This is my great-grandmother in Big Rock, Virginia, right where
I spent many, many summers
Today, all day, I have been in grief like much (some?) of the nation. I have been struggling to understand why, in a situation that many say was a choice between the lesser of two evils, why that the Trump brand of evil prevailing would sting so much. Outside of Trump's obvious crimes and hateful remarks against the rights of targeted groups of human beings to be human, outside of the misogyny and his abusive personality, outside of the fact that he has been diagnosed a narcissist, Trump touched a deep, taut thread in me as a woman. In his election, all the moments of scapegoating I've experienced over and over as a woman, as a feminist, as a mother, as a wife, and as a person came flooding back. I was dehumanized in those moments. The ensuing PTSD and trauma issues that have tainted my life and the lives of so many feels insignificant and unimportant now, in the context of our culture. The cries of grief from my sisters who are in this fight to change laws, policies, and society to make it safer for women, children, and minorities are loud and it hurts to hear them.
I thought immediately about the time my own raging father held a gun to my mother's head and screamed, "I'm going to blow your fucking brains out, bitch." I was there, ten years old and not fifteen feet from where he did it. And that was not the first time I'd been part of such violent scenarios, hanging above them out of my body in numb horror. I thought about the times my grandmother told of my grandfather throwing an iron skillet towards her head, and that was nowhere near the worst thing he did. I thought of how men can carry a terrible violence into the room with a tone of voice, or with a scary silence. The gut-punch loose bowels I get when I see a particular man or a particular group. The violence men wield with their sudden rejections and punishing silences, with their gaping absences and deliberate microaggressions.
I grew up on a farm in Virginia around farmers and coal miners. I stained my feet black on floors carpeted too close to the road, where coal trucks frequently heaved and whirred up hollers. I spent my childhood summers on gravel lots, open fields, cows, a pond. I grew up playing near porta-potties full of drunken piss and the biggest hollyhocks you ever saw. I grew up with my women relatives protecting me from tales of men and their dangerous disappointments. I even grew up hearing a woman can be anything, even President, except I never seemed to see any hope of that in Appalachia or from my dysfunctional family. Name a dysfunction-we had it. Education was not something a woman necessarily got in coal mining country. And if she wanted one, she had little say in where it happened, due to economic and role restrictions.
This was the early 70's of my growing-up time, and it was fraught with grief and setbacks and characters and trauma. To this day, that county where my grandparents lived has the distinction of having the highest percentage of people on disability in the country.
Being in Appalachia wasn't bad because you were Appalachian, it was bad because you were exploited. You will find the kindest, warmest, most loving people imaginable in the circles of people in my memory. But their contentment and make-do way of life was colonized out of them...colonized out of them by the coal companies. And a woman's worth was ultimately in winning a man, tendin' garden and birthin' babies. Forget about thinking you'd ever amount to anything more than a skillet target or an object to be owned and abused.
A judge answered the problem of my dad by giving my mom a gun permit and telling her to move far away. Not once was my dad brought to task, or chastised for his behavior and for terrorizing our family. Why wasn't HE exiled to a far away city instead of my mom and my brother and me? How on earth did the system allow him to get away with his abuse? Why were WE punished for his destruction? This....this is what angers and hurts so badly. I learned very well how the woman is blamed. The woman is an object to be used. The woman is exploited. The woman takes care of man-sized messes. The woman takes the fall. Fall on the sword, choke down what I tell you, bitch, throw yourself under the bus, vomit and repeat. Then get mad and we will call you monster for it, and for not taking our abuses the way we tell you. Be our willing scapegoat or we will make you suffer even more.
But my mom...my strong mother...completely rose to the occasion. She had to raise us through an exile, through the abuse-grief of generations, and through traversing the unknown landscape of her own strong heart. It was a monumental task and she set an example of how to become more. And you couldn't become more with a man like that.
It is the woman who carries what men cannot. Set a woman up for failure, obstruct her, and then deride her, taunt her, rape her, make her pay, lie about her, turn her into the enemy. Silence her...control her. Then let her carry her silent PTSD...the one she can't talk about in this culture of shame. The PTSD of a woman who's been abused is rarely spoken about. She carries the war-wounds of the "home". It's then used as an excuse to call a woman "crazy". We don't look to see that Abuse created the "crazy", and Abuse isn't going to fix it. We have this obsession with the word "victim". We say, you mustn't have a victim mentality. But that is great talk for oppressors. They say: Yes, let's scapegoat, undermine, and victimize someone, then tell them they need to be strong/zen/loving/kind about it.
No. You need to tell the truth over and over and louder and angrier until it gets heard. We all need to tell. Shame on anyone who does not let a victim have their rightful time of sadness and righteous anger over their experience. Shame on anyone who hears what is going on and chooses the twisted truth.
I have three daughters and a beautiful son with a big heart and I am going to make sure he is a supportive kind of man, the kind who has an ability to commit to love and who will take responsibility for himself and his children. My two daughters of voting age, and my mother, and myself, all voted for Hillary. Two of us are blue dots in a red state, the other two are blue dots in a swing state that went for Trump. I cried, because my first thought was that iron skillet flying towards my beloved grandmother's head. And here we were, the women of the family, banding together. It felt like we were doing it for her, to make a world where women don't have to suffer at the hands of men like that, where they don't have to be economically compromised by a man, where they don't have to live in fear of a man and his coercions based on irrational whims.
With this election, my hope flagged. If an abuser can be given the right to rule this country, then how much more power will be given to the myriad pockets of society that already support and normalize male aggressions towards women? How is any headway ever going to be made in family court where abusers already use the system as an economic bludgeoning tool against women, and where good fathering is conflated with aggression and subjugation of a mother? How are we going to fix the fact that in the light of social abuse, the system answers with more abuse of its own and rewards such behavior?
People say they are afraid that now abuse and misogyny will be normalized. I'm sorry, this has been normal my whole life. If it wasn't normal for you, then you are lucky. The issue is not that abuse will be normalized, but that it will become downright SEXY. Deadbeat is the new sexy. Scapegoating is the new sexy. Sexism/racism/intolerance/condescension/other-ism is the new SEXY.
At least Trump paid child support. He has that going for him.
The unfortunate consequence of a life lived fully in abuse, through generations, is that you don't even know you are being abused. You aren't supposed to question anyway since abusers normalize their own behavior and you just accept that. Until you get tired of your abused self and become someone else.
I am hurting for the message this election gives to women everywhere: the Right to Abuse you is bigger than your Right to Humanity. Abuse can be intellectualized, neatly rationalized, and completely justified, tied up neatly in entitlement narratives. Then when you say "no" to abuse, you are called the abuser. Your having a voice IS abusive to an abuser, because you are taking away his toys and entitlement. Now that sexism is openly sanctioned, let no one tell a girl a lie. Tell her the truth...that the world isn't ready to give up its image of her as punching bag, sex object, and scapegoat. That this country isn't ready to take her seriously. That this country isn't ready for men to stop abusing and it won't help them out of their cage. That this country has more work to do to help men and women leave their roles under the sickness of patriarchy. Instead, we have to create a country that will receive a woman as its president, a country that is not threatened by the voice and power of a woman, a country that venerates mothers and women and grandmothers as fully equal.
My hope flagged, yet the voices inside that ask me if I will ever "get out of the holler", that rage against there always being some agent of patriarchy lurking to push me down and stifle me...these voices say STOP. Keep fighting and going, they say.
Until we all wake up.
Until we force violators to stop.
Until we stop twisting the story.
Until we, the people, take away the privileges of the oppressors.
Until there is no need to weaken women in the name of control.
A Ritual to Read to Each Other
By William E. Stafford
If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the
and following the wrong god home we may miss
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of
storming out to play through the broken dike.
And as elephants parade holding each
but if one wanders the circus won't find the
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.