Category Archives: Feminism

Regret and Rehabilitation

Does it matter if they stopped? Does it matter if they changed? a person asked in a conversation I was part of, about all these sexual assault and harassment revelations.

I think it does, although I know it’s hard to measure and that it may never matter to the people they harmed. And I certainly don’t know if a particular man has examined his behavior, has recognized it for what it was, regrets it or has changed. I hope that all men accused of prior assault or harassment have stopped harming women but I rarely have information about that. There may be no proof; we have no obligation to trust them ever again, but that does not mean they cannot change.

And no, random good work is not sufficient. People are multi-faceted and examples of generous or “good” behavior does indicate rehabilitation with regard to misogyny or sexism or preying on women. Specific good work to combat the harassment and assault of women and the manipulation of power imbalances between men and women does.

So I do think it matters if individual men change. And I hope we will recognize it when they do, without attempting to erase harm they cause and without demanding that victims behave in any particular way toward men who harmed them. But I believe in rehabilitation or I would not work in court reform; I would not make an effort to change myself or my community.

This is what I think “Of course you’ve all done it. Each of you. Even if it was just laughing at a gross misogynist joke with your mates when you were fourteen, even if it made you feel uncomfortable to laugh and not say ‘dude, that’s not cool.’ What separates the good among you from the unsafe among you is the ability to one day stop going along. To one day recognize that you’re not ‘pushing a boundary’, you’re harming someone. To admit that there was no gray area, you assaulted that person. And stop doing it and start calling other men out when they do it.”

So yes, I believe that it matters if men change, even if just in their own hearts and own actions, but even more in the way they respond to the men around them and the shitty things those men do to women. I believe men need to change, and can change, and I believe they do.

Even recognizing the possibility of sincere regret, of actual person growth and rehabilitation, I know there are boundaries to it. I know that the journey from being an adolescent who kisses a girl against her will at a kegger to a man who always seeks consent is a different journey than that of a man who demands sexual favors at the price of your career. It’s clear some men don’t regret their behavior only that they’ve been caught and that the world seems no longer willing to accept their excuses. In either case,

Most importantly, I know that is irrelevant both to consequences and to the opinion of any given victim. No matter how clear the evidence of either repentance or rehabilitation, a person harmed by sexual assault or sexual harassment owes the perpetrator nothing. Not forgiveness, not understanding, not  belief in his rehabilitation, not assistance in repairing his name. Nothing.

These things can both be true: that men who harass and assault women can be taught to change and that the women they harm owe them nothing if they do. By extension, the rest of us do not owe them trust, even when we believe they are doing the work. If you break trust, it will not be readily available to you in the future.

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QotD

“The fact that both parties are willing to defend on partisan grounds rapists and sexual offenders based on their political views, in my mind is exhibit A that this indeed is a rape culture. And rape culture always has been bipartisan.”–person on a message board, discussing an article about Bill Clinton’s history of sexual harassment and assault.

Additional reading (which is not the article being discussed by the person quoted above):
“Most of all, as a [male] citizen I’ve come to see that the scandal was never about infidelity or perjury — or at least, it shouldn’t have been. It was about power in the workplace and its use. The policy case that Democrats needed Clinton in office was weak, and the message that driving him from office would have sent would have been profound and welcome. That this view was not commonplace at the time shows that we did not, as a society, give the most important part of the story the weight it deserved. “–Bill Clinton Should Have Resigned, Matthew Yglesias

i\I’ve added “male” to this sentence because in 1998, when I was in law school, small groups of women were quietly calling what happened to Monica Lewinsky what it was: vicious sexual harassment of the sort we should expect when we went to the Hill (I went to law school in DC) or at Big Law. I recall becoming quite angry at a (male) friend who laid most of the blame on the women (Lewinsky, Tripp, Jones and Mrs Clinton), reserving the rest for Republicans who were blowing things out of proportion.

Yglesias is right: Bill Clinton should have resigned; his party should have demanded it. Yglesias is right, as well, that in re-evaluating the situation, we can’t change the past but we should be clear about it. That means recognizing that those of us who saw Bill Clinton for what he was at the time were ignored, shouted down, dismissed as man-haters or of so little consequence in power structures, no-one cared.

But this is a change I never thought I’d see in my lifetime: the recognition of this constant noise and pressure and threat which comes from casual sexism and everyday misogyny. The understanding that yes, every woman is treated this way; that many of us are seriously damaged by it but that all of us are harmed by it. The realization that it is your job not to let it continue.

The Duty of Care

Today we remember Dr. George Tiller, murdered 8 years ago, who never wavered in his conviction that safe abortions must be available for all.

In his memory, I give quarterly donations to Medical Students for Choice. Although abortion services are a routine medical need any time a pregnancy goes wrong, although abortions are legal in the United States, although abortion is a safe medical procedure, it is not a regular part of the medical school curriculum. When women need late term abortions because something has gone catastrophically wrong with their pregnancy, or when women need emergency D&E s because a pregnancy has miscarried, they deserve skill– or at least competent–care from doctors who were taught how to treat them in medical school. There are fewer and fewer of those doctors available.

And now the GOP wants to make it more expensive and harder for women to get contraception. So the need for abortions, and the need for doctors who can competently treat women who have accessed back-alley abortions, will keep growing.

The USA in 2017 is a cruel and despicable place. I throw my tiny handfuls of small bills toward the people trying to make it less cruel and less despicable.

Ignorance is not Governance

Your regular reminder–no federal money given to Planned Parenthood may be used for abortion services and this has been the case for my entire lifetime. Additionally, federal (again for most of my lifetime) law prohibits Medicaid funding for abortions, except in cases of rape. incest or life endangerment. Some states supplement Medicaid funding for medically necessary abortions (such as fetal impairment).

So defunding Planned Parenthood is either: (1)  not about funding abortions or (2) proposed by people profoundly ignorant of what they’re talking about.

Because the path to liberation has been mapped out by the brilliance of the black Woman’s mind

Part of my work is in voter behavior and there is a meaningful difference between the statement “53% of white women voted for the guy who got elected” and “53% of the white women who voted cast their vote for the guy who got elected”.[fn1]  But in the grand scheme of the clusterfuck of this past election it is truly a minor point (The Guardian wrote it that way; the New York Time cited it properly as 53% of white women who voted”). But, honestly, never mind that: The white woman problem in American feminism and in the last election is very real.

So stop focusing on which white women, or on proving you’re not that white woman. Just keep not being that white woman. Stop thinking about why you need to prove you’re not her and just don’t be her, by letting go of your sense of importance, by rejecting the focus on you.

Listen and focus on the greater issues: the percentages of African-Americans and immigrants and Native Americans who are disenfranchised. Whether through the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Or through the New Jim Crow. Or through lies, intimidation and other bullshit.

And on the greater issue of the failure of our municipalities to accommodate voting for all people (but particularly the poor and marginalized and those without PTO or flexible work schedules or child care or the ability to travel to a polling place easily). Focus on how our election commissions fail to make ballots clear, to make all our votes count and equally. Fix how difficult it is for some people to register. Don’t absolve white women voters of complicity in racist structures, but fix the structures.

But don’t forget, there is a white woman problem in American feminism and we have failed to recognize its debt to women of color, as Feminista Jones says here at the Women’s March. Start acknowledging that “the path to liberation has been mapped out by the brilliance of the black Woman’s mind.”

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[fn1] It appears that overall, more than 58 percent of eligible voters went to the polls during the 2016 election but I have not seen a breakdown of that by demographic, although the Atlantic shows that “A majority of women backed Clinton over Donald Trump, 54 percent to 42 percent. Exit-poll data indicates that 94 percent of black women and 68 percent of Hispanic women voted for Clinton.” (Note, they make the same semantic error that is driving me nuts. I assume they mean 94% of black women voters because they use the same white women who voted percentage, rather than the percentage of white women eligible to vote)

White women, on the whole, are, of course, the least likely women to be affected by voter suppression efforts. Where white women exist within another marginalized population, such as the poor, the barriers to voting become more relevant. The Atlantic’s statistic that Clinton won 51 percent of college-educated white women to GOP guy’s 45 percent (Romney won 52 percent; Obama won 46 percent) is interesting because I think it better highlights how modern white feminism focuses on elite power structures, rather than humanization. (That’s intersectionality 101, folks.)

So even when you start using the more accurate descriptors—”white women voters” rather than “white women”—you remain in the same position of white women voters who did not step up and do the right thing.

cnnvoterchart

55.4% of eligible voters cast votes (as of November 20, 2106 tallies–I believe it eventually rose to around 58%) according to CNN’s chart based on 2016 and 2015 Census data, CNN data and FEC data)

Generally, only around 50-60% of eligible voters go to the polls. The US Census data for the 2016 election is accessible here. Unfortunately, it breaks down by sex OR race, not both and shows the entire voting age population, not the voting population only. There were ??  women of voting age in the U.S. at the time of the last election. How many were registered? How many voted? That data is not available for 2016, although it is for 2014. 66% of the 124,237 women eligible to vote had registered and 43% had voted, slightly higher than the 61% percent of eligible white-only voters who registered and about on par with the number of those white-only voters who actually voted (43.4%).

In the 2014 Census, there were 56.8 million unmarried women of voting age, with 60.5% registered to vote and 35.6% voting (20.23 million unmarried women voters)

The Path to Liberation

Part of my work is in voter behavior and I’ve been irritated by a language use/descriptive issue I’m seeing constantly in reporting on voter behavior in the last election. It led me down a data hole the other day when I should have been working, which was a great distraction, but in the grand scheme of the clusterfuck of this past election it is truly a minor point.

It also got me revisiting some of the first liberation philosophy and first feminist work I was exposed to in college: namely bell hooks, Sojurner Truth,  Ntozake Shange (it was, admittedly, very much a narrow exposure, though there were other essays whose authors I no longer remember). The white woman problem in American feminism and in the last election is very real, no matter how you describe it.

pleaseSo stop focusing on which white women, or on proving you’re not that white woman. Just keep not being that white woman (or, as the case may be, learn how to not be that white woman). Stop thinking about why you need to prove you’re not her and just don’t be her, by letting go of your sense of importance, by rejecting the focus on you. In the broadest possible sense, it’s the failure to attend to others or to prioritize needs greater than your own that has gotten us into this vile administration.

Just listen and focus on the greater issues: the percentages of African-Americans and immigrants and Native Americans who are disenfranchised. Whether through the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Or through the New Jim Crow. Or through lies, intimidation and other bullshit.

And work to correct the greater issue of the failure of our municipalities to accommodate voting for all people (but particularly the poor and marginalized and those without paid time off or flexible work schedules or child care or the ability to travel to a polling place easily). Focus on how our election commissions fail to make ballots clear, to make all our votes count and equally. Fix how difficult it is for some people to even register.

But don’t forget, there is a white woman problem in American feminism and we have failed to recognize our debt to women of color, as Feminista Jones says here at the Women’s March. Start acknowledging that “the path to liberation has been mapped out by the brilliance of the black Woman’s mind.”

Memes, Context and Unguarded Places

13245432_193001741094399_2178145280221345906_nAttributed to Eris Koleszar and it quite nicely summed up the discomfort I felt when I saw the original meme. Many of the comments on the edited photo also quite nicely summed up the discomfort I felt seeing who chose to share it.

One of the things that is easy to forget about the internet is that people who don’t know you, who can’t hear your tone of voice; who don’t know how you live your life or how you treat the friends, enemies and strangers you encounter every day; or have any context at all for your comments see the comments you make.

This means–more often than not–the unknown person on the internet who sees your comments also sees unintended subtext or unexamined subtext (often resulting from unexamined or privilege). Perspective is personal and it is an impossible task to live every moment or to choose every word with a complete–or even skillful–understanding of every perspective someone might bring to your words or actions. Sometimes, you’ll be confronted with a meaning in your words you had no idea was there. But it is. And when someone shows it to you, you should try to understand how it could be there without you meaning it or why it could harm someone you’ve not consciously meant to harm.

It’s not always possible to anticipate this. It is, however, always possible to learn from it when it happens.

When I saw the original meme, I was surprised that the thoughtful woman who had shared it (a woman who is responsible for my understanding of intersectional feminism, for a little perspective here) had missed the othering subtext. But I realized that my friend was only seeing the part of the graphic that said “I don’t give the slightest concern to who is in the bathroom with me, as long as there is parity in the facilities and I don’t have to wait twice as long to pee because I’m using a toilet, not a urinal.”

I realized this because I know her and am familiar with her perspective. (<–that, by the way, is the privilege at work–the luxury of being able to reduce the entire issue to the convenience of peeing now, as opposed to the safety of peeing now)

The meme was–to the mind of a hetero-normative, cis-gendered, graduate-level-educated, middle class American woman–a statement of exasperation that she’s supposed to worry about people with penises in the bathroom, when most of the time she’s aggravated because she can’t get into any bathroom at all. And I had that moment of recognition at the sentiment because while I don’t have any problem with sharing a public bathroom or a locker room with a transwoman and can’t think of a reason why I should care that there is a transwoman in the bathroom or locker room with me, that does not mean there is no there there. For me, transwomen in the bathroom is not a problem, and I will happily oppose attempts to make it a problem, but that does not relieve me of the responsibility to consider my words before I attempt to deflect the suggestion that no problem exists.

So when Eris Koleszar (whom I do not know–I choose the “she/her” pronoun both because the name is a woman’s name–to my knowledge–and because the one reference I saw to her was a mailto link with the phrase “contact her “. I apologize if that’s incorrect) reacted to the meme and made explicit the harmful subtext in it, she was not making a fuss over nothing. Koleszar was not being over-sensitive, nor making up an insult to react to. The re-made meme simply exposes the subtext that a wider context brings to the original expression.

I saw many people accuse the remade meme of making mountains out of molehills. Of missing the intended subtext. Of creating hate where none was intended. Which the remade meme simply does not do.

And, to my original point, people who think the exposure of unintended subtext is an attack on their character are wrong. They must stop reacting that way and do the difficult work of setting aside their own ego in order to listen.

No-one is capable of never making a mistake, of never speaking unguardedly. We will all sometimes miss the alternate meaning of our words, no matter how kind or progressive or successful our actions when we are being intentional. If you’ve got privilege of any kind, you will speak from a position of privilege at the wrong moment. When that happens, acknowledge it; learn from it; and continue trying to do better. If you’re calm, respectful and willing to listen, not only will you better understand the world around you, but you’ll better understand yourself and how the world has shaped you. You’ll have more to offer someone whose difficulties don’t resemble your own and be better positioned to solve your own problems without unintended harm to others.