It’s been a heck of a week and so today I went and ate lunch in the break room, which is an unusual thing.
The going conversation was about TV competitions and we ended up talking about the women’s leagues of the UFC, which reminded me of the women who made an official ride of the Tour de France this year. The did their own Tour de France, because in 2019, there is no women’s equivalent. In the era of #MeToo and widely watched women’s soccer, that got some attention.
“It was cool,” I said. Then I paused. “Except that they had to do it as a protest, of course. That’s not really cool, is it?”
I’ve worked in networking and sysadmin for twenty years. Once I would have told you what it is to be the only woman in the room everywhere you go. That’s still mostly true. But there’s a second disparity now — my peers have gotten younger, while I, well, obviously, have stayed precisely the same age. And that’s fortunate, because age discrimination is very real in my industry.
But anyway, I was the only woman in the room surrounded by much younger peers, sharing the perspective of a woman watching sports. And it was only later that I realized how depressing it was, because the problems I was talking about in terms of representation, equality and fair pay were the exact same problems that I was talking about twenty years ago.
And it’s just…it’s just that I thought we were going to be better by now.
Perhaps we are. In 1998, I would probably have been laughed at for having that conversation. Women’s sports. Who would watch that? But in 2019, it still wasn’t a serious concern for anyone except me.
After all, I have a daughter. Not one of them are parents yet.
But televised sports are the least of it. The #MeToo movement really got to me. I’m glad it happened, but the horrifying thing was how many men really had no idea how common sexual harassment and assault are. Many of the men that I love — that I have been telling my stories of assault and harassment to — responded with surprise.
Really? It’s all of you? I knew it happened but….all of you?
Yes. It’s all of us. Every woman you know has been harassed, every woman you know has been assaulted to some degree. For me, it began in earnest when I was 12 and mostly tapered down when I got a car at 18. It was solved for me when I stopped existing in public quite so much.
Is the world safer today? Perhaps in some ways, but it’s not because we’ve solved the problem. It’s because, at least in the U.S., we’ve locked our children away. They can’t even ride a bike down the street without a parent three feet away. We have an entire generation of incarcerated children, jailed for their own protection, who never get to experience the independence and freedom that roaming unsupervised creates.
And of course, they still aren’t protected from their peers.
My mother marched for the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 70s. She passed in December of 2007, still disappointed to be living in a country where we could not guarantee equal civil rights to men and women. In the world she grew up in, women could not legally take out a credit card without a man signing for it. Sexual harassment at work was legal. Abortions were not.
In 2015, when I took maternity leave, it would have been perfectly legal for my employer to fire me. They didn’t, thank goodness, but women who work for companies with fewer than 50 employees are not covered by the FMLA. That is still true today. And of course, we still haven’t passed the ERA – nearly a century after it was introduced. The Lily Ledbetter act of 2009 — extending the statue of limitations in unequal pay lawsuits — was actually controversial.
It’s just that I thought…we were going to be better by now. That is the truth that I was sold as an 80s child. I was promised that I would be able to have the same opportunities, that I could go and be anything that a man could. And maybe we’re getting closer, but it’s hard not to lose hope, in a time when we have #MeToo but also a strong conservative movement that’s dedicated to making sure that the ladies are available to do all the unpaid labor of home and hearth. Abortion rights are back on the table. I try not to fear for the reversal of laws that protect my right to work, but it doesn’t take a large leap of the imagination to see them as next.
And, to be honest, these worries are taking a backseat right now. It feels like all of that can wait, because there are literal concentration camps within our borders. Guantanamo Bay is terrible – we are supposed to believe in justice and fair trials – but what we are doing to our asylum seekers, who have done nothing but ask for help…
I definitely thought were going to be better than that. Until the last Presidential election, I was naively going along with the presumption that we all agreed that the Nazis were bad. That Never Again, taught over and over again to every American child, really meant Never Again. I don’t have faith in much, but I had a rock solid belief in that one.
I admit that I, like many people, was ignorant about our immigration system. I listened to the news about the Dreamers and their parents, but I was mostly confused by the nuances of the laws. I’ve known a lot of undocumented people, because I’ve lived in cities with large immigrant populations all of my life. I married a former undocumented immigrant and I cried at his naturalization ceremony. And I still didn’t fully realize that the people coming to our border and turning themselves in are doing it perfectly legally.
And we are treating these brave and desperate people like animals. We’re tearing their children away from them, separating families that have so little that they can carry it on their backs. We’re throwing them into overheated metal cages and denying them basic necessities, like the room to lie down and rest. We’re doing it while tearing down the authority of our democracy, while Nazis heed the dog whistle and come out of the woodwork and march in our cities. They go to food festivals and shoot children for daring to exist in public. They run over protesters with cars.
My writing has been a relief, because I am writing about the 18th century. It was a pre-Nazi world. They certainly knew the evils of war and starvation through poverty, but they didn’t know systematic genocide.
But we do.
We know what intolerance combined with power can do to the humanity of ordinary people. And when our government goes after immigrants as economic scapegoats while refusing to secure our elections, it’s hard not to fear that by looking at the worst of our past that we are also looking at our future.
Even when our government knew of the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps, we lowered our immigration quotas for Jews. Does this sound familiar?
My childhood promised me a better world, if I could just wait for our culture to evolve. But we’ve gone backwards to such a frightening place, so quickly, that I am lost when I look forward.
What kind of world am I leaving to my daughter?