International Women’s Day came and went, and it left me feeling a lot of things. It’s only been recently that I even noted this day, that I even realized it existed. Was it really a thing before the Internet?
According to this New Yorker article about Kim Walls, the day has been around for 108 years. But what are we celebrating when we celebrate International Women’s Day and what are we supposed to be reminded of?
On the campus where I work, a student org hosts a panel featuring women from campus and asks them to share their experiences of being women in the world. Topics range from feminism to sexism to gender roles. I participated last year, and it was the highlight of my year. I thought it was such a cool way to hear the stories of women on campus, and to connect women across the faculty/staff-student divide. I did not grow up with many female role models, and I do appreciate that this might provide a way for college women to identify someone they can follow. To reflect on their own experience as up and coming women.
I was asked to step in at this year’s event because one of the panelists had a family emergency and needed to step down. I have been sick all week, almost delirious in my waking moments, sleeping when I’m not trying to catch up at work. I agreed because I was going to be in attendance at the event anyway, and I wanted to help out the students. But now, days later and with a return to a state of health, I feel I made some major mistakes in my participation. Both with my presence and in my topics.
I wish I had stood up and said, “no, I won’t be participating after all. I think we should leave this space empty to recognize mothers. To recognize women whose stories we’ve missed because they turned away to be with their children. Because their children called and they answered. Because they had no other choice. Because they had no one else who could step in or because they felt it was only their responsibility to bear. If this is really a day to celebrate women, let’s let this absence fill us up. Let’s recognize it for what it is: The sacrifice of a mother. The reason we’re all here.”
But I didn’t think to say that in the moment. Maybe it would have made a difference, maybe it would have resonated, maybe not. (Thanks, Ofelia). I talked away, rambled away, through the congestion in my head and the ache in my throat. Not saying much of substance, not connecting the shiny points in my mind I wanted to share with the audience. I wanted to talk about the internalized misogyny I grew up with. I wanted to talk about how long it took me to recognize it as such, thanks to an intro women and gender studies course in college. I wanted to talk about how much that class made sense to me. How easily I absorbed the concepts and the scholarship. I wanted to talk about how I flipped to the extreme, from modeling my personality on toxic masculinity to modeling it on flighty femininity. I became superficially kind. Superficially sweet and giving. How unhealthy that can be.
I wanted to talk about how I got to grad school and still didn’t feel safe. Still didn’t feel like I had feminist mentors in my life. Still felt like the world was out to get me, was waiting for me to fail, was waiting to say, I told you so.
I didn’t recognize my voice as something to be heard. I didn’t recognize the lack of complex, positive female images in the world. The missing from my tv, my movies, my books. How so often, the women roles were written by men. Men who had incomplete ideas of what it was to be a woman.
I wanted to talk about how I’ve watched the women around me hate themselves, hate their bodies, and spread that hate to other women. I wanted to say, “yes, I’ve dealt with a lot of shit from men, but what’s become more shocking and stinging to me has been the lack of solidarity from women.” How quickly the women in my life have failed to choose my side, have failed to recognize my failings for what they are — a woman in the world trying to build her voice.
I wanted to talk about how 53% of white women voters chose the current President. The man who said, “grab them by the pussy.” A man who uses the word pussy and thinks women have a pussy, yet women still believe he will lead the country somewhere worthwhile. That doesn’t even roll off the tongue, “grab them by the pussy.” It doesn’t even ring. Maybe he will create the jobs, maybe he will make America great again, but do you think it will be great for anyone with a pussy? Do you think there will be jobs for the pussies? I wanted to talk about the women who stand by their man.
Do you know women make up 50.8% of the U.S. population? So, why aren’t there more of us in places where it matters? It’s 2018, and we have the first senator to give birth.
What about the fact that we still don’t have spaces for transwomen, for women of color, for anyone a little different cognitively or physically or emotionally? How often are women in charge of the spaces, yet they’re still not making space? What about how white women still aren’t recognizing the experience of men of color?
I’m thirty years old. I’ve become financially independent. I’ve had the privilege to control my own reproduction. I’ve had the perspective of a multiracial world. The struggle is real, and it’s different for everyone, and you have to get out of your own head. You have to get out of your own world. You have to remember there are stories you don’t have access to. Stories you don’t have a right to. Stories you’re ignoring. You have to think about how you’ve been groomed, how you’ve been taught, what lies you’re carrying around everyday, spreading like spores.
You have to make space for the maybe of life.
And what does it say about me, that I’m ruminating over this? Over my miss? That I feel, as a woman, that when I’m given the space to talk that I better not mess it up. That I better make it right. That I better say what I want to say perfectly. That I will only have this time and this chance, and that I better not let anyone down. And how heavy it weighs, when the moment passes.