The morning after the election, we were all still in bed, it seemed, calling other women. We called up our mothers, our friends—best and distant—our sisters, our daughters. On Facebook, we “liked” the posts of girls we sat next to in high school Spanish class. They responded. I hope you are well, too. Stay Strong.
In our hope, we (some of us) saw ourselves in her, and in her failure we saw ourselves in her, too. We realized our limitations, our value. We were under the impression that we were nearly equals, that maybe we could transcend our skin and be Great Minds, too. As we cried, on the shoulders of other women, via texts and phone calls across hundreds and thousands of miles to other women, we realized how wrong we were.
Our crying is not unusual. Women have always been the ones tasked with the job of mourning. Lou Taylor, professor of Dress and Textile History at the University of Brighton, writing about European mourning rituals in the book Mourning Dress: A Costume and Social History, says:
Women were bound by the labyrinth of mourning dress etiquette for a much longer period than their menfolk. They were burdened with the duty of wearing depressing, and often in their eyes, ugly clothes for many years of their lives, whereas the men, once the funeral was over, needed only to wear an armband. The difference is symbolic of the whole social position of women in the second half of the nineteenth century. Women were used, albeit willingly and even eagerly by most, as a show piece, to display their family’s total respectability, sense of conformity and wealth. Amongst the ‘respectable’ classes, the whole way of life of women was built on these foundations and with these goals in mind.
Mourning has kept us in our place, the black veil being just another tool of oppression. Yet, in the wake of this inauguration, we should not deny that this is an occasion for mourning. Instead of mourning in solitude, let us join together in this sisterhood of pain. Let us sob together. Let us soak communally in our fear. Let us hyperventilate, our breasts heaving in unison. Let’s remember our last heartbreak and compare it to this moment. Consider how this is a new kind of pain, a pain that blossoms out and away from us. We are feeling not only our pain but the pain of white-wigged men 223 years ago (yes, men, it always comes back to the men, that is the point, this is the lesson we are learning), who feared this moment, the biggest threat to their democratic project. A love-sick heart combusts internally, its destruction isolated. A heart that understands that its home will soon be razed splinters outwards, mushrooming and cloaking others in its red dust.
In the Greek oral tradition, women came together to mourn in song, in lament. Anthropologist Anna Caraveli-Chaves says “the subject matter of a lament can be utilized to affirm bonding among the female participants—bonding through shared suffering being the most potent type.” A common subject of these women’s grievances? Afflictions particular to women living within a patriarchal social structure.
Some men, some women even, look at us and wonder what we grieve.
Let us show you what we now grieve: our belief that our bodies were ours, our belief that we as Americans were above such enmity, that our democracy was above it, that our brothers and mothers and sisters were above it, that progress was a possibility, that we were finally, slowly, getting there, that the days of Styrofoam and plastic bags and back-alley abortions and burnt churches were in the rearview.
Grief, in the best cases, brings knowledge, offers a way forward.
What we now know: that white patriarchy is dying, is experiencing its last hurrah, but that it won’t go down quietly, not without instilling fear, terror in those who will one day take its place; that our natural environment is something we care about in theory but will sacrifice little to preserve; that we have assumed (rather than researched, analyzed, confirmed) that our country was helping those working the jobs of the soon-to-be past—coal and oil and factory; that when we told our neighbors we would lend them a cup of sugar if they ever needed it that we never truly meant it. We in the Eastern United States, the West Coast, the liberal bastions of the south, know how self-centered we’ve been, how easily we have retreated to our free-range, GMO-free way of living, ignoring the glowing WAL-MART signs that scream outside the city limits.
What we now must do: there has been talk of easy unity, of a coming together, of appeasement. But we know that being agreeable has never been a way to escape our oppression. How do we move forward, we ask one another from beneath the false safety of our duvets, via text and social media and email. What are our tears good for?
“The [lament] song becomes a universal lamentation for all women within the same world view, bewailing woman’s hard lot and celebrating the creative skills through which one can transcend this lot, survive in it, or compensate for it.”
We will cry and we will create. With our arts—literary, visual, legal, medical, the skills our foremothers fought to allow us to earn—we will protest and protect. We are not giving up. Together we will mourn and we will fight.
Rumpus original art by Kara Y. Frame.