(sent in 5 parts)
Dear President Trump,
I don’t normally write you in the middle of the day on weekdays, but I’m home sick and thus not on the Federal clock. Since I’m not as time pressured as usual, I decided to take this opportunity to go back to the document I started on November 6th where I went back through my letters to you and pulled out the different opportunity and motive factors I think have enabled the ongoing subjugation of women in our country. When I first pulled all this together I thought I would one day come back to it and somehow boil it all down into a letter that fits your contact page constraints. However, in re-reading it and finding I actually needed to flesh some of it out further, I decided I’d just bombard your inbox today with a series of installments to get it all in there.
Part of the inspiration for indulging myself and using as many damn characters as I want was having read Sally Kohn’s brilliant WP editorial arguing that sexual harassment and sexual assault should be classified as hate crimes. Because she puts it so beautifully and cogently I am including her entire last paragraph verbatim here where she’s describing why we are all more likely to see a promising male job applicant as talented and a woman who looks good on paper as lucky:
“That’s because we’ve all grown up inside the rotten barrel of a society that automatically grants men disproportionate power and privilege. Even those of us who are women, are married to women or have daughters we love still unconsciously or consciously absorb our cultural messages and norms about the inherent inferiority of women, a belief that courses through all of our veins, whether we intend for it to or not, simply because it’s the rotten air we’ve all learned to breathe. That’s the rot at the core of misogynistic harassment and assault — a rot within all of us, that has nothing to do with sex or affection and everything to do with hate.”
Much of what I’ve written to you already and that I compiled into the following list echoes Ms. Kohn’s assessment. I also think I’ve made a few additional points that are well worth including so here are all the opportunity and motive factors I’ve gathered thus far that I believe have enabled and continue to enable misogynistic mistreatment of girls and women by boys and men:
- We are conditioned to believe people behave pretty consistently across situations so if all we witness are decent behaviors from someone this gives them cover to behave badly in other, more private or isolated contexts.
- The ubiquity of abusive and misogynistic male behavior enables it because it happens so often in so many settings that it’s incredibly ordinary and unless something really horrible happens, it’s barely worth a mention because it makes us sound whiny and uptight if we do, and really, it’s not that big a deal anyway. This is what girls and women convey to each other and it is what gets conveyed to boys and men and from boys and men so there are many layers of silencing and excusing and colluding and undercutting our own sense of reality.
- Whatever it is that’s happening between them or in that family down the block is none of our business anyway.
- When something really horrible does happen and a girl or woman dares to tell someone about it she is often not believed or she is essentially put on trial (or both). This serves as a highly effective warning to anyone else who might have considered coming forward, triggering the trainings most of us have received in silence and compartmentalization and foisting us towards the “move on” default.
- Similarly, watching other women go through the meat grinder of public opinion when they call someone out for harassment or assault, we often arrive at the half-belief that whatever happened to her was at least part her fault, which leads inexorably to the paralyzing half-belief that whatever happened to us was at least part our fault and we then tend to marry it up with the suffocating half-belief that it wasn’t that bad since we got out alive and maybe still have a job. What we know instinctively from here is that we need to shut up, stop making people (including ourselves) uncomfortable by talking about it, and move on. Let it go. Bury the bones of our shame and rage in the back corner of the abandoned lot next door and put on a happy face. Those bones will disintegrate eventually and leach into the soil. The next girl or woman who uses that spot to bury her bones might sense someone went before her, but in her desperation to get on with her life she’ll just pile hers there on top of yours. And the man who builds his house on the lot will just be pleased he got the land so cheap even as he instinctively knows to keep a bit of open space for new bones to be buried.
- The entrenched belief held firm by men and women and boys and girls that girls and women are second-class citizens is enabled by the affection and love girls and women feel for the boys and men in their lives as it hinders us from calling out and challenging these oppressive, day in, day out, attitudes and behaviors. We love them and have genuine affection for them so even though their crappy attitudes and behaviors bring us to tears, we can’t stay angry or fully address the issues.
- This belief that girls and women are second-class citizens is also strengthened by images of Oval Offices and boardrooms full of (white) men making important decisions that affect everyone, with or without the lone token woman present (of course, the systematic disenfranchisement of people of color parallels and compounds that of girls and women). These images pound home the message that we are expendable, our priorities don’t matter, we don’t have seats at the tables of power, and our voices are shut out and drowned out.
- Although it has been well described by others, no feminist rant would be complete without addressing the issue that men can typically get away with behaving badly toward women because what men do, what they produce, who they are to the world is more highly valued than what women do, what we produce, who we are to the world. So if women’s work is not valued at the same level as men’s work and you have a man mistreating a woman privately (it used to not matter whether it was private or public so maybe there’s a tiny bit of progress), even if all signs indicate the mistreatment is real, chances are people, including women, are going to try very hard to look the other way and pretend it isn’t so.
- Relatedly, we don’t want to lose out on whatever The Man is coming up with and we don’t want whatever money or reflected glory we might be able to make off whatever The Man is producing or conducting to go away. So we put up and shut up on all sides.
- Most aware bystanders don’t speak out because we’ve convinced ourselves it is just hearsay and we don’t know for a fact that the seventeenth woman there are whispers about that mogul mistreating really suffered anything she didn’t bring on herself, because, as noted above, we don’t want our gravy train to stop and we secretly think preserving his greatness is more important than protecting women and preserving their dignity.
- At the founding of our nation, women didn’t count at all. We weren’t considered citizens, we weren’t 3/5s, we had no public (and little private) voice or power.
- If women were not considered citizens or real people then how could there be crimes against us? Now we have laws on rape, domestic violence, and hostile work places (which are variably enforced) but for more than half the life of our country we didn’t have such laws and women couldn’t vote, hold property, divorce, etc. The old, entrenched mindset that women are second-class citizens allows you and the HW’s of the world license to grab us wherever, however, whenever you want. The ultimate enabling, opportunity facilitator.
- This all builds upon the two main Judeo Christian pillars of misogyny: the dominant creation myth and the myth of Jesus’s conception. Eve was invented to keep Adam company and had no standing of her own and when she and Adam took a bite from the fruit of knowledge, Eve was the one who took all the heat. With Mary and the myth of virginal conception we are left with the perverse tale of the most revered woman in our dominant religious system having been impregnated against her will and having to depend on the largess of a man to escape exile or execution.
- There’s been at least one prominent man called out for his abusive behavior who pleaded ignorance, essentially saying he didn’t realize his pursuit of subordinate women in his company was making them so very uncomfortable and he’s sure as heck sorry about it. It didn’t matter that he had to try 10 or 15 times; he wasn’t really stressed by the rejections and he got a major thrill if he was able to get in close enough to get something.
- Many an insecure man has abused women so he can feel more powerful. It’s also a way to keep women “in their places” if they are encroaching on male territory or getting too uppity.
- I missed this very obvious motivator (thought it’s also an opportunity factor) before and am grateful a friend pointed it out to me; our culturally sanctioned and heavily reinforced version of masculinity, which emphasizes dominance and aggression and rejects anything hinting of femininity.
- Relatedly, the power and esteem men give each other for boasting about mistreating women motivate them to keep doing these things or saying they do these things even if they don’t. Because other men go along with it and don’t call it out as fundamentally wrong and hateful, the message is broadcast that this behavior and the bragging about it are acceptable and a big part of how men prove they are real men.
- Essentially, men keep doing this because it gives them status with other men and other men’s opinions are what matter to them.
May people speak up and call out all misogyny even when it isn’t safe to do so.
May we get that we will all be happier if we address fundamental inequalities.
May we have sufficient ego strength to tolerate a level playing field.
May we use this cultural moment of truth telling to dismantle oppressive domination systems.