“My world is cruel. You enter, you survive, you die.” -Yennefer of Vengerberg, The Witcher, 2019
Believe or not, I used to get excited for election season. Not Rachel Maddow excited, who gets a thrill every time they play the NBC election music, but I was raised to be engaged in politics. I remember rooting for Dukakis at the ripe old age of nine, and having no understanding why anyone would vote for Ronald Reagan. He was so old! Too old! He didn’t even remember anything in those Iran-Contra hearings! He ignored all those dead gay people!
In my family, you knew politics at nine. We are a proud Democratic family. I don’t relate to the “talk to your conservative family members at Thanksgiving” comments because my family is not conservative. We are Democrats, LIBERALS, in the American political way, not the economic way, liberal or neoliberal (which, pathetically, ill-informed people on the internet use interchangeably because they apparently have never taken a single Econ class in their lives, but that’s another topic), but liberal as in believing in freedom, fairness, and equality.
When I was 13, George HW Bush was up for reelection, and Bill Clinton emerged as the nominee. I was largely indifferent to Bill, but Hillary, oh, Hillary. Looking back it was the first real moment when I looked at the world and fully absorbed the raging, rampant, toxic, horrifying misogyny that existed. Sure, I was 12 the first time I was catcalled by a literal group of about a half-dozen grown men. And yeah, despite all the strange things we’re told, like how girls are worse to girls than boys are to each other (a lie), I’d been bullied far more by boys in my life. I was really tall, middle school and elementary boys don’t take kindly to an amazon in the fifth grade. One time they made me anchor this tug of war rope and all dropped it on my side. I was dragged a hundred feet across the pavement as the boys laughed, saying, “you’re not so big after all, are you?” They hated me because I could hit a softball better than them. Oh, and I hated that girls had to play softball, too. Why not baseball? We’re not so goddamn delicate.
But I also, at age 13, watched the news and I saw what they did to Hillary. I saw them make fun of her headbands. I saw them rail about how she didn’t know her place. They called her Lady MacBeth (I didn’t know what it meant at 13, but I knew it was Bad). Then she had the gall to say she wasn’t the type to stay home and bake cookies and all hell broke loose. She literally had to enter a fucking cookie baking contest to apologize. It was so degrading. I realized how much they hated her. And it was because she was a woman. Who wasn’t content to stay home and bake cookies.
And I knew, I didn’t want to be a woman who stayed home and baked cookies, either.
My mother bought me the “LEAVE CHELSEA ALONE” t-shirt. Chelsea and I were in the same graduating class and the media was equally cruel to her. They called her ugly all the time. Stalked her school. She was a kid in middle school, possibly the worst time in one’s life for self-esteem. It was also sexism. Virulent, disgusting, sexism.
It opened my eyes, and once your eyes are open, you see it you feel it, everywhere.
When I was 14, I went to Disney World with my female friends. We went to the Hall of Presidents, my friends Megan and Kirsten said, “it would be so cool if you were the first woman president.” It was what I wanted. I wanted to be like Hillary. I wanted to defy them all.
I later learned politics wasn’t for me — my skin is far too thin. And that’s fine. I found my calling studying sociology, and it’s helped me understand the world. But I got sick with Multiple Sclerosis before I could finish my PhD and fulfill my dream of shaping young minds on the perils and horrors of sexism and racism and homophobia and structural inequality and why people fall into poverty and how we can help them out of it, and now I spend a lot of time sleeping and a lot of time in pain.
And this is where we get back to the quote at the beginning of this essay — Yennefer of Vengerberg. I won’t require you to watch The Witcher (though if you enjoy genre tv with a more feminist bent, please do), but Yennefer’s story is a not remotely subtle study in what it means to be a woman in this world– whether she’s beautiful, deformed, disabled, ambitious, defeated, or, yes, powerful. She starts out disabled, becomes beautiful and able-bodied, and realizes that there is no winning for a woman in a sexist world either way. “We’re just vessels,” she says, knowing that a misogynistic world will never respect us, no matter how much literal torture we put ourseves through to be acceptable (in Yennefer’s case, magically reshaping her body. In ours: plastic surgery, shapewear). We’re objects, to be devoured or used to create life. Yennefer’s rage leads her to desire power more than beauty.
We’re not meant to want power. We’re not meant to have power. And if they let one of us ascend, it’s a token, and all-too brief gesture. There’s your scrap, woman. Liz, you had your peak in the polls a couple months ago. You flamed out, like a 22-year-old model.
And here we are, and I’m 40 years old, and it’s 2020, and two women are left in the Democratic primary, and the best chance we have at the first woman president in the United States, is being called a liar. Because it’s so much easier to believe a man. Because we’re just vessels, Elizabeth. Elizabeth, who was the only one at the last debate before Iowa to mention people with disabilities. You don’t know your place, Elizabeth. And now Bernie’s legion of sexists are out for your head. You were fine when you were smiling politely at him. Don’t you know women should always keep smiling? Getting angry isn’t pretty. And now you’ve stepped out of line. For the worst reason possible:
You are ambitious. You want power.
They’ve called you angry, and you’ve pointed to the world around you and said, “damn right I’m angry.”
I’m angry, too, Elizabeth. Filled with forty years of rage, feeling like I was screaming into a void without a voice, and I’m tired. I’m so tired. It’s making me distrustful of men, it’s making me distrustful of people on the far left (who I thought shared my values). When I go through a tag on twitter trashing CNN and I genuinely cannot tell if it’s a tweet from a Sanders supporter or a Trump supporter, I get scared. When a Sanders supporter (literally yesterday) links me an article telling me that so-called “identity politics” and antiracism are wrong because they detract from the importance of Marxism, I get horrified.
You said you were disappointed in the ending of Game of Thrones. Daenerys was punished for wanting power. They made her a crazy bitch for it. Try out The Witcher, Liz. Yennefer’s power saves the world. Just like yours could.
I’m disabled. I will not survive any of the left’s “revolution.” I will be the first to die. Just like Yennefer. My world is cruel. I’m just trying to survive until I die. I know people. Friends, family. People who can walk their dogs, run around with their kids, go hiking. People who can hold a job. People who can go out more than once a week. People who can go grocery shopping without collapsing in agony when they get home. People who have more than $962 per month in Social Security to get by, people who have actually, far more than that.
Family members who make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year have lectured me on why Bernie is the best for the poor. Another told me in 2016 than I was essentially a “moderate Republican” for voting for Hillary Clinton. Both were men. Neither have apologized, because they don’t think they have anything to apologize for. Being a man means never having to say you’re sorry, because you never believe you’re wrong.
Neither of them have seemed to have a modicum of self-awareness that they’re talking down to a disabled, poverty stricken woman who has more to lose than either of them.
My proud Democratic family is now full of people who probably think “liberal” is a dirty word and it breaks my fucking heart. But they live their charmed lives and here I am in my world.
It’s cruel. I entered. I’m surviving. And someday, sooner than most of you probably because I have a progressive neurological disease, I will die. I’d just like to live longer than the next four years.