Of Pussies, Pudenda, and Presidents

(Photos from 2017 Women’s March, Washington, DC. E. Mayock.)

After the #MeToo (begun by Tarana Burke in 2006) watershed in 2017, here we are.  Another pussy-grabbing moment.  Remember when, in January, 2017, at least five million (five MILLION) people across the globe donned pussy hats and protested the supposed election of a supposed president, whom we knew would mortgage United States democracy and encourage rupture and violence?  Do you remember that they wore PUSSY hats?  Do you care?  Are you so fed up with the swamp-filling, pussy-grabbing, immigrant-hating, African-American-shaming, family-separating, genius-stabilizing, golf-playing, crony-benefiting, twitter-baiting, salad-talking, disinfectant-curing, press secretary-firing-and-hiring, chaos-sowing, benefit-reaping sorry sack of shit of a man who sits in the Oval Office and drains time, money, and good will from the “American people?”  I am.

We have had enough for a whole host of reasons.  Mine are listed above in my mini-rant.  But I want to add, too, that many cis and trans women (and other people, of course) of all ages, races, religions, and classes have been filling in the gaps created by a resource-sucking president.  Our free labor—at food pantries, in courtrooms, at detention centers, in retirement homes, at schools—speaks to the complete dysfunction of our national government and to the ways in which women’s labor is often undervalued, or valued not at all.  I am mad about this, too.  I want my free labor to contribute to excellent government function, not to fill in gaps created by a pussy-groping president and his sycophantic GOP cronies.  We impeached Trump for his profoundly dishonest and damaging decisions about Ukraine; as a nation, we somehow never found it important enough to investigate the 20 “sexual misconduct” allegations against him.

So, of course, the obvious: Trump is not only not smart, not competent, not collaborative, not team-building, not trustworthy, not interested in the good of the American people, but he is also the greatest threat to U.S. and world security we have ever seen.  More of the obvious: he must not be re-elected in 2020.

Now, I turn my attention to the Democratic party. I find it necessary to support this group because, at the very least, the party believes in education for all, a working social safety net (for those who doubted the need for this, just look around you right now, here in pandemic-land), labor rights, and voters’ rights, among many other issues and policies I am fully on board with.  While Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat, he obviously still considers himself a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. I am not in favor of his candidacy. I am what I guess is now called a “Warren Democrat.”  Everything that Bernie has, Warren has.  Everything that Bernie is lacking (full rationale for economic policies; a nuanced sense of group identification and intersectionality; ability to support down-ticket Democrats; rhetoric that is inclusive rather than exclusive), Warren has, and more.

Once Warren dropped out, leaving Biden and Sanders to duke it out, it became clear the mediocre, aged, white, male candidate would win the day.  Despite Warren’s proven brilliance, careful planning, and clear generosity, Biden would get the nomination.  From the get-go, a Biden nomination seemed retrograde, and it seems even more so now.  As Rebecca Traister, Michelle Goldberg, and Alexandra Petri have stated in a variety of ways, a Biden nomination is at once unexciting and extremely fraught for feminists.  This was true well before the Tara Reade allegations were made public, and is now an acutely terrible fact.

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt penned the “Run, Joe, Run” piece in January, 2019.  At every turn, the piece lauded Biden for being the best possible Democratic presidential nominee for 2020.  Leonhardt has the privilege to ignore what so many of us already knew.  Biden, like so many powerful men, feels entitled to that which is not his. While preparing his presidential candidacy, Biden seemed to sense a pragmatic need to acknowledge and apologize for his aggressive treatment of Anita Hill in the 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.  The most he could muster, however, was an “I’m sorry for what you endured.”  He tried the apology a few times, each time one step closer to acknowledging that he did, in effect, re-harass the already harassed, but he never quite got there, because getting there would surely have slowed the nomination train.  The apology-as-expediency was already a red flag for me, a sign that Biden did not understand that he was part-and-parcel of a national government male power network.  Even more, it meant that Biden would never lead the way in undoing #MeToo harassment and assault.

I also knew that Biden was referred to as “handsy.”  This was not good.  Men and women both love to create euphemisms for sexual harassment, discrimination, and assault, and “handsy” is a really good one.  It implies that men are supposed to touch women, that women are supposed to put up with unwanted touching, and that there is no harm, no foul.  It’s part of the system.  “Handsiness,” I guess, is supposed to be innocent, innocuous, boys-will-be-boys and girls-will-be-assaulted behavior.  It’s supposed to be enacted and accepted, time and time again, no matter the consciousness of the moment nor the constantly repeated trope of “me too,” “me too,” “me too.”  The #MeToo movement was supposed to make us take stock of gender power dynamics, the way the law reinforces these, and the ways in which we indulge them in every profession, through every age.  And, so, when I knew Biden was known to be “handsy,” I figured a real, and well-founded, allegation of more would be on its way.  And it was, and it is.

Having just watched both “Bombshell” and “Unorthodox,” I have clear visual images of the women who are supposed to undress and then assume the position (“Bombshell”) and the women who are supposed to be completely covered while men thrust their midsections towards the women’s faces (“Unorthodox”).  This is a pretty awful place to find United States politics in 2020. Even as I write this, I know several people who wish I wouldn’t speak out against Biden.  After all, he’s a good guy, an Obama acolyte, not nearly as bad as Trump.  But he is a terrible choice for president.  If I knew convention policies and procedures well enough, I would hope for an amazing person to overtake the Democratic nomination—one of the many extremely capable women being considered as possible VP picks and/or one of the presidential candidates we had already been considering.

So, here we are.  The incumbent for the GOP is the subject of 20 allegations of sexual misconduct/assault, and the presumptive nominee for the Democratic party is the non-repentant, unaware, “handsy” subject of a sexual assault allegation.  Here we are, United States.  We have distilled white, cis, heteropatriarchy into its essence:  our current choices for the U.S. president are the privileged, powerful, pussy-grabbing, and pudenda-fingering.

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.

Trump Must Go (and Take Thomas With Him)

(Meme from social media; Access Hollywood quote)

The assaulter-in-chief continues to be busy, as he ejects Haitians by the tens of thousands from the United States, proposes a tax plan that benefits only him and his cronies, launches more money-making products and schemes from his White House perch, and moves on North Korea to grab its metaphorical pussy and put us all in danger.  In the meantime, we citizens must plan for his impeachment, indictment, and/or imminent invisibility.

The post-Cosby, post-Weinstein, post-Louis C.K., post-Spacey, post-Franken, post-Rose, post-Moore era tells us that there is nothing “post” about any of this.  We are living with and among men who use their power and position to serially harass and assault women (and men and transgender individuals).  As I wrote in the 2016 Gender Shrapnel book (and often have to remind people who write to say, “But, Bill Clinton, but, Bill Clinton…”), I have never viewed sexual harassment and assault as the domain of only Republicans, and I do believe we have to understand politics and entertainment as real workplaces, subject to Title VII and Title IX.

If we have learned nothing else from the #MeToo era, it is that many men use their power and privilege to stalk, bait, hunt, harass, assault, and rape women.  The only saving grace of some Democrats is that they at least don’t also (or at least always) punish women through brutal legislation that denies us our humanity.  Both sides of the aisle swim in hypocrisy.  The Democrats run on being the party strong on women’s rights. See Susan Brison’s article on Al Franken to understand the depth of Franken’s hypocritical stance on women’s rights.  On the other side, the Republicans boast of being the “family values” party.  Ohio state lawmaker Wesley Goodman ran an anti-gay, pro-“family values” campaign, only to resign last week when it was discovered that he has had relationships with men, at least one alleged as non-consensual.  Roy Moore is the symbol of the entrenched Christian-values right that is completely bereft of values, except for crime, greed, and stupefying self-interest.  If these power-laden individuals spent more time thinking about others’ needs, they would be less criminal and more effective legislators and governors.  As it stands, they are assholes and, in some cases, felons.

Franken and Rose both formally stated that they don’t remember the encounters the same way the women did.  Exactly!  This is the problem.  They have approached, groped, and/or assaulted women to remind themselves of their own power.  These very actions remind the women, both in the moment and for years beyond, of their own lack of power in public and private spheres.  There is no way these accounts can or will ever line up—not until the harassing men learn to check their privilege, and likely not even then.  Louis C.K.’s non-apology statement re-enacted the allegations of his pulling out his penis in front of unwilling women and forcing some kind of interaction with it.  The more this individual used the word “dick,” in the very statement that was supposed to demonstrate recognition and contrition, the more he emphasized again that he gets to put his penis wherever he wants to, no matter the willingness or unwillingness of his audience.  These statements and non-apologies serve to attempt to discredit those who have registered the felonies and misdemeanors and to re-harass the already harassed.

Ronan Farrow’s “Harvey Weinstein’s Secret Settlements” (The New Yorker, 11-21-17) very capably lays out the power play inherent in non-disclosure agreements and the enormous disservice these documents do to our society. The documents silence those who have suffered sexual harassment and rape and ensure that serial felons can strike again.  Farrow makes explicit that Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, at the age of 22, was bullied into signing a non-disclosure agreement, but that she also insisted on trying other remedies.  In addition, Zelda Perkins appears to have attempted also to impose legal vigilance and restriction on Weinstein, but she was shut down at every turn.  Our legal system is poorly equipped to institute real remedies and operates only for the almighty dollar, thus reinforcing the sheer power and financial and social capital of these serial harassers.

Yes, it is appropriate to go back and understand our nation’s indulgence of Bill Clinton, who, at the very least, was not molesting girls.  Still, two other things are even more urgent: (1) for our nation to revisit the question of Clarence Thomas’s sexual harassment and to end his long term as Supreme Court Justice; and (2) for our nation to gather information and testimony from the 16 women who went on the record against Donald Trump, the sitting President of the United States (it’s still hard for me to refer to him using this term), in order to accuse him of sexual harassment and assault.

Let’s put it bluntly: Anita Hill is a hero.  For over 26 years, Hill has shared her profound legal expertise on sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation through her writing, teaching, and talks.  All the while, Clarence Thomas has set silently on the most important bench in the land, benefiting from the all-white-male panel’s aggressive dismantling of Hill’s testimony.  Even Joe Biden’s “apology” removes blame from himself and emphasizes Hill’s victimhood, rather than her truth-telling and bravery.  Biden soft-pedals admission of participation in the attack in his use of the passive voice (e.g. “Anita Hill was victimized”).  Until I start hearing first-person singular apologies with real admissions of wrongdoing and a plan for rightdoing, I will reject this ridiculous genre of harassment apologies.  What will it take, all these years later, to reckon with 26 years of Thomas on the bench?

The current events surrounding sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and assault should make us regret the Clarence Thomas case and address the cases before us now.  We could look back on this era and proudly declare that we cleaned up our act.  The most significant case before us, of course, is that of Donald J. Trump.  *See Amanda Marcotte’s call to investigate Trump, published yesterday in Salon.  I wholeheartedly agree with Marcotte’s recommendation: “There is one solution that hasn’t been, as far as I know, floated yet: The Justice Department could appoint a special counsel to open an investigation into the years of accusations against Trump.”  YES.  Exactly this.  As Marcotte astutely notes, the investigation is warranted and will keep the public’s ever-straying attention on this issue.  Two special investigations (Russia and sexual harassment/assault) are a drop in the bucket for this sitting “president.”

Those of us who live in the United States should share the above meme every day, in every way possible.  We must write to senators and congresspeople to insist on this special investigation.  We have done this for healthcare, travel bans, DACA, and the tax scam, and we need to respect women’s and transgender individuals’ rights enough to advocate for Title VII and Title IX protections to be applied to the groper-in-chief.

While Trump’s “Al Frankenstein” tweet served to slam Franken, it actually worked harder to re-enact the harassment of Leeann Tweeden.  Add this action to the list for the special investigation.