Thursday was my last day of work before maternity leave. I had a long weekend planned with my family, my writing, and myself. I was excited to spend some time recovering from the last few months’ constant workload, get ahead on some homework, and spend some time on new projects. At 38 weeks pregnant, I was looking forward to some rest.
Then the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) released their Dobbs v. Jackson opinion, and — along with my reproductive freedoms — my whole schedule went out the window. I was caught in a cycle of grief, disbelief, and anger. Instead of restorative naps, prepping the nursery, or cooking dinner with my family, I found myself researching abortion networks, consoling friends, and helping inform others about the repercussions of the decision. I found myself trying to sort out my own thoughts, feelings, and plan of action moving forward.
I’ve long felt like the advances of the progressive movement have been sliding backward, leading us toward some dystopian nation, but this time felt more personal. Yes, I’m a woman, but I’ve never needed an abortion. I’m a white woman with means so I’m likely always going to be able to obtain one — at least in the near future. No, there was something else that struck me. Something that made me feel like this decision was a direct assault, another blow on my already depleted time and energy. I thought, “I don’t have time for this shit. Women don’t have time for this shit.”
Because we don’t. We have better things to do than re-fight battles already won, but that’s precisely what those with power force us to do. The powerful fight wars of attrition; wearing down already beleaguered opponents, attack freedoms we have spent decades gaining and protecting. I’m not talking about the kind of power won or lost in an election but the kind of power built over generations, over centuries. The kind of power that bestows upon the next generation wealth and privilege so ingrained that it is almost undetectable. Power that when wielded is often mistaken as inevitable justice or divine law. I’m talking about the power that is rooted in the very foundation of this nation, written into its founding documents and personified by its founding fathers.
A QUESTION OF POWER
I’ve studied power, in many forms. The power of propaganda, of force and military, might, the power of nations and underdogs. I’ve poured over debates on hard, soft, smart, and sharp power. I’ve learned all the ways we define power and its ability to shape the world, elicit behavior, and effect change. In these years of study, I’ve learned that institutional power isn’t unsurmountable. It’s not the only path forward and it isn’t the sole determiner of the future of this nation. But these years of study really only confirmed what I already intuitively knew as a woman: power is a shapeshifter, coming in as many forms as women themselves.
We have better things to do than re-fight battles already won, but that’s precisely what those with power force us to do.
Through biology, culture, and oppression, women have rarely been able to dominate through brute force, at least not in this nation. Individually and physically we can rarely overpower our male oppressors. Through calculated cultural pressures and legal forces, we struggle to dominate economically. We still make up only 15% of Fortune 500 CEOs and make $.84 for every male dollar — less if you’re both a woman and a minority. Through generational misogyny, internalized in women as much as men, we still lag in achieving political power parity with our male politicians, making up only 27% of Congress (a historic high). We’ve never had a woman as president. Incredible women have made extraordinary strides in this patriarchy, and many more learned to craftily beat men according to unfair rules.
But this is maneuver warfare, in which success comes not from pitting our own weaknesses against our enemy’s strengths, but by maximizing the impact of our strengths against the weaknesses of our opposing force.
Make no mistake, we need women vying for political office, running board rooms, and classrooms. We need to continue to place women in positions of institutional power. But we need not neglect the power we’ve been wielding for centuries. Women have been raising our children with our values, not the outdated values of men long dead or those persistently absent. We’ve been nurturing our elderly and our sick, we’ve been therapists to our men and our neighbors. We’ve been resilient, finding a way to survive and thrive, despite the institutional bricks and cultural blockades that tell us to sit down. We have ushered this nation through a global pandemic, bearing the bulk of eldercare, childcare, and emotional care for our country and the entire world.
Black and native women, more than any of us, have built flourishing communities in relentlessly hostile environments. They’ve put their bodies on the line to deliver the babies, the vote, the presidency. The mothers of this country have grown, birthed, and fed generations of Americans, at times with little to no help from their employers, their husbands, and certainly not their government. They made household budgets bend the laws of mathematics, eat every meal last, cold, or not at all. Women have worked in the home, out of the home, in the streets and kitchens and offices of this country. We have arrived early to set up board meetings and have stayed up too late planning birthday parties. We have fought, bled, and died for this nation, for our families, and for our communities. We have broken our very bodies and our hearts for its future, and we have pieced ourselves back together, ready to fight again in the morning.
Because of all this, we’re tired. But not too tired to continue, because that’s what women know how to do. In the words of the Black mothers of this nation: We rise. Again, and again.
A NECESSARY VICTORY
Women shouldn’t have to be superheroes. We should be allowed to be mediocre, and one day that’s what equality will look like. We won’t have to go back and run the same mile or write the same chapter or fight the same battle. We won’t have to do it all. We shouldn’t have to do it all.
But we can, and we will because we must. Because we know the survival of our spirits, our families, and our nation depends on our willingness to fight and our ability to win. We know that our strength is in each other, in our capacity to empathize, nurture, and endure. We know the power in our brains, in our voices, and in our votes. We’re mobilizing our networks, our systems, long developed over years of necessity because when we needed support we built it ourselves. No one is coming to save us, no one has ever come to save us, and those who pretend to just want to lock us in a different tower.
So, yes, the women of the United States are tired, but that’s nothing new. We’re frustrated and angry and feel betrayed, but that’s nothing new either. We’ve always been all of those things, but this is nothing to a woman. Tired, angry, frustrated, betrayed — those are etched in our DNA, passed down from our mothers and grandmothers like a universal recipe. These undeserved birthrights are harnessed and transformed, molded, into strategy, progress, and ultimately victory.
Make no mistake, our exhaustion is outmatched by our endurance. We’ll fight this fight as many times as we need, and each time with more support from our allies and more knowledge from our ancestors, and we’ll win because our lives and the very soul of our nation depend on it.
Maggie Seymour is a mother, Marine veteran, and writer. She currently splits her time between Montreal, Canada, and Beaufort, SC where she runs a blog www.motherfeminist.com, which can be found on Twitter here.