Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Woman Who Will

I was up before four AM. Election day. Election day. My heart has been pounding all week, it feels like, my body pent up with an odd, unfamiliar tension. History is about to change.

Meanwhile, I look around and am hard pressed to recognize the excitement in other people’s faces: this daring to hope. We are on the brink! I want to scream—to my students, my colleagues, random strangers in the grocery store, old women peering at bags of sugar and gaggles of teenagers wheeling a cart to their car. I imagine a glass ceiling, shattered. On my commute, alone in the car, I let myself imagine what it will feel like to see her win. I think of my grandmothers, my great-grandmothers, and of the daughter or son I might one day have. Pride wells in my eyes.

Meanwhile, people are posting on Facebook, and not all of it’s good. One female student of mine posts that she’d rather have a cigarette put out in her eye than vote for Hillary Clinton. I read that and grieve, but only a little; I’m used to it now, the raw hatred. People can’t stand her voice, her face, her figure, her clothes. They speculate on her sexuality; they compare her to Satan. She’s stumbled and fallen and clawed at the glass ceiling; she’s worked hard to understand women’s lives – poor women’s lives – and make them better. She’s faced so much discrimination, so much sexism in her career, and other women, my peers, are slinging mud. It hurts my heart.

I saw Hillary speak once. I was nineteen, a sophomore in college, and Hillary came and spoke in our chapel to a crowd of thousands of women. She didn’t speak with grace or softness; she spoke with strength and confidence. It was almost as if she didn’t care if we liked what she had to say. Someone asked her about her Iraq vote and she answered honestly, carefully, as though she hadn’t been asked it a hundred times before. She voted with the information she had. She regrets the decision. She made a mistake; she changed her mind. I remember leaving the lecture feeling proud, an odd tingle palpable even then—she might be the one.

And today, more than ten years later, it turns out she is.

As a senior in college, I took a course called Women and Development. My professor was Lois Wasserspring, one of Wellesley’s best. The class was small, intimate, a group of maybe twelve women, all seniors I already knew. At the end of the semester, Louis invited us all to her home, a sprawling place in Wellesley Hills decorated with things she’d collected in Latin America.

That night, Lois told us about her experience with glass ceilings. She was one of the first six women admitted at Princeton, and on the first day of class, when she entered the classroom, a man spit on her.

Gloria Steinem was criticized for saying that young women just didn’t understand the feminist struggle. Women everywhere took offense at her critique of Bernie Sanders and his followers, but in all honesty, I agreed with her. I hear women beat each other down all the time. I seem them marginalized. I know how it feels to be seen as prey - all women do. 

Recently, I overheard a conversation between several young women. They were discussing a friend of theirs who’d accused a young man of rape.

Jessa’s my girl and everything, one of the woman said to the other, but we all know she sleeps around.

I’m tired of living in a world where women hate women almost as much as men do. I’m tired of seeing men tear Hillary Clinton apart for the way she sounds and the supposed lies she tells. I’m tired of reading essays by my female students about the times they were raped, the times they were punched, the times they were shut down with a few harsh words. I’m sick of teaching students who got pregnant at fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. I’m tired of hearing the regret in their voices, now that they know better: If only I’d had an abortion. If only I’d turned down the ring. If only I’d stayed in school.

If only I’d known I had a choice—had a voice.

I’m tired of feeling like a raging feminist when I tell a man not to use the word “slut.” I’m tired of hearing other faculty members call my twenty-year-old female students “girls” and not “women.” I’m tired of feeling afraid to walk down a dark street, or to wear a tight skirt, or to look a man straight in the eye. I’m tired of being afraid on the trail in the middle of the day. I’m tired of the number of students who sit down in my office, bow their heads, tug at their sleeves to cover thumbprints on their arms. I’m tired of our junky, underfunded Planned Parenthood – one of two in all of New Mexico.

Today, I’ll take a shower and get ready with care. I’ll dress in my best. I’ll vote for the woman on the ballot, and I’ll say a silent prayer that she’ll win. I’ll permit myself a moment to hope, to remember my grandmothers, to imagine the way my great-grandmothers might feel, watching me vote for a woman for president for the very first time.

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