My Great Fight

Handmaid Reflections” by Miki J. is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

I can still wake with a stomach ache from all the tension churning inside since the reversal of Roe vs. Wade. And it rises fast, this tension, like rum set aflame. Wait, I cry, not now. I need sleep! But it rushes ahead of me.

I’m a big worried mess.

In case I’m not being clear, I have never been more afraid of Christian Fundamentalism in my life. Something has shifted in my cells alerting me to the truth: it’s clear, they have made it clear, they intend to govern our bodies.

Now, I know just enough about control issues to understand that when someone refuses to accept those who do not believe what they believe, they can become very persistent. Show me someone with a bone to pick with anyone who opposes their viewpoint, and I’ll show you a control freak. Which, in this context, is just another way to say fundamentalist. And I think defeating the ultraconservative right is going to be the great fight of my lifetime, not belly fat.

And if that isn’t sad enough, I finally got around to watching The Handmaid’s Tale. I’d been dreading it and had put it off for as long as possible, and I suppose I was being a scaredy cat about the whole thing, but dread is never benign. The point of the tale is to depict how cruel and calculating theocracy can be, a theme that never gets old, to me anyway. Which probably puts me on some rival list of Doug Coe, the Christian Voice, Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, the Religious Roundtable Council, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, the Free Congress Foundation, and Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network.

But this doesn’t trouble me. Because they are on mine.

My growing, growing list.

But sometimes a film, a book, reality comes knocking so hard on the door of your conscience and it can be just the kick from behind you need to get in touch with that rallying side of yourself you’d nearly forgotten exists. Even though you can’t believe we have to go through this again. It’s like stepping back in time. Or into the future of Margaret Atwood’s book. And reading it was one thing, but watching the series? Rotten men, rotten women, rotten patriarchal state. The possibilities for sleepless nights are now endless.

These feel like such authoritarian times. Almost daily, there is another bill to ban something, sponsored by our very own Morality Police posing as representatives and senators. There were more anti-L.G.B.T.Q. laws introduced in the first quarter of 2023 than in each of the previous five years. I try to keep up with all the bans, but it’s nearly impossible.

Oh, wait, another ban you say? Why, yes. Keep up.

A judge in Texas will hear a case that could force a major abortion pill off the market. And in Wyoming, the governor recently signed a bill making it a felony to prescribe, sell, or use “any drug for the purpose of procuring or performing an abortion.” To quote my friend Liz, “They are taking away our reproductive rights, they are banning books, guns are now the number one cause of death for children and teens in this country!” And then—because nothing makes her angrier than liberal apathy, so she works really hard to stir it up, and I mean hard—she adds in frustration, “We had an insurrection, people! For fuck’s sake, what’s it going to take?” And don’t even get me started on all the restrictive bills in Florida to keep women from having any say in their health care, which is what abortion is, bear in mind, health care. That fanatical house is even considering a law that would ban elementary school classrooms from talking about menstrual cycles and other sexuality topics before grade six.

Now wait just a minute. I got my period in the fifth grade. And it was my home room teacher, Ms. Smith, who helped me by accompanying me to the bathroom and giving me all the comfort and instruction I needed. And believe me, we talked about what was happening to me. This did not make her part of any WOKE agenda, like legislators like to rattle on about. It made her a compassionate, responsible teacher and mentor.

I really need to write and thank her.

I’m not sure how many more images I can endure of a man standing at a podium deciding what women can or cannot do, while not one stands up to ban automatic assault rifles. And let’s be real, our kids are not afraid of women who want final say over their reproductive choices, they are afraid of being shot (shot!) at school. At this writing, the Nashville massacre marked the 19th shooting at a school or university in just the past three months alone.

I feel exhausted with grief over this new reality.

So much so, that lately, when something good happens, when someone does stand up, say, or even spring in the air—daffodils flaring yellow, cherry blossoms raining down, and tulips all over the place—I feel like it all happens more stunningly in contrast to the eerie, menacing attacks on our rights. My dad likes to call extremists who wail about denied freedoms while eagerly stripping others of theirs, “goofballs.” Which I’m sure is not a politically correct word. But there it is. And well said.

I think one of the fundamentalists’ major objectives is that women relearn the message loud and clear that empowerment isn’t ladylike, motherly, or womanly. And this is not only bad for grown women, it’s bad for our girls. We will have to start from scratch to ensure their self-esteem. It’s not just that empowerment in girls and women is still frowned upon by many religious and political factions, it’s that when I listen to the ultra-conservative arguments, it is clear to me that in their eyes, women are still viewed as the domain of men, or the church, or, gasp, both. This is what scares me the most.

Even scarier is the role this fear plays in the minds of so many women, and how I sense too many of us holding back what is true about our personal histories and real about our stories now that certain subjects have been deemed “shameful” again. And believe me, lobbyists and zealots use our uneasiness, our willingness to keep quiet, to their advantage.

I do gain a bit of hope from the many women coming forward lately with the agonizing details of how the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade put their lives in danger, what they had to go through to obtain medically necessary abortions. A woman from Austin, Texas, has come forward because she nearly died when she couldn’t get a timely abortion. To quote Madeline Albright: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” Well, then, there must be a special place in heaven for all the women who do.

Another ray of optimism is Trump’s indictment. (This is where I stand up from my desk, walk over to the window, stare at the sky, nod my head to give thanks.) My friend Sequoia is a history guru. Really, she bowls me over with her knowledge. “I hear you, sister,” she said of my hope that they are finally going to arrest this goofball on something. “Remember, the government was never able to get Al Capone on any of his mob boss murders. They finally nailed him on taxes.” I breathed a sigh of relief. But I knew this sudden rush of hopefulness could just as easily dissolve. If upholding justice was once intensely in style, I fear it can be just as intensely out of style. Like toe rings. Because evil spirits do exist. And they are very fond of social media.

I guess sometimes you just have to turn to Netflix to figure things out. I recently got a text from a friend that said, “Hey!!! Have your watched The Family?” There were too many exclamation points after her chirpy “hey” for me to ignore. It’s unusual for this particular friend to send me a text in the first place so of course I watched the documentary that night. The casualness of texts cannot dull my intuition. I know when my friends have something weighty on their minds.

And, oh, it was weighty.

To learn how organized, sneaky, and manipulative men are in the name of Jesus—hosting the National Prayer Breakfast, for starters, which has become the hub for backroom, right wing, fundamentalist lobbying—was difficult. More appalling is how, when these fanatics don’t get their way about things like banning gay marriage in this country, they move in and try to win their “battle” in other countries, spending millions to propagate fear of homosexuals around the world like a gardener sows seeds.

Okay, this may seem like an abrupt change in subject, but bear with me: The other day I was walking down to the ferry thinking about this and that when I was all at once interrupted by what was happening in a doorway on 5th Avenue. Two young adults, one injecting the other, were kissing. Let me describe some other particulars about that little scene: While the guy injected the woman’s forearm, he did kiss her, if that’s what you’d call it, but he also licked her face like an anxious puppy. And his jeans were halfway down to his knees, exposing soiled boxer shorts. Now, for women on the street, the likelihood of being sexually assaulted is not really a question of if, but when. I wondered what any of us should do, other than call the police, which a woman standing in the doorway of Anthropology promptly did. I say us because there were others walking by, but only she and I stopped to look. Responsibility, I wanted to shout, is about noticing things, getting off your phones and out of your heads and actually noticing things. Even the ugly. Even the obscene.

I bring all this up not because Seattle has been described as a “new Mecca for fentanyl dealers.” And I don’t bring it up because downtown is not exactly the emerald of the Emerald City nowadays. No, I bring this horrific scene up because when I think of how organized the fundamentalists and the evangelical Right to Lifers have been, I think what a better world this would be if their efforts were targeted at homelessness or addiction or mental health. Why not make affordable higher education the cause? Or health protection? Gun-violence prevention? Solve an epidemic or crisis that impacts people already living and struggling beyond hope. Please pick something we desperately need and stop picking on women. Please, please, start saving children who are already here and terrified of going to school.

I am such a dreamer, I know. But just imagine all the stiff finger pointing softening into good old mutual respect for other ways of living and believing. And it’s funny, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about growing into the woman I really want to be, and I’m getting there, slowly, though I don’t think it’s ever possible to fully arrive. It’s more like I am (she is) a steady maker of headway. But I can tell you this, we are both fed up with all the righteousness used mainly to shame and evangelize. Our bodies don’t belong to men who meet in backrooms. Things you have to steal never do. And all of the thefts lately, well, they scare the bejesus out of me.

Even if I’m pretty sure no one says this anymore.

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