Tag Archives: women’s rights

People, Not Property

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Something horrible happened a little while ago in a place with the deceptively idyllic-sounding name of Isla Vista.  In the aftermath and the weeks since we’ve tried to process it, to assign a specific and preventable cause to the motivations of the perpetrator in the hopes to avert a similar future occurrence, and solutions vary, predictably, according to the broad swath of the ideological spectrum.  If we are each to weigh in, as the current state of our discourse seems to demand, what can I say that’s different?  What can I contribute to actually make things better, instead of just bouncing around the echo chamber – scoring accolades from admirers and suffering barbs (or worse) from the other side – before the storm dies down and we return to talking about box office grosses?  It seems that at times we’ve become a civilization whose talents are geared largely towards commenting rather than fostering true progress, and I struggle with this in the composition of this entry.  Truly, my words won’t bring the victims back.  They are but shouting into the wind and the rain for the briefest of moments.  But I’m going to shout anyway.

Reading the tweets shared under the #YesAllWomen hashtag was heartbreaking, and sobering.  The shiny, bauble-bedecked veneer of First World existence blinds one to the deeply ugly undercurrents of our nature, the river of misogyny that touches each aspect of interaction between the genders.  This idea that men have been sold – yes, sold, because so much of what is wrong with how we behave can be traced back to the concept of one person convincing another to buy something they don’t need – that women are a commodity men have a divine right to possess, instead of independent human spirits meriting respect and the freedom to determine their own futures, is stomach-churning when laid bare, but laced so insidiously into our culture that we are happily swallowing the lie several times a day without even realizing it.  The woman is always positioned as a prize at the end of the quest, something to win.  Any time a man is tasked with self-improvement, be it in the form of career, health, spiritual fulfillment or putting on a superhero costume and going out to fight crime, the implicit reward is getting laid, and any other end is mere frivolity.  It’s all meaningless, the zeitgeist conspires to tell him, unless you’ve got that “perfect ten” hanging off your arm at the gala premiere.  Elliot Rodger certainly thought so, and his self-perceived inability to live up to this ridiculous standard led him to lash out and take six innocent lives with him.

It’s deplorable that as a result, women should be forced to be ever vigilant, but as the #YesAllWomen tweets prove, it’s an attitude born of a shared experience, and one to which men cannot really relate.  In this metaphor, men are the customers, not the goods, and we can’t understand what it’s like to be thought of as property to be acquired until we are ourselves put up for sale.  When I’m out for my morning run, and I see a woman further up the sidewalk on her morning run heading towards me, my first thought is not going to be, this is a potential assailant, maybe I should cross the street.  It’s never been suggested that I should tone down how I dress or do my hair differently lest I not be taken seriously by my work colleagues, or receive unwanted advances from strangers.  I’ve never had someone try to grope at my crotch on a crowded streetcar, I’ve never been screamed at because I refused to give a woman my phone number, and I’ve never had to worry about leaving my drink alone at the bar lest someone slip roofies into it and I wake up bleeding on a filthy bathroom floor.  And these are just a very small sampling of some of the stories that were shared online.  There are thousands more, and to our shame, an equal number of sarcastic, sneering responses fired back.  As was pointed out elsewhere, these types were seemingly angrier that the stream of stories was gumming up their precious home feeds than at the fact that these things were actually happening to women everywhere.  When you can’t refute the argument with logic or reason, just tell the woman to shut up, and go back to watching the game.

Words may sometimes be lost on the wind in the storm, but often they’re the only thing we have.  In and of itself, a hashtag isn’t going to change the world, but the camaraderie those shared stories can engender – pun intended – is a step toward creating the empathy we need to help make the storm stop.  To help fathers teach their sons that women are not property to be coveted and acquired like the mindless deluge of merchandise that flashes across our Internet browsers, assuring us that the void in our souls can be filled with the simplicity of a single click and a valid credit card number.  Respecting women unconditionally; judging them by their principles, their accomplishments and the many facets of their personalities, instead of how they look in a bikini and how willing they are to jump into bed with you; casting forever aside the juvenile notion that a woman owes you a single thing by mere virtue of your passing interest in her; recognizing that fundamentally, misogyny comes from a place of deep dissatisfaction with the shortcomings of oneself as a man, and that those shortcomings can only ever be remedied by one person – the man in question – that is how things begin to improve.

None of us are property.  None of us are each other’s property.  And the human soul is not something to be traded on the free market; its value is far greater than that.

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Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you people?

Amanda Todd.  Steubenville.  Now Rehtaeh Parsons.  When declaring one’s opposition to bullying seems to be the most in vogue catchphrase nowadays, why is the act itself still happening?  Why do young people continue to think that assaulting girls, sharing photographic evidence of same to Facebook and then tormenting the victim relentlessly until she takes her own life is within a galaxy’s reach of acceptable?  Why are wealthy libertarian op-ed writers continuing to excuse this utterly reprehensible behavior in the guise of “freedom of speech,” “boys will be boys” and “she was asking for it”?  Joseph Welch famously brought an end to Senator Joe McCarthy’s career by saying “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”  In a similar vein, I am left to ask, “seriously, what the hell is wrong with you people?”  Truly, what in the name of God has gone cockeyed in the wiring deep in the cobweb-strewn recesses of your addled little misogynist brains?  How many more young women are going to have to suffer before you grow your ass up and act like a goddamned man?

I don’t understand it.

I went to my share of house parties when I was young.  I was intoxicated at a few of them.  I was surrounded by intoxicated women.  Some of them were very beautiful, and being near them in that kind of environment would stir the expected physical reaction.  Yet never once did I or any of my friends take advantage of a girl in her most vulnerable moment or try to document the act to laugh at later on.  No matter what might have been aching down below or how much beer was flowing through my veins I never forgot about the humanity of my fellow partygoers, and never failed to treat them with the respect they deserved.  Perhaps it was how I was raised.  What I don’t get is why respect for women by men seems to be considered in many circles effeminate; that the way to get on with “the boys” is to describe in nauseating detail the perverse sexual acts one would like to perform on the stunning blonde who just sauntered by (that is, if, in reality, the one doing the boasting could manage to get his pants off before an, um… early finale.)  No one is telling any man that you don’t have to enjoy the sight of a beautiful woman or relish the desire that she makes you feel.  But you’re not a hulking, lumbering cro-Magnon who has to stick it in every available hole and then publish the evidence to the Internet while your buddies giggle like glue-sniffing hyenas.  You are better than that.  Despite what you may believe, the brain in your head can actually overrule the one in your boxers.  You can tell your pals that “that’s not cool, bro,” and see that the girl who’s had too much to drink makes it home safely and unharmed.  You can tell classmates who mock her to shut their filthy mouths.  That’s being a man.  And I wish so desperately that someone could have been a man for Rehtaeh Parsons.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about International Women’s Day in which I stated that I was ashamed of my gender for some of the things men have done.  An anonymous commenter whom I imagine was short of a few IQ points (not to mention the cojones to use his real name) suggested I should seek therapy, and whatever happened to personal responsibility?  That is the essence of the problem, right there.  We don’t take responsibility for each other.  We watch acts of misogyny and femicide on the news and shrug.  We let our governments slash funding for social programs that help the less fortunate so we can buy a new iPod with the few bucks we save on our tax bill.  We have “professional,” highly-paid mouth-breathers with massive bullhorns like Tom Flanagan polluting our discourse by asserting that looking at child pornography is a victimless crime (because for him it’s a question of individual liberty, or some other “don’t tread on me” bullshit) or Barbara Amiel claiming that had only the girl in the Steubenville case been wearing something like a burqa, the jumped-up little cretins who attacked her might have been able to resist their primal urges.  We reduce everything to right versus left and shun compromise and common sense in favor of ideological purity.  I am sick to death of society washing its hands of crimes like this one with the cop out that “it’s not my fault.”  We are all at fault because we don’t challenge each other to better ourselves.  “I’ve got mine, to hell with all of you” is going to be the epitaph of humanity.  Homo sapiens may endure for some time yet, but humanity will be lost in a flood of apathy and indecency if we don’t start working to correct this right now.  Let’s not lie to our kids that it gets better and then do jack to actually make it better.

As the father of a son on the cusp of his teenage years, when hormones he can’t control start flooding his body with feelings he can’t manage, it is my responsibility to teach him the importance of respect and what it really means to be a man when it comes to how he treats women and indeed anyone who is vulnerable.  As long as I’m breathing he will never be one of those fratboy douchebags who would stand idly by while a girl is being violated, or worse, record it and share it with the world.  He’s going to be the guy who escorts her out of danger and threatens to kick the ass of anyone who gets in his way.  So help me, he’s going to be a crusader for girls and women, the way real men are.  And he’s going to pass the same lessons on to his friends and his children and everyone else he meets.

I mourn Rehtaeh Parsons deeply.  A light in the world that should have shone for decades has gone out.  And I fear that unless we change our ways she won’t be the last.  One looks at the U.S. and how even after schoolchildren were massacred by a gunman, outraging the world, they still can’t pass any kind of sensible gun control legislation because of too many powerful people whining about “personal liberty.”  In a world where children’s bodies can be shredded by a legally purchased firearm, and where a young woman is driven to kill herself by a pack of hormonal cowards shaming her on social media for something that wasn’t her fault, no one is free.

We should all be ashamed.  What the hell is wrong with us?

“I Misspoke” and non-apology apologies

Rep. Todd Akin, Republican candidate for Senate (Missouri). Not pictured: Todd Akin’s brain.

By now, everyone with even a passing interest in the U.S. election has heard of Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remark that “legitimate rape,” whatever on earth that is, doesn’t cause pregnancy.  Compounding the sheer idiocy of this comment was Akin’s follow-up non-apology apology, in which he claimed he misspoke and pivoted as hard as he could without acquiring whiplash to bashing President Obama on his handling of the economy.  It’s been observed that Akin likely isn’t sorry at all that he said what he did, that his original remarks come from a place of deeply-held convictions fuelled by religion and God knows – pun intended – what else.  Saying “I misspoke” is poll-tested politicalspeak for “I know what I said will probably lose votes but I don’t want to outright disavow it because that will lose the votes of my base and I really don’t want to be portrayed as a flip-flopper or give my opponent something they can use against me in a TV ad and… SQUIRREL!”  Akin’s hoping to ride out the news cycle and trusting that the rubes who would vote for Vlad the Impaler so long as he was running on a Republican “values” platform will still put him and his 15th Century views on women in the Senate chamber come November.  That’s what “I misspoke” really is, no matter who uses it:  a Get Out of Jail (or at least a Get Your Foot Out of Your Mouth) Free card.  It’s a stopgap half-truth designed to soothe the angry, reassure the faithful and ultimately prove what a spineless weasel the candidate is – a small person without courage, without integrity, and without any business occupying elected office.

Real men own their mistakes.  If Todd Akin says he’s going to take out the garbage and forgets, what does he say to his wife?  “In reviewing my remarks to you at the dinner table earlier this evening, it’s clear that I misspoke in our discussion and it does not reflect my deep empathy for the millions of trash bags left rotting at the curb every year as the truck drives away.  This is clearly a result of President Obama’s failed waste collection policies and an example of why we need new leadership in Washington.”  Wonder how that doesn’t end with him sleeping on the couch for a month?  If this hypothetical situation goes down, what really happens is that Akin begs on his knees for forgiveness, buys Mrs. Akin flowers and a spa day and never forgets to take out the garbage again.  Why don’t we demand the same level of accountability for those we entrust with the public purse?  Why are they allowed to say “I misspoke” and get off scot-free – or worse, get into office where they can screw our lives with impunity before retiring on a glorious pension after utterly hosing the millions who voted for them in the first place?

 When you think about it, the “I Misspoke” is genius.  It has the effect of feigning contrition where there is absolutely none – where the costs of doing so are deemed by a focus group to be politically suicidal.  It sounds amazingly remorseful, yet isn’t in the slightest.  From what I’ve observed, there are essentially three components to the “I Misspoke,” and none of them involve acknowledging responsibility:

  1. Point out that there may have been some confusion about the intent of the remarks.  Even if the remarks were abhorrent, it’s always about the confusion.  Shorter version:  It’s your fault you’re upset by what I said.
  2. Claim I’m really a nice guy because I love flowers and rainbows and kittens and I feel really bad for people who have to go through hard times (the subtext being, elect me and I’ll vote to cut funding for every single one of you, you freeloading bastards).
  3. Pivot to something completely unrelated as long as it’s a poll-tested, campaign-approved message.  “Yes, I probably should not have expressed my admiration for the German economy of the 1940’s but man, did you get a load of Ryan Lochte’s abs?  And what’s the deal with Nyan Cat?”

Notice too that the word “sorry” seldom, if ever, appears in the context of the “I Misspoke.”  That’s only used by people who feel genuinely distraught about the weight of what they’ve done, and intend by whatever means necessary to rectify it.  If Todd Akin is elected to the Senate, he will not experience any road-to-Damascus conversion and suddenly become a champion of abortion rights and women’s issues.  He’ll vote according to what was on display in that original interview, saying “aye” to every mandatory ultrasound-requiring, Planned Parenthood-defunding, women’s health care-eliminating bill that comes his way.  If Akin is upset at all it’s that he’s put his Senate bid in jeopardy – he does not give one-tenth of a rat’s ass about women, which is why his non-apology apology rings so false.  As Rihanna might opine, “don’t tell me you’re sorry ‘cause you’re not, when you’re only sorry you got caught.” 

Because voters treat political parties like baseball teams, supporting their side to the bitter end regardless of faults (Jan Brewer winning re-election as Arizona’s governor after spacing out during the gubernatorial debate is a prime recent example), Akin stands little chance of seeing any serious long-term blowback on this issue – despite calls for him to stand aside as the Republican nominee for the Missouri Senate seat, calls which as of this writing he is brushing off.  If I were Todd Akin’s campaign manager right now, I’d tell him to stay the course, that Missouri trends right and so long as he stays on message for the rest of the campaign (read:  Obama bad!  Taxes bad!) he’ll probably win anyway, thanks largely to Karl Rove and Super PAC money.  But I wouldn’t be his campaign manager, because I’d never support such a backwards-thinking, poorly-educated head-in-the-sand empty shirt for an office of such stature.  See, the problem with the “I Misspoke” isn’t that people use it.  It’s that we have lowered the bar so far that people can “misspeak” and carry on regardless.  So long as we fail to hold our elected officials accountable when they reveal their true character as Todd Akin has, and like Akin, refuse to accept responsibility for their dumbassery, we will continue to be outraged instead of inspired, and dragged down by the worst of us instead of lifted by the best.

And I do not misspeak when I say that.

To the other half of the sky

As International Women’s Day dawns, one cannot help but look back on the events of the last few days, the last few weeks, even the last few years as arguably the antithesis of everything this day is meant to represent.  It is almost as if, societally, we are seeing a hard return swing of the pendulum, a pushback by the men of the world against the leaps forward made by women over the last hundred years – in some ways an all too predictable accompaniment to the collective freak-out over the uncertainty of the future and the resulting rise of right-wing extremism in mainstream thought.  Neanderthal legislators in several states are ramming through draconian measures forcing women to submit to invasive medical procedures prior to being able to legally terminate a pregnancy.  Even the basic freedom to use contraception is under threat, with the gargantuan gasbag of the airwaves, Rush Limbaugh, suggesting that women who use it are asking for subsidized promiscuity.  Fortunately he’s been subjected to a massive backlash because of his remarks, but it’s distressing that the political climate has become so anti-woman that he felt he could say something like that in the first place – it’s from the same line of thought that allowed the President of Afghanistan to pass a resolution declaring men to be fundamentally more important than women.  Some might ask what the hell has happened lately, but the question goes deeper than that.  It strikes at the very heart of our entire civilization, and the basic fact that men simply cannot understand women – and what they can’t understand, they try to control.

Monty Python’s Life of Brian features among its many hilarious scenes a bit where the People’s Front of Judea adopts a resolution that one of its male members can have the right to have babies, despite having no womb – “Where’s the fetus gonna gestate?  In a box?”  The fellow at the center of the bit opines that his interest in women comes from his desire to be one – in a way, a basic expression of men’s inability to figure women out.  Pagan beliefs speak of woman as the triple goddess – the mother, the maiden and the crone, a holy trinity of complexity, a balanced equation of purity, maturity, wisdom, emotion and above all, beauty.  Try explaining that to the guys at the bar on a Saturday night in single syllable words using visual aids and pie charts while the game’s on.  And let me know how it turns out.

There is no way to understand a woman other than being one yourself, and that drives men absolutely bonkers.   Women have a power over men that is inscrutable to men as well as infuriating, because we pride ourselves on our ability to remain in control at all times, indomitable masters of our domain – one glimpse of a beautiful woman walking by and that all goes out the window.  Men’s measurement of their lives, their virility, their achievements, their status, is directly related to how much attention it garners them from women; what women think of them.  Advertisers understand this, which is why you can put the world’s most useless white elephant in the hands of a woman in a bikini and sales will explode.  And it’s why the most confident man turns to an insecure pile of jelly if a woman for whom he feels desire isn’t interested.  His very existence as a man of importance is threatened.  Men don’t like giving up that control to anyone.  To paraphrase Yoda, insecurity then turns to fear, fear turns to anger, anger turns to hate.

Women are insulted, humiliated, shunned, subjugated, beaten, violated, harassed, dismissed and even murdered because men can’t accept that they are different and special – perhaps, in what is man’s deepest, darkest fear, more special or indeed, better than them.  And men have perfected this pattern over thousands of years to the point where women think it’s their fault.  They are made to feel inadequate, to hate their bodies, to crave a fantasy ideal of physical and emotional perfection that is so utterly foreign to what it truly means to be a woman – because that is what a man thinks they should be.  A powerful, intelligent and confident woman – the actual ideal, at least from this man’s admittedly limited perspective – is dismissed as a harpy, a harridan, or a bitch, and sadly still in many countries, put to death.  Every woman held back from achieving her potential is another notch in man’s ever-lengthening belt of oppression, and every time a woman fails in any way because of a man’s bruised ego, we should all be utterly ashamed of ourselves.  Our collective human potential for greatness will never be achieved until every last one of us, man and woman, is permitted to be who they are, utterly free of the archaic constraints of a patriarchal society that men fail to realize holds them back as much as it keeps women down.  In the end, men don’t need to understand women, they just need to accept them – and let them be who they are.  Despite traditional expectation, we might just find that we enjoy the results.