Climbing down from the observation deck
I’ve been sitting on the following post for awhile now. Maybe I was just waiting for the right time to share, but more likely I was trying to decide if I really wanted to say this at all. In general, vulnerability is not a muscle I like to exercise very often. However, as we stand at the edge of this election, I feel like maybe it’s time to ovary up and personally ask you to make impactful choices with your ballot. This election cycle has ripped open a lot of poorly-patched wounds in our country and those won’t finally heal without some serious conversations and, unfortunately for me, some sharing. Personalization and all that.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know how I feel about women’s equality, smashing the patriarchy, and who I plan to vote for. I’m really comfortable sharing that kind of information and those opinions, and I do so freely.
I’m less comfortable sharing my own experiences with the very real, physical manifestations of misogyny in everyday life, and I’m not alone in that. A lot of women are uncomfortable sharing those particular stories even though we all have them. While perhaps it feels safer to keep those experiences to myself, I’ve realized my silence has unintended consequences. In many ways, it has allowed people in my life to be complicit in the same systems that hurt. Their ignorance allows them to maintain a safe distance from my reality and the reality of so many other women. Unfortunately, that distance makes it easier to make harmful decisions in the voting booth under the guise of protest, protection, or party politics. What you don't know can't hurt you.
For my part, I’ve spent the better part of a year thinking a lot about womanhood and what that looks like for me. To all of a sudden find myself exploring that alongside the blatant misogyny of this election has felt a lot like baptism by fire. While the past year unexpectedly provided me with a community that understands my anger, it also endlessly slammed me with vile words and horrifying truths. I picked a hell of a time to do some self-exploration.
So this is where I raise my hand and say, “Yes All Women," and then go on to finally admit that I am in fact one of “all women.” This is where I admit to myself (and apparently all of you) that I am not infallible and this election cycle has hurt like hell. And this is where I remind you that your vote counts and has very real repercussions. That single vote does more than elect someone, it enshrines a specific code of ethics in the fabric of our country and legitimizes the actions of people who align themselves with such beliefs. Your vote matters. And so does every woman's experience in this life.
It took a recording where he bragged about sexual assault, for women’s voices to be magnified in this election. It took one of the darkest moments of American politics for us to be heard. Only now are we cautiously hopeful, allowing ourselves to think, "Maybe people will believe us when we say that what he says is completely unacceptable, dangerous, and very familiar." Then again, maybe we're being too optimistic?
On social media, we share memes, articles, and exclamations as proof of the darker side of womanhood, and yet we do all our talking about ourselves in the abstract. We speak about women as a subgroup or an “other” to which we do not directly belong. “You should read this woman’s account of harassment on the train and then this article about how often women feel silenced in the workplace. Super informative but upsetting. Women have to put up with a lot, don't they?” In our posts we distance ourselves from the shared experience of being harassed and assaulted, while simultaneously declaring, #yesallwomen. When did it become easier to live that contradiction than to acknowledge that we are each one of "all women?"
Women have a hard time publicly identifying with the stories we hear and the statistics we read. What's more, how many of us have told more than a few people about some of our experiences even in private? I know I haven't. I suppose it's because they feel shameful, embarrassing, hurtful, and like a parasite we can’t shake. We’re conditioned to keep our own stories, our own admissions of hurt to ourselves because we know that every other woman in our life has had similar or worse experiences. It’s old news, it’s nothing special. It's definitely not something people want to hear about.
And when do we share, when we finally voice dissent and try to stand up for ourselves, we know not many people are listening. We find we’re just preaching to a choir of women all looking for the same support. The same five guys like our posts and then comment, “yes, but…” We endure people questioning if it was really that big of deal. Perhaps we just misunderstood.
When listening to this misogynist, we scream about how he’s perpetuating a toxic rape culture and hurting women, but we can hardly bring ourselves to say aloud, “This hurts me.” I'm here to remind you that it does.
A recent survey from the American Psychological Association reported that 52% of American adults say this election is a source of stress in their life. To further break that down, an ABC News Poll reported that 51% of women feel election-based stress, while only 39% of men feel similarly. Why this difference? According to psychologists and counselors, it’s because this election cycle is causing women to relive trauma, abuse, and discrimination. Everything about this man and his campaign magnifies the worst parts of life as a woman—for so many including me.
Watching him stalk Hillary around the stage gave me the same feeling as when a man stands too close to me at the bus stop. It reminded me of when I’m followed down the sidewalk by a man trying to get my attention despite my headphones and averted eyes, or when I’ve been blocked while moving through a bar by a guy who “just wants to talk.”
Listening to him describe grabbing women between their legs causes me to relive when a man tried to finger me in broad daylight at a street festival. I was never more thankful to be wearing thick denim on a hot day but I still felt his hand between my legs even after walking blocks and losing him in the crowd. I think of trying to walk through a club without having strangers’ hands find my hips, waist, or worse in the darkness. Of pushing away wandering hands and hips because I just want to dance and apparently no one thinks I can do that alone.
Watching his supporters shout obscenities and demean Hillary reminds me of the first time I was cat-called walking down Portland. I was 12 and two grown men hanging out of a truck terrified me. Watching footage from his rallies is a daily reminder of the men who still shout unwelcome words at me from their cars. When he called her a “nasty woman” on a national debate stage, he became every man who has insulted me for refusing to talk to them.
When he interrupted and talked over HRC countless times in debates, all I saw was a replay of the ongoing battle I have with the stereotype that my ideas are less valuable and my knowledge less credible than a male counterpart. In those moments, when she smiled with that perfect “listening face,” I felt myself biting my tongue just like every time someone suggests we consult a knowledgable male rather than trust me. Every time a man tries to teach me something and mansplain my life away.
Calling it “locker room talk” validates the casual way boys and men have invaded my physical and mental space, or felt entitled to my conversation. It gaslights and minimizes my experiences, renaming them as just the exaggerated and overly-emotional feelings of yet another sensitive woman.
He probably would think I’m overreacting when I plan my evenings based on how safe I would feel getting from point A to point B. He too would probably say we’re overprotective when we tell each other to text when we get home. Yet he has never had to feign confidence while walking through a street corner of drunk men, all while hoping you only feel their stares, not their hands. He has probably never been forced off the sidewalk into slush or collided into by a man who wouldn’t move over a foot or two. He’s probably been that man.
His “locker room talk” is what fills my inboxes on dating apps—where men pass judgement on my body they have never actually seen, tell me how great I look but how much better I’d look on my back or my knees, or describe in detail what they want to do me. It’s the reason I tell my friends when I’m going on a date, where it will be, and at what time.
This is what makes it okay for men to call women “crazy” in relationships. It contributes to why I feel like I can’t speak up when I’m in a situation with uneven power dynamics and why my needs are chronically not taken seriously. Because aren’t I just making a big deal out of nothing?
No. I am not. She is not. They are not. Every single feeling and experience we have is real and valuable and truthful. And I am so fucking sick of being told by pundits and Facebook posts alike that what is going on, the normalization of this kind of behavior by a presidential candidate, isn’t a big deal. Because it is.
Women experience this behavior in very real ways every single day. Harassment is already normalized and my experiences made trivial by my own inner monologue. I am already conditioned to assume my discomfort is what’s actually wrong in any situation. I sure as hell don’t need that magnified and celebrated by putting someone like him in the Oval Office. We need a leader that will call out our citizenry on its degradation of women. We do not need someone who will brush it off as unimportant.
Do you understand how dangerous that message is? How painful it is to hear that someone would rather vote along party lines or cast a protest vote than stand up for my safety?
Should I just continue to believe that it’s okay to hear vulgar comments when I walk past a bar? It’s probably my own fault for walking that way to begin with.
Or that after dying my hair and getting tattoos my body is now public property and it’s okay to be talked about or touched whenever by whomever? I mean, why would I bother doing those things if I didn’t want the attention anyway?
Should I raise my future children to understand that it’s just boys being boys when an upperclassman repeatedly grabs your hand or strokes your arm in an assembly, or tries to grab your chest in the hallway as a joke for his friends? Let’s be honest, I probably wasn’t “cool enough” to find it funny.
And the next time I get a new job, I guess I’ll just wait for another man to take credit for my employment: “Well I guess I did you a favor, didn’t I?”
Is that really what you want to say with your vote?
Voting for this man is not a vote along party lines, it’s not a slight to the Clintons, and it sure as hell is not the Christian thing to do. Voting for him is the equivalent of standing in front of every woman that has ever felt threatened or unsafe and telling them that your personal ideals are more important than their personal safety. My personal safety.
Do not underestimate the danger of putting someone like him in office. The danger in giving him a stronger voice, a legitimate and much larger platform, and a permanent place in our history.
The First Lady is right, this is not normal. How are we seriously considering this? Our complacency in the face of bigotry is alarming and it’s frightening—at a societal level and a personal one.
On election day, what are you YOU going to do about it? What will you say with YOUR vote?
Minnesotans, don't forget to find your polling place and find out what candidates are down the ballot. Minnesota has both early voting and same-day registration, and no voter id laws. So you really don't have an excuse. Get out there and vote!