[Content Note: Misogyny; slurs; homophobia; disablism; bigotry; violence.]
This election was a referendum on women.
Ahead of the election, I wrote: "Donald Trump is so explicitly sexist, and Hillary Clinton is so explicitly feminist, that the choice made by the majority of voters will send a very clear message about the value of women in our country. ...The result of this election will say a great deal about how we are valued by our fellow countrypeople (or at least a whole lot of them) and will determine how we are valued by our country."
The confounding result—Clinton with nearly 3 million more votes, but Trump with the presidency—did not result in a clear message. Or, more accurately: It did, but that clear message was swiftly muddled by Trump (and his supporters) claiming a mandate he does not actually have.
In response to his presidency, women by the millions have made noise rejecting his legitimacy and condemning his lack of decency. (Men and genderqueer folks, too. But this post is about women.) Many of these women are longtime activists and advocates and organizers. Many of them are newly activated, seeking ways to be a part of the resistance movement.
As such, they may be encountering for the first time the costs of being a woman with an opinion in public, trying to figure out how to navigate the abuse so sickeningly, tediously familiar to veteran activists.
There are times when some bit of misogyny disgorged at a prominent woman, or women, becomes a rallying cry: We are the binders full of women bearing our woman cards; we are social justice warriors; we are outrage machinists; we are nasty women; we are persistent; we are snowflakes...and winter is coming.
But we are also, individually, in private or the more isolated public of social media, on the street or in any space we assert our humanity: Bitches. Cunts. Whores. Feminazis. Dykes. Fat. Ugly. Unfuckable. Deserving of harm.
Every slur that references any part of your identity. Racist slurs. Disablist slurs. Anti-Semitic slurs. Islamophobic slurs. Nativist slurs.
And, often, slurs or intended insults that don't have anything to do with your identity. One of the favorite "insults" of the alt-right is to tell someone they have Down Syndrome. I have been told this countless times. I'm not insulted by this (although I'm angry about how it demeans people with Down Syndrome); it's simply an inaccurate statement. Just because they hold in contempt people with Down Syndrome doesn't mean I do.
When slurs and insults fail to have their desired effect, then come the threats. Rape threats. Death threats. Admonishments to self-harm. The invocation of genocidal imagery. Eliminationism. Doxxing.
It can be overwhelming, and discouraging, and upsetting, and it can make you feel very much like this isn't worth it.
It's much more difficult to flip into a rallying cry the ad hominems directed at you personally by some rando fuckgoblin, who is not Mitch McConnell—when you're not Elizabeth Warren.
Sometimes women new to public activism find themselves utterly mindfucked by how collective reclaiming of misogyny—"We persist!"—can fill our air with lungs and fuel the fire in our bellies, and how the personal, individual misogyny we must weather can be so very much the opposite. Scary and demoralizing.
I've been doing this for nearly 13 years now, an ancient of the blogosphere, so I get asked quite frequently how to do it. How to navigate that juxtaposition; how to keep going.
The truth is: I don't know what will work for you. But I want to validate what you may already be feeling, or may feel at some point along this journey. And I want to tell you it's okay if it's too much. And urge you to center that self-care is radical resistance against oppressors who want to destroy you.
And I will share with you a couple of things that are important for my survival, in case they are helpful to you in finding yours.
1. I Get Discussed in Forums. "I process it by putting it through a meat grinder, turning it into a juicy sausage, and eating it NOM NOM NOM. I process it by letting it be my sustenance. My belly is filled with this fuel, reminder after reminder after tired-ass reminder about why I'm doing what I'm doing."
2. It's Okay to Cry. "I have cried. There are days when I am breathing fire with confident disdain, and there are days when I cry. Sometimes those days are the same day."
3. Ugly Girl: "I want my act of resistance against a world that values women on their beauty not to be to disappear, but to be visible. To myself, most of all. All 'you are ugly' means to me anymore is that I have been seen."
The first piece is about using torment as motivation. That's not always possible, but it's incredibly useful in the moments when it is. The second piece is about the imperatives to "be strong," especially publicly, and about not holding ourselves (or others) to that standard. The third piece is about how I worked through some of the most common insults used against women to make us feel small, and came to a point where they have no effect on me at all anymore.
Those pieces are about navigating shit we get from strangers. And here is one that may be helpful in navigating shit you get from the men in your lives: The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck.
There's no simple recommendation I can make; certainly no universal one. The pieces I write about the harm that is the cost of this work (and I've written a lot of them over the years) tend to be more about validation and explaining steps I've taken to help me process, in the hope they may be helpful to others.
Lots of women are newly determined to make themselves heard, in a moment in which women are being shamelessly silenced and gaslighted from the highest reaches of their government. This will not be an easy road. And it will not be one on which many women find they can stay, especially if they are at a loss for how to deal with the blowback.
I will do my best to support you in finding ways to persist.
[Please feel welcome and encouraged to share your own experiences and/or resources you've found helpful in comments.]