This week, a teen mom from a trailer park did something all kinds of fantastic.
Take this pink ribbon off my eye…
Tying on a pair of sneaks (and possibly an adult diaper?), Wendy Davis took the floor of the Texas Senate at 11:18 am on a Tuesday and proceeded to kick up some dust. Since I’m no reporter, I won’t rehash the details here… let’s leave it to the professionals to refresh us on what happened, and let’s leave it to a fellow writer, also named Amy, who also lives in Austin (hello, spirit animal) to tell us firsthand of the shenanigans leading up to it. (Fun fact: if you live in Texas, one of your legislators would prefer to sit around playing Candy Crush — in plain view of you — on your dime instead of listen to what you have to say. Others like to enjoy salty snacks on the House floor while poking their colleagues in the butt. Just a day in the life, you see.)
I’m exposed, and it’s no big surprise…
A funny thing happened — and a rare one, too — as the self-made college graduate, lawyer, and legislator stood up and refused to sit down for twelve hours straight. At age 50, she’d come quite a long way from her life three decades ago, when she’d married at 18 and had a child that same year, then quickly found herself living as a single mother, but she hadn’t forgotten the struggle. In an unprecedented moment, her state — much of it, anyway — took notice of what she was doing and decided to stand along with her… or at least sit still and stare.
I’m ashamed to say I knew nothing of the filibuster until it was actually happening. I used to spend a fair amount time in the Texas Capitol, having worked for a year with an association whose members would routinely knock on lawmakers’ doors and beg to have their voices heard. I once hit my head on a frame in Senator Duncan’s office while trying to get a photograph of our members having a discussion with him. I live not 30 minutes from the building, and I’ll get as heated as the next girl about women’s health care issues, yet I had no clue what was going on this week until it was well under way.
I have no excuses worth uttering. But along with more than 100,000 other people, I crouched into my laptop Tuesday night, watching the drama unfold on the screen and trying to catch up. I compulsively clicked back and forth between the Texas Tribune’s live stream and my own meager twitter feed, paying special attention to tweets from people in the building who were personally witnessing the chaos. And as riveted as I was, I felt a little like a fraud.
Don’t you think I know exactly where I stand?
Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I had plenty of strong female role models to look up to. I fell in love with Audrey Hepburn, UNICEF’s first female goodwill ambassador, when I saw My Fair Lady at age five. Madonna, Janet Jackson, Cyndi Lauper and Salt n’ Pepa comprised my childhood soundtrack alongside a few male counterparts and a dash of Debbie Gibson (who, let’s face it, was essentially Taylor Swift before Taylor Swift was Taylor Swift). I discovered Judy Blume around age nine and decided I wanted to have her life or something like it when I grew up big and strong. And throughout high school and college, I was always drawn to strong, smart women in the public eye; I never felt like I had to look too far to find them. I had plenty of male heroes, too; in fact, I never thought all that much about gender growing up. I just lived my life, like most of us do, day to day.
My influences weren’t only external: my mom was paramount in my life. She led by example: rarely preaching the gospel of feminism, she just lived it as best she could. She put herself through college after having three boys with my dad, and finally had me in her late thirties, soon going back to work and educating something like a thousand children over the decades to follow, urging them all to become informed, independent citizens of the world. My dad, too, was (and still is) a strong guiding force in my life; unlike most of my friends, who were shuttled back and forth between one divorced parent and another with nary a polite exchange during each dropoff, I got to enjoy the affections of both at the same time, plus their love for one another. I loved “helping” him paint houses and go fishing, and nothing was better than falling asleep to his bedtime stories. I never felt the void of parents who couldn’t stand each other, who didn’t speak. I always felt the security of two people telling me I could be whoever I wanted.
So needless to say, as much as I love a cute dress, I know that it doesn’t define me. As many romantic screw-ups as I’ve had, I’ve never let any of them break me. And as much as I loved that super-catchy No Doubt song about the woes of being a little baby hen in a rooster’s world, it took me years to really get what Gwen Stefani was singing about.
This world is forcing me to hold your hand…
The first time I recall feeling a twinge of true sexism was when I worked for a man we’ll call “Bob.” He had an all-female staff, to whom he referred as “gals” (It is Texas, after all) and also to whom he never paid any real attention. Right from the start, it felt as though I’d broken through the ceiling most of the other women in the office couldn’t seem to clear themselves, but I never gave it much thought — I’d worked for Bob’s brother before moving to Texas and figured I must have had some sort of insight into his personality that gave me an advantage into working well with him. As time wore on, though, working with him became a rarity, even though one of my primary responsibilities was to edit his writing. Bob’s the one who was leading the discussion in Senator Duncan’s office on the day I bumped my head. It was one of those rare occasions when he actually showed up to work. Mostly, he couldn’t be bothered to come into the office; my guess is that he actually worked an average of ten or fifteen hours a week in return for his six-figure salary. And as for the “gals” in the office, they had a strange love/hate relationship with him. In fact, I’d never seen so many people cover for just one soul in all my days and then grumble so much about how insufferable he was.
Refusing to hook his computer into the network, he’d occasionally breeze in and email me an electric razor receipt or washing machine rebate voucher, instructing me to stop whatever I was working on and print it off for him. I’d roll my eyes and do it anyway, then get back to editing his slipshod ramblings so they’d maybe make sense to someone.
“Where’s the harm?” I thought, even though it felt sort of… squicky.
Over time, the board noticed critical work wasn’t getting done.
They started asking questions.
Bob swiftly put on his Boss Hat and took immediate action.
I suppose I should thank him for cutting me loose; it’s one of the five best things that ever happened to me. But it doesn’t make it right, and it wouldn’t have happened if I were a man. Why, you ask? Because he never would have hired me in the first place. Men were his equals, his bosses; women, his inferiors, his servants. That’s just how Bob rolled.
I wonder who’s printing his receipts these days.
I’m just a girl, oh little ol’ me, well don’t let me out of your sights…
Growing up in a sprawling but still small navy town on the Florida/Georgia line, I’d never really thought much of terms that, to some, feel pejorative. I sometimes pepper my speech with “honey”s and “sugar”s, although it’s usually for comedic effect and not so much out of habit… but for much of my life, I’ve been surrounded by people who are out-and-out Southerners. Technically, I guess I’m one too. There’s sweet tea in these veins of mine, and sometimes I forget that it’s there.
It’s easy to neglect our own biases, our own ways of becoming accustomed to things, our tendency to let the world around us just happen because “that’s the way it is.” I, for one, was never meant for suburbia, and I may not be meant for motherhood either. Where I come from, that’s just insane. Luckily, I’ve got a strong enough sense of self to have figured things out for myself, and I’ve managed to sidestep the sorts of obligations that some people just can’t, even if they desperately want to. It’s frightening to me that there could be a future where nobody has a say in the matter.
There’s a difference between being old-fashioned, or set in one’s ways, and refusing to see things for what they really are. While I don’t doubt the sincerity of so many people who genuinely believe in the wrongness of abortion under any and every circumstance, our democratic process doesn’t only represent them. As flawed, imperfect, and ever-changing as it is, its beauty lies in the fact that it gives us all a chance to have our say. But that’s the thing: if we don’t say anything, we don’t count.
I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite, so don’t let me have any rights…
I’m guilty of getting distracted. I’m guilty of being naive. I’m guilty of just charging through the stereotypes and doing whatever I damn well please… well, actually, there’s no guilt to be had there whatsoever; I’m proud to blast through those walls without a second thought. But I’m so oblivious to some of them — I’m not even sure why, but I am — that sometimes the thrill is lost on me (and isn’t that how it should be? …eventually?) And there’s danger in the fact that it’s so easy to forget how we don’t all have the same privileges, the same advantages, the same edge.
If I’d grown up among people who didn’t foster my curiosity about the world, in a place where my education was barely a priority and where birth control was scarcely available, do you think I’d be writing this fancy little blog post right now? Given the sad state of sex ed, the lackluster quality of access to birth control (and decent health care in general) for women in low-income areas, and the time it took to develop life-saving HIV therapies (note: people in America were still dying of AIDS while I was living it up at the number one party school in the nation at the time), I wonder if I’d even still be alive. Fortunately for me, here I sit in an air-conditioned space, waxing poetic into a blog I have time for about a Senate bill I knew little about before this week. Others aren’t so lucky. That’s why people like me… and like you… have to pay better attention.
I’m just a girl / What’s my destiny? / What I’ve succumbed to is making me numb
When my mom was the age I am right now, she was pregnant with me. That’s a crazy thing to consider. If I were to find myself in the same place today, at the admittedly ripe age of 37, I’d still be crazy unprepared. “There’s so much still left for me to do first,” I’d be panicking. “What about the book? What about the traveling? What about the world-shaking?”
Now, that’s not to say a mom can’t be a world-shaker (or a novelist, or a traveller). On the contrary; some of the best ones are. But I don’t have that deep yearning for motherhood like so many women do. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say I don’t have it yet. I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the last year or so in general, and certainly throughout this week’s events, but no single, shining answer has made itself clear to me as a result. Refer me to a therapist if you’d like, but I’m actually pretty okay with being undecided, and I realize there will come a day when the decision will be made for me, by nature itself, whether I’m ready or not. And maybe that’s where adoption comes in — or perhaps it comes in beforehand — but that’s another conversation for another day. For now, I appreciate the beauty of the fact that, for the most part, I can choose the way I want my life to go. It’s served me well so far, and it’s happened because I’ve had access to the education and resources necessary to stay healthy and, frankly, not pregnant. The sixteen-year-old sophomore who doesn’t even have a diploma yet, the grown woman who made a mistake or got screwed by statistics and isn’t ready to sign up for the full-time job it obligates her to for the rest of her life, the rape survivor who didn’t sign up for anything — they should have the privilege of choosing, too, in whatever form that takes.
Whoa-oa-oa-oa-oa / I’ve had it up to… here
People like Wendy Davis are critical to the health of low-income women — and really, women in general — a population that likely won’t be served by the special session beginning on Monday as the result of a governor’s scorn. Those of us who care should pay attention to what she’s doing and help her defeat the status quo in any way we can. Because as far as I know, and from what science and history both tell us, our only way of “shutting that whole thing down” is to do something that’s not nearly as easy as it absolutely should be:
Let her speak.