When I was in elementary school in Fargo, North Dakota, we had an ice skating rink in the winter half the size of a football field. As soon as the ice froze we would spend every gym class training for our class Olympics-slash-Christmas party. Mr. Smith would make us skate drills, practice stopping, and we would race our classmates as fast as our little legs could go. But when the girls and guys raced together – “just for fun,” not a serious race – the girls would huddle together and giggle, they would pretend to fall down and laugh, and the guys would glide across the finish line to high fives and slaps on the back. It was understood that we weren’t really competing against the guys, and that we shouldn’t compete against them. I wish I could say that I was confused, or that I fought against convention and raced those boys to the point of exhaustion, but no. It didn’t even cross my mind to question what I believed to be perfectly normal: girls were supposed to submit to boys, so boys would find them cute. (Don’t worry, it’s not like I squandered a potential career as a professional ice skater. I had no athletic ability at all.)
Unfortunately, this sentiment has hardly changed. We say we believe men and women are equal. We say we want women to be paid the same as men. We say women should have equal opportunities. We say a woman could be president. But words are one thing, actions are another, and women are not treated equally. As a writer, I am observant, and I have seen the way I am perceived in a social circle compared to “the guys.” Doing many of the exact same things, I have been criticized for being too loud, too bold, opinionated, “not lady like,” physically active, strong-willed.
Now, in a presidential campaign unlike any other in our country’s history, the misogynistic, sexist comments are flying off tongues like rapid fire, and without repercussions.
“nasty woman” – “there’s blood coming out of her whatever” – “bimbo” – “she’s playing the woman card” – “look at that face. would anyone vote for that?” – “when I came out, I was competing against 17 very capable people…and a woman” – “when I come home and dinner’s not ready, I go through the roof” – “putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing” – “it must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees” – “miss piggy” – “grab them by the pussy”
With a leader in the spotlight giving people permission to speak like this, there is no doubt it will influence the negative perception people have of women in our country. And you know what?
Now we can finally admit that, since women’s suffrage, since the Civil Right’s movement, since Title IX, many people have not been ok with the progress. Clearly so many people still have anger and resentment towards women. They have been biting their tongue and hiding in the shadows as the world moved on around them. Now they have been given a free pass at screaming “nasty woman!” from the top of their lungs, and they will not be reprimanded.
But here’s the deal: it’s all on the table now; we have seen your hand and we can play against you. That means no more pretending you want equal rights for women. No more pretending you think women are just as intelligent as men, just as funny, just as powerful, or just as capable. Got it? Because now we know.
These comments are not just coming from men. They are coming from women afraid of success, afraid of starting a business, afraid of criticism from the men they idolize, and, like my ten year old self, afraid of not being attractive to the boys anymore. But predominantly, these comments come from men.
Men, I do not think you are monsters. The unfortunate fact is that most men and boys in our country are wired to fear anything that threatens the socially-constructed notion of “masculinity:” women, homosexuals, the color pink, (what the fuck is that about?) And now we have a leader in the spotlight saying you must fight those perceived threats, and you will not be punished for doing so. Even worse is that if you don’t fight these “threats,” you’ll be considered weak, a pansy, “gay.” That is not fair for any of us.
This is a great time in history, where everything is out in the open. And instead of backing down and submitting, men and women who believe in equality are going to stand up and rise higher. Your comments are out, your hand is played, and now we know; there’s no more faking it. And to all the girls and women out there: whether it’s standing in front of the mirror, competing on the basketball court, fighting for a promotion, or racing on the ice rink, give ’em hell! You have a stellar hand, and it’s your move, ya “nasty woman.”