Worth our Time, Worth our Vote

October 17, 2019

Dear Editor:

I write to express enthusiastic support for Christian Worth to become the next House Delegate to represent Virginia’s 24th District.

Through her thoughtful interactions in every corner of the 24th, Worth has articulated a clear plan for how best to represent us in Richmond.  Her “Rural Blueprint” maps the ways in which we can fully fund our schools, expand healthcare access, develop the workforce, establish reliable broadband, and promote clean energy.  I particularly appreciate Worth’s focus on recruitment and retention of excellent teachers, increases in per-student funding, and improvements of school facilities, especially in the Career and Technical areas.  Worth believes in public education and what it means for our families and futures, and she will make it a priority during her time in Richmond.

As a lawyer, Christian knows how to put policy into practice.  As a community member, Christian cares deeply about her neighbors and the issues that affect us. She has taken the time to get to know the 24th District and is ready to represent us.  Smart, experienced, and generous, Christian Worth has my vote on November 5th.

Ellen Mayock

Lexington

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.)

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.