The Meaning of Heartache and Moving Forward

*Taking a break from my usual content to write about what I am feeling.*

I am very lucky to only have experienced true, physical heartache a few times in my life. I remember the shock of it the first time, when a wonderful, bright, young friend of mine was killed in a car accident. You read the words heartache and think of it only as an expression, but the words do not stem from nothing. It’s entirely possible to feel this ache in your heart, a heaviness in your chest. I’d read the word heartache hundreds of times and it took a truly horrifying and shocking event to make me truly understand it. Heartache is a physical manifestation of misery and helplessness. I feel it now, because yesterday a fascist, sexist, racist man was inaugurated into the highest office in the country I was born and raised in, in this nation I believed in. It has profoundly affected me and my heart aches for this nation. I am solemn and depressed. On November 8, 2016 my worldview was shattered; everything I thought I knew about the people in my country, the truths of human spirit I held so dear, a core belief in progress and humanity, everything was tossed into the air and I watched as it felt to the ground, cracked, and splattered.

I didn’t realize how much this election meant to me until election night, possibly because I simply never considered the eventual outcome to be conceivable. I woke up on November 8th surprisingly elated, but with a strange knot in my stomach. I was incredibly exhilarated about the idea of finally welcoming a female president into the White House, yet a lurking fear of the other possibility haunted me. My entire life I have been told that women are powerful creatures, equal to men, and fiercely capable. A woman in the Oval Office would epitomize that belief. I have been taught – like most of America’s students – about the feminist movement of the 1970’s. The manner in which I was taught about this movement, stressed the success of feminism, the accomplishments of the generations before me, and the true equality of men and women. As I’ve grown from child into adult, these lessons I was taught, these core beliefs I was raised with, have slowly begun to break down. We need to rethink the way we raise our children, to retool the education we give them, because if there is one thing this election drilled into me, it’s that all this talk of equality is a fucking lie.

Women and men are not equal. Women and men are not raised in the same fashion. Women and men will absolutely not have the same opportunities. I’ve learned this time and time again, yet it wasn’t until this election that I finally unwound the last layer of cloth covering my eyes. Sexism is rampant in our society. This election proved that in so many ways. Today’s inauguration cements it in our future. Personally, I don’t think my own self-worth has ever been so decimated.

On the evening of November 8th I was solidly in denial. The numbers were coming in and I simply could not comprehend the idea of anyone but Hilary winning that night. I excitedly told my cousin’s eight year old daughter about how monumental this night was, how thrilled I was to celebrate the election of the first female president on the heels of the first African-American president. I went to a friend’s house as the final numbers came in and watched as the women around me wiped tears from their cheeks. I went home when things were more or less settled, still in denial, still believing in my heart of hearts that something major would come about to change the preliminary outcome. That night I took a shower, listening to live updates from CNN on my phone. When I changed into my pajamas, Trump was giving his victory speech. I watched, terrified and alone, making it only through the first few minutes before bursting into panicked sobbing.

I’ve survived these last months in a daze, addicted to the News app on my phone, reading articles with a sadistic fascination in the pain it caused me. This world we entered today is one so repugnant to me. I feel betrayed, I feel scared, but most of all I feel a deep hurt and disappointment. I knew sexism existed. I knew I’d run into it over and over in my short lifetime, in my career, with my family, with my friends. Yet, watching this under-qualified man whose main rhetoric towards women is disparaging and abusive ascend into America’s highest office made me realize how little these issues mattered to the people of this nation. That is what hurts me at the deepest level, the honest realization that the society I trusted in does not care about women. This overwhelming feeling of loss of power and worth washed over women across this country and it disturbs to me.

I grew up surrounded by powerful, independent, and delightfully inspiring women. Both sides of my family are heavily female dominated and I never doubted a woman could be anything she wanted. I knew so many women who succeeded in so many ways and as a child it never occurred to me how much sacrifice and fight when into these accomplishments. I know so many single mothers who never cease to amaze me. I know women who own large companies and command not only the respect of their employees, but truly, their admiration. I find all these women in my life so inspiring; I feel lucky to know them all and have them in my life. I just wish there was one thing all these women would tell me: how much harder they fought for their accomplishments, because of their gender, because equality is a lie.

Say what you want about the Millennial generation, but we are the way we are, because of the people who raised us. In some ways this gives me hope – vastly more millennials voted for Hillary over her opponents. In other ways I must acknowledge our shortcomings. The millennial generation has been told ad nauseam that they are special, that they can do and be anything they want, and that they are equal because generations before have fought the battles over civil rights. We need to abruptly transform this ideology and begin a new conversation, because none of these things are true. You and I – and everyone else  -out there are not special. There are millions just like us. You cannot do or be anything you want. You may strive for something, but many circumstances come into play that are entirely out of your control. Equality is the biggest myth of all. Battles have been fought, but these wars are not easily won. Ask any woman about times she’s faced inequality and she may be too afraid to even give you an answer.

We live in a world where sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape are present constantly. In this world, boasting of these horrific actions may be considered harmless “locker room” talk. That must change. We live in a world where women are valued on their looks and girls are taught that being pretty and silent is preferable to being intelligent and confident. That must change. We live in a world where a man may stand ominously and uncomfortably closely behind a woman while she speaks. This clumsily obvious attempt at physical domination is so common in interactions between men and women, it does not even faze her and no one asks him to step back. That must change. We live in a world where a woman’s integral right to control her own body is dismissed by those who claim her life is not as valuable. That must change. We live in a world where women are taught to fear and distrust each other as they are all in cruel competition. That must change. We live in a world where so many can overlook the disgusting truths of one man, only to believe in the vicious lies told about a woman. That must change. We live in a world where women must work harder, better, and longer than a man in the same position in order to receive less recognition and compensation. That must change. We live in a world where all 45 of the Presidents of the United States of America have been men. That must change.

To enact any change, one must first acknowledge the problem and openly discuss it. So here I am, writing about this in the hope that we can all admit this situation exists and we must do something to combat it. I know now and can say with confidence, there is a huge fight ahead. I must throw myself into that fight and give it everything I can, but I also need to appreciate the great difficulty of this battle and sacrifice it requires. With this recognition, I can admit that I will only survive with the support and encouragement of others. As a woman, there a circumstances that exist that may directly prevent me from reaching my goals, but that doesn’t mean I will not strive for them. That’s why today you will find me at the Women’s March here in Portland, OR. I will be out there standing up for what I believe is right and I will be out there loudly shouting that we have farther yet to come. There will be progress yet to make even long after we welcome the first female into the Presidency of the United States of America. I believe in this and I can only hope it will happen in my lifetime. I have not given up, I will never give up.

 

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