Prelude: I understand that my view is just that, *my* view. I have friends who voted for Hillary, friends who voted for Trump, friends who voted third party, and friends who did not vote. And I do not write these words in an attempt to influence others to share my opinions. Instead I write this as a personal lament, a personal way of processing, and simply my own story. And I’m offering it publicly in the hope that it may resonate with others. I feel that I am continuously made a better person by having a diverse community, a political combination of ruby red and navy blue. I am grateful that I can learn from so many people of different walks of life.
When I was in elementary school there was a boy who dry humped girls on the slide at recess. I feel like it happened to every girl in my class and sure enough my day came as well. It made me feel dirty and scared. I didn’t tell my teacher. I didn’t tell my mom.
When I was a teenager I was frequently told by family members, neighbors, and my parents’ friends that I was beautiful. I enjoyed being thought of and called beautiful, but I did notice that my looks were praised far more than any other attribute. It’s true I was lauded as smart too, but “beautiful” was the common refrain. I cannot remember ever being complimented for being determined or passionate or capable.
When I was in college I turned down a Valentine’s Day invitation for a date from a guy in my dorm. I was in the midst of a painful drawn-out breakup and it was just not the right time. As if I needed to have another reason for saying “no” besides I just wasn’t interested. I got some slack for turning him down from my peers. Halley, that was so cold of you. Halley, it’s Valentines’ Day! Halley, it’s not right of you to not give him a chance.
A couple years after college I was getting to know a guy via the internet and some phone calls; I had met him online. After a few weeks of what seemed like promising conversation, he told me that he would need to see me naked before any further communication could take place to make sure I was good enough for him.
This past spring I was at a bar in Chicago with a group of women for my sister’s bachelorette party. There was a man who was dancing near us and began flirting with us and cozying up to girl after girl within our group. I flashed my wedding ring and walked in the other direction. Some of the women danced with him, some did not, and it seemed pretty harmless albeit mildly annoying to start. But eventually one of the women in our party seemed to be having a hard time getting away from this guy, and another bachelorette guest intervened on her behalf. The man became aggressive and threatening. We were frightened and left the club in a hurry.
Over the past year I worked in a children’s hospital where the staff is overwhelmingly female. I was constantly advised to move my car from the employee garage to the (closer) visitor garage on evening shifts in order to avoid being assaulted or raped when returning to my car after dark. And due largely to the emails that circulated like wildfire in my youth, I automatically look into the backseat before I get in my car.
Last week a man came to my front door promoting his air conditioner business. He asked me if our AC unit was in good working order and when I told him we had just moved in and I hadn’t inspected it, he handed me a flyer and said, “Just give this to your husband, honey.”
I have been thinking a lot about my life and identity as a woman over the last couple of months. Some of these stories I have not thought about in years; several of them never even bothered me until recently. But the 2016 presidential election changed things. The now-infamous Access Hollywood tape changed things. The audacity of a candidate for the most powerful office in the world saying jaw-dropping things about women (and many other demographics) over and over and OVER again changed things. And, in a spectacular juxtaposition, the possibility that a woman might shatter the highest and hardest of glass ceilings changed things.
At first I was pretty even-keeled about everything. I read up on emails and Benghazi. Tax returns and Trump University. I watched the news all the time. I devoured articles about both Clinton and Trump. I tried to do my homework and maintain a balanced perspective. But things kept happening that made it easier and easier and easier for me to conclude that Hillary was more in line with my values and she was going to get my vote. And I was so excited to cast my ballot and watch the election results roll in on November 8th. I was certain Clinton would win.
Well I spent all day on November 9th sobbing. I cried and cried and ugly-cried throughout Hillary’s concession speech. I supported Hillary and I voted for Hillary and I wanted Hillary to be President — yes — but more than all of that, I was (and am) devastated by two terrible truths: a competent and highly-qualified woman lost, and a cruel, vicious man who treats women horribly, won. I cried for Hillary; honestly I was heartbroken for her. And it’s not because of politics. It’s not because I’m a sore loser. It’s not because I can’t get with the program. It’s because I found myself identifying with her. It’s because, really without my express permission or awareness, Hillary Rodham Clinton became a beacon of hope for me as a woman. Her candidacy proclaimed that women are more than beautiful, that we are determined and passionate and capable too. Her forecasted win shouted from the rooftops that women are more than their bodies, that we have every right to say no, and that we truly have power if we would only harness it.
And her loss? It broke me. It broke me deep inside. It broke the heart of the little girl I used to be who just had her dreams abruptly dashed. I texted my husband at work, “I cannot help feeling very small as a woman.” I wept with thoughts like I guess you can do whatever you want to women and still be President of the United States. My internal barometer for justice was busted. I had a hard time looking at my own little girl that whole day after the election. I had been expecting to spend the day beaming at her about a national proclamation that she had unlimited potential. Instead I spent the day despondent that the inherent “lesson”for girls was that a person who boasts about grabbing vaginas can still win out over a person who possesses a vagina.
I wake up twice every night to nurse my daughter. And every time I have been up in the middle of the night for the past two weeks, I have been thinking about Donald Trump. I do not like slipping back into bed at 2AM and 5AM bogged down by worry about how this hate mongrel will govern our nation. One night he followed me into my dreams and I had a nightmare that Trump the sexual predator was loose in my house. Needless to say it was disturbing. It is not right that I am afraid of the next leader of our country. It is not okay that I would not feel safe in his presence.
I was shocked and overwhelmed that Trump won the election and I feel naive that I never really thought it was possible. Other than being female, I am privileged in every way. I am white, straight, cisgendered, Christian, middle class, and I was born in the USA. I have tried to make it a point the last couple of years to learn about what it means to be privileged and to unlearn behaviors that I engage in that disenfranchise those who are not privileged. A woman I know who is similarly privileged to me commented on Facebook post-election that Trump’s victory felt like getting punched in the face. And then she went on to humbly confess that although she has celebrated the triumphs for the vulnerable in our society over the years, she has failed to experience their pains as her own. And she said she was grateful for the intersectionality aspect of the election results — as she was cut down as a woman, she was able to move towards some understanding of her neighbors who, for years, decades, or lifetimes, have been discriminated against due to their religion or race or sexual orientation or abilities.
“I thought I got it before. I thought I was woke, on the right team, in this together. But the fact that this is the first time I’ve felt punched in the face like this shows I was wrong…
I didn’t feel the blows as my own blows. But I freely and hungrily took part in the victories…
And I see now now that wasn’t fair or right. I need to be present for both. Sickness and in health. And I’m sorry it took this for me to see.
I hate this silver lining but here it is, dug up and ugly and true.”
— Janelle Barr Bassett
I’ve been having the same experience and it’s been overwhelming. I watched the SNL spoof of a Clinton watch party and it was as funny as it was convicting. Because that was me — SHOCKED. And as the laughter of Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle illustrates at the end of the skit, this is NOT “the most shameful thing America has ever done.” It’s just the first time I’ve felt punched in the face.
It’s far from the first time for many, many people. And the result of the presidential election and the news of the last two weeks has given me just a glimpse into that sobering reality. A friend of ours mentioned on Facebook that she experienced xenophobia on a regular basis as an Asian-American child growing up in a rural area, and perhaps now we (enraged whites) can understand a bit more what that feels like. As a woman I feel rage coursing through my veins when I read that Jeff Sessions thinks it’s “a stretch” to label grabbing a woman’s genitals as sexual assault. But I’m also feeling sick reading about Sessions’ racism, Flynn’s Islamophobia, and Bannon’s white supremacy because for the first time, I feel utterly punched in the gut by the plight of my brothers and sisters who are people of color, Muslim, and Jewish.
The past two weeks have been an experience of shifting. Shifting from viewing the election results solely through my personal lens as a white woman to feeling the outcome a bit more through the eyes of a Muslim, a person of color, a LGBTQ person, an immigrant, a disabled person, an abuse survivor. In no way can I now or ever fully understand the experiences of those whose shoes I will never walk in. But I feel that my chasm in understanding is growing smaller. Reading is one of my favorite ways to expand my knowledge base. I recommend this convicting and brutal article about white people’s shock over the election. And this one too which addresses white feminists specifically. I’m an idealist, it’s true, but I’m heartened by strides towards more meaningful relationship.
It is defeating to wonder if the things I try to do to help are not helping at all. Sometimes I feel squished reading about how I’ve gotten it all wrong in my privileged little world. But I want to sit with these feelings and wade through them. I want to be willing to hear hard things and be rebuked where I am shortsighted. I want to keep unpacking my own narrative and feelings about our woman-demeaning President-elect, and I want to listen to the narratives and feelings of others whose intersections with the election results are different than mine. I don’t want to forget this feeling, this gut punch. I will keep learning. I will honor and incorporate my story as a woman, and keep seeking our shared human story. And I will be motivated to action.
The other day I saw my husband staring out the kitchen window with a grave expression on his face. I asked him what he was thinking about and he said he was reflecting on the hate crimes going on and imaging what he will say to our half-Korean children if someone calls them a “chink” or scrawls “Go back to China” on a wall at their school someday. He expressed sadness that people are feeling more freedom to say and do racist and xenophobic things. He signed as we discussed that Asians are often praised in our culture or spared explicit harassment thanks to the model minority myth, but this has the effect of maligning other minorities and downplaying legitimate hardships of Asian Americans. I must admit that I struggle even to understand my own husband’s non-white narrative because my own privilege is so deeply imbedded.
I hate that Simon and I are having these conversations. I hate that the school district where my mother works had an anemic response to students cheering, “Trump, Trump!” and yelling at black students to go to the back of the bus. I hate that many people found it more believable that over a dozen women were lying about being sexually assaulted than the FBI’s conclusion that one woman was not a criminal (and I hate it that sexism is largely dismissed as a modern phenomenon). I hate the attacks from both sides on Facebook. Despite who we voted for and why, despite our differing views of scandals, can’t we all agree that it’s a bad thing when the KKK is having a parade to celebrate the election and the internment of Japanese Americans is being described as precedent for a Muslim registry?
How do I move forward? What do I do? Honestly it feels insurmountable much of the time. I’m breaking a lot of pastor’s wife rules by writing this post. “Don’t talk about politics” is a good general rule of conversation for anyone, but for those in ministry it’s particularly prudent. But just the other day I was explaining to my three-year-old that our family believes in love and kindness, that we believe in fighting the good fight, and that we believe in standing up for those who are vulnerable and oppressed. I’m not trying to be political. I’m not trying to be divisive. However I am trying to live those values I explained to my child. I cannot be silent. I will not sit by while precious people who were created in the image of God are terrified of the future.
So I programmed my U.S. representative and senators’ phone numbers into my phone. I plan on calling them A LOT. I intend to give money on a monthly basis to help the people groups whose rights may soon be under attack. I plan to keep writing — both on my blog and letters to newspaper editors as well. I called a local mosque yesterday and left a message asking if I can help somehow; I know I sounded like the silliest white lady ever…but I’m trying. I told Simon I’ll even kick around running for office (even though that sounds like the scariest thing ever and I have no idea what I’m even saying). And I’m trying to abide by a resolution I made for myself: talk to my Maker every morning before I allow myself to engage in social media.
What I will not do is go silently into the night.
I march on, cracked and undone but determined and fiery. I will befriend the vulnerable and scorned like Jesus taught me to do. I will oppose bigotry. I will stand with the downtrodden and poor. I will commit to unlearning my biases and grappling with my privileges. I will hold fast to an ethic of “love thy neighbor” and support a politics of empathy. I will cultivate kindness and raise my children to do the same. And I will fight like hell to make sure my daughter takes it for granted that a woman truly can be anything she wants to be.
Photo credit: http://www.the-broad-side.com/international-womens-day-i-am-a-full-woman