I had therapy this morning. Yes. I start my week with a therapy session. It lets me recount my weekend and then try to approach the week with better self-awareness. Unfortunately, sometimes it is also exhausting and makes Monday a little more difficult. Today was one of those days.
We did an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) session. During EMDR, we target a traumatic memory that continues to cause me anxiety decades after it occurred. I focus on that memory while watching light travel across a bar from left to right and back again repeatedly. I start by thinking about the negative memory and with each passing, short session of eye movement, my brain travels through the emotions of the memory guiding me to experience it again in a different way. I often cycle through sadness and anger before my brain at last hits on the reality behind the memory, diffusing it for me. It sounds hokey, but its ability to allow me to reconstruct my thoughts about myself and my difficult past are no joke.
Today we did some work to reduce my anxiety around other people’s expectations. I am a people pleaser. Not because I particularly care about pleasing people but because I was raised to believe that no one would or could tolerate me unless I behaved according to their expectations and wishes. This learned behavior, attempting to ensure others are happy even while I am making myself anxious and miserable, is debilitating. I am constantly watching other people’s expressions and actions, wondering what negative thing I did to cause them and then panicking about how to fix them so the person will accept me again. If a friend asks me to meet her for coffee to talk, my initial reaction is to wonder what I have done wrong rather than to consider she might just want to talk about something in her life and not some slight I have concocted. I end nearly every therapy session by apologizing to my therapist for rambling on and thanking her for listening to me. It’s absolute madness how my mind catastrophizes how other people view me. This type of anxiety is one thing I continue to work on.
At any rate, today I came up with a strategy that might assist me. I understand that I am not solely responsible for someone else’s discomfort or disappointment. Some of it is not a me problem at all. So I have decided that when I begin to feel that anxiety rising, when I start to feel the urge to bend myself into a pretzel to make someone else comfortable rather than letting them sit with their discomfort and placing myself as a priority, I need to put on my imaginary Wonder Woman golden wrist wraps, cross my arms in front of my chest, and deflect their expectations. I am not responsible for making everyone else happy at the expense of my own schedule, personal wishes, or sanity. I am allowed to expect others to be mature enough to handle their disappointment, frustration, confusion, sadness, or whatever. It’s okay for me to cross my arms and send their energy back to them to deal with on their own. It’s not selfish. It’s adulting. And I can also use the wrist wraps to stop myself from spiraling out of control when a friend says they need to speak to me over coffee. I can block the crazy talk in my head and recognize it as part of an old thought pattern that no longer serves me.
I know I am not the only woman who suffers from this affliction. Women are often conditioned from an early age to be pliable, amiable, and selfless. If we weren’t, why would the world constantly be telling us to smile more often? I would like to see more women, including myself, take a different approach, a healthier one. I would like to see us putting ourselves first more often, deflecting the expectations of others in favor of more self-serving pursuits. So, friends, let’s see if we can pull on our wrist wraps and protect ourselves, and each other, a bit better. We deserve the peace that derives from choosing our own way rather than caving to what is expected of us by others. I’d say we should act more like men, but the truth is we can do better. We can act like the wonder women we are and were always meant to be.
I’m a little riled up over the continued erosion of the constitutional right guaranteed to women in 1973 courtesy of the Roe v. Wade decision. I can’t believe we are still talking about a woman’s right to manage what is going on in her own reproductive system. It’s 2021, but we seem to be moving in retrograde.
In 1973, there were nine men on the Supreme Court. Seven of them voted in favor of Jane Roe, and six of those men were Republican. But, for the past 48 years, conservative religious groups have made it their steadfast goal to overturn the decision of those men. And each and every year in recent memory, conservative states have worked to make obtaining an abortion virtually impossible despite its legality. From instituting mandatory counseling and mandatory waiting periods to discourage women, to slowly diminishing the number of abortion clinics (six states currently only have one abortion clinic) to create a logistical obstacle, women’s right to choose is slowly slipping away state by state. Outlawing abortion, however, does not solve the problem of unwanted pregnancies. We could greatly reduce the number of abortions in this country if we made reliable birth control widely available and affordable. But since many religious groups also believe any form of birth control is anathema and instead promote an abstinence-as-birth-control stance that simply does not work for most humans at sexual maturity, it seems to me that abortions must remain legal.
At its heart, the current abortion debate centers around the religious views of some being imposed upon all women, whether or not they hold those same beliefs. When Governor Abbott of Texas signed their latest, most restrictive anti-abortion legislation on Wednesday, he said, “Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion.” What does the “Creator” have to do with citizen rights in a country that was built around the separation of church and state? Religious communities have decided that life begins at conception, making abortion akin to murder. As a non-religious woman, however, I believe that life begins when the fetus is able to survive outside the uterus, which falls somewhere after 24 weeks in most cases. And, even then, a baby delivered at 24 weeks will need medical intervention to thrive. If we agree that a fetus is dependent upon the woman serving as host for its survival until it can viably exist outside the womb, then its rights should not surpass the rights of the woman carrying it. In this case, the chicken comes before the egg.
A plurality of Americans support Roe v. Wade, and a minority are pushing to expunge it. That seems undemocratic to me. If you think abortion is murder, don’t have one. No one is forcing you to abandon a pregnancy you would maintain. And unless your religious group is planning to financially support all the future babies it wants to save from abortion, then we’re kind of stuck because it seems the people who are against abortion are also against creating a welfare state or funding Medicare for all so the baby will have guaranteed healthcare or ensuring affordable childcare so women can work to support the life they must keep. Children are expensive.
I believe in the separation of church and state. I would deny no one their right to practice their own faith according to their beliefs. If you follow Jesus or Buddha or Allah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, it’s no business of mine. If your faith says abortion is a grievous sin, you are free to make your sexual and reproductive decisions accordingly. That said, however, I’ll need to you to keep your faith off the body of anyone who isn’t you. You have a right to your religious beliefs, but you don’t have a right to impose them on anyone else, least of all a woman who needs your faithful compassion rather than your judgment. After all, wasn’t it Jesus who said let he who is without sin cast the first stone?
My husband is a geek. And he is becoming more of a geek with each passing year. In the past, I would never have complained about this because, well, he’s my personal tech support. He’s the geek I go to when I’ve already rebooted and don’t know what the hell to do next. He is the one who talks me off the ledge when my phone is doing that thing again. He totally understands what an HDMI cable is. I simply understand that an HDMI cable is. He’s all about embracing new technology. And, despite the fact that our house contains several plastic bins filled with antiquated tech (my kids tell me that is the correct term) that he still hasn’t taken to the electronics graveyard, much to my chagrin, I have struggled to make my peace with his curious addiction to the latest and greatest invention meant to make life better. At least, I thought I had made my peace with it. That was until the Amazon Echo arrived in our home early in 2016.
It seemed innocuous enough. One day he came home with this curious new speaker thing. I vaguely recall being a little peeved because, as I pointed out at the time, we didn’t need another speaker thing. Because of his tech addiction, we already had four wireless music players. That’s right. Four. This one, he told me, this one was different. You could talk to this one, like you do with Siri. He prattled on for a bit about how this was not just a speaker because this could also turn our lights off and on remotely. While he spoke, I went to my happy place because when something like this catches his eye the only way to get him to stop talking about it usually is to let him have it. So I did. I rolled my eyes, sighed and, like a parent accepting the stray dog her son brought home, told him Echo could stay as long as he took care of it.
Since that night, Steve has been working with Echo to transform our house into what I assume is supposed to be a much more convenient, high-tech haven. He started by adding the special light bulbs necessary and then programming it to operate our lights, at least in the living room and hallway. Then, against my wishes, he persisted in teaching me the commands so I too could turn off our lights by barking orders across the house.
“Alexa (for that is the damned thing’s name), turn off the LIVING ROOM light.”
Emboldened by the success of having this electronic entity controlling our interior illumination, he added more bulbs in our bedroom so we could yell across the room at the thing on the dresser to turn off the lights on our nightstands, a process that takes longer than simply reaching over and turning off the lights by hand. Undaunted, he persevered with his toy. I told him that the technology creeped me out because occasionally, for no apparent reason, Alexa will start speaking, telling me about the weather or giving me some random definition for a word about which I had not inquired. It all feels a bit Big Brotherish to me. He shrugged off my negativity. This is the future. He expects me to assimilate.
Last Christmas, Steve decided our son might be an ally in the ongoing Alexa battle. So he bought a $30 Hue light strip Joe could attach to his bunkbed, presumably so he could read in bed (ha), and he bought him the smaller Echo Dot which doesn’t have its own speaker. Joe seemed semi-interested in the technology aspect until he realized that the light strip made his bed feel like the tunnel between Concourses B and C at O’Hare Airport. Then he too noticed that sometimes Alexa would start speaking out of the blue. Unbeknownst to his father, Joe unplugged the Dot and tossed it into his closet where he found it creeped him out much less.
Undeterred by his family’s lack of enthusiasm for his home automation, Steve continued in his quest. He added more light bulbs to control in his office. He added another Dot downstairs so we could use it as an “intercom” to beckon the boys upstairs when we wanted them. (Side note: It turns out we never do this because we prefer to yield to the more organic and primal habit of screaming at them from the stairs as parents have done for generations.) He programmed Echo to interact with our smart Nest thermostat so we can shriek at her to turn our heat up or down. He set Echo so now if we bellow at her she will play Sirius XM radio on our Sonos system. Most recently, he’s connected Alexa to our home security system so we can clamor for her to turn on our home alarm. Never mind that, aside from the lighting, we are able to do all these things via our iPhones without caterwauling through the house.
Last night, I caught Steve asking to Alexa to do his bidding again.
“Alexa…turn off the Living Room light,” he called out.
“Living Room doesn’t support that,” came Alexa’s reply.
Steve repeated the command more slowly and firmly, as if Alexa were a disobedient child who simply needed to be told twice.
“Alexa…turn off the Living Room light.”
“Living Room doesn’t support that,” Alexa replied again, rolling her eyes.
It occurred to me that perhaps Echo’s name is quite intentional.
“Alexa…turn off Living,” I said, remembering Steve had recently changed the command so it included both smart bulbs in the living room lamp.
“Okay,” she said, and the damn living room light finally went off.
“Sometimes you have to wonder just who is controlling whom,” I said and strolled smugly off to bed for the night.
Steve might have an overactive case of Jetsons envy. He longs for flying cars and homes equipped with every possible automation. And I get it. We Gen Xers are experiencing an amazing shift from our childhoods when we tuned in on one of a few channels on a cumbersome television box with a rabbit-ear antenna on top to watch George, Jane, Judy, Elroy, and Astro living in their sky home with their robot maid, Rosie, attending to their every need, to a time when home automation, or some semblance of it, is reality. It is exciting and fascinating, and it’s easy to get caught up in the Jetson fantasy in 2018. Still, my hope for the future is that the speed of advancing tech becomes so rapid that Steve is at last unable to keep up or technology becomes more efficient so I can stop commanding the black cylinder on my kitchen counter to turn off the lights that all three men in my house seem incapable of operating either on their own or with Alexa’s brilliant assistance. I am not surprised Echo was given a female name. If you want something done, you ask a woman.
Yesterday was one of the most memorable days of my life. It was not my first political march. It won’t be my last. But this one, completed with my husband, sons, sister, brother-in-law, sisters-in-law, and mother all united in this cause with me, was life altering. As we stood in the sunny cold of Civic Center Park waiting for the march to begin, people near us sang. An impromptu band formed when trumpet and trombone players found the tubas in the middle of the park. Signs were ubiquitous and mostly filled with positivity and love. Some were a little cheeky. Some were outright funny. Some displayed beautiful imagery and artwork. My fellow marchers were courteous, peaceful, and patient. The mood was ebullient. As more and more people gathered and the crowd swelled to well over 100k people, we realized were weren’t just witnessing something incredible. We were part of it. We weren’t demonstrating. We were showing the world what democracy looks like.
I’m not sure what I thought the new administration would say about the marches, but I guess I thought they would say something. Anything. My eternally hopeful side kind of thought we’d provided the president with an ideal opportunity to prove what he had said at his inauguration. He wants to unite us and he is giving our country back to us. It was a perfect moment to say a simple, “I acknowledge you and I hear your concerns.” I expectantly turned on the national news and waited. After Sean Spicer spoke bitterly about the dishonest media representation of the numbers gathered for the inauguration the previous day and left the podium without mention about the millions of marchers who had assembled, reality set in. The Trump administration had sent its own message. The president didn’t care about the millions of us who showed up to share our collective concerns.
I read a lot of negative responses to the marches during the hours that followed the press briefing. Comments like:
This is a one-time thing. They got their attention. It’ll end here.
There is in-fighting among the Democrats. They’ll never come together enough to organize a real political movement.
What a waste of time.
What was that supposed to accomplish?
Comments like this might once have dampened my spirit, but now they have the opposite effect. Now that the march is over and we know haven’t been heard, now that I’ve had a chance to sort through some of the reactions to our organized actions, I understand how much easier it’s going to be for me to continue forward. I will engage in peaceful protest and political activism because mouthpieces like Rush Limbaugh think it’s okay to belittle women, by referring to us as “broads” and by dismissing our efforts as “nothing but a golden shower.” Because Michael Flynn Jr., our new National Security Advisor’s son, tweeted “What victory? Women already have equal rights, and YES equal pay in this country. What MORE do you want? Free mani/pedis?” I plan to show up regularly at my conservative senator’s doorstep to check in. And I will use my liberal elite education, status, and dollars to affect change because of inane comments like this one too: “This public display should’ve been called the PMS PARADE instead, more spot on and pissed off liberals at their most stupid! Poor Trump lit their tampon strings. God Bless Trump and family!” And shit like this and this and, especially, this will keep me fired up and ready to go.
I know there are men and women in this country who found the marches silly, pointless, infantile, and unnecessary. And I respect their right to express those opinions. I just don’t happen to agree with them. So, I took to the streets yesterday with a husband who thinks I’m his equal partner and who treats me with respect and decency. And I brought our sons because there were lessons to learn there about the price and the privilege of being a United States citizen. But I also wanted them to experience firsthand what happens when you marginalize, ignore, threaten, dismiss, denigrate, and in every other conceivable way piss off women, especially liberal elite women, the kind of women they will encounter in higher education and the workplace someday, the kind of women to whom they are related, the kind of women I hope they marry.
If there’s one thing I know about these women, it’s that underestimating us solidifies our determination and ignoring us increases our volume. This was not the end of it. We are not going away. Mock, ridicule, doubt, and chuckle about us all you want because you’re adding kerosene to our fire. As one clever marcher’s sign succinctly put it yesterday…
If you didn’t like my feminism under Obama, wait until you see my feminism under Trump.
I am not okay today. I’m not. Yesterday morning I was excited. I was powerful and bold and, dare I say, optimistic for once against my more skeptical nature. Today I am sad, and it’s not that garden variety of sad where you can’t put your finger on it. It’s not general melancholy. It’s in-your-face, raw, jagged, emotional pain. It’s pathetic, disconsolate, achy-breaky heart sickness. This country, which I was starting to imagine was leaning towards becoming more inclusive and welcoming and more like our forefathers envisioned and Lady Liberty professes, pulled my heart out of my closed chest last night with some crazy nunchuck moves and then used it as a target for AK-47 practice rounds. So I am not okay today. I am struggling, and I know I am not alone.
I am not okay today because of who I am and not because of what happened yesterday. I am a woman. A well-educated, well-read, white, straight, upper middle class, clearly privileged woman, to be sure, but a woman nonetheless. I am a mother. I am what my detractors would term a “bleeding heart” liberal. I am an agnostic. I am a feminist. I am a friend to gays and lesbians, people of all faiths, and all colors. I labor to keep an open mind and I search daily for our common values so I can remain open hearted and accepting. It is hard work, but I do it ceaselessly, remaining friends with people I don’t agree with in the hope that I learn more about them and their views and grow in understanding. For a while, I had tricked myself into believing that I was part of a majority and that, as a collective, we would triumph, love over hate, stronger together, all the while going high. It didn’t happen.
An election is an election. It is politics as usual. So, at 48, the election of someone I did not vote for is not something with which I am unfamiliar. I was deeply troubled in 2000 when Al Gore lost the presidency. I worked in the renewable energy industry. Jobs were lost. I’m familiar with disappointment, but this is different. For me, this is a personal loss. I can put aside politics. I can trust that the next administration will do their best. I can be a good US citizen and play nicely with others when my candidate loses. This loss was not about politics for me. It was about sexism, racism, xenophobia, and hate. And when those are your stakes, when you are not simply voting democrat versus republican, a loss is devastating. Today I am poignantly aware that I am in the minority. I am on the outside. To many, I am an unwelcome aberration, at best an anomaly and at worst a nuisance. But if you think for one second that I am going to go quietly, to shut up, stay out of things, and let hatred and ignorance rule, you don’t know me very well. And you don’t understand Pantsuit Nation at all. I’m a middle aged woman with time, money, and pussy-grabs-back attitude. I’m not going quietly.
This is my challenge and my charge. I have only one choice and that is to rise from the heap of those left disenfranchised and make my voice heard. My privileged white sons are about to witness something powerful. Their dragon mother has awoken. First thing this morning, I set up a monthly donation to Planned Parenthood, the first place that opened its doors for me when I was a young college student without insurance looking for well-woman care. Planned Parenthood saved me from a sexually transmitted disease that was on its way to becoming cervical cancer. Because of that, I have long stood with them for the health of all women, women like me who needed some help when nothing else was accessible. As women before me suffered for causes like the right to vote, I will gladly step up, with my money, my voice, and my body to keep the doors of Planned Parenthood open. It’s imperative. Whatever it takes. Don’t even think you can stop me.
When I was younger and an important relationship would end, I would pull out every song that reminded me of the person I’d lost and play them over and over until I was reduced to a tearless, dehydrated, emotionless lump of flesh. Today I thought about playing Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” and just having a good cry. Instead, I found Katy Perry. Today I am giving myself permission and space to mourn. Tomorrow I roar.
“Where’s your smile, sweetheart?” As innocuous as this question may seem, every time I hear it or one like it my skin crawls. Although the words themselves are free of vulgarity or outward violence, what lies beneath is an implicit notion that as a woman I am expected to smile even when I have no reason to do so. There have been too many occasions in my life when an unknown male has uttered these words to me as I politely tried to discourage his uninvited company. While my one or two word replies to his advances didn’t clue him in to my discomfort, apparently my facial expressions took over. And now, those few words serve as a reminder that it’s my job as a woman to put on a happy face for him because women are supposed to be demure, sweet, and accommodating. Woohoo! It’s my lucky day. Someone finds me attractive enough to encroach on my personal space and make me feel small, vulnerable, and ultimately unsafe. I should make sure to smile about it. Don’t want to seem like a bitch.
The release of the Access Hollywood tape of Donald Trump and his lewd remarks has dredged up all sorts of uncomfortable emotions and thoughts for me over the past week. It doesn’t have much to do with the fact that it is our Republican nominee for President that is making the sexist, rape-y comments. Mr. Trump lost my respect eons ago, sometime during the early seasons of The Apprentice, and there isn’t a thing I could learn about him that would surprise me. If he unzipped his orange-skin suit and revealed himself to be a lizard-faced alien, I’d mutter “Of course.” The effect of that video tape goes well beyond disgust for me and millions of women because it is an in-your-face reminder that sexism is alive and well. It’s a visceral souvenir of times in our own pasts when we were assaulted, either verbally, physically, or both, by someone like Mr. Trump who still views women as chattel. It simultaneously baffles, scares, and disappoints me. It also makes me breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t have a daughter who I have to explain this shit to.
As horrific as Donald Trump’s words were on the tape, what bothered me more was Billy Bush’s comments and behavior which, while not quite as overtly crude, were just as creepy and demeaning. When Bush first spied actress Arianne Zucker who was waiting to meet their bus, he exclaimed, “Sheesh. Your girl is hot as shit!” Did he just say “your girl” as if she belongs to him? When they disembarked the bus and Billy suggested she give Mr. Trump a hug, I shivered. Women are continually expected to offer personal physical contact upon request, whether or not it makes them uncomfortable. It’s just what we’re supposed to do. Did Billy Bush embrace Mr. Trump when he met him that day, you know, as a precursor to all the male bonding and “locker room talk”? I keep flashing back to that uncomfortable hug with an anxiety reminiscent of PTSD. If Ms. Zucker had refused to comply, she would have opened herself to a smile, sweetheart-like comment meant to belittle her for overreacting and not giving in, or a what-a-bitch remark for her non-compliance, or perhaps forcible physical contact such as a hardy grab of her genitals as a reminder of who holds the power. Sick. And. Wrong.
I find myself checking the calendar a lot lately. Are we really in 2016? While I’ve long known we’re still a sexist society in which no woman is truly safe, I think I had somewhat deluded myself into believing we had made some sort of forward progress. Maybe the nomination of the first woman to be on a presidential election ballot buoyed my sense of optimism. But this election, with its female candidate and her harassing and demeaning male counterpart who is constantly referring to her as Crooked Hillary, has made me downright depressed. Secretary Clinton has more experience than anyone else has ever had for the position of Commander in Chief. Like Donald Trump, she has a negative reputation and scars from thirty years in the public eye that she has to overcome, but she also has sexism to rise above. And this sexism is not only from males. There are women perpetuating sexism against her as well, although I’d like to believe that sexism is so deeply buried in a dark place they’ve been conditioned not to realize exists that they have no clue that is what is behind their hatred of her. While I may not agree with some of her choices, words, or actions, I can’t help but admire Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is fearless. She has taken every type of abuse imaginable and she keeps marching forward unabated. She may or may not make a decent president, but I admire her balls. It’s crazy how brave she is to believe she is smart, capable, and level-headed enough to be President of the United States in this day and age. Perhaps more people might approve of her, though, if she would just smile more.
The next time Donald Trump is scowling on the debate stage behind her, I hope Hillary employs her balls. I hope she turns around, grabs him firmly by the genitals, and tells him to smile about it. It’s what powerful people do. And, clearly, he’s been asking for it.