What We Can Do

Reading Lyz Lenz’s latest newsletter (“Thank You, Dads of YouTube” ) brought me to the edge of tears.

It wasn’t her success at fixing her washer that got me. It was the fact that a woman much younger than I am still grew up surrounded by the belief that there were things women couldn’t do.

As someone old enough to remember how important this issue was in second wave feminism 50 years ago, it breaks my heart to know that so many people are still growing up with these stunted beliefs.

I don’t doubt that it’s true. It’s why I hope to teach some more self defense classes if we ever get enough of a handle on the pandemic for me to feel comfortable in a room full of people learning to yell “No.” Way too many women still believe that the fact that the average man is a little stronger than the average woman means they can’t protect themselves.

Spending half my life in the martial arts watching small people kick the asses of big people did that one in for me. I want to make sure other people know it, too.

We did make legal progress in the second wave, though the recent outrageous action of the partisan hacks on the US Supreme Court in nullifying the right to abortion by allowing a clearly unconstitutional Texas law to take effect is damaging legal rights as well.

(I was in law school when Roe v. Wade was decided. That was also a Texas case and I have met the lawyer who brought it — she was also my state representative back in the day.)

The same hacks also dismantled voting rights laws. It is not just women under attack in our society.

The extremist attacks make me angry, but the fact that so many women are still buying into the myths we fought to overcome in the 1970s is what breaks my heart.

I’m glad Lyz Lenz has figured out that she can do those things, but I wish she’d grown up knowing she could do them. She should have grown up with that knowledge. We all should.

Second wave feminism comes in for a lot of attacks these days. I certainly wish we’d succeeded with the Equal Rights Amendment and universal child care, just to name a couple of things. And the effort to push lesbians out of some parts of the feminist movement was offensive as hell.

But I think it’s important to recognize how much of the women’s movement in the 1970s was about women discovering that most of what they’d been told growing up was a fucking lie.

The other thing to realize is that women were learning real truth and pushing for real change in an atmosphere where men patted them on the head and said “Oh, isn’t that cute” or “You’re so beautiful when you’re angry.”

When I was in law school (back in the early 70s when a class that was 10 percent women was a big deal), classes on marital property rights were almost unbearable for the jokes.

One thing I noticed a few years back when we got enough women in the U.S. Senate to be visible is that hearings on sexual harassment and assault in the military were finally conducted in a sober manner. Before, they were subject to similar kinds of jokes.

These days we have so many women lawyers that some are considered among the most respected and powerful within the profession. Unfortunately, we also have some women among the nutcase lawyers defending the con man who tried to steal the election, not to mention Justice Handmaid of God, who is determined to foist her misogynistic religious beliefs on us all.

Getting women into professions is not the be all and end all of feminism. Too many of my generation settled for that.

These days I’m a lot prouder of my years in martial arts than of my legal background. Aikido changed my life in a way that becoming a lawyer never did.

I’m no great shakes at home repair myself, but I can figure out what to do if I have to. I spent most of my life on my own, and while I’m now in a comfortable relationship with a man, I can still do the things I need to do.

And I am not afraid of men. I don’t mean I wouldn’t be scared if I had to face down some big asshole with an AK-47. I mean that in the typical everyday encounters where some man tries to use his bigger size or supposed authority to get me to shut up, it doesn’t work.

Training gave me that. I know who’s dangerous and who isn’t. Most men aren’t, but some of them would sure like you to think they are.

Just like they want you to think you can’t do home repair or play sports or run the country.

While this discussion gets framed in the gender binary, that’s just a starting place. The treatment of women as “other” is just the beginning of denying that gender is much more complicated than biology (and of course, biology itself is not so cut and dried).

I am a woman. I have terrible fine motor coordination. I don’t knit. I prefer swords to diamond rings and stories about ideas to love stories. I like colorful clothes and my mop of curly hair. And I love my body.

I wouldn’t bother being defined by my gender, except for one thing. As long as people keep saying “women can’t do that,” I feel the need to say “I’m a woman and I do that” and also “You can be a woman and do those things.”

And no, I’m not exceptional.

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