I’m getting ready to do my weekly clean of our home, when I feel a familiar pang of anxiety come over me. Then another. And another. And another, until the pangs become an aching. A drowning.
I know I should just push through and start cleaning. Or go for a run, even. Or maybe meditate. Any or all of the above. I know I should. But, instead I crawl into bed.
I pull the covers up to my neck and cocoon myself in the duvet. Waiting for the warmth to envelope me, save me. I think about how I’m failing…how it’s a cop out to lay here, instead of doing.
Then I start to cry. Slowly, at first. Then it becomes sobbing.
I’ve been feeling waves of this anxiety all week. I thought it was pre-menstrual magic or latent work issues coming to a head.
Turns out it’s not.
As I lay in bed I put my hand on my chest, where I can feel my heart beating. I’ve been doing that a lot this week. Not on purpose. It’s been happening automatically when I start to feel this anxiety creep up. I’ve had anxiety for years, this particular mannerism is a new one for me.
I’ve been feeling jumpy all week, too. Jumpy isn’t even the right word. Hypervigilant is more accurate.
Checking behind me as I walk home from work every 20 feet.
As I leave for work becoming scared about how I can’t find my headphones and will have to use a book as a shield from unwelcomed catcalling and advances on the train. Thankfully the book is clearly about marriage from the title, maybe they will think I’m married and that will be a deterrent. Although it’s possible even that won’t work. How can I make myself less likely to be perceived as the property of others. Maybe I should wear a ring on my left hand…being “taken.” Could that help?
Avoiding eye contact.
Jumping at the smallest of unforeseen noises.
Changing my outfit to be less “sexy.”
These aren’t entirely new behaviors and thought patterns for me. In fact, they come naturally to me a lot of the time. As a woman I’ve been socialized to be careful of my surroundings, hopefully minimizing the possibility of an attack, or mindful of how my behaviors or how I look invites certain types of attention. Not new to me (for us).
This week was different, though. The volume was dialed up on these thoughts. I almost couldn’t escape them.
I didn’t escape them.
As I lay in bed today, tears streaming down my cheeks into my ears, filling them up, I hear so many voices coming at me. So many feelings coursing through my body.
Hatred. Sadness. Fear. Pride. Loneliness.
I found myself renouncing and clinging to my femininity, my womanhood in the same breath.
I’m a feminist. This, however (and unfortunately), does not exclude me from having sexist thoughts…about myself and others. I struggle to validate how stereotypically female behaviors or roles are valid and worthy. I’ve internally chastised women who take forever to get ready to “go out.” I’ve judged women who talk endlessly about their weddings. I cast myself as in a different species than women who don’t contribute financially to their families and desperately fear I’ll become one as well. All because I’ve learned to view focusing on beauty, celebrating finding a partner, and having and producing less than a partner financially as weak, as lesser…as playing into the patriarchy’s hands.
My sobs intensified as I acknowledged this internalized hate. All the times I’ve hated on other woman and on myself.
I’m afraid to be a woman. I apologize for being a woman.
This morning I was lying in bed, hoping it’d be a morning to sleep in a bit, while also simultaneously feeling the guilt of wanting to sleep in starting to rear it’s ugly head, when I heard my boyfriend, as I like to say, bopping around in the kitchen. The guilt took over and I hopped out of bed to let him know he didn’t have to make any breakfast and there were some options in the fridge he could have. When I got to the kitchen I saw he was making lunch. I had forgotten I was planning to make lunch for my boyfriend and I before he left for work.
I felt my stomach drop. I know this sounds dramatic (you’re in good company, as he agreed and shared that particular sentiment), but it did. I started panicking. I looked at the clock realizing I would have just enough time to make it if everything went according to plan. He could tell I was struggling and gave me a hug and laughed a little. I verbalized how hard it was to keep up sometimes with cooking almost all of our meals at home (a new venture of ours). After a few minutes, I insisted he go get ready for work and I’d finish up.
It quickly became clear I was not going to get this done before he left. I felt like a failure. A bad girlfriend.
I shared these worries with him and he asked me, “When did this become all your responsibility?”
I quickly retorted, “Since I work less than you do.”
Before he left, I hugged him and asked, “Aren’t you glad you’re not a woman and don’t have to deal with all this?”
This being what I had thought at the time were premenstrual mood swings and insecurities.
I realized, not then, but hours later while crying in bed on a beautiful Thursday fall afternoon, that I was measuring my worth and my state with a sexist ruler. With this ruler I was the problem. Of course I was.
So, “What does this all have to do with Trump?” you ask, as the title suggests it does in some way.
Great question! Your patience is appreciated.
What I discovered today was that this anxiety I’ve been feeling in no way began on Sunday night, but rather had just picked up speed. Sunday night was the second presidential debate between Donald J. Trump and Hilary Clinton. The debate where Trump was questioned about his comments regarding sexual assault, or as he referred to them “locker room talk” and “just words.”
I didn’t really want to watch the debate, but sometimes the things you don’t want to do are the things you need to do. I can’t figure out if this was one of those times, but it happened nevertheless.
I watched it…and within in minutes I could feel my eyes burning with tears, my chest pounding, my throat tightening, my stomach turning with uneasiness. I covered my face and cried. A feeling came over me that I haven’t felt in a while…
It was a familiar feeling. Even though it’s been awhile, it was so incredibly familiar.
The last time I felt this suffocating, drowning feeling in my gut and throat was a few years ago while in a domestically violent relationship. The fact that I immediately feel the need to qualify that he didn’t hit me is another example of internalized BULLSHIT. It’s violent and it’s abuse regardless of if a hand gets laid on us, even if it is, as Trump would say, “just words.”
This person I was with was controlling, manipulative, and regularly objectified me by asserting how my curvy body was a point of his own pride on a “good” day, as well as, when I’d try to leave, a point of disgust and only he could overlook how overweight I was and love me so I’d better wise up.
A man running for president and all the people coming to his defense triggered these memories for me. Triggered these sensations for me. Made me fear men again. Made me fear my boyfriend would leave me or love me less if I didn’t make breakfast in time for him to leave for work. Made me hate my body again—both for being attractive and for not being attractive enough.
This is what it feels like for me, as a woman, during this election.
I don’t have a happy ending for this one right now. I don’t know if there is happy ending. I do know I’m not alone in this, even though it may feel like it at times. I know there are women and men who are disgusted by the abuse being perpetrated by this man on a national (and world) stage, not just toward women, but by anyone he deems as less than him through a racist and sexist lens.
Well, Mr. Trump, hate to break this to you (read: love to break this to you), the most recent data shows that women are more active on election day than men, so you may want to tell your son that while the map he circulated yesterday, indicating that you’d win if only men voted is super cute (read: irrelevant, dangerous, and ignorant, seemingly your favorite cocktail of choice), it’s not good news for you.
That map shows a country we don’t live in. A reality you don’t seem to understand: We are not less than you. None of us.
As a narcissistic, I imagine, you can’t fully acknowledge that, because then you wouldn’t feel like enough…even close to enough.
The thing is, for the most part, the rest of us don’t need to feel more than or better than or the best, to feel like enough. We can stand with each other and know that we are enough simply by being next to each other, supporting each other.
You’ll be seeing that “enoughness,” soon enough.
This woman, out.
With gratitude and compassion, Your Beth