I can’t recall voting in a mid-term election before yesterday with the vivid detail I imagine I will later recall this one. I know I did, but never before were the results as devastating. In the past I was guilty during a general election of just checking a box because I recognized a name or knew a family. Not because the state of our government and our country doesn’t matter to me, but because I didn’t feel I knew enough or that I was smart enough—maybe I felt I didn’t have enough “skin in the game,” so to speak.
I’m slowly adjusting my thinking. I did a bit of political writing before the 2012 election. I expressed my frustration with both parties and revealed that I didn’t identify with either one. As a result, an essay I wrote is included in the upcoming book, 51%: Women and the Future of Politics (http://womenandpolitics.us). That essay was adapted from a post I wrote which was featured and got some traction on BlogHer. “The Enlightened Middle Majority and Why The Sides Are Alienating Us,” was later honored by BlogHer amid the 2013 Voices of the Year in the Op Ed category. It was written as a follow-up to another BlogHer featured post, “My Friends Think I’m the Only Liberal They Know. I Don’t Know What I Am.” And when Yahoo! Voices existed I was excited to be counted as a contributor with an original piece entitled, "Am I the Only White Person in America Offended by Racism and the Tea Party?" My post was bound to be controversial, which is why they selected it. Your clicks and comments would have been much appreciated, but I chickened out. I didn’t promote my Racism/Tea Party post, and thus it fizzled into the ether.
But what if a discussion about bigotry and the blatant factor it is in the utter constipation that has become our government had taken wing? What if my post had inspired a conversation that led to some sort of progress back when John Baynor and Barack Obama couldn’t keep their distaste for one another away from rolling cameras? What if it had gone viral? What if it had the power to activate voters and voices and breed new politicians at all levels of government? What if it had the power to activate women to say, “Hey I’m pissed, too,” possibly preventing the erosion of women’s rights we’ve suffered since 2012 and before? ...What? It's possible. Women earned the right to step into that booth and vote their hearts and their minds and their truth less than one hundred years ago. Many exist who wish they could control what we do behind that proverbial curtain, or wish we didn’t have the right to vote at all. They are the ones preaching absolution through political action. And they are the ones who won last night.
It astounds me that we’re still having a discussion about same sex marriage, for instance. Since Obama’s reelection, progress that was made in the fight for women’s and gay rights has slipped, and now it will only slip further. Many in the middle likely felt they didn’t have an alternative to re-electing President Obama in 2012, because of our fear that what happened yesterday would happen, the events of which underscore the flaws in our two-party, push/pull/dig-in-your-heels system (and which don’t begin to call out the squiggly delegate maps that have completely skewed things to give advantage to those who already have plenty).
Leading up to the 2014 Midterms, we had no vocal leader, inspirer, activator, and it showed. While we sat waiting, political analysts and publishers weighed the odds of how and when they’ll get the most votes or sell the most books. No leaders stepped up to fan the flames, and thus they died. We’ve been waiting for Hillary to announce her candidacy for president. And because she hasn’t, we didn’t. We didn’t engage. We didn’t take lessons from the conservatives’ handbook. We didn’t have signs on our gathering houses reminding our flocks to get out and vote; the words not said reminding every parishioner of the message and the stakes and the end game and the promise of life everlasting…if they vote properly.
And I’m guilty. I personally did nothing in advance of the 2014 Midterm election to organize or to engage all those I know – all those who nod with me, who whisper, “me, too” – to vote. I see now that many of them didn’t. It was chilling to wake up to the reality of what each and every one of us allowed. And why did we allow it?
Because the shame of rape and abortion and domestic violence still keeps us silent.
A Facebook friend posted that a man grabbed her ass while waiting in line last night to vote. If that isn’t an ugly, frightening metaphor for precisely what happened to women and the marginalized during this election, I don’t know what is. (She wasn’t silent. I applaud her for calling the scum out.) We gain ground, but then because we are silent in between the “big” elections the rain pounds and the mudslides begin. We think it’s only the presidency that matters. We think we need a leader to show us the way. Because we’re marginalized, we think we don’t know enough or we don’t matter enough or we can’t make a big enough difference. And we’re guilty, and we’re silent, and we don’t want anyone to know our secrets. So we do nothing. We say nothing.
Little people can accomplish so much when they band together and take action. Doing something gets results better than passive activism, which takes place when we click and forget. Like the #YesAllWomen social media campaign in response to Elliot Rodgers,’ as it turns out, not so bizarre acts of terrorism against women, (source: http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175850/), we’ve shown what can happen when you and I have the guts to have open conversations in a real and meaningful way. But unlike religious conservatives, we’re not following it up with political organization and action that can lead to the sort of change we say we want to see in our society. We’re too busy dodging the title of feminist, while our clicks lull us into a false sense of security. So that when action is needed, we hit snooze rather than wake up and show up at the voting booth.
Did the #YesAllWomen Twitter swell prompt the trolls to come out in force? Yes. Did it showcase some frightening, pervasive patterns among young women and girls who didn’t get it? It did. A completely screwed up mindset (yes, rape culture) exists toward women, and we need to change it.
Like French Montana’s acid rap Pop That and Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, etc., etc., music beats into kids’ brains through their ear buds (source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/cakeshep/10-songs-perhaps-just-as-rapey-as-blurred-lines-f7az). They get “news” and images of what’s truth and what’s important from places like TMZ. The TMZ network “reports” in a “newsroom” style discussion. Speculation and humor inspire clicks rather than actual facts. Next to inflammatory headlines, a perpetual sidebar of ads with degrading links for bigger breasts, flatter tummies, and smaller waists degrades our body image – in our own minds, our value withers. A smorgasbord of mental drivel pops up for kids to consume and consume some more — it’s no wonder girls’ and boys’ brains are full of “rapey” themes that confirm their worth only if they’re skinny enough. It’s no wonder they begin to think rape and domestic violence is totally acceptable. Nay, cool. My generation grew up ashamed of our thoughts if they were “impure.” Our youth today are conversely ashamed of too chaste ones, of not being ghetto enough. We middles who don’t speak up, who didn’t show up, who because of shame and because we’re afraid they’ll think it’s okay don’t speak to our kids, are up against an almost insurmountable hurdle.
On the other side of the spectrum are messages that tell us we’re going to hell unless we find redemption and vote the right way. On not-so-super-Tuesday, a creep can grab a woman’s ass waiting in line to vote, but once he casts his vote correctly and shows up to testify on Sunday, the keys to the gates of Heaven are his, so who cares?
The great motivator for silence is shame. We’re ashamed of our sexual histories, of our choices, even when choice was taken from us, as in the case of rape and domestic violence. As in the case of recent domestic violence victim, Janay Rice, we can’t help but be aware of how victims are mistreated and blamed. There are thousands of blog posts and articles weighing in on why she married Ray Rice after the beating we all got to witness and speculate on, thanks to victim mishandling and the leak of a security video by the NFL. Which brought about another round of hash tags, #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft.
I declined a friend’s offer to share a post I wrote in response to the #YesAllWomen campaign, “#YesAllWomen: Abortion, Rape and Why Shame Can’t Keep Us Silent” (source: originally posted on BlogHer, http://www.blogher.com/yesallwomen-abortion-rape-and-why-shame-cant-keep-us-silent). Though I hoped it would contribute to the discussion, I wasn’t prepared to lead it, and the post decidedly did not appear on my own website. I told myself it was because I work so hard to focus on the positive. My #YesAllWomen post was anything but positive. It was about my own experience with rape and why maintaining women’s reproductive rights is so important to me as a woman who ended an unplanned pregnancy, and who later chose life and became a single mom at only twenty. Later still, I battled six years of infertility with a constant question running in my head of whether or not I was paying for my sexual history. I was not. There were physical and emotional reasons. But I never spoke to anyone about my feelings because of the shame. Even now, as a relative grownup, I’m not sure I’m ready for my small town to lump me with, “you libs,” or weigh in on whether I’m going to hell or whether I’m crazy. But I feel worse this morning about what my silence – yes mine, and yours –cost us last night.
In follow up to my #YesAllWomen post, I also wrote this poem of sorts, because in addition to two grown daughters, I have an eleven-year-old son at home:
#RealMenWait4Yes, Because They Know They Are Worthy of It
by Kim Jorgensen Gane
Rape is when a woman’s right to refuse sex is taken away from her.
Rape is when a woman must pay for her survival with her body.
Rape is when sex is taken whether or not a woman is physically or mentally capable of giving her consent.
Rape is when intimidation is used to compel a woman to engage in sex when she would refuse if she were in an environment where she could do so safely.
We have the right not to feel like it, not to feel like it with you, not to feel like it right now, but maybe later, and we have the right not to feel like it whether or not we’re married to you.
Our bodies are ours alone.
They don’t belong to the boy we laughed at, they don’t belong to the boy who bought us dinner, they don’t belong to a bunch of guys at a party because we’re too drunk to defend ourselves or to articulate no, they don’t belong to our husbands, and they sure as hell don’t belong to our employers.
Men are afraid women will laugh at them[?] Women are afraid men will kill them.
It doesn’t matter what she’s wearing. It shouldn’t matter where she is, whether she’s alone, whether it’s dark, whether it’s day, whether it’s night, whether the wind blows.
Men are afraid women will swallow them whole and spit them out like yesterday’s wine. Women are afraid men will beat them, batter them, rape and abuse them and then leave them for dead under the black sky of a cornfield.
Men are afraid of women’s power of want over them. Women are afraid of a man’s physical power and mental capacity to justify taking what he wants and crushing her.
Women are afraid to hurt someone’s feelings, we’re afraid to be impolite, we’re afraid to be called a bitch for saying no politely, and we’re afraid of being followed back to our apartments and attacked by that guy we tried to politely say no thank you to at the bar, but who just couldn’t walk away and take a polite no for an answer.
Men are afraid of being rejected in front of their boys.
Women are afraid of the guy who can’t walk away, who takes what he wants, who just because he gets an erection, feels it’s a woman’s responsibility to help him take care of it.
Men are afraid to be laughed at? Women are afraid to die.
#RealMenWait4Yes, but many, many boys aren’t taught, aren’t nurtured, aren’t loved by real fathers and real mothers into real men.
Real men respect women’s bodies and they respect women’s minds, and they respect a woman’s ability, liberty and right to choose whether or not to allow a man inside of her. And they respect themselves enough to wait, to earn, to deserve it.
#RealMenWait4Yes because they are worth it and they stand in respect and protection of women until they give themselves—breathless, wanton, with or without love, but they give.
The giving is a gift. And a real man believes he’s worthy and she’s worthy of knowing, of wooing, of waiting for the giving.
Real men walk away if she laughs, because they know it’s a reflection on her, not them, and a real man knows he deserves better.
A real man deserves the gift of the real woman who is ready to willingly give herself to him.
Because the giving is so much sweeter than taking.
Whether or not you agree with my thoughts and beliefs, I encourage women, the marginalized, and mothers especially, to do the following:
· Whatever your medium, use your voice
· Hold your politicians accountable
· Consider becoming a politician yourself
· Gather & Check In: Participate in thought-provoking, productive conversations about the state of our country and
anything else about which you feel passionate
· Don’t chicken out!
· If you are concerned about reproductive rights, consider going public about why
· And for God’s sake, talk to your kids
· Talk to groups of kids
· Talk to and engage each other
Speaking out is how progress occurs. This is how we call out bullies and tell them we're not having it anymore. Talking about rape and how objectification has impacted our own lives is how we teach young people—both boys and girls—that it’s wrong. Open discussions around the dinner table about current events are how we help kids identify the mixed messages with which they are inundated. Rather than preaching at them, asking kids questions and listening with open ears to what they think and sharing both our own experience and our own questions is how we can encourage kids to share and discuss their own uncertainty at home. If we don’t, they’ll figure out how they’re supposed to feel based on what their friends on SnapChat or Instagram have to say on a given day. Communicating is how we elevate awareness and let others know they're not alone if they feel the same, or afford those who disagree the opportunity to give thoughtful rebuttal. And parents, exhibit for your kids that we can disagree respectfully and still be friends. It gives kids power. Power to stand up to a bully or to a rapist, power to vote their truth, power to own how they feel. Power to no longer keep silent.
Just as spirituality doesn't belong only to the Christians, however, neither does politics or the responsibility for our collective future belong only to those who identify with either the Democrats or the Republicans. And it certainly doesn’t belong only to the menfolk. Every ideology thinks they're the only ones going to Heaven. Despite that, conservatives have successfully banded together as a scary, up and coming political party. In the case of politics, each ideology thinks they’re the only ones with the right answers for our country. When the best, fairest, most progressive answers most certainly share bits and pieces of each one.
I believe that political ads have grown more distasteful and polarizing to cause those of us who don't identify with either party to turn away and not be active. Maybe their purpose is to compel us to cover our eyes and our ears—to stuff our mouths with our fists and just pick a side, any side.
Even before 51%: Women and the Future of Politics is released, I'm grateful that being involved with the pending publication has empowered me to discuss things that are important to me, that fall neither to the right nor to the left, or that at any given time fall to both. From many of your nods and responses, public and private, knowing I'm not alone is gratifying. Even disagreements are gratifying (source: http://www.cuteconservative.com/blog/2012/05/03/to-the-enlightened-middle-majority-its-time-to-be-honest/), because it means we're alive and it means we’re having a conversation.
51% validated me as a writer and as an essayist. But I believe the publisher’s decision to wait – one can only assume for Hillary to announce her candidacy for president – based on the goals and import of the content versus the goal of selling the most books, has been a terrible missed opportunity. Whether or not the book ever comes out, or whether I’m still in it after publishing this essay, I still have a voice and a responsibility to speak out and to frickin’ VOTE. We all do, whatever our beliefs.
I may be “just” an Enlightened Middle Mom, but my thoughts matter. I’m fighting for my daughters’ and my son’s and my nieces’ and my someday grandchildren’s future. I’m fighting for girls to believe they have the right to say no, and to make reproductive choices that are right for them if no isn’t heard. Or if we give our yes to the wrong guy and biology wins over pharmaceuticals, or even if we make a youthful mistake. I’m fighting for boys to believe and to understand that they are worthy of waiting for that yes, and to recognize yes as the gift it is.
And yes, as a young unwed mother whose daughter saved her life, and later as a married woman who struggled with six years of infertility, believe me, I recognize that life is a gift. I’m all about life and possible. But the potential for life is not more important than my life. And as I said in, The Enlightened Middle, “…children deserve so much more than to merely exist.” Let’s do a better job of taking care of the mothers and children who are already living and breathing, starving, neglected and abused in our country before we cast stones about when life begins and what every single speck is worth – as long as it’s the right demographic and nobody has to pay for the prevention of its existence, for the termination of it, or for its care and feeding.
Any amount of controversy or flack we must endure will be worthwhile if we can give voice to those who have felt drowned out by the extremists bumping chests and posturing for attention. You know, the ones who are now strutting about the yard crowing. Even those of us who can’t pick a party deserve to be heard. Because this is still a free country. Or at least, it was.
Instead of rolling our eyes and changing the channel, or worse, waiting breathless and wordless and action-less for our “Savior” to announce, let us pay attention. Let us hold our politicians and ourselves accountable. I have the same right as anyone else to not sit idly by, but rather to pay attention, to care, to question, to express myself and to vote my beliefs. And you do, too – starting today.
I hope to incite folks who are as frustrated and as guilty as I am this morning to never let this happen again. Inform yourselves. Feel responsible. Whatever your beliefs or whatever you think you know, research and question. Look inward and review objectively the state of your own families over the last fifteen years or so, your truth, the state of the world as you know it. If we don’t speak out, we make no progress. Let us uncover our ears and take off our blinders. Let’s forgive ourselves, and rather than keep silent, let’s wear our shame close to our hearts but boldly on our lapels. Because uncovering our mouths and using our keyboards is where our power lies. Let’s get involved. Our hard work and sweat and heartbreak have benefited many who aren't looking out for us in the least. Let us look out for ourselves. Whoever you are, wherever you sit, I invite you to participate in the conversation. All the Enlightened Middle Moms out there need to join in a collective dialogue. We need to share our stories of rape, of abortion, of single motherhood, of all of it, as in my case, and speak openly about why reproductive rights are so essential to our survival, and not only during an election cycle. We have a lot of work to do before 2016 to halt this slip back into black and white era Pleasantville politics, and it needs to start today.
Hillary doesn’t have an exclusive on leadership. Progress could have been made had we all stood up as leaders. If we continue holding our breaths, we continue to yield ground in the fight for our reproductive rights, for gay rights, in the fight to no longer be marginalized, to no longer be held down by the thumbs of the 1%. Whether the former First Lady/Senator/Secretary of State does or whether she doesn’t become the first Mrs. President, we are, each one of us, responsible for taking the lead in gaining back the ground we’ve lost. Today I believe that Hillary is the most qualified and prepared individual to lead our country. I wish like hell she would thumb her nose at the Democratic Party to run as an Independent. She could be that much stronger with those of us in the middle leading the charge than she will be with us tagging along behind.