American Women Are Not Okay
2022 is our year of a long protracted sigh
This is the mid-week issue of Men Yell at Me, a newsletter about the places where our politics and personhood meet. This week’s newsletter is about the onslaught of legislation that seeks reverse Roe to push trans women out of existence.
Last week, on a trip home from Washington, D.C., I sat in an airport bar, drank a glass of wine and fruitlessly tried to read a book. Next to me was a woman who looked exactly like my older cousin from Oklahoma, dressed in Target jeans and a flowered top. She looked normal, is what I’m saying. Not fancy. Not high-powered. Just like a mom, like me, exhausted and sitting at a bar. She was watching golf and picked up her phone to make a call.
I heard her talking about clients. About a project. It was clear she was in charge. Her voice low, she issued directives in what felt like a protracted sigh. Things needed to get done. She needed that to be clear. She listened, nodded, and then said, “The other solution is to do what I said in the first place.” She waited to hear the response, said okay, spoke a bit more about the project and hung up.
She then chugged the rest of her beer, laid down some cash and then walked to her gate.
I tweeted that line. There was something about it — the way she said it, exhausted, but still working. Tired but still awake. Everyone was wrong, while she knew she was right.
I logged off the internet, paid and walked to my gate. The tweet quickly went viral. Many women tagged their friends, saying “this is me” or “this is how I work” or “this is what it’s like, every day.”
Some people thought this woman was a bitch. But trust me: I’ve had jobs where I’ve been screamed at every day. This wasn’t that. This was a woman still working in a world that was barely functioning.
Women are in a crisis. And when I write “women,” I mean all women -- trans women included and trans women especially. Not since the end of World War II has there been such a rollback of rights for women in America. There is still no vaccine for children under the age of 6, and access to childcare is more intermittent and fickle than ever, with families and teachers still getting sick, causing closures and sick days, but there is increased pressure to return to the office. And whatever little grace there was from employers during 2020 has mostly dried up.
“If 2020 was the summer of women’s primal scream, then 2022 is the year of the heavy, protracted sigh. We’ve been yelling and yelling about these problems. But no one is listening.”
Across the United States, lawmakers are passing bills that make it harder to exist as a woman. Oklahoma just passed a sweeping abortion ban. Other states have passed similar restrictions. In states like Florida, discussing non-cis-hetero identity is being outlawed in many classrooms. Trans girls are being barred from sports. And laws like that have a ripple effect, which spreads into harassment of and backlash against trans people just trying to exist.
Violence against Asian women is on the rise. Women are drinking more. Dating less. Marrying less. Divorcing more. Our mental health is abysmal. America still has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations. And oh yeah, we are being forced back into offices and facing down a summer of inconsistent and expensive childcare (if it’s even available). Whatever help we were getting from the government is now gone. No more beefed-up unemployment benefits. The childcare tax credit, which greatly reduced child poverty, is also gone. And the increase in inflation is hitting women the hardest.
In sum, women are being legislated out of existence. And the response of our country is: Get back to work. Stop making excuses. This was exactly the advice given to one exhausted parent who wrote into Slate’s Care and Feeding column. Suck it up. Do it anyway. Stop making excuses while the world collapses around you.
It’s no wonder birth rates are declining along with marriage rates.
It’s also not surprising that Disney’s Encanto has hit such a tender moment in the psyche of American families. It’s a story about a home led by a traumatized matriarch who is just trying to keep it all together while everything is falling apart. In the song, “Under the Surface,” a strong older daughter, admits to cracking under the pressure of it all.
If 2020 was the summer of women’s primal scream, then 2022 is the year of the heavy, protracted sigh. We’ve been yelling and yelling about these problems. But no one is listening.
Men shout about cancel culture and their right to free expression. Meanwhile, I live in a state where it’s almost impossible to make my own healthcare choices, much less express myself.
Moira Donegan, a columnist for the Guardian, connected these attacks on women in America to a desire to regress on women’s rights. She noted, “Over the past months, the right has leaned hard into gender grievance. They’re pursuing anti-abortion and anti-LGBT agendas, along with assaults on public schools. Expect women’s right to work outside the home to be one of the next frontiers of their attack.”
The problems women in America face have solutions — solutions that are readily available to a (for now) Democratic-led government. Or, hell, any government.
It’s not like we don’t know how to fix these problems. We know that the childcare tax credit eased the burden on American families. We know that canceling student debt would lift many families out of poverty and debt. We know that childcare needs to be subsidized by the government. We know we need mandated paid parental leave. We know we need to let women make healthcare choices for themselves. We know we need to stop attempting to legislate trans people out of existence.
The solution, we say wearily, is to do what we said to do in the first place.
Further Reading: Hallie Cantor had a hilarious Shouts and Murmurs in the New Yorker this week that fits this theme. Also, last year, I wrote about the declining birth rate and the expectation that women procreate under *gestures widely* these conditions.
Men Yell at Me is a newsletter where I write about the intersection of the personal and political. And yes, about yelling. I am an Iowan, author, journalist, and columnist. If you value what you read, consider subscribing to the free weekly emails or become a paying subscriber.