So, I haven’t written much lately. While the world raged about mooching ranchers, and racist NBA owners. While Afghanistan prepares to vote, while Crimea and the Lord knows what else are summarily annexed. While planes disappeared, and ferries capsized. While aged windbags pontificated about women needing husbands here, while the world was silent about girls in Nigeria being kidnapped by people who would shortly force marriage upon them. It has been difficult to summon the urge to write about much of this because it’s not new: it was a little more than 2 years ago that Alexandra Pelosi chronicled federal dole frequent fliers who probably needed it more than Cliven Bundy. Donald Sterling’s contempt for people of color has been a matter of public record for years; Russia is hegemonic, again, not new. It’s not that I can only write about new things. The issues/examples I will raise later certainly aren’t all that novel. It’s just that I need to feel like there is something novel to be said, so let’s forge ahead and see if that’s true.
When I started this blog a year ago, it was because I wanted to respond to what I thought was a breach of decorum vis a vis the First Lady. The protagonist in that story started heckling FLOTUS, then sought to complain about/critique the rebuke she received. Fast forward a year: last week, CA legislators sought to hold a nonpartisan prayer breakfast, and one lawmaker, feeling the decorum had been breached, walked out after Jim Dobson labelled the President, “the abortion president.” On the one hand, I agree with her completely. Political name-calling has no place at a non-partisan prayer event. On the other, I feel a little like I did about the lady complaining when the First Lady gave her a hard time: sometimes you get what you pay for. Jim Dobson is not anyone’s idea of a guy who does apolitical or nonpartisan well, thus I’m not that surprised that he went there. Maybe a better question is “does that make it ok,” or “is there anything new here?” I think what’s new is that we find ourselves increasingly in a time where people have lost their filter … their sensitivity …their consideration … whatever it is that has historically prevented us from “going there,” seems to have fallen away, been switched off, whatever. Is this an inevitable result of the many opportunities for dumbing down, from reality tv shows to a variety of shows whose agenda is more political than factual? Is it a by-product of the 24 hour news cycle such that so called news like this goes national when, in a bygone era, this would have been passed over in favor of something more substantial? Or is it something else?On Husbands
Last month, it was this one: on the heels of the President signing an executive order relating to equal pay, arch anti-feminist, Phyllis Schlafly took it upon herself to opine that women prefer to marry men who make more money than they do, and thus, that achieving equal pay would deprive women of the types of mates that they seek. Setting aside — as I’m sure Phyllis did and without a second thought — the fact that some women are either already or planning to be married to another woman, Phyllis, as is her wont, failed to take account of economic reality: 1) we’re in a recession, thus many families are happy and lucky to have two people with jobs, if that’s what they’re after, so are unlikely to sit back and cling to some sort of antiquated notion about who should make more; 2) household budgets don’t have the predictability they once did. In a two-earner household, either spouse could be laid off, or subject to a salary freeze, or a pay cut or any moment, so forgoing income because the spouses want one of them to make more is not a reflection of how things actually work in these challenging economic time; 3) there’s also the idea that many men are perfectly happy to have their wives earn a comparable salary, and the whole thinking around men needing to earn more is one of those, “Mad Men,” relics the President dismissed earlier this year during the State of the Union address. 4) then there’s my category of women that Phyllis alway leaves out of her Father Knows Best panacea: single women-headed households. It doesn’t matter what our view on men making more than women is. We are the only source of incomes for our families, despite the fact that many of us were once married, or in a relationship. And we most assuredly are not in support of the idea that women should make less because for us that means less options about where and how we live, less stability for our families, less savings put away for retirement and less options for our children about whether they will go on to higher education.
On the Trivialization of Rape
Before I get to the “headline,” of this section, let me pause. As many of you know, I have the great privilege of advocating for laws and policies that better serve, and protect survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and stalking. It means I get to work alongside some of the most dedicated, hard-working and talented people you’d ever want to meet, much less work with. Last week, when the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released their first report, I got to pause and reflect for a moment on the ability of our government to do good, and to strive for better. The amount of time that my “sisters in struggle,” took to listen to the stories of survivors, to move the federal government to new levels of transparency so that everyone could be better informed about where complaints involving sexual assault on campuses were being filed, to investigate and sort through options and approaches for better equipping survivors to make empowering choices, and to urge colleges and universities — with both the carrot and the stick — to do more and better by their student body, our future, is staggering. We owe them, their spouses, their kids (2 & 4 legged) a debt that we may not be able to repay, but thank them we must for working tirelessly to eliminate this scourge of epidemic proportions, and ensure that one day, it is no more.
So, what is there to say about rape? That it is everywhere? Even as the newspapers filled last week with stories of the Obama Administration’s work to stem campus rape, and of the more than 50 colleges and universities currently under investigation, there were other stories as well … of a valiant 8 y.o. who was killed while trying to fend off his 12 year old sister’s attacker .. of the judge who problematically thought that the appropriate community service sentence for a perpetrator of sexual assault would be a placement at an organization that serves survivors of sexual assault. Apparently, the people seeking services from this provider do not merit much, if any consideration. And then there’s the story that vexed me most, to put it mildly …. of last year’s Heisman trophy winner, Jameis Winston, being disciplined by Florida State U. for stealing crab legs from a grocery store last week. Why it was not possible for them to summon this level of interest in holding Winston accountable when he stood accused of sexually assaulting a FU freshman in 2012? I cannot overstate the depth of my simultaneous incredulousness, and outrage as I relate the following facts: 1) according to the survivor, the assault occurred in December of 2012, 2) the FSU athletic dept. knew about the allegations no more than one month later as one of the assistant athletic directors called the police to inquire about it; 3) despite this knowledge, university officials only questioned Winton ONE YEAR LATER AFTER THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME in January of this year. Maybe I’m the only one surprised by this. Whether or not I am, we all have work to do because this is unacceptable. On the part of the young man who, the article suggests may have committed sexual assault previously; on the part of the university who seemed content to ignore the situation until after the championship; an on the part of parents who do not talk to their children early and often about this issue generally. My child is 5 — for another few days, anyway — and though he could not tell you the specifics, he knows that relating to law enforcement is complicated, and is mommy’s job, so when a cop approached him and I was not immediately nearby, he ran to me. He didn’t do that because he overheard me talking to someone about the Trayvon Martin case, or about the several problematic interactions I’ve had with cops in my lifetime. He got it because he and I talked about it more than once, and the line was clear and he knew what was expected and what (not) to do. I both expect and fear that when he gets a little older, we’re going to have more than one talk about sex, and many more talks than one about consent. What I heard from college aged young adults speaking last week on a White House panel on campus sexual assault has left me better equipped to talk to Alex. Consent, one panelist pointed out, is not the absence of a “no,” but the presence of a “yes.” The most troubling piece of the article I read about mishandling of the investigation into the allegations of sexual assault against Jameis Winston came in the description of the account of another young woman who was likely (in my view) assaulted by Winston as well. She was disturbed enough by her encounter with Winston to have sought counseling from the FSU victim advocate, however she did not describe the encounter as rape, the article suggests, because she did not say no. Reduced to an equation “Silence” does not equal Yes.” Nor does not saying no.
Without being entirely clear on the “why,” writing this piece has given me some insight into the “what.” Somewhere along the way, the individualism so prized by us as Americans, and oft decried by people abroad, has gone on some kind of steroids-like binge. Clergy take over prayer breakfasts for their own political ends, discussions about women’s inequality are are seized upon by folks with a pro heterosexual marriage agenda, and campus sexual assault is routinely trivialized by administrators who shun bad publicity or worse,ignored by those who put the school’s athletic program above the safety of students. Part of what’s so troubling, I think, is that alleged leaders are behaving this way: Senate candidates comparing Food Stamp recipients to wild animals, while at the same time engaging in medicaid fraud; judges finding that the first amendment only protects christians; or permitting prayer in public spaces, while failing to note that Christian prayer is being privileged over that of other faiths.
The revolution is coming my friends. I don’t mean that apocalyptically. I always thought that we might ultimately see turmoil and upheaval for reasons economic: haves v. have nots. I suspect, though, that the revolution(s) will start for reasons far more simple: respect for human dignity, displays of human decency, and even common sense are fast becoming things of the past, even as guns are ever more easy to obtain. Through the madness, though, there are seeds of hope. People around the world have rallied to demand that Boko Haram #BringBackOurGirls But, there are also seeds of madness as state legislators express extreme indifference –at best– on questions of fundamental importance like our abhorrence — written into the Constitution — for cruel and unusual punishment, while federal legislators, who at least know enough to be ashamed of their behavior, avoid responsibility by avoiding the conversation. The outcome of this spiraling madness is yet to be known, but it can be influenced by you, if you vote, engage, debate, and take others with you. Otherwise, when November comes and we find that it is possible for things to get scarier and worse, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.