Waking Up to a Broken America
There was blood on my sheets when I woke up Saturday morning.
I felt ashamed — even after my boyfriend reassured me it was an accident and I had no reason to be embarrassed; even after I told myself that this happens to all women at some point, that it’s natural. But this wasn’t just about the blood; it was about the helplessness I often feel when reminded of my gender in jarring ways — of how little control I have over my own body. No matter how empathetic a man is, he can never fully comprehend how often that vulnerability colors my actions, paints my mental state.
I was overreacting to the womanhood spilt on my bedsheets because, in the middle of the night, I’d abruptly awoken to find that the Texas Senate had passed the controversial anti-abortion bill Senator Wendy Davis bravely filibustered a few weeks ago (literally standing for women’s rights for eleven consecutive hours, to no avail). I don’t live in Texas, and laws promising to complicate or eliminate access to safe abortions makes me think I probably never will. But I have friends who live in Texas — young, female friends. And their rights are my rights. So I was a bit emotional Saturday morning, thinking about the dotted lines and the men in robes and the biological processes that affect the way I perceive my own body; the way society perceives my body. Like a thing that needs to be regulated.
By Saturday night, ‘a bit emotional’ turned into something of a breakdown. The verdict of the George Zimmerman trial was a slap in the face to anyone who, however blindly, put even an inch of faith in our justice system; anyone who thought, “This is a dead child and there is no question who is responsible for it.” Hearing the verdict was overwhelming for countless reasons; but (most) racial implications aside, my first thoughts were with Trayvon Martin’s parents. Their suffering echoed on a national scale; their son, guilty only of being born the wrong color, gone. The justice the Martins were promised as Americans is non-existent. The thought alone — of their strength, of their loss — makes this trial and its conclusion one of the saddest to unfold in my lifetime.
But then I wondered about the jury. The six women who watched the trial seemed to have done so through the eyes of the ‘intimidated woman who clutches her purse when a young black man walks by’ — not through the eyes of a grieving mother. Not through the eyes of an oppressed group like the one they all belong to. Those women have more in common with the Martins than they’d like to think, though. They will never win in this broken system. They will never be treated fairly if equality continues to stagnate (or move backwards in time, which it appears to be doing). When these women seek to champion their own causes, when their daughters stand eleven, twelve, thirteen hours asking for nothing but to control their own bodies, they will lose. Because this system was not built to benefit them, to serve them. It was most certainly not built to serve families like the Martins.
I once had a boss who told me voting is a sham, that it doesn’t matter who sits in the Oval Office. And maybe that’s true. But it does matter who sits in judges’ robes; it matters how they got there in the first place. It matters who sits in the House and Senate, voting bills into law. It matters when racism dictates which public defender is assigned to a certain high profile case; it matters when the majority of these decision-makers have never experienced poverty, or systematic racism, or the feeling that their bodies (uterus, skin color) must be controlled by whatever means necessary. It matters when the people on top are intent on staying there, pulling the strings, watching from a distance as the rest of us unravel.