Opt Out

A thing I have long known is that the abuse of women is ubiquitous (the attempted abuse of everyone is ubiquitous, but that’s a matter for another post). But seeing it on social media day in and day out is wearing me down.

I keep thinking of how “you have no other choice” is used against women and how so many women have opted out of things because of that. You have to tolerate some level of violence from your 19th century husband, so some women just didn’t marry, settled into being spinster aunts. You have to expect you’re going to have to sleep with people to get roles, so some women just went home from Hollywood. And on and on.

Generations of women who tried to withdraw from the bullshit as much as they could.

Maybe I’ve done that, too. I don’t know.

And I think about all that talent, all that potential. It’s like we live in a world split in two between realized dreams and dashed dreams. And the realized dreams aren’t better. They’re just the dreams that didn’t get sacrificed.

I think a lot about how we still have human sacrifice, we’ve just made it more invisible. Instead of killing a person wholly and outright for our benefit, we just kill little parts of them and convince ourselves they deserve it.

People are right to be mad. I am mad. But I’m also feeling overwhelmed and sometimes like I’m drowning in it.


3 thoughts on “Opt Out

  1. I’ve tried to weaponize that feeling (the vast amounts of lost human potential) a little bit. For example, when someone frets about punishing people who were doing cool things/being talented for harassment, my response now is “How many talented people would we have to do that work if we made our society more supportive of women/people of color/LGBTQ? If the disgraced person steps down, that makes more room for people who AREN’T abusive!” When talking to conservatives who fret about the expense of social programs, I say “If every human had access to their basic needs and education, some of those who would have otherwise died early/uneducated could be the ones that solve cancer, or pollution, or space travel, or invent amazing things that change everyone’s life. We are wasting so much potential as a species by letting so many people be shut out of opportunities.”

    It’s very utilitarian and kind of cold in that way, but if appeals to morality have already failed (i.e., it’s simply wrong to oppress and harass people, or let people suffer and not make life better for everyone), then I go for the utilitarian approach.

    It doesn’t change the tragedy of all the lost dreams and wasted possibilities, but it helps me move past being paralyzed with sadness somewhat.

  2. Wow, B., you distilled a whole lot of what is going on (and a whole lot of thinking about it that I have been wrangling with) into a few powerful sentences that get right to the heart of it.

    I’m one of those women who have opted out, withdrawn from what bullshit I can. That’s behind my obdurate refusal to marry or even let a romantic partner live with me — I see what happens to other women, even when there was no way anyone could tell he would turn out treating her that way.

    It’s a massive societal pattern right now that men drown the women they claim to love in small petty matters, conveniently freeing themselves of dealing with those matters, and conveniently keeping these women they claim to love so awash in it all they are drowning, their creativity crushed, their energies so sapped they can’t even figure out how to resist, because it’s all small things, isn’t it?

    Many professors have asked me why I have stayed in engineering through all the degrees, the jobs, the accomplishments, when so many women leave — the infamous “leaky pipeline”. I told them it’s quite simple to understand, if they go out and read the blogs of women who did leave their STEM fields. Between the drowning in petty crap and small bigotries in their private life, and constantly having to face more of the same at work, they reach a point where to survive they have to get away from at least some of it. And for women who already have children, many of them will try to save their existing family structure and leave the career or change fields. Why am I different? Because from when I was a teenager onward, I always made same choice — when push comes to shove, I lose the guy, not my chosen path of intellectual development. Because any guy who would put me in a position to make that choice is not worth having and damn well ought to be ashamed of himself. And because I have no children to worry about.

  3. emjb, I have been making that same argument whenever I can with respect to all the missing engineering demographics — between sexism and racism, we are missing half of our natural workforce. Half the talent pool has been artificially kept away. Whenever people get worked up about a shortage in a particular specialization and wring hands about what to do about it, I bring that up — that specialization would have double the available people if we got rid of these artificial barriers that have no business being there.

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