So, America. Here’s where we are. It’s 2016.
We have a major party candidate bragging about sexually assaulting women on tape. We have African American boys and men frequently killed by police, and police being the victims of violence themselves. We have American citizens starting up militias to be prepared if their party candidate doesn’t win. We have people claiming that everything that is wrong with America was caused by President Barack Obama (9/11, ISIS, you name it). We have citizens showing a candidate for president’s face with a bullseye and the word “Killary.” These are dark times for our nation. Our democracy is splintering.
I can’t help but think about it this way.
We are a young nation. We are in our adolescence. And one thing about adolescents ― when they are trying to figure out who they are ― they often make mistakes.
Big, messy, fall on your face mistakes. You know, the time you went out with the jerk who didn’t care about your feelings and all he could talk about was himself. The one who looked over your best friend, like she’s next, while he was still dating you. That one. The one that made you realize you deserved to be treated well. That you deserved to have someone who respects you and appreciates you.
Well, America, that is us. We are laying on the bathroom floor. The cold tile is against our faces. We are at rock bottom, when your legs won’t carry you back to bed, and the bathroom floor is where you must be.
It is only from this position that you can see clearly. Many of us have been skating by in our lives like this kind of rampant misogyny and racism doesn’t exist. Many well intentioned people claimed that they are color blind, that we are post racial, post feminism as a society.
From the bathroom floor, though, there is no denying the hateful ideology and mindset that sprung forward from the very first Trump speech. There is no denying the racist undertones of an entire campaign when a person is not to be trusted as a judge because he is a Mexican American. Or the statement that Mexico is sending us rapists and criminals, even when the data shows there is not one shred of truth there. The fact that a segment of our society believes this had to emerge in a painful and sudden way. It is us, looking up from the bathroom floor. This problem has been revealed to us and could only be seen clearly from our face down position.
There is no denying the sexism that is also pervasive in our society, and typified when Hillary is called a nasty woman (for expressing her opinion), or when her health is called into question even as she is younger than her opponent, or when she is told to smile more, or be more “likable.” When jokes about her appearance, her health, and her imprisonment, are flying around the air like flies around a horse — we have a problem. It is undeniable. From that place on the floor, the sexist truth hangs there, shaming us as a society. Showing us how far we have to go.
We’ve seen bits of this kind of misogyny — I can take their bodies because I am in power — in recent history. We’ve also seen America reject it. In the ‘90s, it happened when we finally started talking about switching the perception that a woman is somehow guilty of her own rape because of what she is wearing. Movies like “The Accused” and “Thelma and Louise” showed us that and caused a national conversation and examination of our values and practices. The Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas trial did as well ― when the nation finally talked intensively about sexual harassment in the workplace. These times push us forward in lurches, like a someone learning to drive a stick shift car. Sometimes we stall out.
So it is now that we are faced with what we had not been able to see clearly before this moment: racism and misogyny are alive and well in our society, and we have to deal with it. We need to rise up from the cold, hard, bathroom floor.
And I know we can do it. Here’s why:
Before our face down moment, feminism was taking plenty of hits. I’ve never stopped calling myself a feminist, since way back in my first women’s studies class in the ‘90s. But since then feminism had gone underground, and been demonized and stereotyped as man hating, instead of simply promoting equality. Now, however, the feminist backlash against Trump’s campaign, and the pundits and voters that support him, have been inspired, brave, and illuminating.
After the Trump tapes were revealed, women across America were talking about sexual violence. On Twitter women chronicled all of the times they had faced harassment and abuse, often starting in their childhoods. In articles and blog posts women reacted to the comments and relived the trauma they had experienced. Thousands of women who had not shared their stories, as a result of these tapes, did. Women found validation that their experiences were not unusual and that they had to be talked about. Men commented, listened and chimed in about their experiences in this culture and vowed to stand up to sexism and misogyny. This kind of honest conversation pushes us forward, challenges existing narratives and practices, and makes me think that we can start to move forward more rapidly. To start any change, the stakes and experiences have to be named. For many women, the tapes brought that forward. Now it is time to move on from the bathroom floor.
Another example of rising is the way women embraced the title of Nasty Women, which Trump called Hillary in the third debate. Social media brought back Janet Jackson’s “Nasty Boys” song and it pinged around the internet. I found myself belting this out in the kitchen, likely with thousands of women across America: “I’m not a prude, I just want some respect. So close the door if you want me to respond. Cause privacy is my middle name, my last name is control. No my first name ain’t baby, it’s Janet. Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.” Another viral meme was a cat’s face, hissing, with Pussy Grabs Back written across it, using Trump’s own crass language in a way that showed women have the power to determine the outcome of this election. This instant way to find humor and feminism in the most sexist of public displays by a politician reflects a kind of radiant perseverance, humor, and determination. No, we are not the victims and you can’t write the story for us.
The fact that a major party candidate is talking about institutionalized racism is incredible progress. For the first time in my life, we have a presidential candidate talking about coming together to dismantle racism in incarceration, policing, our schools, universities, and beyond. It has been explained why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important — to folks who never understood their privilege before and could finally see that yes, all lives are important, but the African American ones are being threatened right now at alarming rates and we have to do all we can to stop that from happening. We are talking about listening to each other more, between police and communities of color, in new ways. We are talking about getting corporations out of the business of jailing people. We are talking about ethics and sensitivity trainings for all who serve in our prisons and on our streets as police. These conversations are happening in deeper ways as a result of our face down moment. This will hopefully lead to changes in policy and changes in hearts.
So, while the news may seem bleak and it may look like we will not rise from the bathroom floor, I beg to disagree. Maybe it is my optimistic nature, or maybe, just maybe you have to hit rock bottom before you begin to climb out. We’ve been shown the floor — misogyny and racism that has been there the whole time — many of us just couldn’t see it. Now that we have seen it, now that it is laid bare, we have to do something about it. We have to start the difficult conversations as a country about how to move on, to climb up, to stand and to be better. Our messy adolescent bathroom floor moment is almost over.
Let’s do this America. Get out and vote. Vote to move us from rock bottom. Then, let’s move on. The only way out, is up.
BEFORE YOU GO
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