For years I told my stories.
Younger women friends indulged me. They were patient and careful with me. I’m an elder so I’m entitled to that tender care though I never asked. They listened to me like I was an old storyteller dressed in heavy robes, holding a carved walking stick, and looking out through rheumy blue eyes. They gathered around until a better attraction came along. Something that was post-feminism, more current, shinier, and certainly more relevant than my tales of old hurts and disadvantages. They wandered off after the magic of Lean In, bored with my stories of standing up. It is nothing to stand up, they thought. We are already standing up.
I clung to the past because it shaped me. I am this because of that. The history of the women’s movement is still hanging on clothes in my closet, it is that real to me. I can remember the desert of no expectations and the tiny oasis of being deemed ‘pretty smart for a girl.’ I remember being labeled angry and unstable and I remember the bravado that alternated, practically every minute of every day, with fear of being on my own without a man.
After a while, I agreed with my younger women friends. Now was the time to lean in; we were already standing up. No reason to be stuck in the old battles, it only dates you, Jan. That war is over. Stop fighting that old war. So like the old World War I veteran who lived in my neighborhood when I was growing up, I stopped talking about it. Oh, every now and then, he would show me his hands and explain how the Germans had ripped off his nails. Your war stories are ridiculous compared to that. Not worthy. Minor insults. That’s all.
I went about accumulating things that would give me stature. Education, accomplishment, reputation, behavior. My plan was to be exceptional, thinking who would dare marginalize me after all I’ve done? And no one has for a long time. Partly because of what I’ve done and mostly because I avoid places with edges. I love men but am repelled by rooms full of them.
Lately, I have been watching the confirmation hearings for the new administration’s Attorney General and Secretary of State. I watch the nominated men, their wives and families sitting behind them. The men are tailored and clean-shaven, seasoned. They are my age peers, men who listened to the Beatles and Rolling Stones and wanted to drive Mustangs when they were young.
The people on the Senate panels questioning them look just like them. Oh, there is a woman here and there, one or two sitting Senators and I’m glad, so glad, to see them, but the panel and the staffers and the audience form an endless sea of men. It is almost like they banned women from the room. No women allowed here. Sorry, women, you will need to be a lot more exceptional than you think to be allowed in here.
For a moment today, I thought maybe it’s just simply the natural order of things. We will never be equal. Life in repose is a sea of men with women tucked in around the small edges. We will scrap with each other to be the ones chosen to be tucked in.
No. That’s not what we’ll do.
We will get back to the business of standing up.
Written in response to The Daily Post prompt: Cling