We not only survived: we thrived, in spite of.
I spent the last remaining days of 2017 with my family. At times, catching up looked more like taking inventory of what we’ve been through over the years, both collectively and alone. Remember that time the Christmas tree went sailing out the door? And the time he smashed the kids’ toys? What about when he punched a hole through the wall?
Ours is a history defined by anger, violence, and an exhaustingly futile struggle to please. We compare notes to validate each another and to measure how far we’ve come. Like good comedians, we’ve even learned to laugh about these scenes. There is a comfort, a solidarity, in recounting these truths together.
I find it poetic that some of the strongest women I know – the ones who raised us, who held things together when they seemed on the verge of collapse – were with me at the end of the year. Those days bookended nicely with the beginning of 2017, when I was also surrounded by strong women at the March on Washington. I walked with students and professors, grandmothers and their grandchildren, women unwilling to sacrifice equal pay or bodily autonomy to the president’s antiquated agenda. I watched women help women while male partners and friends lifted up their voices. Looking at my family almost 12 months later, I saw the happy, healthy faces of women who learned to cultivate better relationships with themselves and others. We not only survived: we thrived, in spite of.
Thanks to my mother, I’ve always been secure in my identity as a woman. I developed a positive relationship with my body. I was encouraged to pursue my interests, to find my voice on issues important to me, and to follow my love of school as far as it would take me. I never believed I was meant for less.
But as an adult, I found that the world did not mirror my mother’s unconditional support. The barriers revealed themselves over the years like the slow drip of a faucet. Don’t drink at a party with someone who has an unrequited crush; he’ll think it’s an open invitation to grab you. Don’t walk alone at night even if there’s no other way to get from the bus stop to your apartment; you’ll be followed. Don’t become a professor in your 20s; you’ll get inappropriate comments in class and love letters in your student evaluations.
The 2016 election took my experiences with everyday sexism and projected them onto a national screen. Critics of Hillary Clinton, unsure of which undesirable female trope to assign her, painted her as somehow both a conniving criminal and a frail old woman who should stay home and quietly knit. Because of her recommendation that the president resign due to myriad sexual assault allegations, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was called “begging,” “crooked,” and “used” by the man who openly bragged about “grabbing [women] by the pussy” and referred to a woman’s vagina as her “wherever.” Mitch McConnell silenced Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor simply for reading a letter by Coretta Scott King, then reprimanded her with a now infamous, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Bullshit, I thought. It stops now.
2017 was the year I went back to school for the thing I love most in the world, without thought to those who fear emasculation by a woman’s formal education.
2017 was the year I made a conscious effort to cultivate and maintain female friendships after too many years spent in the trap of viewing women as frivolous or inferior.
2017 was the year I drove down to southern Maryland for a writing conference and spent a week with an overwhelming majority of women, sharing our work, hiking to the beach, enjoying seafood on the water, and nurturing our creative selves.
2017 was the year I used my platform as a writer to amplify other women who wanted their stories told, even if they had to remain anonymous.
2017 was the year I devoted hours not spent writing papers to knocking on doors for progressive candidates, doing my small part to make possible a better world for women.
2017 was the year I recalled “reclaiming my time” in relation to the #MeToo movement, and thought about a moment bigger than Maxine Waters, bigger than me, when all women who have had time stolen from them by interruption, condescension, harassment, or abuse are empowered to reclaim it.
On the first anniversary of the Women’s March, I won’t be in the streets of D.C. again. I’ll be at a lakeside cabin with my boyfriend and friends, because it’s essential for resisters to practice self-care. But I will be thinking of the “helpers” from last year, like the women and men who banded together to haul a mother’s stroller over a high stone wall so that her child could take a breather from the crowd. I’ll be gearing up to devote my 2018 to helping immigrants during the day, studying at night, canvassing on the weekends, and basically any other sort of activity that “nasty women” do. Surviving, and thriving. In spite of.
Chelsea Cristene is a communications associate and English professor based in Washington, DC. She has been published by the Good Men Project, Salon, xoJane, and MamaMia, and runs a film review blog, Catch Up, with fellow Role Reboot contributor Telaina Eriksen. Find her on Twitter.