Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Harveys

I’m getting whiplash from the continually breaking and increasingly disturbing allegations against Harvey Weinstein. And each day more women (and men) are coming forward to tell stories of their own. Stories of harassment at the hands of the powerful.

Same old song and square dance. In case it’s been a while since you heard this one, (who was the last? O’Reilly? Cosby? Ailes?), let me remind you how the old grab your partner do-si-do goes.

Grab your partner with your left hand! Powerful man sexually assaults/abuses/harasses women. Back to the Partner for a Right and Left Grand! Women are silenced by payouts, nondisclosure agreements, threats, bribes, and the harsh reality of bringing accusations against those in power. Ace of Diamonds, Jack of Spades! Excuses are made, justifications proffered, denials scattered like seed on the wind. Women are blamed for enabling the behavior. Meet your Partner and All Promenade! More women come forward. They are routinely accused of doing it for the fame/money/press. Men complain.

The dance ends. Until the music starts up again.

You see that neat do-si-do trick there? Men abuse. Women get the blame. Oh sure, we focus on the star-quality name for a hot minute or two. We all tsk-tsk and oh, isn’t that awful, but it always–always–comes back to bite women in the ass. Because by the end of it, the media, the powerful, the ignoramuses with Twitter followers (Et tu, CNN?) still put the burden on women to speak out and put a stop to this behavior.

It’s up to women! They must report it! They must stop enabling and allowing it! They must stand up to rich and powerful men (or just regular old asshole men who sign their paltry paycheck every week). They must create a culture at work which does not allow for this! They must understand not every creepy hand on a shoulder is sexual harassment!

They, they, they! Women, women, women!

Fine. You want to put the onus on women? Do it this way:

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be Harvey Weinstein.

Or Ben Affleck. Or Casey Affleck for that matter. Or Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, Clarence Thomas or any of the thousands of nameless, faceless men across the world who feel the presence of a woman gives them carte blanche to grope, proposition, grab, belittle, demand, leer at–oh hell, use a damn thesaurus if you’re not sure what I’m trying to say here–women.

Once upon a time there was a seventeen year-old girl, working in an office for the summer. One day she had on a vintage green dress, the color of Sprite. Darted at the bust line, scoop necked, below the knee. She liked the way she looked in it. So did the man whose office she walked into. He liked the way she looked so much he backed her into a corner with his chair. He never got up, just sat, wheeling that chair from left to right so she couldn’t leave without brushing past him. There were suggestive comments about the lemon-lime dress. Most of them went over her head. Because she was seventeen.

First, she panicked. Is this real? Was she imagining this? Did she miss something? Then she planned. How would she get out of this? She could scramble across the desk but if she does her pretty, lemon-lime colored dress will ride up, exposing her underpants, her ass. Would he grab her? Would he put his grown-man hand, the one that looks like her Dad’s, on her skin? Too risky. If she told him to stop would he call other men over to laugh at his joke, laugh at her who’s not in on the joke? Too risky.

So she stood there. Because she was fucking seventeen and this man was an adult and should know better.

But he didn’t. Because–well, why didn’t he? No one taught him? Do you really need to be taught that crude sexual innuendo aimed at a seventeen year-old girl is wrong?

So she stood there. And she felt dirty. As if she’d done something wrong. As if she wasn’t getting the ‘joke’.

Do-si-do and around we go.

Let’s be clear. That seventeen year-old girl didn’t ask for a grown man to corner her in his office. What was she supposed to do? Who was she supposed to tell? In the end, she did what women have been doing for decades.

Nothing.

Seventeen year-old girls may be young, but they intuit the way the real world works. Which is why men mostly get away with it. Because no one is going to believe a seventeen year old girl over a grown man.

Just like no one wanted to believe a nineteen year-old Rose McGowan. Or maybe they did, but it was more important to protect the big, important man who held all the power.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be Harveys.

This is not rocket science. This should not be hard. It shouldn’t take having a daughter to realize that forcing women into a corner, literally and metaphorically, is wrong. That soliciting women is wrong. That asking women to perform for you, on a casting couch, in a board room, in a work shop office that smells of metal and machinery oil, is not ok.

Teach your sons it is not someone else’s daughter’s fault. Or her responsibility. Teach them the lemon-lime color of a pretty, vintage dress makes no difference. Do not make excuses and justifications for the Harveys, the Clarences, the Bills. Because every time you do-si-do around the truth, you make it easier for the next guy to get away with it.

There are a lot of Harveys out there. Weinstein is not a one-off. His is just the biggest name..today. Most of them have no damn clue what they are doing is wrong. They lash out because they feel confined by political correctness.

Sure, because it’s political correctness telling your grown-ass, should-know-better self it’s not ok to corner a seventeen year-old. Or promise an actress a career-making role if she gives you a blow job. Or to talk about porn with your law clerk, or dazzle your White House intern with your power.

This is not about ‘how it used to be’. This is not about political correctness or not being able to ‘say anything anymore’. This is about power: who holds it and who doesn’t.

There are thousands of thousands of women with stories about their own Harveys.

Don’t let your sons grow up to be Harveys. And don’t let your daughters grow up to think they’re responsible for them.

I don’t remember that asshole’s name. But I can tell you the exact hue of that Sprite colored dress. And how I never wanted to wear it again.

 

 

All quotes from 21 Harrowing Stories of Sexual Harassment

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The Weight of Being a Woman

There are days I cannot breath as a woman. The weight of my sex is so heavy within me that it’s surprising I can walk or talk. Every exhale is labored. Every inhale like breathing under water. The weight of being nothing but an ‘also ran’ is constantly with me. We are attached, me and this Siamese twin of otherness.

For me this is what it feels like to be a woman at times: the pressure in my chest blossoms into fury, and yet I know there is nowhere for that outward spray to go, and so two thousand years of history sits there in the middle of my chest. The whole thing is almost impossible to move except in the tiniest of increments so you can suck enough air to keep you alive.

It’s exhausting.

It is exhausting knowing deep down in my bone marrow no matter what I do, no matter how hard I work, how much I learn, I will always be seen as second best by people who consider themselves best for no legitimate reason other than they’ve always been told they are. I will almost always have a qualifier in front of my name, an extra “W” for Woman added. Almost everything I do will be measured from a yardstick of maledom. It is exhausting to remind myself that I should not let that dictate what I do or do not do.

I try.

The weight of being a woman is trying to dispel the suspicion that the entire world is set up not only to facilitate my failure, but to take joy in it.

The weight of being a woman is the near constant battle of internal and external. The internal does not feel any different, no better than or less than, but the world around me screams something very different. The outer world does not match my inner world. It’s a constant battle to maintain equilibrium.

It weighs on me. As a woman.

I wonder, do some think a woman arises from her bed in the morning, groggy with sleep and warmth, feeling as if she is naturally less than a man? Do some assume women wear a sense of inferiority like a second skin? Burrow into it like a rabbit warren? Do some think women simply accept a notion of less as point of fact?

The weight of being a woman is fighting that notion, with nail and claw and written word, some days with nearly every breath I struggle to take.

I am not tired of being a woman. I am tired of being a woman in this world. I am tired of arguing for legitimacy, as if the possession of ovaries instead of testicles automatically confers something I am blind, deaf, and dumb to. I am tired of having an identifier attached to my name. I am tired of being a derivative. I am tired of being half the yardstick. I am tired of explaining how the system is set up against me, against my sisters, to people whom the system benefits.

The weight of being a woman is sometimes simply the sheer exhaustion of being nice. It is exhausting feigning polite merely to survive, constantly calculating risk, managing the way I walk through life. It is exhausting not trusting there are people have your best interests at heart, that they are not simply waiting in the wings in some sort of sexist ambush. It is exhausting trying to squeeze into the idea of feminine when everything within me overflows those boundaries.

The weight of being a woman is actual weight as well of pregnancies and infants on hip, of petticoats and bustles, layer upon layer upon layer of veil to mask us from ourselves, from the world.

The weight of a woman is the exhaustion of navigating the world with a currency of sexuality in your pocket. A currency given to me before I was old enough to use it or save it or spend it. A currency which is practically worthless now that I am of a certain age. Spent now, nothing left though my pockets still feel plenty heavy to me.

The weight of being a woman is watching young girls navigate their way through this mine field, knowing exactly where the detonating points are. Warning them will have no effect. It will take years of constant subtle–and not so subtle– explosions to convince them.

I want to take them aside and tell them about this weight, this weight of being a woman, but they will dismiss me as nothing more than an old crank. Halfway to crone. Worldly womanly wisdom is not yet discernible in a wrinkled jowl or a head of white.

I’m not a kindly oldening woman offering sage advice.

I am a vortex of rage. An eddy of emotion, whipped frustration and just sheer exhaustion. Exhausted by the weight of being a woman.

The weight of a woman is trying to explain this, all of it invisible to everyone but those who carry it around with them, every day, everywhere they go.

There are days I cannot breathe as a woman.

Today is one of those days.

 

 

The Lion Queen

I spend a good deal of time watching women hack through the jungle of self-doubt with a dull, rusty machete.

Scratch that. With a pair of cuticle trimmers.

I’d like to say it’s difficult trying to figure out why so many unbelievably smart, successful, frankly kick-ass women have trouble valuing their self-worth, except it’s not, because at times I am one of those women. You see, I’m not just talking out of my increasingly expanding ass when I say that women, on the whole, have a confidence problem.

There’s a saying going around at the moment which resonates with a lot of women I know.

Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.

On the surface the statement is a flippant way of looking at the way society is set up to benefit and glorify the accomplishments of  men, (many of whom absolutely deserve the accolades). But dig a little deeper and you’ll get to the self-deprecating heart of the matter. Female confidence is a tricky tight rope to walk. Too meek? You get walked all over. Too strong? You’re a bitch in heels. Speak up? You’re called shrill, loud, overbearing. Don’t speak up? Well, no wonder you don’t get that raise. What’s seen as confidence in men often comes across as entitlement in women. What comes across as assertiveness and leadership among males is perceived as aggressiveness and ball-busting in women.

If women have to constantly recalibrate the poles they use for balance, to find some Goldilocks just right version of confidence, is it any wonder we fall flat on our faces a lot of the time?

But surely we get a little bounce back from a safety net of other women underneath us, right? Oh, honey…no. Plenty of times other women are more than happy to watch you fall flat on your face. Whether this is simply human nature, decades of conditioning, or a combination of a thousand other factors is up for debate.

I write nearly every day of my life. I have a successful blog. I’m published. I’ve won contests, been nominated for Pushcart Prize, been paid for my work, completed a novel….and yet when someone asked me to tutor their child in writing, I balked.

Surely I’m not qualified! (Yes, I actually said those words.)

When do you become enough of a writer to qualify guiding others in the writing process? When do you become good, better, best enough to do anything? Is there a magic formula to feeling qualified enough? If so there seem to be a lot of magic formulas kept under lock and key and away from the manicured hands of women.

I have a witty, whip-smart friend in the UK who is a lawyer. Another who is a doctor. And this summer I  listened to both of them tell me how unqualified they felt as they returned to positions they’ve been educated and trained for, positions they’ve held before. Sometimes while pregnant, managing a household, morning sickness and a toddler who refuses to pee anywhere but the corner.

Ah, women. I love ’em, but man! Even when we are good at what we do, hell even when we are great at what we do, we doubt ourselves. Forget locusts, if women suffer any kind of plague, it is the plague of second-guessing their worth. We under-value our contribution. We give our work and time away for free. We volunteer instead of assuming we should be paid. We politely inquire when we should expect. We’re happy when people recognize our talents, when they flatter us, and our bank accounts wither and die as our expertise is taken for granted, our time and effort devalued and expected to be given for free.

I’m not saying you should demand the PTA pay you for helping hang Halloween decorations. I’m saying we need to value our work because when all we do is volunteer? Our work ceases to have value.

Your grandmother was right. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? We can lip service volunteer work all we want, and we absolutely should all do it–from time to time–but when we give too much of the milk away for free, the cow develops low self-esteem, doubts herself, and undermines her worth. And as loathe as I am to compare women to cows, when the metaphor moos….

But more than monetary payment is what happens when your work ceases to be valued–internally and externally. You convince yourself  you’re not as good as, worth as much as, as qualified as. The chips on your shoulder get heavier over time. They weigh you down like a bra full of bricks until you can’t stand up straight, until you can’t walk with your head held high, until you start believing it yourself.

In my day-to-day life I meet and talk to countless women who doubt themselves, who disqualify themselves, who dismiss their qualifications as not enough.

I do it myself.

The men I meet? They rarely worry they’re unqualified. They assume a natural position of qualification that’s been inferred upon them since birth. Like Simba the Lion King cub, they wear the crown of accepted leader. Their position is accepted…and expected.

Sisters! Lean in, lift up, whatever it takes. Look into the mirror everyday and channel Al Franken’s Stuart Smally character: I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh-darnit, people like me. Whatever you need to do.

Because some days Sarabi** isn’t good enough. Go out and demand a crown of your own.

 

**Sarabi is the name of Simba’s mother. I had to look it up. You see how ingrained this shit is? I didn’t even know the name of Simba’s mother!

 

Women Who Don’t Burn

Not that long ago a friend pulled me aside and said, “You know, if you lived a few centuries ago, I think you’d have been burned at the stake.”

It was meant as a compliment, and I took it as one.

Because what he meant was that outspoken women, loud women, women who didn’t sit still, who pushed boundaries or dreamt or loved or worked outside the tight confines of the lives assumed for them, those women were often rounded up and burned as witches. Because there was no room for them outside a witch pyre.

Fast forward two centuries. Those same women were labeled hysterics and chained inside concrete institutions instead. As we evolved the punishments for women who refused to sit down and shut up when told to became less physical. We simply shunned them, banishing them to the bottom tier of society.

Nowadays witch burning is metaphorical rather than literal. We don’t tie women to a wooden stake anymore. No, today women get shamed, harassed, and threatened in the media.

Same shit, different century.

Four centuries removed from barbecuing women and we still don’t know what to do with women who don’t STFU.

Oh sure, we may be far from the madding crowd taking pleasure in watching a woman sizzle and fry, but we’ve moved to a place where the madding crowd takes pleasure in metaphorically burning women in public discourse.

The pyres are now cable news shows, the logs op-eds, and the match is social media.

Same shit, different burn.

It’s not easy to be burn resistant, not when society whispers in your girlish ear that you’ll be admired more for your bust line than your by-line, when from the first doll you’re given to the last child you birth you’re told women must be compliant and nurturing. We are still very much a society in which the most revered thing a woman can do is produce children, a society which applauds you for your achievements but with footnotes and codicils and a thousand pages of fine print.

We use women up until they’re no longer useful–usually around the time they hit their sexual sell-by date–and then we throw them out like so many old newspapers. Women who have failed, or lost, the train wrecks of society. We put them on the recycling pile where they’re expected to go gently into that good night.

But every now and again a woman comes along who picks herself up and refuses to go away. A woman who is resistant to the flames which were supposed to engulf her.

‘GNAGH!’ ‘HAA!! HA,HA,HA,HA!’

Hillary Clinton is only the most recent in a long line of women who will not burn. And boy, have they tried.

I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life, she said way back in 1992. And boy oh BOY, that one line managed to set off  a catastrophic string of witch fires that have burned with near consistency for thirty years. She may not have the dragons, but this woman has walked out of more fires than Daenerys Targaryen.

And that drives people nuts.

We generally don’t know what to do with women who refuse to succumb to the flames we place them in, women like Hilary Clinton or Michelle Obama, journalists like Lauren Duca and Anita Sarkeesian, even entertainers like Madonna and Beyoncé. Women who have learned to walk through the flames rather succumbing to them.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Hillary Clinton recently wrote a book. Like countless others before her, she wrote a book. Last time I checked, no one was forcing anyone to buy it, or read it. I highly doubt it’s on any high school required reading lists. Yet the book is selling well, and her supporters are lining up to hear her what she has to say.

And people are going ape-shit.

Ultimately this isn’t about whether or not you like or support Hillary Clinton. In fact, ultimately it’s not even about Hillary Clinton, the woman. It’s about not knowing how to cope with women who refuse to go when some tell her to go, to shut up when some tell her to shut up, to stay down when they tell her to. In the case of What Happened, it’s caused so much frothing outrage that entire news cycles have interrupted natural disaster coverage and policy unveilings just to opine on whether or not she has the right to continue to exist in the public sphere.

But of course it’s not just about a book. It’s not even about what’s in the book. If, and only if the book was a four-hundred page opus of self-flagellation perhaps it would have been about the book. Because generally it’s only when a woman lays herself bare at the altar of self-sacrifice we begin to feel the stirrings of sympathy. Only when a witch’s skin begins to pucker and burn are we able to dredge up a modicum of empathy.

But when a woman doesn’t do that?

Whoeee, mama. Pitchforks and hunting parties and more women rounded up and burned.

This is not about what is in the book. There is ample room to discuss the merits of Clinton’s writing style. There is room for disagreement.

What there is no room for is the insistence that she sit down and STFU. That she no longer gets to have a place in the public sphere because someone else is telling her not to. Plenty of politicians write books. I can’t think of another one who was told, before the book had even come out, that he had no business writing it.

Like her or hate her, Hillary Clinton has every right in the world to tell her story. She has a right to exist, to write, to stay standing, to stay speaking. She has every right to still be there, walking away from that smoking pyre and marching into that good night on her own terms.

In case it wasn’t crystal clear from the great cookie quote of 1992, Hillary Clinton is not going gently into that good night.

And this is at the crux of it. This refusal, the audacity of some women to continue to exist, to be relevant to those around them, to simply not die. It outrages people.

Women, after all, are supposed to burn when we tell them to.

There have always been women who don’t burn. Maybe someday soon we’ll stop trying to fan the flames even higher and acknowledge that sometimes the ones we try the hardest to quieten are the ones we should be listening to the most.