ways that are not so obvious. Blatantly condescending and subtly patronizing. So subtle at times you doubt your own senses.

Did that just happen?

Did that person just imply what I think they did?

We ask other women, am I imagining things here?

And the answer is no, we’re not imagining it, and yes, they said what you thought they said.

Despite the constantly repeated narrative to the contrary, Hillary Clinton is a hero to many women. No, not all women. And yes, plenty of men. But let’s be clear, there are millions of women who still support her. And just like during the primaries and the election season, when the press didn’t bother to seek out comments from those with full-throttle support of Hillary Clinton the candidate, right now they’re not seeking out comment from those who most assuredly do not want to see Hillary Clinton sit down or shut up.

Once again, the voice of millions of Hillary Clinton supporters are being drowned out by those who are talking over us.

Let us speak.

Here is what I have to say: Hillary Clinton’s dogged determination to stay relevant, to stay in the public eye, in the face of her loss, is more important than ever.

Why?

Because Clinton is a lighting rod. Donning a cloak of super-human resilience, she has managed to stay upright in her crisp, white pantsuit. She refuses to back down, to go away, and, to the consternation of the mostly male journalists who seem to write about it, to accept sole personal responsibility for whatever they feel needs accepting.

Love her or hate her, she is a woman of historic achievement and historical proportions. A woman who received more votes for president than any white male candidate EVER. Who received 3 million more votes than her opponent. As the first female nominee on a major party ticket she navigated uncharted waters because there was no course for her to follow. She IS the course. She battled racism, sexism, fake news, rumor and smear, and a disinformation campaign waged by a hostile foreign nation. And despite all of that, she lost by a margin of 70,000 votes spread over three states.

Even when she does apologize, it’s not good enough. Newsflash: in terms of Hillary Clinton, it’s never going to be good enough. The woman could die and they’d accuse her of not dying fast or well enough.

So, what does a woman have to do to be good enough? As the viral FB post illustrates, it’s not enough to be an expert in your field. It’s not enough to be overly qualified. It’s not enough to have proved yourself, time and time and time and time and time again, to wait your turn, to be the best person for the job, to be the smartest or the strongest or the most resilient.

It’s never enough.

So no, I will not stay silent when you tell this badass woman to sit down and shut up. Hillary Clinton, and Hillary Clinton alone is solely responsible for the surge in women running for elected positions. Her loss is responsible for the clarion call that went out on the morning of November 9th to women everywhere. No, not all women. And yes, men too. But let me tell you something: This is my playground, and I have never seen a mobilization of women like I am seeing now. There is a storm gathering force, the likes of which I haven’t seen in my lifetime. And Hillary Clinton is responsible for that.

This kick ass woman who has been forging a path as a political woman in the public eye for decades, and has been doing it almost all on her own. She has absorbed body blows that would have felled lesser politicians. At times, she has been felled. And she has picked her pant-suited ass up off the ground and stood up to face the next punch. And here’s the thing–by her continually doing that–still–she allows the next group of women to follow in her wake. Hillary Clinton created the goddamn wake.

She keeps taking the punches for the rest of us. I don’t know how she does it, but in the same breath, it’s not surprising. Women are resilient. They’re crafty when they need to be crafty. They compromise when they need to. Because that is how women have survived people trying to kill them for centuries.

Death in the political sphere is metaphorical. But it’s a killing all the same.

We love failed women. We love when a woman asks us for forgiveness, because it means the power balance is restored. But Hillary Clinton is not asking for forgiveness. And that infuriates some, on both the right and the left.

Not only did this uppity bitch think she could be president, but now she won’t even ask for forgiveness? Who the hell does she think she is?

She is goddamn Hillary Clinton, that’s who. Bad-ass-iest badass on the scene. She is zero fucks left to give Hillary. And to the consternation of some, there are millions of us who are still with her.

Scroll through the comments section on any article demanding she go away. Look at all the comments–no, not all women, and yes, some men–who don’t want Hillary Clinton to go anywhere. Who are still interested in what she has to say.

And no one is asking us anything.

They’re telling us, once again, they know better.

Ah…there’s the familiar sense of being told, in a condescending way, we don’t know what’s best for ourselves. That we must somehow be misguided, fooled, wrong, mistaken.

You’re not imagining it.

Let her speak.

 

 

 

 

To the Thirteen White Male Senators Deciding the Fate of My Health Care

We have no interest in playing the games of identity politics. To reduce this to gender, race or geography misses the more important point of the diverse segments of the conference the group represents on policy — from members who support Medicaid expansion, to those opposed to it, to those who have called for long-term full repeal.”

Dear Senators,

All due respect, but I believe it’s you who are missing the important point. You cannot reduce to gender or race–but you can expand to them.

You presume, you thirteen white men, to make decisions and policies which will affect all of us, from sea to shining sea. You assume we will trust you, because until recently, we’ve had no choice but to trust you. But I don’t. I don’t trust you. You don’t represent me. I don’t mean party politics, Republican or Democrat. I mean you have never experienced the need for female driven policy, or policy that focuses on race, or centers issues unique to the LGBTQ community. Because you are none of those things.

Female driven policy is different. Race driven policy is different. LGBTQ driven policy is different. And that is a good thing. It brings diversity to the table. It’s Thai on Monday and sushi on Thursday instead of meatloaf every, single night. It means the needs of others, needs that are different from your own, are brought to the forefront. It is taking and shaping the experiences of those identities and using them, smartly, to craft broader policy.

Senator McConnell, have you ever found yourself unexpectedly pregnant, halfway through high school, unable to afford to raise a child? Have you, Senator Hatch ever been the victim of a rape? How about you, Senator Cruz? Have you ever been refused medication because a nurse perceived you to be exaggerating your pain levels simply because you’re black?

No?

Senator Alexander, have you ever had to use a breast pump at work?  Have you ever needed to limp into work with stitches holding your cervix together, Senator Thune? Senator Lee, have you left your six-week old infant at daycare while your breasts leaked with milk, because you were afraid to lose your job? How about you, Senator Enzi? Ever walk into work, bleeding due to a miscarriage, unable to take time off from work?

No?

Senator Cotton, have you ever looked at the maternal death rates for black women and worried, will that me? Senator Cornyn, have you read the infant mortality rates for black infants and worried if the child you were carrying inside you would die?

No?

How can you, thirteen white men, craft a comprehensive health care plan which must include women and people of color and LGBTQ without including them in your debate and decision-making process?

It is presumptuous and condescending and dangerous. And yet it is par for the course.

There is no identity politics. There is America. There is diversity. There is us. We are those identities, and those identities define our politics in the sense that they must be given a voice in any policy that is going to last.

You ask us to trust you, yet you routinely and rather spectacularly at times fail to earn that trust. You fail not necessarily because you are trying to punish or withhold, though certainly that is sometimes true, but often because you just don’t know any better. Why would family leave and maternity coverage and reproductive rights be at the top of your list? Why would funding to find out why black mothers die at a higher rate, and black babies die more frequently be important to you? After all, those policies, those politics, aren’t part of your identity.

But they’re part of ours.

Anyone who doesn’t fit into the narrow confine of those that will sit around your table has the word identity attached to them. Card-carrying members. Race, gender, sex. When we try to point out the ludicrousness of trying to craft policy without the representation of those groups, we are accused of playing a card. As if we were cheating at poker instead of trying to save our own lives.

We’re demanding a seat at the table. Because, to paraphrase Cecile Richards, if we do not have a seat at the table, we are on the menu.

When your surrogates claim women are using Medicaid funds for abortions to ‘travel’, or that women who want abortions can go to the zoo, you fail. You fail when you admit you don’t know why women seek abortions. You fail when you don’t demand mandatory maternity coverage. You fail when you don’t craft humane family leave policy. You fail when you don’t ensure that victims of domestic and sexual abuse will be given health care. You fail when you don’t take into account the way Americans of color and Americans in rural areas are underserved by hospitals and doctors. You fail and you fail.

But your biggest failure is insisting that you have the ability and experience to make decisions for all of us, without our input.

You fail because you are thirteen white heterosexual men…only. And you always have been. The number has changed, but the homogeny has not.

Imagine if this committee was made up of thirteen black women. Or thirteen gay men. Imagine if it were made up of thirteen members that did not include a white, hetero, cisgendered, Christian male. Would you feel like your needs were being met? The issues important to you given consideration? Yet that is what you continually ask us all to do, time and time again. To trust you to represent us.

So no, I do not expect you to come up with a bill that will do right by women, or by Americans of color. Or by the poor, or anyone else who must carry with them the tag of ‘identity’ with them wherever they go. Because anytime you have a group that is without diversity of thought and experience, you’re bound to fail.

You have failed us enough. Why should this time be any different?

One Day at a Time, One Woman at Time

I have a challenge for you. Every day for the next week, compliment a woman.

To be sure your wife, your best friend, your mother or daughter–they should be complimented freely and frequently, but for now, go a bit further afield. A co-worker or colleague, perhaps. Maybe the woman who gets your coffee order right every day. Hell, send a tweet to a woman in public office you admire, an artist whose work you love, an activist who inspires you. Say something nice to the small, elderly lady you see going to the shop every day by herself.

Compliment a woman every day for a week.

That’s it.

As far as challenges go, pretty simple right? I mean I’m not asking you to sell Girl Scout cookies or shove two dozen hot dogs down your throat. I’m not even asking you to give up sugar or alcohol. Easy peasy.

Ok, ok, there’s one, small catch. Your compliment can’t rely on a woman’s physical appearance or what she’s wearing.

Did that make it more difficult? After all, appearance is our go-to with women, our fail-safe.

You look nice today. Your hair looks beautiful. You look good. You’re looking well. I love the way that dress looks on you. That color looks great on you.**
Look, look, look.

Look: There are tens of millions of women who are doing hundreds of millions of admirable, compliment-worthy things each and every day. Single moms who are raising amazing kids in difficult circumstances. Women who donate their time to help others. Women who work to cure cancer. Women who teach your kids and care for your elderly mother, who do a million shitty jobs with a smile. Girls who are acing AP chemistry exams and breaking sports records. How often do we actually see these women, the ones who aren’t our wives or daughters or friends? And, when we do see them, how often do we see beyond the shade of their hair or the clothes they’re wearing?

How often do we tell them that we see them, see what they’re doing?

**************

If the patriarchy was set up by men, the mechanisms which keep it running are lubricated by women. And most of the time we aren’t even aware we’re dutifully oiling the cogs.

Some women like the protection and order a hierarchical structure offers them. There are plenty of women who benefit from patriarchy. Think Serena Joy in The Handmaid’s Tale, or the Aunts, clinging to whatever crumb of power over others they are allowed. As long as a human being has power over another, they are going to question dismantling the structure that allows them that power–even if it’s hurting them in other ways. Some women bristle against the idea of inequality-perhaps because they haven’t faced any situation or scenario in which they’ve felt unequal. Others bristle against it because it’s a painful thing to come up against, the idea that there is a structure in place which fundamentally views a category of people as inferior.

So we fight. Not against the power structure itself though. We fight with each other.

Frankly, women are often awful to other women. Instead of working together to form a bridge so we can move forward as a whole, we’re hurling one another off at the closest checkpoint, burning it behind us, in front of us, making sure that no one can get across.

The structure’s already there. It only needs an occasional tweak. And we’re doing most of the maintenance ourselves.

**************

A while ago I made a conscious decision to stop judging other woman on the way they look. I try not to disparage women for the choices they make. I try. It’s not always easy. There are plenty of women in the world who disagree with me, and I them. Forcefully. There are women who believe that the role of women is to be subservient, behind the scenes, best supporting role in a male society category. As much as that makes me go all funny in the head and want to stage a full-scale intervention, if my definition of sisterhood does not have room for their personal choices, then I’m really no better. We don’t have to agree. But neither one of us is ever going to get anywhere if we’re dueling it out in the middle of the bridge while other women dismantle the support struts.

I refuse to support a system which encourages me to view other women as my enemy (except for Ann Coulter. I will make an exception for Ann Coulter). I am not going to keep oiling the gears. If a system of a down is going to keep me down, I’m going to make the fuckers who are benefitting from it work to keep it running.

I’ll be damned if I’m going to do the work for them.

So I stopped. I make a conscious effort every day to support other women. I pay more attention to the way I treat other women. And I, who write about it, who is so focused on it that I miss the forest for the trees at times, I have a long way to go.

So I’m on a mission, to lift one woman at a time, one day at a time. And the easiest way to do that is to actually see other women. To look at them. To listen and support. And to let them know I see them and hear them.

That’s it.

I can’t swoop in and change the world, even though there are times I desperately want to. I can’t beat people over the head, though some times I desperately want to do that too. I can’t control what is out of my hands, but I can control how I react to the world around me. And I can control how I live my life.

And for now, I choose this.

One woman at a time. One day at a time.

I’m not saying it’s going to change the world. But it will change me. And isn’t that a good enough place to start?

 

 

 

**In Darling, You Look Marvelous, I wrote about the importance of women complimenting other women, particulary their physical attributes, as a way to get over viweing other women as competition. Viewing women as ‘other’, as competition, is simply anohter cog in the machine we’re continaully greasing up.