A group of us sat around a pool.
This was several months ago, so it was still quite warm in Nashville. A few of us had our legs draped in the water. One friend was on a lounge chair close by. Two women were floating on those pink and yellow donut-shaped floaty toys. We were talking about The Stanford Rape Case, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump running for President, and what a terrifying and awesome time in history it is to be a woman.
Brock Turner had just been arrested and convicted and sentenced to three months in prison. Three months. The looks on our faces said everything. How would it be possible to feel safe in a world where Brock Turner has been sentenced to three months in prison for assaulting and raping a woman?
One friend told a story about a time she’d been roofied at a bar here in Nashville.
Another friend talked about being body-shamed by a man on a text message thread he didn’t know she was on. “Huge”. That’s what he called her. She, by the way, is not “huge” by any stretch of the imagination—not that that matters, other than to say how impossible standards have become for women these days.
Another friend talked about trying to file a restraining order against an ex of hers, how the detective questioned her story and she felt so embarrassed, she left and never filed. She talked about what it was like to fall asleep in her own house, terrified—not of a stranger showing up in the middle of the night, but of someone she once loved.
When you get women talking, you realize the stories from the news are not just stories, they are not overblown media strategies to get good ratings. This is not women overreacting or playing the victim. We’re just finally garnering the courage to talk about what’s been happening in our lives and in this world all along.
What a terrifying and amazing time to be a woman.
I was speaking at an event not long ago, and true to form, spent a long time preparing my content and a good bit of time obsessing over what I was going to wear. I chided myself for that second part, as I usually do, telling myself:
Nobody cares about what you’re wearing. They’re here to hear what you have to say.
But of course even as I told this to myself, I didn’t believe it. It wasn’t 100% true. In an ideal world, sure, nobody would care what I was wearing. But in the real world—this world, the one we live in—people do judge women by what they wear.
This is the reality of the world we live in.
Sure enough, after I stepped off stage, a young man approached me. He introduced himself and thanked me. Then he said it. “Next time, if you could not wear such tight pants, the guys in the audience might be able to pay more attention. It is really distracting.”
I was dumbstruck. Embarrassed.
Wanted to get out of that room as quickly as possible.
That’s shame, by the way. That heat rising up inside of you. That desperation to disappear. To hide. I drank nearly an entire bottle of wine that night, in a hotel room by myself, not because I have a problem with alcohol but because I have I have a problem with figuring out how to be a woman in the world today—a world that tells me to be sexy and beautiful but not to be too sexy or beautiful because then you’re a slut.
A world that tells me to be thin but not too thin or people will think you’re anorexic, to have passions and dreams but not to get too carried away with them or you’ll never be a good wife or mother, to speak your mind but to do it gently otherwise you’re a bitch, that you can be anything you want to be—but you’re somehow second-best without a husband.
I have to be honest. As a woman in this world, sometimes it feels like you can’t win.
Men, women and underwear lines.
While I sat in my hotel room that night, I thought about another event I had attended. This time I’d been on side-stage, standing in the wings, cheering on a friend. We all whispered and leaned in and paid close attention. I thought about how incredible it was to see a my friend fully realizing her potential and actualizing her gifts, getting to share her great beauty with the world.
At one point, a man came up and stood beside me. I didn’t know who he was, but we nodded at each other to be polite. A few minutes later he whispered casually, nodding toward my friend, “someone should tell her you can see her underwear line.”
Then he turned and walked away.
I looked closer, instinctively. The thing was, it wasn’t her underwear line. It was a little camisole tank top she’d put on under her shirt, in an attempt to get some extra coverage. But by then, he was gone and my face was all scrunched up. I wondered why he had been looking at her underwear in the first place and tried to think of a time when anyone EVER had looked at a man on stage and said ANYTHING about his underwear line.
I couldn’t think of one.
What a strange and confusing world to live in as a woman. (Tweet that)
What the shaking is about
More and more lately I’m staring to see a sort of holy stirring about these things, about things we’ve all stayed silent about for years, things women have not had a space or place to say, things we’ve written off as “locker room talk,” as guys just being guys, as just “the way things are”. There is a shift, a fissure, a break in the old way of doing things.
Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.
That’s just the way it is.
We are in a strange in-between time.
Let’s not forget that women now outnumber men in undergraduate programs in the US, that women are earning more and more degrees in business and science. Let’s not forget how a woman is running for US President—a woman who is likely to win. Regardless of politics, you have to admit how truly remarkable it is that our daughters will grow up in a world where a woman in leadership does not seem like an anomaly.
Where women leading is the norm.
Remember women like Katty Kay and Claire Shipman are addressing women and confidence and how women everywhere who are taking them at their word, stepping outside of their usual paradigms and sharing their gifts and voices. Remember the women YOU KNOW, in YOUR LIFE, who are contributing as artists, authors, songwriters, poets, performers, mentors, teachers, mothers.
Remember women are speaking up—finally—about rape and abuse and anorexia and bulimia and the years of injustice they’ve suffered. Remember how they won’t shut up until they start to see real change. My life wouldn’t be the same without these women. Neither would yours.
But also do not forget there is more work to be done.
You and me—if we aren’t the ones to do that work—who will?
What happens when you cage someone
I met a women several years ago while volunteering for an organization I love, that I’ll leave unnamed to protect her identity. She had been addicted to drugs for years—more of her life than she’d been sober—and ended up in this program after a short stint in prison. One day, after a few weeks of knowing her, I built up the courage to ask her what she had done to earn her sentence.
She told me, with some hesitation, that she’d killed her long-time boyfriend.
We were focused on a task, so our hands were busy and I wasn’t looking at her. She went on. Apparently he had handcuffed her to the bed, night after night, beating her with a one of those fire pokers. “You know the ones” she said. Neither she nor I could remember the name. She explained how one night he’d held a gun to her head, and another night he’d broken a beer bottle, shoved the broken end into her wrist and twisted.
She showed me the scars.
Then she told me, one night, he’d left the gun within arm’s reach, and she was high, and so tired of being his punching bag, so she just… pulled the trigger. She admitted how terrified she’d been to share that information wth me. She was afraid I would think of her differently, that I would be scared of her.
“Strangely enough,” I said calmly, “I think I would have done the same thing.”
I shocked myself saying that. But the truth is, I actually found her quite remarkable. You can cage a person for awhile—destroy her body and keep her small—but there is only so long her soul will let her stay there. Drugs help. Alcohol helps. But eventually the soul comes rising up like a fury, like a flood, and no matter what the circumstances are trying to stop her, her soul does not care.
Souls are like that. Indestructible. Unstoppable. Like fire.
Their job is to survive.
What is your soul saying to you? Perhaps its time we begin listening.
Are you in an abusive relationship?
The truth is most of us will never be in a relationship that is as overtly abusive as this one was. But many of us—most of us, perhaps—have been in relationships that are more subtly abusive, and yet equally as destructive, especially when we don’t realize they’re happening.
We are in these relationships with partners, spouses, boyfriends, bosses.
I’ll never forget someone asking me this question several years ago—“Are you in an abusive relationship?” At the time I found her question horribly offensive and off-putting. Condescending even. I talked with my partner at the time about how rude it had been for her to even suggest such a thing, and he assured me she wasn’t a safe person and that we should keep our distance.
It was until years later—YEARS—that I looked back and realized who the unsafe person had been in that circumstance. It’s strange how this can happen. How we can be so DEEP into something that we can’t see it clearly for ourselves. It’s like asking a fish, “how does the water feel?” He’s like: water?
He didn’t even know he was in water. It’s just all he’s ever known.
So this holy stirring… it is a great gift to us. It is waking us up to what has been all along. To what we have been feeling, under the surface, to the struggle we have been fighting without even knowing it. It is whispering to us that we are not crazy, we are not wrong, that we can trust our perception of things. We’ve been living in the water, without even realizing it, gasping for breath, without even knowing.
We’ve been going about our business, drinking bottles of wine alone in hotel rooms.
This is our soul’s way of surviving.
Good men and strong women.
For the most part, my life is filled with men who are supportive and receptive to women in all different capacities, celebrating their beauty and making way for them to actualize their potential. Men I know are fighting for women and advocating for them and making space where there has not been space before. Men I know are setting aside their way of doing things, their way of thinking about things, to listen to women.
This might not be happening everywhere, but it is happening under my nose.
I know it. I live it. I experience it everyday.
That is not to say I haven’t come across my fair share of jerks and bullies in my lifetime. I have. I’ve known them, been friends with them, bumped into them at concerts and bars and parties and even been romantically involved with a few. But it is to say that men who do not respect women are becoming extinct, I’m convinced. The old way is disappearing.
Men who don’t get on the ship are going to be left stranded.
But no matter what men do or don’t do, the most important thing a woman can do is to stand in her beauty and power and value. This is what shuts up bullies the fastest. It cuts them off at their source. A man has a hard time taking advantage of a woman who knows she’s too good to be taken advantage of.
Have you read the letter Brock Turner’s victim wrote and read in his court hearing? I wouldn’t wish her suffering on my worst enemy—and Brock’s sentencing was a terrible and horrifying reflection of a culture that protects men at the expense of women. Still, her words are more powerful than any prison sentence he could have suffered.
And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.
This world is a hard place to be a woman, if we’re being honest. It’s a hard place to be a human. To show up in all our brokenness, all our vulnerability, all our humanity, to share our truth, to let our souls come alive, to shine bright. That doesn’t mean we should stop fighting to do it.
In fact, quit the opposite.
Now, more than ever—in this strange and crazy world—we keep up the good fight.
- The Infuriating Truth About Why Women Drink
- A Woman’s Worth by Marianne Williamson
- Here Is The Powerful Letter The Stanford Victim Read Aloud To Her Attacker
- Empowering Women by Louise Hay
- Women and Desire by Polly Young-Eisendrath