Vigils and Vigilance

 

I find I like to use what precious free time I have these days crying.  I have anticipated this weekend—no trips, no candidate dinners, no Skype meetings—with such gusto, such certainty that I would smile my way through chores and walks, work and play.  Instead, I decided mostly to cry a lot.  I think it was brought on by an e-mail from my hilarious, retired, world-class mountain climber, creative writer, and sculptor aunt, who admitted to my strangely addicted football-watching family that she had never watched a football game, in all of her 79 years, in full.  Upon seeing my nephew, her grand-nephew, score in a televised game this week, she declared it a “lovely touchdown.”

This made me cry because my aunt is the sister of my mother, whose pithy quotes, equanimity, and loveliness I miss still every second of every day.  When I have free time, I mostly remember my mother and cry.  She would not want this.  In fact, she would see it as a terrible waste of time and the antithesis of watching lovely touchdowns.  But I haven’t always done what she would want—ironically, my disobedience is certainly something she would want and expect.

All of this business allows me both to dwell on mourning my mother and to think slowly about vigils and vigilance.  My mother died a year and four months ago.  I thought I would “recover” sooner than I have.  But I just still miss her and her style, generosity, and tone every single day.  I hear her voice in that of my siblings, detect her humor in that of her siblings, see the loss of her across my father’s body.

Today I wondered if the mourning process hasn’t been layered by other mournings of the past 24 months.  All of the gun violence, in some cases targeting specific groups, and in some cases, “just” revealing untreated mental illness loaded into the canister of a gun, this gun violence has us half-closing our eyes as we see loved ones who feel the harm as we do, whose eyes shine wet atop the candles we hold at vigil after vigil.  Maybe I’m affected, too, by my son’s beautiful reading the other night of Federico García Lorca’s “Romance de la luna, luna” (here sung by the amazing Camarón de la Isla), with its haunting “u” sounds (Huye, luna, luna, luna) and its finality in death (El aire la vela, vela/El aire la está velando).  The air keeps vigil.

The air keeps vigil.  That’s how I see our country now.  The air watches.  Vigil is in the air.  We are on a 24/7 system of watching and waiting, wondering and worrying, working and weathering.  We are tense.  We know another black church can get shot up, another synagogue torn apart.  We know another woman can get raped, another white man given a job for life.  We know another voting urn can be set up, another slate of votes discounted.  We see, we watch people fleeing their countries to find some peace in another country, and we recognize the irony of this conflicted, contorted country somehow providing more peace to a migrant than her or his home country did.  We know what dignity is.  We fervently celebrate its presence but frequently mourn its absence.  In my own little town, we know a rainbow flag can rise and fall, a racist hate group can rise and rise, and a sense of safety can falter.  We cry, we worry, we run, we weep.  Vigils and vigilance take it out of us.  All that vigilant adrenaline, spent on combatting evil.  All that vigilant adrenaline that could somehow be put towards loving community.

“We Have a Woman Problem”

In Season 4 of the compelling but deeply misogynistic The West Wing, lead characters Jed Bartlet, Leo McGarry, and Josh Lyman lament, “We have a woman problem.” The line strings through several episodes of the season, as the white, liberal-bro men in charge scurry to tack right to placate insistent constituencies without pissing off the women’s groups who are creating strong lobbies and insisting on recasting “women’s issues” as something far broader.  Just as these men underestimate the brain-power of the women in their families (thoracic surgeons; general practitioners; lawyers; school teachers), they undervalue the contributions and strategies of the women who work alongside them in Washington.  Anna Deveare Smith appears occasionally as Dr. Nancy McNally, the brilliant, no-nonsense NSA Director, but, besides this character, women of color are mostly absent from the show.

I would assert that the “woman problem” mapped on the fictional The West Wing is not that the women characters, drawn through the lens of Aaron Sorkin’s fear of the vagina dentata, will take good men down, but rather that powerful men will take for granted the support of women, and, as we know all too clearly from the 2016 presidential election, especially of women of color.  This The West Wing season, shot way back in the early aughts, presages much of what we have seen over the past two years, and specifically over the past week.

In fact, I started writing this post several days ago, before Lindsey Graham asserted that the GOP has to address “the suburban woman problem” (cited here in Politico).  On this NBC News clip, Graham states, “I think the Kavanaugh effect was real.   […] I’ve never seen anything in my life bring the Republican Party together more than the, uh, Kavanaugh hearing.”  Of course, he adds, that the “conservative judicial train will keep running.”  Let’s pause for a moment here.  Although most of us are not surprised, we should take an extra moment to absorb Graham’s statement (so contradictory to his worry about Trump’s appropriateness as a presidential candidate way back in 2016).  How do you translate this statement in plain-speak?:  “We Republicans support rape and rapists so that we can own the Judiciary.  Why, of course we do.  We count on rapists and rape to push our agenda down the throats of those who elected us, and those who didn’t.”  The metaphors represent a frightening reality of GOP control.

(The only levity I can introduce here is the striking resemblance between Lindsey Graham (in the NBC video) and Gumby.  How the hell has Gumby gained so much power?)

(Do you see it?)

What Graham, and his fictional predecessors, ignore at their own peril is that “the woman problem” now reaches far beyond just white women.

“The woman problem” reflects a bigger blue wave than most dudishly interrupting pundits could conceive of this past Tuesday night.  “The woman problem,” encapsulated in the reality of living with a Groping Old President, should now be seen as a woman-Muslim-Latina/o/x-LGBTQIA-Black Lives Matter-Native American-decent men big-ass wave of dissent against the white supremacist who occupies the White House and his fawning, spineless, power-hungry, weak-ass, and selfish lackeys.  We can look at the “me” of #MeToo in a broad, inclusive, representative way.  Just look at all the people who want and need to say, “Me Too.” (*See Michelle Goldberg’s “Women’s Revolt” piece in The New York Times; see also Jill Filopovic’s “Women’s Wave” piece in The New York Times.)

In summary:

You think you’ll support “both sides” in Charlottesville?

You steal votes from any person or demographic who in body alone challenges white male supremacy?

You withdraw from the Paris Accord?

You actually believe scary-ass liar-rapist Brett Kavanaugh?

You dog-whistle violence against Black and Jewish citizens?

You commit the ultimate fascist act of separating families?

You attempt to gaslight a nation?

If so, then get ready for more than “just” a “woman problem.”  The results in the House tell us that we want and need elected officials who understand and represent the many ways in which these United States are changing, the very changes so deeply feared by the white men who chanted on August 11 and 12, 2017, “You…will not…replace us.”

Most news outlets (e.g. NPR; USA Today; CNN) have reported by now that the United States has now elected more than 100 women to seats in the House of Representatives.  This historic group includes Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Latina and the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress, Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, the first Native American women elected to Congress, Ayanna Pressley, the first black woman from Massachusetts to be elected to Congress, and Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, the first Texas Latinas to be elected to Congress.  This is fantastic news!  In addition, several states have elected women governors for the first time (Iowa, Maine, South Dakota), and we are still waiting to hear what will happen with Stacey Abrams’ outstanding run for Governor of Georgia, against the astonishingly corrupt Brian Kemp.  Fingers crossed for justice to be served in the final recounts in Arizona and Florida senate races.

In my own district in Virginia, the deeply red hues have molted with the amazing candidacy of Jennifer Lewis and her historic run against Ben Cline, the sort-of-but-not-quite bro-dude tapped by the elusive Bob Goodlatte to take over Virginia’s 6th District’s post in the House.  Cline has a clear “woman problem,” and this will become only more evident as he attempts to push Handmaid’s Tale agendas through a now blue House.

Jared Polis’ victory for the governorship of Colorado marks the first time an openly gay man will move into a governor’s mansion.  There is much to celebrate, including the declaration in this The New York Times piece that, “The shift to the left in the House in the 2018 Midterm elections went well beyond the districts Democrats flipped” (see their linked article, “Sizing Up the 2018 Blue Wave,” which examines more closely the 222-196 Democratic victory in the House and states that “the overwhelming trend on Tuesday was a blue shift: 317 districts swung to the left”).

In 2019, even with what the Brookings Institute has dubbed “Another ‘Year of the Woman,’”  women will still represent less than one-fourth of Congress, even though women are over 51% of our nation.  Nevertheless, at the very least, when we think about women and how they/we have worked to undo a fascist regime bent on cruelty and violence, we can think more broadly—not just white and not just cis—as we expand our understanding of humans, collaboration, and representation.

Bring it.  Freaking bring it.

Time to Vote!

The Gender Shrapnel Blog’s silence of the past month should speak volumes to getting out the damned vote.  So, please, vote, vote, vote!  This Vote.org link gives you all the information you need to make this happen.

If you still need convincing, read on.  I am posting here select Gender Shrapnel quotes from the past two years.  Once I come up for air, I hope to get my rhythm back and write more about Kavanaugh, synagogues, Black lives, and community.

All of It.  September 20, 2018:

We know it is all linked: the hatred of women, and especially of women who make their own choices, and the need to control those women through violence, often sexual violence, often murder; the hatred of people of color, any person of color doing any daily action in any private or public space, and the need to control people of color through violence; the Islamophobia directly fomented by United States’ leaders and the careful, steady encouragement of U.S. Christian heteropatriarchy (yes, I went there); the dog whistles and direct calls to violence against women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and non-Christians; the reduction of full human beings to less than human beings through violence enacted on their bodies; the love affair with the NRA lobby and guns, guns, guns; the KKK; the United States government.  We have rapists, abusers, and/or harassers in all three branches of the government, that’s how thorough we are.  One simple and startlingly tragic headline exemplifies our nation’s fascism: “Detention of Migrant Children Has Skyrocketed to Highest Levels Ever” (reported on 9-12-18 in The New York Times).  Read this paragraph from the article, and take special notice of the word “quietly”: “Population levels at federally contracted shelters for migrant children have quietly shot up more than fivefold since last summer, according to data obtained by The New York Times, reaching a total of 12,800 this month. There were 2,400 such children in custody in May 2017.”  I think “quietly” translates to “chillingly.”

Diners and Deceit. June 24, 2018:

The Huckabee daughter-father tweets are an unethical use of political office to bully and harass, in the most public of media, a private citizen and business owner.  Compare this to a quiet conversation on the Red Hen patio and an assurance that the bill was covered—a simple act that reveals how a person stands by her staff and her own belief in the public good.  Those who say that Wilkinson should have been silent reinforce how civility codes fortify the status quo.  (*See this related piece and this one in the Gender Shrapnel Blog.)

Some people who have come to Lexington this weekend in some odd attempt to protect Sarah Huckabee Sanders, one of the most powerful individuals in the land, are waving the Confederate flag and praising the KKK.  This flag, which has so consistently demonstrated hatred of African-American individuals and signaled neofascist tendencies and whose symbolism has so marked this town, has resurfaced in the Huckabee hullabaloo.  A fake website pretending to be a downtown historical association has also followed the Huckabee Sanders spin machine, empowered by the press secretary’s tweet and expanding her network of spin, subterfuge, and slander.

Family Values? June 17, 2018:

Last week, I was walking our dog past a neighbor’s house.  I called a “hello” to the elderly neighbor, who sat in a chair under a tree in his beautifully tended garden, a garden I have watched him plant, water, and weed for over two decades.  He said “hello” and then asked if I was a teacher.  When I said “yes,” he asked what I taught, and I replied with the simplest answer possible, “Spanish.”  “Damn Mexicans,” he said.  I walked on, feeling shocked (even though of course I know how many people in this racist country subscribe to such beliefs), hurt (in a representative way, knowing that this comment towards me is nothing compared to comments made against others, which are absolutely nothing when compared to real acts of hatred and violence committed against real people), and angry (why wasn’t my dog pooping in the beautiful garden at that very moment?).

This little comment from a neighbor who I thought for years was a kindly old gardener should give us every bit of evidence we need that the United States has taken a more dramatic turn, almost two years into the Trump regime, towards violent, racist acts and, in particular, significant gaslighting effected daily through the fast-paced, absolutely wacked GOP spin-machine.  The New York Times reports (6-15-2018), “’I hate the children being taken away,’ Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday morning in front of the White House. ‘The Democrats have to change their law — that’s their law.’  A short time later, he wrote on Twitter, ‘The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda.’”  The very next line of the The New York Times piece says, “But Mr. Trump was misrepresenting his own policy.”  The GOP spin machine does not even realize how good they have it, when newspapers such as The New York Times continue to soft-pedal the language of Trump’s lies, which, in turn, normalizes his racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, and blatantly anti-family platforms and actions.  While Trump voters continue to sport bumper stickers that say, “Don’t believe the liberal media” and “NRA.  Don’t let them take your guns away,” the so-called liberal media is struggling to keep up with reporting and rebutting the extensive lies told by this dictator and his kleptocratic cronies.  (*See this 6-14-18 related piece from Slate.) The lies run so long and deep, and their reach allows the regime’s inhumanity to stretch to every corner of the United States and to many corners of the world.

Dignity and Indignation. May 23, 2018:

While the United States continues to allow, and too often to condone, the killing of black people, the country also sees the smaller indignities, or reductions of worthiness, in the acts of white people calling the police on black people and the police responding to these racist and frivolous calls.  These daily indignities are the everyday bits of proof of the gigantic problem of assassination and incarceration of people of color, a problem exposed through film, fiction, academic studies, and activist organizations, including, but not limited to, Black Lives Matter.  (*See this Gender Shrapnel Blog post on rarity and reporting and this one on Black Lives Matter.)  We as a nation ignore these everyday occurrences at our peril, as they must form a part of our reckoning with racial injustice and our solutions to these profound problems of humanity, worth, and dignity.

Gender-Based Violence.  February 28, 2018:

This all brings me back to the man Donald Trump, Orrin Hatch, and a host of others protected through reports of gender-based violence, Rob Porter.  In this CNN piece (2-18-18), Orrin Hatch issues an apology to Porter’s two ex-wives for having jumped to Porter’s defense; Hatch is reported to have said, “It’s incredibly discouraging to see such a vile attack on such a decent man.”  Even when Hatch walked back the defense and issued the apology, he had to maintain that his interactions with Porter were “professional” and “respectful.”  Hatch, CNN, and everyone else seem to forget that of course Porter knows to respect his higher-ups, who have infinitely more power than he does.  It is his treatment of those with less power than him that we have to worry about.  The fact that Hatch maintains, even in his apology, a half-defense of Porter as a good man tells us a lot about our boys-will-be-boys culture, our constant propping up of mediocre politicians and violent men, and our constant willingness to kind of, sort of not believe the victims.

Guns.  February 15, 2018:

I was going to write this week’s post about gender-based violence on the national and international stages, and I still am.  This is because what is becoming a type of gun genocide in the United States stems from an ever-more-dangerous toxic masculinity fomented through our government representatives, television shows and movies, commercials, and video games.  This inculcation of violence influences mass shootings and supposedly behind-closed-doors incidents of domestic violence.  It tells men to reject all attributes and feelings coded as “feminine” and to embrace ultra-power and dominance.  (*See this 2013 summary of an article about print images in advertisements that promote hyper-masculinity.)  Time Magazine in 2014 reported that 98% of mass murderers are male, attributing the statistics to many phenomena along the age-old gender binary: cultivation of men as hunters and warriors; men’s protection of their status in a group; influence of violent media; etcetera.  It is no accident that we use the metaphor of “guns” for highly developed muscles.

‘Reasonable’ People.  February 1, 2018:

160 women testified that Larry Nassar sexually assaulted them.  Some of the women were as young as six years old when Nassar committed such felonies.  These assaults happened over decades, permeating just about every corner of USA Gymnastics and, quite apparently, Michigan State University.  The world is ready to believe in the integrity of a single male doctor before it is prepared to believe hundreds of women and girls with an entirely credible claim.  Nassar’s non-apology statement and self-defensive testimony combine to re-harass and re-assault the 160 women who had already, miraculously, survived his abuse.  Nassar’s most salient statement, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.  It is just a complete nightmare,” serves to do what so many non-apology defenses have done in so many others of these recent cases—to deny wrongdoing, cast doubt on those who have filed suit, assert some kind of moral high ground, and minimize the gravity of the actual crimes committed.  Nassar believes himself to be the objective white man in the white coat in the white laboratory.

Ben Cline. Sigh.  January 10, 2018:

There was already cause for concern that Ben Cline has been elected to the Virginia House of Delegates for an eighth term, but Lexington and Rockbridge County voters should be even more alarmed now that Cline plans to make a bid for the United States House of Representatives. That’s right, the person who claims on his website to be “cleaning up the political cronyism that grips our system” hopes to be anointed Goodlatte’s successor in November.  Let’s not allow that to happen.

In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) won an historic decision in the case of an Arkansas woman who was shackled to her hospital bed while in labor in 2003. The woman was a non-violent offender but was shackled throughout her labor.  When the ACLU won this case, one of the organization’s representatives rightly stated, “Today’s decision reaffirms that pregnant women in prison do not lose their right to safe and humane treatment.”  The decision reaffirms that women are human beings and, as such, have the right to safe treatment.  At that point, groups from various points along the political spectrum, along with over a dozen non-partisan health organizations, celebrated this decision.

Free Speech. For Whom Is It Free? November 28, 2017:

WE THE PEOPLE of the United States…

Yesterday the so-called president of the United States had what should have been the pleasant task of honoring Navajo code talkers from World War II. As we all know by now, he did so at the White House, in front of a painting of Andrew Jackson, fetishized Native peoples, and then, for at least the twelfth time, referred to Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.”  Donald Trump’s and Elizabeth Warren’s workplace is the Unites States government, whose buildings include the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, and media venues and publications.  This racist epithet, repeated now so many times, constitutes not only demonstrated racial harassment of Elizabeth Warren as employee in the national workplace, but also racial harassment of Native peoples in general.  This could be grounds for a Title VII lawsuit against the harasser-in-chief and should be added to the long list of discriminatory, harassing, and retaliatory actions taken by this individual.

Labor Day, 2017.  September 3, 2017:

Tomorrow is Labor Day, 2017, here in the United States.  The White House celebrates this milestone by creating a 37% gender pay gap within its own ranks.  This The Washington Post piece (7-5-2017) informs us that, “According to the Pew Research Center, the Trump White House gender gap is wider than the national gender pay gap stood in 1980.”  I haven’t been able to find data for pay gaps based on race in the Trump White House, presumably because there are not enough employees of color hired by Trump even to generate data points. (I do not know the statistics for the long-term staff who cook, clean, and organize the day-to-day needs of this big enterprise.)  Nevertheless, we do know (Politico, 1-24-2017) that 85% of Trump’s cabinet choices are white, and 75% are male.  Henry C. Jackson writes in the piece, “The numbers don’t lie: Trump’s Cabinet is older, whiter and richer than his predecessors.”  Jackson informs us, too, that there are “no Hispanics” at all in this “president’s” Cabinet.

Charlottesville (and Lexington). August 20, 2017: 

This week my mind has done daily roundtrips between Charlottesville and Lexington.  The major issues that keep popping up include (but are by no means limited to):

-Real violence and real threats of violence being enacted by white domestic terrorists on communities of color and their allies;

-White House cultivation and support of these groups, including Neo-Nazis, Neo-Confederates, and the KKK;

-Discussion of white supremacy, systems of oppression, our nation’s history as the present, and the need for greater awareness and action, especially on the part of white people;

-Awareness of increased tensions for Jewish peoples and women as well;

-The clash between the 1st and 2nd Amendments; how to protect free speech and the right to assembly when weapons of war are used against us;

-Monuments and memorials (See Barton Myers’ interview in the Los Angeles Times);

-Complicated conversations among people on the left, revealing some intersectional and generational splits, or rifts; a recognition of the need for more education, dialogue, and action on the issue of white supremacy.

Our “president” is both a symptom of and a catalyst for oppressive systems that have been in place here in this nation for centuries.  His “vice president” can’t be much better.  Therefore, even an accelerated change in the leadership of the White House to an entirely different administration won’t reduce or eliminate white supremacy.  We citizens have to do it, and we’ll need to do so with a multi-pronged approach.  This should include firmness about the terms we use, the legal implications of the 2ndAmendment and the powerful NRA lobby, the monuments we remove, and the hours we devote.  We also need a heightened understanding of the politics and ethos of non-violent protest.  And we need to show up. The resources are out there.  It’s time to read, learn, and act.

 

Let me say it again, folks:  !

All of It

I am so thoroughly mad about all of it.

Let me start with the active shooter who last night roamed the halls of my father’s assisted living facility, and then we’ll see how much more “all of it” I can cover.

Last night a gunman shot two people at the Pennsylvania retirement community/assisted living facility where my father lives.  The news reported his “active shooter status,” which remained in effect for hours.  The assassin killed his parents, who lived in the apartment across from the one where my dad’s best friend lives.  Let me repeat:  an active shooter took two lives last evening and moved freely through this assisted living facility.

There is more to the story, of course, besides my siblings’ and my anguish about our 84-year-old dad being alone in his apartment, unaware of what was going on in the hallway outside, and not schooled in the world of text messages.  The gunman had first gone to the home of his ex-wife, shot at her in her driveway (he did not succeed in killing her), and then proceeded to the retirement home/assisted living facility to kill his parents.  It turns out he had received divorce papers yesterday.  Here we are, then: yet another incident involving a man angry at a woman and attempting to control her—her decisions and her physical movements–through profound violence and supported by—let’s just say armed by—his country’s love of guns.  (*See this Gender Shrapnel Blog post on gun violence.)

We know it is all linked: the hatred of women, and especially of women who make their own choices, and the need to control those women through violence, often sexual violence, often murder; the hatred of people of color, any person of color doing any daily action in any private or public space, and the need to control people of color through violence; the Islamophobia directly fomented by United States’ leaders and the careful, steady encouragement of U.S. Christian heteropatriarchy (yes, I went there); the dog whistles and direct calls to violence against women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and non-Christians; the reduction of full human beings to less than human beings through violence enacted on their bodies; the love affair with the NRA lobby and guns, guns, guns; the KKK; the United States government.  We have rapists, abusers, and/or harassers in all three branches of the government, that’s how thorough we are.  One simple and startlingly tragic headline exemplifies our nation’s fascism: “Detention of Migrant Children Has Skyrocketed to Highest Levels Ever” (reported on 9-12-18 in The New York Times).  Read this paragraph from the article, and take special notice of the word “quietly”: “Population levels at federally contracted shelters for migrant children have quietly shot up more than fivefold since last summer, according to data obtained by The New York Times, reaching a total of 12,800 this month. There were 2,400 such children in custody in May 2017.”  I think “quietly” translates to “chillingly.”

I usually try to write in measured tones in this blog.  I like having readers of all sensibilities (who love curse words, who hate them, who believe it’s worth it to reach across the aisle, who think that’s folly, who identify in many different and open ways, who choose no labels, etc.).  I have no measured tones to offer today, though.  Boiling mad, hopping mad, flummoxed, frustrated, exhausted, yes, these terms all work.  But I am also absolutely fucking seething about the state of things right now.  I am fucking seething at the goddamned patience too many people are demonstrating.

Enough people have already written far better than I can on Brett Kavanaugh’s bid for the Supreme court and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s bravery in coming forward to make sure the U.S. public understands the kind of person he is.  (*See for example this op-ed by Anita Hill and this performance by Samantha Bee; I also want to recommend this piece by David Roberts for its appeal to “dudes” and its nuanced explanation of #MeToo.)  By the way, make sure to see Samantha Bee’s clip of Kavanaugh joking around in 2015 (that’s three years ago, not 36, for you folks paying attention at home) that “what happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep, and that’s good.” I have written on a few occasions on Trump and Thomas (for example, here) and our not-so-subtle ability as a nation to get rapists and harassers into the highest offices of the land (for example, here and here), rewarding them for their many outstanding contributions to the Christian heteropatriarchy.

In the meantime, Serena Williams also had to apologize again for being a black woman in a white space.  It was not enough for the French Open men and women to infantilize Williams by, as my high-school-aged children would say, “dress-coding her.”  Then the U.S. Open officials also had to attempt to force obedience through unexplained point and game penalties, a $17,000 fine, and a press conference in which Williams could address only the gender disparity in behavior expectations and not the race disparity.  (See Claudia Rankine’s Citizen for a full analysis of this, as well as her op-ed in The New York Times.)  I say this all the time, and I do not know how it strikes women of color when I do, but Jesus Christ, what privilege I have to manage only the gender piece.  There is such weight, such unrelenting weight to bear.  Hurray for Serena Williams, and hurray for Naomi Osaka, too.  They both kick freaking ass.

On my own campus, we continue to play nice with racism, refusing to make any serious progress on the recommendations made so thoughtfully in the wake of the August, 2017, events of Charlottesville by the Commission on Institutional History and Community.  We are so patient and so nice with the people who still really like our institution’s legacy of slavery, demonstrated through such hallowed names as George Washington, Robert E. Lee, and John Robinson, names that identify the school and are celebrated on many of its buildings.  As the recumbent Lee lies in state in the back part of the altar of Robert E. Lee Chapel, we count on invitations to esteemed speakers of color to disrupt the white, sacrosanct monumentality of it all, rather than taking steps ourselves to dismantle the space for university functions.  Oh, it’s so nice to be nice, isn’t it?  Such a relief?  Nothing like again using the bodies of people of color to do the work that can and should be done by white people.

Please know that I am not saying that all members of my community are idle in the possibility of real change.  Quite the opposite is true.  Good people are tackling these issues from many different angles, expressing their views in sensitive ways, and insisting upon a change that just seems too long to come.

There are real and metaphorical active shooters on the loose, and the level of vigilance required takes its toll. How many of these good, thoughtful people inhabit bodies that are less healthy than they were two years ago?  As we battle the criminality and utter lack of ethical standards of our nation’s leaders, how can we also find time to take care of ourselves and each other?  This question is plaguing many groups of which I am a part, and I believe there are few ready answers.  The only thing I know to do is to keep at it, all of it.

(Merida, Spain.  Photo by E. Mayock)

Lexington, VA: Restaurant Revenues are…Up!

(Main Street Lexington sign on the way into Lexington)

Today I’m sharing the Letter to the Editor I wrote in response to some unbelievable–truly not believable–reporting from The Roanoke Times.  I’ll add a link if the letter gets published. (Here it is, published on 9-20-18.)

September 9, 2018

Dear Editor of The Roanoke Times:

I read with dismay Alison Graham’s article titled “Lexington-area tourism group beefs up marketing in wake of Red Hen controversy” (September 2, 2018).  It is September, and the article features photographs from early July, neglecting to state that there have been no protesters outside the restaurant for months and that business is brisk, not only at the Red Hen, but throughout Lexington’s downtown restaurants.  The City of Lexington has released its July, 2018, statistics for tax revenue from meals: $113,641 (*see the Lexington City website for a PDF of the official figures).  This is a 1.4% increase from July, 2017.

Graham not only neglects to cite the increase in meal activity and revenue in the city, but she also cites “a slew of negative media coverage.” Full, responsible reporting would reveal publication after publication that lauded the quiet but firm action of the owner of the Red Hen back in late June.  Not to report on actual revenue data and real, positive coverage of the Red Hen event is to present biased information.  Furthermore, in the article, Graham uses the word “emergency” three times and the word “desperate” once.  How does a revenue increase imply any kind of emergency or desperation?

Why do these misrepresentations matter so much?  They matter because (1) facts should be crucial to fair reporting; (2) the Associated Press wire picks up this type of one-sided piece and then spreads the misinformation nationwide; and (3) our country more than ever needs to rely on careful, full reporting from its media outlets.  The AP wire translates the Graham article as “tourism suffering after The Red Hen denied Sanders” (reprinted in your paper on September 2, 2018).  As demonstrated above, this broadly distributed information is false.

I would hope that The Roanoke Times and the employees of the Rockbridge Regional Tourism Board would want to and choose to offer the truth—no protesters, positive coverage of what happened at The Red Hen, increased meal revenues, and seven new businesses opening in downtown Lexington.

Sounds quite robust to me!

Thank you.

Ellen Mayock

Resident of Lexington, VA

(Main Street, Lexington, VA.  Photo credit: A. Basu Choudhary)

(Main Street, Lexington, VA. Photo credit: S. Mayock-Bradley)

Un certain “Je ne sais quoi”: Gender Impressions in France

(Claviers on the left; Paris on the right.  Photos by E. Mayock)

Four or five weeks have passed since I last posted in the Gender Shrapnel Blog.  This represents a big shift away from posting entries every week for 97 weeks in a row.  The reasons for blog idleness are several: continued work with our local resistance group; more pressing summer projects; and family vacation.  Like so many other people, I felt the need to stop pointing to the top of my forehead and saying, “I’m boiling mad up to here.  I’m constantly mad.  When will it stop?”  I feel rusty on the blogging and slow of brain, and at the same time incredibly fortunate to have had a change of pace in the summer and a long-awaited family vacation in France.  Of course, gender bias never goes on vacation.  It does not even enjoy a free weekend here or there.  While the Gender Shrapnel Blog focuses on gender and its intersections in a mostly United States context, entries do occasionally treat questions of international feminism, especially of Spain and Latin America.  After two weeks in France, I will share here a few observations about gender in everyday life and in art.

Several decades ago, I was an undergraduate major in French and Spanish.  For a while, I communicated far better in French than I did in Spanish, but that has not been the case for over two decades.  Revving my French back up while traveling with a mostly monolingual group of family members both challenged and amused me, especially because I have never spent much time in France, and almost none in the south of France.  We spent nine or ten days in a stunning “perched village” of the Alps region above the Riviera, in a town called Claviers (see photo above), which not one French person in Paris with whom I spoke had heard of.  Due to the vacation home rental craze, the town’s 700 inhabitants are accustomed to tourists and absorb them, for short or long stays, in what seems an understated, no-fuss manner.  Most Parisians asked how I understood southern French—saying that the accent was hard enough for them to understand.  Suffice it to say that I managed quite well during our time away, but that my French skills are still far from where they used to be.  Maybe take my observations about gender in France with a giant grain of salt, especially given the short stay and the impressionistic approach I had to take.

Claviers’ main square, also its only square, featured two restaurants, a press office, a real estate agency, and the ever-important “mairie,” or mayor’s office/city hall.  The small Proxy market was right off the square and served as 7-Eleven and lovely little boulangerie all at once.  Slow mornings revealed women sweeping, serving café au lait, and bustling to and from the main square, straw baskets or market caddies in tow, to get the day’s provisions.  Men drove city clean-up vehicles through the narrow streets and opened up the sole bar/café, while one very important man strolled through town shaking hands and answering questions.  That was the Mayor of Claviers, whose posted office hours at the Mairie seemed to indicate a cushy and, if the list of all the town’s mayors through history was any indication, inherited job.  Some of the mayors had 35-year terms. All of the Claviers mayors have been men.  The front office is staffed by a young woman, who seems to run interference for her glad-handing boss.  Remember, these are just impressionistic, meandering observations of a tiny town.

Tuesday morning surprised us because the mobile hair salon arrived.  We all imagined that one special day a month when everyone went around telling everyone else how fabulous their hair looked.  I should not have been surprised that mid-afternoon heat brought on a Spanish-style siesta, with most people returning home for a meal and most businesses closing their shutters from the sun and the out-of-sync tourists.  Slightly busier evenings brought out the restaurant workers—some men, some women, some black, some white—all bustling and some bristling.  Conservation seemed a priority in both the small towns and in Paris, as the mairies placed limits on the number of bags of garbage and recycling people could discard a week, the grocery stores had the reusable bag system down to a science, diesel gas fueled the cars, and people rode bicycles as a matter-of-fact means of transportation.  I was particularly impressed by the Paris share-a-bicycle system and its reliable bicycle lanes throughout the city.   The many cyclists on the mountain roads in the south of France also amazed.  It is no wonder the Tour de France has the fame it does.

Gender norms in beautiful and charming Claviers seemed to parallel those of other worlds.  Women both worked hard and were in charge of the children, and men worked hard and were in charge of improving their pétanque game.  Every one of the small towns we saw featured a pétanque court, where men and boys of all ages rolled small silver bowling balls in this traditional French game.  Sometimes the women stopped to watch, but mostly the men occupied these spaces.  I report all of this with little to no judgment, just as an observation.  Right by the pétanque court in Claviers (see photo below of the court in nearby Fayence) are a building with the classic Liberté-Egalité-Fraternité slogan (photo below), a bar called Le Cercle de Fraternité, and a statue to the local men who fought in the French Resistance.  The statue, pictured below, is simple—a naked woman carved in white stone to symbolize, as the statue indicates in one word, liberté.  Of course, I have long been familiar with the trope of naked woman as liberty (it pervades much of Western European and North American art), but I decided at that moment to reject this millennia-old trope.  I decided I had had enough of naked women, sculpted or painted by men, given no name or identity, representing some concept of male liberty, placed in town square after town square, and here placed between the pétanque court and the “Fraternity” bar.  For whom is this liberty represented?  And, how sick are we of white women representing some male concept of purity (and the implied converse representation, the supposed impurity of women of color)?  Where are artistic representations of named women, and where are the women and men of color?  As I chewed on all of this out loud, my 17-year-old son smiled, recognizing that his mother can be what the wonderful Sara Ahmed calls a “feminist killjoy,” even on a lovely vacation.

(Pétanque in Fayence. Photo by P. Bradley)

(Building in Claviers. Photo by E. Mayock)

(Statue of “Liberté” in Claviers. Photo by C. Mayock-Bradley)

Paris’ amazing collection of museums—such a treat, even for a feminist killjoy—reminds us again how the art world pitches men as the doers (the actual artists, but also the figures of agency, such as fishermen, farmers, kings, politicians, popes, and cardinals) and women as muses to the men.  See, for example, a photo of Rodin’s “The Thinker,” below.  In fact, my daughter and her cousin, both wholly uninterested in museum visits, kept themselves busy by counting women’s naked breasts (featured in paintings and sculptures as nurturing, liberating, or torturing).  After just a few days of trampling around museums, they counted 365 breasts.  Don’t worry about the odd number; you know how those statues and sculptures go. The classic art museums—the most visited art museums of the western world—remind us and reinforce for us the dominant position of men yesterday and today.  As Ahmed has said in Living a Feminist Life, “A decision made in the present about the future (under the promissory sign “we will”) can be overridden by the momentum of the past.”  These museums, gigantic, impressive, well-funded, represent such unbelievable momentum of the past that they surely influence how we view men and women, colonizers and colonized, white and black and brown, wealthy and impoverished.  Painting after painting after painting reinforces these tropes for us, making sustained systems of power and the continued representation of these systems seem somehow natural.  It takes a lot of thought and deliberate action to undo the repetition of such seemingly seductive images and expectations.

(Auguste Rodin’s “Le Penseur” at the Rodin Museum, Paris.  Photo by E. Mayock)

That is why I loved observing that some forward-looking Paris city planner placed statues of real French women—mostly queens and saints, but they were real women—throughout the Luxembourg Gardens.  None of the statues I saw represented women of color or women of lesser means, but at least they acknowledged the existence and representation of some women before the 20th century.  In addition, I was gratified to see throngs of people at the chapels of Saint Paul Chen and La Virgen de Guadalupe at the Notre Dame Cathedral.  People and groups clearly wanted to see their nations and cultures represented in this most iconic of Parisian sites (and, as we learned on a tour, the most visited tourist site in all of Europe).

As you can see, feminist killjoys never take a vacation from observations of gender, race, and religion.  The ones I have offered here are neither profound nor surprising, but they are worth pointing out.  As Ahmed has said, “Rolling eyes=feminist pedagogy.”

Over the next few weeks, I will probably write about armed guards and their treatment of pedestrians and travelers, fashion impositions and arguments, sports stores and how they mark gender and race, and what we can expect from next year’s World Cup soccer tournament in France.  (Note that 2018 World Cup is called “World Cup” and that 2019 World Cup is called “Women’s World Cup.”  Sigh.)

Sarah Huckabee Sanders: Dining and Deceit

 

“We just felt there are moments in time when people need to live their convictions. This appeared to be one.”

I live in Lexington, a small town in southwestern Virginia that used to be rather sleepy but has been awakened (but far from “woke”) by several incidents over the past few years. These include a successful campaign to have the Lexington City Council prohibit flying the Confederate flag from city flagpoles (2011), a protest by students from the Washington and Lee University School of Law to have Confederate flags removed from the university’s Lee Chapel (2014), the 2017 and 2018 Martin Luther King, Jr., parades sponsored by the Community Anti-Racism Effort (CARE), and the racist events in Charlottesville on August 11-12, 2017 (*see a related Gender Shrapnel Blog post here).

Many of you have heard by now that Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave a popular Lexington restaurant, the Red Hen, on Friday night.  This well-known, highly-respected farm-to-table restaurant, owned by 22-year Lexington resident Stephanie Wilkinson, employs a small crew of talented chefs, managers, and wait staff, whose culinary work has been featured in The Washington Post, Southern Living, The Wall Street Journal, The Roanoke Times, Edible Blue Ridge, and Virginia Living.  The restaurant is small and elegant, and its owner makes every effort to honor farming traditions of the Shenandoah Valley.  The staff is known for special touches, such as little anniversary cards for celebrating couples or a delicious birthday treat for an unsuspecting customer.  The restaurant not only tries to get it right; it does get it right, and it has done so for ten years.  Such is the case in the owner’s actions of this past Friday night.  I will get to this point in a moment.

Our community has demonstrated on many occasions the high esteem in which it holds Stephanie Wilkinson, who has advocated for small business development and has worked tirelessly to raise funds, write grants, and organize community events to make Lexington both a wonderful place to live and an inviting place to visit.  Small towns can experience great struggles to thrive, and this is certainly the case for small towns with small colleges whose students are away three or four months of the year.  Such a town flourishes only with real vision, community connections, and disciplined work.  Our little town has thrived in no small part due to Stephanie Wilkinson’s work and planning.

On a more personal note, I have rarely met a smarter, more generous, or more measured person.  Stephanie has a kind word for everyone, and she cares about the well-being of people she knows and doesn’t know.  That is why it is not surprising that Stephanie Wilkinson’s words in yesterday’s Washington Post article reflect her kindness and ethical standards: “I explained that the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation.”  The Washington Post piece carefully portrays Wilkinson’s equanimity in this tense situation: she spoke to her staff to understand their preferences; she considered Huckabee Sanders’ record as a purveyor of untruths for the Trump administration; she discreetly asked Huckabee Sanders to speak with her on the patio; she asked Huckabee Sanders to leave and explained why she was doing so; she charged Huckabee Sanders’ party nothing; she left it at that.

In summary, Wilkinson confronted a tense situation with thoughtfulness and grace, applying her own ethical standards and explaining the rationale.  I wish we all gave such full, careful thought to the world around us and made such brave decisions on behalf of ourselves, our employees, and our communities.

At this particular moment, individuals who identify as LGBTQIA see their own rights limited through ever-changing and unjust legislation concerning transgender rights in the military, service in stores, and Title IX.  LGBTQIA individuals are a protected group under several United States laws, especially Title VII.  (*See this useful site from Harvard University for more information on equal opportunity laws.)  While I have heard people near and far declare that Huckabee Sanders also deserves to be served, she does not belong to a protected category under civil rights law.  The category she does belong to is one of great privilege in a highly polarizing administration that is currently waging an immigration war on children and their parents. (*See this short video [Washington Post] of Huckabee Sanders in which she both justifies family separations and tells the journalist who has asked the question that he might not be able to understand long sentences.) Huckabee Sanders’ role as presidential and GOP spin-master makes her an extremely powerful person in our government, one whose lies have been documented time and again.  (*See this op-ed from The Boston Globe, this one from Politico, and many other news pieces from periodicals such as The Chicago Tribune, Newsweek, and The San Francisco Chronicle.)

Yesterday, Huckabee Sanders issued a tweet that revealed how well she has mastered the spin machine.  She says that she always tries to treat people respectfully, even the ones she disagrees with.  If you watch the video cited above, you will see Huckabee Sanders, on June 14, treat a journalist with great disrespect.  In her tweet, she used the name of the restaurant to impugn Wilkinson’s reputation and to use her government-issued power to cast the restaurant in a negative light.  Huckabee Sanders’ father, Mike Huckabee, similarly used his political power to pile on in his own tweet.  Walter Shaub, known as the expert on government ethics violations, tweeted yesterday that he saw Huckabee Sanders’ tweets as a clear violation of 5 CFR 2635.702(a), “referencing the law that states government employees cannot use public office for private gain,” as reported in this piece from The Hill.

The Huckabee daughter-father tweets are an unethical use of political office to bully and harass, in the most public of media, a private citizen and business owner.  Compare this to a quiet conversation on the Red Hen patio and an assurance that the bill was covered—a simple act that reveals how a person stands by her staff and her own belief in the public good.  Those who say that Wilkinson should have been silent reinforce how civility codes fortify the status quo.  (*See this related piece and this one in the Gender Shrapnel Blog.)

Some people who have come to Lexington this weekend in some odd attempt to protect Sarah Huckabee Sanders, one of the most powerful individuals in the land, are waving the Confederate flag and praising the KKK.  This flag, which has so consistently demonstrated hatred of African-American individuals and signaled neofascist tendencies and whose symbolism has so marked this town, has resurfaced in the Huckabee hullabaloo.  A fake website pretending to be a downtown historical association has also followed the Huckabee Sanders spin machine, empowered by the press secretary’s tweet and expanding her network of spin, subterfuge, and slander.

The Red Hen’s owner acted quickly, forthrightly, gently, and morally, and she explained her actions thoroughly and thoughtfully in the Washington Post piece.  I wish our town, state, and country had more role models like her.