How can I focus on spreadsheets when I’m about to lose ownership of my body?
It’s Monday morning, and I have Google Sheets open on my laptop in front of me. I’m meant to be processing the data from the spreadsheet, determining whether each user of my employer’s app satisfies our safety requirements, but instead, I’m checking Twitter.
Usually decent at shoving away distractions and setting to work (this work-from-home business isn’t new to me), the topic of today’s social media turmoil has me morbidly captivated, like I’m watching a car accident happen in slow-mo. How could it not? President Donald Trump has nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court to take the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s place. The hearing is freshly underway.
Even as I scroll and refresh, I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking for. A glimmer of hope, I guess? Twitter is a fast source of information, and I know people I follow are watching the hearing. (I’m not listening while I work, for fear I have a heart attack or an aneurysm and die. This is irony at its finest.) I’m hoping, I think, that Barrett—a Constitutional “originalist” who refers to abortion as “always immoral,” disagrees with the concept of birth control, and poses a threat to same-sex marriage rights—will screw up so badly during the hearing that her odds of being confirmed will become laughable and I will finally get a good night’s sleep.
At this point, what else can I hope for? Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have already (hypocritically) committed to cramming in a confirmation before the election concludes. The GOP has already announced their plan to overturn Roe v. Wade. Barrett has already been appointed, and there’s no going back in time and preventing the hearing from beginning. I’ve written to both of my senators twice, asking-demanding-begging them not to confirm someone before we have the election results, and then specifically not to confirm Barrett. I’m helpless as I cross my fingers and my toes and hope that a woman who’s out to get women, people of color, and LGBTQ people is somehow not sworn in to the highest court in the United States.
Meanwhile, life keeps chugging along, and I—along with every other woman in the US—am expected to move along with it.
I get that the world can’t screech to a halt every time human rights are at risk. But, to an extent . . . can’t it? What are we without autonomy and the right to a decent quality of life? If we are a country supposedly founded on the concept of liberty, why do we look the other way and keep walking when specific peoples aren’t afforded theirs?
When George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were murdered by police and the nation was forced once again to reckon with its trend toward racial injustice, something similar occurred. Businesses largely did not take time off to consider the impact such an epidemic could have on its employees and the world at large. Schools largely did not pause classes to give students time to breathe, reflect, recover, or take action. Black employees who understandably couldn’t stomach the news at work had to use sick time to stay home or log off, while students had to ask for extensions. But racial injustice is not like food poisoning or a migraine; it will not be gone in a few days, and you are forced to re-evaluate pieces of your life that you otherwise may not have to consider. Though clearly different in origin and in practice, both forms of blatant discrimination and oppression have the power to significantly alter people’s ability to address their lives—but we’re expected to keep on moving with those lives regardless.
Despite how miserable I feel now, concealing my nausea during Zoom meetings and managing to delay my fear-weeping until after 5 PM, I can’t help but wonder what things will be like when (if?) Roe v. Wade really is overturned and women only retain full possession of their bodies in a handful of states on the east and west coasts. When/if birth control and IVF become less and less accessible. When/if people in my community can no longer obtain a marriage license. Will I still have to merge cells and type formulas if the government owns my uterus? Or will jobs be outlawed for women, too?
Maybe a bit of dialogue would help, but unfortunately we’re still in the stage of development in which we believe that things like a person’s right to live or control her own body are political topics and therefore inappropriate for work. But this is the only semi-realistic suggestion I have. (I do not expect that the economy and all academia will freeze each time a privileged politician threatens to undermine the progress a slightly less privileged politician has made.) The expectation that women quietly continue their daily work while enduring the nail-biting horror that is a possible entry into a real-life version of The Handmaid’s Tale is honestly even more dystopian to me than if we just talked about it.
Despite all my best focusing techniques and Chill Lo-Fi Beats to Study & Relax To, it is impossible for me to convince myself even for a second that the spreadsheets, emails, and documents before me are as immediately important as the fact that half the nation is about to lose ownership of their own bodies. I’m a little too busy donating to Planned Parenthood, placing all my faith into the ACLU, and praying to a god I don’t believe in to wrap up this slide deck and have it uploaded to the cloud by noon. If I and the rest of the women in the United States are slow to answer your Slack message . . . that’s why.