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.

C’mon. Are You Kidding Me?

(Summary headlines from The New York Times, 12-15-17)

I need to write about how 2017 kicked my ass month in and month out, but I will save that for next week.

I’m saving the story of 2017 kicking my ass for next week because, well, it is still kicking my ass.  Take a look at the images above, a partial list of headlines from the December 15th (2017) edition of The New York Times.  There is no end to the list of harassers and assaulters, and yet there also seems to be a long line of doubters, some of whom are boasting, jousting doubters who are causing a backlash against the women who have me-too-ed.

This past week, my family and I had the good fortune of seeing many family members and friends for the holidays.  We are lucky to want to see so many people and always feel like we come up short, like we wish we had another week to finish the conversations and start some new ones.  This year was no exception, but I did hear some conversations in big-group settings that I wish I hadn’t heard.

Men from my father’s generation think that women and men will never be on the same page and that the #MeToo business proves this.  They think that women have gotten uppity in their quest to rupture gender role expectations.  They have no idea what non-binary means, and they really don’t want to know.  They long for the days when things were simpler, when men could stroke, grope, and fondle and women just shut up about it.  These particular men in my conversation don’t necessarily want to wantonly stroke, grope, and fondle, but they certainly don’t want to have to hear any complainin’ about other men’s stroking, groping, and fondling.  Mostly, they long for the days when men could stroke, grope, and fondle and never question whether it was right or wrong. They definitely don’t want the words “stroking,” “groping,” and “fondling” to be replaced with “harassing,” “attacking,” and “assaulting.”  That’s just over the top.  Too much, I tell you.  It’s time to restore some balance and civility and let the strokes, gropes, and fondles fall where they may.

Men from my own generation want to gather to talk about not riding elevators with women.  They have had the Human Resources training.  They have read about Harvey Weinstein.  They want to maintain their sexist work cultures without the threat of being accused of sexual harassment.  They want to believe that sexual harassment and sexual assault are confusing and nuanced concepts.  They don’t know it, but they want to become Mike Pence and never dine with any woman who isn’t their wife (remember: that’s most women).  After all, any random woman on an elevator might accuse them of sexual harassment.  They don’t know how to be alone in an elevator with a woman because who knows what exactly sexual harassment is?  If they’re pushing buttons to get to the fourth floor, is that sexual harassment?  If they say hello to the other person in the elevator, is that sexual harassment?  I mean, who really knows?  How can you know?  Is it possible they could just say, “Hi.  How are you?” and then not stroke, grope, or fondle another person on the elevator?  If they could succeed in doing that, they might be able to assure themselves that this is not sexual harassment.

Many men from a generation younger than me seemed to actually get it.  Huzzah!  They understood that women and men are professionals.  They understand that most professionals prefer not to be stroked, groped, fondled, propositioned, or otherwise harassed or assaulted at work.  They read articles and books about these issues, but mostly they talk to their friends, some of whom are cis-women, some of whom are trans-women, and all of whom do not want to be stroked, groped, fondled, propositioned, harassed, or assaulted.  They all seem to know what these words mean.  They know how to ride in elevators and greet other human beings.  They know how to respect body autonomy, work etiquette, and human decency.

Nevertheless, one topic that still too few people are addressing is the assaulter-in-chief in the White House.  (*See this Gender Shrapnel Blog post that treats yet again why Trump must go.)  The more the old guys wax nostalgic about when women put up and shut up, the more the middle-aged guys worry that they might suddenly start masturbating on an elevator, the more we understand how so many people have indulged the assaulter-in-chief for so long, from long before his Russian-rigged run to the present day.  Accusing Trump of loudly admiring or detracting, stroking, groping, fondling, harassing, and assaulting—women and girls—might require people to assess what they themselves have done to others, what they themselves have indulged in others, and/or what they themselves have allowed others to do to them.  None of it is good.

2018 requires rigorous self-evaluation.  Figure out what you’ve done wrong, and then don’t do it again.  You can do this.  You can ride the elevator and just say “hello.”  You can work with women and appreciate their good work.  You can eat meals with people and move through an agenda. You really can.

Shame, in Five Acts

(Just your typical sign at the checkout counter of Dick’s Sporting Goods)

Act One: The Dream

Brown people are not stealing
the jobs of white people.
Brown people are not stealing.
White people steal in the dead of night—
borders, jobs, lands, people, words, paintings, ideas, bodies.
This is empire; this is colony.
Stealing it all and blaming those who lose it all.

Brown people are dreaming
dreams already made reality for the white people
who complain of brown people wanting too much,
living above their station, taking jobs meant for others,
articulating a desire to be treated as human beings.
Brown people are dreaming of a time when brown means
Work, labor, vida, amor—, and not having to see brown.

Act Two: One Lid at a Time

The alarm rings.
One eyelid opens.
Is he still president?
The other eyelid shudders,
can’t open, can’t greet the day.

The other eyelid opens,
burdened, heavy,
willing the eye not to see.
Do I still live in the United States?
Both eyelids close, shuttered.

The alarm insists.
Both eyes regard, en garde.
The body resists this existence
in a regime made in USA,
built to deny, hurt, annihilate.

Eyes open; heart resists.
Beat, come on, beat, heart,
start the day.  Beat, come on,
heart, beat the regime of the USA.
Beat, heart.  Beaten down.

The heart opens, starts the day.
Extends the glass, filled half-way.
Exists, resists, insists, has its say.
Buhm, buhm.  Buhm, buhm.
Buhm.  The regime seems here to stay.

 

Act Three: The Public Square

Charlottesville lies awake,
wide awake to the vultures
circling overhead, and to the
creatures in the swamp below,
as yet undrained.

Tiki torches take the public square,
telling a tale of who gets to spew
hate and rage and whose protest
must be put down, gunned down,
carred down, charred, laid to rest.

Both sides, they say?
One side was armed to the teeth,
Opening the mouth, speaking in
tongues that lie in wait, lie and hate–
a surefire way to create two sides.

The other side, you ask?
Where were they?
Told to stay away for their own safety,
told to be quiet for their own protection,
unable to be and breathe in the public square.

 

Act Four: Praise Be

Praise be, Roy Moore!
Rise and shine and give God your glory!
You are a good Christian man.
You are an elected official.
You are the best Republican
the State of Alabama has to offer.
You (allegedly) raped young girls.
You are to be defended, supported, paid for
by the Grand Old Party and its Groping Old President,
whose support for you confirms all we knew.

Praise be, Roy Moore!
Rise and shine and give God your glory!
You believe women should not hold office
but girls should hold you.
Your abnegating wife stands by your side
because the State of Alabama needs a landslide.
You cast shame; you cast blame,
but you feel none of your own, for
the Grand Old Party needs its tea
in the figure of Christian rapist Roy Moore.

 

Act 5: U.S. on the U.S. State Department Warning List

The State Department Warning List should include a lengthy bit on the United States and the dangers of traveling here.

Los Angeles, Ferguson, St. Louis, Baltimore, Chicago, Minneapolis, and a long etcetera: Beware police violence

Charlottesville, Lexington, Richmond, and a long etcetera:  Beware Nazi and KKK violence on the streets

Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, Orlando, Charleston, Newtown, Blacksburg, and a long etcetera: Beware mass shootings

Hollywood, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Alabama, New York, everywhere: Beware sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and rape

The United States: Beware the devastation of land and water

The Unites States airports and points of entry: Beware border violence against non-whites and non-Christians

The message? Beware, beware, beware.  No one welcome here.

(We’ve got a long road ahead.)

Charlottesville (and Lexington)

(Photographs of “flaggers” in Lexington, Virginia)

If the events in Charlottesville did nothing else, they made clear to multitudes of people who somehow weren’t yet sure that, since the nation’s inception, we in the United States have created and sustained in overt and covert ways profound systems of oppression—especially of black and brown individuals and communities and Jewish peoples.

The flood of articles, interviews, longer magazine pieces, and more informal posts on social media take our nation, and especially and appropriately white people, to task for ignoring realities and/or taking no action in the face of awareness, and they reveal the many gulfs of levels of belief and understanding between and among us.  Sherman Alexie’s poem “Hymn” speaks beautifully to the sadness and complexities of our current moment; “Renegade Mama” reminds white women that “This is definitely us” (meaning we are complicit in the system of oppression); Ijeoma Oluo’s piece on The Establishment gives practical advice on battling white supremacy; the UVa Graduate Student Coalition published “The Charlottesville Syllabus” to teach us about “the long history of white supremacy in Charlottesville, Va.”; presidents of academic organizations and universities and mayors, congresspeople, and governors have made statements about Charlottesville to condemn white supremacists and their umbrella groups.  This video clip of Toni Morrison on the Charlie Rose Show in 1993 has also recently made the rounds on social media.  Of course, we all know that our oppressor-in-chief was prepared from the very start of his term (and seemingly throughout his life) to support white supremacist groups.

I am a white woman who still has a lot to learn about the history of monuments, the rise of white supremacist groups, and the daily dangers, obstacles, and challenges in the life of people of color living in the United States.  I am writing about Charlottesville this week because I cannot think or write about anything else (except for the additional tragedy of the events in Barcelona and Cambrils), nor can I sleep, nor can I feel safe for friends, oppressed communities, or my own family.  In this blog post I’m going to provide cultural context to my own living situation and then list briefly the major issues that I have seen underscored in the week since white domestic terrorists armed themselves to the teeth, marched triumphantly through various areas of Charlottesville, chanted vile words against African Americans, Jewish people, women, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and killed peaceful activist Heather Heyer and injured many more.

I was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, where I always wondered at the lack of nuance in official discussions about Thomas Jefferson and at the banal insistence on putting a Jefferson quote on every building stone and t-shirt.  For 20 years I have lived in Lexington, Virginia, home to Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University.  Lexington continues to confront its own problematic history of slavery, the Civil War, complicity with Jim Crow laws and culture, civil rights struggles in the 1950s and 60s, and present-day conflicts about what the city does or can represent.  This week there has been discussion here among knowledgeable and generous people of generating a “Lexington Syllabus” to make more transparent the conflicted history of white supremacy in this town.

VMI was founded in 1839.  Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson taught at VMI and is kept alive in the town through the following: his statue at VMI; his gigantic tomb, flanked by those of other Confederate soldiers, at the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery; the Stonewall Jackson House; the Stonewall Jackson Hospital (where my two children were born); Stonewall Street; Jackson Street; even Jackson’s horse, Sorrel, is stuffed and housed at the VMI Museum.

Washington and Lee University was founded in 1749.  As you can tell by the name, the university was named for its founders, two of the most famous generals (the “Generals” are also the mascot of the university) of United States History.  As president of the school from 1865-70, Robert E. Lee lived on the university campus.  “Lee House” is the name of the presidential residence at W&L.  The university’s chapel is Lee Chapel, in the basement of which you can find the crypt of Lee and several family members.  Even his horse, Traveller, is buried right outside the chapel.  A famous statue of Lee literally occupies center stage in Lee Chapel.  This statue is called “Recumbent Lee,” but I usually call it “Incumbent Lee,” because it feels as if he’s always about to return to the university presidency.  Besides W&L’s numerous reminders of Lee, the town of Lexington boasts the RE Lee Episcopal Church, the Robert E. Lee Hotel and Lee Street.

The university has celebrated Lee as just another one of its presidents.  In 2006, the incoming president of W&L said this about Lee: “Then of course, there is Robert E. Lee, assuming the leadership of Washington College after the Civil War. Offered numerous other opportunities, Lee chose a college presidency because it was the only option that allowed him to help bind the wounds of a divided nation. If the United States was to recover from the devastation and moral wounds of the Civil War, the healing had to begin with education. We build upon the legacy of Lee, the educator, with an ongoing commitment to educating citizens and leaders for a complex world.” (Here is a piece that president wrote almost six years later, more nuanced, but still adopting a rehabilitative view of Lee.)  Ultimately, though, this president did take down the Confederate flags that were displayed on the W&L campus.  If I recall correctly, the university (where I teach) has also sponsored exhibitions and workshops of “Lee the Educator.”  When I interviewed at W&L on a January Monday, the university was celebrating “Founders’ Day” (Washington and Lee), while the rest of the nation celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.

In the Gender Shrapnel Blog, I’ve written on several occasions about the oppressive nature of civility codes and the problematic silencing of so-called identity politics.  I suspect that this week’s post will be unpopular among some groups of my town and university, but I also think we must face the hypocrisies we continue to foment as we fear airing the dirty laundry of our past and present.  Four years ago, W&L rightly determined that it would publicly reckon with the institution’s slave-owning past.  To do so, the institution placed an historical marker on the side of Robinson Hall on the university’s historic Colonnade to show that donor John Robinson had been the owner of 84 enslaved people and to name those 84 individuals.  This marker was visible from my office window, and I was glad to see even the smallest nod towards understanding that W&L had benefited from the ownership and labor of enslaved peoples.  At the same time, renovation of the entire Colonnade was nearing its end, supported in large part by a big donation from W&L alumnus and former trustee Warren Stephens.  Stephens has been listed as part of the Wall Street fraternity not-so-slyly named Kappa Beta Phi.  In a 2014 article in New York Magazine, Kevin Roose recounts his infiltration of the group’s big annual event, which featured Stephens and his “fraternity brothers” doing skits.  Roose writes, “Warren Stephens, an investment banking CEO, took the stage in a Confederate flag hat and sang a song about the financial crisis, set to the tune of “Dixie.” (“In Wall Street land we’ll take our stand, said Morgan and Goldman. But first we better get some loans, so quick, get to the Fed, man.”).”  This link from the Arkansas Times used to contain a link to the audio of the performance.  As I recall, the New York Magazine piece originally included video coverage of the event, but that has also been removed.  This Salon piece comments on Stephens’ link to the Confederate flag, and extrapolates to a discussion of Wall Street’s ties with the Confederacy.

While the historical marker for 84 enslaved people is found to the side of one of the buildings on W&L’s historic Colonnade, Warren Stephens is honored with not one, but two, rectangular stones, placed right on the Colonnade itself—one at either end of the brick-lined walk.  Stephens frames the Colonnade, and W&L’s enslaved peoples are tucked to the side.  There is still much work to do in terms of the semiotics of remembrance, reckoning, and reconciliation.

One of the Lexington citizens who led the way to make illegal displays of the Confederate flag in public spaces used to own the house I live in.  Groups of “flaggers” still drive by our house every year throughout Martin Luther King Day Weekend and, on occasion, they hop out of their cars, 30-40 women, men, and children abreast, line up by the curb in the front of our house, wave their Confederate flags, and sing “Dixie.”  (See photos of this, above.) They also remark at the “Latinos for Obama,” “End Crooked Districts,” “Safe Space,” and “Take Back the House” bumper stickers on our 21-year-old car.  These are the days we don’t allow our children to walk home from school or go outside without us.

Three days ago, as the town worried about increased activity and potential for violence, especially given the events in Charlottesville, the U.S. “president’s” continued support of white supremacist groups, and our proximity to Charlottesville, I heard myself say to my daughter, “The flaggers are out.  Please be careful after school.”  After I said this, I realized how normal such a statement had become and thought about how that statement must feel more acute and necessary in homes of black and brown residents of our town.

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 2nd Amendment 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.

Lock Her Up

(Remedios Varo, Witch Going To The Sabbath [1957]; https://www.wikiart.org/en/remedios-varo/witch-going-to-the-sabbath-1957)

As I drive south on I-81 in Virginia towards my home, I pass an old barn with a giant “Lock Her Up” sign nailed to the top.  The barn serves as a homemade billboard, publicizing its message for thousands of cars and trucks passing by each day.  The billboard reminds me how Michael Flynn led chants of “Lock Her Up” at last year’s Republican National Convention.  Oh, the irony.

A friend drives her car behind a truck with a multitude of stickers.  One of them is an exaggerated, Barbie-style female shape, in a sex pose, colored in with the confederate flag.  The caption is “Southern Style.”  Other stickers on the truck boast of the truck owner’s military service.  The sticker reminds me of how the confederate flag imposes racist, and now also explicitly sexist, messages masked as nostalgia for the past.  This is a past for which many people feel nothing akin to nostalgia, due to the overriding and violent oppression they and their ancestors experienced in that past, a past which resembles in too many ways the present.

A few days ago, I drove behind a truck that had a sticker that recommended that its readers, “Ditch the bitch.  Let’s go goose hunting.”  This prompted me to wonder who “the bitch” was and why the ditcher would engage in what appears to be an unsatisfying relationship with the ditched.  Things might work better, I thought, if the ditcher skipped the unwanted union with the “bitch” and just went directly to killing birds.  The bumper sticker evokes a general misogyny that seems even more unleashed than usual over the past year.  (*See this Gender Blog post on the “B-word,” used in reference to Hillary Clinton frequently during the campaign season.)

This past week, Donald Trump claimed to be the victim of a witch hunt.  He tweeted, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”  According to this article from the Smithsonian Magazine, tens of thousands of women were executed in witch trials in Europe between the late 1300’s and the late 1600’s, and of course most of us are familiar with the Salem Witch Trials here in the United States in the 1600’s and 1700’s.  History professor Mikki Brock’s interview in Motto is an excellent critique of Trump’s use of the term ‘witch hunt.’  The Motto piece states: “One of the great ironies of this of course is that Trump is not someone who has an especially high view of women,” Brock said. “For Trump to co-opt that term to paint himself as a victim shows a total misunderstanding and woeful ignorance of women — but also an unwillingness to see how power structures work and to be sensitive to the deep meanings behind this terminology.”

In this May 18, 2017, article in The Atlantic, Yasmeen Serhan speaks with historian Mary Beth Norton about witch hunts and witch trials.  Norton sees the witch hunt as “an expression [more] of military fear” in which white citizens believed the devil controlled Indians and witches.  Norton adds, “The problem that I set for myself as a historian was figuring out why Salem was so different, and my answer was fear of Indians and the Indian war and how the fear of the Indians got conflated with fear of the witches.”  Historians Brock and Norton tell us that the key to the witch hunt is the idea that a person is unfairly targeted (made “other,” as in the case of Native Americans and many women) or falsely accused.  Of course, then, we have to see Trump’s use of this term as analogous to his claims of “false news” for any media outlet that tarnishes the overblown image he has of himself. The man who just takes what he wants sees himself as unfairly targeted.  The man who encouraged, rally after rally, to have supporters chant “lock her up” sees himself as unfairly targeted.  Oh, the irony.

The “Lock Her Up” metaphor stretches to other women-punishing policies of the Trump administration, including the AHCA and the Global Gag Rule.  See this April 4, 2017, Foreign Policy article for more information on Trump’s anti-woman policies.

Politics seems to breed corruption. I’m not a political scientist and can’t speak to the history or statistics of this statement, but it certainly seems true to the casual observer of the political sphere. In this sense, if corrupt practices are part and parcel of how business is done, then I am concerned that women presidents and prime ministers (and potential presidents and prime ministers) are held to significantly higher standards than their men counterparts.  Former Brazil President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from office last year, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye was impeached and removed from office this year.  This is a high percentage of specifically women leaders to be impeached!  (*The Pew Research Center reported on March 8, 2017, that “There are 15 female world leaders currently in office, eight of whom are their country’s first woman in power, according to our analysis of data from WEF and other sources. While the number of current female leaders – excluding monarchs and figurehead leaders – has more than doubled since 2000, these women still represent fewer than 10% of 193 UN member states.”)

(https://www.usnews.com/news/sports/articles/2016-03-23/political-crisis-relegates-rio-olympics-to-an-afterthought)

By many accounts, Dilma Rousseff and Park Geun-hye seem to have been engaged in corrupt practices, practices that are a part of the system in which they move.  I am not saying that impeachment wasn’t (or was) appropriate in these two cases, but I am saying that male colleagues seem to escape the intense scrutiny to which high-level women leaders are subjected.

Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who seems only to have done an exemplary job in her office, illustrates the “Lock Her Up” metaphor even more clearly.  As she provided constitutional rationale both for criticizing Executive Order 13769 and for warning of Flynn’s compromised position, she was accused by Senator Charles Grassley of leaking information to the news media and scolded by Senator John Cornyn for making an “enormously disappointing” decision about the travel ban. (*See this The New York Times opinion piece from 5-11-2017.)

Remember, too, that Code Pink activist Desiree Fairooz was arrested for laughing at the confirmation hearing of Jeff Sessions.  The New York Times reports that Fairooz and two other protesters face “up to 12 months in jail, $2,000 in fines, or both, depending on the outcome of a June 21 sentencing hearing.”  “Lock Her Up” apparently extends from e-mail servers all the way to laughter.

What and whom do they want to lock up?  It seems we are somehow still afraid of women’s authority, success, irreverence, and genius.

Civility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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