Privilege and #metoo Pt. 1

I feel like I’m always a little late to the game when it comes to addressing these social topics but I have to tell you, that’s not unintentional. For me, it’s important to digest something and really get a grip on what I believe before I speak out to the rest of you about the thing. And also, these kinds of things are really exhausting. A lot of emotional labor goes into processing and writing all of this out. Some people have a fire lit underneath them early and that’s where you get these brilliant, quick articles. But I go into shutdown mode and come back when there’s a pile of warm ash. That’s okay, it’s still important.
So, I know that #metoo was sooo last week but it’s, heartbreakingly, a timeless story.  I would love to talk to you about some problems with the campaign as well as the importance of it and what practical actions we can take in the wake of it. What do you say, can we go there, together?

So, the internet exploded with #metoo after Alyssa Milano posted about it on Twitter. Last Monday, my Facebook feed was filled with #metoo after #metoo. I posted it. I *liked* in solidarity with my sisters who were adding their voices. In private groups, I said “it’s okay” to the people who could only bring themselves to share it in small, safe spaces. It was everywhere. And I do believe that it was/ is vitally important to make sure that people are allowed to put up their hands in solidarity with one another.
Still though, something about it doesn’t sit perfectly in my soul but also, what IS going to feel right when it comes to this subject? It felt… little. It felt tired. Like, how many times do we have to set the world on fire with our screams about how sexual violence is real and happening all the time every single minute of every single day before someone listens? Just a little over a year ago we were all telling our stories when Brock Turner got… what was it… six and a half minutes in prison for brutally raping a woman? It feels like every few months something like this happens and we all feel like, “this time someone’s going to listen! This time, someone’s going to stop this.” I am so tired.

I can’t help but be reminded that if I think that I, a white, cis-gendered woman, am tired–what about the others who don’t have the privileges that I have? I’m not a feminist if my heart and my hands don’t quickly jump to those who are less protected than I. In particular, I can’t stop thinking of the undocumented people among us who are constantly victims of sexual abuse and trauma with no where to go. Where exactly are they supposed to report that? A police officer? Please.
People with disabilities that make them particularly vulnerable to the people who are supposed to help care for them but instead take their advantages. Black women who are fighting, inarguably, harder than anyone in my circles for their own humanity to be recognized. And I think I’m tired?

I make a point to follow a lot of people of color–particularly those who see themselves as educators–on  social media to make sure I don’t get stuck in my own bubble too much. I’m grateful every day for these people who are showing me the ways that I’m resting on my privilege–things I don’t see right away. Showing me different perspectives, even if I’m not their target audience. It’s crucial for me to listen and learn.
A few days after #metoo started, I was hearing, here and there, about how Alyssa Milano didn’t start this after all like we all thought. A black woman named Tarana Burke did–ten years ago.
For even a few days after that information came out, I wondered, “okay but why does it matter?” Why does it matter that someone else came up with it if the concept is being utilized right now? I’m embarrassed that it took me days and days to realize this.

It’s because when it was black women trying to be heard, no one paid attention. A rich white woman sends a tweet and the whole world freaks out! That’s the issue. Or… that’s one of the major issues. Why aren’t we listening to and fighting for the black women among us?

Ericka Hart and Ebony Donnley have a podcast called Hoodrat to Headwrap: A Decolonized Podcast where they talk casually and educationally about everything that I wonder about the most in life. Sex, gender, race, the problem of white people… all of it. On their latest episode, Ericka mentioned kind of… exasperatedly that of course a black woman came up with Me Too ten years ago. And of course no one really paid attention until a white woman decided to use it.
Not only that but in this podcast, I learned that it was a woman of color who brought these charges against Harvey Weinstein in the first place but until Rose McGowan and Gwynneth Paltrow said something, no one paid attention. Why are we making black women pave the way to make space for our white voices?

And no, it’s not our fault that we didn’t know the whole entire history of it all before we participated in it but… gah! Isn’t that how it all is, though? Over and over again, if you go back to the history of most things in America, everything was built on the pain of people of color. And then I can just dance right over it all like everything is so easy but it was never easy–someone else just did all the hardest work for us.

I’m angry that people have to fight so hard to be heard and I’m even angrier that it took a lot of us so long to see that these other people have been doing it for centuries.

“Now that it’s happening to you–now we’re all up in arms? No, we’ve been up in arms! Where have you been?”
–Ericka Hart, Hoodrat to Headwrap: A Decolonized Podcast, Episode 8

I know that we (“we” being you and me, reader) really and truly believe that unless all of us are free, none of us are free. I know we don’t actively believe that one skin color is inherently better than another. But we need to make that a practice. We need to actively practice our intersectionality if it’s ever going to mean anything (and by the way, even the word “intersectional” as we apply it to Feminism was developed by, who? Say it with me, a black woman!) We need to listen to and believe the marginalized among us. A lot of people keep saying that we need to give these people a voice. No, these people have a voice it’s just that we aren’t listening.
Listen. And pass the mic that you were born with.

Now, I have a lot more to say about #metoo and I’m going to post about that in a few days but I just couldn’t go into this conversation without acknowledging the way that privilege is taking a super front seat in this conversation.

In Part 2 I want to talk about practical things we can do in the wake of this viral movement.
Thank you for listening to me.
As always, please share your thoughts and feelings in the comments or on Facebook.


“You’ve Got the Right to be Mad”

One thing I’ve always been mindful of… possibly to the point of being self-conscious is the Angry Feminist trope. There’s something about being angry that manages to delegitimize what it is you’re trying to say. It shouldn’t—but it does, to the rest of the world. Think about it. It’s so much easier to just disregard what a person is saying if you just write them off as angry. But what if you reached deep inside yourself and pulled up just a little bit of extra grace? What if you looked just a little bit and weren’t put off by the fact that they are angry but thought a little bit about why they’re angry.

I try really hard—especially when it comes to the subject of Feminism—to keep this an anger-free zone. Part of that is because I don’t want to get written off as the Angry Feminist but a lot of it is because I want you to be able to hear me as clearly as possible.

But today I’m angry and I’m a feminist. And I’m gonna be your Angry Feminist. I’m asking you to try to hear me anyway. Can you do that?

What am I angry about? Let’s see… I’m angry about these bizarre and harmful societal expectations about the way that men and women should behave. They’re bizarre because they’re just completely made up. They’re harmful because they actually kill people.

I’m mad at the societal more that says that men are more informed on matters of basically anything outside of the confines of a kitchen or a laundry room. I’m mad at the guy who can’t help but explain Trump’s Muslim ban in the simplest of terms for me saying, “he’s just trying to keep you safe, hun.” With a tilt of his head and a twinkling of his eye as if to say, “aren’t you adorable with your opinions and thoughts about important matters?”

I’m mad at society’s obsession with infantilizing women and the guy at the McDonald’s drive thru who loves to play into it by calling me “my beautiful baby girl” and “honey baby” during the course of our very, very short transaction. And then when I don’t smile and bat my eyes, he tells me to “have a better day, Beautiful.” As if the only reason I’m not fainting at his charms is because I’ve had a rough day—not because he is the source of my irritation.

I am… so completely livid. Furious. So physically repulsed by the way that women are here to be the helpers. The ones who would rather split themselves open than inconvenience another person. Women are the ones to set ourselves on fire to keep other people warm. We are the helpers. It’s what we do. It’s, what? Just the way God made us? This is the tactic that was used by a man to try to get me into a car with him on Wednesday night.

I was getting ready to close up the bookstore at 7:00 pm. A guy came in and I told him, “Actually I’m just closing up.” He made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. It wasn’t anything in particular about him—just his energy. He was fidgety but obviously trying to make himself appear calm. He started to approach me to say something but then when he saw that there were other people in, he stopped himself. He said, “Oh, that’s okay. I’m just going to look around a sec.”
When the other people heard me say that it was closing time, they gathered their things and left. Then the man approached me again. He told me that I seemed like a nice girl and asked if I believed in helping people. He stretched his hand out and said, “My name is Robert.” I shook his hand but my other hand was holding tight to the phone in my pocket. He asked me a few more times if I believed in helping people who really just needed some help and had fallen on hard times. He told me, several times, that his name was Robert. He even said, “I’m not lying. My name really is Robert. I have ID to prove it.” While he was rifling through his wallet to find his ID, he was telling me this convoluted story about how he’d been at Dillons buying groceries but his ride left without him? Or something? It was having a hard time following his story. He was trying to find his ID but also it was obvious that he was hoping I’d say, “Oh, no. You don’t need to show me your ID, I don’t need that.” But I didn’t say that. Not because I cared about seeing it—I truly didn’t—but because I was trying to figure out how to get this guy out of the store so that I could lock the door. And I could write this off as a weird moment.

He hands me his driver’s license. It looks relatively normal. I know what a Kansas DL looks like except that it was missing something crucial. This ID didn’t have his name on it anywhere. “This man is lying and he is not safe” was the only thing in my mind. I thought about pointing it out to him but I didn’t want to give him anything else to talk about to me and I didn’t want him to get upset. I just wanted him to leave.

I stood extra tall. I broadened my shoulders. Anne Lamott says “courage is fear that has said its prayers.” I pulled on the armor that the women in my life have given me. I was bouyed with the prayers that they have prayed over me without knowing it. The prayer of “fuck that guy” from Cammie. The prayer of “I just want to hold you” from Sherilyn. The prayer of, “listen to your instincts” from Becca. The prayer of, “I will not stand for this” from Kalene. The prayer of “oh, hell no” from Kat. I pulled on Katelin’s ass-kicking boots and felt fire in my eyes.
He asked me to give him a ride to his house; it’s just a few miles south of town and he doesn’t feel safe walking after dark. “You would really be helping me out a lot and you seem like the kind of beautiful girl who helps people. Do you believe in karma?” He’s trying to be charming but one man’s charm is another man’s manipulation and that’s how I usually take it. I said, “I won’t be the one to help you, today.” I made no excuses. I made no apologies. His nostrils flared and his eyes narrowed, but he still pretended, poorly, to be casual. I pointed to the south and said, “The deli is right next door. By the looks of the number of cars parked on the street, there is probably a lot of people in there. I’m sure that if you really need a ride, one of them could find a way to help you.” I was pointing to the door, never leaving my spot behind the counter. He inched toward the door, said a few more things about helping people and how I should do it because there are people in the world who need help and they might be angels in disguise. He finally left—walking north. When I couldn’t see him anymore I sprinted to the door, locked it, and hid behind the counter. I was done being courageous. I was terrified. I felt like such a baby.

I called my husband and asked him to come to the store without telling him why. Without question, he said “sure” and was there within a few minutes. I hid behind a bookshelf until he got there so as not to be seen.

And ever since then I’ve been going back and forth between, “maybe I am just over reacting and he was just a guy who needed a ride home” and “could I have died if I’d gone with him?” The more I think about it, the less I feel like it was innocent.
Like the way that he’d supposedly come from the grocery store but didn’t have any bags at all. Like the way that he waited until I was all alone before he asked me for help even though there would have been a better chance for getting assistance if he’d asked more than one person. The way that he confirmed that he’d go to the deli to ask for some help but walked the opposite direction when he left. Not just the opposite direction of the deli but the opposite direction of where he said his home was.

And when I’m not wondering what could have happened, I’m thinking about “what if…” Like I came home and saw my dog, “what if I was kidnapped tonight and then Fiona would have to be locked up in her kennel all day every day because I wouldn’t be here to let her out while Ryan’s at work?” Or, “what if he’d raped me and kept me alive? Everyone would say, ‘well, what did you expect getting into a car with him??’ ”

I know, I know it’s drawing a lot of conclusions. And I know, I know, #notallmen. But fuck, you guys! I’m really, really tired of doing that thing that women have to do all the time. That thing where you’re constantly at war between being safe and being the kind of person who thinks everyone is a predator. Do I think Robert was a predator? Absolutely I do. Or he was working for one. But the next morning when I opened the store, my first customer was a man wearing a black coat with the hood all pulled up and I was instantly nauseated. Just filled with dread. When he lowered his hood he proved to be a regular, relaxed, 24 year old dude who was really cold. Because it was cold outside. He spent his whole visit surfing the sci-fi section and making cheerful small talk with me. I was actually quite grateful to have him in the store. And I was left doing that thing we’re constantly doing where you’re like, “Oh… man… he’s harmless. Hahaha! I’m such a sexist jerk for assuming that he came here to hurt me.” But my god… what else are we supposed to do?! I’m tired of it. It’s exhausting to be always on guard. If you’re too on guard and nothing happens, you’re hateful and distrusting. If you’re not on guard and something happens, then you’re a dimwit and gullible.  I’m going to be extra on guard for a long time. And I hate that because I don’t want to be the kind of person who holds prejudice. I don’t want to not trust people. I don’t want to be a slave to my reactions. But here we are. Here’s where I am right now, anyway. But at least I’m safe, I guess.


PS It should be noted that I immediately told my boss. She called the police and let them know what had happened. And we’re looking into ways to keep us extra safe when we’re working alone at night. So don’t worry about any of that.