“If you want to destroy my sweater/
pull this thread as I walk away /
Watch me unravel /
I’ll soon be naked …”
Have you ever wished, at some point over these past three weeks (yes, it’s only been three, and yes, I know that is hard to believe), that you might through some trick of transmographic teleportation be permitted to live, just for a few minutes, as an insect on the wall of the Oval Office, just watching this bizarre moment unfold?
Picture it with me a moment, from that lofty perspective: a tense, broad-backed man perched at the edge of a sturdy desk chair, cursing into a gilded telephone, eyes wild, that legendary hair flouncing all akimbo.
Can’t you just picture him as if from way up there by the ceiling fan, as he slams down the golden receiver, scattering files of papers, huffing pneumatically as the news ticker delivers more bad press, retreating to the semantic fallout shelter of his unsecured Android cell phone to Tweet and Twaddle his discontent to a bitterly divided and increasingly enervated American audience?
And, look over there: on the periphery, half-disappearing into the freshly laundered drapes, lying in wait, his curated retinue of impeccably groomed handlers and advisors and cabinet picks, their own eyes darting about like startled little lasers. Their own hands wrung red and raw. Because they have an even worse job than he, if that is even possible.
As decorum dictates, some of these participant-observers are women: Kelleyanne Conway — the Operative. Betsy DeVos — the Cultured Hack. Nikki Haley — the Enforcer. Ivanka Trump — the Heiress Apparent. And, tucked somewhere out of sight, his current wife. Melania. The Sad Enigma.
If I were such an insect on such a wall, I think they’d fascinate me most deeply, these women who are right now standing so close to such a man, whether out of grim duty or self-aggrandization or simple sycophantism.
What a task they have been handed: to cajole and placate our oh-so-flappable Ascendant Prez in muted tones, to offer counsel, platitudes, encouragements to a man who has signaled so clearly his utter lack of respect for their kind. To deliver messages so awful as to almost be comical with a straight face, to defend the indefensible.
Trumps approval rating is tanking, and each day, there’s talk of mutiny on the ship, of staff shakeups and indignant resignations and strange, sad scramblings for ever-shifting rank. Mutually assured humiliation, and at the center of it all, a man who appears to be unraveling, semi-publicly and quite catastrophically.
Somehow, though, it makes me feel a bit less terrified, knowing these women are there. Because, make no mistake: each and every one of them has been training for just such a moment since her very girlhood.
We females observing the slow democratic shipwreck from our distant ideological islands, scattered across this enormous and enormously troubled country of ours, we’ve been prepping for it, too. We who sit in our creaky, Roosevelt-era walk-up apartments and our rambling, Reagan-era suburban split-levels. We who nurse suckling babes and tend arthritic joints. We maidens and hags and beauty queens middle-aged bags.
We, too, bear careful witness to the man’s undoing, which, as always, is also our own undoing. It is a shared ruin, and so we derive no joy in it; all of it so depressingly unsurprising and preordained. A grim kind of déjà vu.
Life has been preparing us for the unraveling of this man since we were tiny little girls. It’s been teaching us to survive it, to survive him — This Unhinged Captain with his dark and stormy moods, his eruptions and his squalls, since we were old enough to listen and be spoken to and to speak back.
We’ve learned how men like to be talked to. What they like. What they don’t like. How to please them. How to placate them. How to talk them down when they become enraged and our safety is threatened. Had to keep them from getting angry in the first place.
We’ve learned how men like to be listened to. How to cook for them, and how to poison them, slowly, so it’s almost undetectable. How to flatter them. How to please them and to protect their egos. How to keep them from leaving, if that suits us. How to keep them from staying, if that suits us more. How to protect our daughters from them. How to prevent our sons from becoming them.
We’ve learned what to do when one of them is scaring us. How to make them feel powerful. How to get in the way. How to get out of the way. How to shrink ourselves down so as to take up the smallest possible amount of space. How to become invisible. How to become unavoidable.
We’ve also learned to manipulate. We’ve learned how to make a man think our ideas were his, so he’ll take it seriously. We’ve learned how to share credit. How to steal credit. How to retaliate (quietly!) when our ideas are stolen, or mocked, or belittled.
We’ve learned how to demure and flatter and fawn and cajole and entreat and bewitch when the stakes are such that failing to convince some man or other of some idea or other is simply not a safe or viable option.
We’ve learned how to work together, even when we seem hardly to have noticed each other. How to spot allies. How to pass messages in code. How to say everything we need to say with our eyes, or our hands, with a shake of the hips or the head.
Think of us women as trained-up Operatives for Some Super Secret High-Stakes Mission. Though we might never be called to duty, we’re all of us fully briefed and prepped, from girlhood, from adolescence, from womanhood, from this whole entire shared shitty lifetime of being poked and prodded and sneered at and leered at and — sometimes worst of all — just completely dismissed and ignored.
To the small, singular breakout pack of our kind who is right now standing so close to this man, close enough so as to be able to smell his breath, his French cologne, his deep incompetence, his depthless rage, I would like to say only this: Remember, remember, remember what you already know.