Once upon a time I was a normal little human female in America without a care in the world. I lived in a little protective bubble of white small town life. I did well in high school and enjoyed learning. I never got into drugs or drank a whole lot. In short, I was a good kid with the world at my fingertips. I could be whatever I wanted to be. I grew up in the 80s. I experienced a lot of weirdness, yes. However, one thing I never experienced was discrimination. Except in the realm of sports, girls were not really treated any different than the boys and I remember joking that we could, in fact, join the football team if we so desired. We didn’t, but we could have.
I never once thought about discrimination. Sure, we learned about the Suffrage Movement in school. We also learned about black history, even though our community was predominantly white. I remember thinking how awful women and people of color used to have it, but I didn’t have to think about it because I was reaping the benefits of all the freedom and equality fighters who came before me. I lived in an idealized world where one female friend entered a pageant, another went to college for a degree in engineering, and another joined the military. Me, I wanted to be an artist.
My family wasn’t poor, but we weren’t all that well off either. I never wanted for anything except silly material things like designer clothes. My family certainly couldn’t afford to send me to college. I don’t remember ever being specifically told I would never be an artist. I think I was encouraged by teachers and such to explore other options but art and writing were always my passions.
I calculated, and debated myself into corners. Finally I decided to follow in the footsteps forged by my military friend and I joined the Army a year after I graduated. They promised me the world and a college education. What I got was an education in discrimination.
It was still a boy’s club in the military. Women were not allowed in combat positions, not that I wanted to be in combat. I went through basic training proving that I could, in fact, do things I thought were impossible. The first time I ran two miles was like winning the Olympics for me. I could outshoot most of the men. It was amazing.
It was also the first time in my life that I understood, without a doubt, that women were looked upon in some sectors as second class citizens. I was not only experiencing this first hand but also witnessing horrible things said to other females. I heard one girl being told she would have to get a breast reduction because she would never be able to do a push up with those big old titties. Our male Drill Sergeants acted with disgust if, gods forbid, one of us women actually had the audacity to bleed on our blankets if our periods started in the middle of the night. We were prescribed birth control even though we were not allowed contact with the men because women are schemers and sooner or later we would find a way to seduce the men.
Then, I was raped. I won’t go into the details of all that mess. Suffice it to say that the situation was horrifying enough that my brain completely blocked all memory of the event until years later. It was then that I truly understood what it felt like to be made to feel powerless and worthless. It wasn’t just the act itself, which was awful enough. It was the fact that I was a victim of a crime and was made to feel as though I was the criminal.
I was asked if I willingly had sex with that scumbag. I was accused of somehow seducing him. I was made an example of, a warning to other females not to smile too much, not to ever be alone with a male (even though, by all counts, I shouldn’t have been. It was a medical technician. There should have been another female present for any procedures). I was told that if I filed a report, I would be ruining his career and what gave me the right to ruin a man’s life? I filed a report anyway. I found out years later that the report had been shredded. In the eyes of the military, the document never existed.
I suffer to this day from PTSD due to the incidents.
Enter a whole new world of discrimination. Once you understand that there is something wrong with your brain and how it processes information, there is really no turning back. You learn quickly that being disabled means to be discriminated against. You learn that there are safe people to talk to and people who will tell you to just “get over it”.
I am a learner and a researcher. What I discovered in my studies about PTSD is that it literally changes your brain structure. There is no “just get over it”. There is only learning how to cope with symptoms and relearning how to use your brain. There is the ever annoying memory lapses and reprogramming yourself not to react badly to things that are not an emminent danger. Then there is the therapy, the oh so many hours upon hours of therapy. There are the labels of “crazy” and “lazy”. There are the days where just getting out of bed is a struggle because in your bed you are in your safe place. There are the nights where you don’t sleep because if you sleep you might dream and reality is easier to face than the nightmares.
My biological family, the ones who raised me, either couldn’t understand or just refused to accept that I have no choice in having PTSD, have disowned me. I haven’t spoken to them in years now. It used to bother me but I have come to accept that they have no reference point to deal with me being the way I am. My sister went through the same sort of thing when she joined the military. She did not develop PTSD to my knowledge. Her method of coping with what happened to her was to become a prison guard and then a parole officer for sex offenders. She was one of the first to tell me to just get over it.
In the course of life, I had three children, two daughters and a son. My son is gay. My older daughter is sexually fluid and the younger was pregnant at 13. I love them unconditionally; so much so that I was the officiant at my son’s wedding to his wonderful husband. Don’t even get me started about debating whether or not women can or should be clergy. I am an ordained minister and I am Pagan…religion is yet another area where it is sometimes a “boys club”. Luckily I have female friends who are also clergy. They inspire me and keep me going on my chosen path.
Fast forward to today. Today I am actually writing something that means something. I am doing this because a lot of the things that we women take for granted could be just as easily taken away by our President. Some female friends do not see the threat. These same women, while shaking their heads and not agreeing with the need for a movement, are also reaping the benefits of our ancestors who fought to make sure we DO have the rights we have today.
They are saying “I can be whatever I want. I can vote. I can work.”
Yes, you can. But it was not always the case. If not for a movement for equality, we would all still be housewives and have who knows how many children each because birth control wouldn’t be a thing unless a man demanded it. We certainly wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a voting booth to let our voices be heard. Those of us lucky enough to be allowed to work would only be allowed jobs like housekeeping, being a midwife, or working in a clothing factory because those are “feminine” jobs. We would likely make less than minimum wage and certainly never anywhere near what our male counterparts would make. We could be beaten by our husbands if we dared to actually speak our minds.
Some people are ok with that. Some people believe that things were better in the “old days”. Some people have seriously romanticized versions of what that actually meant in their heads.
We live in a country where we pride ourselves on our freedoms. We need to keep pushing forward, not slipping backward. Today I can legally marry two people who want to commit their lives to each other regardless of whether that is a man and a woman, two women, or two men. Today I can vote. Today I can go to the store and get birth control. Today I can speak my mind without fear of retaliation. Today I can walk down the street and not worry that every single man could do whatever they wanted to me with no legal consequences. Today I can freely practice whatever religion I please.
I do not fault my sisters who do not stand up with the multitudes of women who are rising up for their voices to be heard. Maybe they have not faced the same things I have in my life. Maybe they are successful and happy with their jobs. Maybe they have never been a victim of a crime and been made to feel like a criminal for reporting it. Maybe. Maybe they have become so comfortable in their life that they truly have zero worries about the future no matter who the President is. Maybe they did not hear the same words I heard. Maybe they did not see the same things I saw. Maybe.
I am deeply disturbed by all the things I saw and heard. I am deeply disturbed not just for women, but for minorities (and how I loathe that word…another blog about that on another day), for people who live outside the pretty boxes, whose sexuality doesn’t fit into the male/female checkboxes, for people who love differently than a husband and wife team, for those who choose not to have children, for those who do, for those who can’t but want to, for every single human who has been discriminated against in any way whatsoever.
This movement may be called a Woman’s Movement, but it is far more profound than just the sex we were assigned at birth. It should be called a People’s Movement…an Equality Movement…or perhaps even a Sanity Movement. It is a call to stand up and DO SOMETHING…DO ANYTHING to be sure that the rights we enjoy are NOT taken.
I swore an oath to defend my country against all enemies, foreign AND DOMESTIC. Sometimes fighting the domestic enemy is ugly. Sometimes it means getting labeled as a traitor. Sometimes it means losing friends. Sometimes it means you might end up in jail. Sometimes it means that in order to get things done, you have to make a few enemies along the way. I personally will try to avoid jail sentences. I’ve already lost at least one friend and my family. If I lose more, then the love I give to them will continue. It will just be one sided.
For those who believe we should be standing up for women in other countries, I say this. You need a spark to start a fire. The United States of America has always been a beacon of hope for the oppressed. To be a true leader, you need to lead by example. How can we expect to change the minds of other cultures when our own culture is at risk? How can we scoff at another’s house when our own is not in order? Change starts at home. What I saw on January 21st, 2017 was a lot of people who stood up and said that they were willing to stand up for me, for my mother, for my father, for my son and my daughters, and for the many friends of many different beliefs. The very least I can do is return the favor.
So, I open this blog to every tiny voice. Even if you do not believe you can make a difference, never forget that two voices become a duo. A few voices become a choir. Many many voices become so loud that the world can hear your song. Start singing.
My name is Michelle and I am one tiny voice.