Here are a handful of things a woman might do that could get her labeled as “difficult”:
Refuse to smile when someone tells her she would look prettier that way
Ask for what she wants
Insist on equal treatment
Express an unpopular opinion (or even a popular one in the wrong company)
Say she isn’t interested in sex at the moment
Request help around the house or with the children
Believe it should be her body and her choice
Put herself first or make herself a priority
Know her worth
Expect appropriate acknowledgment and compensation for a job well done
Go against social norms, especially regarding appearance, career choice, or motherhood
Exhibit her anger, disappointment, or sadness
Call herself a feminist
Clap back against a cat call or other uninvited advance from an unknown male
There are, I’m certain, many other things a woman might do that could get her branded as difficult. It’s not just men who would label a self-assured or successful woman difficult. Sometimes women will cast other women in that same light because they are so accustomed to societal norms they don’t see the inherent sexism in them.
I have been labeled difficult plenty of times. It used to bother me. Now I simply see it as my duty. I’m not saying we need to smash the patriarchy to smithereens, but I think we’d do a lot better as a species if we allowed the world to become more balanced. Too much of any one thing is never a good idea, especially if that one thing is testosterone.
In preparation for dinner tonight, I was peeling some Gala apples for homemade applesauce. As I was peeling, I remembered something my mom told me when I was growing up. She said I couldn’t get married until I could peel an apple in one, long, continuous, curly strip. Now, at the time, I saw this comment as more of a challenge than anything else. I like challenges. So, every time thereafter when I had the occasion to peel an apple, I practiced the skill of being able to peel it in one piece. And I learned to do it because, well, it’s not exactly rocket science.
Today, though, as I was peeling the apples and my mom’s comment popped into my head as it does every time I peel apples, I recognized it immediately for the load of patriarchal bullshit it is. I imagined a home economics class in the 1950s where some matronly teacher in a prim and demure dress and a pressed and starched apron shared that little nugget with her all-female class. I imagined most of the women in the class, who were raised to believe that being a housewife and mother was the greatest calling a woman could ever aspire to, adopted that mindset and got busy peeling apples on their way to wedded, domestic bliss. I also imagined, though, a couple young women who, while not daring to speak their truth out loud, also decided this was a load of patriarchal bullshit and internally rolled their eyes.
It’s more than a little depressing to realize these little tidbits were doled out throughout history to keep women in line, barefoot and pregnant on the mommy track, and out of the working world. Well, maybe not barefoot in the 50s because women had to be made up and man-ready to meet their husband at the front door with his pipe and slippers in the 50s. I remember being incensed when I read works by Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, stories where proper, young women “improved” themselves by reading poetry and playing the pianoforte and practicing etiquette and perfecting needlework so they could make themselves the most attractive potential bride in the village so they could land a duke or something to elevate their status. In college, that really riled me up. And, I know what you’re thinking. But, but you quit working to raise children and make a home. Yes. Yes I did. Perhaps I sold my career potential a little short with that decision, but at least I had a choice about it, more of a choice than the women in Victorian England or 1950s America had anyway. I mean, I chose not to improve myself by taking home economics in high school because I felt it was demeaning and I didn’t care for the box that class would put me in. It was later on when I was on my own and learned that sewing might have been a useful skill and that weekly meal planning required more work than I had hoped.
So, I guess my point here (and I do have one) is that women have come a long way but not as far as we could have if we’d been given more choices and opportunities. But we still live in a patriarchal world. I mean, here I am on a Wednesday making homemade applesauce and trying to make sure I peel the apples all in one careful motion. We should do something about that. And about the patriarchy too.
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.
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 have known since November 12th what I would be doing tomorrow. Since the moment I learned there would be a peaceful march for women’s rights the day after the inauguration, I knew where I was heading. I will be walking through downtown Denver with my friends and hopefully tens of thousands of other people who might not be friends yet but are comrades in arms.
Since election night and on the way to this day, a funny thing happened to me. I have found some traction. For a while, I had been slipping around, wanting to experience some gains in self-esteem and to make some forward progress but not having any luck. I’d been reading books, talking to a counselor, and doing some emotional work around that goal, but I hadn’t made much of a dent. It was a continual case of one step forward and two steps back. But in thinking about and mentally preparing myself for this march tomorrow, something at long last clicked. Years ago when reality television was novel and I watched The Apprentice, I never could have imagined that Donald Trump would be a catalyst for my personal growth.
I’ve heard ad nauseam that those of us whose candidate lost on election night just really need to get over it and move on. We need to embrace the new administration and give them a chance. My father said yesterday that I have no reason to put the cart before the horse or jump the gun on what might happen, no matter how things appear to be shaping up at this time. But, if I recall correctly, there were deeply concerned conservatives after Obama’s election and re-election, and they didn’t sit idly by and keep their mouths shut for the sake of unifying our nation. There were protests, marches, and loads of signs with photos of Obama and catchy phrases like “Undocumented Worker”or “The zoo has an African lion and the White House has a lyin’ African.” So, my dear conservative friends, please excuse me if I fail to take heed as you tell me to suck it up and deal with my loss as your party so gracefully did when Obama was elected twice.
Still, even with my myriad concerns about the newly inaugurated president and his chosen cabinet, my march tomorrow is not entirely about what you might think. It’s not about losing the election or being angry how that came about. It’s not about refusing to move on and pouting like a big baby, as I’ve been accused. And it is not about delegitimizing our new president. (I will leave that in his capable hands.) My march tomorrow is about legitimizing myself and validating my beliefs and my opinions through my actions. I spent the first 48 years of my life being a “good girl” and keeping my mouth shut. I grew up being told children should be seen and not heard. I learned early not to rock the boat, to be grateful and keep my problems to myself, never to trouble anyone, and not to think I was a big deal. And that is how I have carried on during what I hope is just the first half of my life, as if nothing I thought, said, or did was important or necessary.
Early this morning, I saw this video and it reinforced my desire to move forward boldly with belief in myself. Tomorrow I usher in a new phase in my life. Tomorrow I make my existence felt. Tomorrow I speak my mind publicly because I believe what I have to say is valuable and important even if others don’t appreciate or agree with it. Tomorrow I prove to myself that my views on love, patriotism, and our world matter, and that I matter too. I can channel the energy, strength, and activism of the suffragettes and merge my voice with theirs as we together continue our fight for equality. Although I am part of something much larger than myself tomorrow and every day, what I do matters for something. I am fired up and ready to go, and I am sure as hell not ready to make nice anymore.
“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.
This afternoon I got to enjoy one of my favorite fall pastimes, holiday shopping at a craft and gift fair with friends. I very rarely start shopping for Christmas gifts before October. My mind is simply not in the game. Once the trees begin to lose their leaves, though, there’s no point in denying the obvious. Christmas is not far away. So, when Heather suggested we go to the Mile High Holiday Mart hosted by the Junior League of Denver, I had to acquiesce. I picked up Ana and we headed to the Inverness Hotel to meet Heather and get our shopping on. As we approached the hotel, the volume of traffic increased. I knew it would be packed with other women who had the same thought. My introverted self prepared for the exhausting task of elbowing my way through throngs of distracted ladies. If you’ve ever been to a holiday craft fair, you know the crowd is by and large comprised of women. The few men who are there lurk in corners and hold full shopping bags, praying their descent into the halls of estrogen ends soon.
After about a half hour of browsing separately, my friend Ana found me and told me she’d just received a text from her sister. There had been yet another shooting, this time in a shopping center area in her home state of Wisconsin. Ana’s sister lives not far from where the shooting had occurred. Coming not long after the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, where a gunman shot and killed 14 people and wounded another 50, this was not welcome news. What is wrong with people?
I spent part of today reflecting on this shooting spree mentality. It’s not just an American phenomenon. In the past twenty years, armed gunmen have opened fire and killed hundreds of people in Britain, Germany, Finland, Norway, Australia, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Before I write another word, I want you to know this is not a blog about gun control. I’m not against the 2nd Amendment. I’m not anti-gun, and I’m not trying to take guns out of anyone’s hands. This is because I’ve decided that guns are not the problem. Testosterone is the problem.
Has anyone noticed that these mass shootings are carried out by Y-chromosone-enhanced persons? Women aren’t the ones opening fire in crowded theaters dressed as Batman. We’re not the ones shooting people in churches, schools, shopping malls, and political rallies. We’re not the ones who air our sadness, our disappointment, our anger, through a spray of bullets. Instead, we women are slightly more subtle. Take, for example, astronaut Lisa Nowak, who was so upset to find out her boyfriend had another woman that she wore an astronaut diaper so she could drive across country without stopping just to pepper spray her competition. She didn’t take anyone’s life. Heck. She didn’t even take anyone’s car. Her clearly hormonally driven, emotional attack didn’t land her in prison. Nope. She got two days in jail, a bunch of anger management classes, 50-hours of community service, and the embarrassing nickname “the astronaut diaper lady.” No one had to be buried. We women may act a wee bit crazy sometimes, but we’re not usually homicidal maniacs. We may occasionally run high on emotional drama, but we don’t often run high on murderous rampages.
And yet, the stereotype of the PMS-raging woman persists. We can’t have a woman president because a hormonal women is potentially dangerous. We wouldn’t want a woman in the throes of estrogen fluctuation to have access to nuclear weapons. Yep. I’m certain that this world is not going to end on 12/21 as the Mayans predicted. Instead, the world will end at the hands of an emotionally unstable woman in control of nuclear launch codes. (Yes. I am rolling my eyes as I write this.) You know, I spent a couple hours crammed into a small space with hundreds of other women and, although that’s not exactly my comfort zone, not once did it cross my mind that perhaps one of them might go postal and whip out an AK-47 because another woman got the scarf she’d had her eye on. You know why? Because estrogen doesn’t kill people. Maybe we should leave gun owners alone and start doing background checks on testicle owners instead? 😉
(PS…Before any of you testosterone-enhanced individuals gets your whiskers in a twist, this blog was meant as a tongue-in-cheek editorial based on an observation I made. I’m not really suggesting we deprive men of their most prized possessions. Well, not seriously, anyway.)