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.

 

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December 6

Years and years ago, the world of information was very different than it is today. Today, with the internet, we hear every single detail of a news story to the point of boredom; news reporters are forced to hunt down the smallest minutiae to keep the audience tuned in and listening and watching. But twenty-five years ago, we got our news from television and radio and newspapers… When a major story broke, we had to wait for updates, we had to wait for the next day’s paper (or the afternoon edition) to read the ‘whole’ story.

Twenty five years on, we still don’t have the whole story of the Montreal Massacre. Although we have the facts, we don’t have the acknowledgement of what those facts mean. From the beginning, the argument has always been in place that feminists were trying to “use” the Montreal Massacre for their own agenda, that they were politicising it. And that in so doing, they were doing a disservice to the women themselves, not honouring them as victims, because they might not have been feminists. That the killer didn’t care to make that distinction is somehow not considered. That he stormed through the school, into a classroom of engineering students, and demanded that the male students leave announcing that he was going to kill all the feminists—which to him, meant only the women students, women who dared to stand out by taking classes previously considered only the purview of men.

He left behind a letter in which he was completely clear as to his intent. The letter listed nineteen prominent feminists he had wished to kill and he specified that only time had saved them from an attempt—that he had to content himself with the feminists he would kill at L’Ecole Polytechnique. He himself regarded it as a political action and said as much in his letter. He killed fourteen women, wounded ten others and wounded four men.

Earlier this year, a teenaged boy made a video and an emailed letter before he carried out his announced shooting spree, with his intention to choose women and girls as his victims. As people found out about the video, his time spent on Men’s Rights Activists forums, about his letter, women began discussing this as a feminist issue, as a women’s issue: a male who felt he had a right to female companionship and affection, who felt he had been deprived of it by women, who decided to kill women in retaliation. As with the Montreal killings, the media and others used the fact that there had been male victims to negate his own stated intention, to “prove” that this could not have been a crime motivated by hatred of women. Men began using the hashtag #NotAllMen in their protests—a pre-existing hashtag designed to undercut women’s comments about sexism, misogyny and treatment by men. The response by women was to create #YesAllWomen and to encourage women to cite the various times they had found themselves afraid or in danger because of men, because of sexism and misogyny.

To women it is obvious that the Montreal Massacre, and similar crimes, are about feminism, about men’s fears and anger over women not living their lives by men’s rules or beliefs, but as autonomous creatures able to make their own decisions, to live their own lives. But there are those who argue that these murders have nothing to do with sexism, with fear of feminism. To them, a man yelling that he wanted only feminists left in a room so that he could kill them all, who left a letter specifying that he wanted to kill feminists as he felt that they had ruined his life—that did not mean that the murders were about women and feminists, it was merely just the way it worked out that only women had been murdered.

When it is pointed out that his very words, written and spoken, indicated that his intention was to kill feminists, the negating argument is that, “But not all those women were feminists.” When it is then argued that this was very clearly a crime against women, and women were killed, the answer is “there were men who were shot too.”

In the last year I’ve watched as women in gaming contend with vicious death and rape threats on their social media. I’ve watched as people have gone from arguing that those behind the threats are not to be taken seriously, to accusing the women of making up the threats, to suggesting that the women are intentionally overreacting for attention—they enjoy being victimized. I’ve watched as Jian Ghomeshi likened his first accuser as a jealous vindictive ex-girlfriend and even as the number of accusers began to grow, there are those who say, “These are women who just want attention. Stars can’t avoid these kind of women trying to use them. These women like portraying themselves as victims.” And as the list of Cosby accusers grows ever larger, there are still those arguing that these, too, are women just looking for attention, just looking to use his fame for their own glory…that they like to portray themselves as victims.

We can’t ask the women of the December 6 massacre how it feels to be victims. We can’t ask them if they enjoy it, if they enjoy the attention they get every year. We can’t ask them how it felt to be brave young women in an engineering program, toughing it out with all the men. We can’t ask them how it felt to watch as an armed man came into their classroom, lined them all up and then insisted that all the male students leave because he only wanted to kill the women, the feminists. We can’t ask them how it felt to die because of their gender.

The killer murdered fourteen women at L’Ecole Polytechnique. He killed women because he intended to kill women. He killed women because he assumed that they were feminists—because who but a feminist would have inserted herself into what he saw as the man’s world. He assumed that only women would be feminists—because he couldn’t imagine a man supporting a woman’s right to equal treatment in a man’s world.

When feminists argue that the Montreal Massacre is a feminist issue we are not dishonouring them—we are acknowledging that they died because they were women. We are acknowledging that they died because the killer assumed them to be femniists. We are honouring them and their deaths. To deny any of it is to deny their very existence as women…and their very deaths as women.

 

Keiren

Taylor Swift, young girls and life plans

A lot of people like to criticize Taylor Swift for her image of girl-next-door pining for the guy who dates the popular girl, songs about high school and young love as Taylor is now, what?, 20 years old. I get kind of irritated that there is always someone who pronounces that they get to decide what agenda people do or don’t have. These same people are listening to fifty year old married fathers talk about how hot some girl is and what they’re going to do to get her…  I get that some of the criticism is feminist fear that Taylor is “promoting” an image/thought/lifestyle that people fear young girls might emulate…but let’s be serious—who better to personify innocent, longing love than young girls? Girls grow up, and their lives are soooooooooooooo full of cultural information to take in—the shows they watch, the books they read, their friends, their family, the internet, the boys or girls they like. Even if they’re besotted with her, Taylor Swift will end up being such a small part of the final whole.  And I believe that damned few of her fans will end up “saving themselves” for when they’re married at 18 to their own Romeo! By 18, they’ll remember her with fondness, or maybe a disbelief that they did like her…while they run out into the world to make their own adventures.

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