Listening to Women
[Content warning: brief references to sexual harassment/assault & current media coverage]
Two or three times a week, I go to the campus rec center early to exercise before work. Even though I love the repetitive monotony of the rowing machines, I generally do not row much these days because the rowing machines are in front of a million televisions playing CNN/Fox/ESPN/NBC/ABC/CBS. The sound is turned off, but the ocean of chyron shit is not how I like to start my day.
So I tend to exercise in the parts of the facility that aren’t in front of a million TVs. I often run on the indoor track, but sometimes when I’m feeling lazy, I walk on a treadmill so I can zone out and listen to a podcast. There are treadmills that don’t face the bank of chyron shit, but unfortunately too many new treadmills are souped up with built-in TVs that start up automatically before you can change it to something more benign, like an image of a stopwatch.
This morning I was in lazy mode, and I scrolled through my always-increasing queue of podcasts. I listen to a lot of current news podcasts, and have racked up several unplayed episodes covering the latest revelations confirming far too many men love power more than they love women. It’s too much, it’s all too much, and like many women who’ve experienced abuse and harassment in my past, I’ve mostly disengaged from the ongoing revelations beyond reading headlines. Engaging any more deeply keeps forcing open the places where I’ve packed my sadness and undiluted anger into a form that allows me to function on a daily basis. I picked a podcast about academic writing and hopped on the treadmill.
And no sooner do I hop on the treadmill than the built-in TV starts up with the TODAY show, and my jaw drops when I see what’s going down. There is no more wild distillation of the period we are in than to see Matt Lauer’s women co-anchors announce why he isn’t there. I grab my phone and take a picture of it because every time I think 2017 can’t get any more intense I take a picture or a screenshot, as if documenting all the bullshit insanity could make it stop.
I thought for a second about posting it on social media, and then I remembered how I don’t want to contribute to the problem I, and many other women, are trying to escape from: that most men (given the overwhelming majorities of women who are abused by an intimate partner or harassed by someone she knows) do not love us, do not value our safety, and do not acknowledge our personhood. We know this, and most of us are not shocked by any of this, because we’ve experienced it from men everyone else thought were “the good ones.”
I don’t know that there has ever been a time in patriarchal culture when it hasn’t been hard to be a woman. But the last two months has been an undeniably difficult period to be a woman. I don’t know how this all will end, and maybe thinking there is an end, as if there is a linear story here, is part of our collective delusion.
Since the post-Weinstein effect got rolling, I think I’ve read virtually every essay about women and anger. They speak to me, and I carry the image of Beyoncé smashing in the windows of men’s cars in my heart, all the time. There is a part of my rage that undeniably takes a small helping of solace knowing that powerful men are scared, that many are nervous that their bill will soon come due. But the fragment that’s stayed with me most was from Rebecca Traister’s essay:
…it’s easy to conclude that this moment actually isn’t radical enough, because it’s limited to sexual grievances. One 60-year-old friend, who is single and in a precarious professional situation, says, “I’m burning with rage watching some assholes pose as good guys just because they never put their hands on a colleague’s thigh, when I know for a fact they’ve run capable women out of workplaces in deeply gendered ways. I’m very frustrated, because I’m not in a position right now to spill some beans.”
Online and offline, I’ve been saying over and over that one of the most important things people can do if they care about women is to proactively consume, cite, and promote the work of women. Because all of these stories are not just about getting your ass grabbed, they’re about who has visibility. They are about who gets more bylines (men), who gets more invitations to keynote (men), who gets more citations (men), who gets installed in the cannon (men). They are the stories of who we listen to, and who we regard as authorities.
You often hear a lot of people say at times like this, “listen to women.” And while yes, obviously, duh…. to my ears, this phrase positions listening to women as a choice. It betrays an acknowledgement of the reality that, as a rule, our culture does not choose to listen to women. It especially does not listen to women of color and poor women.
One of the most underrated beautifully radical things said by a famous woman in the last few years is when Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the Supreme Court would have enough female justices when it has nine of them. I think about this all the time, and it is powerful as fuck because no one has the choice but to listen to the Supreme Court.
When I talk about how people should consider only reading books by women, or some other avenue of basically transferring their attention from the works of men to the works of women, this is what I’m getting at. I’ve recently learned that some men in my life who talk a good game about supporting women are beyond threatened by this idea, implying that I’m advocating shutting out their voices. The insinuation is that women owe men their attention. It isn’t clear in this equation what, exactly, men owe women to overcome generations worth of hoarding intellectual, legal, and cultural authority.
Is it because they are worried they won’t be writing the stories any longer?
That they won’t be the editors?
And that today’s fact-checkers, today’s women, aren’t afraid to demand an honest story?
Categorised as: life