I am a feminist who wears that title with pride. Yet, for most of my life, I’ve been forced to accept sexism as the price of being female.
Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve dealt with men–strangers and acquaintances alike–who think it’s okay to grab my breasts and ass and make comments about my body. The piano teacher who demonstrated chord progressions on my thighs. The guy on a bus who kept sticking his thumb up my crotch. Another on a crowded subway who grabbed my ass the whole ride. And that’s just a few instances in a long line of many.
Sometimes, I ignored these men. Sometimes, I physically removed their hands from my body. Sometimes, I actually got angry and told them to back off. Always, I felt humiliated, belittled, and ashamed. I couldn’t help feel that their behavior was my fault. That I deserved to be objectified and belittled.
I thought it would get better once I became a lawyer, someone whose intellect and profession demanded respect. But even then, I was judged on my looks first, my brain second. I was sent to get coffee while the male associates got to sit in on client meetings. I was labeled emotional when I complained about a partner who refused to train me and expected me to cover for his affair with the office manager. I was told by one interviewer–the head of a powerful indie film company–that I’d never get anywhere in the company because everyone knew I would eventually leave to have babies, which was what I should be doing. When a different interviewer–a well known entertainment attorney and partner at a law firm that was recruiting me–discovered I had an identical twin sister, he asked me whether men ever fantasized about having sex with us both. Usually, I laughed off such behavior, but even when I addressed it head on–like when I informed a client it would cost him $200 per hour for me, a first year associate, to fetch his iced tea–I still couldn’t help but think the treatment had something to do with me, something I lacked, some flaw in my character.
Now that I’m older, I’ve reached a place where I’ve surrounded myself with like-minded loved ones who treat others with respect and kindness and compassion. I’m able to recognize that the sexist behavior foisted on me isn’t my fault. Instead, it is the product of the entitlement instilled in those men who think they have the right to appropriate some aspect of my body for themselves.
Which is why I’m taking Trump’s election so personally. By electing this man with his history of baldly sexist behavior–some of which was caught on tape–whose forthright and vocal racism, ignorance, and intolerance staggers the mind, this country has validated his vision of the world. His election signals that the majority of our population thinks it’s acceptable for men to treat women, people of color, the disabled, the LGBTQ community, with disrespect and disregard, to objectify us and dismiss us. Even to harm us.
I’m especially concerned about the effects of the election on my eleven-year-old son. I’ve been careful to raise him to respect others, to stand up to bullies, to embrace differences. He knows we are a family borne of immigrants (Italian on my side; Armenian, Irish, English, Scottish on my husband’s side) who came to the United States seeking opportunity, who saw this country as a land of promise and acceptance. My son has grown up surrounded by family members with disabilities, family members of all races and sexual orientations. He has uncles and aunts and cousins who are gay, who have gotten married and built families. He wants to protect them in the face of this newly elected president who wears his own intolerance like a badge of honor.
On election night, after it was clear Trump was going to win, my son climbed in bed and cried. He was terrified of what the world would look like in the morning. He was scared about how his classmates who support Trump were going to treat him. “They’re going to make fun of me, Mom,” he said. “They’re going to be awful.”
All I could tell him was to treat them with respect and compassion but to disagree with them; to stay strong in his beliefs. To support openness and inclusiveness and reject intolerance in all its ugly forms. And to go find a teacher if things got bad.Reject intolerance in all its ugly forms. Click To Tweet
The day after the election, I saw a quote on a friend’s Facebook news feed that said, “What a privilege it must be to able to look past a presidential candidate’s racism because it won’t ever affect you.”
I would extend that to say, “What a privilege it must be to be able to look past a presidential candidate’s racism, misogyny, homophobia, prejudice against immigrants, and prejudice against the disabled because it won’t ever affect you.”
I cannot look past those prejudices. I cannot embrace them.
I want to find hope again. I want to find a way to continue to stand up for diversity and inclusiveness, to reject intolerance, to fight for the country I thought I lived in. To do this, I know I need to reach out to others, regardless of political affiliation, and start a dialogue about where we went wrong and how we can steer ourselves in a better direction. Why did we stop listening to each other? When did we stop seeking common ground and label “compromise” a dirty word? How can we open our hearts to each other and mend the nation together?
But in addition to starting such a dialogue, I need to resist every action taken by the president-elect and his administration that violates the ideals upon which our country was founded. The beauty of this nation is that we get to say no; we get to say enough already. We get to speak out against policies and actions that fail to represent the best of who we are.
Let’s take a stand. Let’s do it for ourselves. More important, let’s do it for our children. They deserve better than this.
This post is based on a micro-essay published in The Cut as part of the article “12 Women on the Heartbreak of Watching Trump Win.”
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Colette, coincidental to your post, my current obsession is with structure. I have a pile of scripts that once I settle down and apply the structure info I’ve fed into my brain over the past weeks, I will have some great scripts! To have a fully realized script is going to feel awesome! Thanks for the post.
Thank you for writing about this today, Colette. You are such a light. The quote resonates for me, too: “What a privilege it must be to be able to look past…[x]…because it won’t ever affect you.” I get the meaning. But in future discussions, one thing I hope I have the courage to stress is that while the injuries may not be inflicted directly on a privileged group, each person in the world is impoverished and poisoned from racism, misogyny, homophobia, prejudice against immigrants, and prejudice against the disabled. White men are SO malnourished from not accepting diverse influences. The way I feel today, though: let them starve. They deserve what they get from this new administration.
I embrace Colette’s call to open our hearts and mend the nation but feel judged by Ruth merely by the color of my skin and my chromosome content, neither of which I had any choice about, nor do I think those characteristics determine the content of my character. I struggle to understand how someone could have voted for Mr Trump yet think those who voted for him are most in need of nourishment and human kindness. I suspect starvation of their souls may have influenced their electoral choice.
I like that Generation Y takes it to the street. Therein is the key for me.
I am sorry for my hurtful words, Bob. It was wrong for me to make the blanket statement.
I shouldn’t have posted angry; I should have calmed down and edited first. I am prejudiced against the people in the red counties and states right now. It’s going to take a lot of self-improvement on my part before I transcend my fear and anger.
How lonely and sad it is to live in a nation that forgets the every day war of the disadvantaged. Battles are sometimes or seemingly often lost. Every life, regardless of color, creed, etc…a daily, offense, weekly battle, monthly war. But there is something much, much worse we may not see through the smoke and weariness of the day to day.