NotAllMen… well, actually

NotAllMen you snarl and explain how that woman brought this upon herself, should have known that it would happen, should have known better, should have protected herself better, should not have put herself in that situation with that man.

And at no point do you understand that what you are saying is

NotAllMen unless a woman gives them the opportunity.

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Looking for an umbrella

Too busy for a write-up at this time, so just going to ponder and brood: despite the decades of sexism and internalized misogyny Clinton has faced and been oppressed by, despite the decades of unfounded accusations, despite the decades of investigations, despite the fact that we know that there was Russian interference in the election from the beginning of the primaries, despite the racism and bigotry riled up by the GOP and fed steadily through eight years of Obama’s presidency, despite the fake journalism and lies and rumours, despite all the studies that show that more than 50% of ‘news’ coverage of Clinton was steadily determinedly doggedly negative (even including outright lies and delusions: hello, Pizzagate)… despite all that, people still nod their head and say, “Yes, but… really she should have run a better campaign.”
 
Yes, when a wall of shit is raining down on you, you should have known to pick a sturdier umbrella. The problem is not the wall of shit, it is your inability to pick a good umbrella. Somehow, you should have known THAT much shit would be raining over you… and you should have planned better.
 
Over and over again, I have spent years–YEARS–pointing out the insidious hideous sexism and misogyny that bogs down any discussion of women in politics in North America, especially in the States. It wasn’t “any woman but Clinton”…there are rumblings about Kamala Harris in 2020 so we are now starting to see articles doing quick drive-by swipes at her. The US has a conservatism to it that people outside (and honestly, inside) truly don’t understand. It presents itself as this incredible forward-thinking modern culture…and yet polls of it’s citizenry show a different story. And there is still a very basic distrust of women in positions of authority. (There are more CEOs named John in the US then there are women CEOs. Women are 52% of the population; how much of the other 48% do you think are named John?)
 
Americans have spent decades dedicated to the idea that Clinton is devious and untrustworthy because it is normal for men to seek power; it is not normal for women to do so. When a man seeks power, people question his abilities and competence. When a woman seeks power, people question her motives. Women aren’t supposed to look for power: we are the caregivers and the caretakers. We are supposed to look after the others so they can live their lives. Our purpose is to serve; to always be second after those who are more important than are we.
 
When you say “Clinton and/or the Democrats should have run a better campaign!” you are ignoring all the facts. And you are intentionally sidestepping the reality of sexism. You are intentionally sidestepping the opportunity to question your own assumptions and beliefs. When you say the election was lost only because of racism, then suggest energetically that a male candidate would have won, you are doing everything in your power to avoid a very basic truth. Sexism is insidious. It is everywhere. It is in the fabric of everything we do and say everyday.

You [claim to] see the racism. You [claim to] see the bigotry. You need to hunt for the sexism and see it. You need to know it. You need to own it. You need to understand it.

Eating our own

Been seeing a lot of people proclaiming that anyone on the Left who criticizes others in the group is just another example of “the left eating itself”, or it’s why the left keeps imploding blah blah blah. That if we worry about how our side looks, we will never get into positions of power (the argument being that we will always find something wrong and that somehow, by holding people to task we are alerting the right that we might not all be in agreement).
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Refusing to examine the beliefs, actions and words publicly displayed by those on “our” side is exactly how the Right ended up with Donald Trump. Because it was more important to have a person who could win, then a person who was responsible or right (as in correct), a person who actually supported the same beliefs and positions of the majority group members.
 
Right now, in the US, the Democratic Party is so desperate for wins that they’ve allowed that candidates do not have to support abortion rights; something that should surely be a basic tenet of the Party given that it’s about supporting the rights of all, not just those you plan to personally access. This is the slippery slope to be worried about… not the criticism of so-called allies.
 
Today it’s abortion rights… what will be set aside next? Given the declarations that no one should criticize anyone on the left even if they express views that alienate substantial portions of the population, it seems clear that there will be more erosion and erasure.
 
As those on the Left argue that it’s more important to unite and win than to call anyone to task, it’s important to bear witness to what is happening in the current American administration: THAT is what happens when winning is more important than being right, or being united. It’s more difficult to deal with a disaster than it is to prevent it in the first place.
 

“Let us eat cake,” she said

So a white woman did a comedy bit about how people should stay inside their homes huddled over a cake (purchased from a minority baker) while white men and women armed with weapons and torches march in the streets shouting slogans against Jews, Muslims, queer and trans people, black people and people of colour. Huh.

Is the idea that you buy the cake before the march because with no one outside offering up an opposite message the marchers could feel emboldened to smash up and trash the businesses of minority identity owners and proprietors? This is your one chance to get a cake from that establishment? Or is it with your face stuffed in the cake you won’t hear if they find anyone outside and attack them? Is it so that you can make painfully clear your personal priorities in a world where white supremacists feel that they can safely march in the streets with their torches, their slogans, their weapons, their military gear? Is it because you can eat as much cake as you want as you personally will never be in danger from them? This advice might be the single whitest thing I have ever heard a person say.

People have shared Fey’s “comedy” routine noting earnestly how they agree with her that everyone is just so exhausted since the election and this is a suitable reaction to the latest events: to huddle in exhausted frustration in one’s house, eating cake, ignoring the outside world. There are a few little problems to note. The idea that people are exhausted, saddened and depressed over 45 and resulting events is valid. However there are those who are also completely frightened for their lives, their property and their livelihood. Anyone of any minority identity is protesting by their very existence: “no, not me, I have rights and I am allowed to exercise them, I am allowed to exist.” All any white person needs to worry about is whether they’ve made clear that they think others have those rights and that they accept that.

There is also a persistent myth at play here: that the white supremacist Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, who supported Trump, are just loud-mouthed bully boys with no real power. Those who sneer at these “bullies” are the same ones who jump forth at every shooting spree in the US quick to point out that right-wing extremists are the real danger, the real terrorists. It seems an odd divide: the white men and women with all the military gear and weapons and torches and slogans and anger are just lost bullies looking for attention… and yet some of them take those weapons and march into churches full of black people and slaughter those within. Those people do not spring from thin air; nor only from encountering counter-protesters.

I understand the appeal of this sketch; it’s exhausting continuing what seems a useless fight with no clear path, no clear instructions. That’s the path that those of minority identity take everyday…not knowing which white person secretly harbours complete contempt for your existence, which ones are actually card-carrying members of white supremacist organizations. White people are shocked by the Charlottesville march because they think this white nationalism is new. Minority identity people understand that it’s that the Nazis feel safe to march in public because their numbers have swelled, their funds have increased, their weapons stockpiles have grown. And now they feel it’s time to be seen in public… where other white people can see them and voice their agreement, or by their very silence signal that they will look the other way.

White people have decided that silence does not equal complicity; by this very comedy routine Fey is giving others permission to say that silence is just not speaking right now. Fortified by cake, perhaps the urge will strike the next day. Perhaps a sugar rush will fuel an early morning social media rant. Perhaps one will like the cake so much that one’s life will be centred on going out to buy a new one the next day. With any luck there will be a white baker in town who feels safe to open for business.

Help not Hashtags

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Here in Canada, it’s a day for the promotion of mental health issues centred around a large corporation. For every social media hashtag mention that includes the corporation’s name, they donate 5 cents to mental health facilities. This is a battle of sorts with social media users every year: the argument that “hey, every cent helps, doesn’t matter how it gets there” vs those that say “nope, we don’t have to promote companies and help them maintain an image as being only for the good of consumers.” Kinda makes it hard to turn around and sign petitions to get them to back down from some of their price increases for the very internet that will drive that social media. And for those of us who have pointed out the fallacy of the pink ribbon campaigns and the amount of money that companies make using the imagery, it’s particularly discouraging to see yet another version.
 
It *is* hard to talk about mental health issues. It is hard to access mental health care. Even those of us who are very aware of the issues can find it overwhelming. Even in a country with universal healthcare, it can be difficult and it can still cost money. It can cost a lot of money. But the joy and stress of social media is that one can ask a question of one’s audience without specifying that it’s for you. You can ask if anyone knows of an issue, if anyone knows of resources. You can look for a community where you can be welcomed and feel safe to discuss those issues.
 
I have talked a lot about issues I have, issues that my kids have… I’ve had a lot of admonishment from some who are convinced that this will all backfire and ruin me for life in some way (all those after-school specials about the dangers of social media!). I have also received a lot of private messages from people who say, “Thank you. I have the same issues and I can’t talk about them in public but it helps to read the conversations that happen when you mention something. It’s good to know I”m not alone.”
 
Wanna use social media for your mental health issues? Facebook is full of secret groups that discuss mental health or medical issues, or support groups for those dealing with difficult stages of life, or more… There may be people on your friends’ list or people reading your Twitter who can direct you to services in your area.
 
One of my kids spent years living with discomfort and misery because she didn’t understand what she felt was wrong with her and didn’t know how to even articulate that to her family. Through the internet, she found a blog about someone else’s realization that they are trans and my daughter identified with everything she read. From that she was able to find an online community of support and advice while she got the emotional strength to come out to her friends and family. Through social media I was able to find online groups to discuss issues, to find resources and to find a real-life support group. All without a hashtag.
 
At the very least: social media is social. For all those who love to trumpet that “the online world is not the real world!!”, social media is peopled with real live human beings. For many with social anxiety, with issues that make face-to-face interactions difficult, with fear of personal conversations, social media can be a literal life-saver. It is possible to find a community of people who discuss the things you’re interested in talking about. It is possible to find people who have been through the issues you are experiencing and can tell you of their own path.
 
You can start with something as small as simply posting a photo of a dog and asking, “Isn’t he cute?” Enjoying the smallest of human interaction, even through the interface of social media, is not wrong, is not a failure, is not a cop-out. It’s a start. It’s a digital footprint out into the world.
 
Reach out. Talk to someone. Hashtag or don’t hashtag. Put yourself first.

A woman you never understood, still not behaving as you demand

clinton-funko_photo-by-keiren-smith

And so… it continues.

It’s January 20, 2017. Time for Americans (and some Canadians) to do what they do best: put all their anger where it clearly belongs…on Hillary Rodham Clinton.

For the last week or so, I have watched as various commenters have done their best to work up a head of steam. News reports leaked that the Clintons would be attending the Inauguration as is traditional for former Presidents and their spouses. And so began the flood of responses urging Rodham Clinton to make a statement and refuse to go.

We have all noted the sizeable list of Democrats who have announced that they will not be at the Inauguration, some hidden under excuses, other with clearly stated reasons and an explanation of where they will be instead. This is not, in fact, an unusual thing to have happen; many a Republican announced that they were out of town during Obama’s Inauguration. But it is part of the formality, pomp and circumstance and the handing over of power to have former Presidents in the crowd to welcome in the new member of the group.

Those urging Rodham Clinton to stay away believe that they have the best of reasons: she should do so as a protest against Trump. They are, of course, prevaricating. They know full well that few will see it as such, and most will simply attribute her behaviour to being a bad loser, or worse: being a coward. And Hillary Rodham Clinton is not a coward.

Yes, you would not go. Yes, you would have so many valid reasons not to go. That’s why you are not Hillary Rodham Clinton and why she truly never really was just one of us… Hillary Rodham Clinton possesses a level of resolute stubborn bravery many of us will never have reason to know. When she attended Yale Law School, she was one of 27 women out of a class of 235. Given the examples of sexism and misogyny many of us experienced in more recent times, we can imagine what it was like for those women in 1974. Or what it was like when Rodham Clinton began to practice law. We know what it was like for her as First Lady of Arkansas: regarded with suspicion and distrust because her lack of concern with her looks suggested that she thought she was ‘above’ being the citizenry. When her husband lost his re-election campaign, pundits placed all the blame at the feet of the wife who maintained her maiden name, who didn’t worry about makeup or styling her hair or wearing skirts. With a few simple cosmetic changes, Bill Clinton found himself back as Governor and Rodham Clinton learned a valuable lesson: it’s not enough as a feminist to simply be tough and keep going despite opposition. In order to succeed, in order to achieve the political power one needs in order to change society, one needs to learn to play the game and to appease the ‘audience’.

Rodham Clinton’s entire life has been about working in a society and work world that does not want her in it the way she has wanted to be. Her entire life has been about standing out, never blending in: first graduating student picked to do a valedictorian speech at Wellesley College, giving a speech so eloquent, so moving that Life Magazine did a feature on her.

So many of you complaining are those who spent the entire campaign complaining, “there’s just something about her…no one trusts her.” Now, you are insisting that she stand in for you, that she be your living avatar. In a world where all the new President has ignored all your nasty tweets and Facebook comments no matter how many of your friends retweet you, you are telling her that she has to be your visible presence. She has to do what you can’t do: a visible action that will show everyone your disapproval.

Clinton is not you, she is not us. She has always been a leader, she has always been a woman who has known that she would never truly be welcomed or accepted because of her ambitions. That has not swayed her. She has not sought that welcome. She has looked for understanding: an understanding that she has wanted to lead the country in many different ways and fight for social justice and progress for women, children, minority groups. She has done it in the face of everyone’s alleged much-vaunted distrust; she has done it with sky-high approval ratings. She has done it when voted Most Admired Woman in America, year after year after year.

And she did her best to do it over the course of the last year. She smiled grimly through the onslaught of negative press. She worked hard despite those, like you, who continually parroted, “There’s just something about her…she’s not like us. She doesn’t get us like Bernie does. She’s an elite, not an ordinary person like Bernie is.”

No. Because Rodham Clinton is not an ordinary person. She is not like you and me. She is a woman who has worked through the decades of inequality and misogyny of American life, and has done her best to change it. And as a woman working through those decades, she has learned to paste on the smile, to murmur the right platitutdes, to accept that, at every turn, someone is waiting to knock her down.

She will not be childish or churlish today. She will not give in to base emotions to indulge herself. She will be professional. She will be political. By attending today’s Inauguration, Rodham Clinton is not letting anyone down: she is showing all of you what you lost.

She will be Presidential.

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C’mon:  we all knew it was gonna be a white pantsuit.

 

They, Them and You

Once upon a time, there were those who snidely called women “Miss” no matter how often they were asked to use “Ms.”. The validation was that Ms. was madeup, wasn’t proper English and explanations ad nauseum. One of the more popular explanations was that Ms. would confuse people: was the woman married or was she not? Where men didn’t need to denote their marital status, women had to clarify it at all times. After all, how would we know if that woman was allowed to even be in public without a man or a respectable woman as escort?
 
Once upon a time, there were those who called women by their husband’s surname no matter how often the woman explained that she had kept her ‘own’. There was no reason for women to keep their own names they were told; think of how confusing it will be for the children! Are they yours? Are they not? Whose name will they use? Will you give them yours and then people will think they’re (hushed whisper) *illegitimate*? Why were women trying to convince people they weren’t married? Were they trying to attract other men?
 
There are endless examples I could give. When African-Americans decided that Black was a name that they preferred to use for their identity than Coloured. How many white people sneered and insisted that there was no reason for the change? Over and over, every version involves someone wanting their identity to be respected, to have that respect shown by being addressed by the label, name or pronoun that is theirs. And over and over, there are those who show their assumption of superior standing by refusing to grant that grace. Telling someone that you have decided for them that calling them by the incorrect pronoun does not hurt them or affect them. Because the need to control others, to feel power over them, is more important than acknowledging them as your equal.
Slowly, through time, through sheer stubbornness, various identity groups have worn people and social conventions down (in parts of the world). We live in a society where personal identity is all; where people have unique names, change their names to better reflect their sense of self, where people choose the surnames they and their partner will use for a family. And however much anyone might criticize those naming choices, we understand that no one else gets to decide. No one gets to call those people by a different name just because they don’t like the one chosen.
 
Someday, those of you who feel that being asked to use someone’s pronouns-of-choice will understand that you are being ridiculous and controlling. That you are insisting that what you want and what you are comfortable with is the only thing that matters. That the way you demonstrate your imagined superiority is by denying others the right to choose the names and pronouns for their identity. Think of that the next time you introduce yourself to someone…  think of the name you use and why it is you think you are entitled to have someone use it to address you.