The tears that just wouldn’t stop last Wednesday began to scare me when they still weren’t drying up by the time I put our girls to bed around 8pm. I realized that I was reacting as if someone close to me had died.
That seemed preposterous, but it was how I felt. I am old enough and finally wise enough to know that the only way through feelings is… through them, so I sat with how I felt. And I invited a friend over, because Mike was at a work dinner, and it was too much to sit with alone. As we talked and I cried some more, I realized that what died was a hope that I had, an expectation that I was going to wake up and there would be a woman president-elect. A hope that millions of women were going to be vindicated by seeing our selves in one of the highest places of power that exists. That I was going to be vindicated.
In the days since, I’ve begun to name other things that died, or that it feels like died.
Stephen Bannon has been named Trump’s chief strategist. Before joining the Trump campaign, he was best known for being the executive chairman of alt-right Breitbart News. Headlines for his stories on the Breitbart website are stomach churning. One of many examples: “Does Feminism Make Women Ugly?”
I grew up in an environment where feminists were often jeered.
It took everything I had to pull my self out of there.
Two days after my fifteenth birthday, yet another boy at church made yet another comment about my weight. I was too chubby. The next day, I stopped eating. Within months, I dropped from 145 pounds down to 70.
The boy’s comment was the tipping point, but it wasn’t the whole reason for the anorexia. I had been too big for a long time. I took up too much space. I had way too many opinions, and I insisted on defending them. Obviously, I ate too much, when other women were able to contort their selves and their bodies to whatever thoughts and size were acceptable. To not take up so much damn room.
I couldn’t be a real woman until I could do that, too. So I did it.
A year or so later, I overheard adults at church talking about feminism, how shrill those feminists were, how wrong. I went home and wrote a poem that included,
“I am beautiful
Though I do not believe it myself.
But I must be,
for God made the stars
and they shine, and I know
His hand made me.”
Along with the crystal-clear message that I was taking up too much space as a woman, I had also internalized the message that God loved me and made me. We humans are so messy, capable of holding contradictory beliefs.
Thankfully, as I was perilously close to permanently damaging my health, the latter message won out. When the choice was most acute, I had just enough faith that God’s love made me worthy of being alive that I started eating again.
It was even harder coming to a place where I owned my own thoughts and beliefs, without apology. It wasn’t until I was 25, living in another country and working on a master’s, that I would say I owned my self. All my choices, all my mistakes, all my responsibilities.
To do that, I had to let go of religious beliefs about women’s places, which I had been told were essential to the salvation of my soul. Women being pretty and pure and deferential were a big part of that salvation, reinforced by cultural mores.
I threw off the patriarchal mantle under which I had been born. I married a life partner with whom I am an equal. I made my own choices about my body and life. I gave my little girls my own last name.
What has died this past week is my belief in how much of the mantle’s reach I had been able to throw off in my own life. There is more of it, and I cannot stand it. I remember it. It makes me feel like my throat is choking. It is that against which I would expend every cell of my body to fight off from overtaking my children. It will not cover them. It will not. I will work against it until my dying day.
“Fat Shaming Works”
“Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive & Crazy”
“Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer”
“There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews”
These are just some of the headlines of Breitbart News, and just examples of the sexist ones. There are also the racist, anti-Semitic, and nationalist headlines. And now the man behind Breitbart is chief strategist for the President of the United States. His power to shape policy and thus the every-day lives of Americans is real and potent.
Thus, I grieve.
(Don’t worry, I’m going to get to work, too, but first, grief and self care.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ~Andre Lorde)