Hell Hath No Fury
“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned”
On this day, dedicated to celebrating women (wow, we get a whole day!), Erin Monahan, aka "a woman scorned," speaks out on the anniversary of a chaos-inducing essay. In honor of Women's Day, this essay features horrible, gender-essentializing, fat-stigmatizing, and whiteness-loving advertisements for a hip activewear brand. On women's day, let's acknowledge the bullshit we are fed through media, societal structures, norms, and cultural conditioning.
It was spring in Portland, Oregon, one year ago today. I had returned from Yosemite and Indian Creek. Once again, I was working part-time at the gym. Conversations that had fallen short around the campfire lingered in my mind. “We’re just trying to drink whiskey and play cards, and you want to talk about feminism,” says my friend as we sit under a tarp structure that we had assembled in haste as the rain fell in Camp 4. The ratio is ten men and one woman. As the surrounding granite walls turn darker gray, as the Nose on El Capitan gets washed of all its dried shit and piss from climbers the day before, on a mission to nab their credibility in the history and glory that is Yosemite, we resolve to playing ukuleles, coming up with bad lyrics, singing out of tune, and instead of talking about that dirty -ism, we talk about why we shouldn’t. My friend is too busy preparing to climb the nose in a day to expend any energy thinking about such trivial matters.
The time spent in the dreamiest of places for a trad climber taught me many things, and one lesson was that speaking about any experience that wasn’t a reiteration of a white, cisgendered man’s, was unwelcome, dismissed, or met with discomfort, silence, and changing the subject; Intentional or unintentional avoidance; Dodging the conversation; Circumventing the issues. Let’s keep it vague. Let’s not bring it up.
In the context of politics, another word for this master trickery is “pivot.” Brett O’Donnell is “a former communications consultant to top Republicans and pleaded guilty to lying to House ethics investigators about how much campaign work he did while being paid from lawmakers’ office accounts,” reports USA Today. In 2012 O’Donnell worked for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and many others as a debate coach. In an NPR essay titled, How Politicians Get Away With Dodging the Question, O’Donnell is quoted as explaining that, “the pivot is a way of taking a question that might be on a specific subject, and moving to answer it on your own terms.” This doesn’t just happen in politics. As a culture we have become serial “pivoters.”
I have noticed that people are typically uncomfortable with addressing issues head on. This is clear in casual conversations, and more often than not, you will hear someone say that they avoid talking about politics at all costs. Understandably so, because if you have ever tried to talk about your stance on abortion with relatives, you may find that these kind of conversations often end… messy. But what is our fear of messy? What is our fear of anything that is not the norm? What is our desire to control and keep things tidy?
This obfuscation of the issues, this obscuring, digressing, and “pivoting,” often lead conversations to one person’s viewpoint as dominant. Pivoting is to respond on your terms and result in white-washing over the other’s, or others’, experience. This is dangerous because it defies reality. It is a disparaging on the other experience and the spectrum of experience. Instead of many realities, there is just one: the pivoter’s. Pivoters like boxes and prescribed categories. Nothing messy.
As I traveled from California to Utah, and back to Oregon, I had gleaned a lot from the frequent pivots I would encounter. This lingered.
I found that not much had changed at the gym. They still had the brightest, neon holds, the best route-setting, the tallest walls, the largest concentration of man-made cracks that I had ever seen, and they still called their climb night dedicated to women, “Beta Babes.” Settling back into my routine as part-time climbing gym employee, meant merging what I had learned while traveling, with my reflections on events that had occurred a year before.
The year prior to my travels my boss asked me if I liked the name, “Beta Babes.” A few weeks of conversation and energy towards my distaste for the phrase was met with the finality of my boss telling me that “nothing is more marketable than Beta Babes.” It was as if someone had popped the balloon. All the air and build up and expectation of change, and then poof! The deflation of what felt like momentum. The rescinding of what seemed like a promise. The loss of faith in integrity. The gap between intent and impact.
So, a year goes by. I tried to squash the nagging. And yet…and yet…. I could not help but feel like something was still bothering me. With the encouragement of a fellow co-worker and ally, I wrote an essay called, “I’m Not Your Babe, Bro,” as a reflection of my time being gaslighted by a company that would rather be marketable than acknowledge my experience and the experience of so many others. I took the time and I realized how I was given the false promise of being heard and listened to. It was a façade. Because the outcome illustrated a grave reality: that this company, and the larger culture, does not want to think about, or take seriously, the implications of language, or the experience of a woman.
I have been told by a previous partner of a toxic relationship, to “live in the moment.” What they fail to recognize, which is an issue for our society at large as well, is that living in the moment is not only acknowledging and being aware of what is happening in real-time, but it is also honoring and being aware of what is not happening in real-time. The moment could be a memory, a vision of the future, a recollection of a past occurrence – all of these things are happening now. And now. And now. And now. Time is seamless. Time is fluid. Time is malleable. It has no end and no beginning. This person advised me without understanding the concept of which they were preaching. I'm the not the first woman to be told how to handle my own reality and I will certainly not be the last. What he really meant when he told me to focus on the "Here and Now," was to reject and deny the process of reflection. Being present means acknowledging what comes up when it comes up. Ultimately, he was manipulating the concept of presence and "Here and Now," to win him a green light for all of the times that he had refused to be accountable.
To some this essay, “I’m Not Your Babe, Bro,” seemed to have come out of nowhere. However, now after another year of being able to process, reflect, and glean wisdom from the whole ordeal, I understand, now more than ever, the power systems that are so inherent, so insidious, so subtly intrinsic in our culture that it is often the most difficult task to recognize when they are at play, and how they manifest. It becomes ever more difficult to call a spade, a spade.
The week following from the initial publishing of “I’m Not Your Babe, Bro,” was met with whispers, loud congratulations, slaps on the back, and thanks. At the same time, it was met with a shift in the energy around the people I worked with behind the front desk of the gym. There was an air of discomfort, of eggshells, of shifty eyes, or avoidance altogether. It was also met with open admonishment.
The effect of the essay was indeed a tsunami-like wave. It sent tremors in the relationships that I had built in the workplace. After a week, I met with my boss and assistant manager to debrief. Surrounded by weights and stationary bikes, we sat on big, blue exercise balls, in the studio with the door closed. This was when I learned most intimately the complexity of being a woman working under men. In this meeting what was asked of me was to feel comfortable and candid, like I could speak openly. Like it was a safe space. I was asked to divulge my feelings, emotions, thoughts, about what had happened. I was expected to listen to my boss tell me that he took it personally. That he had lost sleep. That his feelings were hurt. That my expression - my ability to compose an eloquent, articulate, and analytical essay about my experience, personally offended him. While he gave me kudos for a well-written essay, he focused on how it had made him feel. The pivot was hazy at the time, but now it is oh so clear.
On a surface-level, it was a conversation between an employee and her two supervisors. However, my training and background in feminist studies, philosophy, human behavior, and Zen meditation allows me to pay attention to more than just the surface. (Well, you know, I have to list my credentials in order for anyone to take me seriously in this essay. Oh, and I am published in The Alpinist. Oh, now you will certainly take me seriously, right? Wait, you think I'm a crazy feminist who takes it too far? You're right I should stop right now and just pull up my boot straps. I am a such a silly, crazy girl. I forgot I had boot str- oh, wait.).
On a sociological level, it was me, a woman, facing two men. It was me, a woman, knowing that I was their employee, that I was supposed to report to them, to respect them, to abide by their rules. They were also older. I knew that I was supposed to respect that difference, as if age in and of itself is a sole indication of knowledge.
In his book titled, “The Sociologically Examined Life,” Michael Schwalbe talks about “sociological mindfulness.” It can be a difficult concept to grasp because although mindfulness means an awareness of the world as this moment here and now, it also implies being tuned in to how the present moment is shaped by society, history, and how we are players in that shaping. Once we realize that people are influenced by their social setting, we can then realize our part in the present moment - how we are an influencer of the “here and now.” In other words, we can realize how delicate and complex the work is of holding ourselves accountable.
As a white woman I cannot know the emotional labor, the daily drudgery, of a black woman. As a white, cisgender woman I cannot imagine the hurt, the pain, the mountain of bullshit that a transgender citizen of the U.S. experiences on a daily basis. I can acknowledge, however, that I play a part in this system and my work is the work of dedicating my life to dismantling the unbalanced power that I have witnessed and experienced firsthand. And if I, as a privileged white woman, have experienced the negligence of white men, and if I, as a white woman, have been invisibilized by a larger corporate machine, then it makes me want to fight hard for those people who cannot quit their day jobs, live off of $800, move to Bishop, California, and isolate themselves so that they can start their own media platform.
It makes me want to fight hard to publish content that speaks to the experiences of those who do not fit into the two prescribed boxes of gender, who do not inhabit a white body, and who have refused to assimilate, mold, or contort their true selves. Those who, if they have resisted the powers that be, have been met with hate speech, racial slurs, gaslighting, physical and/or sexual abuse, or gestures and facial expressions of disgust. Those who, if they have put themselves on the line – made themselves vulnerable by expressing their point of view, by explaining their truth – have been met with invalidation, silencing, and even physical mutilation and violence.
On this anniversary of the day that I published, “I’m Not Your Babe, Bro,” I am addressing the lack of acknowledgement and accountability on the part of my previous employer. I am addressing the reality that as a woman against two men, I was implicitly told that my experience was not cause for concern, but that their experience of being personally offended was King. I am addressing the reality of being a woman shut down by the establishment, of being told “Women Climb Night,” was not “marketable,” only to then, a year later, be excluded from conversations about the change of the event title, “Beta Babes”; only to then, a year later, be socially shunned in underlying ways – Don’t say “Beta Babes” around Erin; only to then, after being outspoken, after resolving to make myself heard by way of publishing, as well as to validate my experience, be uninvited to conversations amongst the men behind the scenes who ultimately voted on “Women Climb Night,” – the name that I had chosen in the first place, second of course, to “Beta Bitches.”
I am addressing my emotional labor of going back and forth in my head, wondering if I was indeed crazy for taking a word, “babe,” too seriously. I am addressing the toxicity, the dismissal, the insult, of my boss encouraging me to speak my mind, to encourage me to expend time and energy to think of an alternative title, and then have the wherewithal to ultimately shut me up and shut me down by not changing a thing. Not even "Beta Betty's?" Nope. NEXT. What about "Beta Bimbos?" Well, now that has a nice ring to it!
And then when I do take more drastic measures to be taken seriously a year later, after reflection, and I publish my thoughts, he tells me that his feelings are hurt. He neglects to account for the way he handled everything, therefore, denying his part in any of it. Instead of accounting for the harm he caused me, he focused on the harm I caused him. I am addressing the experience of a woman in the face of two men being told that their emotional toil in the matter was greater than mine. I was personally offended, his words echo in my head.
I am addressing the fact that I am not allowed to table at this gym because of my original essay, and that though I can attend a “Women Climb Night,” I cannot promote Terra Incognita Media and reach my target audience. I am addressing the fact that when I did attend “Women Climb Night,” stickers and all, I placed them on the sign-in table only to have a former co-worker rush up in a fluster to tell me that those stickers with the Terra Incognita Media logo (that represent a woman who took it too far - the very same woman who is taking it too far right now as you read, like right now) cannot be displayed.
I am addressing my emotional labor that continues to this day, of needing to write essays like this. I am addressing the trigger of conversations with friends who congratulate the company for saying they will put a “Black Lives Matter” sign in the window, for finally giving raises to their employees who after three years have received none. And my response is a cold, hard: it’s about damn time.
No, I don’t give cookies to people for doing what they should do. I don’t give cookies to those who do the right thing - because it’s the right thing and we should be able to expect a certain amount of integrity from people, from our relationships, and from companies. I especially don’t give cookies to those people or companies who still to this day cannot be held accountable. I don’t applaud those who still to this day cannot admit their mistakes. Those who want to sweep shit under the rug do not deserve a pat on the back for chugging forward without a second thought for mistakes made – for living in the present as an excuse for neglecting to account for the harm that they have caused. The harm that lingers.
This time that I have spent reflecting on all of the chaos that ensued after publishing that essay, has unearthed a truth: that my relationship to that place of work was toxic. I see parallels to that previous personal relationship that I was in.
I am a scorned woman who after five months of removing herself from a toxic relationship finally realized it was toxic. I am a scorned woman who upon being called a “neurotic nutcase who needs psychological help and psychoanalysis,” by that previous partner, immediately woke up and chose to no longer be complicit, chose to no longer be at the mercy of being invalidated by any man, or corporation, for that matter. It was an immediate rush of release from the need to get an apology. It was an immediate realization that I had been sucked into devaluing, and dismissing, and rejecting my own reality, my own true self, my own lived experience all in the name of playing by the rules of white men. All in the name of patriarchy. It was so fucked, and I relinquished my power so much, that I had gaslighted myself. The oppressor needed to do no more work. I was complicit in my own oppression.
I will not congratulate a company that exploits its workers by the textbook definition of using people’s labor to produce profit without compensating fairly. I will not congratulate a company that marginalizes (albeit without knowing it because those who are in the position of power, the privileged position, have the privilege of not seeing the effects of their oppressive behavior). I will not congratulate a company that by default partakes in the exclusion of minorities due to the gentrification that comes along with building a gym, and due to the obscene cost of entry ($20 for a day pass). I will not congratulate a business that has the capacity to provide free showers for the houseless, that has the resources to alleviate the ills of a city that is experiencing hyper “urban-renewal,” but yet does nothing, except maintain the flow of big bucks from their white patrons who may argue that they work hard to pay for that membership, and for that hot shower, and for that nice, long sweat in the sauna.
When in reality, the only thing that white people have worked hard towards is to forget. We work hard to forget about the native blood that was shed, and is still shed. Exhibit A: The Dakota Access Pipeline. We work hard to forget, to sleep, to turn off, to tune out, to desensitize, to ignore, to pretend that one in four Native Americans and Alaska Natives are not living in poverty. We work hard for a life that ensures that we white people are highest on the totem pole. We work hard to rationalize the many black lives that have been lost in our modern day civil war. Margaret Jackson brings down the hammer: "For too long, people—white folks in particular—have tried to gloss over the ugly, uncomfortable, disgusting truths that hang over their heads. They’ve allowed their white guilt to consume them, have allowed their white tears and fragility to drown out the voices of those who are truly hurting."
So, finally, this is my declaration of being a woman scorned by her place of work and by a previous partner, - or rather, since I am spilling so many beans already, let’s admit that all of my partners have been toxic gaslighters (my hypothesis for why gaslighting is so prevalent in my life, as well as so many other women’s lives, is that our society is one that is steeped in toxic masculinity). After the myriad of events and situations that have occurred throughout twenty-seven short years on this earth, I have transformed into a woman who needs no validation. And better yet, has nothing to lose. Because I realize this system is not for me and never was. I am a woman scorned with everything to gain by expending all of my energy, time, and resources towards an American system that no longer invisibilizes, excludes, rejects, marginalizes, and sweeps voices and bodies under the rug.
In regards to the climbing gym, I know that when we are going ninety miles in the wrong direction we can’t just immediately turn around in the right direction. I know how illogical it is to just slam on the brakes. But I don’t think anyone gets applause for finally slowing down in the wrong direction, when they still refuse to account for the harm that they have and still cause. On this day, I celebrate my own voice and refuse to be part of a Culture of Silence. I am dedicating my life to fucking with the pivoters. For this Women’s Day, this is my call to all women, all transgender, all queer, all non-binary, all femme, and all non-conforming people to engage in what Paulo Freire calls, “conscientization.” This is a call to all of my fellow havoc-wreakers of the status quo to “get in formation,” and to refuse to be complicit in a system that insidiously by default takes your body, your presence, your voice, - your very agency, for granted.
We need to do more for women of color. White women I am talking to you.
Happy Women’s Day.