“We still think of a powerful man as a born leader and a powerful woman as an anomaly.” ― Margaret Atwood
Still processing my thoughts, and I’m trying to stay classy about it but the honest to god first thought I had the morning after was, “Wow. America really doesn’t like women.” Do I mean everyone? Of course not. Do I mean explicitly? No. Next to no one in this country is running through the streets with “Down with women!” signs or stroking cats evilly in a dark room somewhere, contemplating wrapping us in burkas.
I mean that as a culture, women are often instinctively reacted to as unworthy of being believed, supported, or followed. From rape survivors and wage equality to work leadership and our own health and care, we are not considered trustworthy in making decisions, telling truths, or seeking advancement. Suspicion and wariness are often the default. Our narratives are questioned before they are listened to much less believed.
I did not vote for Secretary Clinton because she is a woman, though goodness knows I found the idea of the first female president breathtaking. I don’t think most people who voted against her did so because she is a woman. But I do think the culture and undercurrents about and towards women played a significant role in how she was perceived and treated by media, her opponents, and a lot of the electorate.
As women, almost every day, we see examples and stories of how our ambitions are threatening and (worse!) unattractive, our stories of victimization are suspect, those of us needing help are lazy or manipulative or moochers, our desires for control over our bodies are antagonistic or selfish, our expectations of work life balance are unreasonable, our emotions are unstable. We are not trusted. And I cannot help but see much of this inherent distrust in how Secretary Clinton was viewed and treated in this election. Her ambitions were unseemly, her cautiousness weak, her outspokenness offensive, her experience invalid, her whole candidacy insufficient and suspect.
Am I partisan? Yes. I have seen examples of sexism throughout my personal and professional life, and in the lives of women and girls I know and respect. These experiences of course inform my point of view and my politics.
But I don’t necessarily think that means I’m wrong.
“Woman must have her freedom, the fundamental freedom of choosing whether or not she will be a mother and how many children she will have. Regardless of what man’s attitude may be, that problem is hers — and before it can be his, it is hers alone. She goes through the vale of death alone, each time a babe is born. As it is the right neither of man nor the state to coerce her into this ordeal, so it is her right to decide whether she will endure it.” ― Margaret Sanger, Woman and the New Race
My old job did a horrible job at supporting women’s health. There, I said it. No real maternity leave (unless you count 12 weeks without pay, after which time your job is hypothetically up for grabs and much relies on the goodwill of your department), no day care (there is a single care area, but it is a research facility and not open to public enrollment), and frankly less than impressive health care options.
I have my theories about this, but primarily I think it’s because it’s a private religious school that’s part of a traditional gender essentialist cultural. Women with kids should be at home with those kids, goes the thinking. Granted I certainly I never heard anyone at the university say this in an official HR capacity, but I heard it everywhere (including some classes) unofficially, even from administrators of my own department. Let me be clear, I do not believe for one second that the policy and procedural edicts on the subject were the result of some cabal of men evilly stroking cats and scheming in a dark room somewhere, but I do think that this idea of prescribed gender roles passively plays a role in making assumptions about what working women do or do not need long term.
I’m not going to get into the arguments for or against this cultural set up now, except to say that for a school that emphasized family values, I often wondered why I saw so many policies and procedures – and cultural mores – that made it hard for women (employees and students alike) to have one, because that’s a rant for another day. What really bothered me personally was the issue of birth control.
Yes, my birth control was theoretically covered by my work insurance plan. In practice, however, it turned out to be cheaper for me in the long run to go through Planned Parenthood for my annual exams and prescriptions. That is ridiculous. I often wondered what was the point of my healthcare plan if the main thing I used it for besides dentistry (being otherwise a pretty healthy person) turned out to be more financially heavy than services outside its administrative scope. And believe me, Planned Parenthood was not popular or commonly marketed as an option in this state!
But the real challenge came when I quit that job in preparation for our London move. I needed a supply of several months to get me through the summer, the move, the settling in, and the setting up of our new health plan in Britain – we’re covered by the NHS but opted for additional coverage as part of Jeff’s work benefits package. Planned Parenthood could only give me 2-3 month of a prescription at a time, and my GP couldn’t write me a prescription that could account for my change of employment status, since my insurance disappeared with my job. My GP was a great doctor who took them time to listen to my concerns and ultimately wrote me a full year’s prescription and worked with the pharmacy to fill it, since they also normally dispense it in smaller quantities. But it was entirely out of pocket for me and cost nearly $400 to do so – a bit more than a $1 a day to remain child free by choice.
Fast forward to London. When down to my last month of birth control, I make an appointment with the doctor’s office I’ve registered at (coincidentally a 7 minute walk from our flat). My stats and measurements are taken, my health history is reviewed, my current prescription is examined to verify they carry the same or a similar drug, a new prescription is written. The whole process takes 10 minutes. Four days ago I walked to the adjacent pharmacy and filled it, getting two months of BC. It is not as attractively or complexly packaged as what I got in the States, but the dosages are identical.
It cost me nothing.
I don’t pretend that socialized medicine is without consequences, particularly for a country as large and divided as the US. But I grew up in socialized medical care – by which I mean… the system that treats the military and government servicemen and women of the country. It too had some major drawbacks (witness a large scar on one arm when having skin biopsied vs the nearly invisible one I got for the same treatment in private care), but when run properly it works. Astonishingly well. I’m for more of it, particularly more that treats women’s health as an integral part of the system, since we’re 51% of the population, instead of a specialty field.
“Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.” ~ Katharine Hepburn
Yesterday, under orders from the University, the entire department attended an anti-harassment seminar. It didn’t go as well as could have been desired.
The officers, muttering something about cooties, grudgingly trotted off and about an hour later office personnel followed. When the secretaries entered, a collective groan went up as the men were forced to put away their Vargas posters and NSFW magazines.
The presenter stood up, closing her ears when an unnamed person muttered something about “having to listen to this broad for an hour,” and put on a cheerful face.
“I’m here to talk to you all today about unacceptable behaviors at work. Luckily there are no [censored slur] here, so this should be easy.”
Things rapidly devolved from there.
“The protected categories of personal traits are sex, gender, religious affinity, color, genetic information, age, and -”
“What’s the difference between sex and gender?” yelled out someone. “I mean, besides who you’re allowed to hit on?”
“One is your actual sex, male or female. The other refers to expectations or traits of your sex. For example, ridiculing a woman for trying to tackle something obviously beyond her scope, like chemistry. Or a man for studying something that we can use to determine his sexual orientation, like musical theatre.”
“I’m a musical theatre major,” injected one student from the back of the conference room.
“Oooh, look at him,” cooed some of his compatriots flapping their wrists at him and beginning to make obscene personal remarks.
“Then why don’t you put on a skirt and wash something,” yelled a sergeant, diminutive in size anxious to fit in the Boys Club.
C., enraged at the slur on A) skirts and B) laundry duties, leaped to her feet, climbed up over the seats and delivered a long and inventoried tirade abusing the sergeant’s personal hygiene and evolutionary history. Hennessy, attempting to restrain her friend, tried to mitigate matters until a student officer told her to “shut up, quit working, and stay at home like she was supposed to.” Whereupon both Hennessy and C. launched themselves at the student and his companions and frightful blows were exchanged.
“Women can work,” Chief hurried to scream into the fray, trying to calm everyone down, “unless they become pregnant!”
“Excuse me?” bellowed Wise planting her hands on her growing stomach to brace for impact before she barreled him over. Rounding on the company she roared, “Who’s next, you bunch of communists?!”
Susie demanded, “Who’s the commie pig?” whipped off her heels and began stabbing anyone in her way with stilettos
While this was going on, both a male and female officer had taken refuge under the stage. “Good thing we’re staying out of it,” said the male officer to a female, nudging her arm conspiratorially.
“Molester!” she screamed and dragged her surprised, hapless victim out where he was quickly devoured by a herd of bloodthirsty traffic clerks.
From the podium, the presenter tried to beat off a student officer with a propensity to stalking with a chair, yelling “Fire!” to make someone pay attention to her plight.
“I thought,” shouted Chief from where he was wrestling with a young female worker who was trying to get him in a compromising position in order to sue the university, “you had to tell someone who – ow! – was annoying or offending you – let go of my leg! – to stop before you could take legal action.”
“Oh no!” responding the presenter, getting her assailant into a headlock, “A behavior doesn’t have to be acknowledged to be unwelcome.”
“Yeah!” shouted Lt. Colossus, emerging from the brawl bloody but unbowed. “Watch!”
He reached out to where Lauper was punching an officer and ridiculing him for impotence, slapped her on the bum and collapsed on the ground when she promptly kneed him in the groin. She was then set upon by a small horde of police officers who beat her senseless, calling her (alternatively) Hindu, Sheik, Protestant, and a variation of African spiritualism that the editors are not sure how to correctly spell.
The brawl was not broken up until both dogs and firehoses were turned on the rampaging attendees. At which time it was ascertained that four were dead, seven concussed, one was bleeding out, three had lost the ability to walk, and two the ability to reproduce. Other casualties include a missing eye, several knocked out teeth and, to date, one marriage. After mopping up the entrails, the mob was deposited at the university’s Equal Opportunity office where the presenter, ashamed that she let the meeting get so out of hand, apologized but was fired anyway because in the future, “keeping track of these [censored slur] would clearly be a man’s job.”
After a strict talking to, the rest of us were sent home with copies of “Men are from Neptune, Women are from Saturn’s Sixth Moon, Titan.”
“Sweet is revenge – especially to women.”
– Lord Byron
Good morning, minions. Where can I get the best real-looking plastic snakes money can buy?
Last week, after doing the laundry run, I returned the key to Lt. Colossus as per usual. Then J. and I headed up to the City for the evening. I’d left my phone at home because it needed to charge, and when we came back I had about half a dozen messages on it that proceeded thus:
“C. this is —- from work, Lt. Colossus asked me to call you and find out where you left the key to the van. Could you call me back? Thanks.”
“C. this is —- again, we really need that key.”
“This is Officer —-, I’m not happy. You know that you’re supposed to turn that key into Colossus when you’re done, it’s not your car. We need to use it.”
“C., Colossus. Where the hell is that key? You know better than to keep it, damn it! We need it!”
“C.! Where is it?!”
“C. Hi…sorry…this is Colossus…I found the key…see you tomorrow.”
The blasted man, after having told all the officers on duty who needed the van that I had absconded with their blessed key, had accidentally taken it home with him in his pants pocket. Jupiter Ammon, what is it with men and pants in this office?!
But to add insult to injury, this morning he found Lt. Citrus pressing a uniform in the supply room and cracked, “Shouldn’t you have to wear a skirt to do that?”
Wise heard him and let him have it with both barrels.
“But you girls weren’t supposed to hear that,” he protested.
“It’s sexist whether we hear it or not,” I retorted.
“You just have not sense of humor,” he tried to tease.
Foolish, foolish man. I’ve officially lost patience with your mild but all-pervading sexism and your tendency to blame things on me. And unlike most women you seem to know, I am not of the ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away persuasion. Also I know three very important things about you. 1 – that you scream like a girl, 2 – that you are terrified of snakes, 3 – your locker combination.
There are many ways to cure sexism and undesirable behavior. I choose psychological warfare.