Tag Archives: sexism

Anger

Anger is a powerful force for change.

That’s what Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach told me yesterday.  Well, me and a room full of a few hundred people.

It was a message gratefully received, because good Lord am I angry.  I have anger to spare. 

The world seems to be on fire — literally, in the case of the UN climate change report — and I am irate.  It feels sometimes like anger is impotence, like I am screaming, both mentally and physically, into a void of indifference.  Like nothing I can do will change the problems I see all around me.

But sometimes you just need a reminder: your anger is justified, it is not useless, and with it you can change the goddamn world.

We live in a society that values men over women.  This is a BIG PROBLEM.  It’s a problem that fuels my rage.  This problem makes me the Hulk, a rage monster of superhuman size that just wants to smash everything.  Every single thing. 

I have spoken to men in the last few weeks who quite easily give a man the benefit of the doubt when accused of sexual assault, but refuse to see that in doing so, they deny the woman accusing him that same benefit.  I have spoken to men who say they “believe” that the woman was a victim, but that they don’t believe she knows who her assaulter was even though she says she knows it with 100% certainty. These men are fools enough not to be able to see that those two things are mutually exclusive: you cannot believe the woman if you don’t believe the woman.  MEN WHO SAY THESE THINGS ARE SEXIST AND MISOGYNISTIC AND I CANNOT FIX THEIR BRAINS AND THAT MAKES ME FULL OF RAGE.

I have spoken to women in the last few weeks who say things like “what was she wearing? what did she expect would happen going off with teenage boys who were drinking?” in reference to a woman being sexually assaulted. WOMEN WHO SAY THESE THINGS ARE BRAINWASHED BY A PATRIARCHAL SOCIETY AND I CANNOT FIX THEIR BRAINS AND THAT MAKES ME FULL OF RAGE. 

So instead I turn around and I look at my family to make sure I am raising a generation that knows freaking better.  That I have a daughter who knows that she even if she were to walk naked and drunk down Broadway, no one has the right to touch her without her consent because her body is her body.  That I have sons who understand that they must respect every. other. body. on. earth. and keep their hands to themselves and that no means no and that they will always, always be the only ones responsible for their actions and nothing anyone else says or wears or does will excuse them if they act wrong.  That I have children who know that not all other children will have been taught these things and that it might be up to my children to tell their peers if the things their peers say or do are not okay. 

I cannot fix the broken people who believe that victims are to blame for the actions of assaulters, but I can make goddamn sure that my own children will be better than that. 

(And I can vote out every last representative who doesn’t support the Equal Rights Amendment, who gives the benefit of the doubt to assaulters instead of victims, and who doesn’t actively and overtly call out and work against the misogyny and sexism inherent in the system.  My kids aren’t old enough to vote yet, so they can’t do this.  This is my job.)

The world is facing catastrophic climate change in the next decade.  This is a BIG PROBLEM– maybe the biggest of all because if we don’t fix this one, the rest won’t matter.  Bridget and I were talking about the UN report on climate change and I told her that it said we basically have until 2030 to reverse the course of doom we’re currently on, and even then we can only do it with massive wholesale societal changes worldwide.  In 2030 she’ll be 26 years old.  This is her life we’re talking about saving, and the lives of her brothers.  The lives of any grandchildren I ever hope to have.  It seems insurmountable and the reality of it brings a huge heaving wave of anxiety and hopelessness and rage up in my body that I can taste.

But thank god for the sense and rationality of my daughter, who said the best thing to do is just start: we examine what OUR family can do to change any habits we have that might make even the most infinitesimal difference.  And then we mention to our friends what we’re doing and maybe they make a few small changes.  And maybe it adds up.  We start small and we scale.  She is smarter than me and maybe a bit naive, but her response gives me a chance to breathe.

(We also vote out every last candidate who doesn’t include as a foundation of their electoral platform a larger-scale plan to address the very real threat we face.  But Bridget can’t do that; she’s only 14.  That part is my job.)

We live in a country where nearly 100 people die every single day as the result of gun violence.  We live in a country with a population of 300M people and an estimated 393M guns in circulation.  There are more civilian-owned guns than people in the United States. We live in a country where my children do lockdown drills during school and tell me that they stand near the red dot on the floor because, as Owen says, it’s the place least visible from windows and doors so the shooter wouldn’t have a good line of sight to shoot them, and Quinn adds in that they have to be really, really quiet when they stand there so a shooter can’t hear them.  My imagination plays pictures in my mind of bullets ripping through the bodies of my babies in their classrooms and I have to leave the room to take deep breaths and wipe the tears off my cheeks before I continue our conversation. 

That there are people who believe that their right to own any weapon they choose supersedes my children’s right to LIVE IN SAFETY fills me with enough blind rage that I know I should never own a firearm myself.  So I joined Mom’s Demand Action and I will go to meetings and stand in the State House and host events teaching people how we can respect the second amendment and still create a safer place to live for every person. 

(And I will vote out every single elected official who doesn’t have an F-rating from the NRA, and who doesn’t support common sense gun laws that would mean my children don’t have to stand on a red dot and wait to be shot in school.  My kids can’t do this yet, but I will do it.  And everyone I know will know I am doing it and will know that if they aren’t also doing it, I believe they are actively putting my children in daily danger.)

Since I can remember, I have looked around and wondered why other people weren’t as bothered as I am by the problems all around us.  Why everyone isn’t constantly enraged too.  I have no memory of not feeling like this and I have absolutely no ability to turn it off.  I learned to hide it in order to operate like a normal human in an abnormal world, but all that does is push my rage down inside, it doesn’t extinguish it.  I don’t have anxiety over small things, but I have massive anxiety over the big things: the societal problems, the global issues.  The things I’m least able to change.  I swallowed my rage for decades in order to not seem like a crazy person.  But the state of the world has made me realize, along with the thoughtful and inspirational words I hear from women and men who want to create change: my anger is my power.  And it’s time to use it.

Harassed

Matt and I went in to London last weekend to see a show in the West End.  When the play let out we walked through Leicester Square toward the underground station to get the train home, stopping at a shop so Matt could grab a coffee for the trip.

I waited outside because the shop was teeny-tiny, texting with Bridget to double check that everything was good at home and to let her know that we were heading to the train.

As I stood alone outside the shop, head down, focused on the phone in my hand, a man came up and got right in my space, directly in front of me, basically forcing me to look up.  I gave a small smile initially, because I don’t immediately assume people’s intentions are bad and maybe he needed directions or something.

He said hi and I said hi.  And then he just started talking at me.  It became obvious that he didn’t need help, he was just there to speak to me.  I was not interested, so I forced another tight-lipped smile and did my best to make it clear through my body language that I didn’t want to continue the conversation.  Multiple times I said “no thanks”, shook my head, indicated I was not interested in speaking to him. 

He stood right in front of me though, right in my personal space, talking at me.  He wasn’t drunk or unkempt.  He was well-dressed, coherent, aware of what he was doing. 

Then he took a clear plastic bottle out of his pocket and motioned toward me with it, and I immediately and clearly said, “I don’t know what that is, don’t put that on me or near me.”

I wasn’t loud but I wasn’t quiet.

“Oh,” he replied, laughing like we were in on a joke together, “this is just anti-bacterial stuff,” and he put it on his hands and rubbed it in and offered his hand to shake mine. 

“I don’t know what that is,” I repeated.  “Don’t touch me please.”

He laughed again.  I was not smiling.  “Do not touch me” I repeated when he stuck his hand out to shake again. 

He took the bottle back out of his pocket to show me that it was anti-bacterial gel.  “In case you’re dirty,” he said to me, a grin on his face.

I am not even sure what facial expression I made at that unbelievable statement.  In my head I was screaming “get the absolute fuck away from me”, but my face mustn’t have matched my thoughts, because he repeated himself, like it was cute and I was supposed to laugh and immediately want to then shake his hand.

“In case you’re dirty, for when we shake hands,” he said again.

“DO. NOT. TOUCH. ME.” I said again.  Still not loud, but loud enough and clear enough that my feelings were unmistakable.

Still, he stood in my face.  Right in my face, hand outstretched.

I flicked my eyes up over his shoulder to where Matt stood in the coffee shop and made eye contact with my husband.  The man turned around to follow my gaze and saw Matt and — boom, he was gone instantly.  Disappeared.

Matt raised his eyebrows at me and mouthed “Are you okay?”.

I nodded and grimaced and rolled my eyes.  I was fine.  I had never been scared or intimidated, I had just been annoyed and frustrated.  And now I was PISSED.

I had made it crystal clear through my body language and my words that I did not want that man to talk to me or touch me.  I was not quiet or shy or apologetic.  I was vocal and clear and adamant.  It’s taken me a long time to get to a point in my life where I am not apologetic or conciliatory in a situation like that.  But I’m there now, and I won’t feel badly about saying I want to be left alone.

But this guy did not care.  He was unfazed by the fact that I wasn’t interested and didn’t want to be engaged by him.  Not one thing I said mattered to him.  The word “no” did not matter to him.

My husband standing 15 feet away, though, without making a sound or a face or a move, was enough to make him leave.

I am still irate about it, nearly a week later.   Anger actually seems like my permanent emotion these days.  Why wasn’t it enough that I had said no?  What else could I have done to make him go away?

I know the answer to those questions already: that guy was going to keep trying to engage me until I gave in and went along.  I would have had to have made a scene, actually yelled or screamed at him or physically moved away in order to make him stop.

I don’t know what his ultimate intentions were, but it doesn’t matter.  My intention was to be left alone.  It pisses me off that my clear expressions that I wanted him to go away weren’t enough; that Matt’s presence, though, was a deterrent. 

My wishes didn’t matter, but my husband’s did.

I wasn’t assaulted.  I wasn’t abused.  Nothing truly bad happened to me.  It certainly was not the first or even the tenth or probably even the hundredth time in my life that something like that has happened.  It definitely wasn’t the worst.

But I am so goddamned tired of it.

There are very few men who have ever been in the position I was in, faced with a harasser who will not leave you alone despite your very clear statements that you want to be left alone, a harasser who is bigger and stronger than you, and who you cannot make stop on your own.  This is not a concern that exists within the consciousness of most men. 

And sadly, there’s probably not a woman alive who hasn’t been in that position at least once, probably more than that.  We have all learned to be on the lookout for inevitable harassment: we walk in groups, accompany each other to the ladies’ room, carry our keys between our clenched fingers, and we’re relieved when it’s just words and not physical actions that we have to deal with.

I am tired of feeling like I am crazy for my strong reactions when men say stuff like “not all men” or when they question what rights, exactly, women don’t have.  I didn’t even have the right to stand quietly alone outside a coffee shop texting my daughter without being molested by some creep who wouldn’t stop bothering me even when I told him to. 

I’m lucky to have a husband who knows why that pisses me off and who understands why, although I’m grateful his presence scared that asshole off, I am angry to my core that it was Matt who made him leave and not me. 

I’m grateful that Matt doesn’t say stupid stuff like “I’ll protect you” when something like this happens.  That he knows I don’t want to HAVE to be protected.  I just want to be treated with respect and not have to rely on someone else to have that happen.

I don’t have answers, just anger.  I don’t have a better response for next time this happens, except maybe to go right ahead and make a big scene instead of hoping that my words alone will be enough to stop someone. 

I just want things to be different.  I’m done being apologetic or conciliatory or allowing for excuses.  I won’t be quiet.  I won’t even be loud.  I will be deafening.

Things have to change.

I will no longer accept the things I cannot change, I will change the things I cannot accept.

–Angela Davis

Photo creds to my brilliant friend J. Hayhurst.  From the Boston Women’s March, January 2017.

 

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His, Mine, and Ours

crossing the creek

I went to NYC this past weekend for a baby shower.  Matt was home for the weekend with the kids.

When he mentioned that to someone at work a few days before I left, they were stunned — he’d have all four kids all by himself all weekend?!?!?

It made me mad.

I don’t think anyone is surprised that I take care of the children by myself when Matt has to go on a business trip.  It annoys me that it’s shocking that he would do the same thing when I go out of town. 

These children are absolutely equally mine and his.  Why couldn’t he care for them on his own?  Why wouldn’t he be able to do that?

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