Don’t Overlook my Generation
Where were you when Fiona Hill testified? Years from now, when this chapter is written in the history books, a lot of us will remember.
And by a lot of us, I mean my generation.
We are the women who came of age at the same time Dr. Hill and Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch did. We’re the women who were raised by stay-at-home moms, who navigated our education and career paths without maps, who made our own way in a world that wasn’t always friendly to our aspirations, a world that was structured to keep us in our place.
A world that we have been changing, subversively or overtly, for the past three or four decades. You probably didn’t notice, because we’re not showy. We’ve been working behind the scenes. Until lately.
The moment Dr. Hill began to read her galvanizing statement to the House committee last fall, it was as if someone had touched a finger of ice to my spine. I remember exactly where I was–in my kitchen, doing the breakfast dishes as I contemplated my work schedule for the day: managing an appointment for my elderly mom, planning a day with my young granddaughter, greeting a workman who’d come to fix the furnace, carving out time to work on my novel with a looming deadline from my publisher. It was a typical day for a woman sandwiched into the role of daughter, mother, and grandmother, wife, worker, caregiver, colleague…overstuffed with must-do items.
Yet when Dr. Hill spoke, I stopped what I was doing and ran to the TV. I had been listening to her voice–resonant, unforgettable, and bracingly free of the posh British accents we hear on The Crown. She spoke plainly and unapologetically as a British coal miner's daughter, albeit a highly educated one. When I turned on the TV, I wasn’t surprised to see a woman who looked like so many of the women of my generation: mature, professional, well-prepared, yet curiously vulnerable at the same time.
I sat unmoving through the entirety of her testimony. I was struck by her presence, her intelligence, her conviction, and the powerful message she brought to a situation that has thrown our government into turmoil. I was struck by the inarguable points she made to the committee, deftly and with firm conviction. And I was struck by her grace and humanity as she brought out the worst partisan instincts of those determined to defend the President’s actions.
Where were you? Perhaps sneaking a break at work to check the live feed. Or looking after the family. Taking care of business. Sitting in a meeting. If you’re a woman of my generation, I suspect that years from now, you’ll remember.
Dr. Hill’s testimony is a shining moment in a process that has been gathering force. Our mission, along with our anger, has been sharpened by the misogynistic, regressive politics that have taken over the Republican party and the White House, and by the surge of the #MeToo movement.
We have arrived at a moment no one saw coming–a moment in time for my generation–women who have finally come into our own.
Who are we?
Look around at your sister, your aunt, the colleague across the table, the physician in the clinic, the woman at the check stand, the lecturer at the podium. We are stateswomen, artists, professionals, free spirits, financiers, and CEOs. Raised by dutiful mothers who embodied the postwar ideals so beloved by nostalgic white males, we came of age in a world that wasn’t ready for us and didn’t know what to make of us.
We are the connective tissue between our apron-clad mothers and our take-no-prisoners daughters.
Though you might not see it when you look at us in our mom-jeans and cozy sweaters, we are badass creatures. We might not have our 1980s bikini bodies anymore. We might have rude hair sprouting from places where they shouldn’t be. We probably squint at the fine print and reach for our glasses. The color and gloss of our hair are likely to be enhanced by artifice. We go to the gym even when we don’t have time because it’s good for us. We know we’re going to need a lot of stamina to live the lives we’ve created for ourselves.
Many of us have known the quiet savagery of divorce. Some of us know the grinding injustice of being forced to pay alimony to the man who cheated on us. Too many of us have felt the jaw-clenching resentment of being passed over or patronized at work. All of us have tasted the bitter tang of failure, yet we’re smart enough to figure out how to pick ourselves up and move on. We’ve been betrayed, gossiped about, robbed. Many of us have been violated, possibly injured. We have been maligned, ridiculed, marginalized and dismissed. We’ve been pandered to, disrespected, subjected to workplace harassment and sometimes out-and-out assault.
But guess what? We’re still here. We’re not going anywhere.
We might not have the cyber skills of a Snapchat or Tik Tok user, but we have something that is a lot harder to learn and sustain–judgment. We have spines of steel and work ethics to match. We have some of the sharpest and best-trained minds on the planet. These qualities were on full display in the testimonies of Yovanovitch and Hill.
It’s true, there are accomplished men in our age group as well. But the women of my generation pursued their accomplishments with equal success, only we did it while organizing families, helping with homework, attending school meetings, doctor visits, piano lessons, swim meets, dance recitals, and soccer matches. We rushed home from work to put dinner on the table, then stayed up late at night honing our skills at writing, decorative painting, yoga, web design, Fair Isle knitting, conversational Spanish–all stolen from a schedule that was already maxed out.
I’m proud to be a member of this passionate, elite, accomplished, and utterly exhausted group. I personally have been the sole breadwinner of my family my entire adult life. This includes raising a daughter, buying homes, looking after my elderly parents, and managing a career as a self-employed freelance writer.
Recently at a book talk, an audience member asked me what I considered the best thing I’ve done with the money I’ve earned as an author. I was momentarily thrown off by the question, but the answer came to me immediately–my daughter’s education. Unlike people of her overburdened generation, she was able to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees without incurring years of heavy debt. I am proud to have been able to give her that.
Somewhere along the way, the women of my generation have been conditioned to be humble. Well, I’m not going to be humble anymore. I kick ass. I’ve been kicking ass for decades. I have turned my life into an extraordinary and glorious adventure.
The women I know are not humble, either. You can okay-boomer us all you want, but you will not outshine our accomplishments. I hope you’ll try, though. Because being awesome is a great way to live your life.
I’ve been told I’m lucky to have become a best-selling author. While I appreciate the compliment, luck didn’t get me here. I wrested a living from a pursuit that drains every drop from your soul if you let it. I created a body of work through deep study, long hours, and late nights. I worked on my novels after a full day of teaching and mothering and published them by persevering in the face of overwhelming odds and imminent failure.
You might picture me with my feet up by a roaring fire, calmly composing this essay in my leisure time. I’m actually scribbling this in longhand in a waiting room between several errands demanding my attention. My child is raised and I’m a grandmother now, but I’m still a daughter to my elderly mom. I squeeze in work between to cardiology appointments and neurology clinics, looking after the woman who once looked after me. It’s a labor of love, to be sure, but I won’t pretend it’s not labor.
I’m not complaining though. I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I didn’t have all of this energy in every part of my life, I don’t know what I would do with my time.
I’m like many of the women I know. We live fully, we laugh hard, we love fiercely, and we are as loyal as the elderly dog in the back of my car, patiently waiting to be taken to the vet.
It’s gratifying to see how sharply on display we are as a group these days–Christine Blasey Ford, Fiona Hill, Marie Yovanovitch, Oprah Winfrey, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bette Midler, Rose McGowan, E. Jean Carroll, Anita Hill, Sally Yates, Elizabeth Warren, Susan Rice, and so many others who emerged–not always willingly–from their quiet labors to the national stage.
In the words of Fiona Hill, “And now here we are.”
Maybe some of us are worse for the wear, but here we are.
I look forward to the day when a woman’s accomplishments are commonplace, not extraordinary. A day when men don’t mistake our anger for hysteria. A day when Marie Yovanovitch’s quiet grace is seen as a strength, not a weakness.
So here’s to the women of my generation, the ones who do it all, deserve it all, and will help themselves to it whether you like it or not.
We are the sans-culottes, and we are at the gates.
Susan Wiggs is the #1 bestselling writer of more than fifty novels, including The Oysterville Sewing Circle, one of Library Journal’s Best Books of 2019. She lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest with her favorite husband. Visit her on the web at www.susanwiggs.com.