Ben’s Diagram

(Poster from the Lex-Rock Women’s Rights Rally on Randolph Street, March, 2017.)

On a hot and dusty Friday afternoon, I head to a VFW about two miles from my home.  It’s not yet 4:30, and the parking lot is full.  I park, enter the low-slung building, hand my registration form to the woman at the door, and receive my yellow sticker, which I am supposed to wear on my clothing.  The yellow sticker serves to distinguish me from my green-sticker neighbors, whom I know well and respect.  Green-sticker attendees live in Rockbridge County, and we yellow-sticker folks are from the City of Lexington.  For this particular townhall meeting, all green sticker questions must be exhausted before a yellow sticker question is permitted.

I walk past a policeman, whose gun peeks out of the holster and who stands throughout the meeting.  As I sit at a table, placing my notebook and pen in front of me, I notice a cameraman and assume he’s from the local news, from WDBJ or WSLS, covering the visit to the Sixth District of our representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ben Cline (*check out Gene Zitver’s ClineWatch site).  The folding chairs placed in rows are mostly full, with a few of us late arrivals scattered at the back tables, plastic affairs likely impervious to late-night spills or multiple moves.

Representative Cline begins his remarks by saying that Washington, D.C., is “the most dysfunctional place on earth.” He insists that his work in Washington is to represent his constituents, “the constituents of the 6th District,” he adds with an air of implied complicity with us all.  At the same time, he makes sure we understand that green-sticker constituents will have priority for questions.  The meeting was to end at 6:00.  I left at 5:55, with a number of green-sticker folks still waiting to ask their questions. While the system is set up to prioritize questions from the people who live in the area where the townhall is held, and that seems perfectly reasonable, it also seems to have a weird marginalizing or isolating effect on attendees and to be strangely unaware of the semiotic weight of telling people to wear yellow stickers.

Representative Cline proceeds to speak for a full 45 minutes.  While he laments giving up his local law firm, he is excited to be a big boy in Washington.  He expresses glee that his new office building is close to a Dunkin’ Donuts (surely, any true man of the people would delight in this, right?).  He talks about the 6th District and how the district requires him to focus on education and labor.  His remarks on education include only higher education concerns; nothing at all is stated about the excellent (in some cases) or utterly failing (in other cases) public schools up and down the Shenandoah Valley.  Our county middle school has recently reported significant data on achievement gaps and alarming statistics on chronic absenteeism. These statistics seem to carry over to our county high school.  Ben doesn’t address any local issues surrounding public education because he prefers to talk about charter schools, about removing students from the environment rather than fixing the environment.

The filibuster continues.  I say “filibuster” because Ben is not surprising us with any new expressions of concern or desires to legislate for the common good.  Instead, he talks about developing relationships with other men in the House.  He reminds us that he begins the day with the pledge and a prayer.  He boasts that he is the only freshman Republican in the House to have a bill signed into law.  We learn that the bill modifies membership provisions for the American Legion so that more veterans can enjoy the social benefits of belonging.  While this is well and good, I’m longing to hear about substantive movement (or at least plans to move) on the big issues of education, health care, environmental protections, and gun reform.  Ben does not mention any of these issues.  He does not discuss them until he is asked directly about them in the Q&A stage.  Instead, Ben talks about human beings as “illegals” and discusses who does and does not “belong” in this country.

When Representative Cline chooses to become more representative and opens up the townhall to Q&A, my green-stickered friends start a series of excellent questions.  They broach healthcare and the high cost of pharmaceuticals, ERA and the need for increased constitutional protections for women, real bipartisanship versus the use of inflammatory rhetoric, Ben’s A+ rating from the NRA and its implications for how he will represent 6th District residents keenly interested in common sense gun reform.  For the issues Ben does not want to address (like healthcare), Ben simply says, “It’s a broken system.”  For the issues on which he disagrees with the direction of the question, Ben takes refuge in his favorite, “We just need to enforce current laws.”  How is this neglect (e.g. healthcare) and/or active, obstinate wrongheadedness (e.g. common sense gun reform) working for Ben’s constituents?  How is it working for the state of Virginia, or indeed for the United States?  Not well, I’d say.  And cherrypicking minor bits of minor legislation is just an insult.  Let’s remember the Newsweek headline from last year that said, “More Children Have Been Killed by Guns Since Sandy Hook than U.S. Soldiers in Combat since 9/11.”  Our pro-life representative seems a bit less pro-life in this context, doesn’t he? Ben preens as he announces that the cameraman in the room is from a Swiss television station interested in the United States and the NRA.  Nice A+ NRA photo op, Ben, at the expense of victim after victim of gun violence in the U.S.

For those who don’t regularly track the politics of the Virginia 6th, in January of this year, Ben Cline replaced Bob Goodlatte (*see this blog post and this one) as the district’s representative to the House.  Many of us in the 6th criticized Goodlatte’s utter absence up and down the western side of Virginia.  Friends and neighbors far more generous than I credit Ben Cline with at least showing up—scheduling town halls and visiting with residents of the 6th.  Of course, showing up is the right thing to do, but staging the town hall in the same way, time after time, locality after locality, without opening up ever to real dialogue to me creates the same absence established by Bob Goodlatte, only worse.  It is an abuse of sincere people who desire to speak up against injustice and ask in the kindest of ways for the most appropriate changes.  It is a violation of the good will of good people, and that is what sickens me about both Cline and the GOP.

I have written many blog posts that express my confusion and sadness at the silence of so many Republican voters before the utter debasement of humankind and the earth we inhabit.  I still feel that way.  Cline represents the rotten core of the GOP.  He seems uninterested in learning new things, unwilling to hear dissent, all too comfortable in his own contradictory stances, cruel in his desire to legislate against others’ humanity, and laughably proud of the tiniest of inconsequential legislative victories.  Does Ben Cline deserve the time and energies of thoughtful citizens, people concerned about escalating costs of lifesaving pharmaceuticals, increased vulnerability to guns gone wild, and the lack of women’s rights in the face of domestic violence and major reproductive challenges?  These thoughtful citizens wonder about the Ben Cline who presents himself as the aw-shucks reasonable guy at a town hall meeting he orchestrates and how he seems so different from the Ben Cline campaign guy who uses inflammatory rhetoric at election events and rallies.  It is all one and the same Ben Cline, the one who wants to get elected only to get elected again.

Let me say something more here.  Even if the political parties were reversed, and I were a Republican watching a Democratic representative yank me around, I’d be pissed.  I do not understand power for power’s sake, public presentation without real conversation, or hyper-staged events that in the end feel like the meaningless parades of the Castro era or the trumped-up falsity of the 2017 United States presidential inauguration.  I just don’t get it. From a humanitarian standpoint, I am relieved that more Republican Congresspeople are choosing not to run for re-election because they don’t see a place for themselves in the party.  As a freshman in the House, Representative Cline runs counter to this impulse, seeking power for power’s sake, constituents be damned.

In his town halls, Ben emphasizes “civility,” but what does this mean in a context where every element is controlled by the powerful guy in the suit? Ben gets to report that he holds townhalls and listens to his constituents, when actually he grandstands, offers banal information, tightly controls who can ask questions (and when and how), and replies with sometimes faulty, often conflicting stances.

Ben is the Groping Old Party, taking advantage of the time and good intentions of sincere constituents who want the best for the most people.

(My yellow sticker from the town hall meeting.  One yellow sticker is good for 90 minutes of being silenced.)

Another Kind of Family Separation

(By French artist JR; https://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-border-wall-toddler-20170909-story.html)

Two days ago, I blogged about a certain kind of family separation, one marked by actual choice and great privilege.  Thank you for indulging that meditation.

Today, I am writing to remind us all about the acute nature of family separations at the Mexico-United States border and beyond.  Although I’ve mentioned this horror in many blog posts over the last two years (e.g. Cages, Criminal Justice Reform, Census Questions, and the Criminal in the White House), I have had trouble addressing it in direct and specific ways.  This is due, in part, to the scope of the matter, and due, in part, to the brutal reality of raids, separations, deprivations, and deaths at the hands of U.S. officials.  “Brutal,” relates to “brute,” from the Latin brutus, “dull, stupid, insensible,” but also to the phrase “brute force.”

While we appropriately wonder at the “president’s” “offer” (“Trump has defected,” The Atlantic, 8-21-19) to purchase Greenland and his subsequent gendered and decidedly undiplomatic dismissal of Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, we are somehow paralyzed by our nation’s inhumane acts at the border.  Of course, as has been the case throughout this three-year resistance, tens of thousands of fine people are finding ways to address the legal and humanitarian aspects of the border.  The ACLU, Al Otro Lado, and the many lawyers, interpreters, and journalists who have worked at sites like the Dilley Detention Center (in Texas) come to mind as representative of the brilliant and kind-hearted people who are doing the hard work of stemming the tide of Trump’s cruelty.

Nevertheless, the situation worsens daily.  ICE raids work in tandem with certain employers, who have hired immigrant workers and then allowed ICE to haul them away. The United States, under this cruel and crazy man, continues to create problems and then blame others for them.  We supply the guns that contribute to increased violence in Central America, and we demand, in enormous quantities, the drugs that fuel cartels, their competition and their violence.  We also consume natural resources and energy at an alarming rate, causing global devastation and environmentally-motivated migration.  We reinstate a global gag rule to cut aid to developing countries’ healthcare systems (now affecting thousands of U.S. citizens as well, with the cuts to Title X funding). We create all-too-legitimate causes of migration and need for asylum, and then we brutalize those who arrive at the border seeking asylum because they fear for their own and their family members’ lives. We allow children to go without food, water, medical care, and legal aid.  We put them in cages.  We neglect long-term family separation cases.  The United States is doing this.  The United States is causing, contributing to, and exacerbating these globally life-threatening issues.  The “credible fear” interview at the cornerstone of asylum cases is all too credible on both sides of the border.

This is the kind of family separation that empties out hope, makes us desperate.  Enhanced understanding of these issues must lead us to unseat the people making the horror happen, remake the more than misguided U.S. foreign policy with Latin America, and unlearn the cruelty that has become part and parcel of these “United” States.

Going to the Well

(A way to really embarrass your child!)

At the end of Fernando de Rojas’ enduringly pertinent tragicomedy, La Celestina (various versions; 1499-1502), the father, Pleberio, grapples with his daughter’s tragic fall to death.  Pleberio says to his wife, “¡Ay, ay, noble mujer!  Nuestro gozo en el pozo, nuestro bien todo es perdido.  ¡No queramos más vivir!” (rough translation: “Oh, oh, noble wife of mine!  Our greatest joy drowned (in the well), our life and well-being lost. We cannot go on living.”).  He goes on to say, “¡Oh amigos y señores, ayudadme a sentir mi pena! (roughly: “Oh, friends and kind sirs, help me stand this grief!”), followed soon thereafter by, “Oh duro corazón de padre” (“Oh, father’s hardened heart”).  The tragicomedy, so full of hilarious irony and heartbreaking loss, features the well as the deep and stony resting place of Pleberio and Alisa’s daughter and of the couple’s equanimity.

This past weekend, I drove with our son, our first-born, nine hours north to take him to college.  Actually, he was headed to a community service program that would precede first-year orientation.  “Nuestro gozo en el pozo,” a line I have cried over in private and in class (those who are regular readers of this blog know that I fear not the public flow of tears), ran through my mind as my son snored sleepily at my side for the first two hours of the trip.  But I wasn’t thinking of the “well” as a stony resting place, but rather a place from which our son could draw bucket after bucket of thirst-quenching knowledge and surprising friendships and amazing adventures and a profound sense of self, all of which he could channel back towards the world in his own way.  Of course, I was thinking of “gozo” as joy, from rejoice, and of our son as an unmitigated, undefinable, undisputed joy of almost 19 years.

When Charlie was born, a poet friend of mine from Mexico City asked me how life had changed.  I remember being glad we were speaking in Spanish, which seemed to give me an expanded way to offer an answer.  I said, “El niño nos va enseñando a amar de maneras infinitas.  Me doy cuenta de lo infinitos que somos todos, de que el amor es matemático, es el infinito, es la infinidad” (rough translation: “Our child is teaching us to love in infinite ways.  I’m realizing that we are all infinite, that love is mathematical, that it is infinity itself.”)  I’m lucky my interlocutor was a poet—he was all in.  In a way, I think the birth of our second child was easier because we were already prepared for infinity, for more gozo.  Prepared, maybe, to figure out how you can be so thrilled for another human being’s next adventure and simultaneously devastated by their departure. The pozo, then, for this parent also evokes the stillness or stoniness of loss.

In the three days since our sloppy (on my part) and public goodbye, I have experienced many more emotions than I had anticipated. I have been delighted to have occasional communications with Charlie, who feels right at home in his new place.  On the home front, Charlie’s departure has felt ridiculously akin to my mother’s death of two years ago, and to the recent death of my husband’s mother.  I do not like admitting this.  This moment of great privilege should not encourage any grief or complaining on my part, I know this.  But it does.  Sobs emerge uneven and choking in the “I don’t believe this has happened” way, and I have to avoid casual acquaintances so they don’t have to comfort a relative stranger when they ask her a simple question.  (Yes, I had to pull over to the side of the highway on the car ride back; yes, my eyes keep welling up when friends and family ask how Pat, Susanne, and I are doing; yes, seeing an accidental fourth plate at the dinner table hits deep; and, yes, I can’t imagine my husband’s double loss, since he also taught Charlie for years.) Every part of Charlie’s next adventure seems fascinating, and I delight on his behalf.  I just didn’t expect any part of the experience to feel like death, to land us in the pozo.  The fourth plate, the empty room, the music stand, the piano bench, the ratty old sneakers.  They are all the well.

This lament is particularly silly when I consider how many times I will see Charlie over fall term, how social media makes him so present, how lucky I am to love him and his sister and dad so much.  But there you have it—the infinity of the ways in which we love, or just the infinity of love, translates as well to true lament.  We understand why Pleberio says, “Oh” more than a dozen times in his speech and why the speech seems to sport only exclamations and rhetorical questions, made all the more dramatic as they are framed by double exclamation points and double question marks in Spanish.  Sometimes you need another language to express the hyperbole you feel.

As we packed Charlie off, I gave him some advice (quite different from the one rather bald but well-meaning bit of advice my father gave me).  In the end, though, he does not need the advice, for I believe he already knows how to love infinitely.  May he fare well!

Cages, Criminal Justice Reform, Census Questions, and the Criminal in the White House

(Let us not forget!)

Over the past three years, the Groping Old President and his Groveling Old Party have sown so much discord, chaos, and danger that we are now reminding each other “to focus on what’s important,” to “not get distracted” by the latest illegal comments and behaviors of the man who stole the White House.  This is both good and misleading advice.  Good, in that political resistance to Trump must rely on documented facts, data, and coordinated resistance efforts focused on the actions placing the greatest number of people in danger.  Misleading, in that every so-called “distraction” also represents an illegal speech-act and/or behavior of the Groping Old President.  As a person who has researched and written copiously on harassment and assault, I hear every utterance and read every tweet of the White House occupant as an accountant tallies debits and credits.  The accumulation of racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic (combined with numerous other –isms and phobias) behaviors amounts to a pattern of harassing behavior by the most visible workplace supervisor in the most iconic workplace of the United States.

We should not be distracted from recognizing our border policies as crimes of the highest order: separation of families; isolation of children; children in cages; rape and molestation of migrants and refugees; deprivation of basic needs; denial of legal services.  The concentration camps created by the White House occupant and supported by the GOP make us a brutal and punishing nation.  These concentration camp gurus complement their crimes at the border with ICE raids.  We must remember that targeted raids, round-ups, and concentration camps were the cornerstone of the Third Reich. At a family party three years ago, I called Trump a fascist, evoking the ire of family members for my too-heightened rhetoric.  Well, here we are, three years later, with a president whose fascism becomes more textbook with each act and utterance.  The United Nations has appropriately weighed in on the human rights abuses enacted in the country that claims to be the strongest democracy in the world.  When Trump says about Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayana Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” he is unwittingly describing his country, the United States of America, as “a broken and crime infested place.”  Yes, that’s one fact he has right after three years of the destruction he has wrought.

We should not be distracted from the fact that Trump lost the battle over the citizenship question on the 2020 Census and wants us to forget that he lost.  Of course, his unconstitutional attempts to add it brought him some success, in that some people had to respond in the test census and many people fear responding at all at this point.

(*Read Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends.  An Essay in Forty Questions.)

We should not be distracted from criminal justice reform, needed more acutely than ever to decolonize, deracialize, and decriminalize, and to restore full humanity and rights to all peoples.  Here is just a small sampling of the challenges and injustices of “living while black,” published by CNN.

(*Watch Ava Duvernay’s Selma and 13th.  Read Jesmyn Ward’s edited collection, The Fire This Time. Read Ta-Nehisi Coates. Read Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.)

Three years ago at this time, we learned of the Access Hollywood tape.  We learned that the GOP candidate articulated rapist desires and revealed a rapist past.  Russia and the GOP elected him anyway, and now we have a criminal in the White House whose rap sheet is as long as were Mueller’s days investigating him.  While we’re at it, let us not forget that Mueller will testify on July 24th.  In Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace, I link sexual and racial harassment to assault, stating that if we don’t address damaging behavior on the harassment end, then we will never address criminal behavior on the rape-assault end of the spectrum.  Trump’s Access Hollywood tape already told us everything we needed to know about how his tenure in the White House would go.  By election time, he had already harassed Miss Universe participants, Rosie O’Donnell, Carly Fiorina, and Hillary Clinton.  This list includes, up to 2017, “every offensive comment in one place.” In this month alone, July of 2019, the criminal has harassed Megan Rapinoe and the United States World Cup Soccer Champion team and Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib.  The harassment is intersectional, based on race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.  Trump is Trump, and he is also the company he keeps (Roger Ailes, Roger Stone, Jeffrey Epstein, Billy Bush, and the list goes on and on).

We have all the data we need.  For any workplace in the United States, this documentation would be more than sufficient for bringing a Title VII case.  It is time, way past time, to initiate impeachment proceedings.  I have never cared if it is politically expedient to impeach, thinking that impeachment is simply the right thing to do.  At this point, impeachment seems both politically expedient and the right thing to do.  Representative John Lewis tweets: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way. #goodtrouble.” Impeachment might just be the “good trouble” we need.

Let us not be distracted from any of these profound injustices, explicit crimes, and dangerous words and actions. It is time to act.

Benched: The Politics of Cojones

(Photo from the Ancient Origins website)

In her 2013 novel/memoir, The Ridiculous Idea of Never Seeing You Again (La ridícula idea de no volver a verte), rock-star Spanish author Rosa Montero tells of a legend of a 9th-century woman, Juana (Joan), who had passed for years as a monk, made a name for her/himself, and then became pope.  Juana had spent years traveling with another monk, who presumably was the father of the baby to whom Juana would give birth while occupying the highest holy office in the land.  Montero writes (translation mine): “The legend says that she proved herself to be a well-qualified and prudent pope.  But, Juana ended up pregnant, with the aforementioned man of the cloth as father, and, one day, as she traversed the city in a solemn papal procession, Juana went into premature labor and gave birth right there in front of the people of the city.  Imagine the scene: the golden crown, the staff, the silk, the subdued brocade cloth soaked with blood and splattered with lowly bits of placenta.  It is said that the people, enraged and horrified, leapt on top of the woman pope, tied her to the feet of a horse, and dragged and stoned her for several miles before killing her.”

This one story, so powerful in its possibilities, speaks to contemporary gender issues.  There’s the unevolved Catholic Church, welcoming women to leadership neither in the 9th century nor now; there’s the Catholic Church, still relying on the piety of its women parishioners to advance its patriarchal agenda; there’s the brilliant woman having to dress as a man to enact her brilliance; there’s the transvestite/transgender element for the monk couple, who cannot openly express their love and attraction for one another; there’s placenta, exposed to the world in all its silky power; there’s a baby, left alone while its mother is murdered; there’s a mother, who must be shamed, harmed, and killed for her supposed transgression, and there’s the age-old story of a woman being taught her place.  There is a blending of religion and government.  There is reproductive choice and subsequent retribution.  There is justice, in all its patriarchal glory. There is a return to “normalcy,” with the men in charge.

Montero concludes the recounting of the Pope Juana legend with the papal protocol supposedly established after Juana’s murder (translation mine):  The youngest prelate “had to tap the presumptive pope’s genitals under the seat and then call out, ‘Habet!,’ or ‘He’s got them!’  At that point, the cardinals in attendance would answer, ‘Deo Gratias!’, I suppose full of relief and rejoicing that the new Peter was another Pater.”  I know it’s Fathers’ Day season and all here in the United States, but of course it bears mentioning that the Pater-Peter-Father-Pope inherits his rightly place as head of household, decision-maker, public figure, with all freedoms and rights properly accorded to him.  That’s patriarchy—we have confirmed you have balls, and now you shall have everything else.

I want to return to the characterization of the legendary Pope Juana as “well-qualified and prudent.”  When, in 1991, the well-qualified and prudent lawyer Anita Hill testified in Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearings regarding the sexual harassment she had experienced while she worked for him, she was maligned and scorned, and eventually ignored. (*See this 5-9-19 opinion piece by Anita Hill in which she again advocates in smart, specific, and determined ways for putting an end to sexual violence.)

In 2011, Thomas’ wife made an imprudent early-morning phone call to encourage Hill to stop her activism, and this year (2019), Hill received other ill-advised calls from Democratic presidential hopeful and current frontrunner Joe Biden, who step by little campaign-advised step, kept trying to take the nation’s temperature to assume as little guilt for his role in the 1991 hearings as possible. Joe is too busy preparing for his “Habet!”moment to understand and acknowledge the role he played in allowing Thomas to occupy the Bench for so long. Note, too, that David Leonhardt in this The New York Times opinion piece (1-13-19), encourages Biden to “Run, Joe, Run,” as he exhorts Biden to run for office because “your populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation” and because “you are not afraid of losing.”

(https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/30/us/politics/joe-biden-anita-hill.html)

The anti-reproductive rights Roman Catholic presence on the Bench—Thomas for almost 28 years and now Kavanaugh for too many months—sets the tone for the entire nation, from Alabama to Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and to Ohio.  The religiously motivated and conservatively empowered pater familias confirms the might of the testicles and the decreased body autonomy for those with other parts in play.

Dress Code, A Noun and a Verb

Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri legislatures are making “handmaid” a verb, an action taken upon any and all women, whether or not of reproductive age or inclination.  This action sends the message to us women that our whole selves are just a synecdoche, a decrescendo of body parts, pudenda, or what my son and daughter used to call “particulars.”  Another blog post will explore ways to think of men’s whole selves as just their sperm, but today’s treats the unequal burden of school dress codes on girl students.

Our local county school system has made “dress code” a verb, dress-coding high-school girls left and right for the clothes they choose to wear or have available to wear.  Some girls get dress-coded, and others don’t, even if they’re wearing the same clothes or same exact styles as the ones who do.  Some girls don’t get dress-coded for a specific outfit four weeks in a row, but then do get dress-coded for that same outfit the fifth week.  Some girls attend formal conversations about the dress code held at school.  They are wearing clothes that the dress code prohibits.  The administrators do not dress-code them or make any mention of it.  Most high-school students have a certain set of styles available to them, and those styles also do not conform to dress code.  Many students cannot afford one set of clothes for weekend activities and an entirely different set for the school week.

Also, it’s hot.  We sometimes have ten days in a row of hot, humid weather in February or March, and very often we have this weather in August, September, October, March, April, and May.  Schools have air-conditioning, but it doesn’t always work.  It is just hot. Dress codes that mandate shorts and skirts to “mid-thigh range” are impossible to obey, unless Target, American Eagle, JCPenney, and any other number of stores completely overhaul their inventory.  “Mid-thigh” also points all interested parties’ attention to one region—the mid-thigh.  As a friend recently pointed out, school should point everyone’s attention to one region—the brain.

And the boys?  They’re wearing whatever the hell they want and watching their girl classmates’ bodies get scrutinized, criticized, taxonomized, and harassed by adult teachers and administrators.  These role models teach the students that girls’ bodies define them, thus making the girls objects, non-human, subject to whatever other decisions are to be made for and about them, not by or with them.  Some girls are sent home to change and some are given others’ clothes to change into. Some girls are punished with after-school detention, and some with in-school suspension.  These girls who dare to be themselves are labeled “defiant,” a loaded and gendered term in the context of school rules, hierarchies, and power systems.

This is the path to the Handmaid’s Tale.  If a girl is just her body, then we forget that she has a brain and a skill set and an opinion and her own way of existing in the world.  This objectification creates a shorter path from real, live, full-person girl to just body to state-controlled incubator, as we’re seeing in various states and on way too many courts in the land.

Furthermore, if we can’t even eliminate a binary gender-based boy/girl dress code, how will we teach students to embrace a full range of gender expression, thus creating a welcoming environment for all students who spend the day in the public school environment?

When I was in ninth grade (first year of high school), my mother made me wear a dress or a skirt every day.  I was not a big fan of dresses or skirts, preferring to wear athletic clothing so that I could play pick-up basketball at lunchtime and make a quick change into practice clothes for after-school sports.  My mother had the idea that you should honor the school day by wearing “proper” clothing, and so I wore a dress or skirt most days of ninth grade.  I walked to school, carrying a book bag, instrument, and sports bag, and I climbed over a brick wall at the beginning of my walk to shorten the trek by at least a mile.  Looking back, I can’t imagine my clothing was in a proper state most days by the time I got to school.  In the meantime, this was the early ‘80’s, and my classmates were wearing the standard uniform of blue jeans and black concert t-shirts (winter) or shorts and black concert t-shirts (spring). My attire was decidedly impractical and uncool, but I did what my mother said.

I did what my mother said for one year, and then I didn’t.  Obedience was silly and impractical.  She knew that, too. I was 15 and had my own tastes and personality and hobbies, and I needed to wear the clothing that expressed all of that.  I also had been buying my own clothes since I was 12, and it was time to buy clothes that I wanted to buy.  By that point, my mother got the point.  There was no need for me to stage a rebellion or to outline a case.  It was just time for me to wear the clothing that made sense for the weather and my daily trajectory and activities.

I don’t remember that my school had a dress code, and I don’t remember any of us being scrutinized by teachers or administrators for the clothes we chose to wear.  Admittedly, this doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; I just don’t remember our feeling bound by a dress code or, by extrapolation, of enforcement of a dress code.  In other words, we were free to wear what was comfortable, to express ourselves through our clothing (or not to, if that was our preference).  I could be the nerd in the dress for a whole year, and then I could be the tomboy in the gym shorts the next year.  It didn’t matter.

It does not matter whether I like or do not like the fashions young people, and especially school-aged girls, choose to wear.  What matters is that each and every person has fair and equal access to educational opportunities and success, with no undue burden placed on any gender.

When I go to my daughter’s sporting events, a disembodied voice from the press box commands the audience to rise for the National Anthem and for the gentlemen to remove their caps.  I don’t consider myself a gentleman, and so I don’t remove my cap, which I’m wearing to keep the setting sun out of my eyes as the game begins.  I believe this is the only instance in which the boys and men are being asked to obey a dress code element that the girls and women are not—but it’s only due to the gendered assumption that only one gender wears baseball caps.

I believe, too, that women administrators (and maybe teachers) often bear the extra burden of enforcing dress codes because dress codes often make men afraid to have to look at or to be caught looking at adolescent girls’ bodies.  All of it is weirdly sexualizing, creepy, and unnecessary.

This 2016 Forbes Magazine article looks at the history of dress codes, and therefore the history of gender bias through clothing impositions, stating that: “In ancient Sparta, Athens and many other Greek city states from around the 4th century BCE, there was an appointed group of magistrates called the γυναικονόμοι (“controllers of women”).”  You can guess where the rest of the paragraph will take you.   This 2014 NPR piece examines the inconsistent nature of public school dress codes, as well as the pervasive gender bias in the codes themselves.  NPR also links to the National Center for Transgender Equality site as a resource for schools to be more inclusive in their dress codes.  In 2015, the ACLU of Idaho sent out a legal memo, which “notes that gender stereotyping dress standards can violate the U.S. and Idaho constitutions, federal laws including Title IX, and the Idaho Human Rights Act. Requiring boys and girls to dress differently or according to government-imposed gender norms is unlawful gender discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. and State Constitution also prohibit this type of discrimination.”  (See more ACLU dress code information here; see also this interesting and thorough 2015 piece from The Atlantic.)  This 2016 Newsweek article signals the dangers of mandating what women employees must wear or must not wear.

Let’s stop looking mid-thigh and start going full-brain.  In summary, a poem:


Parts is Parts

Women are like Perdue chickens,
born whole, then harvested for our parts,
the breast meat, the drumsticks, the thigh;
no head left, no brain there.

Just parts

parts

parts.

We’re like Perdue chickens,
bred for service,
born
hole.


	

Gender Don’t’s and Do’s

A neighbor recently commented that we should not teach our daughter to do chores, that not knowing how to do chores would help her to do fewer of them in the future.  I have thought about this a lot in terms of day-to-day equity at work and in the home.  After all, chores do have to be done (they do, right?).  My parents assigned chores as evenly as possible to the seven of us, often not along gender lines since there was already such great gender imbalance (two girls and five boys).  This should have taught us all that we were part of a group bigger than ourselves and, therefore, that we had to contribute to ensure the group was taken care of.  I can only speak for myself when I say that I believe this early teaching took root.

Now, though, when I recall the stern speech I delivered a while ago to my daughter (“I want you to be more generous—of your time, labor, material goods, and humor”), I wonder how to strike an equilibrium between teaching her to contribute equitably to group needs and teaching her to give too often or too much.  The same goes for my son, who should probably receive the opposite speech from the one my daughter got.  In a more perfect community or culture or world, our children would simply love themselves and their neighbors and therefore have a built-in sense of labor equity.  Maybe we are working our way in that direction, somewhere, in some way.  You will find this quandary to be threaded through the text below.

Gender mishaps have piled high of late, and so I have compiled a list of do’s and don’t’s.  Some items from the following list can certainly apply to other intersectional points (national origin, race, religion, socioeconomic class, sexual expression, etc.), but I am framing the list through gender. These suggestions appear just to make good sense, but the more I exist in the workplace, the more I wonder what good sense is.

Don’t’s go first, do’s second, so that the post at least appears to end on a positive note.

DON’T:

  • Don’t call a woman Spanish professor “Señora” and a man Spanish professor “Profesor.” While we’re at it, do use the term “professor” (or “doctor,” if you prefer, especially for the science folks, who seem to prefer this title) for all of your professors when you’re addressing them in English.
  • Don’t assume that women co-workers will take care of all the gifts and the cards. If gifts and cards are happening, all department members can figure out how to proceed.
  • Don’t invite a woman to participate on a committee by telling her you need a woman on the committee. Instead, decide what expertise and experience she brings to the group, and ask if she’ll contribute those.
  • Don’t confer with senior women only about the minutiae of the department.
  • When interviewing candidates, don’t have women in the department address only lower-level teaching and men in the department address only research.
  • Don’t leave most or all of the advising to the women. The more women advise, or “nurture,” the less the job is valued, and the more women are doing the undervalued work.
  • Don’t “reply all” to a group of co-workers and write exactly what your woman co-worker just wrote in the previous e-mail.
  • Don’t laugh when a woman negotiates. Don’t ignore women’s negotiations and honor men’s.
  • Don’t tell women job candidates to calm down.
  • Don’t run a meeting, come to consensus, end the meeting, and then visit individual offices to undo the consensus.
  • Don’t reverse departmental decisions. When you reverse departmental decisions, do consider if, by undoing them, you are valuing men’s opinions more than women’s.
  • Don’t touch women co-workers who don’t want to be touched by you. If you assume they do want to be touched by you, you could be wrong.  If you assume they don’t want to be touched by you, you’re on the right path.
  • Don’t assume women are weak. This will bite you on the ass.
  • Don’t overvalue men’s work and undervalue women’s work, especially as value is tied to work performance and remuneration.
  • Don’t tell people what they want to hear and then do something different. Do be honest about how you’re going to proceed, even if people don’t like it.
  • Don’t ignore process.
  • Generally, don’t be an asshole.

DO:

  • Do follow these general process principles.
  • Do plan ahead. This allows for everyone to contribute to the work equally.
  • Do figure out how to share the work. Use a spreadsheet, list the job responsibilities, and fill them equitably.
  • Do think about power and hierarchy. If you have power, why do you have it?  How can you use the power to do the most good for the most people?  If you want power, why do you want it?
  • Do consider representation. How many people of color are in the room when big and small decisions are made?  How many women are in the room?  How many people of color and/or women have the opportunity to speak, vote, and influence the decisions?
  • Do attempt to put aside your own expectations for others’ behaviors and self-expression. If you can’t, then do attempt to be aware of your own biases.
  • Do be honest—with yourself and others.

These two lists should just serve as a mini-refresher.  Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace treats all of these suggestions in more theoretical and more expanded practical ways.