When I started writing this blog, I wrote early posts about stuff like catcalling. Being a feminist. Non-threatening, funny, somewhat sprawly posts that basically were like “Hey! Friendly hello! Here’s some stuff about Being a Lady™ that you should know!”
And some interesting things happened. I got to point out that things I experienced in my everyday life were real, and other women pointed out collectively that they experienced them, too, and a whole bunch of men were like “….. What?” and then “….. Whoa.” And I even took it a step further! Like babies discovering object permanence, I blew their minds when they came to realize that just because you don’t experience something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. That every woman they know had a completely different experience of a very mundane, everyday thing than they did.
A bunch of men said stuff to me about how grateful they were that I helped them understand that. And it made me feel good. No, great. I’m a teacher. It’s what I like to do. I am the dork who gets a little high on my own brand of millennial-lady-Dead-Poet’s-Society-schtick when it works, and it was fucking working, and it made me feel great.
We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of when #MeToo started trending. I remember crying at a preview of a show I was working on. I think some people thought I was emotional because of the show (I was not). Neither were the other women in the room, some of whom were also visibly upset, some of whom were not-crying-but-also-very-much-not-fine (there were several).
I don’t quite have the words for what it felt like to be in that place. I still don’t.
I taught a residency today, a residency with young women in a correctional facility, and I told them the old joke about the fish. You know: Two fish are swimming in the ocean. One fish turns to the other fish and says “Nice water today.” The other fish says, “What the hell is water?”
It felt really good to tell that joke today, because it opened up this conversation about adaptation. How easily people can adapt to their surroundings. How the culture surrounding us permeates everything we do, until we can’t see it anymore. How hard it is to be the one who sees water, how easily we all are shocked to discover that it is there.
What this joke, in its perfect little absurdist form, doesn’t have the room to do, is talk about what happens to the second fish. The one who discovers the existence of water.
I’d like to imagine that the second fish is like, “Holy shit. Water. WATER. W A T E R. This changes everything. Water, water, water. I gotta tell some people about this. Guys….. guys. You have to check this out.”
I have a harder time imagining what happens to the first fish. What that fish, knowing what that fish knows, does with the remainder of its fish life, knowing that water exists.
I have been watching Brett Kavanaugh on television for what feels like years and years, though it has been just over a week, and I feel so numb. Something opened up in me almost a year ago, something opened up in all these women almost a year ago, something powerful and important shifted, and I no longer wanted to be Friendly™ Approachable™ Feminist™ Lady™, I wanted to just scream, alongside so many other women, screaming THIS IS W A T E R, THIS IS THE WATER WE SWIM IN, and I HATE TO BREAK IT TO YOU, BUT IT EXISTS, THIS IS REAL, THIS IS THE ACTUAL STRUCTURE OF OUR DAILY LIVES, AND JUST BECAUSE YOU DO NOT SEE IT AND DO NOT NOTICE IT DOES NOT MEAN IT DOES NOT EXIST.
I’m just a fish in an ocean of fishes, desperately pointing out that the water exists, and it hurts, it hurts us, it hurts us invisibly, it hurts us so much, I hurt, we hurt, we are hurting.
And you know? Some things did shift. Some people did notice. Some people did see what we ladies had been going on about. Some people lost their jobs. Some conversations happened that were important. (Some of those conversations were even harder, so much harder, than just that night in the theatre, the night when I scrolled through my facebook timeline and heaved, so sad at the magnitude of having to see in front of me what I knew already to be true.)
(Because what the fish joke also don’t include is the painstaking explanation of what water is. It doesn’t factor in how much time and energy and effort Fish #1 has to spend on Fish #2 to educate, to empathize, to comfort, to reassure, to push back, to set boundaries, to condemn, to have a dialogue. That perfect little fish punchline doesn’t leave room for me to extend the metaphor, to talk about all the women who talked to reporters, who confronted abusers, who went public and faced consequences, who stayed silent and faced judgement from their peers, who said nothing and felt something, who said something and felt nothing, who sat down with their brothers and friends and partners and listened to people they love recount, with fear and shame, their own mistakes; to wonder at how such brilliant and beautiful people could have just simply not gotten it before now; to wonder how to respond, to wonder whether or not to comfort or condemn, to wonder if whatever choice they make is just another reflexive part of our conditioning to forgive at all costs, to keep the peace.)
(The next few weeks and months, I guess is what I am trying to say, were also hard).
I am buying a fish and I am naming her Cassandra, because she has been screaming over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, and no one gives a single shit.
And I know that because this.
And every pundit defending this. Every idiot Senator defending this.
And every idiot on Twitter. Every idiot on Facebook. Every idiot blithely stating their beliefs, with the kind of bold confidence that can only be unearned.
If it actually mattered, if it had actually worked, if everyone had actually listened, we wouldn’t be here right now.
I watched the first days of the confirmation hearings from my couch, and I felt so ashamed, sitting there, watching these brave protestors be hauled out by security, one after another. I felt ashamed because I should be one of them but I was not. I was tired. Too tired, too busy to get on a bus to DC, to yell and scream for what I believe in, too tired to stand up in the face of injustice.
And you know what? Of course I am tired.
Every woman I know is tired.
Because we’ve been telling that fucking water joke for a long time now.
We’ve been telling you. We’ve told you. We’ve taught the intro course and we’ve taught the advanced lecture. We gave you all our personal traumas. We tweeted them and we facebooked them and we sat with you over drinks and we sat with you over email and blogs and articles and videos, and we sat with you in our homes and we broke it all down for you, we explained what it is, we explained that it’s real, we explained that women experience the world entirely differently than you do, and our world is painful, it’s not fair and it sucks, and not only do some people cause us very specific pain, what sucks even worse is that they have always gotten away with it, because the pain is invisible, and no one believes it exists, and therefore no one believes you.
And ya know……. some days you just don’t want to turn on CNN and watch a bunch of grey-faced dudes wearing suits that cost more than your rent argue the same shitty, age-old, sexist, bullshit arguments and wonder, “Was it worth it? Was offering our trauma up to the world for consumption… was that really worth it?”
If you are a man who needed a woman to explain this shit to you last year, and you were lucky enough to receive, for free, the crash course in “Women Are People” you so desperately needed, and you’re not calling Congress on your lunch break or protesting outside buildings or checking your male friends on their bullshit or checking yourself on your bullshit or finding some other proactive way to make right what is deeply, horribly wrong, then I have nothing more to say.
Except, perhaps, that Friendly Feminist Teacher Friend™ would have done some gentle encouraging, suggesting politely that we all just, you know, try to be better?
And I’m not that friend anymore. I’m just tired.
Angry, yes, too. But anger scabs over. We can’t maintain anger, so we bandage over it to get through the day, and it works for weeks or months or longer, sometimes, until the scab pulls up when you don’t expect it. After hours of, say, scrolling through All-Kavanaugh twitter, or seeing a cheerful post with an ex-abuser’s name, or reading another article about the cruelty of entitled boys at Georgetown Prep, suddenly, with horror, remembering the way you yourself felt in high school when your body became a punchline, a painful reminder that you don’t even belong to yourself. And any combination of these things breaks apart this fragile little seam and suddenly you’re writing again, because writing feels better than drinking, or crying, or smoking, or anything else you can think to do in this moment, and writing also feels terrible, because you’ve written all this shit before.
Rape culture is real. It is the water that we swim in.
“Nice water today,” says the fish.