I turned the election coverage off at 9 and made tea for myself and the teenaged girls sitting in my living room. When the returns started coming back and the blood was in the water of those early numbers, I didn’t need to finish the night to look at the body. My girl was nursing a broken heart. Some of her close friends were visiting, keeping watch over her, and we turned on Jimmy Fallon, hoping for something to lift us up.
The following day I left the news off until the late afternoon, when I felt I should at least know the bones of the story, and although I’d prepared myself to hear it, the details were uglier than I’d imagined. In Texas, one out of three people voted. Thirty-three percent of our voters decided to have a voice. It sounded like numbers across the nation were similar.
A lot of women I know were deeply emotionally invested in the outcome of our gubernatorial race. Wendy Davis was running with Leticia Van de Putte on the democratic ticket. It was a ticket of two women who had spent the last year and a half famously fighting a bill that absolutely gutted women’s healthcare in the state of Texas; disproportionately young women, minority women, and women in rural areas. A lot of women like me (older, white and privileged) didn’t feel the sting so much in our daily lives, although I met plenty who were outraged at the injustice.
Women like me, who have childcare, transportation, appropriate voter ID and the luxury of time- we voted. Sadly, according to the numbers, in Texas, the majority of women like me voted against our sisters. This is all I can gather.
We tell stories with our votes. We tell the stories of our lives and what matters to us. And the story that this election cycle told was, “Girl, you don’t matter.”
It’s true that women’s reproductive rights and health were not the only issues with which I agreed with Wendy. From education to the economy, I was right there with her. But it’s also true that women’s issues were number one for me. Why? Why is that more important than schools or jobs? It’s simple. Where and how a person is born sets the stage for their educational and economic opportunities in life. A woman with options makes better choices regarding when, where and how her children are born, and what opportunities they are afforded. The women affected by the horrible legislation Texas has passed have effectively just been silenced by this election, and their stories will not be told.
It’s tragic in its own right, but it’s tragic on a grander scale. That grand scale is the insidious, institutional effort to silence women everywhere. That’s a big claim, right? Women are telling stories all the time. I write stories about my childhood, or being a mother, and they make people laugh or cry, but those are the safe stories. Those are the stories I am allowed to tell without fear of public shaming, or having my integrity and authenticity questioned.
I read a piece defending Lena Dunham’s memoir on Salon.com this morning. She’s been unfairly vilified in certain outlets over a story that made many people uncomfortable because they sexualized something that was told in the context of childhood curiosity. Because underneath our hyper-exposure and seeming numbness to the sex that’s all around us, we still hold this collective Puritanical belief that women’s bodies are a taboo topic. We can display them, and critique them, they are an industry, but we can’t see them as 3-D vessels for thoughts, emotions and the histories that each woman’s body carries. That makes us too uncomfortable. Lena Dunham told a real story about her real feelings and experience, and it was TOO real, so now she’s being stoned in the media so that maybe she will be quiet. No Lena, you may not tell your story.
At the beginning of 2014, there were 400,000 unprocessed rape kits in the US. Rape victims, you may not tell your stories, either.
When I was a teenager I told the story of being terrorized and abused by someone in my childhood. It was mostly greeted by stares, except when it was greeted with denial. I stopped telling that story.
When I wanted a divorce, my ex-husband would sneer and tell me I’d never be anything. I’d never make anything of myself and couldn’t survive without him. Just shut up and put up.
Yesterday my daughter was sent home from school. Her breakup had degenerated into a tangled, vicious mess. After a disturbing confrontation with her ex in the hallway (which was the result of having told her friends the truth about her breakup, as part of processing the experience) the school counselor sent her home to rest and recover. She stood across from me in the kitchen, tears rolling down her face, and told me HER story about the ominous threats her ex was making to her, including threatening to use her body to ruin her. I have to admit, in my own life I have never had a man say things as ugly and scary to me as the things I heard yesterday from my daughter. And these things were coming from someone she’d trusted implicitly. If she didn’t stop speaking about it, he would punish her. He was being judged publicly for his behavior and passing the consequences along to my daughter. The worst part of it was when she looked down and said, “I hate that I’m having to defend him. I hate that I have to take care of him. He’s acting like he’s the victim.”
Later in the day she heard lies he’d been telling about her. She sat on the couch, under a blanket, the fight gone out of her. A friend called to report what he had done in her absence. In a tiny voice, she said, “of course it’s not true. Can you handle that for me?” Hoping, hoping that she could take a rest and someone would advocate for her. She had been silenced.
I leaned over the back of the couch, hugged my daughter, and said, “This is why we are feminists.” She is learning the hard lesson that being a woman automatically makes life a little more unfair for her.
Women’s lives are a balancing act. We’re supposed to nurture, provide pleasure, and be the soft place to land. We aren’t supposed to tell the truth, to make anyone uncomfortable, to be the spearheads of movements that disturb the balance of power. There is a very real, and very big contingent of people who believe that women should be seen and not heard.
I say, fuck that.
Maybe the 9 million voters in Texas who chose not to tell their stories were home under their blankets, having given up, hoping that someone else would advocate for them. There were some who were bullied, and had their votes suppressed, but for most, I can only assume they were bone-weary and too tired to make the effort from living lives led in self-defense.
Well friends, I did. For women, for men who love women, for families, I spoke up for you. I spoke up for my daughters, I spoke for myself, and I will keep speaking. I will keep writing, and voting and encouraging my children not to put up with systems that marginalize them.
Please join me. Don’t let your story fade to black. Lots of people say that if you don’t vote, you don’t have a right to complain. Speak now, or forever hold your peace. Maybe the truth is really, speak now and forever find your peace. Because at least for me, if there’s a story I need to tell, I can’t be peaceful until I’ve done so. And maybe, if we were truly telling our stories with our voices and our votes, we wouldn’t be spending so much time in self-defense in the first place. Not in our books, not in our relationships and not in our daily lives. The balance of power would shift, the blood in the water would fade, and our stories would not be our shame, but our saviors.