My friend recently told me a story of erasure, of invisibility. One that is common for many womxn—especially those of color. She had dinner with a man who she’s met at numerous poetry readings and with whom she has sat through an entire workshop. For the life of him, he couldn’t remember her.
One wouldn’t call this man misogynistic. One may even call him a feminist, an ally.
Yet, there he was fully formed as both a memory and a person. And, there she was, unrecognizable, non-existent.
This erasure happens to most of us, womxn. I am frequently blotted out. At least enough to be a nuisance but not enough to be life-threatening like the reality of many others. To counter this, I introduce myself to the familiar as, “Hi, I’m Allyson. We’ve met before at _____.” Sometimes this is enough to burst through the ego and shake a memory awake, but, usually, it is only feigned remembrance. The lack of memory leaving their face blank.
Or, sometimes if I’m positioned next to a man, I might as well be as sentient as the door or wall or table we’re surrounded by. There’s no need to blend in when people don’t see you or pretend not to. The paradox of attention is it doesn’t mean I’m really seen anyway.
These situations used to ignite an anger so powerful within me I’d have to nap afterward. A physical response to insignificance. After I’d recharge, I’d have this urge to declare my personhood by doing anything to combat this sense of non-importance. Until I realized this is a battle against the patriarchal machine. The only way to combat this is to make sure I don’t make invisible anyone else. Each person, hopefully, contributing to the change we need.
The problem with the invisibilia of womxn has been a mainstream conversation brought to light by Stephen King’s tweet: “My wife is rightly pissed by headlines like this: ‘Stephen King and his wife donate $1.25M to New England Historic Genealogical Society.’ The gift was her original idea, and she has a name: TABITHA KING…” But, the washing away of womxn from the typeface of society is an age-old trend highlighted by movies such as Hidden Figures, which sheds light on the many black womxn, like Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn, that contributed and propelled John Glen into space.
In the remarkable reversal that privilege evokes, men say they’re now “scared” to speak to womxn in the age of #MeToo—the founder of #MeToo, Tarana Burke, an initial victim of erasure when she was overshadowed by movement proponents such as Alyssa Milano. If I eyerolled any harder, I’d rip my own eyes from their stems. Womxn are in a continuous battle to be seen and heard and acknowledged, and some men will do anything to maintain the status quo. If womxn have the audacity to stand up to this machine, they are mercilessly dragged like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during and after her testimony against Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court’s nomination. If they have the audacity to speak their mind, they’re cruelly targeted like Rep. Ilhan Omar. Or, worse. Killed or assaulted like activist Malala Yousafzai.
In some twisted turn of historical events, many womxn have been wiped out of history, and the social ramifications of this removal continue to this day. Womxn are the foundations of this world from their god-like abilities to hold life in their bodies to the incredible emotional labor they freely give. Most of which is eclipsed by the mediocrity of the patriarchy. I’m also not going to pretend that my relatively low-stakes erasure as a cis womxn is worse than the erasure non-binary folks face. Cis womxn are the ghosts in the patriarchal ether, but the real invisibility across the spectrum of issues is held in the gender queer demographics.
Today is officially International Women’s Day, but Womxn’s Day is every day. So, acknowledge the womxn and non-binary folks in your life. Acknowledge us regardless of our credentials. Acknowledge us whether we are useful to you or not. Acknowledge us even if it makes you uncomfortable. Acknowledge us because it makes humanity your priority before your most likely underestimated judgment of our worth.