I have a friend who wrote a song about what its like to say no to ourselves, no to opportunities that speak to our hearts and no to moments that will nourish us. Lately I’ve felt my schedule so packed with details that it seems I’ve been saying no all the time, in all the small ways that add up into the big ways. No, you can’t write, you must make phone calls. No, you can’t dabble in craft projects, you need to check the budgets. No, you can’t go swimming in the sunshine because there are meeting notes waiting to be written. No, no, no. Until my heart got very few yeses.
I recently took a job with an organization I participated in as a little girl. The organization runs camping programs. I used to be a camp director. I love being outside. And so I thought, I can save this dying organization, which a board member described as “coming up from the ashes.” And you know, I could have. Except I quit.
I wasn’t getting much out of this part-time job you know. I took it in part because I was scared. Scared of all the uncertainty that cloaks academic and artistic life. It would be a paycheck. I could write and make in between, as long as there wasn’t too much mind-numbing work. But the promises made during the interview process started to fall away and the data entry became mind-numbing. Again and again, the big, fun, juicy pieces fell away and again and again, I found myself in front of a computer, attempting to madly answer emails, return calls, do data entry. You know what I hate? Administrative work. I’m not even good at it.
I felt committed. Like I owed it to this organization that was paying me less than I made as a teenaged lifeguard. Finally a mentor said to me, “I hear you telling me what you’re doing for them, but what are you getting out of this, Chels?” In that moment I realized I was getting nothing. I was squeezing it in at night, resenting the extraordinary amount of data entry eating away at hours I could have been playing peek-a-boo or writing with my postdoc supervisor about issues I love.
They wanted to move me into an Exec Director position and I knew it. I was flattered, even though it would be an Exec Director position that would pay be a salary below the poverty line. I thought I could fix it, be a grand savior, and everyone would celebrate me. I was wrong mostly because I don’t actually want to fix this sh*t. I wasn’t getting much out of saving anyone.
I mulled over it for weeks, trying to figure out how to decide if I should stay or I should go, counting the weeks on the calendar until the start of summer camp. My mentors’ words haunted me: “But what are you getting out of this, Chels?” I knew I wasn’t really getting much.
Saying yes to myself would mean quitting. It would mean allowing myself the time and space to write. It would mean slightly less income, but a ton more time to focus on my projects. So I said yes to that little voice. I gave my notice. I felt relief, and mostly, reorientation to what matters to me. I felt my whole body shift, back to creative energy forces and writing what matters and collaborating with people on social justice issues. I said yes. It was hard and it was risky, but I’m so proud of myself for saying yes to me.
I listened to Clinton’s historic speech, in which she declared herself thenominee as I put my baby girls to bed last night. I voted for her yesterday, even though I’ve got as many concerns as the next well-educated, feminist thirty-something. But when I heard that speech, the air filled my chest and I leaned my head back and I closed my eyes and I felt so… relieved. As the twins fell asleep, I read an article about the Stanford law professor Michele Landis Dauber, who is launching a campaign to recall Judge Aaron Pesky, Santa Clara County superior court judge. All I could think was, thank the goddesses for people like this professor. I stood next to a crib and flicked through headlines and photographs of Brock Turner in a suit standing with his father- the man called the rape Brock committed “twenty minutes of action.”
It feels hopelessly impossible to hold these two events together in my mind and in my heart. How can we possibly hold the hopefulness Hillary’s success generates together with the fear and white hot anger produced by the Brock Turner case?
These two events have been headlining simultaneously. I listened to both of them discussed on Democracy Now this morning and they both are dominating my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I listen to Hill, and I feel my heart swell. For whatever its worth, I’m deeply hopeful because when my babies learn about the judicial system in elementary school there will be a woman on the presidential rosters (the alternative is too frightening to mention). I feel a bit silly feeling so hopeful about this, especially because I know that Hill doesn’t exactly challenge too many gender norms. But then again, it’s a million percent not OK with me that there’s never been a woman Presdient. So it’s a baby step. A big baby step in the form of the first woman to be the Presidential nominee of a major party. It feels pretty freaking grand. So for a moment I allow myself to forget about fracking, to shrug my shoulders at her political decisions I disagree with- and I allow myself to revel in the fact that my baby girls will grow up in a world where there can be a woman President of the USA. It’s a chest-swelling excitement.
Except I can’t revel too long in that chest-swelling excitement. Because there’s Brock Turner, and the light sentence the judge assigned so that the rape he committed wouldn’t ruin his life. The woman he raped has said it most eloquently herself:
“Lastly you said, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life.
A life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect. You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. If you think I was spared, came out unscathed, that today I ride off into sunset, while you suffer the greatest blow, you are mistaken.” Read the whole statement here.
I have two little girls. I’m a feminist with a penchant for research on gender, the patriarchy, adolescent and young adult girls, and educational equity. I know how wildly high the statistics are for sexual assault and rape, especially at universities. In so many ways, it’s a miracle Brock was caught by some bikers out for a late night ride. If they hadn’t happened to ride by, if they hadn’t seen him mounting a motionless woman, if they hadn’t chased him… there would have been no trial at all. For countless other women, this is the scenario. And Brock, like so many other young men, would be known for his fast swimming times, for his supportive family, for his Stanford education. He would most certainly commit more rapes. And I shudder.
Brock, Pesky, and men like both of them make it so that all women are at risk. Every single one. Judge Pesky made our risk extraordinarily clear when he made sure Brock- a white boy getting educated at one of the country’s most prestigious universities- got the lightest sentence possible because he was concerned for Brock’s well-being.
This case is racial privilege, this case is gender privilege. Pesky wasn’t concerned about the young woman who was assaulted out in the open, unconscious, on the ground, behind a stinky dumpster. It’s a pattern- the same pattern of misogyny we see again and again and again. It’s the same pattern that puts everyone with a vagina at extraordinary risk. It’s called patriarchy.
We finally have nominated a woman to the Presidency. My heart swells as I stroke the soft curls of my sleeping baby. She can do anything.
Except she can’t because men still rape women behind dumpsters, and judges still let them off easy so their lives are not ruined.
So, sweet baby girls, where does this leave us? You can be the President. You will get to see her walk out on stage in heels, and when you have to memorize the US presidents in elementary school, maybe you will be able to see a little bit of yourself in her. There will be one more crack in the patriarchy, one more space for feminist light to flood. But watch your back, sweet baby girls. You’re only ten months old, but we will need to teach you these rules. Travel in groups. Cross the street if there’s a man walking behind you after dark. Don’t take drinks from dudes. It doesn’t matter who the dude is. Don’t trust him. When you walk to your car alone, hold your keys in your fist, ready to punch out some creepy man. It’s more likely going to come from someone you know, though, so really- it doesn’t matter who he is, don’t trust him. Because you see, the old boys club is looking out for their own, making sure they are barely punished. You have to look out for yourselves.
I hate that I have to impart this kind of knowledge to these two little human beings. I want to impart nothing but possibility. Only hopefulness. But I know I must protect them too, for I am their mother, and in this world, protecting two baby girls means making sure as hell they know how to fight the man.
Tonight, we need feminism. We need feminism because we need more people who are not men in all positions of power. We need feminism because I want to be able to brush those little curls off that little forehead and smile because I’m not worried some dude is going to rape her behind a dumpster. We need feminism because I want to be able to brush those little curls off that little forehead and smile because her gender isn’t a f*cking liability to her greatness.
Chelsey is a digital storyteller, geek, mama, researcher and yogi. She loves to make things and her favorite food is artichokes.