Unblinking: Staring Down This Election

In the 1960s, student activists rallied behind the slogan: “the personal is political.” I don’t mean to steal their words, but recent events have shown me how true this refrain is. I would, however, like to make an amendment. In my experience, the personal hygiene is political.

When I was prescribed my contact lenses, my eye doctor gave me a tutorial. We hunched over a small cosmetic mirror, a halo of fluorescent light shining back at us. My doctor placed the contact lens on my fingertip, and I studied it closely. It was a small watery curve, flimsy enough to fold at the slightest touch. Despite its transparency, it felt remarkably solid on my fingertip, and I wondered how it would ever disappear on my eye.

My doctor gave me a nod, and the study ceased. I peeled back my right eyelid. This is the tricky part of contact lenses. Normally, when a foreign object charges at your eye, you look away or blink or turn your head. When you put in a contact lens, you have to look at the obtrusive thing squarely, without hesitation or fear. You touch your finger to your eye and you do not flinch, or you will have failed. Vulnerability has no place in optical care.

When the contact hit my eye, I felt a cold, wet sting. I held my finger to my eye for a few more seconds until the burning faded to a soft simmer. Then I moved my finger away, blinked a few times, and looked up at my doctor. His face came into focus. I saw the network of wrinkles on his forehead and the glaring reflection of fluorescent light on his balding head. I almost laughed.

“It’s that easy?” I asked.

His eyes crinkled underneath thick, plastic-rimmed glasses.

“It’s always easier for the ladies.”

I laughed with him, though at whom I have no idea. My laugh felt stale in my throat and my thoughts lingered on this moment as he showed me how to remove the contact and clean my lens case.

In some respects, my doctor’s quip seems unsurprising. Putting in my contact lens felt eerily familiar. With my finger poised in front of my unblinking eye, I could almost see myself as an 11-year-old girl, holding a tampon in one hand and a cheap handheld mirror in another. I saw myself again, eight years later, in my boyfriend’s bedroom.

“It’s that easy?” I could have asked after we had sex for the first time.

My transition to womanhood has been an education in accepting discomfort. I have learned to insert a tampon in a dimly lit Port-o-Potty, elbows banging against the plastic walls. I have learned not to wince when sex came too soon and too quick. I have learned to stare at myself in a mirror as I stab my eye with a contact lens.

I looked it up later. Two-thirds of contact wearers are women. It is easier for the ladies, or so it would appear. Perhaps this ease is learned. We can handle the discomfort or pain in a way that men have never had to, simply because we have been asked, again and again, to open our bodies up to the discomforting things of the world. Each time we are asked, we say yes. We stare at the obtrusive thing squarely, welcoming it in with steadied and unblinking eyes.

Is there such a thing as too much tolerance? Too much acceptance? How much unpleasantness must we welcome in?

As we barrel toward the November election, my eyes grow tired. They have seen Donald Trump brag about sexually assaulting women. They have seen him use sexist and petty language to demean Hillary Clinton. They have seen him threaten to overturn Roe v. Wade. This election has tested the limits of discomfort I can accept, and frankly, my eyes have seen enough.

I know that women’s bodies are practically public space. They bear the marks of a bloated cosmetics industry and a culture of sexual assault and intrusive political discourse. Every time I put in my contacts, I think about the blurred lines between my body and the world around it. Some days, it feels as though my body doesn’t even belong to me. Every time Trump opens his mouth and makes another crack about women’s bodies, I am reminded of just how much a single man can threaten my physical autonomy.

We have accepted Trump into this election. We have stared him square in the face as he denies the value of women with one breath and then claims to support them with another. We have absorbed the hatred and intolerance with remarkable patience. We have been taught well. But in this election, with up to four Supreme Court seats hanging in the balance and the reality of a female president just within reach, we must unlearn this patience.

Tampons and contact lenses are one thing. A man who brags about grabbing women by the p••sy is quite another.

In a speech in New Hampshire, First Lady Michelle Obama called for an end to Trump’s rhetoric. She spoke directly to the women of the audience.

“This is not something that we can ignore,” she said. “It’s not something that we can just sweep under the rug as just another disturbing footnote in a sad election season. … Maybe we’re afraid to be that vulnerable. Maybe we’ve grown accustomed to swallowing these emotions and staying quiet. … Now is the time for all of us to stand up and say enough is enough. This has got to stop right now.”

As women and as voters, we must draw the line. We must look at Trump with our steadied and unblinking eyes, and we must finally say no.

Featured Image by Abby Paulson / Heights Editor