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Emotional labor is unseen. It’s the energy women spend managing other’s feelings and emotions, making people comfortable, or living up to society’s expectations… the barrage of expectations we feel from the time we’re told to be nice and polite while boys are told not to cry. It’s a thing. It’s also a weight carried by some femmes and some men, especially if they’re the main caregiver in the family.

But this is not about that kind of emotional labor.

When I read Cara Delevigne’s account of her harassment at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, I felt every word. When I heard the recording of Ambra Battilana Gutierrez pleading with Harvey Weinstein to let her leave, I felt it in my bones.

In the words these women bravely shared with us, I heard everything they felt. The fear. The confusion. The disbelief. The shame. All of those feelings are a cocktail women are forced to swallow- all while reacting, deflecting, minimizing, and smiling because maybe you misunderstood his intentions, and fighting or plotting escape.

Most of us have sipped this putrid cocktail. Many of us have had it forced down our throats more times than we can even remember. My first time? I was three years old. My “Harvey Weinstein” was a sick young man of 18 who likely had his own trauma story. My young brain went into survival mode and I lived with it like an ugly stain I chose not to look at.

What I experienced at three years old was traumatic. The things I experienced as a teen and a young woman weren’t traumatic. They were your average, run of the mill, everyday sexist things. Some small, some not so small. Awkward moments of being treated like an object but not understanding what was happening. Infuriating infractions against my autonomy. Most of them weren’t scary, but they were all tinged with fear. And they are nearly universal experiences that girls and women go through. Average. Run of the mill. Because that’s how insidious this problem is. We’re used to it. Except, we’re really not and we really never will be.

Grabbing our body. Cornering us in a room or office or hallway. Making suggestive comments. Scanning our bodies while grinning sadistically. The kisses forced on us while we push away and clench our lips, our teeth ready to bite. The demeaning remarks. Belittling our intellect or experience or our right to be in the room. Talking to us like we’re children when we had to grow up at the age of 3 or 8 or 16… the assumption that we don’t know things when our knowledge of things unspoken would make your blood run cold. And still having to coddle your knowledge because we need our job, or our kid needs to play on your team, or we need our car fixed, or insert any fucking reason because I’m tired.

All of this is emotional labor. It’s the adding up of little things and placing them on the spectrum of bullshit that women go through at the hands of sick or entitled or clueless men. It’s reliving our experiences when a friend confides hers. Or when a plot line in a movie goes there. It’s watching the debate and feeling our body grow hot because we know what it’s like to have a man try to intimidate you by standing too close. It’s watching Billy Bush play wingman and fuming because we’ve seen that bro code play out like a bad movie on repeat.

It’s getting threats online. And every woman you know who blogs or is involved in activism online also gets threats. It’s the fact that your friends have a detailed protocol they follow when harassment and threats become serious, and they’ll share it with you like it’s their grandmother’s chocolate cake recipe.

It’s remembering that back in 2014 you read about journalist Amanda Hess and her online stalker. About how she had to carry her case files with her when she travelled because his threats followed her to every town she visited and she needed to be able to alert local police and show them proof BECAUSE OF COURSE SHE HAD TO SHOW THEM PROOF. And three years later not a damn thing’s changed because Twitter and Facebook are cool with rape and death threats. It’s realizing that all of this means that women are expendable and even well known and respected journalists get shrugs of indifference. All of this makes us feel some kind of way… Tired. Angry. Frustrated. Fed up.

It’s the emotional labor of feeling all these things every single time we watch a man help himself to one of us. The sisterhood of We’ve Had Enough Of This Shit.

It’s the drip drip of everyday sexism that is more on time than the trains and more relentless than Harvey Weinstein in a bath robe.

There’s nothing more paradoxically mundane and infuriating than someone who thinks he’s clever saying and doing the same thing you’ve been hearing since you were 3 or 8 or 16.

And it’s the guilt. The guilt for being there. For laughing. For not leaving sooner. For not fighting hard enough. For not actually biting his lip even though we were this close. And the guilt we find ourselves accepting from the men who take from us. Don’t embarrass me. C’mon, I’ve been so nice to you. Guilt because we’re conditioned to carry emotional labor for others and our inclination to people please supersedes our safety for a few minutes, and then more guilt because we know it’s sick to feel guilty for hurting our abuser’s feelings.

It’s when badass women write about their harassment, their abuse, their rape. The healing and strength you get from reading it. And knowing that every time they write about it there’s a sub-reddit forming around their words to discredit and threaten them. That her unburdening and words of healing will likely just heap more abuse on her own plate.

It’s the exhaustion of not being believed. Of knowing that even the good guys may not believe our experiences until it’s corroborated by at least a dozen other women. Or until Hannibal Buress includes it in his stand up act.

It’s the time we have to spend assuring men that we know they’re not all like this. Again. And feeling equal parts sad and angry that it will take a whole chorus of us to explain it because one woman’s words have never been enough and in these moments his feelings are more important than the shit we’ve lived with and the shit we’re still reeling from. We have to press pause to explain that we know it’s not all men. We have to hold off on what we’re trying to say about abuse and assault and sexism -that’s pretty fucking important by the way- to massage a man’s feelings. Again.

It’s the fact that when the Weinsteins of the world are exposed, we still have to moderate our tone and keep our emotions in check or we’ll be labelled with the female malady of hysteria.

It’s the deafening silence of every man who doesn’t call out another guy for the rape joke, or the office banter about the new girl, or the locker room talk. Because every time you laughed or didn’t call him out or didn’t step in to intervene you became an enabler. Your silence makes you complicit. Do better.

It’s seeing that things don’t change. That these stories echo the stories of your mom getting chased around her desk in 1977. And she couldn’t quit her job because the fridge was already empty and it wasn’t pay day yet so she would survive on cigarettes and adrenaline so you and your sister could eat. It’s seeing that in 40 years the only thing that’s changed is HR has to pretend to care.

It’s the relentless onslaught of dudes who feel compelled to comment on each story of abuse and trauma in unhelpful ways. Who love to muse that women should have spoken up sooner, or women should have prevented it, or women shouldn’t be victims. Who can’t seem to understand that their job is to Listen. Stay silent. Or go after the predators. And with every chin scratch and psuedo-intellectual analysis they are kicking dirt in the face of every woman who has been dealing with this shit since they were 3 or 8 or 16.

Some of the things that happen to us are inconveniences. But because they are so tied up in the big things and sometimes they are hints of the traumas we’ve collected, they register. Because they all live on the same spectrum of abusive behavior they aren’t easily dismissed. What your bro sees as a joke, is our memory of what we’ve experienced or what our friends have whispered to us. Our lives and the onslaught of bullshit we put up with is your punchline. Even the small things take up time and energy. They make us pause and assess. They make us document or take screenshots or vent in private conversations with our girl friends so we can not snap at the next man that crosses our path because we’re tired.

I’m tired of laboring under all of this.

I’m tired of watching women go through it over and over again. I’m tired of the memories that flood my mind every time a story breaks and the visceral reaction when I see men dismiss women’s experiences. I’m tired of trudging through this virulent sludge on the regular, while men act shocked every time they see a woman with dirty shoes.

This is the emotional labor that sticks to me and buries itself into my psyche. The labor that feels like it’s siphoned off by men like Cosby and Ailes and OReilly and Weiner and  Weinstein and names you’ve never heard of because this isn’t just a sickness of the rich and famous. This is a sickness of a culture that sees women as commodities. That sees us as punchlines. As unreliable witnesses to our own experiences. It’s the emotional toll of watching men shake their heads but say nothing. It’s the emotional work we have to do to not be bitter or angry or hardened. It’s the multitude of ways we are co-opted  by the society that encourages it, enables it and even glorifies it.

Men, if you’ve been wondering why we’re in your face about it, why we have no more tolerance for dismissals and deflections, no more sympathy for your shock or surprise, why we won’t soothe your dismay or feed your ego when our bodies have been slandered, this is why.

Because we’re tired.

Signed,

The Sisterhood Of We’re Tired Of This Shit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“I was asleep before… that’s how we let it happen. They suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary.”

This is Offred’s stark warning.

A narration of regret.

Her name’s not really Offred. It’s Jane. Or June. Or something that I can’t remember because her name no longer matters. She is no longer a human with an identity, she is the property of Fred. And she is the main character in Hulu’s series The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the 1985 Margaret Atwood novel.

Offred is a Handmaid in Gilead, the religious fundamentalist reincarnation of the United States. After a terrorist attack and environmental disasters left the republic weakened, a strong-arm theocracy took hold. Patriarchal control was the new order. Women, no longer allowed to work, read, vote or hold property. Children, taken at will from parents who refuse to conform. Traitors, hung along the river, government spies around every corner.

In this dystopian theocracy, women no longer have choices. They are assigned roles by the almighty government. The small number of women who are still fertile become Handmaids, their job to produce children for the elite. They are human incubators. Vessels. Possessions of the privileged. Routinely subjected to state sanctioned rape every month in the name of glorious and holy conception.

Blessed be the fruit of the non-consenting womb.

The Handmaid’s Tale serves as a warning, as many great works of art do. With it’s desaturated colors and stark visuals, the horrors on the screen should shock us.

But they don’t.

Instead of shock, recognition. We see it, how it could happen. The clarity is so unnerving that many women can’t even bear to watch the show.

Exaggeration? Fear? Perhaps. But possible? Yes.

Possible, because our country has done these things before.

Our great country likes to practice the art of selective amnesia. We prefer to whitewash our hateful past and water down our history books and our conscience.

Those who never learn unadulterated history are doomed to repeat it.

In our great country, humans were bought and sold like livestock. We stripped them of their names. Their identity tied up in the men who owned them. Slave women were expected to produce more slaves to keep the fields stocked with blood and sweat. When they failed, they were beaten and sometimes sold as damaged goods. We excused every bit of this with religious text and disgusting theories on race. We denied their humanity and we denied them their names and heritage.

My name is Offred. I had a name before… 

Wives in the antebellum south looked the other way while their husbands raped slaves. Their jealous rage directed at the victims in the form of beatings. Their lack of voice or control unleashed on slave girls while their husbands continued to rape at will. An uncomfortable fact of life for the privileged women was a soul stripping act of violence for the slave girls and women.

Blessed be the ability to control through fear and domination and violence.

Lynchings were community events. The town’s people would gather to cheer and celebrate torture and murder. Smug words of consternation. Them boys should have listened to their master. Them girls should know what’s good for them. The bodies would hang for days. Weeks. White supremacy has sadistic ways of making sure you remember. He shouldn’t have been driving with a broken tail light. She shouldn’t have questioned his authority and lit that cigarette.

You don’t read much about the lynchings and the rapes in the history books though. Nothing more than a sanitized mention before moving on to the battles and the bayonets, the blood on metal tips washes down easier than the blood dripping from a tree branch.

It’s not possible to go back to such dark times, we say. But did you see the evening news?

Another black boy’s name is trending on Twitter and another murder is excused. We shake our heads as we sip our coffee.

It’s not possible, we say, as we press our “I Voted” sticker onto our shirt and take a selfie to show proof of our civic duty.

It’s not possible, we say, as we watch men behind closed doors decide that we are pre-existing conditions. Our rape, our pregnancy, our broken jaw from a closed fist, all preexisting conditions. A tax on our bodies and our psyches and our wombs.

It’s not possible, we say, as we watch bills being debated on state house floors. Bills that infantilize us. Forced vaginal ultrasounds… because we need a wand shoved into our cervix to grasp the idea that we’re pregnant.

It’s not possible, we say, but politicians keep saying rape is only rape if there are bruises and marks. Because men raping wives, and boyfriends raping girlfriends, and date rape, and victims freezing because that is biologically the mechanism that takes over when being assaulted in the most personal way, is not “really rape” according to these men. And the only scars they care about are the ones that are visible and verifiable.

It’s not possible, we say. But lawmakers are trying to make us get consent from a man before getting an abortion. Because of course our bodies should be regulated by the men in our lives. Of course our husband/boyfriend/father has more say about our life changing decision.

Shall I get my rapist to sign a permission slip, dear congressman?

What about my abusive husband who keeps me pregnant to keep me imprisoned in his sick, controlling world? Shall he sign it in my blood?

It’s not possible, we say, as we scroll through social media and wonder how we got here. But it is possible. You just don’t recognize it because you didn’t live it, and your ancestors don’t bear the scars, and the color of your skin and your religion protect you from what’s happening now.

What you don’t necessarily see or feel or fear every day is happening. And eventually it will touch you and yours if you continue to sit in your comfortable apathy.

Our false sense of security and privileged ignorance will one day be our yoke. The bliss of being able to turn the page or tune out or pretend like it isn’t happening… is akin to sipping iced tea on the plantation porch, fanning ourselves and talking about the weather while we listen to the snaps of a whip hitting flesh in the fields below us. We avert our eyes and pretend like we don’t hear the cries of anguish. My, it’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?

It’s all possible. Gilead is not just a dystopian fiction. It’s a warning. A preview of what inaction and unchecked power can do. The likeliness is still a question. But by the time we’re sure, by the time we realize our rights have been stripped away, it’s usually too late.

I was asleep before… that’s how we let it happen.

Corporations have more humanity than their female employees, so says the court. Their religious belief or how they interpret ancient text trumps my healthcare decisions and what my doctor and I decide is best. Their profit is their humanity, their fetish for patriarchal control is their soul. And it’s worth more than the humanity that is present between my heart and my ovaries and my mind.

Personhood bills are popping up across states like a sick game of autonomy Whack A Mole. Bills that threaten to make my reproductive choices nonexistent. No pill. No IUD. No sex. Good girls don’t have sex for pleasure. Good girls only have sex to make babies. Good girls will produce as many babies as her body is physically capable of. Good girls don’t get roofied by Cliff Huxtable. Good girls don’t get raped. Good girls don’t make accusations and make people uncomfortable. Good. Girls. Don’t. Question. Authority.

We have men in power who pledge allegiance to their scripture, not the country. They eschew the basic tenet of separation of church and state, the very foundation of our democracy and Constitution. The words of the founding fathers inconsequential when holy words direct you to fund torture of gay teens and deny AIDS prevention and force heartbroken women who’ve suffered loss to pay to bury their miscarried remains. Because patriarchy and purity culture is nothing if not creative in their ways to retain control of women.

We have a members of The Council for National Policy, a super secret group filled with extremists and Dominionists pulling the strings of government as we speak. Their goal is to turn our country into a theocracy, their strategy is to manipulate the government from within.  Key members have funded, aided and staffed the current administration. They, along with The Heritage Foundation, have been working for decades on projects like Citizens United and school choice which is coded language for government funding of religious schools. The Prince family, the DeVos family, Conway, Bannon, Mercer, Koch. Do these names ring a bell? They are cozying up to white supremacists and other religious zealots to make sure your children get a hefty dose of fundamentalist branded God™ in the classroom.

Blessed be the righteousness of money to gain power…

They tell us those “other” people are evil. They’ve come here to rape us and to plant bombs in our malls and take our jobs, and it works because fear is the most effective means of control.

They pass “Religious Freedom Laws” which is cool kid speak for “we hate gays so we are going to hide behind our cherry picked religious text.”

They tell us it’s not a crime when unarmed black men and women are shot. They shush our horror with platitudes and lies.

Blessed be the electorate willing to believe modern day lynching is somehow justifiable.

Blessed be the gerrymandered districts that make voter suppression of black people so much easier than the good ‘ol days when we just spit on them and burned crosses in front of their house and beat them and killed them.

Blessed be the prisons where we can lock people up for minor crimes and keep people away from their jobs and their families and their lives because they can’t pay court fines . And the private prison system that feeds the cycle of poverty and gives us our modern day slave labor and serfdom and keeps rich men richer and poor men poorer.

Blessed be all the people who spread the propaganda so willfully… women are not to be believed or trusted… black people are thugs… gay people are sinful… transgender people are predators waiting in the Target bathroom to attack our women and children… authority is to be respected no matter what… we shouldn’t question a person in uniform… we shouldn’t question those in power… we should be enraged at a football player kneeling during the national anthem but stay silent while unarmed black men are shot.

Blessed be those who repeat the words of control and manipulation and authoritarianism. 

Blessed be those who confuse “respect the office of the presidency” with blind loyalty, who play Candy Crush instead of reading the news, who think that apathy to racism is not as bad as being a full on racist. Who excuse “low key” racism with a shrug and feign ignorance.

Blessed be the patriots who think voting is the sum total of their civic duty, who think that our democracy is unbreakable and checks and balances will always save it, who don’t want to offend so they stay silent when they see atrocities, who not only allow it to happen, but aid and abet it.

This is the warning. Too late happens while you sleep. The effects not fully realized until the point of no return is but a speck in the rearview mirror.

“It’s not possible,”  should not be the last gasp of democracy.

Are you awake?

 

I would love for you to join my Stop Sexism Facebook group that is part of The Good Men Project’s Social Interest Groups. Jeremy McKeen and I run the group and moderate discussions on sexism and hold weekly conference calls. Please click HERE and join if you’d like to be a part of the discussion!

 

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