Still Burning

We’re coming up on a year since I went mildly viral with a facebook post just before “Justice” Kavanaugh’s confirmation. It got somewhere in the neighborhood of 8k shares across all media platforms, if you count all the copy and pastes because I was hesitant to make it public at first. 8000 is a nothing number in the internet world. It’s barely a blip when a terrible Buzzfeed listicle can get 80k just by showing up. But it was bigger than I had ever seen.

I find myself reflecting on it now and again, though. As I pointed out in my blog post follow up “New Pompeii”, the original piece (belatedly titled “Lava”) wasn’t well thought out or even particularly well written. It came from a visceral place of sorrow and fury as I watched women everywhere despair of our voices ever mattering. It poured out of me on a Thursday night just before I turned my phone face down and went to sleep. By morning it had resonated with a number of friends and by that night it was resonating with their friends. It took about 4 days to saturate. I copied it to this blog where it got a couple of trolling comments and a few more supportive ones. It spiked traffic here for a few days then, as with most things as ephemeral as digital copy, it faded into the background and finally altogether. 

I didn’t attempt to capitalize on my 15 minutes (more like 15 seconds) of fame. Some of that is to do with my own personality and not being comfortable in the spotlight, but some of it is to do with shame. It reads as white, cis, and able. On the one hand, that’s authentic to me – I am all of those things. The fact that it resonated so acutely with so many others only highlights the mainstream nerve it hit. But for the 8k people it resonated with, how many tens of thousands did it exclude? How many women of color, trans women, disabled or neurodivergent women could have told a more nuanced story that would have resonated with better truth? They weren’t silent, and yet their voices were not to be found as readily as mine. That doesn’t negate the cacophony of agreement that came; it’s just something that weighs on me. 

Fortunately, there have been numerous voices in the conversation since. But I think most gratifying to me is that there continues to be the conversation. I don’t think the lava has slowed. I think I was right that the anger would not abate, that it would advance on the subterranean trajectory it was on, and that putting out the fires would become harder and harder. No one I know has, in the past year, become more accepting or more complacent. It’s true I don’t know a lot of people, but I think even a small sample size is representative. I can’t say that we’re moving forward, but I am damn sure we’re not giving up ground. We’re scorching it first. As conflicted as I am about why my voice was heard so far and wide, I am still proud to have helped give form to the pyroclastic cloud emerging from women everywhere.

I believe we are still burning. Slowly, maybe, but just as inexorable as I predicted.

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New Pompeii

“Now, now, let’s be reasonable.”

That’s the most common response I’ve seen from men to my piece on women’s anger. Which wasn’t meant to be a “piece”, by the way – it was my last thought before falling asleep on Thursday night. I thought of women’s anger and other unstoppable things which led me to lava – its terrible destructiveness and its intractability – and I thought, “Hm, that’s something we have in common.” Evidently, some other women agreed.

So right on cue, here come the men. #Notallmen, of course, which we must be careful to say, lest a single, solitary bench-sitter who might have understood but instead got his one feeling – pride – hurt and decided to close ranks with ALL THE OTHER MEN.

“We have to be reasonable about this.”

No, we don’t. There is no reasonable response to the kind of abuse marginalized people suffer. Women, people of color, the disabled, LGBTQ – there is no reasonable response to having your rights and dignity stripped in public and private. There is no reasonable response to having your safety and security daily threatened. There is no reasonable response to rape. To violence. To the denial of your existence.

“You’re being completely irrational.”

Kindly fuck off with your offers of reasonable discourse. Unless, of course, you’d like to set the example by arguing your position from a physically threatening and mentally traumatic position. I’ll leave exactly what up to your imagination, but make sure it’s designed around the thing that most informs your identity. So, ignorance, maybe, or your precious testicles. Y’know, whatever works FOR YOU. Also, do this thing for centuries. Life span not up to the task? Recruit your ancestors and descendants! Make sure you’re being reasonable through every example of abuse anyone can bring up – which they will, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. We wouldn’t want to overlook any tiny example which would invalidate your entire response.

“Too much anger.”

Not enough anger, actually. Are you a sports fan? How about if, just before the start of the game, the rival team walked onto the field, punched out the refs, stomped over to 12 inches from the goal line and said, “Okay everybody! Starting now, play by the rules!” Which is a shitty analogy, because in reality it’s more like NOBODY WAS PLAYING A GAME AND SOME ASSHOLES JUST ASSAULTED PEOPLE THEN DEMANDED NOBODY BE MAD ABOUT IT.

The reality is you’re afraid. Men are afraid that women’s sense of justice will require retribution. It’s what men would want, after all. And I suppose that having your very existence erased through scorching the earth with a layer of lava seems pretty retributive. But the powerless know better. Anyone who has had their life burned to ash through oppression, trauma, or violence knows what it takes to rise from those ashes. We’ve been doing it for our entire lives, while those in power never have. We have the tools, the knowledge, and more importantly the courage to both rise from and withstand immolation.

“Calm down.”

We are not required to modulate our response to trauma for your comfort.  You can’t handle it and you expect our pity? Our sympathy for your discomfort?? Our anger is justified because it is the only justice we’ll see. You can run from the lava – I’m riding it straight to freedom.

Lava

Kavanaugh is going to get confirmed, we all know that. A lot of women will be very angry. Some might even take to the streets. But this won’t be the tipping point. There won’t be a tipping point, there never is. There will just be the subterranean lava flow of women’s anger – slow, blistering, savage and inexorable. We’ll go to bed angry, we’ll get up angry, we’ll drink our coffee and fix the kids’ breakfasts angrily, we’ll drive thru car line and to work angry, our male colleagues will ask each other if we’re on the rag, we’ll eat silent lunches with rage and we’ll pick up groceries on the way home with vengeance on our hearts. We’ll kiss our partners and our kids goodnight wrathfully. We’ll cry hot, silently screaming tears in the middle of brushing our teeth. We’ll go to bed angry. We’ll get up angry…

Nothing will seem to change for you. But the mother of a 32 year old man will suddenly snap at him to “Grow up!” when he complains that he’s pretty sick of frozen dinners lately. That quiet chick 3 cubicles down will show up out of nowhere and tell a gathering of dudebros that she’ll report them to HR if they don’t shut up. They’ll call her a bitch under their breath as she turns around, but she won’t care. The teenage daughter will ask her dad if he’d still find it funny if she was the punchline in his favorite joke. He’ll scold her for talking back and look at his wife, who will look back and say nothing. Another daughter will say nothing to her father – ever again.

The anger will shift, seismic but unseen. Before the lava used to burn us to ash on the inside. It’s bubbling over now. Enough of us have ripped open our bodies to let the boiling soil of our lives out that the heat itself causes fires. Sure, you can put one or two out at a time. A single flame is easy to catch. But the lava is elemental and everywhere. Kavanaugh will be confirmed. And in less than a generation he’ll be a petrified ash fossil, frozen in a rictus of agony in the new Pompeii. Nothing will seem to have changed, until it’s too late. The lava of our anger is going to cover the earth and bury you.