Silent All These Years — The Accounting of a Woman

by Vanessa Tottle

She had a personality once. It cost her dearly because it didn’t include baking cookies. It cost her dearly because it didn’t include choosing drapery.

It included being a lawyer, going undercover to investigate racial integration in schools, offering legal aid to those who couldn’t afford it, having a career.

And the 1990s asked us how we could trust her if she wasn’t baking cookies.

So she baked you some fucking cookies in between declaring my rights are human rights, and getting health insurance for 11 million previously uninsured children through S-CHIP.

You don’t remember S-CHIP. You aren’t a child who lived because of it, or who avoided pain because of it. You proclaim her 1990s health care drive a failure.

You don’t remember when women’s rights weren’t human rights, or live where they still aren’t, or suffer because they closed your Planned Parenthood down. You proclaim Hillary Clinton a failure.

Then there are those who need her. There are the marginalized communities who supported her. Latinx voters like myself. Women voters like myself. And Black voters. And LGBTQ voters. And more. We all asked for your help. We all asked for your vote.

Did you give it?

She is the victim of a philandering husband, yet Bill is her fault. From the Right, she couldn’t satisfy him. From the Left, she couldn’t keep him leashed. Why didn’t she divorce him, you ask. Your news feed answers with Angelina Jolie and Amber Heard and Gwyneth Paltrow, a parade of men’s voices screaming hate and vitriol and threats for the simple act of leaving their men.

Now you tell her she has no personality, she’s cold, she can’t be trusted.

Let me tell you something: I have no personality. I am cold. I cannot be trusted.

When I was the best student in class and I was told my grade would be held down unless I sucked my professor’s dick, I took the lesser grade and brought it up to the administration. He kept his job. Nothing changed, except I lost a piece of what makes me a person.

When my passport was held at bay in a foreign country unless I slept with my host, I became warm and gracious and cloying, but that was all a lie. Inside, I was as cold as I have ever been. He didn’t get a thing, but I left behind the warmth of trust.

When I’ve been at a bar, and I’ve lied that I have a boyfriend, or that I’m married, or that I have an STD, or I spilled a hot toddy to get a hand off my arm but called it an accident, I couldn’t be trusted. There are a hundred environments where a woman is prepared to be untrustworthy just to survive, just to be listened to, just to be legitimate.

You contemplated your vote and saw that she has no personality, that she’s cold, that she can’t be trusted.

If your career is under threat, your goals are under threat, your legitimacy is under threat, you look back across your life and see the history that combination covers, the evolution from there to here of self-protection: the loss of personality, of warmth, of trust.

Many turn to us and tell us the act of voting for Hillary Clinton proved how little we know. But we look upon our experiences, and the pieces of us those experiences have wrought: the personality, and warmth, and trust it’s cost.

We wonder what a privilege it is to not recognize these losses in another because you have never lost them. You think these are simply traits of a woman’s personality, instead of badges women earn through time. They are marks of survival. They are deep scars. They are how I understood a warrior who held onto herself through it all; they are how you understood a whore, a nasty woman, a lack of character.

I saw a woman who offered me freedom from the scars I earn; you chanted, “Lock her up.”

The costs for a woman’s place at the table vary, but those costs are asked of us everywhere.

We finally saw a woman who could become president. She had paid some of these costs and refused to pay others, and she threatened to rewrite all of this ugly accounting that asks women to pay in the currency of our personalities, and warmth, and trust.

Your response was to tell us she lacked personality, and warmth, and trust.

How do we reply to you? With anger, with laughter, with tears? Or with a straight face because that is the practice this accounting asks of us? With ledgers in our eyes? With all the numbers in the red that we’ve accrued? With a history of costs and a map of the pieces left behind?

She just wasn’t trustworthy, you’ll explain. In the back of your mind, you’ll wonder why I don’t smile more. Shall I for you, after what you’ve done?

Yes. I think I’ll bare these teeth at last.

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