Rescue Me

In the wake of last week's election results, do you feel the need to be rescued?
Chivalry by Francis Bernard Dicksee

I ask because I'm confused by all the feminine outrage I've read since Donald Trump was elected. I mean, I get not liking Trump -- I don't like him either. And I still can't quite wrap my head around the idea of him being our president, but I suppose I'll get used to it.

If you were a Hillary Clinton supporter, I even get being upset that your candidate lost. I remember how I felt when Barack Obama won. I was worried about what kind of policies he would enact and how they might infringe on my personal freedoms. So you're worried about Trump's leadership? How he'll interact with Russia? Or how his economic policies will affect us?  That's totally valid as far as I'm concerned.

But how far do we take our concerns? How much hand wringing should we do? Should I be weeping and wailing like a damsel in distress? And just how much time should we spend protesting, ranting, looking for loopholes or for someone (anyone!) to save us from President-elect Donald Trump?

Prince Philip battles Maleficent as a dragon in Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty.
When I was a little girl, most fairy tales centered around heroes: knights and princes rescuing women. But women have changed and our stories have changed too. When my daughter was little, there was a good mix of old-fashioned fairy tales and new ones, like The Princess Knight, by Cornelia Funk, a wonderful story about a princess who wins her own hand by secretly training to be a knight. 

We don't need a man to save us in this modern era, right? Or anyone else! Women don't need to be rescued! We're strong. Capable. Independent. We can defend ourselves.

Well, that's what we say. 

But if you have exchanged a knight in shining armor for a government in shining armor or even a candidate in shining armor, how different are you from the damsel waiting to be rescued?

"But what do I tell my daughters?" 

That's a question I have read several times over the past week: What do I tell my daughters about a president who used filthy, vile language about women, has shown disrespect to women and behaved inappropriately to women -- even perhaps to the point of criminal behavior?

I can't tell you what to tell your daughters about Donald Trump, but I can tell you what I have taught MY daughter, who was born during Bill Clinton's presidency. You know -- back when his behavior could be described in exactly the same way as I've just described Trump's? When his wife, Hillary, defended him and attacked the women who accused him?

Because I actually have no problem with fairy tales about men rescuing women, but I do want to raise my daughter to be strong and independent -- and to never take abuse from anyone. This is what I taught her, adapted to our current state of affairs. Maybe it will help you too.

1. As an American woman, you have unprecedented freedom. Don't take it for granted; take advantage of it.

In America, a young woman can go to school, just like any boy. She can participate in sports and the science club. She can get a driver's license.She can climb mountains or learn to weld. She can go to college and study what she wants. She can vote. She can reach adulthood feeling protected and safe. In America, she is less likely to be mutilated, shamed, sold into slavery, beaten, or blamed for what men might do to her. There are exceptions even here, I know. But most American women have freedom and opportunity to live, to love, to think, to reason and to draw their own conclusions about their own lives. There is no reason to believe that is going to change with Trump in the White House because ...

2. The president doesn't define you.

I'm so tired of hearing that Trump's victory means that half the country is racist. People voted for Trump for many reasons, just like they voted for Clinton for many reasons. Just because masses of Americans -- many of them Democrats and Independents -- refused to be defined by the east coast/west coast elitism that has overcome liberal politics (mostly trumpeted by, you guessed it, wealthy white liberals who demonstrate again and again that they believe a different set of rules applies to them) doesn't mean they are racists -- or that they are even white!

In fact, the Washington Post and NBC News are reporting that Trump got more votes from people of color than Romney did. Meanwhile, Pew Research Center reports that the percentage of women who voted for Trump was virtually identical to the numbers of women who voted for Romney and McCain.

Jumping to the conclusion that all Trump voters are racist is as reasonable as suggesting that all Clinton voters are lawbreakers. People are tired of being marginalized and told they don't matter. They are tired of being defined by the media and left-leaning politicians. They took that fatigue to the polls and they voted for a big scary change. But that doesn't mean the country is half filled with a bunch of mini-Trumps. 

And you can pull out your hair and shout "Why? Why?" or you can keep clenching your fists and yelling "Racists! Racists!" but it looks like none of those tactics had any impact on voters. With two extremely unlikable candidates, it seems that most people simply chose the one they were the least disgusted with.

And despite the tears and fears, most Trump supporters are not attacking minorities in the streets, just like most Clinton supporters are not trashing cars at a car dealership in Los Angeles, beating Trump supporters in the Chicago streets, or participating in violent protests in the streets of Portland after -- get this -- not even voting in the election.

Let me ask you something: if the president of the United States defines the character of its citizens, what does that say about the character of these violent protesters and the candidate they preferred? Or what does it say about President Obama, who has been leading us for the past eight years, which have been some of the most racially divisive in generations?

Here's the truth: YOU choose how you behave. What lines you cross, what you'll accept and what you'll defy. Because in America, you have that freedom -- the freedom to make an idiot of yourself or to suck it up and deal with disappointment. But whether we are living under a President Obama or a President Trump, you have to get up every day and be the person you want to be. Don't blame your leaders on how you behave. And don't justify bad behavior because there's a guy you don't like heading to the White House. You're better than that.

3. Be your own advocate.

You want to be a strong woman? Be one! You don't need a woman in the White House or even a decent guy in the White House to stand up for yourself.

If you don't like the way someone is talking to you, tell them. If you don't like the language that someone is using around you, speak up! Is someone intimidating you, harassing you, humiliating you? Don't put up with it. Speak your mind, set your own boundaries. Die on that hill or walk away -- it's your choice, but don't be a victim. If you find yourself in a situation that feels dangerous -- when you can't stand up for yourself, find someone who will stand at your side. Teach those around you what you will and will not put up with.

Will it be harder with Trump in the White House? I doubt it. I was harassed by a boss during the Clinton administration. Do you think it was Bill Clinton's fault, because of his behavior with Monica Lewinsky? Or do you think my boss was inspired by that American president to think he should say and do things he should not? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, I had to make a choice about how to deal with it in spite of Clinton's example. Because I am in control of my own life, not Bill Clinton and not Donald Trump.

But let's say I'm wrong -- let's say Trump does create an atmosphere even more hostile to women than Bill Clinton. Well, then tough times call for tough women. We have overcome prejudice before and we can overcome again! 

What if Rosa Parks waited for President Eisenhower's permission before refusing to give up her seat on that bus? What if Susan B. Anthony had waited for President McKinley to tell her it was okay to fight for her right to vote? What if Condoleeza Rice had given up her convictions and her leadership during the Bush administration, just because political opponents called her a "house slave"? Strong women will be strong no matter who is in the White House. We will stand by our convictions and we will fight for our rights, and Donald Trump's presidency is not going to change that.

Let's be realistic: the presidency is going to go back and forth between liberals and conservatives as long as we still have a democracy in America. You are going to have to get used to fighting your own battles either way. You might as well start now.

4. Be Feminine.

Isn't it interesting that "feminine" and "feminist" have such different connotations in our modern society? Here's another question: do you have to act like a man to be considered "equal" with a man? I don't think so, and yet that seems to be the way feminism goes in the modern world. Somewhere along the way, instead of demanding respect where we were, women decided we had to go exist where the men are to be respected.

Please don't misunderstand. I am GLAD women are able to become doctors and scientists and lawyers and engineers and athletes and all the things that were once considered out of reach for our gender (with our weak bodies and our weak minds, it's a wonder we survived at all!) But I am afraid some things have been lost along the way. Like the respect a woman used to get for choosing to stay at home, without a salary, to raise her children. (Talk about non-profit work!) Or the way men used to stand when a woman entered the room -- or clean up their language out of respect for her.

Maybe you don't care about any of those things, but I do. And, no, I don't think those things are examples of male dominance. I think they were signs of respect and power that we have walked away from in pursuit of different kinds of respect and power. 

But if you value any part of your nature that is considered feminine, hold on to it and remind others of it. If you are prone to tears, cry. That's not a weakness! If you want to wear feminine clothes to the office, wear them! You don't have to dress like a man to balance a spreadsheet or write a marketing report. If you find someone's language vile or their behavior sexist, say so. If you have no interest in sports, own it! Be yourself. Being treated as equals with men in the workplace does not have to be entirely on their terms. Demand respect. But also ...

5. Show respect to men.

I am so tired of commercials and TV shows that depict men as idiots who always need their wives to set them straight. 
My favorite hero.
Strong women do not need to emasculate men to realize their own self worth. 
Dare I say it -- it's even okay for men to feel protective of women! That's natural and it doesn't take anything away from you, ladies. There is a reason women have been victimized more than men in the world -- in a violent society, our bodies are a target for some horrible people out there. If you have a husband, father, brother, uncle, nephew, boyfriend or friend who wants to help protect you from that kind of person, let them. Let them be the hero they want to be -- otherwise they may end up in the basement "being" a hero in a video game where there's no one to accuse them of gross misogyny in a patriarchal society every time they hold open a door.
Allowing a man to be masculine doesn't mean giving them permission to order you around, control you, manipulate you or demean you. But accept their protection and their help, if they're offering it. Part of respecting yourself for who you are is respecting others for who they are.


6. Protect your own body.

Biology is science, it's not religion. That might seem like a strangely obvious statement to make, but a lot of people make the issue of abortion about faith. Primarily, sexuality is about science, and I think women are smart enough to understand this. As far as your body is concerned, sex is for procreation. If you don't want to have a baby, then the smartest, most scientific thing for you to do is to prevent yourself from having one. Abstinence is the surest method, even when faith is not part of the equation. If you are not willing to be abstinent, then at least understand how your body works as a biological organism, what cycles it goes through and what methods you can use to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Finally, don't let a man push you into something that you are not ready for. If you are concerned that sex could lead to a pregnancy, say no. Be strong and be firm. It's your body, after all and I don't think you are going to enjoy doing anything with that kind of anxiety hanging over you. Because even if you don't believe that abortion is the taking of a human life (it is, by the way: biologically, not philosophically) you have to understand that abortion is not good for YOUR body either. Be proactive in protecting it.

You don't have to agree with Trump. I doubt that I will. Feel free to watch him carefully, protest decisions he makes that you disagree with (peacefully, please), and if you want to see him out of the Oval Office in four years, go ahead and work toward making that happen. But just remember: those are all decisions YOU get to make because we have unparalleled freedom in this country and because you are a strong, thinking, reasoning woman. Don't play the victim game. Don't be a damsel.


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