By Amy Reardon
“You are blocking everyone’s progress!” I screamed. It was 8am and the construction worker was backing his pickup truck onto the sidewalk, blocking my running path and making it impossible for cars to pass on the street next to us. Rush hour in Denver, the morning after Election Day, and he was everything that was wrong with the world. The air was thick and still with smog.
I had my next line ready and waiting for his response.
“The women of this country are pissed, and you had better get used to it!” I planned to say, but I didn’t get the chance because after my first salvo, he stepped out of the truck in jeans and work boots. He lifted up his hands.
“I’m really sorry, ma’am, I just have to unload the drywall,” he said, and I could see from his face he was not out to bury the women of this country after all.
The day before, on Election Day, I awoke absolutely 100% sure we would be electing our first female president. That morning I floated outside for my run and looked up at the blue sky and white puffy clouds. Today everything changes, I thought. Today begins a new conversation on the global stage, one in which the President of the United States calls out anyone in her path who dismisses, interrupts, overrules, condescends, mansplains*, excludes, objectifies, usurps, negates, demeans, shoots down, shuts down, steals from, shames women for their biology or otherwise bangs on with the same old tired tags, emotional and weak. The leader of the free world will systematically reject the devaluation of women and give birth to a new model of behavior that will slowly permeate our homes, schools and institutions, like water runs under a door and slowly floods a room.
I imagined dinner tables, office water coolers and Starbucks coffee shops across America, where it would become commonplace to quote our president’s candid responses to pompous windbags who publicly dismissed her ideas. This would open the door for all of us to do the same. As I ran along listening to Sia’s voice sing “Titanium” on repeat – I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose. Fire away, fire away – I jumped up and punched a fist into the air.
All day Election Day, I walked around in this magical new world. My back was straighter, my head higher, my shoulders open. I made eye contact and grinned at the people in the elevator. I felt empowered to take up space because I knew, KNEW, our new president would have our backs. When a tall, broad shouldered man in a suit and tie barreled down the sidewalk outside my office in my path and refused to move his line, I held mine. His shoulder slammed into me as he passed, and I smiled at my feet and thought, no dude, we share the sidewalk now.
See that’s precisely what I had wrong. I was waiting for our first female president to give me permission to take up my own space. Girlfriends, we are never going to be treated as equals while we expect someone else to do it for us. HRC has never waited for anyone to give her permission to do anything. Do you think the dictators and despots of the world wanted to meet with a female Secretary of State? No. But she got off her airplane in whatever crazy corner of the world she had business, walked her pantsuit into his golden palace or high-security bunker or mountainside retreat and took a seat at the table. Every day of her life.
We women did not invent this mindset, the idea that someone else was going to protect us and fight our battles: it’s called a patriarchal society. Now, this is the point in the conversation where I always lose my male friends. They immediately move into fight-or-flight mode, assuming I’m accusing them of something, and I am not. We built this society together, in farm houses and covered wagons and log cabins and bedrooms and boardrooms, for better or for worse, generation after generation after generation.
Anthropologists suggest the roots of the patriarchy began about 6,000 years ago, when humankind moved from the egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies into agriculture and domestication. In a patriarchy, the male steps in as head of the house, providing for and protecting the women and children. Is this beginning to sound familiar?
It took the defeat of my long-time hero to realize my mistake: when I wanted my president to fight for my station in life and then turn around and hand it to me, I was doing it again. The day we lost the election was the day I formally withdrew my participation in the patriarchy. Today I ask you to join me.
As such, I present the Good Girls Guide to Survival in Trumpland. Think this plan might not be for you? Read on, sisters.
Raise your hand if like me, you crave approval. Remember when kind old grandpa patted you on the head and said run along and be a good girl, and you beamed up at his wrinkled face and wanted to please him so bad you seriously asked yourself, how can I be a better girl?
How many times have I started to pitch an idea at work and been interrupted by a boss who thought he knew more so I deferred and left a great plan unexecuted because I didn’t have the nerve to push back and take the floor again? A million.
A million times I have handed over my voice and my authority to the men around me. It was so easy. I was busy. I had more important things to do, like the serious work of getting my family through the day. Having an opinion amidst the blowhards and one-uppers just didn’t feel like my job. They can have the floor, I thought, how arrogant. And in this silent negotiation, I handed over my leadership, my authority and my voice to the men around me.
Look at how boys are raised: they are pushed out on sports fields and jostled and told to be tough, argue and compete. Girls are still, to a certain extent, raised to be nice, to get along, to smile, to be the helpers. The boys are told they will have to steer the ship, and they may be thrown into the cold water without a lifejacket so they better figure it out. Girls are offered the choice to opt out.
Ladies, I’m here to suggest we can do better. My favorite author Cheryl Strayed says you only have until you’re 30 years old to blame your parents for what is wrong with your lives, after that it’s on us. So if you’re 30 and you’re not like my friend KB who is president of a global company … if you’re not like my friend Tiffany who just survived a mortal illness to come back and be a mommy again and inspire her entire community with jokes and goodwill … if you don’t identify with the term nasty woman or you’re not sure you need to be a feminist … or if you just really want to be liked, then you might be like me, and sister, I suggest you read on.
Five years ago, I was reading the book, “The Next 100 Years” by George Friedman, and I encountered a sentence that moved me to stop writing about other people’s ideas and start writing about my own. He predicted that because women’s lives have changed so much over the last 200 years, the era in which we live is one in which “new institutions, moral systems and practices will begin their first tentative emergence.”
Previously, women had no choice but to spend 100 percent of their lives bearing and raising children, then they died. Then came the industrial revolution, food become plentiful, medical care saved lives and birth control allowed us to step off the baby treadmill. As a result today’s woman now spends only 10 percent of her life bearing and raising children. It is not an exaggeration to say that women’s lives have been transformed. Add to this the good work of the feminists, and we find ourselves in a Consolidation Generation. It’s our job to sort out the new role of women after two centuries of change.
Today I ask you, are we going to allow the patriarchy to define these new institutions, moral systems and practices, or are we going to define them ourselves? It’s time for us to stop being complicit in giving away our own voices, our own authority and our own place in the world.
Now let’s be smart about this. I’m not suggesting an outright revolt against the patriarchy, but what if we simply outgrew it?
Goodness knows the men we love are in consolidation too. They’re expected hold up their own end of our twisted social bargain while at the same time being emotionally intelligent, politically correct co-parents, and somewhere in between getting down on one knee to spring diamonds from their pockets. Our little boys are being medicated because they don’t act more like girls and warned if they’re not careful, they might just become a rapist.
I’m done being nice and keeping my mouth shut. It’s not working. So as American society tilts back toward its patriarchal roots, I present the Good Girls Guide, six simple steps for survival in our new status quo.
Step 1: Find fulfillment.
Whatever interests you, whatever you love, whatever you are good at: get better at it. Practice, read books, listen to podcasts. Find experts to follow who excite you and fill your mind with ideas that move you to closer to mastery. Know more about these ideas than anyone else in the room.
Step 2: Use your voice.
Win arguments on these topics, every time. Fight to the end because when you assert your opinion, you claim your place on the leadership committee, and that is where we need to be. Have one or two or three or four topics in which you are the master – be they mergers & acquisitions or global warming or potty training or neighborhood building codes or software development kits. Speak up every time. The world needs your voice.
Step 3: Take up space.
DO NOT ASK PERMISSION. DO NOT ANNOUNCE YOUR INTENTION. DO NOT GET MAD. DO NOT EXPECT SOMEONE ELSE TO GIVE IT TO YOU. Just take your space: it was yours the whole time. It was never someone else’s to give. Does this scenario sound familiar? You sit down in an airplane seat and the guy next to you has his whole arm on the armrest, and even though you wanted some armrest, you put your hands in your lap, and you sit there and fume. Stop doing that immediately. Put your arm on the armrest. Hold it there, right against his arm. I’ve tried it, and I assure you, he will share. No talking, no blaming, no asking, no apologizing. JUST TAKE IT. You had it all along.
Step 4: Ask for what you need.
Boys are raised to go out and get what they need. They don’t feel bad and they don’t apologize. If there are five Popsicles and five people, and you are one of the five people, don’t wait until everyone has had one to see if they might want a second. Have a Popsicle. It’s more fun when we all enjoy Popsicles together. If we don’t show our families and co-workers how to treat us, then they get to decide what we deserve.
Step 5. Do not ask for permission.
It is not theirs to give you. If women are going to be treated equally we have to stop asking the world for permission. The power was yours all along. Eleanor Roosevelt is famous for saying, “No one can make you inferior without your consent.” Today, we stop giving our consent. In 1992, Gloria Steinem wrote a book in which she called upon women to take all the freedoms they had been given from the feminist movement and step into their own power. Girlfriends, this was 25 years ago. What are we waiting for?
Step 6: Elevate other women.
Sheryl Sandberg and Sallie Krawcheck and the ladies of the White House staff are right when they challenge us to make simple choices every day to support each other, like “amplifying,” the act of repeating other women’s ideas to recognize their contribution. Recently a friend told me a female executive officer at her company came to her to inquire about the leadership bios posted on their website. She wanted to know, shouldn’t the new male officer joining the firm be featured ahead of her? The answer to this question is no. We must also help each other claim our space.
If you’re still wondering whether the Good Girls Guide is for you, here’s a test. Has a father, boyfriend, husband or boss ever called you sweet? If your answer is yes, I suggest it’s time to have a look in the mirror. Sweet is dessert. Dessert is optional, full of empty calories. If people are calling you sweet, I ask you to consider whether you may have handed over your power.
I know what you’re going to say now. We’re tired. And what’s wrong with wanting to be liked? We have to do everything and walk the dog and clean up after the sick child and bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. Do we really do have to collaborate and make equal contributions and take our rightful share of the armrest too?
And to this I say yes, we do. When the Good Girls of America stop choosing to be dessert, I do believe we will never, ever again have to watch the world’s champion for human rights concede an election. We will never have to sit by and sob while she assures our daughters that they are valuable, powerful and deserving. Our daughters will already know that. Good Girls of Trumpland, let’s get started.
*Credit: Rebecca Solnit, “Men Explain Things to Me”
Amy Reardon is a writer in Denver, CO. She is at work on a novel about how women interact with each other via the Stanford University School of Continuing Studies Online Writing Certificate Program. Amy can be found on Facebook.