When the feminist movement reemerged in the 1960’s and 70’s I embraced it with all the passion of a young woman who wanted to make life choices based on my skills, abilities, passions… I was on the front line of challenging the ‘roles’ women were delegated to as wives, mothers, and workers. I freed myself from the constraints that dictated my sexuality and embraced my love and attraction for women. I was gloriously free and too naïve to be afraid. That came later.
That came after my life was threatened. After the threat to take away my daughter. After, after, after I experienced and recognized a hatred of women that permeates our culture.
Yes, hatred. Which most likely is just the leading emotion for fear. Nevertheless, the day came when I had an out of body experience of the systemic nature of misogyny. It was like the totality, the absoluteness of the oppression and suppression of women was experienced by every cell in my body. My mind stretched to reach around the reality of the truth until I thought I might break open. My heart shattered as I allowed myself to perceive the depth and universality of the hatred. It unleashed my fury.
Women can’t really live in that reality all the time. It is too harsh. Too heartbreaking. Too frightening. So I walked up to it, acknowledged it, and stepped back. Not from the reality of it but from the powerlessness misogyny assumes.
Then I lived my life. I came to have deep friendships with men and learned the difference between sexism (they all suffered from some form of it) and misogyny. I channeled my fury into making change. I learned to love complicated people and paint them with many colors and textures. We were moving forward on that slow arc toward justice about which Dr. King spoke. As a woman identified woman I came to experience what is now called ‘intersectionality’ – what we learned as women reached out across class, race, education, gender expression, and sexualities. We were forced to recognize the ways we internalized our own oppression. It was good stuff. Challenging. Inspiring. World changing.
Like people of color (at least those my age) I watched societal changes. Hell, I worked to make them happen. I believed we were changing things. Slowly but surely. Very slowly and very surely. Young women told me the battle was won, that we are in a post-feminist era. I should have been delighted – and there are ways I am grateful that young women now don’t have to question their value in many sectors – but I also know that my experience of the depth of the reality of misogyny didn’t concur that we were in a post-feminist world any more than we are in a post-racist world.
However, I was lulled into thinking that our trajectory was on course and would continue. Then came the nomination of Hillary Rodham Clinton. I was excited and hopeful that another (and great) barrier would be knocked down. As with the election of Obama, it was time. We had a great candidate. A perfect ‘transitional’ leader. So competent that no one could suggest she didn’t have the ability or experience or stamina to do the job.
I expected the haters. I believed the meanness, the vociferous, strident hatefulness unleashed by the right was contained. But then my Bernie Bros signed on to misogyny with out compunction. And white women forgot that their privilege is based on both their race and being heteronormative. They forgot, if they ever knew, that we are all in this together.
This is the systemic hatred of women I knew existed at a primal level. On election night 2017, I had that out of body experience again. I’m betting many of us did. Though our hearts are broken we are being forced, once again, to recognize and name the demon, to confront it, and to exorcize it. Most of all, I pray we re-member that not one of us is immune to the oppression of misogyny and we need, every one of us, to make the change that needs to happen.