It’s taken me a long time to reach this point, and even longer before I was brave enough to say it out loud, but I will not be casting my vote for Hillary Clinton this election, even if she does become the party’s candidate. She is not my candidate. I find her views on war frightening and her allegiance to Israel’s right to bomb indiscriminately nauseating. Her financial plan offers more of the same old same old that got us here in the first place. I find her feminism unconvincing in light of the additional pain and suffering she has caused millions through her misguided support of “welfare reform,” and her willingness to “destroy” (again, her word) the women who called Bill Clinton on his sexual misdeeds. Finally I find her wooing of and pandering to the financial industry while offering full-throated support to regulation cynical and dishonest, to say the least. I find the financial industry’s allegiance to her even more worrying–they don’t support candidates unless they see a clear benefit for themselves in the relationship.
Posts Tagged ‘Hillary Clinton’
Soraya Chemaly has written an excellent piece in the Huffington Post about Hillary Clinton’s bathroom break at the last presidential debate, and what it reveals about institutional sexism and the lack of respect for and understanding of women’s bodies, and what makes us human. Under normal circumstances I would perhaps nod, perhaps feel a twinge of fellow-feeling at the thought of Candidate Clinton having to stand in the bathroom line–something we women understand all too well. Who among us hasn’t pushed open the bathroom door, only to have our hearts sink at the sight of a long, long line of women and girls, snaking along the cubicle doors, past the sinks and towel dispensers, and sometimes out into the hall? Who among us hasn’t stood with an aching belly and crossed legs, terrified that our internal systems might fail us before we get into the stall and managed to get our pants pulled down far enough to pee without soaking ourselves? For women who have borne children–particularly for those who have borne several children–the problem is compounded.
There’s a case to be made about the sexism of our public spaces. But right now I read this piece with far more than a wince, because for me right now, and for thousands–perhaps millions–like me, this is more than just a matter of discomfort and quite possibly humiliation. It can be a matter of life and death.
For far too long, matters relating to “lady parts” have been dismissed as the sole province of women–the how and when of birth control and limiting childbearing is still seen as primarily a “women’s issue”–and conservatives have used shame, religion, and violence to strip women of the very tools they need to do those things effectively. Consider conservative statements about incest and rape, and their utter refusal to treat them as anything other than women’s responsibility, or God’s will. Childbirth as a result of incest is “beautiful.” Raped women gave “mixed messages,” or “dressed provocatively,” or let things progress beyond “the point of no return.” In other words, a victimized woman is to blame for her own victimization.
The answer in every case is, for conservatives, simple. Women must modify their actions to “protect” men from the reality of female bodies and sexuality–beyond the pleasure men derive from sex. Rape is okay–the baby that may result is the woman’s fault. It’s okay to make women pay for the processing of their own rape kits. Reporting a rape is often incredibly humiliating, starting with the questioning, moving on to the exams, and then, for those comparatively few bold women who persevere, facing the demeaning, patronizing faces of all too many legal professionals.
And it’s not just about rape and sex–there’s also the issue of menstruation. When I began the process four decades ago, the Tampax pads lived in a big box hidden back behind the gooseneck pipe under the bathroom sink–even though there were five women and only one boy living in our house for the vast majority of the time. Used pads had to be wrapped up like nasty little gifts and buried at the bottom of the trash can.
Girls were advised to avoid swimming and extremely strenuous activities while menstruating, but even in this there was a double standard. In my world, “strenuous activity” was defined as “strenuous recreational activity.” Farm work–lifting bales, hauling and toting all sorts of things, and walking miles and miles of fields was somehow not “strenuous activity.” It would be easy to excuse the men in charge of this labor because “they didn’t know.” And they didn’t, unless we women and girls were betrayed by our bodies–a flooded pad or tampon, cramps that doubled us over, blazing headaches. When that happened, when we were revealed as biologically female, the response was often impatience, combined with the suspicion that we were somehow using our femaleness to cadge undeserved breaks.
It’s not like that for every woman, but it was for me.
And then we had the whole religious thing. Women were cursed with painful childbirth (and by extension, periods) because Eve messed up. Women were responsible for not “leading men into temptation.” In my world, far too many of the men we encountered were pedophiles, so we started “not leading men into temptation” before we started first grade.We wore concealing clothing, since a hint of even pre-teen knees or breasts might turn men into ravening beasts. We didn’t wear makeup or jewelry because it was vanity to want to look beautiful. Our “beauty” was supposed to be “a meek and quiet spirit.”
For the record, the clothing didn’t work. The men in my world seemed to be “led into temptation” by remarkably little. What I remember most about the aftermath of those events is the corroding guilt, humiliation, and shame. A “nice man” had done something to me that “nice men” just didn’t do unless they were driven to it by the overwhelming reality of a female body.
Female reproductive health was something that we “didn’t need to worry about,” unless we were “doing things we shouldn’t be doing.” Even our uteruses were supposed to be good Christians–meek and quiet. Even now, after years of counseling, an ugly divorce from the “faith of my fathers,” and the birth of a child, the reality of my body both shames and eludes me.
All of this, perhaps, goes some way to explaining why I did a dangerous thing–and I did it because everything in our world–access to healthcare, attitudes toward women’s bodies, the force of conservative religion, even the very design of our effing public buildings, reinforces the desirability of “meek and quiet” as a female ideal. Here’s what I did: I went for seventeen years without having a pap smear or mammogram. And I did this in spite of the fact that I have a terrible family history of cancer.
In my family, lady parts are not “meek and quiet” unless they’re plotting something. Mine started bleeding–not all at once, just more and more, as the months passed. For the last four years or so, I have had about two months total when I wasn’t bleeding. I had no health insurance, and I was living very close to the poverty line, but a combination of just enough money to raise me almost out of poverty, the humiliation of acknowledging that I qualified for public assistance and my ingrained body shame made it easy for me to pretend that it was “just a bad period (for four years?), “peri-menopause,” “hormones,” “being fat.” Below all those “reasons” lay the unexamined, unbearable knowledge that my body was “disgusting”–it bled, it stank when that happened, and it kept me from traveling far from my own bathroom, where I had supplies to deal with the situation.
Because of my past, I lived in my head–I was a balloon, bobbing along at head level. And so I just ignored the messages that my unquiet, unmeek uterus was sending. But then something happened. My son reminded me of three things–that I have a body, that something was seriously wrong with it, and that he, for one, wanted to have me around for a while.
Which is not so say that he, too, had adapted to our circumstances. He has long been immune to shame at having to buy sanitary pads. From the time he has been able to work the credit card, he has fearlessly strode into Safeway, loaded up his cart with groceries and “lady things,” and checked out. I tried to time these things for when none of his peers were around, but the fact remains that he accepted that particularly reality as a fact of our life. I took care of disposal, because let’s face it, used sanitary pads are like snotty kleenex–you really should dispose of your own, but there have been times he’s dumped the bathroom trash with never a word about it being disgusting.
So when I developed a craving for ice and a sore mouth, when I managed to chomp up two big Safeway bags of ice in one week, he pulled up a chair and said, “Mom, something’s not right. You need to google this.”
Googling led to blood tests, which led to a pelvic exam, which led to a D&C, which led to a biopsy, which led to a diagnosis–uterine serous carcinoma.
I seem to be lucky. All those years of bleeding don’t seem to have been cancer-related (after all, all those excuses I gave myself hadn’t just been things I dreamed up–they actually do often contribute to out-of-cycle bleeding). The cancer seems to be a comparative newcomer. And if it weren’t for the ice, and my son, I still wouldn’t know about it.
The past few months have forced me to confront many of my own attitudes toward my body. I’m learning to understand that having a loud, sassy uterus can be a life-saver. I’m learning to accept the reality of my body as not just a good thing, but a necessary thing. I’m learning to treasure each and every minute with my son. I’m learning that I have a lot of really good friends, and some great family members, too.
Mostly, at last I’m learning to understand that I am a woman, with a woman’s body, and that if I love my son I have to not just be okay with that, but learn to love it–as much as I love him. I have to follow my uterus’ example and stop pretending that “meek and quiet” is okay when it means that people–including me–are being put at risk. I have to be honest about my own reality.
So Hillary’s long bathroom break? Not funny. Not something to sigh over. Not something it’s okay to say, “It was just the building” about. Because it’s more than just that building–it’s far too many of our buildings. It’s our schools, our churches, or government offices, our factories. It’s our buildings, and it’s what we’re still teaching our daughters and our sons in those buildings–that it’s okay that women be routinely, unnecessarily shamed, inconvenienced and victimized because of the reality of our bodies, that somehow we’ve decided that women should pay and pay and pay not for what they’ve done, but for who they are. It’s time that we’re honest with ourselves.
And in my case, it’s long past time that I made peace with my lady parts.