Don't Tell Me To Calm Down!

Anger is what got Trump elected. And rage is what is going to galvanize us to protect our rights.

I'm furious, and I want everyone to stop telling me to calm me down.

Tuesday's election results dealt a blow to Hillary Clinton supporters and women in particular. It was devastating. Wednesday was practically a day of mourning for so many of us. And I'm still grieving, only my depression has transitioned into a fury that’s hard to describe. There’s a sound that Beyoncé makes in her remix of “Flawless” featuring Nicki Minaj that is a mix between a growl, a scream, and an intense hunger pang. That sound is best evokes how I feel.

I’m going to sit here in this emotion for a while because it feels purposeful. I’m not just angry that the candidate who I supported and believed in lost the election. I’m enraged at how it happened, why it happened, and that we had to endure 17 months of verbal abuse by a racist, misogynist, xenophobic hatemonger to get to this point.

But much of the world is trying to silence my rage—from well-intentioned friends and family who hate to see me upset to the navel-gazing optimists of social media. To me, their words of pseudo-comfort sound like justifications for the election results, which are unjust at best. The nation’s first major-party female candidate for president, a woman who spent her entire adult life advocating for fairness and equality, was defeated by an unqualified demagogue who decided to run on a whim—and who is already trying to figure out how to outsource the job of the presidency from the comforts of his home in New York City. This is the person who will be representing our country on the national stage. 

“Calm down,” say the soothers who can’t endure another rant. You know what? No. Women are constantly being told to calm down. The first “mental disorder” attributed to women—and only women—more than 4,000 years ago was hysteria, a condition that served as the catchall diagnosis for women exhibiting emotions such as nervousness, sadness, or sexual arousal. Treatments included fire—as in, “let’s burn this chick just a little bit so she’ll chill the hell out”—shock therapy, and physician-assisted pelvic massage to induce orgasm. Men have been grabbing women by the pussies for millennia. And while hysteria has since been debunked as a legitimate medical condition, every woman alive today has been brushed off as “crazy,” “too emotional,” or “hysterical” for merely expressing herself in a tone just a notch above a Betty Draper shoulder shrug. So my rage feels not only appropriate but retaliatory.

“Don’t take it personally,” good-intentioned white people say in an attempt to ease my pain. And make no mistake it’s only white people who say this to me, and it reminds me just how segregated our country still is. We are not only physically separated—most starkly represented in the racial makeup of our nation’s schools—but our understanding of each other could not be more fractured. Even the people who love me do not understand how personal this is. I have cousins and sisters, aunts and good friends telling me I shouldn’t take this election result personally. They are white. I am white. But my husband is African-American. My son is a young black boy growing up in a country that is increasingly unsafe for him. My husband’s four sisters—my sisters—are black women in a world that still pays more attention to their hair than to their intellectual contributions. My niece, a beautiful preteen who anchors the pyramid on her cheerleading squad and will destroy you in a karaoke contest, is coming of age at a time when a First Lady who looks like her lives in the White House, but her likeness is rarely represented in popular culture. And my brother-in-law, one of the most brilliant entrepreneurial minds I’ve ever known, has been forced out of several industries for crashing into an impenetrable ceiling—is it made of glass or steel?—that only allows white men to pass. This is my family. When racist America makes a statement, everyone should feel offended, but when those attacks are aimed at the people you love most, it is personal.

I am also a woman, and a sexual-assault survivor, which is not a rare thing to be. I still can’t shake those words, “You can just do whatever you want,” uttered by Donald Trump it-doesn’t-fucking-matter-how-many years ago. I can’t shake the empty feeling in my stomach or ward off the burning behind my eyes that turns into tears whenever I have a private moment—in the shower, on a run, in my car alone. Those words replay in my head like a bad dream. I’m not angry, but overcome with a feeling much more paralyzing. I feel exposed, vulnerable, and at risk. With Trump’s callous words—representations of his much more heinous actions—I’m forced to relive the trauma of every time my female body has been appropriated. And now I have to watch a predator give State of the Union addresses.

“We have to accept that America has spoken. We must respect the electoral process,” say the calmers trying to milk some form of patriotism out of this national nightmare. We don't: America has failed. Recent voter tallies indicate that more than 100 million eligible voters didn’t vote, allowing Donald Trump to win with nearly 2 million fewer votes than Mitt Romney received in 2012 when he lost to Barack Obama. Whether these non-voters were too frustrated with the choice of candidates this year, or simply apathetic doesn’t matter. Not voting at all is a punch in the face to Democracy, not unlike the punches Trump urged his supporters to throw at peaceful protesters.

But do you know how many nations don't allow its citizens to elect its leaders? 71. That’s billions of people who don’t even have the option to make their voices heard. Our country was built on the blood of revolutionaries fighting for our right to vote—well, only white, male Protestants who owned land at first, but still: people died for that right. And we all got it, eventually, after even more bloodshed. African-Americans endured centuries of slavery before black men were given the right to vote in 1868, even though executing that right was nearly impossible. The 19th Amendment gave white women the right to vote in 1920—though they still couldn’t own property. And Holy rage spiral, Native-Americans weren’t allowed to vote in their own damn country until 1947—and the Voting Rights Act wasn't passed until 1965, which protected the rights of Black people to vote. Which is to say, participating in the electoral process is not just a hard-fought right, but also a responsibility.

Even so, it’s hard to respect an electoral process that is still so terribly flawed. How is it fair that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a larger margin than Gore, Nixon, or Kennedyyet Donald Trump is the candidate being sworn in as the next president come January? There is no question that our electoral college is failing us. Just ask the president-elect, who’s been calling it a disaster since 2012, and is now using that same fractured system to break into the White House.

Worse yet: The people who do want to vote can’t always get to the polls. With the erosion of the Voting Rights Act and gerrymandering, racially biased voter laws have created incredible hurdles for people of color to vote fairly and safely. Add to that the not-so-subtle intimidation tactics of Trump supporters this year, and it’s a miracle any African-Americans, Native-Americans, Muslims, or Latinos showed up to the polls at all.

“You can’t blame people for how they voted,” say rage-soothers likely disguising their shame of voting for a third-party candidate. Oh, but I can! I hold every voter accountable for his or her choice. And those who didn’t vote do not get to complain about the results. Especially women. Thinking about how women voted this election is almost as triggering as accidentally catching a rerun of The Cosby Show.

On Tuesday morning social media was flooded with images of women going to the polls, some for the first time, some perhaps for the last time in their lives, some in wheelchairs or using walkers, others fresh from a chemotherapy appointment. Women took their daughters and sons to the polls, or shared the moment with their pets, adorably dressed in red, white, and blue. They stood in line for hours despite the obstacles that worked to keep them away. Millions of women wore white to pay tribute to the suffragettes who fought for the 19th amendment. Millions more wore pantsuits as a wink to Hillary Clinton’s sartorial armor of choice. It was beautiful. What a moment in history. I was so proud of us.

What I found more horrifying news than Trump winning on Tuesday night were the polling numbers, which revealed that 53 percent of white women voted for Trump. And among non-college-educated white women, it was 62 percent. 

Blink. 

I still can't wrap my mind around those figures. How could any woman, despite her politics, vote for a man who boasts about sexual assault—and may himself be a rapist—ranks female journalists on their appearance, incites violence against peaceful protesters at his rallies (including pushing this teenage girl and groping and pepper-spraying this one)considers pregnant working women “inconveniences,” and not-so-subtly provoked his supporters to physically harm his female opponent? Ahhh!

Black women did their damn jobs showing up to the polls, casting 96 percent of their votes for Clinton—74 percent of Latina women did the same—despite actual threats to their safety (see above). White women voting for Trump or not voting at all is a convenience exclusive to white privilege. And it proves how much hard, dirty work is left for feminists to tackle. When I think of Gloria Steinem, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, and their fellow feminist revolutionaries watching their legacy unravel, I want to scream. These women should be on a beach somewhere enjoying Mai Tais and watching reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on a shared iPad, comfortably secure in the fact that the next generation of feminists have taken over and are not only continuing their work, but improving upon it. Instead, there’s a Facebook group called Feminists for Trump that is currently cheering itself on for “making history.” I. Just. Can’t.

The most dismissive comment I hear in the name of rage-oppression is that “Everything is going to be OK.” Look, optimists are sweet, magical creatures, kind of like rainbow unicorns. But at this moment they are as pleasant and useful as a bad acid trip.

Seemingly every hour since the election was called for Trump I’ve been barraged with emails of inspirational poetry, meditation techniques, and photos of adorable animals doing adorable animal things. I like poetry and kittens wearing neckties as much as the next gal, and I do understand the importance of self-care. But just as addicts will never successfully achieve sobriety until they recognize they need it, I don't want your unicorn magic until I'm ready to not be furious. I'll just hold on to this one photo of a dachshund mom and her six newborn puppies tucked into tiny knit caps—just in case.

The truth is, everything will not be okay, not with a vacant seat on the Supreme Court that Trump will fill. Not with three of the court’s other eight justices being over the age of 75. Nor the prospect of a conservative majority SCOTUS threatening abortion rights (top on Trump's agenda), same-sex marriage, immigration, fair voting laws, and inclusive college admissions. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, now 83, should be on that beach with Gloria and Dorothy sipping cocktails and riffing with her gals about all the lives she’s improved with her opinionsInstead, she will have to serve on the court until her literal last breath to counter the conservative assault that awaits.

It will never be OK for American citizens and residents to feel personally threatened and legitimately fearful for their own safety. Trump began his campaign accusing Mexicans of being rapists and ended by calling south-of-the-border immigrants “bad hombres.” He vows to deport millions of immigrants, and close the borders to refugees. He mocks people with disabilities and wants to take away their access to health insuranceHe assumes all African-Americans are on food stamps and live in “war zones,” and he has dismissed each of the 15 sexual assault allegations brought against him by insulting the women who finally spoke up. Based on the rhetoric of the soon-to-be 45th president, the lives of anyone who don’t own a Make America Great Again trucker hat simply do not matter.

Last week, President Obama was forced to smile graciously through his first White House meeting with Trump, the man who led the birther movement for five years. And on January 20, America’s first African-American president will turn over his legacy of hope, change and inclusion to a man backed by the Ku Klux Klan. Are you screaming with me yet?

We have a right to be furious. Anger might be the only emotion powerful enough to motivate the masses to demand that every step of progress that’s been made over the past century or so isn’t ripped from our Constitutional womb. Do I believe in diplomacy? Sure. Does pacifism sometimes work? Sometimes. But anger is a powerful emotion that provokes action. Malcolm X knew it. Elizabeth Warren knows it. Samantha Bee and Beyoncé do, too. And Donald Trump sure as hell knows it. Anger is what got him elected.

To send a message that we demand more from our commander-in-chief, and to have those demands be heard over the deafening hate-filled chants of Trump supporters, we need to scream as loud as we can for as long as we can. And, no, we won’t keep calm and carry on.

 

Heather Wood Rudúlph is a feminist author and journalist who writes about women, culture, and global issues that matter. She's the co-author of "Sexy Feminism: A Girl’s Guide to Love, Success, and Style," and an adjunct professor of journalism and media literacy at American River College in Sacramento. Follow her on Twitter @hwrudulph