Dear Younger Generations

Dear Younger Generations,

I am sorry.  I am so sorry.

I apologize for what the generation before mine and my generation have handed over to you.  We have created plastic bag and bottle islands.  We have foregrounded playgrounds for the rich over clean water and green spaces for all.  We have poisoned food production in favor of profit.  We have polarized the differences between and among our world religions, instead of finding commonalities, recognizing other types of belief systems, and working towards defining the common good.

Instead of recognizing elements of healthy debate along a pluralistic political spectrum, we have become hyperpartisan, unable to compromise, and gridlocked.  (I do not and cannot distribute blame equally here, but the result remains the same.)  We have built up the military-industrial complex to an untenable level, lining the pockets of a select few as we build military machines whose primary purpose is to kill.  We have forgotten how and why to talk about peace, which has become a quaint term reserved for the overly sentimental and the hippy. (*See this excellent piece by Jorge Gaupp on constructive conceptualizations of peace.)

We have allowed tyrants to prevail in too many countries.  These power-hungry dictators stride through their days with narcissism on their sleeves, Machiavellianism in their pockets, and knives on the budgets that serve the public good.  They promote those who look like them and brook no dissent from other parties, the press, the common people, even their own party.  They don’t study the issues.  They slash them.  They are actively constructing a world of destruction, and, despite outstanding and sincere resistance efforts, we are letting them do it.  In fact, the national dictators are giving birth and greater power to a whole host of state and local dictators, who seem to have been waiting for this moment.

I am so sorry.

Every single day, despite the resistance (for which I am eternally grateful), we are allowing groups of people to feel less than human.  We are forcing people who already struggle to be seen and heard to feel vulnerable—vulnerable in the writing and enacting of laws, vulnerable in the workplace, vulnerable at a party, in the street, in a bathroom.  Those who are already exhausted from the daily struggles for civil rights—basic human rights—are called upon to resist, again.  Aren’t we all supposed to have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

(http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-39375228)

I’m sorry, too, that the right to basic healthcare has experienced such peril.  The party in power has adopted such an over-the-top white, male supremacist approach that it forgets that all of us, every single last one of us, arrived in this world because a woman gave birth to us.  I believe that means that all of us rely upon maternity care.  How have we let even this basic tenet of healthcare be called into question?  (*See this Mother Jones piece, with photographs of all older white men determining the future of women’s health.  See also this Fortune Magazine piece on the AHCA being a referendum on women’s health care.)  The party in power is so intent upon restricting women’s reproductive rights that it seems even to want to restrict healthy reproduction.  That is more than cutting your nose off to spite your face.  It is a policy rooted in fear and vindictiveness, which is no way to run a government.

Profound kindness and generosity still define parts of our world—across the political aisle, national borders, community organizations, and generations.  Nevertheless, in many ways, your generation has become more thoughtful than mine.  You know how to recognize and call out bullying, you grapple less with non-binary identifications, and you make long-lasting friendships through the social media that have shaped your existence.  I see you harnessing this open-mindedness and desire for connection to think broadly about the social, economic, and political issues of our world.  I’d like to believe that you are aware of racial injustice and more prepared to combat it than my generation has been.  I imagine you fed up with limited gender messaging and creative in your approach to reshape it.

I have seen many of your generation(s) advocate for equal rights, study House and Senate bills to understand the pros and cons of proposed legislation, and state your positions clearly.  I have seen the plays you write and perform in, listened to the music you create, and heard the conversations you have. Many of you are thoughtful, responsible citizens who will run for office and help to assert the priorities of your generation.  Your voices and actions are complementing those of my generation and the one before me and, in some instances, are leading the way.  Thank you.

As I conclude this post, I realize that the piece echoes in prose form what this poem attempts–to recognize, apologize, and seek change.

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Civility

A few months ago, I delivered an impromptu anti-Trump rant at the dinner table.  The rant was rambling.  It covered the imprudent proposal to repeal the ACA, racist and anti-immigrant policies, sexist comments, and a general and increasing concern about the candidate’s sanity.  When I finished, my daughter said scoldingly, “Mo-oooom.  Opinions!”  I retorted, “Yes, I have a few.”  My daughter’s comment and rolling eyes shouldn’t surprise any of us who know what 12-year-olds are about, and I appreciate my daughter’s sense of challenge and feistiness.  At the same time, I do wonder if her desire for me to express fewer opinions comes from the social inculcation of a woman’s place, niceness, and civility, all of which seem to nudge people to make women “behave.”  Like most young people, my daughter is learning to navigate gendered impositions of speech and silence, while also figuring out how to police these very same elements.

The exchange reveals how we can feel discomfort when we hear strongly stated opinions and how that discomfort can result in an urge to silence another person.  We have likely all silenced a person or an idea, as we instinctively protect dearly-held beliefs and opinions and/or an internally set sense of how things should be said or done.  In other words, we have a built-in sense of civility and its relevance to certain social or political contexts.  Popular culture breaks with some of these gendered norms, but often at a cost.  For example, Leslie Jones starred as part of the all-star cast of the remake of “Ghostbusters” but suffered a ridiculous chain of insults based on her race and gender.  The racism and misogyny of those who criticized her probably stemmed in part from their desire to remember “Ghostbusters” as a dude-centered and incredibly successful ‘80’s movie.  The intrusion of women, including a woman of color, on that hallowed ground of pop culture stirred anger and hostility directed primarily at the person whose profile is the most apparently intersectional.

What is civility, if not a list of rules to live by?  Who writes the rules, and who suffers more if they break them?  At Billboard’s Women in Music event back in December, Madonna addressed gender disparities in the music industry:  “Thank you for acknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant sexism and misogyny and constant bullying and relentless abuse.” She discussed her muse, David Bowie, who “embodied male and female spirit” and “made me think there were no rules. But I was wrong. There are no rules – if you’re a boy. There are rules if you’re a girl.”

Those rules are as follows: “If you’re a girl, you have to play the game. You’re allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion that’s out of line with the status quo. You are allowed to be objectified by men and dress like a slut, but don’t own your sluttiness. And do not, I repeat do not, share your own sexual fantasies with the world. Be what men want you to be, but more importantly, be what women feel comfortable with you being around other men. And finally, do not age. Because to age is a sin. You will be criticised and vilified and definitely not played on the radio” (cited in The Guardian, 12-12-16). Traditional race and gender norms rely on codes of civility for their survival.  The more we follow civility rules and tacitly or explicitly police others’ behaviors, the more we reinforce the damaging status quo of oppression.

At many universities with honor codes or systems, the word ‘civility’ accompanies the word ‘honor,’ thus recalling centuries-old (millennia-old) systems of behaviors based on expectations of gendered norms and scripts and enforcing those norms with a code of civility, which silences anything or anyone approaching reasoned protest.  In fact, my institution still uses the phrase “conduct unbecoming a gentleman,” thus entrenching behavioral codes and implying that those who break them (according to whom?) are somehow less attractive, less lovely, less in the box in which they belong.  We have to question more fully why it is considered “unattractive” to call out injustice and ask for change.

The questioning of civility codes often falls disproportionately on those who have less power in hierarchical situations, thus allowing the people with more power to retain it in what appears to be a morally superior, more “becoming” way.  Steven Mintz, a professor from Cal Poly who calls himself the “Ethics Sage,” wrote this 2012 blog post about civility.  Mintz contributes to the entrenchment of gendered civility scripts by expressing surprise that girls and women are also capable of civil “mayhem”:  “Have you checked out You Tube lately? More and more we see video clips of teenagers attacking one another and there seems to be a marked increase in girls getting involved in the mayhem. I suppose such actions were the motivation for the Oxygen network developing a television program called Bad Girls Club that is in its sixth season.  Sigh.”  He concludes the post by saying, “Civil discourse was an important value to our founding fathers. Perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: ‘There can be no high civility without a deep morality.’”

There were founding fathers who owned slaves and raped women, which should tell us once again to question postures of moral superiority cloaked as civility.

People should have stark opinions, and disagreement should make us stronger.  I want us to have a thoughtful rationale for those very opinions, a rationale that has taken into account data and multiple viewpoints.  I want us to state opinions thoughtfully but also forthrightly, and this is a lifelong challenge for most of us.  I want opinions not to translate into universal truths that end up harming people and our planet.

This means that I want Trump to get the hell off Twitter (I know, “Mooo-ooom.  Opinions!”) and for us to dismantle his platform of selfishness, lies, and violence.  How can we have these conversations in a respectful way that doesn’t water down the real danger that many of us observe and feel and doesn’t silence individuals or groups?  Is it more “civil” to maintain an unfair status quo by silencing others or to voice unequivocally what is wrong with the status quo?

(See this 5-11-2003 NPR piece on George Washington and civility.)

Stag-Nation

Here is just a smattering of recent battering headlines:

“The Rise, Then Shame, of Baylor Nation” (The New York Times, 3-9-17)

“Sexual harassment:  Records show how University of California faculty target students” (The Guardian, 3-8-17)

“Inquiry Opens into How a Network of Marines Shared Illicit Images of Female Peers” (The New York Times, 3-6-17)

“Why So Few Women in State Politics?” (The New York Times, 2-25-17)

“Donald Trump remains silent as white men continue to terrorize America” (New York Daily News, 2-17-17)

“How a Fractious Women’s Movement Came to Lead the Left” (The New York Times, 2-7-17)

“Report that Trump Wants Female Staff to “dress like women” Sparks Movement on Social Media” (The New York Times Live, 2-3-17; reported by MSN here)

“The Trump Administration’s Dark View of Immigrants” (The New Yorker, 2-2-17)

These are national headlines that clearly speak to the white supremacist heteropatriarchy in charge of our nation.  I usually soft-pedal my language a little more, avoiding such charged terms as “white supremacist heteropatriarchy,” but let’s call things as we see them.  The photo above, from Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal,” speaks more than a thousand words.  The “president” has effectively created a boys’ club (almost all white) of men between the ages of 55 and 80.  He has sent the message that all people who aren’t part of this group are unworthy.  We know, though, that this group only survives through its attempt to appear strong by making others weak.  Groups like these are doomed to fail.

In the meantime, I wish I could say that the United States were just stagnating.  The unfortunate fact, however, is that we are moving rapidly backwards.  The world can see it, we know it, and only the little Trump pumpkins continue to prop up our stupid dictator.  *Check out Mexican surrealist painter Antonio Ruiz’s painting “El líder/orador” to understand this reference to the people I would like to officially dub the “trumpkins.”  Take note, too, that Ruiz painted “El orador” in 1939, a significant year in dictator history.

(http://www.artnet.com/artists/antonio-ruiz/past-auction-results)

There is no room to breathe now as we play defense on behalf of the First Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX, and the Affordable Care Act.  At the same time, we are reasserting what we thought were core values, such as welcoming individuals and groups from other nations, understanding that often it is better to keep families together, rather than wrench them apart, body autonomy, and loving our neighbors.  As the stags run (and ruin) our nation, they eliminate from their path anyone and everyone who is unlike them.  Those who are unlike them is a large and ever-growing subset of people.

Nevertheless, high-level business people know that well-run organizations encourage expression of divergent opinions and the cultivation of healthy debate.  These elements keep the organizations on their proverbial toes—innovative, collaborative, comprehensive.  (See Section III of Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace for data and practical solutions on this issue.)  Isn’t democracy at its very core the idea that the people—in all of our differences and commonalities—will learn about the issues, educate others to be part of a well-informed citizenry, debate wholeheartedly, and then make decisions together about the best courses of action for all?

The national examples of stag-nation that I’ve provided here are replicated at the state and local levels.  In my state, Bob Goodlatte for decades has honed a dictatorial machine fed by national, white, male supremacist machinations.  (See previous posts in the Gender Shrapnel blog for examples of Goodlatte’s scary-ass brand of government.  Also check out Chris Gavaler’s Dear Bob Blog and Gene Zitver’s Goodlatte Watch.)  At the regional level, Ben Cline has consistently supported policies that are dangerous to all women.  (See last week’s blog post for more information.)

At the University of Virginia, where women comprise 56% of the student population, less than 30% of the presidential search committee is comprised of women, with two of those women being students.  In daily life, I watch my children perform in concert after concert whose playlist includes only male composers (some of whom, at least, are of color).  They participate on an official school academic team, for whose competitions they are asked questions primarily about Western civilization up to the year 1800 (i.e. not many women included, unless they are mythological figures or real-life muses).  They play on sports teams for which the girls teams are still playing in the smaller gyms or swimming in the shallower lanes.  They learn at school that transgender people will be forced into a bathroom not of their choosing.  In other words, we as a culture are not even moving forward on the smallest of everyday issues that affect us all (or many of us, at least).  We are seeing and experiencing how draconian governmental restrictions are severely limiting self- and group-definition and freedoms at the national, regional, and local levels.  This will affect our culture for decades to come.

What are Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Bob Goodlatte, and Ben Cline so afraid of? Why must we who live in this country cater to their bizarre fears?  If they’re afraid of nothing and simply want unquestioned power, then why are we letting them have it?  We need fewer trumpkins and more resistance.  After “Willly Wonka”’s Veruca Salt, we need more resistance, and we need it NOW.

Protests, and Rallies, and Voices (Oh, My!)

oldfarmrdThis past Friday in the little town of Lexington and its beautiful surrounding Rockbridge County, we held a Women’s Rights Rally.  An incredibly smart and self-possessed high-school senior ran the show, and she was accompanied by other wonderful high school, middle school, and college women activists.  Many people in attendance were inspired by the energy and youth in this resistance protest.  I am so gratified to have heard these young people raise their voices fearlessly at a rally on a chilly Friday in March in front of about 325 people.

rallyThe rally served to protest the anti-women stances of our local representative, Virginia Delegate Ben Cline.  I thank my friends and colleagues in our area for bringing the following information about Delegate Cline to light over these past several years. In 2012, Delegate Cline supported keeping pregnant women inmates in shackles throughout their labor.  He suggested that women who got arrested while pregnant deserved to be shackled as they gave birth.  “Choices have consequences,” said Ben Cline, as he promoted these torture tactics for the incarcerated.  Encouraging mothers to bring children into the world under those circumstances is certainly not “pro-life.”  It is not even “pro-baby.”  The liberal ACLU and the conservative Family Foundation collaborated to encourage Cline to move away from this stance.  Nevertheless, Cline persisted.  (I’m going to have to use this line in every blog post from here on out.  It is too delicious not to.)  It will come as no surprise that Ben Cline also sponsored the barbaric transvaginal ultrasound bill in 2012.  His extremism causes real harm to real women.

bendiagramposterDelegate Cline also supports Personhood Bills that give fertilized eggs the same rights as women.  Most of us understand how enormously problematic this is.  I would like to see him sponsor a bill that decides that sperm have the same rights as grown men.  That crazy Monty Python song about “every sperm being sacred” is still just satire.  For women, the analog is real; it is oppression. Related to these limiting, dehumanizing policies, Ben Cline has also supported the defunding of Planned Parenthood, which provides necessary health services to women and men, and especially to women in communities underserved by other healthcare options.

 

comeonbenposterAt this point, you probably understand why 325 people gathered in front of Delegate Cline’s law offices to protest, right?  We have appreciated that Ben Cline is willing to hold real townhall meetings at which he is actually present and that he has been responsive to constituents’ concerns.  This past Friday, Mr. Cline was not at the rally, but I sure hope he has answers to the many questions asked.  I hope he is thinking about a legitimate response to the young protesters who advocated for body autonomy and the older protesters who expressed frustration at  how we’ve gone backwards.  Two retired nurses poignantly told stories from decades ago about the dangers of limits on reproductive rights.

 

lgbtqiarightsposterOur delegate is a member of the local Catholic Church.  I can’t speak for him when I wonder about his rationale for oppressing women (all women: of color and white, trans-women, in underserved communities, the young, middle-aged, and old), but I can certainly guess that his church’s traditions, politics, heteronormativity, and misogyny influence how he votes.  This one man, a state delegate for the 24th District in Virginia’s House, has been in power for way too long.  In fact, he’s simply held power for way too long. In my view, my protest against Delegate Cline’s policies connects directly to the continued misogyny practiced by his church.

Today’s The New York Times (3-5-17) features an op-ed by Austen Ivereigh titled, “Is the Pope the Anti-Trump?”  Ivereigh compares Pope Francis and Donald Trump, seeing their populist appeal as a common element, while also drawing distinctions between their styles.  For example, Ivereigh writes, “Pope Francis and President Trump provide rich material for contrast. One is, notwithstanding his weaknesses, a spiritual leader of extraordinary maturity; the other, his strengths aside, is a thin-skinned, petulant narcissist. One is a celibate who lives in simplicity and austerity, embracing the disabled and the diseased; the other is a thrice-married germophobe who lived in a gaudy gold tower and mocks the feeble.

And yet: The world’s two most compelling populists have more in common than some might admit. Take, for example, their extraordinary capacity for connection, bypassing traditional methods; their defiance of convention, even their iconoclasm; or their delight in challenging existing elites on behalf of the people. Both seem energized by opposition, even if they respond to it differently — Mr. Trump by ranting and belittling his critics; Francis never directly, but gently, in pointed asides.”

Pope Francis is, of course, a well-educated, well-spoken man whose broad appeal is undeniable and, I think, well-deserved, for a pope.  He speaks many languages, understands the stretch of cultures across the globe, and understands that walls don’t work. I respect the many ways in which he has both effected change and advocated for necessary change in his church and in the world. We cannot credit Donald Trump with these skills and understandings (understatement of the millennium).  But, but, well…, Ivereigh’s lengthy article, while it does address Pope Francis’s statements about and sensitivity towards people of the three major world religions, immigrants and refugees, people living in poverty, and dangerous neoliberal policies, does not address Pope Francis’s Church’s retrograde policies towards and about women.  Misogyny politics are part and parcel of the Catholic Church, even if many Catholics across the globe advocate for more progressive approaches to women’s rights (reproductive rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, women’s leadership in the Church hierarchy, etc.).  The official Church stance hasn’t budged in the grand scheme of things, and so I can’t yet envision Pope Francis or any pope as the polar opposite of the current occupant of The White House (or, more correctly, the current occupant of Mar-a-Lago).

simplyputposterA politician like Ben Cline gets his cues from his church.  He is not going to let go of hard-core misogyny politics until he sees his Church’s leader do so.  I think we’re a long way from that.  Maybe the Friday afternoon protest will become a weekly event for another thousand years.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.