I’ve never called myself a “feminist.”
I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. When I was young, I enjoyed reading local newspapers, Reader’s Digest, and Newsweek, and I watched a lot of TV, so I had my finger on the pulse of sociopolitical matters. As a child it struck me as odd that there even had to be a Feminist Movement promoting equal rights for women. In my young mind, it was obvious to me that men and women were equal because they were both part of the human race and deserved mutual respect solely for that reason.
I chose to avoid the label “feminist” for myself for two reasons. First, I hate when the obvious is stated. I thought it was a given that, as a female, I would automatically support women’s rights. I believed that all women desired respectful treatment from men. Secondly, I knew of a lot of angry feminists who hated men and wanted to hurt men in the process of demanding better treatment for women. Even though I was a child, I thought this angry approach was counterproductive. I loved my dad and brother and did not think they should be treated poorly because of the behavior of some dirty old men. I also knew of a lot of feminists who were kind, loving, and not desiring to hurt men for their cause, but it appeared that, at least where I was growing up in the rural Midwest, the term “feminist” was becoming synonymous with the angry version of woman. So I made the conscious decision to steer clear of that label for myself so that there would be no misunderstanding about my view of men and my desire that they be treated fairly.
As a middle child, I grew up promoting peace. I became an expert in making allowances for questionable behavior on both sides of me for the greater good. I felt it was my job to stand in the middle of the family relationship scales and keep life balanced for everyone. My role as equilibrium monitor was carried into society. As a teenager in the 1980s I tolerated the frequent sexually inappropriate interactions I was on the receiving end of to keep the peace because such behavior was the norm during that era. As a highly intelligent, well-read teen girl, I intuitively knew back then that it was wrong for guys to be grabbing me Donald Trump-style and making lewd remarks. I did a lot of writing back then to deal with my frustration over how I was treated. But, in looking back, I can’t think of one authority figure that would have been responsive if I called out such behavior. I am confident that I would have most likely been ignored, mocked, or punished by my society at the time. And I would have been labeled a “troublemaker.”
When I was working as a young adult in the late 1980s, I had a boss who stood too close to me when we were in the elevator together, and looked at me in a way that made me fear I would be attacked by him if he ever had the opportunity. Because this was the norm to have a boss like that at the time, and I desired to keep the peace, I simply took the stairs when he took the elevator, and I tried to avoid being in a room alone with him. To report his behavior to the HR person who seemed to enjoy the sexual innuendo of the boss, would have resulted in labeling me as “difficult.” It probably would have gotten me fired, too.
In the early 1990s I got married and had two kids. I loved my son as much as my daughter and desired equal opportunities for both of them. I strove to teach both of my kids to treat everyone as equals, to judge people only by the content of their character. I felt I was making a good contribution to the Feminist Movement by raising a son who would go out into society and treat women with respect and equity.
As an adult in the 1990s and 2000s, I continued avoiding the label of “feminist,” even though I continued to have many incidents with men involving inappropriate behavior. I was frequently leered at in public by guys with “that look” on their faces. I was often cat-called when I would go for a walk and was sometimes concerned that I would be raped if I went down a street where I found myself alone with the cat-callers. During walks, I had a couple of predatory-seeming guys talk to me that I think desired to abduct someone through the guise of asking for help. I had a male doctor tell me I looked “scrumptious” during a gynecological exam. I had a male therapist (who was an ex-priest) tell me how attractive I was during a session, and he tried to make me lie down on his couch, insisting that my thoughts would flow better. Both the doctor and the therapist contacted me at home to ask why I wasn’t seeing them anymore. I never reported any of the inappropriate acts I experienced as an adult, because it was a matter of “he said-she said.” As a peacemaker I weighed the pros and cons of reporting such behavior and decided that I could contribute to the balance of a peaceful co-existence in American society by avoiding situations where men could take advantage of me in any way. I planned to do this until the generations of indecent men who were born decades before me and were raised pre-Feminism Movement would someday die off. I started requesting only female doctors and avoided situations where I might be alone with men. I found comfort in telling myself that someday Millennial men like my son would take the place of the far too many dirty old men I’ve had to deal with and would steer our country into a more equitable, less scary way of existing for everyone. I believed that my optimistic thoughts about society were helping to keep things balanced.
And then Donald Trump—version 2016—happened. His bragging on the Access Hollywood tape about how he likes to assault women reminded me that that generation of indecent men is still very much alive and they are still very much in power. The weight of the existence of such a self-proclaimed predator of women as the then Republican presidential candidate threatened to tip my scales of social injustice to the point of no return. My peacemaking mind was too filled with outrage to think about matters of civility. But then the testosterone of Hillary and other angry women balanced the scales and caused me to believe justice would prevail in this country on election night … until everything fell out of whack when WOMEN helped elect Donald Trump as the most powerful predator of women in the world!
Literally every single time I see and hear Donald Trump, I see and hear every teenage boy who grabbed my private parts, my boss who liked to rub against me in the elevator, strangers who have leered at me, creeps who have considered abducting me, guys who have cat-called me and made me worry about being raped if I walked down the wrong street, the doctor who liked the way I looked down there, the therapist who wanted me on his couch, every dirty old man I’ve ever encountered … And I can’t get away from those memories because Donald Trump can’t seem to stay out of a single news cycle. I’ve heard several friends say that because of the Access Hollywood tape, they have the same visceral reaction when they are exposed to Donald Trump. For us, Donald Trump is the Predator in Chief. He is a reminder that, as women, we are not safe in this society.
For the past two years, the scales of justice have been severely tilted as “white uneducated women” continue sitting on the side of everything Donald Trump says and does. As a peacemaker in this era of Trumpism and everything mind-blowing that has come with it, I have continued clinging to my centrist desire for all men and women to be treated equally. I’m still all for giving people the benefit of the doubt and not putting labels on people. But I believe that if someone sticks the label on himself, as Trump did during the Access Hollywood interview, you can take him at his word. I’ve been trying desperately to get my “white uneducated women” friends to see the consequence of continuing to support such a person who sees no problem in grabbing women and doing whatever he wants with them. The result is that I have been convinced that they could not possibly defend Donald Trump’s behavior and also desire respectful treatment from men. And they have labeled me “elitist,” “leftist,” “snowflake,” “Democrat” … even though I’m none of those. The result is also that I have had to change my game plan of just waiting for that dirty old generation of men to die off before we have a society that’s safe for women. The Predator in Chief is now a role-model for young, impressionable American boys—who are being raised by “white uneducated women” who are encouraging them to support the Predator in Chief.
My new plan in 2016 became counting on Donald Trump being controlled by respectable leaders and for the system of checks and balances to protect our country from social harm. But then the Republican majority in our Congress demonstrated, time and again, its lack of moral priorities. So the new game plan for me became waiting until a new president is elected in 2020 because, surely, a predator of women like him can’t continue to stay in power forever … But then the Brett Kavanaugh hearing happened last week. Seeing Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch is a reminder that men from the pre-Feminist Movement can possibly live forever. If their sagging skin doesn’t reveal their age to everyone, then their dated comments and effort to hire a “female prosecutor” (to speak on behalf of the Republican men on the Judiciary Committee to the female accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault) should have made what era they were molded in perfectly clear to the country. Seeing the way Kavanaugh screamed during his testimony, attacked Democrats, lied about drinking and sexual innuendo, the way he interacted so disrespectfully with Senator Amy Klobuchar, and the blind partisan support for Kavanaugh’s character, reminded me of every teenage boy who grabbed my private parts, my boss who liked to rub against me in the elevator, strangers who have leered at me, creeps who have considered abducting me, guys who have cat-called me and made me worry about being raped if I walk down the wrong street, the doctor who liked the way I looked down there, the therapist who wanted me on his couch, every dirty old man I’ve ever encountered …It is clear to me that someone with his character is not a good fit for the Supreme Court, where he could make decisions on how women are treated in this country going forward. Watching Kavanaugh lie at a public hearing and the outpouring of Republican support for him terrifies me. If he is a predator of women and is elected to the Supreme Court, he could actually stay in power FOREVER, until he dies. I’m not saying that he is a predator, but without a thorough investigation, I’ll never know what I should believe about that. I do hope he hasn’t been falsely accused because nobody deserves that kind of harm to their reputation. However, I do believe that he is a liar who lacks integrity because I witnessed that during the hearing. And he could actually be on the Court for fifty years. That’s roughly how long the modern Feminist Movement has been going on in this country. We haven’t even made enough progress in that time for me to be able to go for a walk in a suburb without the fear of getting raped. Imagining what our country will look like in another fifty years, when someone with Brett Kavanaugh’s priorities makes cultural decisions, makes me sick to my stomach—the drinking “100 kegs of beer” sick to my stomach, not the “spicy foods” kind of sick to my stomach.
Regarding all of the sexual accusations about Kavanaugh and himself, Donald Trump says “it’s a very scary time for young men in America.” I agree with that, but I would also add to that sentiment. I believe that “it’s a very scary time for young men in America because you, Donald Trump, as Predator in Chief, are a role model to them. That’s very scary.”
Thanks to the Kavanaugh hearing, the scale of social justice that I’ve always clung to has been broken because so many Republicans and uneducated white women have jumped to one side without considering the words of Brett Kavanaugh or the consequences of supporting him. So my game plan of avoiding situations where men could take advantage of me is finally dead. It looks like powerful men taking advantage of vulnerable people is the political game in this land for the foreseeable future. As an educated person who processes life through critical reasoning and desires equality for all, I have been feeling powerless in this country the last couple of years. Because I’m a woman in this version of America that’s new to me, I’m more scared than I’ve ever been. And I’m angrier at men who abuse their power than I ever thought possible. I’m joining the army of women that the Brett Kavanaugh hearing shook out of hiding. We are no longer going to wait for indecent men to die off; we’re simply going to take away their power, NOW.
I’m a woman and I’m angry. Feel free to label me in any way you want.
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© 2018 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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