We’ve all been there. It’s a party. We’re celebrating. There’s beer. Maybe even cornhole. We’re in presumably like-minded company. Then suddenly, in casual conversation with a new acquaintance, they drop some opinion, probably political, that contradicts our core beliefs. What now?
Increasingly, I find myself in this situation. It’s no secret I lean left. I listen to NPR and donate to Planned Parenthood. Yet I’m also a military spouse, and while there are certainly liberals among us, it’s not exactly the core demographic. I never want to do or say anything in public that may reflect badly on my husband.
On this occasion, someone made a negative comment about Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the National Anthem to protest racial injustices in the United States. Many believe, in part thanks to President Trump (typing those two words together always makes my liberal hands recoil), that Kaepernick’s protest was anti-military. As if the military exists to protect symbols of freedoms instead of individual liberties, like free speech. Regardless of whether or not someone agrees that the racial injustices Kaepernick alleges exist (they totally do), I think it’s admirable that he found a nonviolent means of political protest that sparked a national conversation.
Did I say any of this? No. In true 49er fan fashion, I went off on a tirade about how the Niners never should have let Alex Smith go when they promoted Kaepernick to head quarterback.
It was a pass. I do think the 49ers were wrong to let Alex Smith go, but that wasn’t the point. It wasn’t what this woman meant when she disparaged Kaepernick to me. She wanted and expected validation for an opinion that I couldn’t give. Instead of engaging her in a conversation I sidestepped the issue into politically neutral territory. It was eminently ladylike of me. Miss Manners would certainly approve.
It bothered me though. It still does. Not that this woman and I disagreed, but that I didn’t say anything meaningful in response. Shouldn’t this have been the perfect occasion to have a friendly debate? Isn’t that how we open dialog to understand differing viewpoints to help mend the overly partisan rhetoric that is fracturing American society?
But I didn’t want to offend.
Another time recently my husband and I were out with a few military friends. One guy kept interrupting and talking over me. He didn’t do it to anyone else. I was also the only woman there. It felt gendered. I’m trying to give people the benefit of the doubt though because sometimes when you assume, you only make an ass out of one person. I let it slide. Later, when I pointed it out to my husband, he said that yeah, that guy is a bit of a misogynist.
I don’t know why I needed that validation from my husband. I also don’t know why I kept allowing this person to trample me with his words. In retrospect, this man never asked me any questions. He showed no interest when I mentioned my work. I kind of hate the word “mansplain,” but in this instance, there’s no better way to put how he lectured me about military esoterica for a quarter hour that I frankly didn’t need to know and had no interest in.
Again, I was bothered. The situation was different, but it seemed like another instance that I should have spoken up for myself. I knew intuitively that this dude didn’t value me or my voice. I wished I hadn’t let him dominate the space.
I think often women are taught to be meek (how else will we inherit the earth?). It’s not always an intentional lesson, but through countless overt and subliminal messages we’re taught to sacrifice our voices for the sake of other’s comfort. Well fuck that.
We live in a powerful time for women. When the news about Harvey Weinstein first broke I didn’t know why I should care. It was nothing new. Now I get it. What’s come out of that, and the #MeToo movement has been beautiful and empowering. Women are learning to take their voices back.
As a writer, I’m not always great in the moment. I tend to need time to mull over ideas and formulate reasoned responses. But I’m challenging myself not to do that anymore. I will no longer be silent when my morals or my gut tell me to act but when polite society would have me do nothing. It’s a new world, and I intend to be part of it.