I mean, you should always be nice to the women in your life. And I will say this before some asshole shouts “All lives matter” that we should all be nice to each other, too, yes. But be especially nice to women right now.
Two weeks ago I watched as women – in public forums, in secret groups, in private emails – began to confess to each other experiences they had had, much of which they had never told anyone before. They were sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, sometimes at work, sometimes by family or friends, sometimes just getting out of bed and going to school in the morning. But it wasn’t just the events that were purged, it was the long suppressed emotions that these events precipitated: shame, anger, fear, self-doubt. And as each woman relived this experience sharing her story, and then again, reading others, she also watched aspects of her own play out in the news: the initial outrage give way to people minimizing the behavior, excusing it, or even just outright denying it. All of this followed by brave accusers with more guts than I coming forward to far too many cries of “Why didn’t she come forward sooner?” The answer to which is so goddamn obvious it will drive you mad as if the chorus of “It’s happening again. It’s happening again” that echoes like a steady drumbeat in your head wasn’t doing it already.
That was two weeks ago.
In the last 24 hours I have seen another group of women, again far more brave than I, come forward to talk about the absolute worst day in their lives: the day they had to terminate a wanted pregnancy in their 3rd trimester. I wouldn’t wish this experience on my biggest foe and I can wish ass cancer on a nemesis with the best of them. That this is hard for those women who are revisiting a place they never wanted to be in to begin with solely in order to make some of us understand the reality of political word play goes without saying. But it is also hard for the women who have been in their situation, but who aren’t able to talk about it. It is hard for the women who lost pregnancies far earlier. It is tough for women who have chosen to terminate a pregnancy for reasons we can never know, the ones who tried like hell and never got pregnant and the women who are pregnant now who have to spend the next months wondering if this will happen to them. Far too many of us read their stories and are reminded of painful parts of our own life.
Both these issues strike at our most basic sense of self: our body. Who has a right to touch it, to say what happens to it? We should be in control of our own bodies, and all too often we can’t be whether it’s on account of someone else, or something beyond anyone’s control. It’s no big surprise most women spend a large portion of their lives hating their bodies.
And the truth is this election was wearing on far too many women before we got to this point. Watching a woman
who has worked her ass off her entire life be characterized as ruthless, crooked, pushy, overly-ambitious, cold, and evil, hits too close to home for women whose contributions are often overlooked in the workplace or criticized when they’ve asserted their hard-won authority. We’re watching Hillary carry an elephant while riding a unicycle across a tightrope with no net, and as in awe of her as we are, we can’t help but think of all the tightropes we have to walk to be feminine but not too feminine, or pro-active but not aggressive, or whatever other bullshit needle we’re trying to thread just to be seen as men are seen. Every time they talk about Bill it’s a reminder of all the ways in which our husbands or boyfriends get more respect than us, or that a woman is never allowed to be her own person like a man can be.
I just googled “Hillary Clinton Cunt Meme” and found 5 different ones before I stopped looking. Earlier this week a guy tweeted a photo of himself pointing a gun at Hillary on the TV and asked Donald Trump to just say the word. I’m fucking exhausted. I’m spent.
So be nice to the women around you. Some of us are taking this hard and know exactly why. Others of us feel on edge and can’t quite place it. Whether you like Hillary or not, everything about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century has been scrutinized and taken apart and criticized these last several months: who we are professionally, sexually and in our families; the decisions we make, how we achieve them and what say we have over our own actions and bodies while doing so.
And women let’s be nice to each other, especially. Sometimes we can be the loudest critics of the difficult decisions we all have to make.
*originally published Friday, October 21, 2016