My daughter earned her degrees from the great University of Texas, Austin and one is a Bachelors in Women’s and Gender Studies. I love our conversations, even when her clear-headed feminism dispels my own long and closely-held bullshit. Maybe especially when she dispels my culturally ingrained, but ultimately diminishing, bullshit.
I was raised to expect praise, get validation for being pretty, skinny, funny, and amenable. Don’t make waves. Don’t call attention to myself. Don’t be a tattletale. Don’t be a party-pooper. Go along to get along. Don’t take abuse, but understand that if I dressed too provocatively, or was in the wrong place, abuse might find me and it would be my own damn fault.
My daughter and some years of counseling have been as candles illuminating the unintentionally sick thinking my mother instilled. I don’t blame my mother and have long since forgiven her, for how can one blame another for being a creation of his or her culture? How can I blame her for dying young and never having an opportunity to understand the myriad ways we institutionally blame women for the sins of a male-dominated society?
Now a harsh candle shines brightly on one of the most odious men to walk the planet, a man so entitled and privileged he claims his wealth and celebrity enable him to do anything without permission to any woman he deems attractive. I’ve listened, stomach churning, to the bile generated throughout this caustic campaign cycle but along with the far more eloquent Michelle Obama, something the Republican nominee for President said yesterday shook me to the core. It was when Donald Trump said of People Magazine writer Natasha Stoynoff, who in company with several other women has accused him of sexual assault or at the very least, unwanted sexual advances, “Look at her. Look at her words. I don’t think so.” No woman could mistake his inference.
It was all in the tone, and I think most women have known that guy. The guy who flirts with you constantly but never in public, never out in the open, because you’re just not fine enough for him, for who he believes he is: better than you, cooler than you, more popular than you. He wants you, but is almost embarrassed by the wanting, because you’re less-than. This usually happens in Middle or High school. The vast majority of men outgrow it; the ones who don’t become predators.
My first was in Middle school. He was tall and blonde, one of the popular boys. While pretty, I was unmistakably Uncool. But he flirted with me all the time when no one else was around and one day, when we’d stayed after school to work on a theater set, he shoved me up against a wall where no one could see and without my consent, felt me up. And of course I never said anything because who would believe me? Who would believe the handsome Lothario of Stacy Junior High School would want to be with plump and terminally uncool me? And what was she doing alone with him between buildings anyway?
The second happened on a Friday night during High school, at a party I should not have attended. A guy who held me down tickling and groping me until I screamed, until I managed to plant my feet in his chest and hurl him against a wall. And everyone laughed. “Oh look, she’s maaaaad!” Like it was funny. Like it was ok for a male to continue touching a female who has said, in no uncertain terms, STOP. I couldn’t count on my sister females to support me any more than I could tell him to go fuck himself for doing that to me, lest they as well as I be forever consigned to the Mortally Uncool. Because the most important thing was being seen by Male Dominance Culture as Cool, no matter how skeevy it made you feel, no matter how much in that moment you desperately need a brain-bleaching. You see, this is where it starts, this is the foundation of women keeping their mouths shut because to Say Something might ruin their chances of promotion, of being able to support themselves or their families. This is the start of culturally gaslighting women, perpetuating the sickness and imbalance of power in male-female relationships of all kinds.
Donald Trump is simply rich male privilege writ large. This stuff has been happening forever, and women haven’t spoken out about it in the decades since they gained the right to vote because we worked too hard to gain a foothold in the workplace and in the voting booths to risk it by calling out men on their bullshit. (And yes, I know it’s not all men, not even most, but it is still a too-large proportion.)
What kind of bullshit? The bullshit that results in light sentences for male athletes when they assault incapacitated women behind dumpsters after frat house parties. The bullshit that silences young women on our college campuses, giving male athletes a free pass to use them for their own gratification. The bullshit that a male celebrity can portray himself as America’s Daddy while drugging and raping women. The bullshit that says “She was asking for it” because she wore a short skirt. The bullshit of school dress codes that send girls home from school for wearing tank tops and somehow makes them responsible for the thoughts of boys. The bullshit that confers upon women the moral responsibility for society while constraining their rights of control over their own reproductive systems, and charges them more for maintaining their health.
So this is my rallying cry: Sister Women, the bullshit stops now. Let us be candles for each other, casting our flames upon the slime wherever and whenever we see it, making it shrivel, dry up, and blow away. Let us compete with each other less and bond with each other more. Let us be the reflector of each other’s candlelight. Let us be each other’s safe place in the train car or sidewalk to and from work, in the workplace, at the clubs. Let us teach our daughters and sons to respect women as equal human beings. Let us sing the praises of the legions of parents, male and female, who have raised respectful men who call out the lie of “locker room talk”. Above all, let us speak up, speak out and let our candlelight shine on the bullshit wherever we find it.
I am here for you. I have your back, and I’m counting on you to have mine and most especially our daughter’s and granddaughter’s backs. The bullshit stops here, replaced by the warm glow of our collective candlelight shining on a more just world where all God’s children may flourish, where no girl or woman need stay silent out of fear of reprisal in all it’s nasty, diminishing, bullshit ways.
Women, we are the candles. If we won’t light the way, who will? Stand up, speak out, and shine, shine, shine!