It’s a weekend morning and I’m sitting in a quiet corner of the W Hotel lounge in Hoboken, writing in my journal and drinking coffee. This nook of the contemporary-style lounge has windows rounded in design and they overlook the Hudson River and Manhattan skyline.
A little girl, maybe four years old, comes bounding into the space.
“I can see how this could be a rocket ship,” a man’s voice says from behind her.
Her father comes into view and they take seats across from each other at a little table next to me.
“I’ll be the navigator,” he says. “Do you know what a navigator is?”
She looks up eagerly for an explanation and he tells her. Now she has an air of authority and sits up in her chair. Clearly she’s figured out this is the seat of the person in charge.
They begin to play, to ride in what she has deemed her vessel, when other family members arrive – mom, grandma and grandpa.
“Everybody come on my rocket ship,” she says. As they sit, she adds, “I can take you somewhere fast. Where do you want to go?”
“OK, we’ll go to these places,” the girl says. “Mommy, then it’s your turn.”
I try to focus back on my writing and eventually I finish my thoughts on the page. As I pack up to leave, I look at the parents and quietly say, “This just made my day. You have a future astronaut or CEO there.”
They smile and with that, I walk out to continue my Saturday.
We owe that little girl something. We need to create a world where that spunk and smarts her family is instilling and validating in her is not met with resistance once she gets into college and the workplace. We owe her autonomy over her body, whether it’s in reproductive planning or what to wear or who she chooses to love. We owe her no less than equal representation in government so that her needs are part of the national conversation and not relegated to ‘other’ status. We owe her the same pay as her male counterparts in the work force.
I can’t imagine I would have written that paragraph five years ago. I thought we were well on our way to that. But right now Rachel Maddow is on my TV outlining the despicable ways the state of Missouri is squeezing the reproductive rights out of its women and the punitive measures the state is taking to wear them down. It’s no picnic for women in the workplace either if the #MeToo movement and the rampant stories of sexual harassment we’re hearing are any indication.
“At this moment in history, leadership is calling us to say, give me the effing ball,” two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA World Cup champion Abby Wambach said in a commencement speech at Barnard College in 2018.
In April, Wambach released a book inspired by that viral speech and in the promo video she says, “If women keep playing by the old rules, we’ll never change the game.”
If this is a call to action, to revolution even, not just from Wambach but across the board, where are we? Not only as a collective but as individuals. I pose this to myself — what am I doing to further this agenda? What is my role?
“It’s time for women to know the power of their wolf and the strength of their pack,” Wambach says.
I have begun season three of The Handmaid’s Tale – three episodes in – and I hope I am reading it correctly. Where seasons one and two had women’s victimization and subjugation front and center, something is shifting in Gilead.
A woman and a baby make it across the border into Canada in a harrowing scene to escape the oppression and abuse and she is stunned to be greeted by a kind officer asking if she is seeking asylum. As she clutches the baby and walks the corridor of the nearby hospital, there is an outbreak of applause. What a contrast to what is happening at our non-fictional Southern border.
Another scene, where a house that held many horrors burns at the hands of a shattered wife, shows main character June with a satisfied expression as she exits and says, “Burn, motherfucker, burn.” It brought to mind all those memes from early this year showing Nancy Pelosi leaving a burning White House in her powerful wake.
And then there is the villainous Aunt Lydia, who represents all the modern day women who are so aligned with and entrenched in the patriarchy that they serve as obstacles to true progress for their own gender.
This is what I see happening, from a little girl in a hotel lobby to a speech by an elite athlete to a news report on a random Thursday night to a TV series that has become a cultural phenomenon. Messages about power or lack thereof.
So then, what?
I express. I write. And write. And write.
I keep asking myself if that’s enough. Is it?
Since this is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, I did a Google search for war correspondent Martha Gellhorn. I learned this year that she had snuck on to a hospital ship heading to Normandy when her husband, Ernest Hemingway, essentially stole her writing assignment out from under her. She got herself there another way through sheer persistence.
In the course of my search, I found a short video and here’s what Gellhorn says: “If no one puts it down on the record, anyone, then the monsters win totally. It must be someplace on the record because otherwise they can get by with anything. Does it stop anything? I have no feeling that anything I’ve done has been of any use, but at least it is better than silence. Because if you’re silent, they can rewrite it any way they want. They can make it look great afterwards. So there is a point to on the record.”
And so I write. And write. And write.
Either shouting into an endless void. Or profoundly affecting lives. Or something in between.
I owe it to the little girl.