“I admit I made mistakes, especially wearing that beret. But the attention and judgment I received, not the story, but that I personally received was unprecedented. I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and of course That Woman. I was seen by many but actually known by few. And I get it. It was easy to forget that That Woman was dimensional, had a soul, and was once unbroken.” – Monica Lewinsky
Let me share with you at shameful moment from my past.
As a young Republican, I stood proudly in front of my Civics and Economics class and slut shamed Monica Lewinsky for having the audacity and lack of self-worth to sleep with the president, I then shamed Hilary Clinton for standing by her man, and I did all of this without an ounce of understanding that talking about these women this way was an act of violence towards myself and all the women in the classroom in front of all the men.
You see, we can not attack another woman without personalizing it in some way. For me to declare verbal war on these women meant that I had to believe, on some level, what I was saying about them. I had to believe that I had the right to judge other women for their choices related to their sexual and relationship decisions. I didn’t understand that I was buying into, without question, the sexism and misogyny that I was being spoon fed. Importantly, I didn’t understand that telling those stories about those women would directly affect how I felt about myself.
“I became the messenger who had to be killed”. – Anita Hill
Once upon a time in a land far away, I had a boss that felt it was acceptable to comment on my appearance and intimate life on a regular basis. These interactions left me feeling gross and helpless. What’s worse, is when I talked to some people about these experiences, I was literally met with “you’re not that good looking” as a response. At the time, I agreed and thought I was being too sensitive.
But, I wasn’t being too sensitive. Instead, what I was doing, is talking about the thing women are not supposed to talk about. I don’t know a woman that hasn’t experienced some level of uncomfortable conversation related to appearance or sexuality but we’re supposed to just shut up and take it. My mistake was that I tried to talk about what was happening and it was met with a reflexive “shut the f*ck up, you’re going to ruin this for the rest of us” response.
Undoubtedly, it was the message I internalized about women so early in my life and proclaimed proudly in front of a classroom that caused me to second guess myself. I had this realization listening to a the podcast Stuff Mom Never Told You and the topic was Anita Hill.
I was about ten years old when Anita Hill was interviewed by congress so I don’t have much memory of the interviews when they were actually happening. But, her story enraged, saddened, and resonated with me on Sunday. At one point, I marched off the machine I was working out on and walked over to my partner to loudly exclaim “Did you know Clarence Thomas’s wife called Anita Hill in 2010 asking her to apologize?” To which he nodded yes and continued to work out. This was unthinkable to me.
So much related to the rhetoric surrounding Anita Hill, Monica Lewinsky, and Hilary Clinton upsets me but I think some of the worst of all of it is the female cannibalism. I think that when women shame other women or tell them to shut up (explicitly or implicitly) it cuts us deeply and wounds us permanently. We need to learn that this is not the path to success. Men do not hold the key and we do not have to allow them to treat us any way they want to get where we need to go. We can do this for each other (e.g., Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Oprah, Barbara Walters, Amy Poelher, Tina Fey, Margaret Cho, Ellen Degeneres, Jennifer Lopez, and on and on and on)
I know now that my boss was extremely inappropriate with me. It had nothing to do with how I looked or how I acted. It had everything to do with power. And, he had all of the power. In that case, you gotta know when to hold um and know when to fold um and I folded um.
In sum, I am so sorry that I spoke so poorly and shamefully about Monica Lewinsky and Hillary Clinton. I know that they were not directly influenced by my actions but I was spewing hate and shame and for that I am sorry. And as for Anita Hill, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
“[L]et’s be honest here, Hillary Clinton is Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. She’s going to keep coming back, and they’re not going to stop her.” ~ Ken Rudin (NPR)