Family: When the Political Gets Personal

In her book, Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman,, Lindy West describes feminism as “the long slow realization that the things you love hate you.” It hurts, especially when those ‘things’ turn out to be people, and those people turn out to be family.

Like millions across the country, I went to bed on Election Night in 2016 paralyzed by sorrow. But in a few days my grief and disbelief began to curdle into rage. Yes, rage – the thing good girls are not supposed to feel, much less acknowledge.

I’d always been a good girl. I got straight A’s, worked hard, stayed out of trouble, for the most part. I raised my hand, asked questions, won spelling bees (like I wasn’t supposed to); I sat up straight with my hands folded, avoided eye contact and allowed myself to lose arguments (like I was supposed to). As the “Second Sex” I experienced first-hand what it’s like to be abused, ignored, and dismissed. I know what it’s like to be constantly criticized for being either too much or not enough. These judgments pinch when they come from strangers; they sear when they come from family.

All these years, not being and doing all I could, it gets exhausting. When Hillary Clinton lost the election, women’s weariness hit a crescendo. Arguably the most qualified candidate to ever run for the Presidency had lost to a self-aggrandizing reality show celebrity utterly devoid of character and a shred of public service. Nearly half my fellow citizens had preferred this infantile bully in spite of — or because of — words and actions that made clear his ignorance, dishonesty, bigotry, misogyny and utter lack of character. I thought to myself, so THIS is how much people hate women. When members of my family support Trump and his lies it tells me how much of my family doesn’t care about women, so by extension, me. You’re ok with his sexually assaulting women = you’re ok with me being sexually assaulted.

Growing up I watched the fight for Civil Rights on TV and on the streets of our southern town. I was about 6 when I learned how my mother’s extended family had perished during the Holocaust. I found it unfathomable that people could think of blacks or Jews as less than, and the fact that this ridiculous, irrational bigotry could lead to segregation and genocide.

I was about 10 when I first saw The Sound of Music on TV. I know it’s supposed to be about family, romance, WASPs singing, swirling on hilltops, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. And believe me, I like all those things, especially romance — and kittens. (And the swirling, who doesn’t like swirling?) But the scene that had the biggest impact on me is the one where the Von Trapps are hiding from the Nazis when Liesl’s beau, Rolfe, dolled up in full Swastika-swag, finds them. (Earlier we’d been treated to his rendition of that feel-good misogynist melody, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”. Big red flag, Liesl, if the whole Nazi thing wasn’t enough of a buzzkill.) Christopher Plummer tries to reach out to him, reason with him, appeal to his goodness. “You’ll never be one of them,” Captain Von Trapp says, meaning it as a compliment, not a dis. But Rolfe gets riled: “”How dare you think I’m not the kind of evil douche who relishes terrorizing my neighbors and murdering good people!”  Instead of joining the good Von Trapp family and taking the high road to morality and probably getting to third with Liesl, “A-Rolphe” alerts his fellow soldiers with a blaring whistle, bellowing “They’re here!”*

personal is political
“A-Rolphe” and Liesl

That whistle haunted me for years. Life is largely a series of choices. Who we are ultimately comes down to a series of choices, the actions we take (or don’t take), the words we say (or don’t say). When Rolphe blows that whistle he makes a choice, a choice that tells us who he is and who he chooses to be. Our lives are stories about the choices we make and the people we choose to be. (And hopefully there’s swirling. Lots of swirling.)

Growing up, it was crystal clear to me that it wasn’t a man named Hitler who killed over 6 million people. It was all the people who let it happen, either with their outright support or by not speaking up when they could. The danger lies in complicity; the Holocaust rests on the shoulders of the marginally bigoted, the fearful, the misguided “polite”.

I’ve heard Trump supporters and non-Trump supporters alike tell me how voting for Trump doesn’t mean you’re a racist, or a sexist, or any other nasty nouns that suggest a person believes some nationalities and genders are superior to others. They tell me that voting for Trump doesn’t make you a bad person, and I should stop being an over-reacting, stubborn jerk. The stubborn part, the jerk part, I own that. My only excuse is that the whole “over-reacting” thing is bullshit. This whole hysterical bitch trope is lazy at best. No one talks about the Founding Fathers’ and American Revolutionaries’ rowdy disdain for tyranny as ‘over-reacting’ – and those ballers climbed on a boat, dumped tons of tea in the harbor and framed ‘Indians’. Tell me, please, what exactly is the rational, appropriate reaction when faced with a world where:

  • Science and facts are ignored and devalued
  • Tyrants and their minions attack journalism and law enforcement that doesn’t suit their interests
  • The planet’s survival (THE EFFING PLANET WE ALL LIVE ON!!) is endangered and damaged in ways from which it can never recover
  • Millions of people’s lives are affected, even ended, by bigoted ideologies supporting unpopular, unreasonable (and unkind) policies
  • Ugly racist, misogynist, and authoritarian rhetoric is tolerated or celebrated
  • A barely literate despot ruins America’s reputation and relationships with countries across the globe
  • Myopic and/or greedy elected officials promote unpopular policies that destroy our environment and economy to satisfy a cabal of corporate donors and plutocrats

I live on this planet, and so do a lot of my friends. I believe in equality of opportunity, fairness and justice. I embrace feminism, that super crazy radical idea that women are also part of the human race. So when members of my family support Trump and tell me they aren’t racists or misogynists, I am not comforted. If you vote for someone who spouts racist rhetoric, boasts about sexually assaulting women, you are saying you’re OK with it. You VOTED FOR IT. You CHOSE IT. Look in the mirror: YOU picked someone who invented and spread a story that our black President wasn’t born here; that said women he groped were too ugly for him to have groped them; who bragged about barging into teen girls’ dressing rooms; who said women shouldn’t be in charge of their bodies – all while he wallows in appraising them. You voted for a grown man who pretended to be someone else and called newspapers saying women said he was the “best sex they ever had”.

You think all that shouldn’t bother me. For now, let’s just put aside the planet’s destruction, racism, homophobia, corruption, treason, obstruction of justice, and decades of boorish stupidity. Let’s look at the fact that I am a woman. Lots of people I know and like are women. Tell me, how should I feel when you embrace a man who treats women like dirt, demeans women’s appearance, opines about taking away women’s rights? Just how should I feel when you cheerfully tell me it doesn’t matter if he sexually assaults women?

Does it ever occur to you that voting for Trump tells me it doesn’t matter that he grabs p**sies? That it means someone grabbing my p**sy doesn’t matter? Saying sexually assaulting women isn’t a big deal is like looking me in the eye and telling me it isn’t a big deal that I was sexually assaulted.

My husband is uncomfortable that I’m airing “personal dirty laundry” and I understand that. But I have to write this because I want him, and other wonderful people like him, to understand what it might feel like to know your father-in-law says, “But that wasn’t supposed to come out,” when the Access Hollywood tape broke. I want people to think about what it might feel like to be a woman and hear someone you love demean women’s intelligence and appearance. If I were a black man sitting at the table in the restaurant, would my father-in-law so merrily say, “Don’t give him the check, black people are terrible at math”? But no one in my husband’s family blinks an eye when he says that about women. But me…I am blinking. And I’m hurting.

There are two things I want to tell my family.

  • I love you. Very much. I’m so grateful and blessed to have you in my life.
  • And I want you to love me too. And that’s why I’m hurting. Because when you say and do the things you do, it feels like the proverbial slap in the face. And I don’t like being slapped in the face.

And the thing is, I don’t want to be slapped in the face, and I’m not going to let it happen. I’m not going to take it in stride.

The day after the election my father-in-law sent the family an email celebrating Trump’s victory over horrible Hillary. My sister-in-law was thrilled; “GOD BLESS AMERICA” she succinctly replied in all caps. From my walking coma of despair I managed to squeeze out a reply, saying he knew this wouldn’t be good news for me and to please desist. His various follow-up emails made it clear that my sorrow was incomprehensible to him. He couldn’t see it.

To my family — All I want is some attempt at comprehension. I want women’s pain and experience to be seen. If over the years I’ve been complicit in its invisibility, well, that ends now. So I can’t be a “good girl” any more. Sorry, not sorry. And to the Rolphes out there who broke my heart when you blew your whistles, there’s still time to make another choice. You can re-consider what it is you’ve chosen.

Or at the very least, you can tell Liesl you’re sorry you blew it.

 

 

* To be fair, I hear that in the stage version of The Sound of Music, A-Rolphe actually joins the Von Trapp family, making good on his dickish promise in melody to take care of poor clueless Liesl.

 

This piece was originally written for the wonderful website, Like a Boss Girls.

 

 

 

Dixie Laite - Dame Town Writer

Author: Dixie Laite

I'm Dixie Laite -- a writer, speaker, and branding consultant in New York City. For over 40 years I've been a bullshit-slaying, classic movies-obsessing, animal-loving dame. For over 40 years I have been working on figuring out how to be a woman. Some of it I nailed, a lot of it I'm still trying to get a handle on. Let's figure this shit out together!

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  • Dixie, I love you more than ever for writing what I fill each and every day with my family. I plan on printing this out and sending it to each and every member of my family and maybe, just maybe they might understand where I’m coming from. But I seriously doubt it.
    Thank you again, Elizabeth Tritsch (formerly of Norcross Georgia and currently and always will be in NYC,’New York)

  • Dixie, I think you speak for many of us, especially those of us who were “good girls” and remained quiet when we should have spoken up. The world we live in…the one we are bequeathing to our children and grand-children…is deteriorating in front of our very eyes, and we are currently being ruled by an egotistical man who cares nothing for the human race. The eloquence of your words needs to be heard by all. Thank you so much. Donna Kaufman

  • Fantastic piece, Dixie. Helping in all my reconsiderations of beliefs past. Rolphe had a big impact on me, too, BUT! The best moment in cinematic history is when Maria/Julie yells at the Captain while she’s dripping wet from falling out of the canoe. Talk about stirring!

  • Wow, it’s like you took the words right out of my mouth. I saw you mention below in the comments that Southern girls who choose to be New Yorkers will always be soul sisters so I knew we could relate.

    I was living in Lexington, KY during the election—spent the night crying on the phone with friends and my mom while listening to the frat boys cheering downstairs, then had to walk into the office bleary-eyed to face my team of all female co-workers, the majority of whom were Trump voters. It was incredibly hard—as a woman who has faced sexual assault (like most women have, I’m really no special case) and whose loved ones include people of color, Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, etc.—to face these co-workers that I called friends when it really felt as though their vote was a personal attack on me and my loved ones.

    Luckily, I’m in NYC now and facing these kinds of people is a much rarer occurrence in my daily life but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they still exist in multitudes. The whole thing is really hard—wanting to continue loving others for who they are but having to reckon with the fact that they vote for people who don’t love me or my loved ones.

    briana | youngsophisticate.com

    • Briana, thank you so much for your comment and your comradeship! This really is a heartbreaking time, and women like us — who refuse to stay silent and complicit — will eb the ones that turn the world back around. xoxo

  • Thank you darling Dixie. You hit the bulls eye! Thank you for your words of wisdom & inspiration. As far as “God Bless America”, well when it comes to God, she can make mistakes too. Again, thank you for the affirmation.