How much more do we have to bleed?
It happened again. Women screamed, raged, begged and laid bare their wounds to the world in the hopes that maybe this time, the question of whether women are people would be answered with a full-throated “Yes, you fucking oaf.” And again, that collective plea went unheard — or, rather, it was bogged down and muted from being heard by people forcing us to stop halfway through detailing our pain to explain how our pain is valid.
It’s worth noting right now that this is going to be scattered because I’m pulling a lot of different levers attempting to put into words something that for many is an unspoken knowledge. I’m also pulling from the Kavanaugh hearings specifically to discuss this because it’s easier to name one recent example than list out every single transgression. But know that this dynamic and these problems are far more pervasive than just the Kavanaugh hearings. They are everywhere, all the time, and they have existed for far longer than anyone currently living has been alive.
For days, I watched (and at times, when I had the energy, participated) unfold a chaotic battle. Woman makes claim. Someone, usually a man, doubts claim. Woman addresses that doubt. Someone doubts the validity of her addressing the previous doubt. Woman addresses that doubt. On and on, almost like a shitty duel where one side is fighting for their life and the other is saying “Hmm, but are you really?”
The Kavanaugh hearings highlighted this cycle the best. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford claimed Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school. That claim was called into question. Then she was called into question. Then, as the battle wore on, the conversation devolved into “Well, even if he did do it, does it matter?” which was met with a tremendous sigh and digging in on explaining that yes, it really fucking matters. Then that was replaced by a couple wimp ass senators pretending to cry while voting to confirm him anyway, which we again sighed at, pulled out our PowerPoints, and detailed exactly how those tears are fake, how they’ll do the wrong thing anyway. Then, a sham FBI investigation that was never going to be anything other than a fake salve issued forth by Republicans looking to end the conversation with “See? We did the FBI investigation. And it found nothing! So shut the fuck up!” — On and on, from the smears to the blatant refusal to do the right thing under a variety of disguises and the constant need to point out along the way all the lies and obfuscating and derailing that was going on. Throughout this, two things stood out the loudest:
1. Women collectively crying out in absolute anguish, knowing exactly what the road ahead will look like.
2. Men collectively mishandling and misunderstanding what was going on, putting the onus on women to educate them while in the midst of reliving their own trauma and working up the profound amount of courage it takes to speak of that trauma.
I can say unequivocally that if you are a man who has never experienced sexual harassment, assault, or the mechanisms of sexism on a broader scale, you will never ever ever understand how thoroughly exhausting the Kavanaugh hearings — and the entire #MeToo movement and just, existing as a woman in the world — have been on women and survivors. And you need to stop asking people who are screaming their pain to explain why it hurts.
I found myself watching stories unfold, pockets of explosions happening all across my life — at work, among friends, online — and at every single step, even sometimes at little half-steps, someone would pop in and undercut the process toward being heard.
It could be as big as “I don’t believe you” but largely occurred in the grey areas. Some examples:
“I’m a man and I’m sad about this, too.” (It’s good you feel empathy, but I’m in the middle of venting to others also venting and I truly don’t care how sad you feel watching more than half the population try to unload their burden)
Women making an observation about the psychological toll this is taking — from stress eating to surprise panic attacks while picking out lettuce to, in my case, suddenly realizing that a shower I took felt like the first shower you take after a breakup — and some fuckin guy walks up and laughs like a total doofus because he doesn’t realize “Had a panic attack while picking out lettuce” was one voice in an enormous chorus of voices documenting the effects of the current moment. A male coworker walking into the middle of a conversation between two female coworkers commiserating over how exhausted they feel to say “Yeah, I think there’s a cold going around.”
I cannot tell you how many times I went on Twitter to see a man attempting to hijack a conversation he did not realize he wasn’t a part of.
I cannot tell you how clear it was when, two days after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford gave her testimony, men started thinking it was safe to try posting their boring as shit, hack ass format jokes like an atomic bomb hadn’t just gone off and decimated half the population.
Tone deaf is one term for it. Another: standard.
Men have been socialized to believe their voices are the standard. When a female comedian takes the stage, she’s a “female comic” or “comedienne.” When a male comic takes the stage, he’s just a comedian.
I saw swirls of women talking about going dark for a day online because they were so overcome with the burden of asserting their existence that it seemed a more profoundly useful route would be to disappear entirely. That was a massively failed effort and was always destined to be because what is most needed is for men to go dark — and stay dark — so women could have the space to loudly assert their pain without being derailed or undercut by a man who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. That, of course, will never happen. Because a cis white male voice is the default. To remove that default, that standard, would upend the whole status quo that we cling to despite how much pain and suffering it causes to so many.
I found during the Kavanaugh hearings (and through every enormous time where the opportunity of restructuring surfaces) two things: That speaking out into the world felt like pushing a massive boulder up a hill, Sisyphus style. And that the amount of effort to be heard by other women pales in comparison. In conversation with women, I could do the bare minimum to be understood. I told a friend “I’m so hungry but I don’t want to eat,” and her response was “I get that.” There was no misunderstanding on the why. No failure to even consider what the “why” was. Because for so many of us, that Why looms enormous and heavy over our heads. It was reminiscent of the days following the election, how many women I’d make eye contact with on the train and with whom I’d share a nod of understanding. No words need be spoken. No explanations. No need to say: I am in pain. No need to beg: Please believe my pain is legitimate.
It’s in this division that the problem reveals itself the loudest. I almost don’t have the energy to indulge, because the problem is that men need to learn to be quiet and do the legwork themselves. But I can’t sleep and I’m feeling generous, so here you go.
You need to consider why a woman saying something as simple as “I’ve been in bed all day” might have to do with that big looming pain hanging over all of our heads. You need to stop delivering empathy couched in “As a father, ____.” Or “I understand because ____.” Or “I’m a man but _____.” Or even saying anything at all. A woman saying she’s eating everything in sight doesn’t require a man to add “Same.” It’s hard for me to explain exactly what about that I find most irritating: Do you think you’re included in this pain? Do you not realize what this statement is about? Do you think we, the people hurting most, care how someone whose life will not be affected in the slightest feels? Nobody gives a shit about your “Same.”
Put it another way: You and I are walking down the street. I see, down the way, a horse-drawn carriage lined with large, sharp hooks. On it, there’s a sign that says: HORSE HATES YELLOW SHIRTS
I say to you: Holy shit, look at that horse-drawn carriage lined with what looks like enormous hooks!
You respond: Haha what.
I say: It’s coming right for us! The sign says the horse hates yellow shirts! Oh god, I’m wearing a yellow shirt! Let me borrow your jacket!
You say: Nah, we’ll be fine. It’s weird, but you’re freaking out over nothing.
I beg: Please! Just let me borrow your jacket! Something!
You’re looking at your phone and don’t hear me.
The horse-drawn carriage lined with hooks flies past us, the horse’s nostrils flaring in rage as it sees my yellow shirt. I try to dodge out of the way but it catches my leg as it passes. You were in my way, refreshing your Twitter feed to see how your latest fake date conversation joke is doing.
The carriage rips my leg clean off.
I’m on the ground in a pool of my blood. My leg is a few yards away. I’m screaming out in pain.
You say: Holy shit, I feel like I’m going to be sick.
That’s a valid feeling! But I’m a little busy trying not to die to give a shit that you feel a lil upsy in your tumsy and might need to put your head down for a wittle nappy time.
I need you to call 911 and get an ambulance before I pass out. I should not need to tell you to call 911 to get an ambulance so I don’t die. And yet, when it comes to women screaming out in pain, begging not to lose their bodily autonomy, it’s all about how you feel a little sick watching us bleed.
Do I need to bleed out before you, as one person, realizes the horse-drawn carriage covered in hooks is a danger to society? How many times do I have to tell you there’s danger ahead for you to believe it? How many people need to lose their lives, their health, their safety just so one more person who’s not in danger realizes the danger is real and is terrorizing half the population? At what point do I get to stop exhausting myself trying to educate one person who can educate themselves? At what point do you, as a person who is not in any danger, start demanding more of yourself and work to educate others like you, rather than expecting the girl bleeding out in the street 15 feet from her leg to do it? Why is the expectation that I mother you through your nausea while I’m simultaneously screaming out in pain, attempting to reconcile with that pain so I can function, and begging for help because my leg just got ripped from my body by the mechanism I already told you was approaching?
How much more do we have to bleed before you start exercising the bare minimum amount of awareness and effort? Understanding the forces of oppression in their broad strokes is not difficult to do. All it takes is to start by shutting the fuck up and listening when someone points out danger. Use your brain. Figure it out. Be your own mom. When we need you to add your two cents, we’ll let you know.