“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.

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)