Elective ignorance

I worked for more than 20 years in a male-dominated profession. I was often the only girl in the room, if not the building, and I learned early how to hold my own.

Laugh at the bawdy jokes. Throw back the beers. Never, ever show it if something bothered you, because that exposed your soft underbelly for targeted attack.

 I was very fortunate. Most of the men I got to work with were, and are, truly great people. They provided me with support and guidance and friendship and, with very rare exceptions, never questioned whether I belonged on the sports desk or in the locker room.

Most of the time, I thought the jokes were funny. I told more than a few of my own. Occasionally, someone would try to run something racy by me, as though my uterus acted as some sort of female offense barometer. I would usually tell the questioner that I was probably the wrong girl to ask.

Sometimes, upon learning I was a sportswriter, people’s eyes would light up and they’d ask, with an odd sort of eagerness, what that was like – not in a way that seemed genuinely interested, but rather as though they were digging for dirt, and maybe mining for pain. I had to disappoint those people. Truth is, the hard work – and I’m certain it was harder than I can appreciate – had been done decades before me. My sports career, with respect to scandalous or sexist treatment, was most uneventful.

There was the one SID (sports information director) who announced that, because it was senior day, the school was going to open the locker rooms immediately after a football game, rather than observing the traditional cooling-off period during which the coach and requested players answered questions in the interview room (or corridor, as the case may have been). Fine. He went on to tell me and the other female beat writer that we’d be allowed in 10 minutes later. Before my brain could process that, she swiftly informed him that we’d have the same access as everyone else, thanks, and that was that.

There was another SID who would loudly announce my presence as we filed into the post-cooling off period basketball locker room – “Female in the locker room!” – in a booming voice that I suspect was timed to reverberate in my ear drum. Thanks, Sparky. Pretty sure these college-educated kids could have figured that out on their own.

These things were minor irritations. Were there people who weren’t nice to me because I was a woman? I’m sure. Did some resent me? For certain. But I had a job to do. Any such issues were blips on my much bigger radar.

I say all that to tell you this: I am not a thin-skinned, whiny girl, prone to emotional outbursts and susceptible to the vapors. If you do hurt me, odds are you will never know it – and you’ll also never know me. I do my own work, clear my own path, earn my own rewards and sit at a table I set my damn self.

These past two days have been harder than I may have words to express, but I’m going to try. Yes, my candidate lost an election. But I, and many others, lost a lot more than that.

I lost the last wisps of the caul of naïve optimism that covered my eyes. I knew pockets of racism, sexism, xenophobia and downright meanness lurked in my country, my state, my office, my circle of friends and my own family. I didn’t know it was so pervasive that it would elect its image to the presidency. I did not believe, in my bones, that eight years after celebrating our first black president, we would be mere months away from inaugurating one endorsed by the KKK.

Many of my friends of color were not surprised. Flatly unsurprised, and a little bemused at the depth of my white liberal shock. Welcome to our world, their reactions said.

I cannot claim anything but a sliver of that world, but I think I finally feel that sliver in a way I didn’t before the morning I woke up to a country that elected a sexual predator president, a country that no longer represented me. I wanted nothing more than to hunker down under the covers, but I had to get up and go out the door into a world that felt suddenly alien.

The men I passed on the street or in the hallway, the ones I had to call and ask questions, the ones who came into my house to fix my heat, held my attention in a way they hadn’t before. Did you vote for him? I wondered, knowing that, according to the data, more than half the time, the answer had to be yes. Do you see me the way he does? Do you think I am something to be objectified, rated, grabbed?

My newfound suspicion, profound heartbreak and overriding anger are not just reserved for men. There’s plenty for my sisters who could overlook the repugnant remarks, the rape charge, the self-admitted criminal behavior. There’s plenty more for the reported 47 percent of my fellow citizens who didn’t feel sufficiently motivated by a man who assaults women, insults minorities and mocks the disabled to go fucking vote.

I understand some of those people felt there was no good alternative in this election – nevermind that sexual assault should really be enough to clear up any lingering doubt. I won’t get into the credentials of one of the most qualified presidential candidates in U.S. history, or how none of that mattered to the people who, however they want to spin it, voted against the one thing they couldn’t get past on that remarkable resume. I’ll just say that part again: Admitting to repeatedly sexually assaulting women should be enough to disqualify someone from being president of the United States.

The fact that it didn’t leaves me shaken in a way I never was walking into an unfamiliar locker room or elbowing my way into a crowd or laughing off flirtatious overtures. This is what my country thinks of me. It thinks I’m property.

So I don’t want to be told to breathe (which seems, to me, thinly veiled code for that male standard, “Calm down.”) I don’t want to be told that now we must unite behind our president – and especially not by those who never showed any interest in that sentiment or action in the last eight years. I don’t want to hear how everything will be OK and just be kind and it’s not that big of a deal.

It is a big deal.

I completely support and welcome differing opinions. I do not support and will not tolerate hate.

Maybe the saddest thing is that this is how my friend Lisa, my friend Issac, my friend Joey and on and on and on have felt all along. This is what they’ve been told until I can’t fathom how they kept their tempers in check and their hands unbloodied. This is what they’ve been trying to tell us.

I thought I was listening, but I wasn’t understanding.

As a 43-year-old white woman, I have less to fear than some. I have less to fear than my 17-year-old stepdaughter, who should face a world with unlimited, not curtailed, choices. I have less to fear than those for whom this man’s very face is a trigger. I have less to fear than the Issacs and Lisas and Joeys of the world, who see their sons in Trayvon Martin’s face and who hear ignorant coworkers justify this shit every single day. I have less to fear than my friends Sam and Jenny, whose January wedding was one of the most joyous things I have ever been privileged to witness.

If you’re not afraid, bully for you. But you don’t get to invalidate my fear, or anyone else's. I will deal with it. I will give money, when I can, to Planned Parenthood and LGBT groups in my community, and I will offer my time and talents. I will say what I think, now more than ever (you have been warned.) I will give this president a chance, because what choice do I have, but I will fight tooth, nail and XX chromosomes against any attempt to limit the freedoms we’ve fought too hard to attain.

We are greater than one man or one election. This fear, this band of dread squeezing my heart, will lessen, because America, weeping warts and all, IS great.

I’ll feel better, but I’ll never be the same. It'll never be as easy to be the only girl in the room.