I’m going to create a new action-adventure character, named “The Unseen Woman.” She could be a spy, like James Bond, or an assassin like Jason Bourne. She could even be a bank robber.
Here’s the catch. She could infiltrate any political gathering to gather intelligence. She could blend easily into any crowd to assassinate evil dictators. She could stroll up to any bank teller in the world and demand all the cash. And no one, I repeat no one, would ever be able to give an accurate description of her. Because she is the Unseen Woman!!
How does she accomplish such amazing feats of bravery and courage? Does she possess a magic cloaking device? Perhaps, a batman-like cape that renders her invisible?
No. All those things would be cool, but she possesses the most ingenious device of all. She is a middle-age woman. No one can ever describe her, because she wanders through society completely unnoticed and most thoroughly ignored. She is the perfect super hero.
Ask the witnesses for a description. It will be comical. Middle-aged, average height, little-bit pudgy, dark blonde or light brown hair. Eyes? Blue, brown, I’m not sure. The description could fit any one or everyone. No one will ever be able to identify the Unseen Woman.
Ask any woman of a certain age, standing in line, waiting for service. Men are noticed. Pretty, young girls are noticed. Even bratty children are given their due. But a middle-aged woman may as well be invisible.
In the work place, older women are delegated to sidelines. Good-old Betty may run the office competently enough, but she is not consulted on important decisions. The men still get together to make decisions, and Betty still reserves the conference room and orders in the lunch.
Did you think all of that changed, with the women’s movement? I did too. When I was younger, I was on a management track. My opinions were valued. But as my boobs dropped and my face wrinkled, my opinions became less sought after. I became less valued. I became one of the unseen.
I have been passed over for promotions, not because I didn’t have the academic credentials or the relevant work experience; but because I was lacking that undefinable “something.” (A fact my male boss expressed to a coworker confidentially.) I’d bet that undefinable something was a penis. Certainly, any male with my credentials and experience would have been a catch, given a sign-on bonus, and a clap on the back.
This is not to say that being invisible doesn’t have its advantages. Oh, sure, I have been passed over for promotions, raises, and new opportunities. But on the other hand, I have been passed over by layoffs, too. I do a lot of work for not much money, so I’m not easily replaced. A dubious honor, to be sure.
An administrator at my alma matter recently complained that the teaching staff had too many white women over the age of 50. Apparently, he felt it didn’t reflect well on the school’s edgy image. The faculty was not diverse enough. They were not attracting the kind of student that the liberal arts college pursued. Because middle-age, white-women are anything but hip. Instead of commenting on their many years of experience as educators or their devotion to their profession, all he saw was their age and their gender and he was dismissive of their value. Can you even dare to imagine a comment made regarding older, white-male teachers? Their years of experience would have been celebrated as an asset to the college.
I watched the 2016 debates with an uneasy sense of déjà vu. It was like 2008, all over again. In 2008, Barack Obama stood on the debate stage with Hillary Clinton. The debate moderators fired hardball questions to Hillary, one after the other. She answered each question like a pro. She knew her facts and figures, she correctly pronounced the names of every foreign dignitary. She was clearly the smartest person on the stage. But the press fawned over Obama like a love-sick school boy. He was likable and charismatic, and he won the nomination.
And as happens so many times in our society, he hired a woman to handle the heavy lifting. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton visited an unprecedented number of countries. She was a work horse. She was Betty, the office manager, all over again.
So, after eight years of hard work, and eight years of gaining more experience, she once again stood on the debate stage. This time she faced an opponent with zero political experience and a laughable understanding of foreign policy. As Barack Obama so eloquently stated, she was the most- qualified person to ever run for the office of president.
She stood on the stage and painstakingly laid out her well-documented plans to restore the infrastructure, improve the tax code, increase health-care coverage, and solidify social security. Mr. Trump spoke in short sentences and made empty promises of making our country great again. He offered no proposals other than the hollow assurances that he was a winner and he would take our country along for the ride.
And once again, the most capable person for the job was passed over. You can claim that sexism wasn’t involved, but that won’t make it true. When you vote for a totally unqualified man, over an extremely qualified woman you have to ask yourself why? When she stood on the stage, did you see an experienced person? Or did you see an older woman? Did you see someone who was capable of running the country? Or did you see your grandma? Someone who should be home, baking cookies and spoiling her grandchildren.
The double standard applied to Hillary Clinton was appalling. Like Ginger Rogers, she did everything the male candidates did, only backwards and in high-heels. But Fred Astaire was the only dancer anyone talked about; like Trump and his fucking tweets. Trump sucked all the oxygen from the room; love him or hate him, that’s all the media talked about. No one in the past election wanted to discuss policy or procedure. It was too boring. All anyone wanted to report, was what stupid thing Trump tweeted today.
We’ve all heard the argument that Hillary wasn’t likable, and that people just don’t trust her. Are you kidding me? Do you expect me to believe that the pussy-grabber is more likable? More trustworthy? There are those who claim the election was a backlash, that it was the voice of the blue-collar male voter demanding to be heard. That is a theory I can understand. Middle-class males don’t want to be governed by an uppity female, even if that female was always the smartest person in the room. She was often described as shrill, loud, and nagging; all sexist definitions of a woman who won’t be quiet, who doesn’t know her place.
I was thrilled to see women protesting the inauguration of Donald Trump. Although, it was never clear exactly what they were protesting: inequality in wages, proposed cuts to women’s healthcare, immigration reform, a sexual predator in the White House, or all of the above. No matter. It did my heart good to see women, angry and fed-up; no longer willing to be silent. No longer willing to be unseen.
I am not naïve enough to think that one day of protests will change the world we live in. I have already lived through the 60’s bra burnings, the 70’s feminist movement, and the Year of the Woman in the 90’s. Somethings changed for the better. Somethings didn’t. It a society where sexism is so deeply ingrained into the very fabric of our daily lives, it will take generations for real change to happen.
I had hoped the election of Hillary Clinton might break the biggest glass ceiling of all. We were so close; but in the end our country took a giant leap backwards. And maybe, that is the answer to the anger: change was so close we could taste it, then it was ripped out of our hands and replaced with the most misogynist administration we have seen in decades.
The Republican administration is emboldened by their new leader. Did anyone from Congress or the White House extend an olive branch to the protestors? Did anyone try to understand the anger? Or did they just turn their backs and wait for the storm to pass? Knowing soon enough the angry women would leave. Knowing they had children to care for and dinners to cook, and their anger would be swallowed and life would resume as it always has.
And when a woman does persist, when she demands to be heard, she is silenced. Senator Elizabeth Warren was the only senator censured for reading the Coretta Scott King letter in the Senate. Senator Graham said of the silencing, “The bottom line is, it was long overdue with her,” he said. “I mean, she is clearly running for the nomination in 2020.”
I have never heard of a male senator being censured, whether a potential presidential candidate or not. Elizabeth Warren violated the unspoken rule that women should be content to toil quietly in the background. They will not be allowed to join the debate.
The Republican administration is gloating over their recent victory; they will soon fall victim to their own hubris. Let them try to convince us they really won the popular vote, we know the truth. They do not have a mandate to march us back to the 50’s. They have won the battle, but not the war. This has not been a short journey for us. It has been a long, slow march to equality. The fight isn’t over, far from it. We must soldier on.
We may the unseen, but that is our super power. We are confident and capable. We are good at organizing, and we vote. We are the heart and soul of this country. Ignore us at your peril.