Yesterday I went to an art museum. I walked around alone for about an hour, listening to music to block out the sounds of everyone else who was there, and wearing sunglasses to hide the fact that the skin under my eyes is almost completely rubbed raw, which apparently happens when you’re crying for almost 24 hours straight. Art museums are some of the only places that can make me feel slightly better about anything, and I knew that I would still probably start crying once I was there, but I would at least cry less in a museum than I would in any other public place.
One of my favorite art movements is Dada. It’s one of the handful of “mini” art movements that came about at the turn of the twentieth century, when it seemed like the entire world was changing more quickly than anyone could handle. Dada was a direct result of World War I, which was one of the first times that people thought the world might actually end. This was also one of the first times that we realized that the end of the world could actually be something that we brought upon ourselves, rather than the natural order of the universe (before the war, the biggest threats had been the Bubonic Plague, then that massive flu epidemic that killed like 5% of the world’s population, etc. Non-human forces.)
In human history, there had never been such world-wide destruction in such a short period of time. Genghis Khan had made an impressive dent, sure, but people had kind of forgotten about that by the twentieth century, this more modern and “civilized” time. By WWI, we were finding more efficient and more gruesome ways to kill each other. People legitimately thought that this war might be the end of everything.
But when the war ended and the world didn’t, a lot of people were in a daze. Many felt like nothing mattered anymore. If people could hate each other this much and destroy each other so easily, what was even the point of getting up in the morning?
So Dada happened. The name itself is meant to sound like a children’s word, and the art is very simplistic and playful and nonsensical. It’s exactly the type of thing some stupid bro would look at and say, “Whatever, a kid could totally draw that.”
That was sort of the whole point of Dada. It was a big “FUCK YOU” to all of the rules of art that had existed up until that point, to all the rules of human decency and cultural relations and international cooperation, which all seemed to go out the window with WWI. This war had shown people that apparently rules didn’t matter anymore, and people didn’t have to conform to them, so why should art conform to anything either? In fact, many Dada artists called their work “anti-art” rather than art. They didn’t want their “art” to please anyone; they wanted it to offend everyone.
This is why the art of the early twentieth century is my absolute favorite — why it comforts me so much. All art is a direct reaction to the state of the world, whether it’s trying to make sense of the state of things or reject it completely, whether it’s trying to explore something, question something, celebrate something, or explain something. Art is the only reaction that makes sense to me. This is why I search for answers almostly exclusively in art and stories — not in religion, not in mainstream media, certainly not in Facebook statuses, not even advice from family and friends. (The only exception for this is science, because I mean — sometimes the answer to something is literally just science and you can’t argue that. Hi global warming.)
This is why, when I am desperately sad, I will often try to wander through an art museum for about an hour.
I realize that Hillary losing this election is not the same as WWI happening. But you know what? I bet that for a lot of people, it does feel like that. It feels like all of the progress we thought we had made doesn’t matter. It feels like all of the good that we put out into the world doesn’t matter. We thought we had made progress with women’s rights, civil rights, LGBT rights — we were wrong. We are still finding new and more efficient and more devastating ways to destroy each other’s lives. We were reminded — as we have been reminded over and over and over and OVER again throughout history — that as long as there is at least one old, rich, white man who throws a big enough tantrum, the rest of us are completely fucked.
I’m angry for so many reasons that are difficult for me to articulate. I know that part of my anger is a defense mechanism against my overwhelming fear — fear for myself as a woman, fear for my friends as women, fear for the Muslim/African-American/Latino/LGBT/any and all marginalized communities of people who have already been living in fear for so long and just deserve a fucking break from all of this fear by now, Jesus Christ.
Mostly I’m furious because as a very lucky, privileged, straight, white woman who grew up in California, I have never felt like my gender was ever holding me back from accomplishing anything. I was born into the genetic and geographic jackpot and I never take that for granted for a second. I’m furious that I didn’t do more with my privilege to try to stop this from happening. I’m furious that I didn’t realize how bad things really were outside of my little bubble. I’m furious that of all people, Donald Trump is the first and only person who has ever made me feel like I mean absolutely nothing.
He and the people who support him make me feel worthless just because I am a woman. He makes me feel like my hard work and my talents and my accomplishments are meaningless. No one in my life has ever made me feel so terrible about myself — not the people I’ve heard talking about me behind my back (making fun of me because they thought maybe I am autistic, because I am “good at computers” and “don’t like talking to people,” which, FYI, isn’t describing someone who’s autistic, it’s describing someone who does fucking social media for a living and who also hates most people); not the man who sat down next to me on a Chicago L train and put a newspaper over his hand so that he could grope me underneath it without anyone else seeing him, then stared at me in shock when I jumped up and practically dove off the train to get away from him; not the man who tampered with the automatic lights in my apartment complex so that he could stand there staring at me in the dark through my apartment window as I was getting undressed, who didn’t even flinch or look away when I stared straight back at him for several full seconds before I realized what was happening — these experiences made me angry, yes, they made me feel scared and vulnerable, yes, but they didn’t make me feel like I was worthless — they made me feel like I had something I needed to fight.
But when I saw that Donald Trump had actually won the election, I suddenly felt like I meant nothing to anyone. I felt like fighting was pointless. I understood what the Dada artists were trying to say: rules don’t apply, nothing matters, everything that you thought you knew about human decency is actually wrong. You are a woman, therefore you are lesser. I can’t even imagine how much this feeling must be multiplied for lesbian women, Muslim women, disabled women, survivors of sexual assault — all of my fellow women who aren’t considered “tens” just because we don’t fit into the mold that certain men have shaped for us.
That was my initial reaction to the election, and now, 30ish hours later, I’m doing slightly better, but still not great. I’m not in fighting mode yet because I’m still in shock and grieving mode. In general, even before all of this, I was already predisposed to feeling like people are more evil (and/or stupid) than they are good, and that the world is generally pretty doomed (really need to stop reading apocalypse novels), so this whole situation really isn’t helping that belief system very much.
I guess it makes me nasty to think that way, which makes me feel better, because I know it’s something Donald Trump would hate. He would hate that we are taking this word he threw out there and owning it for ourselves, changing it from this doom-and-gloom thing into something fantastic and good that he can’t even possibly begin to understand, not because he is stupid, which he is, but because he is cruel. Because he thinks he knew exactly what he was telling us when he called Hillary a “nasty woman,” but he can’t even begin to comprehend what we actually heard.
Hillary showed us exactly what we heard. To be a “nasty woman” means to be dignified and know your worth, to speak up when you have something to say even if it may not be what someone wants to hear; to accept setbacks with grace; to never, ever, ever stop working for what is right and fair; to acknowledge something that should be basic common sense — that every single human being, regardless of race or gender or religion, has worth; to show composure and patience when you’re forced to deal with a grown man who literally throws worse tantrums than a five year old; to refuse to acknowledge people who try to judge you and attack you based on the actions of your husband; to show up, to work hard, and to be there.
She did what the Dada artists did — they said to the world, no, you are not going to tell us what the word art means anymore — and Hillary said to the country, no, men are not going to tell women what being a woman means anymore.
As far as I’m concerned, regardless of her 30+ years of experience working her ass off for this country, Hillary did more for the United States from midnight on November 8 to midnight on November 9 than Trump has ever done, or will ever do, in his entire lifetime. As the results were coming in and as it became clearer and clearer that she wasn’t going to win, I have never seen such an outpouring of love and support from strangers across the country and across the world. People telling each other that we will protect each other. People telling each other that we will defend each other. People unable to believe a result that literally makes zero sense — are we living in a Dada art piece come to life? — and yet vowing to be there for each other, to try to make sense of it together.
There were people who were grieving, yes, and angry, yes, and absolutely terrified, yes — but these people were accepting this loss with grace and courage. Grace — something that I am supremely confident our next President will never exude or understand. Courage — something that, as a textbook sociopath, he is physically incapable of feeling.
As you can tell, I still have some work to do on my full “nasty woman” transformation. I don’t possess a sliver of the grace that woman has shown throughout this whole joke of an election cycle — but I hope I at least have the courage. She doesn’t have to be my President in order for me to still be with her, to still be with “nasty” girls everywhere, to stick together in this crazy apocalypse Dada-esque hellscape that is probably going to be the next four years of our lives.
“And to all the little girls who are watching this: never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
And to all the big girls: stay nasty.
Organizations worth donating to:
Planned Parenthood, Everytown, ACLU, EarthJustice, National Immigration Law Center, Center for Reproductive Rights, National LGBTQ Task Force, She Should Run, 350.org, and the closest of close places to my heart: Housing Works Bookstore