“Exhausted”

I wish I could say that I am just returning from a more than a year break from the internet, but that’s hardly true. I stopped fashion blogging in 2017 when I decided to run for office (State Representative: Did Not Win) and had to convince people that I am really serious and palatable. I deleted my tumblr, even. I was pretty serious about it.

Palatable is now officially over.

Everything about the world right now is fucking unpalatable so…what’s the point in being plain or quiet? There isn’t one.

After I lost my primary I spent some time recovering and started a huge new art project that will take years (especially since I’m not working on it enough right now). I started, for a second, a group I hoped would become a Political Action Committee and we had some meetings and got fired up and all that and……Then my oldest kid got fired from his job that he loved and then he got really sick.

Really, really sick. Endocarditis, undiagnosed for months (I guessed literally 4 weeks before they confirmed it), emboli to the brain (tiny bits of infection causing teensy-but-no-less-alarming-for-the-size strokes—“innumerable” is how they reported it), 7 hospitalizations in an 8 week period, a million ER visits and finally double heart valve replacement on February 11 of this year. So absolutely everything in my life stopped for that.

Then there was caring for him for the 6 weeks of recovery. And the dog had to have knee surgery so I had to take care of her, too (yes more knee surgery on a now two year old dog). Then, we went on a cruise my mother had planned for the whole fam damily and it actually took emotional energy I didn’t have to have fun because: I’m dead inside. Mostly. And that kid went back home but he’s still unemployed and broke up with his girlfriend and I’m exhausted. Really, “exhausted” should be a punctuation mark, like instead of a period each sentence ends with “exhausted”

So it’s likely no big surprise that I just lost my juju and am still feeling really directionless “exhausted” See? It kind of works “exhausted”

Then there’s the pesky issue of the world right now, and the death of Democracy and watching as my personhood and equality (which we weren’t even done getting, dammit) are, along with many others in other groups people like to be mean to, being dismantled. What do you do with your day when you are just watching the world in flames from your comfortable living room and you cannot find the person you were who ran for office who was tough and optimistic and ready to take on the world?

Maybe for the moment, the answer to that is write. Figure it out “exhausted” And then get my groove back, when I’m not “exhausted”

Feminism Tuesday: Bitch Magazine and Invisibility

[Note: I posted this on Facebook, where I am not very “out” about my health conditions, but it bears posting here, too]

The new issue of Bitch Magazine (Feminist Response to Pop Culture) has, as its theme, Invisibility. And on page 9 is an article about a woman being dismissed as female (crazy) when it turns out that she has the exact same alphabet soup that I do, with minor differences. I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tacycardia Syndrome) and MCAS (Mast Cell Activation Sydrome) and there are doctors that don’t even BELIEVE IN SOME OR ALL OF THAT. There’s a local doctor who says “Baloney POTS”. I guess he doesn’t have wild swings in blood pressure and a tendency to get woozy upon standing up and an intolerance to exercise (I’m not lazy, shocking, I have a genetic disorder).

When I was working, I hardly ever talked about my invisible illness. It’s extremely complicated. I let people know that I had easily damaged joints and left it at that, reminding them that our disabilities aren’t anyone’s business but ours.

I did that in part because I got tired of suggestions and talking about it all the time (I have it, I don’t need to talk about it THAT much). Had I tried X supplement? What about Apple Cider Vinegar? Did I know about this device that so-and-so is selling that really helped your friend/sister/cousin/a lady on the bus? Could I change my diet? I know it’s hard when someone you know has something that has no solution, because shit, that could happen to you too, so you better protect yourself by insisting that if they would only drink Kombucha, they’d GET WELL.

I also got tired of explaining the related conditions, alphabet soup(s) that they are, and how actually, really, there’s not much to be done about any of it, and people don’t need or want to know about how much pain I am in today, or which joint is killing me, or that my back is out, or what my digestive system (rouge pirate that it is) is up to today, or if I was up all night with my heart racing, or my anxiety, or whatever the Issue(s) Of The Day Is (are).

Also, though, is what I got all the time from doctors, which was Diagnosis Female. Female=Anxious. Female=Pain. Female. Weird. Dunno, no exciting drugs, can’t help you. I’ve been fired by plenty of docs who just say they can’t help, have I tried counseling? (And yes, I see a therapist because I have a lot to carry around and it helps to have support, but she cannot fix my genes, sorry).

It takes well over 10 years (and for many with EDS) much, much longer to be diagnosed. I was 42, (and on my path to diagnosis a doubting doctor had cheerfully dislocated my wrists to see if it could be done and they never recovered entirely from that, they’ve hurt every day since then). I was already pretty sure, having spent years researching connective tissue disorders and realizing that there was this one that I really, really didn’t want; let it be anything but THAT one, so, that’s the one. But I had to spend WAY more time working out what was wrong with me than any health care professional had done at that point, and all I had to get at that point was expensive confirmation from a nationally recognized expert. It would have been much simpler for everyone and for me to accept my diagnosis as FEMALE and get on with it.

I’m telling you this because invisibility is a theme in my life, and I’m trying to be more visible. I’m trying to occupy my space. I haven’t been entirely well in years–maybe ten at least but probably longer, I just didn’t think the whole slew of random things were one giant related thing. So, if you think something is wrong with you, it is not that you are female. It’s that you are experiencing symptoms of illness, be it a disorder (which genetic things are), a disease (which people catch) or a syndrome (um……can be caused by a disease or genetic condition). This is hard right now, since being female appears to be thought by some to be a pre-existing condition (the only pre-existing condition here is PATRIARCHY, btw), so it’s only going to get harder to make yourself visible. The payoff may even be kind of low–you have all this shit, we can’t do anything about it, have you tried yoga (try not to punch them when they ask that if you are delicate like me, you’ll only hurt yourself)? BUT. I think being visible is better, in many ways, than being invisible. Because I read this article and had to come vomit out all these words, you know? To shout out to the ether at that article, “YES! YES! OMG, EXACTLY! YES, that’s IT! IT’S ACTUALLY NOT BECAUSE OF MY VAGINA!”

We live in a world that doesn’t know that. That’s the scariest part.

Feminist Friday: Of Aging and the Body

I got scammed by an anti-aging cream miracle bullshit bank account draining thing and my very first thought was that I could never, ever tell my spouse how stupidly I had bought into a video (A VIDEO ON THE INTERNET YOU GUYS) where rubbing an old lady’s face with a small amount of magic made her wrinkles go away not right before our eyes (because:video, also:internet). After I muscled up and called my credit card company to be my second at a misty morning duel (okay, conference call for those who insist on dreary reality) and got a 75% refund, I mentioned it on the ol’ Facebook. Several people helpfully told me that I don’t need anti-aging cream.

That is nice. It is. It’s nice. But, see, as a woman, in this society, I am OBLIGATED to believe that I am not good enough. I am required to hate my body even as I try, I do try, I really try (and no, I am not talking about self-love and porn on tumblr, that is different entirely) to present myself as a model of self confidence and to be body positive and to, sincerely, I do, love almost everyone else’s body just the way it is. I challenge my notions and push my boundaries but: I hate this meat sack, I really do.

That’s a poor state of affairs and I know that. But you are not, ever, going to see my bare legs, and you are not often going to see me without makeup without a really, really good excuse  (heart surgery is a good excuse). Not a one of us needs an expensive or inexpensive anti-aging cream for any reason except maybe if it smells really good because there is no anti-aging there is just the march to the grave that starts when we are born (life does not begin at conception and we are not conversing about that, unfollow pls). I do not love this mess.

Is it then intersectional to discuss that place where being a woman in this culture collides (intersects, see? See?) with being chronically ill? There isn’t a cream that will reverse the aging process but we’ll figure out one long before we can make an errant digestive system work. Indeed. Because women are willing to pay thousands of dollars for cunning little pots of schmutz and Immodium is practically free. Yes, it’s my own theory. Also if we fixed either of those problems we would be the architects of what might someday be called the New Homelessness: Face Cream Salespeople and Gastroenterologists Are Begging. Okay, it’s a little long, I’ll work on it.

I’ve devised my own Gut Fix and it’s a fucking miracle.

I’m lying. It’s not. It’s made things betterish. Two tablespoons of chia seeds, soaked first in about a quarter cup of water, then mixed with either 4 oz of coconut milk (from a can, the thick shit, not that lie in the dairy case) and left in the ‘fridge overnight. It’s like eating a glass of very, very, very thick…..VERY thick suntan lotion. Since I like my punishment varied, I sometimes make the same thing with plain Kefir. Then one day I said, “WTF is wrong with you? Why are you making yourself eatdrink a horrible thing? Put some sugar in that shit!” That helped the kefir but not the coconut milk. I eat/injest it around 9:00 am everyday, and those chia seeds, they get down to the lower levels and I swear–this is my own theory, too—that they form a stopper and soak up fluid and my life is regular and better but I must be very, very careful to drink a fucking lot of water. A lot. More than I have time for. Or you can imagine what happens.

Know what’s fun about finding a thing that works? You get religious. Superstitious. Also, when it doesn’t work, it ruins your goddamned life and there you are, in the bathroom, contemplating suicide. The face cream side of this is dutifully applying it very carefully, seeing zero difference, and getting charged nearly $200 because they started your trial period the day you ordered it and the 15 days were up before that (small) package even arrived in your mailbox, and you’re looking at your credit card statement and considering suicide. Actually, only the gut stuff makes me think that, I just cried a lot over the credit card statement.

It’s very hard to love a body that is both aging and genetically flawed. I have decided to try and if not love it, stop letting it get to me. As much. Maybe. So today, when things did not go as desired and I found myself with this loop in my brain replaying the opening scenes of the movie Parenthood, I thought, “Hey, now, so, you’re paying this new shrink good money and she thinks you should meditate. Maybe let’s push pause on the old movie and listen to that guy with the soothing voice?” So I did. My mind wandered but he said it was okay, and my stomach rumbled and he said not to have feelings about my thoughts, just note them and let them be, and oh c’mon, there wasn’t a miracle. Tiniest attempt at a shift, maybe.

Finally,  I’m looking at you RevitaYouth, FUCK YOU. I have some wrinkles, and they were free, so go hassle someone else.

Feminist Friday + Extra Photo

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I have always used fashion as a form of artistic expression. It should be pretty obvious that my tastes run to the feminine, but rarely if ever precious. I am a closet fan of Little Big Girl and Gothic Lolita type looks–mainly because they are so thoughtful and complete–no stone goes un-turned with that crowd. I am also well aware that what I consider “feminine” or “pretty” is a social construct that comes from a patriarchal system that holds the view that women must dress in certain ways to be attractive to men.

It would be untrue if I said I didn’t adhere to that quite a bit, because that’s the cultural soup I’ve been ingesting my entire life. Yes, I wear makeup, and yes, I feel better when I do. I prefer skirts because I am self-conscious about the size of my ass/hips. My sense of what is “flattering” is solid, but it’s a construct like anything else. The ability to step out of the demands of fashion and what is considered the “right” way to look at any given time is one I’ve worked very hard at in some cases, and have been forced to accept in others. For example, I had to give up high heels AND flats some years ago due to Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I now tend to find the really high heels that are popular now to be ugly and dangerous looking. My back hurts on behalf the young women I see teetering around in stilts. BUT, lest you misconstrue, I am in no way saying women shouldn’t wear them if they want to. Go for it. Just, remember that it’s not really a sexier shoe than any other–we just believe it is. It’s a construct.

And so, there are days when I feel less feminine, but still interesting and attractive, and can pull off a tshirt and canvas, military-style boots with a skirt. It’s like every once in awhile I get a peek behind the curtain and think, “It’s about how I feel about what I’m wearing! It’s not about anything else!” It doesn’t happen all the time, but the older I get the more aware I am of the artificiality of the rules and that I am not required to even consider them rules and can instead tilt at those windmills in whatever garb feels right.

Feminist Friday: Space

My husband walks around the house in his man panties in the morning. Shirt, panties, slippers. The man child goes about in a robe with just panties and lots of leg showing, crotch flashes from uncrossed legs, etc. I said to the man child the other day, “Man child, if I walked around the house as naked as you and Dad, you’d flip your shit.” He agreed. But why is that? Two reasons: One, the deeply instilled belief that women are to be modest. Two, if you aren’t modest, you need to be sexy. There is zero sexiness about a middle aged guy in his underwear reading the news on his computer. But he is just being relaxed in his element–he doesn’t care how it looks.

Let me say that again: He doesn’t care how it looks.

I have no such social freedom. Go about all varicose veined, ill-fitting underwear in the morning? I would receive one of two reactions, “Gross” and/or “Hey Baby.” Why does my underwear say something different than theirs? I don’t know. But I do know that comfortable clashes directly with “cares about how one looks.” I put a lot of time and energy into making sure my body doesn’t offend. I don’t show the bare thighs, drooping knees, saggy butt. I don’t go about with last night’s makeup smeared on my face. I try to take up very little space, and what space I occupy needs to look good. This is pure social conditioning. It’s a trap.

Obviously, I care a lot about how I look. I also adhere to artificial standards and constructs about beauty. I do not feel like I have the same amount of space to simply exist. It’s something I’d like to work on during the coming year. But don’t worry—no wandering about in panties for this girl. I’d be too busy hating my body to enjoy it. Plus, I have a very nice bathrobe and I get cold easily.

 

Feminist Friday: The Words We Choose

The in-laws are here for Thanksgiving. This is many, many things, all worthy of speed drinking in order to pass out, but here is a snippet:

MIL: (droning on and fucking on about a relative I hardly knew who has been dead for over ten years and what her widower’s dating life has been like since she died [also I’ve already been told all of this like ten times]) So, the Older Boy, he got sent to an all boy’s Catholic School because he fooled around at public school, yanno, being a kid, and had to repeat a year.

Me: (Imagining what it would be like if my kid flunked a year of high school): Huh.

MIL: But he got his grades up and….

FIL: (Interrupting, his all-time favorite hobby is not letting people finish a sentence): Well he’s, he’s got that girl’s got her claws in him!

MIL: Yeah, yeah, he’s got a girlfriend.

FIL: (to me, apparently because he can’t help himself trying to be offensive): He’s WHIPPED.

MIL: Yeah, kinda like you were sayin’ your daughter has taken charge in her marriage. [you guys needs to know I let that shit slide simply because it would have resulted in some sort of permanent schism and we only see them once a year if we can help it and my daughter is awesome and married a guy who needed help fixing his life and she has and that’s not the same at all]

Me: (Fuck me, why am I not drunk and passing out is anyone else going to deal with this? No?) I wouldn’t call it WHIPPED.

FIL: Well, she made him get his grades up so he could go back to public school and see her! She’s got him good!

Me: I would still refer to that as something other than “whipped” if, you know, the kid couldn’t manage to get through high school on his own, it sounds like he made a good choice in dating someone who could motivate him to do something other than be a drop-out.

MIL: (blinking in the headlights)

FIL: (does his penguin laugh) NYAK NYAK NYAK!

Me: (texts spouse: BRING ME A DRINK NOW)

Oh poor men, whipped by women with their claws in them. So, this kid, who btw is doomed entirely by a fucked up family situation that is beyond repair and practically worth a novel on its own, can’t manage high school, but meets a girl who, for the time being, seems to motivate him to be more successful.

Wait. I was trying to see what was wrong with that and why I should feel sorry for the poor trapped boy. Let me try again.

So, this kid, whose mother died of a drug overdose when he was 7 or so, whose father has been a non-parent, who has mostly lived with his grandparents his whole life, whose uncle died of a drug overdose, whose grandfather died of a drug overdose, this kid is failing in high school. So he gets sent to an all boys school, and what motivates him to get his shit together is this awful girl…wait. She makes him get his grades up. She makes him get a job, and now he has a job and good grades and this girlfriend…..

HOLD THE PHONE! I know why. Because we must constantly cast all things in the light of patriarchy, that’s why. So, scratch the above. Kid’s got a girl whose got her claws into him, he’s whipped and the little bitch will probably trap him with a pregnancy.

I understand. Now someone get me a goddamned drink.

Feminist Friday: Trolls

Post Election, I was congratulating myself over not having lost any friends. I carefully cull my FB friends anyway, and those that don’t want radical feminism in their feeds tend to drop off pretty quickly. I posted this the day after the election:

“I just said this on another thread, and I’m going to say it here, too and expand on it a bit. What are we going to do today? We’re going to take a deep breath and remember that Trump does not have the full support of his party. Much of what he promised to do isn’t legally possible. That said, we’re also going to carry our pepper spray in case men start to feel emboldened to assault women and minorities. We are going to write letters to our representatives, go to protests, and remember that this is the last gasp of angry, ignorant extremists in the face of a changing country. They can’t stop the change, they can only disrupt the process temporarily. The US has historically never been an extremist country; we like the middle of the road. Like most adolescents, we sometimes try the wild side, but it generally isn’t to our liking. Also, this is most likely a scenario that, once it’s under way, will result in no one being happy. The guy isn’t reliable. He’s yet to tell the truth about anything other than what an asshole he is. He conned his party, he conned his constituency, and there will be a bucket of cold water come January for those who bought his con.”

Right away, a relative (a white, male, older relative, IMAGINE) leapt in to ask me just how brainwashed was I? The thing that stuck in his craw was my statement about pepper spray. He didn’t believe that I could feel threatened by men in the wake of the election of Trump. Of all the things to object to, the shakiest possible ground would be objecting to a woman’s perception of her safety. He threw in some straw men, Did I feel unsafe during Kennedy’s administration? (Um, no, I wasn’t born yet). Did I feel unsafe during Bill Clinton’s presidency? (Um, have always felt unsafe in woman-hating world, also felt Bill’s behavior was sexual harassment and he should have been prosecuted BUT THAT ISN’T THE POINT).

The refusal to accept a woman’s perception of her safety is possibly the most ignorant position a man (white, older) could take. This particular man is an IQ level genius and a physicist. But he thinks I am wrong to feel unsafe. Sends you right into the screaming void right? Here are reasons I don’t feel safe:

  1. I grew up exposed to sexual predators who were family and whose behavior I was supposed to a) avoid and b) not talk about.
  2. I was flashed by a man when I was 8 years old walking to a fruit market less than a block from my house. Eight years old. Third grade.
  3. Sometimes my elementary school would announce that we should not walk home, but get someone to pick us up, as there was a suspicious man asking girls if they wanted candy or similar.
  4. There was a family friend at many parties and I, as a child, was told not to let him kiss me, because he was “weird about little girls.” This was MY responsibility, not his.
  5. My family was controlled by my father, who even got to decide about the length of our hair. He didn’t believe in sex positivity, he recalled being assaulted by his own father, his own father at one time had a 15 year old “girlfriend”, he was anti-choice, he put me through a door when I admitted I was sexually active in high school.
  6. Three times in my life, a man has pulled up near me in his car so that I can see him masturbating.
  7. The first boy I had sex with was cruel, mentally and physically abused me, and many years later went to prison for shooting and killing a young girl in the face while they were having sex. He was practicing on me, age 15.
  8. Our High School theater teacher had “affairs” with several female students, and was quietly fired when it was discovered that he had a video camera hidden in the girls dressing room at school. This same person is considered a fine fellow and celebrated in local theater. I refuse to work with him and tell anyone who will listen just why that is.
  9. I was assaulted by my boyfriend one night when I was too drunk to fight back.
  10. My best friend and her daughter were murdered by her husband.
  11. I went through the entire court process with a student who was stalked and was there when a lawyer asked her why she didn’t like this young man, since she was pretty and he was handsome, was she afraid of sex?
  12. I watch the news.
  13. I know other women who have told me their stories.
  14. Our entertainment choices frequently begin, “A woman is brutally murdered/raped/killed”
  15. That asshole that raped the girl in a parking lot but is a “good swimmer”
  16. All those other assholes

It goes on an on, right? As it does for all of us. You can argue economic policy with me. You can argue foreign policy. But what you cannot, EVER, do is try to tell me whether or not I feel safe. Feeling safe would be clinging to an illusion that I live in a world entirely unlike this one. And back to those straw men for a moment; no, I would not have felt personally threatened by Kennedy’s behavior, but had it been celebrated in the media, it would have worried me in terms of the message it sent about how women should be treated. Oh, wait, it has been celebrated in the media all along, so, YES, I think his behavior was shitty and encouraged men to behave badly towards women, I’ll carry my pepper spray. And YES, I think Bill Clinton was a sexual predator who used his power to take advantage of women in situations where true consent could not be given, so if I’d met him, I’d’ve carried my pepper spray.

Finally, dear white male older relative, it will now be hard to feel safe around YOU, too.

Feminist Friday: What Constitutes Strength

This strong woman must be vague, but what I want to talk about is the notion of strength in patriarchal system.

A sampling of popular entertainment in the media makes it clear that battles are to be fought, not avoided. Self-sacrifice; be it mental, physical, etc, is rewarded and encouraged. As a young nation, we still idolize the mythology of the Wild West, wherein you don’t ever give up. Strong men shoot weaker men, strong women manage through the worst of privations. You bite the bullet, the leather strap, haul yourself up by your bootstraps, keep going, never surrender.

Yet, I am finding, there is strength in surrendering. Die fighting, or walk away from a battle one can’t win? Figuratively or literally, sometimes self-preservation depends on detaching. Often, the process of detaching is far scarier and emotionally risky-seeming than continuing to fight. Conflict generates energy, and sometimes that energy is good and launches you forward. Other times, that energy is toxic and damaging even as the overlying message is to continue to drink from that cup.

Detaching is an act of wisdom, self-knowledge, control and strength, but we have trouble seeing it that way because we have had stuffed down our throats the toxic masculinity model, coupled with religious doctrine, that suggests martyrdom to be the true expression of power. Recognizing that you are right, even if that has gone unacknowledged, frees you to step out of the role of martyr and into the role of taking care of yourself. Something that, in a patriarchy, is a form of bravery in and of itself.

Feminist Friday: No Protection for Strong Women

I have to be a little vague, here, as I am in the middle of some things. I learned, yesterday, that there isn’t any legal protection for “strong women.” What that means is either someone discriminates against all women, or there’s really no legal standing. I understand that. There aren’t laws against being an asshole, either, at least in a general sense.

Reflecting, then, on last week’s post, I would suggest that this is what makes being a strong woman even more challenging. Being a strong woman is being a pioneer of sorts–it’s a novel thing, it’s a rare thing, and thus being one will not only attract attention, but also backlash. I’m not the first strong woman, and there have been strong women as long as there have been women (so: Always), but they have never had it easy. Maybe it’s just that one’s refusal to couch their opinion in qualifying language means they go unheard or dismissed for being “shrill” or lacking a “sense of humor.” Maybe it’s just that the girls who don’t modify their voice and drop their eyes don’t get the smile from the instructor. Or, maybe it’s that one is threatened online for suggesting that men are the only people responsible for rape. Or told they can’t wear white for their wedding because they aren’t a virgin, or no longer invited out for drinks because they objected to a rape joke. It goes on and on.

It’s a hard road a woman chooses when she chooses to be strong. She will be forced to deal with a lot of hostility, passive aggressive and aggressive-aggressive behavior. She will constantly be fighting; tiny verbal disagreements about the concept of TOTAL bodily autonomy or pointing out what it means when someone says “screams like a little girl” or saying that it isn’t necessary for a co-worker to define her by her reproductive status. A million billion little battles. Then there are the bigger battles, and sometimes there are violent ones.

Women whose survival strategies include accepting the status quo and/or developing a sort of Stockholm Syndrome with their oppressors will see the strong woman as much as an enemy as many men do. At best they might be your friend but say, “Well, I know you are right, but only YOU could stand up that way.” Even when the strong woman is sobbing in her car because not even her sisters are standing up with her, and she must carry the entire load on her aching back. It would be so much easier with help.

Ultimately, though, strong women really can’t stop being strong. It would be like trying to un-know something, like that the sky is blue. There’s no getting away from one’s nature. There’s no closing your eyes once they are open. To every strong woman out there, I salute you. Cry in your car. Scream when you are overwhelmed. Know that you are making a difference, know that you are not entirely alone. Because, there’s at least one other one, and maybe your actions are the spark that starts to awaken another one from her slumber. You are doing the right thing. Also, though, you cannot do it all. You must keep self-care at the forefront. The battle is not just your responsibility. Do your part, but don’t sacrifice yourself for something no one will help you with. Do what you need to do to live with yourself, but there’s no reason to die trying. Your sisters need you, and you deserve to rest and recover before heading back out into the fray.

Feminist Friday: Thoughts

I have a lot of thoughts to collect today. I read this article and thought about how most of my life, I’ve been that annoying bitch who constantly calls people out for sexist behavior. I stand up when other women can’t or won’t because they are in that minimizing place or scared, etc. I flip off that guy that drives by making kissy noises at me. I refuse to smile at the asshole at the grocery store who thinks I come in so he can talk to me about my hair. The other day the UPS guy sort of snuck up on me at work, saying, “Boo” from behind me. I told him that was a really bad idea, to sneak up on a woman at work, and if I’d been at my other desk he’d have pepper spray in his eyes. I said it with a smile, but I could see his opinion that I’m a humorless shrew percolating in his head.  Or maybe part of him realized that he had done something thoughtless and stupid.

When I was in high school I worked at Peter Piper Pizza, and we hired this manager who was shorter than me (I’m tallish, 5’9″). When he would ask a woman to do something, he would touch her at the same time. He asked me to do something and put his hand on my shoulder. I told him that I didn’t think it necessary for him to touch me to do his job and to remove his hand forthwith. The next day I was called in the General Manager’s office. He asked me to sit down, and they both stood up (an obvious tactic to intimidate me and make the short guy feel more powerful). The GM told me I needed to apologize to the other guy. I said I would do no such thing, and his Short Man Syndrome wasn’t my problem, and unwanted touching is a form of harassment. The boss demanded I apologize again. I took off my apron and cap and walked off the job. It was my 17th birthday.

I worked as a dental assistant for a horrible dentist. He refused to wear gloves, we threw all the infectious waste straight into the dumpster, and he required us to dress up for work. Like really dress up–and if it was sexy, fine. One day a patient in the chair said something about how nice I was and what a good assistant and the dentist said, “Yeah, and she’s got those lovely things on her chest for you to look at!” Afterward I said, “That’s not appropriate. Please do not talk about me that way.” He actually defended himself by saying that I should see him as “that dirty uncle, you know, you put up with him because he’s harmless.” I refused. He docked my pay. I filed a complaint with the labor board and they made him repay it. Then he cut my hours until I left, because I was pregnant and could never afford a lawyer.

A few times I’ve laid down and not called something out; a friend got me a job at a dentist’s office that I really needed. There were two dentists there; one who was bothered by me being taller than him (seriously, I never understood that and I’ve been happily married to a short guy for 20 years now) but also let me take breaks to nurse my son. The other dentist was older, the owner of the practice. One day he walks in, and pats each of us “girls” on the ass as he says good morning. As he left I looked at my friend and she said, “We all weren’t sure what YOU would do, but really it’s harmless.” Subtext: Don’t fuck this up for the rest of us. I let it go.

A little over a year ago, I sat in a courtroom next to a student’s mother. The student had reported to me that a man who came into our classroom had stalked her two years ago and she had gotten the police involved. Now he suddenly appeared in our space. When he tried to walk back in I ordered him out, brooked no argument (he was clearly very angry) and called the police. I backed that student all the way, taking a day off work to go to a hearing that was cancelled at the last minute, taking another day when it was rescheduled. Sitting next to her mother, we watched as the man’s lawyer said the most terrible things we could imagine to this young woman. He asked her if she was afraid of men. He said that he could see that she was attractive, and his client was attractive, so what was the problem with her? Did she know how much trouble she was making for this young man who did nothing wrong? It went on and on, and I think only by sitting next to each other did her mother and I remain in our seats and not leap over that rail and beat that man down to protect this student. It took months, rescheduling my vacation plans for a hearing that was cancelled by the criminal’s lawyer, all of us wavering and wanting to give up, before finally a no contact order was issued and she was free of this burden.

All along I told her, you aren’t doing this just for you, and you aren’t doing this because it will for sure work out the way it should. You are doing it for every other woman this man will cross paths with in the future. You are doing it for all of us, because you are part of a process and even if we lose (and at times it seemed we would and he would walk away), the process will roll on, and the next woman is that much closer to winning. Otherwise, it felt hopeless. It felt too hard.

I’m in the middle of another thing, right now, and I can’t talk about it, but I can say that being the one who stands up is hard. It’s exhausting. It feels hopeless, it impacts my health, it’s lonely. I have moments when I wonder, “Why am I doing this? Why don’t I just walk away, let it go, move on?” Because I can’t. Because:Other Women. Because I have a daughter and she has two daughters and because I teach other people’s daughters and I am modeling something for them that they need to see. I am modeling Doing the Right Thing, but also, that Doing the Right Thing is not like it is in the movies. The moments where one is galvanized by righteousness are few and in between is doubt, anxiety, headaches, not sleeping, pounding heart, crying, loss of motivation and all that other stuff that happens when we are in a very stressful situation. Self care is both more important and harder to do.

But, just like I told my student, I’m not just doing this for me. Even if I lose, even if I don’t prevail, it won’t change that I was right, that I stood up for what was right, that I modeled that for other women. That on the next go-round, someone will get a few steps further than I did. At least there will be that.