Like I imagine many of us are during this “what should have been” moment in women’s history, I have been thinking about the women in my family from past generations. My grandmother lived in New York City in the 1950’s. In more ways than one she was a woman before her time. I found out after she had passed away that on multiple occasions she helped young women in her extended family get illegal abortions. She found the clinic, traveled with them there, paid for it, and kept it a secret. I bring this up partly because of the horrifying possibility that President-ElectTrump will take us back to a 1950’s landscape in terms of reproductive rights, and partly as an to attempt to enter into the headspace of my grandmother as she – with incredible courage – stood by what she knew was right and put herself in a place of risk. It wasn’t a badge that she wore, it was just what she did. The work that I know I have to begin will not take the same kind of risk and courage – but it must shake me out of the comfortable borders of my life. And in this way I will channel my grandmother.
In my family—made up mostly of women, each one strong and independent—my life has unfolded in a creative, compassionate, and open space. I was brought up to trust myself and to never doubt my place in the world.
I have been so lucky.
On November 8th, I wanted so badly to share the pride of electing the first woman president with these women in my life. What a moment of collective joy that would have been. How unbearable it felt when a man who has unabashedly displayed his misogyny was elected instead.
In the weeks since, I have had to ride over the pain that I feel as a woman, and grapple with something deeper: As a white person, I have lived in a secluded space of safety and privilege my entire life. And although I have always believed in social justice and stood alongside its movements for social change, I know that I have not taken enough true action. My comfort has contributed to this moment. My era of complacency has to end. I hope that the disappointment and anger that Hillary’s voters (myself included) feel is channeled with strength and conviction into the work that we must do.
There is a passage from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet that I have aways loved. It feels fitting in light of the election. He writes to a young student:
…do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the question now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
We have to live everything in this new territory. There cannot be any holding back. And it is these questions – about who we are as a country and what responsibility we have in shaping it – that we have to step into and work within as we move forward.