Tonight I went to see “On the Basis of Sex”. It fulfilled me in the way a good football movie always does. The hero (or in this case, heroine) fights back against immeasurable odds and wins. On first glance, it’s easy to see what the movie gets right. It portrays the sexism that was prevalent with unflinching truth and compassion from the lack of exclusion of RBG at parties because she didn’t fit to being ignored in the classroom to not being able to find a job.
It gets the subtle moves right too. The fashion is on point from the way the zipper was constructed to the diagonal stripes her daughter wears. The men in the story mostly thought they were mostly both champions though they too were biased, mostly unconscious contributors to the social norms.
Since the 2016 election, I’ve been contemplating women and power. What that election brought home to me as that culturally, we still don’t understand what female power looks like. One of the main complaints I heard about HRC was that she took too long to think about her answers. It’s ones of the things I love about her.
In the movie, RBG is arguing at the appellate court. First the court seems overly invested in her male co-counsel. He gets sucked into the same traps that she did in their moot court, though with less backlash than she experienced. Then (by traditional power definitions) she seems to choke and reserves her time for rebuttal. In her rebuttal, we have to wait as she sits at the table. Her husband furiously going through his notes, she just sits. Then he goes to stand and she stops him. She goes to the podium. She stands. We are all waiting for her to get on with it. We want to see the clutch play where she saves the day. Finally, she makes her argument, everyone is impressed, and she wins the case. The movie portrays her slowness as a flaw, something to overcome, so she can deliver the argument. I propose that it is a strength.
In a feminine aspect of power, she must wait to fully formulate the idea until she is present in the situation. All her preparation is so in that moment she can take in every aspect of the case, of the people, of all the energies of that moment, to make the argument. She had to get the basics out of the way to clear the field, for her real power to emerge. That power, which is distinctly feminine whether it’s manifested by Perry Mason or RBG, is the ability to synthesize a large volume of information and know exactly what will turn the course of events, even world events, in your favor.
It may also be indicative of where we are in the civil rights of gender. We handled a lot of the basics. The law is more balanced but there’s another social shift happening. This shift is about how we celebrate the masculine and feminine in ourselves (regardless of gender orientation we all have both aspects).
I spent 12 years running a dojo and I felt the impact of being a woman very powerfully. It’s not that I was discriminated against for being a woman, but that people have a hard time receiving power from a woman, particularly in the masculine structure of a traditional dojo. If I did things the way of my male role models, I was a hard ass bitch. If I did it the way I was more comfortable, I was flighty or unwilling to do it myself (remind me to write a blog on the backlash of delegating if you’re a woman).
I loved watching the movie and cheered for her. It made me want to be a lawyer or an activist. Then I realized, my activism takes place in my writing. Writing is where I can have time to reflect, to edit my ball-busting sentences to make them more palatable and then put them back in when I realize how important it is to the thesis. Taking a stand to get my MFA, to declare myself as a poet is terrifying. And maybe it’s not as ceiling shattering as the Supreme Court but it’s my way of taking all that I see, all that I experience and distilling it into an experience we can all share.
Daring to step forward
To declare a dream as true and valid and possible is all the heroism I have in me