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Pussygate

October 8, 2016

This is an amazing day, watching the Republican Party descend into chaos. By the time I’m done writing this, Trump may have been forced out. WHY? Over this? And isn’t it deliciously ironic that the GOP might kick Trump off the ticket because he said things that aren’t politically correct?

Don’t get me wrong – when I heard Trump saying that he can get away with whatever he wants with women – kissing them uninvited, grabbing them by the pussy – because he’s a star, I wanted to vomit. I was disgusted by his sense of entitlement to women’s bodies. I was horrified that he obviously thought he was being hilarious when he was describing sexual assault. And I was saddened because, yeah. He’s not wrong. Our society absolutely lets celebrities get away with sexual assault (just ask Bill Cosby). The audio file repulsed me – but I wasn’t the least bit surprised.

The reaction from the press and from the Republican stalwarts that they are shocked – shocked! – that Donald Trump is a misogynist piece of shit is a bit too much to swallow. C’mon, people. Donald Trump has made it very clear that he sees women only as sex objects. He ranks us all from 1 to 10. He appeared in a Playboy video ogling twin playmates. He cruelly demeans women he finds unattractive. You’ve seen him in footage, leering at 19 year old pageant participants, or on his reality tv show, making lewd jokes at the expense of the female contestants. You’ve heard and seen him with Don Imus and Howard Stern, being crude and vile and entitled, describing the threat of STDs as his “personal Vietnam.” For goodness sake, we’ve all even seen the clips (multiple) of him saying that he would date Ivanka if he weren’t married, and he weren’t her father (in that order). You’ve seen the snippet where Robin Leach asked him how his daughter Tiffany – then ONE YEAR OLD – was like her mother, and he says that this baby has Marla’s legs. (“We don’t know whether or not she’s got ‘this part’ yet, but time will tell.”)

This is a man who sees women, ALL women – including his daughters, EVEN WHEN THEY WERE BABIES – as sexual objects. Of course he feels entitled to grab, kiss, and take women. That is how rape culture works. When you see women as objects, and not as actual people, it’s easy.

Yesterday, one after another, the party faithful expressed their disgust at this new, entirely predictable revelation. Today, the endorsements are being pulled, Pence is in hiding, and the party leaders are scrambling to force Trump out, even though it’s far too late to take him off the ballot. So back to the question at hand – why was this the tipping point? He has always been a pig; this is not news. But rats flee a sinking ship, and Trump is going to lose. If he had held his own in the debate, if he were polling even, they’d still be solidly supporting him, shrugging this off as old news, and just boys being boys. The reality that Trump is lewd and vile and lecherous, as well as racist, ignorant, and fascist, and Putin’s stooge, and quite likely mentally ill, was all somehow acceptable to the GOP. Republican leaders are abandoning Trump now because they finally realized he’s going to lose. And losing? That is unforgivable.

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This is What a Chauvinist Looks Like

September 30, 2016

Donald Trump’s ugly sexism has always been inescapable, but since the public humiliation of losing that first debate it has blown up exponentially. His wounded ego has been obsessed with two things: punishing Hillary for beating him by bringing up Bill’s infidelity, and punishing Alicia Machado for damaging his reputation by any means necessary.

On Monday night, Trump “held back” from attacking Hillary Clinton with her husband’s affairs (while making sure we all knew he might). When she mentioned Alicia Machado, Trump immediately threatened “I was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself, ‘I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. It’s inappropriate. It’s not nice.'” In the days since, his surrogates have openly pushed for him to smear her this way, and he teases the possibility at all his public appearances. The breathtaking sexism inherent in attacking Hillary for Bill’s infidelity seems to escape all of them. How, exactly, is that attack supposed to work? Leaving aside that WE ALL ALREADY KNOW THIS, what would he be alleging about Hillary? That she failed in her duty to satisfy Bill? That she is less of a woman because Bill cheated on her? That since women are the gatekeepers of virtue, either leading men astray, or keeping them on the narrow path of monogamy, Hillary wasn’t a strong enough virtuous influence and is responsible for Bill’s fall into sin? No, seriously, explain to me how the fact that Bill Clinton is lech and a philanderer makes Hillary look bad. Is it because she stayed with him, forgave him, stood by him – does that make her weak? Is it that she is human and wasn’t “supportive” of the women Bill cheated with – is this some crazy attempt to suggest her feminism is lacking because she isn’t perfect? There is literally no way to tar her with her husband’s past that isn’t inherently, inescapably sexist, but Trump cannot stop talking about how much he wants to do it.

Still, his threats to discredit his actual opponent pale beside his unhinged attacks on Alicia Machado. Machado’s allegations of sexism and racism were the strongest blow HRC landed in that debate; Trump wants to destroy her for hurting him. He has gone after her even more than he went after the Khan family for daring to criticize him. He first “defended” himself on Fox & Friends by noting that she had actually gained weight after winning the crown, completely missing the point that dehumanizing her, belittling her, and mocking her are not ever acceptable. Somehow, his entitlement and sexism let him think he had a right to humiliate her for not being hot enough for him. He honestly believes she deserved to be dehumanized because she gained weight.

And then, at 5 a.m. last night, Trump let lose the following flurry of tweets:

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What stands out, of course, is the obvious slut-shaming of Machado (as far as anyone can tell, there is no sex tape, but that is beside the point). Alicia Machado is a sexual woman, and therefore “disgusting.” Trump’s pathological sexism goes even further: being a disgusting sexual woman means she deserved to be treated like dirt. Somehow, he thinks he can justify being abusive to her when she was 19 by implying that many many years later she maybe made a sex tape.* Of course, disgusting sexual women not only deserve to be demeaned and mocked (preemptively!), they are also not to be trusted – she conned Hillary into presenting her as an “angel,” and “a paragon of virtue.” And this is where we see just how deep his chauvinism goes. Hillary, of course, never said a WORD about Machado’s “virtue.” She never painted her as a saint. She only said that Trump treated Machado terribly. Trump imagined that Machado was being held up as the vestal virgin, because to Trump, no other type of woman could possibly be credible, could possibly deserve to be treated as human being, could possibly cast aspersions upon HIM.

This week really has been a master class on Old School Sexism. All the classics are here, ancient hoary principles that uphold the patriarchy – Women are to blame if men sin! Women are to blame if their marriages fail! But women who stay are weak! Women who weigh more than 117 pounds are pigs! Women who enjoy sex are disgusting! Women are liars! Women are either Angels or Whores! Women deserve to be treated like dirt! And above all, any woman who challenges a man – especially a woman who bests him – needs to be torn down. Trump shall (apparently literally) NEVER REST until she’s destroyed.

* I am NOT mentioning Melania’s past, other than to say that not seeing the hypocrisy there really does suggest he’s mentally ill.

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Hillary’s One Weird Trick for Dealing with Interruptions!

September 28, 2016
Ever since the debate, the ThinkPiece Industrial Complex* has been in overdrive, pointing out that what seems so galling here – that he spoke 2/3 of the time while she patiently, politely, humored him, that he interrupted her no less than 51 times when she finally had a chance to speak – is a reality American women negotiate every day. And it’s true – study after study establishes that men dominate conversation time, in real life and in media. Again and again there’s proof that both men AND women interrupt women much more frequently than they interrupt men. To say nothing of the reality that qualified women are so often competing to be heard over men who have no idea WTF they are talking about. Heck, just a couple of weeks ago, the internet was ablaze with the One Weird Trick Women Used to be Heard in the Obama Administration, proving that even when women ARE invited into the Room Where It Happens by men who overtly value their insights, they still have to develop strategies to make sure these men HEAR THEM and give them credit for their own ideas over the deafening din of assumptions and expectations and implicit bias.
What fascinates me, though, is that we noticed at all, and why. Why, if this is so much a part of our culture, are we all suddenly talking about it? Why did so many men note what an amazing accomplishment it is that Hillary did not explode in anger and frustration, if it is true that we are conditioned to expect women to be polite, to not even notice that men always dominate the conversations?
Part of it was the stage, of course. We have the first woman who is seriously contending for the presidency of the United States, running against not just a man, but a man who embodies the sick misogynist false ideal of hyper-masculinity. The “strongman” bully who derides opponents as losers, who equates strength with aggression, who promises order through physical intimidation and violence. But I think the answer goes beyond that. We didn’t just notice how unacceptable his behavior was because of the stark contrast.
We noticed because she didn’t cave. When it was officially his turn to speak, she let him speak, with admirable grace (grace modifying her patience, NOT his speech!). A patience that yes, many women practice all the time. But we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all if that were her whole reaction. No, we *noticed,* we’re *talking* about this, because she did something else far more novel. Men everywhere interrupt women – but until last night, very few of us had seen what it looks like when the interrupted woman just *goes right on speaking.*
We noticed his interrupting because she didn’t cede the floor. If she had, all of our cultural assumptions would have come rushing in to fill the void, and we would have seen him as strong, would have accepted the interruption as his taking control of the conversation. But she didn’t do that. She didn’t lash out, she didn’t get angry, but she almost never acknowledged his outbursts in any way – she just kept talking, with the result that his interruptions didn’t look like a confident man controlling the conversation, they looked petulant and  childish and rude. On a few occasions, she replied directly to what he’d said – but then she held on to the floor, returning seamlessly to her original point. She didn’t let him derail her, she didn’t let him dominate her. She had a fearlessness that comes from having dealt with so much more crap in her career than any of us can imagine, and the poise that comes from truly trusting herself in that moment. She made us see him as a buffoon. The debate highlighted, finally, how unacceptable our cultural norm is. And Hillary showed us what it looks like when we have the clout, and the moxie, to hold our own.
The women of the Obama administration showed us how to be heard – have each other’s backs, amplify each other’s ideas, keep repeating and giving credit where it’s due until the men finally hear you. And last night, Hillary taught us the secret to dealing with interruptions: just keep talking. Own your right to that microphone, shake it off, and say what you came to say: don’t let anyone derail you when it’s YOUR TIME. Easier said than done – but oh, it can be done.

* I wish I remember who came up with this phrase, in response to Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” but I can sadly only say it isn’t mine.

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1,068

June 23, 2016

Dear Speaker Ryan, and my dearest GOP Senators,

It’s 1:30 a.m. here in Nashville, 2:30 in the morning in Washington DC. The House has just been called back into session at this absurd hour. Whoever is presiding over the House while you, Speaker Ryan, preserve your viability by keeping out of the fray, has just disregarded the Democrats’ request for equal time, and moved on to a vote on the Military Construction bill – completely ignoring the past 16 hours of House Democrats sitting in on the House floor, demanding a vote on gun control issues. After this vote, the House will surely vote to break until after the 4th of July, and, as Republican Congressmen are apparently willing to show up at 3 a.m. to vote for vacation time (but never to vote on gun control) that, you think, will be the end of that.

You are counting on us, your constituents, to be asleep. To not care. To be so despondent and despairing over our government EVER functioning that we don’t see this. Two weeks will pass, fireworks will fill the air, we’ll all love America, and you’ll come back pretending nothing has changed. Pretending that the Democrats elected to the House of Representatives had not had to resort to civil disobedience in the halls of the government THEY SERVE in order to be heard. Ignoring the fact that Republican Senators, after 16 hours of filibuster by Democrats, were still too spineless to actually VOTE on sensible gun control measures, and instead, hid behind cloture votes, secure in their belief that Americans are too stupid to realize they still hadn’t addressed the issue.

But in those twelve days – assuming you come back on July 5th – 1,068 families will have been torn apart by gun violence. ONE THOUSAND AND SIXTY-EIGHT. Mothers and fathers weeping for their children. Children sent to live with distant relatives because Mommy’s been shot. Families vacationing together, children playing in public parks. Maybe another movie theater full of excited patrons, waiting to be transported by a summer blockbuster. Maybe another club full of beautiful 22 –year-olds out dancing. Maybe another church full of devout souls. But even without another national headline, the toll will still be met. 89 gun deaths a day. 1,068 of the people YOU have sworn to protect, the people who voted for you, trusted you, who put you in the room where it happens – they will be gone, forever, by the time you come back from vacation.

You’ve ignored the problem for years, and Democrats tried normal channels, came up empty, and let it be. But now they have called you out. Now they – now WE – are not putting up with this inaction any longer. You still control the House and Senate, so you can still stop every effort to save these lives, but from here on out? We’re holding you accountable. This is on you. Every murder committed with an assault rifle is on YOU. Every person suspected of terrorism who purchases a weapon – that’s on you, too, because you’re too cowardly to vote to stop them. Every single purchase of a weapon at a gun show, or online, or otherwise without a background check? Hang that around your necks, along with all the bodies that those weapons put in the ground, all the sorrow of the families ripped apart, all the fear of kids who are not let out to play this summer because their mothers love them too much to bear risking them. Every time someone convicted of domestic violence doesn’t have to surrender all of their guns – that’s on you, too, because surely you know that domestic violence is the single strongest indicator of later violent acts (that one WOULD have stopped Omar Mateen). Speaking of things you surely know, I assume you’ve seen the viral photo of the adorable 3-year-old standing on a toilet, practicing for an “active shooter” situation? Yeah. Her fear, the fear of millions of children growing up with this reality, and the ways that will warp them all of their lives, THAT’S ON YOU, TOO.

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(Photo by Stacey Feeley, via ABCNews.com)

I know that’s a heavy burden to bear. I know that NRA money doesn’t completely soften the blow. So as you grapple with the enormity of what your inaction has wrought, start small. Start with one single death, and that family’s loss and pain, the light gone out forever from that community. Carry that, know that you caused that. Then feel that 88 more times, for 88 other unique individuals mowed down, every day. Soon you’ll be able to feel all of the one thousand sixty-eight American lives you are willing to sacrifice by not voting before your precious vacation. And know that we are watching you. We are not asleep. Those 1,068 are just the start. Until you enact sensible gun control measures, that toll keeps growing.  We won’t forget in November. And we won’t forget in two years, or four years, when you, my Senators, are up for reelection.

You have an amazing and rare privilege. You can make this country better, and safer, for all its people. But if you choose not to do that, you are accepting the consequences of your inaction. 89 deaths a day. 623 souls gone every week. Over 82,000 families devastated every year. That’s on you.

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The Ubiquitous Mr. Turner

June 9, 2016

TW: Rape, Assault

Brock Turner seems to be everywhere. Can’t go on Facebook, or turn on the news, without seeing Fucking Brock Turner everywhere. For the first time in our nation’s history, a woman is a major-party candidate for the presidency. My feminist heart should be soaring this week – but Brock Turner. Fucking Brock Turner…  Hillary Clinton winning the presidency would be a hugely significant, but I know that we’ll see a spike in vile and hateful misogyny – and I can’t take it, I can’t take it getting worse because already I live in a country with Brock Fucking Turner. Every online outlet has written eloquently this week about rape culture and white privilege, about the laughable sentence the judge justified by saying, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him.” We’ve dissected his father’s Study in Tone-Deaf Patriarchy. By the time we read his friend’s similar letter to the Court, we were too numb to think much of the fact that the friend claimed this wasn’t REALLY rape, that he was just drunk and his “emotions” took over. I resisted chiming in, because what else is there to say? But I find I can’t put this down. It’s not just a miscarriage of justice. It’s not just about Brock Turner and this woman. It’s not just about campus rape. It’s not just about white privilege and victim blaming and laying bare the biases that warp every aspect of our lives. It’s not just about a woman’s violation and devastation being nothing worth mentioning, not when her assailant is a Champion Swimmer. I can’t add anything to that story, but I still feel I have to say something. This case, particularly the victim’s raw testimony, shook floods of memories loose in me, and I feel overwhelmed, incoherent with rage that this is my world, my daughters’ world.

wolf whistle

I haven’t heard the term in a while, but growing up, beautiful starlets were often described – POSITIVELY! – as “sex objects.” Farrah Fawcett? Sex object. Daisy Duke? Sex object. Objectification is taking a living, breathing human being and reducing her to parts, to objects. And we are told it’s a compliment. Her body is an object to stare at, grab, fondle, jack off to. It’s not a person, with dignity and a self, it’s just another thing the Brock Turners of the world feel entitled to. In the words of a particularly gross guy I used to know:  “Women are just life support for pussy.” We experience that attitude hundreds, thousands of times during our lives. It scares us, degrades us, angers us, terrifies us – and we can’t do anything to stop it. It’s minimized, glossed over, just as the gross violation of this woman’s body was completely ignored by a judge who HEARD her testimony – who sat in a room as she detailed her physical and emotional devastation – and concluded “I think [Brock Turner] will not be a danger to others.” The guy was CONVICTED OF FELONY SEXUAL ASSAULT, for shoving his fingers inside this woman’s unwilling, unresponsive body, but he’s not, you know, DANGEROUS – he’s just a rapist. Brock Turner’s stupid punchable face is on half the posts on my newsfeed, and I’m incandescent with rage, and I have to finally let it out.

Let me be clear: I have never been raped, and that is a huge distinction. I am not saying anything I’ve experienced is comparable, because nothing is. But the internet is marinating in this story, and suddenly, I can remember every hand inside my top in a crowd (it’s happened many times), every feel copped on public transportation (because obviously my body exists for strangers to touch), every time a car would slow down alongside me when I was walking to campus so the driver could say something crude and threatening (Christ, in St. Louis that happened every day). I have never been raped. But I’ve met Brock Turner a thousand times – at parties, on dance floors, in job interviews. Boys who look at me and see an object, men who somehow feel entitled to my body. I’ve met him as the partner I reported to in one of my first jobs as an attorney, whose eyes never – EVER – left my chest when I had to talk to him. I’ve met Brock Turner as a businessman behind me on the rush hour train, suddenly running his hand under my skirt, between my legs, knowing I’d never know which guy did it. As the guy whose name I never even knew, who stopped me on WKU’s campus when I was 17 to show me a photo album – a big, 2-inch thick photo album – of me. Photograph after photograph after photograph he’d taken of me over the course of the previous year, while I was completely unaware. Usually shot from a great distance with a monster lens, apparently; many cropped so my boyfriend wasn’t in them. God, that terrified me, especially when he said I should be flattered… I’ve met Brock Turner as every guy who sees me dancing and decides he gets to grind his erection against my ass until I elbow him off me and fight through the crowd to get away. As the skeevy guy in my building who broke into my apartment at 2 a.m. – thank God my dog woke me up and got me out safely… I’ll spare you all the “minor” stuff – you know, decades of being slut-shamed for what I wore (we didn’t have a word for it back then), catcalls, being followed, the pervasive fear when walking down a street at night alone. I’ve aged out of most of the harassment (because Brock Turner likes them younger) and thank God for that. But the memories persist – feeling helpless, degraded, scared, furious, impotent. Being seen as an object that some men felt entitled to handle, or fondle, or grope. They felt entitled to ME. Not me as a person – me, the object. But each encounter was brief, I was *ultimately* safe, so it’s no big deal, right? These guys wouldn’t ever be a danger to anyone; what harm is there in copping a feel? And every time, rage and shock and feeling like poison was flowing through my veins – and no recourse. I knew what the answers would be even if there had been any authority to appeal to.

  • “That guy had his hand inside my dress!” – Yeah, but look at what you’re wearing,
  • “That guy just rubbed his erection all over my ass!” – Yeah, but with the way you were dancing…
  • “That senior partner won’t stop staring at my chest” – Oh, he does that to every woman in the office, it doesn’t mean anything! (That is the response I got, hand to god).
  • “That guy won’t be back here; he was convicted of burglary this morning.” – What?!? For that thing when he was in your apartment?!? He didn’t even touch you!! (This was my landlord’s response to the 2 a.m. break-in. Thank goodness the law was more responsive on this one.)
  • “That guy fondled me on the train!” – Which one? How do you know it was him? Did you see him do it? I thought you said he was behind you. Well, he stopped, anyway.
  • “That guy has apparently been stalking me for a year taking photographs!” Wow, he must really think you’re pretty. Take it as a compliment!

The sense was always that there was no damage done. But I know that these encounters warped the way I deal with the world, despite my best attempts to be a strong woman with a non-stick soul. I know that those feelings of helplessness and rage, that toxic brew inside me at being treated as less-than human, hurt me. I’ve healed, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t damaged. And now that ubiquitous face – whether it’s the bloodshot, slack-jawed mugshot or the beaming country club yearbook photo – has brought all that poison back into my bloodstream this week. Fucking Brock Turner.

I’m just one woman, and all of us have different experiences – but every woman experiences a degree of this. This is the world we live in. This is the world I’m raising daughters in. My beautiful, brilliant daughters will face Brock Turner again and again, as I have, and he’ll never see them in their complicated awesomeness. He’ll see them as their various parts, and feel entitled to grope and paw and leer and grind against them, to follow them, shout at them, scare them, laugh off their anger and shock and outrage. I know this, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. Brock Turner is everywhere.

(But he doesn’t get his picture here. We’ve all seen him enough.)

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Erasing Your Heritage?

July 4, 2015

In which I answer someone who thinks changing the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park will get rid of his heritage, and that no such outrageous thing has ever been done before.

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America Needs a 12-Step Program

June 18, 2015

I finally understand why we aren’t making any progress on race relations – it’s because we’re in the grips of an addict’s denial.