Adam and I have often spoken about how one of our goals is to amplify voices that may not be heard. Which kind of obligates us to address the fact that March is Women’s History Month. I’ve had a note in our 2 Rules calendar about Women’s History Month for a while, but it just seemed like there was this constant stream of other things that needed my attention before I could focus on that topic. As we were messaging on Wednesday morning, I pointed out that in fact, there’s only a week left in March, and we haven’t done anything about Women’s History Month yet and that we really ought to.
“Go for it,” he said. And he provided a couple of suggestions as to how we could make sure to address it.
I was not in a good mood at that moment. Not because of anything related to my discussion with Adam, but my foul mood certainly colored my response to him:
Women’s History Month and Gendered Expectations
“If I were to write this essay right now it would be about how, even though you and I have this very equitable relationship, there are still things I end up doing. Like keeping track of our calendar. And that’s happened because, in spite of both of us dealing with neuroatypicality, I’ve developed the coping skills to do this because it’s expected that I would. Which is not to say that I expect that you would do it, because I did volunteer, but the point is that I developed those coping skills because of social and cultural expectations.”
And all of that is true. Adam and I have an incredibly democratic, very egalitarian system for working together. It helps that there are two of us, and it helps that our strengths are, in many ways, complementary. The conscious choices we make about how we work together also matter. The way we communicate and work to resolve conflicts. But some of those strengths that benefit us, like my ability to keep track of the administrative tasks, are based on the things I learned. Because of expectations,
Expectations have driven how I deal with a lot of things. That’s probably one of the rare universal truths.
Women’s History Month: Healing and Hope? More Like Resentment and Disgust
I still felt like we needed to address Women’s History Month. And while I know it really is something I should be doing, I was a little resentful about it. Not because I thought Adam should do it but because I felt like the responsibility for our failure to acknowledge it would be placed largely, if not completely, on me. So I added it to my to do list, and went on with things.
A few hours later I learned that the theme for Women’s History Month is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope” My immediate reaction to that was: “gag me with a spoon.” Because when I first read it, it absolutely seemed like it plays right into expectations. That women are nurturing, inspiring sorts of people. According to the website, the theme is, “a tribute to the ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during this ongoing pandemic and also a recognition of the thousands of ways that women of all cultures have provided both healing and hope throughout history.”
I stewed about this for a few hours (as I did other things) with anger bubbling up each time I considered the blank page in front of me. It was those other things though, that led me to reconsider what “providing healing” meant to me.
I spent a lot of time over the last few days building new pages for the 2 Rules website. That’s meant a lot of looking at the content I’ve written. And while this was going on, I also mentioned to Adam that I noticed some heightened traffic on the website to articles I wouldn’t normally expect people accessing right now. As I was doing this, and simultaneously trying to convince myself that my feelings about this year’s theme of Women’s History Month were completely without merit, I realized something.
I was angry.
And I’ve been angry a lot in the last few years.
And probably before that too, even if I wasn’t thinking about it.
Owning my Feelings through Writing
But those same social and cultural expectations that mean that I’m the one with the skills to handle the administrative tasks here have also taught me to dismiss or invalidate my own anger. They’ve taught me that my role is peacemaker, even when that peace comes at the expense of my own needs. I’ve been forgetting that I count.
Writing has begun to help change that a little bit. I’ve gotten a little better at noticing my own voice, though I haven’t yet overcome the tendency to ignore it. I’ve begun to appreciate the value of anger in my own life. How that anger has helped me frame some of the big questions that I have wrestled with, and some of the intensely personal stories I’ve told.
Healing and Anger
I’ve learned I have to get angry sometimes in order to move towards healing. As I began to write about my own experience with rape, I began to feel anger, and that anger allowed me to heal. In ways that I didn’t know I needed to when I wasn’t acknowledging the anger. I still don’t have a clear picture of what “healing” is going to look like for me–I’m never going to be the person I was before–but figuring out how to live with the loss and be able to see wholeness and value in the person that I am is a big step. One I’m still working on.
Sometimes I choose to write about difficult things. I write because it makes me feel better when I let go of those feelings. While I’m not consistent about it, I’ve kept journals at many points in my life for just that purpose. That’s the healing part. And as I’ve turned some of those things that would have been buried in my journals into essays and articles to share with the world, I’ve been able to share the things that have been a part of healing with other people and perhaps even allowed some to begin finding the seeds of healing.
Healing and Hope
Healing, however, is only half the theme. The other half is hope. It’s a four letter word. Sometimes it grates on me with its perkiness. And one day, when I’m feeling ready, I might even talk about how much I felt robbed of being able to share hope as I became disabled. You know, the opposite of the inspirational disabled heroine trope.
What I often don’t see in my own writing about these difficult things, is hope. But other people do, and I am so grateful for that. It’s easy for me to get stuck in the dark, and I’m so glad to have people around me who do see it, and who remind me that it’s there. Not only that, I find hope in the act of writing. Even when I don’t know what to write. Even when I find it really stressful, there’s a feeling of hope that has nothing to do with the topic or the structure of the piece, but it’s hope for me–that my writing is getting better, that I might have the chance to write something that means something or matters to someone, and lately, I’ve begun to let in the idea that someday these words I write will become something bigger.
Women’s History Month: I Get it Now
I’ve begun to trust that my words matter. And so I hope they’ll matter to someone else, too.
I think I get it now. The whole healing and hope thing for Women’s History Month. I’ve got a lot of work to do still on the healing part. And as for hope? Well, I can guarantee that it isn’t going to be easy, and I’m still going to struggle with the darkness, but all of those little cracks that have happened and are allowing me to let anger out? They’re pretty good at letting hope in, too.
I admit to procrastinating on addressing Women’s History Month. I’ve had several weeks to do it either in my regular Monday spot or on one of the Wednesdays or Thursdays that we didn’t already have something scheduled. We’re finally publishing it on the day that the Florida governor is signing the “Don’t Say Gay” legistlation into law, and three days after the Utah legislature overrode their governor’s veto of an anti-trans kids sports bill. It’s also the day this headline “Oscars 2022: a historic night for women – overshadowed by male violence” appeared. I haven’t been able to put into words what I was feeling, but I just couldn’t organize my thoughts either.
And then, Adam used the word “ambivalent” to describe my feelings about Women’s History Month. That was the word I needed. In spite of the things I’ve been writing about, or perhaps because of them, I feel ambivalent about Women’s History Month. I’ve spent several weeks writing about consent, and the research and resources are heavily skewed towards women as victims and survivors. I’ve also been deeply engaged in writing about LGBTQ issues at a time when anti-Trans sentiment is incredibly high. (It’s not hard to see this–look to Utah, for example, where they passed a bill banning transgender kids playing high school sports targeting a total of four kids, and where exactly one high schooler is a trans kid playing on a girls’ sports team.)
I realized that I put off writing about Women’s History Month because there’s just no way for me to write about everything that needs to be said. Trans women are women. Issues of consent affect people of all gender identities and no gender at all, and yet we still present them as woman = victim, man = perpetrator, and put the responsibility on the woman.
And then last night at the Oscars, where Chris Rock mocked Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith got up and slapped Chris Rock. How do we even begin to unpack all of what’s contained there–racism, ableism, feminism, toxic masculinity, mental health? Why aren’t the stories centering Jada Pinkett Smith and praising her for how she’s defining what it means to be feminine? Why are they applauding Will Smith instead of talking about everything else involved–toxic masculinity and all the other things?
Over the course of the month, the more I tried to find a focus for what to say, the more hopeless I felt about being able to say enough. To figure out what the conversations we need to have are. I don’t think what I’ve been able to say here is enough, but it’s a place for some of us to begin talking.