The consequence of sexism

I’m writing this the morning after the Republicans in the Senate passed a massive tax reform bill that I doubt many of them, or their staff members, or maybe even leadership had read.  The bill wasn’t even printed but evidently photocopies with handwritten insertions and changes were passed out in the hours just before the vote.  There were no hearings.  And now we get to watch Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell try to reconcile the House and Senate bills.  I wish them no success.

So how is this bill a consequence of sexism?  I hadn’t thought about it either until I read this piece by Jill Filipovic in the New York Times.  She writes

Many of the male journalists who stand accused of sexual harassment were on the forefront of covering the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Matt Lauer interviewed Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump in an official “commander-in-chief forum” for NBC. He notoriously peppered and interrupted Mrs. Clinton with cold, aggressive, condescending questions hyper-focused on her emails, only to pitch softballs at Mr. Trump and treat him with gentle collegiality a half-hour later. Mark Halperin and Charlie Rose set much of the televised political discourse on the race, interviewing other pundits, opining themselves and obsessing over the electoral play-by-play. Mr. Rose, after the election, took a tone similar to Mr. Lauer’s with Mrs. Clinton — talking down to her, interrupting her, portraying her as untrustworthy. Mr. Halperin was a harsh critic of Mrs. Clinton, painting her as ruthless and corrupt, while going surprisingly easy on Mr. Trump. The reporter Glenn Thrush, currently on leave from The New York Times because of sexual harassment allegations, covered Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 campaign when he was at Newsday and continued to write about her over the next eight years for Politico.

A pervasive theme of all of these men’s coverage of Mrs. Clinton was that she was dishonest and unlikable. These recent harassment allegations suggest that perhaps the problem wasn’t that Mrs. Clinton was untruthful or inherently hard to connect with, but that these particular men hold deep biases against women who seek power instead of sticking to acquiescent sex-object status.

What these journalists did when they interviewed Mrs. Clinton has the same roots as their sexual harassment.

For arguing that gender shaped the election narrative and its result, feminists have been pooh-poohed, simultaneously told that it was Clinton, not her gender, that was the problem and that her female supporters were voting with their vaginas instead of their brains.

The latest harassment and assault allegations complicate that account and suggest that perhaps many of the high-profile media men covering Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump were the ones leading with their genitals. Mr. Trump was notoriously accused of multiple acts of sexual harassment and assault, and was caught on tape bragging about his proclivity for grabbing women. That several of the men covering the race — shaping the way American voters understood the candidates and what was at stake — were apparently behaving in similarly appalling ways off-camera calls into question not just their objectivity but also their ability to cover the story with the seriousness and urgency it demanded.

Filipovic continues

This moment isn’t about a nation of confused men. It’s about a minority of men who choose to treat women alternately as walking sex objects or bothersome and potentially devious nags. It’s about a majority of Americans who give men a pass for all manner of bad behavior, because they assume men are entitled to behave badly but hold women to an entirely different standard.

That is why it’s so egregious that sexual harassers set the tone of much of the coverage of the woman who hoped to be the first female president.

There are at least two other well known men accused of sexual harassment:  Senator Al Franken and Garrison Keillor.  It is true that both supported Clinton.  Both are alleged to have committed an act or acts that, while harassment, are rather on a different scale than Matt Lauer’s or Charlie Rose’s multiple actions.  I taught my first workshops about sexual harassment in the late 1970s to managers in Virginia state government and my staff began investigating complaints.  The manager who put his hand down an employee’s blouse was suspended; the manager who patted an employee on the rear was reprimanded.  No act can be excused, but we need to maintain some perspective.

As Filipovic writes

The 2016 presidential race was so close that any of a half-dozen factors surely influenced the outcome: James Comey, racial politics, Clinton family baggage, the contentious Democratic primary, third-party spoilers, Russian interference, fake news. But when one of the best-qualified candidates for the presidency in American history and the first woman to get close to the Oval Office loses to an opponent who had not dedicated a nanosecond of his life to public service and ran a blatantly misogynist campaign, it’s hard to conclude that gender didn’t play a role.

 And what we get is a tax reform bill that will only help the rich, destruction of the environment, alienated allies, and potential nuclear war.  Thanks a lot, fellows.

Woman power is the future

A lot of people predicted that women were going to change America’s political history in January of 2017. But pretty much no one anticipated that they’d be doing it as leaders of the resistance. On Saturday, millions of women and men — organized largely by young women of color — staged the largest one-day demonstration in political history, a show of international solidarity that let the world know that women will be heading up the opposition to Donald Trump and the white patriarchal order he represents. Women — and again, especially women of color, always progressivism’s most reliable and least recognized warriors, the women who did the most to stop the rise of Trump — were the ones taking progressive politics into the future.

So begins the best article I’ve seen yet on the Women’s March:  The Future of the Left is Female.   Written by Rebecca Traister for NYMag.com it is a shrewd analysis of the march, the organizers, and, of the future.  It is fairly long, but I encourage people to read the entire thing because my quotations and comments can’t come close to doing it justice.

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National co-chairs of the march Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour, and Tamika D. Mallory at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

Plenty of factors made this effort so successful, but perhaps the biggest was the shock and horror that jolted portions of a long-complacent population awake after the election of Donald Trump. As it turns out, sometimes, It Takes a Villain. We’ve got one now; he lives in the White House, has the nuclear codes, and spent Saturday defending the size of his, er, inauguration crowds. In his first weeks in office, he might very well nominate an anti-choice Supreme Court nominee, begin deportations, repeal health-care reform, start the process of withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, and defund Planned Parenthood. He has already reinstated the Global Gag Rule.

I’ve been asked many times “But why didn’t you vote?”  Traister’s response

Clearly, the vast majority of Saturday’s crowd had been Hillary Clinton supporters, at the very least in the general election if not in the primary. But it is also true that some of the apathy, some of the complacency, that many critics took as a reflection of Clinton’s “flawed” candidacy stemmed instead from the sense that Americans didn’t really need to panic or take to the streets on her behalf because she was going to win. She was going to win, the assumption went, because of course we are evolved enough that this guy could never get elected president and thus we were free to focus on the imperfections of the woman who was going to be the president.

I admit that I was not an enthusiastic Clinton supporter and spent my energy on local races including Sue Minter who ran for, and lost, the race for Vermont governor.  But I voted and voted for Clinton and was among the many who were stunned at the outcome of the Presidential election.  The question now becomes where to go from here.

But there was a new metaphysical approach at work on Saturday, largely thanks to the organizing and leadership of nonwhite women: the revolutionary sense that the new women’s movement will be about pulling in issues of criminal justice, environmental activism, immigration reform, and systemic racism. Women, with women of color at front and center, can be the engines of new progressive activism in all arenas. It’s a rebuke to the theory floated by some on the left that there is a disjunction between “identity politics” and politics, a rebuke to those who suggested in the wake of Trump’s electoral win that the future lies in moving away from divisive “social issues” and identity-framed movements and back to economic policies.

What this event did, on the most massive scale we have seen in this country, is reaffirm what has always been true: The impact of identity bias has always been economic, and economic issues have always most powerfully disadvantaged those who experience identity bias. Or to put it another way: Women’s rights are human rights.

That sentence: “The impact of identity bias has always been economic, and economic issues have always most powerfully disadvantaged those who experience identity bias” was at the heart, I think, of Bernie Sanders campaign.  Bernie, however, was – let’s be honest – an old white man – and while he began to frame the issue, he could not organize people of color and women who wanted desperately to elect a woman President.

The oil pipelines, the Flint water crisis, pay inequity, low minimum wages, the lack of adequate child care, etc., etc. are in the end economic issues and, they impact women disproportionately.

We can take hope from who marched.

If there was an over-representation of “nice white ladies” marching, it’s important to note that those white women were showing up for a march led by nonwhite women, in support of a radical and intersectional set of policy principles laid out by nonwhite women, carrying signs and marching in solidarity with plenty of women’s issues that do not center on white women. No, we shouldn’t give them too much credit for showing up where they should have been for years. And yes, the next steps must include white women (and men) showing up for women of color in other ways, at other demonstrations and with other actions (including not voting with an eye to their own privilege).

Perhaps most surprising of all, men showed up alongside the women to fight for those rights. Many reports had the New York march at about half men, though some of that could perhaps be explained by the number of New York women who went to Washington alone, leaving kids behind with male partners. But those men — including my husband, including my male friends — brought those kids, girls and boys, to the march for women’s rights in New York. Men were at all the demonstrations in great numbers.

I’ve been in the women’s movement for a long time, so long that I was a delegate from Virginia to the First Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977.  I look at the poster hanging in my study every day.  I have watched the movement come together, fracture over what issues are important, fracture over race, and come together again.  The January 21 marches are the beginning of another start.  This time WILL be different, I can feel it.

But even if the necessary power realignment within feminism takes time, this historic event will have been a tremendous step toward the reimagining of a women’s movement as a web of varied but interconnected interests and missions.

And as it happens, when it happens, women will be leading the way into the progressive future.  Women will lead the revolution.

Photograph: Noam Galai/WireImage

A bit of Vermont women’s history

Clarina Howard Nichols’ voice cracked in nervousness. Her heart pounded. She felt faint, and she briefly rested her head on her hand. But she kept speaking, and her words — indeed her very presence — changed Vermont.

The year was 1852, and Nichols was standing behind the speaker’s podium in the Vermont House. Though the state had been founded 61 years earlier, she was the first woman to address the Legislature.

These are the opening paragraphs to Mark Bushnell’s column on Vermont history, Then Again published in VTDigger.

Nichols was speaking because a group of business men and others from Brattleboro had petitioned the Vermont Legislature.

Still, Nichols mustered the courage to stand before the lawmakers and argue for a sliver of equality for women: that they be allowed to vote in school meetings.

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Clarina Howard Nichols became the first woman to address the Vermont Legislature, in 1852.

The men in the Vermont Legislature did not grant women the right to vote on school matters after her speech.

Women wouldn’t get the right to vote in school elections until 1880, at town meetings until 1917 and in statewide elections until 1920.

Nichols was a divorced woman who supported herself and children writing for the Brattleboro newspaper, The Windham County Democrat.  She had left an abusive marriage with the support of her husband’s family at age 29.

Four years later, she married the paper’s editor, George Nichols, who was 28 years her senior.

It was a good match. George Nichols apparently encouraged his wife’s independent streak and relied on her to help produce the paper. Soon after they married, he grew sick and she gradually took over as editor, though she wouldn’t publicly acknowledge her position for years.

When she finally revealed that she was the editor, she started getting invited to speak at women’s rights conventions in the Northeast and as far west as Wisconsin.

Nichols spoke on the issues of her day:  The right of married women to own property and participate in civic affairs.  She later moved to Kansas and spoke on abolition of slavery, but she got her start in Vermont.

Photograph from the Vermont Historical Society.

“We are a gentle, angry people…”

Yesterday was a rather phenomenal day.  The media reports of women’s marches on all seven continents.  Posts by friends from all stages of my life with pictures of themselves, their children, and often, grandchildren at marches and rallies all over the world.  I’m sure I’ll be writing more about the why and certainly will write about what happens next, but today I want to celebrate a song I hadn’t thought about for a long time, but which seems to be the appropriate one for this new movement.

We sang it at the Brattleboro Sister Vigil and, later, a friend posted that she had seen the words on a sign in Boston:  “We are a gentle, angry people.”  She hadn’t realized that those were the words of a song by Holly Near.

Here is a clip of Near singing it in 2015 at a conference on the anniversary of the first national demonstration against the War in Vietnam.

And here are the words.

We are a gentle, angry people
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are a justice-seeking people
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are young and old together
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are a land of many colors
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are gay and straight together
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are a gentle, loving people
and we are singing, singing for our lives

Learn the tune.  Make up more verses.  We are singing for our lives.

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Taken at Pliny Park, Brattleboro VT on January 21, 2017 about 20 minutes after the formal Sister Vigil had ended.

Photograph by Robert Wyckoff

Race and Gender in the Trump Cabinet

Many of us are paying a lot of attention to important things about the Trump nominees:  Do they believe in Climate Change?  Support torture?  Want to cozy up to Putin?  Create a Muslim Registry?  Know anything about the job they to which they are being appointed?  Important things.  That is why this analysis is so interesting.  It was the headline that caught my eye “Trump’s Cabinet So Far Is More White and Male Than Any First Cabinet Since Reagan.”  Written by Jasmine C. Lee the New York Times story is full of charts and pictures.

If Mr. Trump’s nominees are confirmed, women and nonwhites will hold five of 21 cabinet or cabinet-level positions. He has not yet named nominees for two additional positions.

Those five members will also be in some of the lowest-ranking positions. None of them are in the so-called inner cabinet, the four positions in place since George Washington’s presidency: the attorney general and the secretaries of state, Treasury and defense (formerly called the secretary of war).

Barack Obama had 14. Bill Clinton 12, and George W. Bush 9.  Trump is doing a little better than Reagan who only had two:  Jeanne Kirkpatrick at the United Nations and Samuel Pierce at HUD.

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The cabinet of President Ronald Reagan in February 1981.

The first cabinets of George W. Bush and Mr. Obama were both noted for their diversity. In Mr. Bush’s initial administration, 45 percent of the cabinet and cabinet-level officials were women or nonwhite men. In Mr. Obama’s first cabinet, that figure was 64 percent.

What does it mean that the clock is being turned back on diversity?  I think that diversity and inclusion are bad words to the President-elect.  They certainly are to his supporters.  But I think a great deal is lost when there aren’t persons from different backgrounds, genders, and races at the table.  If everyone is a super-rich white man, who represents the rest of us?  And who represents the Trump voter?

Official White House photo of Obama Cabinet

The cabinet of President Obama in September 2009.

Photograph of Reagan Cabinet from the Reagan Library

Photograph of the Obama Cabinet from the White House

What is being a feminist all about?

I’ve got credentials.  I was a delegate from Virginia to the First National Women’s Conference held in Houston in 1977.  I shepherded one of the early pay equity cases – a professor at Old Dominion University who was being paid less than her colleague with similar degrees and experience – to a successful conclusion.  I worked to make marital rape a crime and to ratify  the Equal Rights Amendment in the Virginia legislature.  The first successfully, the second not.  I’m the same age as Hillary Clinton.  And I am very disappointed in how her campaign somehow feels entitled to my vote.  Some how I lose my standing as a feminist if I support Bernie Sanders.  She seems to have migrated a long way from her wonderful speech in Beijing.

Women listening to Hillary Clinton at a campaign event in New Hampshire

Women listening to Hillary Clinton at a campaign event in New Hampshire

I was trying to figure out how to write about this when I read Frank Bruni’s column this morning in the New York Times.  I think he was hit the nail on the head.  He begins

I’m 51. My health is decent. And while my mother died young, there’s longevity elsewhere in the family tree.

I could live to see an openly gay presidential candidate with a real chance of victory.

Will there be a “special place in hell” for me if I, as a gay man, don’t support him or her?

I can guess Madeleine Albright’s answer. She more or less told women that they’re damned if they’re not on Hillary Clinton’s team.

I’m still trying to get my head around that — and around Gloria Steinem’s breathtakingly demeaning assertion that young women who back Bernie Sanders are in thrall to pheromones, not ideas or idealism, and angling to score dates with the young bucks in the Sanders brigade.

I could substitute Asian American for gay and ask the same question.

There’s a weird strain of thought swirling around Clinton’s campaign: that we should vote for her because she’s a woman. Or that she’s inoculated from certain flaws or accusations by dint of gender. Or that, at the least, there’s an onus on forward-looking people who care about gender inequality to promote her candidacy.

I care about gender inequality, and I don’t buy it. It’s bad logic. It’s even worse strategy. People don’t vote out of shame. They vote out of hope.

Perhaps that was among the lessons of Clinton’s defeat in New Hampshire on Tuesday, where she lost to Sanders among all women by at least seven percentage points, according to exit polling, and among women under 30 by more than 60 points.

Somehow we got from the positive nature of a woman running for President to what must seem like a bunch of old women scolding young ones for supporting – gasp -a man instead.

Clinton’s gender indeed matters. Just as you couldn’t properly evaluate Obama’s arc without factoring in race, you can’t see her accurately without recognizing that she’s a woman of her time, with all the attendant obstacles, hurts, compromises and tenacity.

That informs — and, ideally, illuminates — her perspective. And her presidency would carry a powerful, constructive symbolism that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.

But those are considerations among many, many others in taking her measure and in casting a vote. To focus only or primarily on them is more reductive than respectful, and to tell women in particular what kind of politics they should practice is the antithesis of feminism, which advocates independence and choices.

We’re all complicated people voting for complicated people. We’re not census subgroups falling in line.

I’ll go to the barricades for that imagined gay candidate if he or she has talents I trust, positions I respect and a character I admire. If not, I’ll probably go elsewhere, because being gay won’t be the sum of that person, just as womanhood isn’t where Clinton begins and ends.

I will be voting for her in November should she be the Democratic nominee, but I will never quite admire either Madeline Albright or Gloria Steinham in quite the same way as I did before.

Photograph:   Richard Perry/The New York Times

The Republican obsession with women’s bodies and sex

Haven’t posted for quite a while now.  Maybe it is the end of winter doldrums (I can almost say I survived my first Vermont winter which wasn’t nearly as bad as winter in the Boston I left behind.) or maybe I’m just discouraged by the general  state of politics.   I’m becoming increasingly fearful about what will happen if the Republicans take over the Presidency next year.  But I have been aroused from my lethargy by a story and editorial in today’s Brattleboro Reformer.

I’m not sure how it works in other parts of the country, but New England has a tradition of school children asking a legislator to introduce a bill for them.  I wrote a few weeks ago about the young woman who wanted Vermont to have a Latin motto.  Another group would like the Gilfeather turnip to become the Vermont state vegetable.  The children have to do their research and come and testify before the appropriate committee of the state legislature.  Their bills sometimes pass and sometimes get postponed for a year, but along the way they learn about politics and how bills become laws.  So a group in New Hampshire wants to make the red-tailed hawk the state raptor.  The Reformer editorial compares their reception to that given to the Gilfeather turnip lobbyists.

On March 17, a dozen students from Wardsboro Elementary School traveled to Montpelier to lobby for designating the Gilfeather turnip as the state vegetable. Wardsboro was home to John Gilfeather who is credited with developing the turnip that bears his name.

Rep. Emily Long, a Democrat from Newfane and a co-sponsor of the turnip bill, said she was “absolutely thrilled to see the kids here. I heard they were really good, I saw one of their teachers, and she was glowing!”

The students were told by Rep. Carolyn Partridge, a Democrat from Windham, that the bill would not pass this year, but she said many members of the committee supported it. In fact, Partridge said Gilfeather turnips had a celebrity status at her family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas tables growing up, and she said she would make a soup from them and bring it to the committee so they can taste the gnarly root vegetable for themselves.

Members of the committee were given wool-felted Gilfeather turnip pins, one of many items handcrafted and sold as part of fundraisers for the annual festival, which benefits the town’s library.

But what happened in New Hampshire?

Now let’s compare the reception the Wardsboro students received to the reception a handful of fourth-grade students received when they went to Concord to lobby to name the red-tailed hawk the state bird. What was the reaction they got? Incredibly, one legislator likened the bill to abortion.

State Rep. Warren Groen, from Rochester (need we really name his party?) said the red-tailed hawk “mostly likes field mice and small rodents. It grasps them with its talons and then uses its razor sharp beak to rip its victims to shreds and then basically tear it apart, limb from limb. And I guess the shame about making this the state bird is it would make a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.”

Yes, Groen took the opportunity to push his anti-choice agenda at the expense of a group of 9 and 10-year-old students from Hampton Falls.

We’ve all seen video and read stories about male Republicans at all levels of government getting tangled up in trying to figure out birth control, rape, and abortion.  Remember back when Newt Gingrich said women can’t be soldiers because they get a “disease” every month?  Or Rush Limbaugh thinking one had to take a birth control pill with every act of intercourse?  Or the guy who said women could hold an aspirin (I think it was an aspirin.) between their knees to prevent rape.  And most recently the state legislator who thought maybe one could swallow a tiny camera so a doctor could see how old the fetus was before an abortion was performed.  The list is endless.  But NH Rep. Groen really shows the totality of their obsession by introducing the anti-choice agenda during a hearing about raptors.  When the inappropriateness of his comments was pointed out and he was asked by leadership to apologize, Groen made the whole thing into a free speech issue.

What was Groen’s reaction to criticism of his comment? “Every time we’re in session the gallery is open, and there are children in the gallery. So, I don’t know, should we limit free speech or should we limit who goes in the gallery?”

Maybe the answer, Rep. Groen, is that on a day when birth control, abortion rights, or Planned Parenthood are being debated it is up to parents to decide if their children should be in the gallery.  But not when we are talking about red-tailed hawks.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

And while we are on the topic may I ask why Congressional Republican have to add an amendment about abortion to every single piece of legislation?  Today I’m talking about the bill concerning trafficking of women, the bill that is holding up the confirmation of Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General.  Can we drop that language and pass the bill and confirm Ms. Lynch, please?

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph:  Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Taken by Betty Lemley, New Jersey, February 2008