Women and The Alice Network

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual assault

It’s been really hard for me to watch the news lately. I mean, all year, yes, but in the last month in particular. I’ve been avoiding Facebook, because even the posts from like-minded women have filled me with dread and heartache.

I’m talking about all. these. men.

In my head, I *knew* that sexual harassment and assault was a problem. I knew that workplaces were not always safe for women. I knew that a distinct gender bias was present. I knew, logically, that all these things happen.

But hearing about Matt Lauer’s button on his desk that locked the door behind unsuspecting women? MATT LAUER? It’s all too much.

Photo from @newyorkercartoons

Women are getting their reckoning, finally. Women are finally getting the chance to speak about the assault and abuse and power trips. Women are finally confronting their friends and neighbors and, god forbid, husbands, about their pasts and the assault we have all received, living as a woman in America. I don’t have a grand Me, Too story, just small moments that add up together to paint of a picture of why I stay home on Saturday nights and why I’m scared of being outside and alone at night and why I carry pepper spray in my car.

The big moments, like Louis C.K. showing his penis to unsuspecting women, are scary and loud and aggressive. But the small moments are what women live with in our day-to-day lives. It’s bosses calling us “sweetie” or “girl”. It’s men speaking over us constantly or disregarding our ideas completely. It’s the credit that they take for the work we do (which has happened on so many group projects, I’ve lost count). I’m lucky to work in a woman-centered profession, but these microaggressions still occur, sometimes from coworkers, sometimes from my male students who have learned these cultural dynamics from an early age.

It’s been weighing on my heart and soul, and hearing the stories coming out, one after another, each day a different guy… I can’t take it much anymore.

I dive into books. Usually, the good guy wins, and there is usually a good guy. A prince charming. One who might treat women with the respect and consideration that they (we) deserve.

My most recent read was The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. It’s been hailed as one of the best historical fiction novels to come out this year (and could very well beat out The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo in the Goodreads awards). When I picked it up, I thought it would be a good historical fiction focused on the power of women. An all-woman spy ring during WWI? Count me in!

What I didn’t bargain for was the abuse and power dynamics that these women faced. It shook me to my core. Of course these women battled abuse and gender stereotyping… it was 1915 and they were spies. But, maybe because I have been so sensitive to this in light of our world today, these abuses of power and shows of force really ate into me.

She couldn’t see his face, but she smelled expensive cologne and hair oil as he bent his head. His narrow mouth brushed lightly, not over her lips but over the hollow at the base of her throat. His tongue was cool as he tasted her skin.

She stood pinned against the door by that feather-fine touch, too stunned to move.

“I wondered how you would taste,” he said at length, stepping back.

Somehow, reading about this abuse of power felt like I was reading something from a victim’s statement in 2017, not from German-occupied France in 1915. A year ago, I could have read this book quickly with mild disgust, but this week, I had trouble picking it up, not knowing what horrors were about to unfold.

There were a couple redeeming men in this book, but they were few and far between, and they still took on a protective quality, implying that the women couldn’t handle themselves and needed a man’s shoulder to lean on in times of distress. The author did a great job of proving this was all bullshit, but the intent from the men was there, nonetheless.

I love historical fiction, and I especially love historical fiction that reflects back to our present day and makes me consider the world I live in in a different way. This book was a bit too reflective for my current state of heart.

I don’t know where we go from here. I don’t know if I can handle hearing any more horror stories from women about men in positions of power, but I also don’t know if I can handle any more of these incidents being swept under the rug.

I don’t know what happens next, but I’m just sending a quiet blessing to all women — those in the past who had to endure a society I could never envision, those present women struggling to speak up, and those in the future who will hopefully shape our society so that we never have to endure this struggle again.

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