Sunday morning I woke up to a stream of Facebook notifications in response to my post of of women I marched with on Saturday in San Francisco.
My aunt and cousin were angry. What rights don’t women have in America?! Leave then! Sluts! Pigs! Sinners! Woah. This isn’t the first time we’ve disagreed politically, but this was different. When I saw the vitriol and name calling, all I could do was block them. I started shaking nervously the way one does when they see violence break out in front of them. I tried swiping the comments to delete them but it wasn’t working. I took it as a sign to keep them visible and accept the messy reality.
What I feel happening as a result of the recent election is this transition of what always seemed to me like airy, academic concepts about gender politics are becoming so much more tangible. More obvious. It makes me feel compassion for my aunt and cousin because there are invisible structures that are so difficult to detect.
Like many women, someone might have told my aunt and cousin how to feel about their experience as women. That you need to keep your legs closed or else you’re a slut. And a slut is a dirty, bad, used, damaged thing that no one wants. Like sexuality isn’t a normal, healthy thing to explore. To feel burdensome for acknowledging or speaking plainly about their bodies, or for voicing displeasure about something that wasn’t in their best interest. Taught them to just let it go when someone touched them in a way they didn’t like, to laugh it off when someone made a disgusting, objectifying comment about their body. To get over it when they have a miscarriage (and don’t tell anyone you’re pregnant too early — bad luck, you know!). To keep it to themselves when they’ve been sexually assaulted because either everyone will think they did something to deserve it, or getting accused for lying to get attention. Maybe shown that they are not as qualified or capable as a man is. And maybe they, like many of us, believed it.
It’s very inconvenient and uncomfortable to hear about these things. It’s hard to see how real and pervasive this shit is. As a result, women are taught to hush up about these invisible structures in insidious ways, and believe in things that are not in their best interest. Every single woman has experienced sexual assault in some way, shape or form. Every woman has faced some kind of discrimination just by being a woman. It happens every day and many carry it quietly.
Donald Trump has dismissed his “pussy grabbing” comments as “locker room talk”. That’s a scary, fucked up locker room. But I thank him for giving us a glimpse into it, even though it terrifies me. It’s totally normal, totally ok in that room. And that’s our president now. What many women are alarmed by is that there is implied permission from the leader of the free world for men to see women as things rather than people. Zero thought needs to be given to the person on the receiving end of that grab. AND! The woman attached to that grabbed pussy will surely receive it with a smile because they’re lucky to have that pussy grabbed by a famous guy. Swoon.
During the final debate, we heard Donald Trump, our president now, say that babies are getting “ripped out” of women. That is not how it works. There are so many reasons to need an abortion. It would be great if it were as simple thinking abortions are for women who “weren’t careful enough” and just should have “kept their legs closed” and “used protection” (because getting and being pregnant is always consensual, perfectly safe for mom, and of course, we are self-impregnating creatures) but it’s not.
This is not a simple issue. And for people to pile on their religious and political beliefs onto an issue that lies squarely on a woman’s body is just one reason why many women marched. There’s about to be a new justice appointed to the Supreme Court. Roe v. Wade seems to be constantly under attack, and many wanted to turn up and show that they will fight to protect their constitutional right. It’s not a fight to change anyone’s opinion or religious conviction about abortion. It is a fight to keep our constitutional right to let women make decisions about their bodies safely, with her own god and her own doctor and her own partner. Everything else is a completely separate issue. You may not want an abortion. You may not believe in abortion. So don’t have one. This is not a religious issue; it is a human, health and civil rights one. I wish no woman ever had to face a decision of that magnitude. But when she does, I want her to be able to do it safely, with the medical and emotional support she needs to get through the experience. Whatever the reason (because that’s none of my business).
It’ll take smarter people than me to untangle this knot. Saying anything remotely political in nature has always been hard for me so I never did it. It just feels wrong to keep quiet now, so I want to say more and be more open. I hope to be compassionate and not condescending. I want to remember that this stuff is hard to see, and I want to help make it more tangible and visible.
Let’s be good to one another.