Note: This is a shamelessly partisan post. I am viscerally, deeply opposed to Donald Trump and an enthusiastic supporter of Hillary Clinton. So if that offends you, stop reading now.
I’m reading the new Anita Blake book by Laurell K. Hamilton, Crimson Death. I want to be Anita Blake. I also want to be Mac Lane, Jane Yellowrock, Mercy Thompson, and Meredith Gentry. These are nasty, nasty women in the very best ways possible. And they hook up with some pretty bad hombres, which works for me.
This election has provided endless fodder for Saturday Night Live, and I’ve laughed along with everyone else (except for Donald, of course, who has no sense of humor, but I digress). But there are real issues here and it is deeply disturbing that the American populace is becoming inured to each fresh revelation of the revolting actions and attitudes of a presidential candidate who commands almost 40% of the vote. But beyond all of that anxiety-producing reality, there are some truly ugly truths about attitudes toward women that have emerged. And while these truths need to see the light of day so the shadows can be banished, it is a painful process for those of us who remember and know what men—not all, of course, but many—think of us and do to us with impunity.
For almost 30 years I worked in the male-dominated field of national security studies, analysis and policy. I worked at the Pentagon for almost 20 years. Within the macho world of Warcraft, aka the American military industrial complex, many men are pigs on the order of Donald Trump. Men don’t have to be famous to think they can get away with ogling, touching, grabbing, propositioning and speaking offensively to women. They just have to have a modicum of power.
If I had a dollar for every time I was the subject of inappropriate, vulgar discussions and/or questions, I’d be rich. If I had ten dollars for every time a male colleague came to my hotel room, or put his hands on me (if you wouldn’t put your hands on the small of a male colleague’s back to “guide” him toward the door, why is it okay to touch a woman in that manner? Or, if you wouldn’t put your hands on a man’s shoulders for an unsolicited shoulder massage, why do you think you can do it to me?), I’d be Trump rich. And my bad experiences are probably mild compared to many. Sad.
I have been subjected to sexual harassment and sexual assault. No one was ever punished or even reprimanded for these actions against me. And the worst part—the absolutely worst part—is that I never expected the perpetrators to be rebuked. This is the true tragedy. I figured what millions of girls and women just like me figured: 1) there was nothing I could do; it was the price of doing business in a male-dominated world; 2) to complain or make waves would only serve to punish me, because if I didn’t lose my job, I would be the bitch who got good old Jimmy in trouble (but not too much trouble, of course—he would still have a job and the respect of his fellows; I would be forever labeled a troublemaker who couldn’t be trusted to do the right thing; and 3) nothing would change, so why bother?
And all of that is only part of the problem. The other part is that young women were and are raised to believe (or taught by the entertainment and advertising industries) that their greatest worth resides in how they look and how sexually appealing they are to men. As a result, we dress to show off our wares and cultivate our feminine “wiles” to trick, trap and torture poor, unsuspecting men. We believe our value resides in our looks and we have to conform to societal (patriarchal) standards of beauty. Even an older, massively accomplished woman like Hillary Clinton is not immune. I’d like to meet her plastic surgeon, her hairdresser, her stylist and her makeup artist. Because as an aging, accomplished woman in the US, I’m going to need them if I want to succeed.
And then there is the tyranny of standards for female presentation, and the extreme disadvantage it creates. Panty hose, makeup, coiffure, complicated outfits, these are all time sucks. Not to mention keeping our hair colored and our wrinkles relatively smooth. Ridiculously time consuming compared to the male need to “shit, shower and shave” (as an ex-boyfriend of mine described his morning routine) before throwing on a suit and comfortable shoes and facing the day. I would have loved to wear comfortable shoes for the average of five miles a day of walking I did to, from and inside the Pentagon on a daily basis. But that wasn’t an option. Even Anita Blake is not immune from this form of male oppression. She speaks eloquently about the calculation that she and all women must make with respect to calibrating our appearances to a level of precision not seen outside of measurements used to make sure bridges don’t fall. Is my outfit too flirty? Am I showing too much skin? Not enough skin? Are the heels the right height? Am I projecting an image of sufficient power to make sure no one fucks with me, but not so much that men will feel emasculated? If that isn’t a rigged system, I don’t know what is.
And what about the culture of rape on our college campuses? I’ve heard no fewer than five men tell me—with an understanding that it is horrifying (so many things to be horrified about these days)—that for college boys, “No means yes and yes means anal.” Really? In 2016? I thought things were better than when I was in college and was raped by a date. At which time I told myself that it was my own fault for putting myself into a bad situation. And I didn’t tell anyone else because I felt ashamed for being so stupid. I’m not sure things have improved since the 1980s, except that we are more aware.
This is where my beautiful, inspirational, amazing fictional heroines come in. These women would most certainly be considered “nasty” by The Donald and all the white, Christian, heterosexual men who fear the end of their reign of world domination (which is long overdue to be overthrown). They are nasty because they are smart, and accomplished, and fierce. They own their sexuality, their power, their bad-assness. They are each she-who-shall-not-be-fucked-with and they are the kinds of women so many of us want to be. They’ve got skills and strength and if some asshole tries to touch them without invitation or permission they might lose a hand. I want to be them. I want all of us to be them.