The Sham, Shame and Real Purpose of a Senate Committee

The Sham, the Shame, and the Real Purpose of a Senate Committee

 

In the end it wasn’t what “she said, he said.”  It was what she did, what he did.

She gave moving, credible testimony. He rambled and raged. She was composed and coherent. He was defiant and disrespectful. She was polite and dignified. He was rude and belligerent. She was calm. He dissembled, putting to rest the myth of female hysteria. She was quietly self-assured. He threw a self-pitying, tearful tantrum.  She told the truth. He lied.

The world watched as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford told her riveting and difficult story with grace and courage. Then it watched, cringing, as Judge Brett Kavanaugh stumbled his way to self-aggrandizement and entitlement, unleashing a dangerous temper unsuited to service on the Supreme Court.

They witnessed a Senate Judiciary Committee in shambles as Republican members, all white men, reprised behavior familiar from the vile verbiage visited upon Anita Hill in 1991, including by two senators who were on the committee when she testified.

The contrast between the morning hearings when Dr. Ford gave her difficult opening statement and the afternoon when Kavanaugh simpered his Trumpian opening remarks couldn’t have been starker. The morning was civil and respectful. The female prosecutor hired to ask Republicans’ questions, while interrogating Dr. Ford as if it were a trial, said nothing overtly offensive.

Later, the civility ended when Republican committee members reverted to form, Senator Lindsay Graham spewing invectives at his Democratic colleagues while exonerating Kavanaugh.  It was then that the prosecutor, who’d been assigned to ask Republicans’ questions, disappeared, fired midstream when she asked something Republicans found dangerous.

Could anything make clearer what Republican men on the committee think of women?  Could they have treated Dr. Ford, Senator Dianne Feinstein, or the prosecutor with more contempt?

What was happening as we watched the fiasco? What is the real issue?

It’s sexism. Misogyny. Male privilege and male sense of entitlement. It’s the patriarchal power struggle grounded in robbing women of agency, autonomy – even over their own bodies - and a place in the public square. And it’s gone on forever.

Aristophanes understood that in 411 BC when he wrote Lysistrata, a play about women using their sexual power to stop war. Susan B. Anthony and the women at the 1848 women’s convention faced it when they fought for women’s suffrage. Contemporary women recognized it when Anita Hill was trashed. We know it now as we continue to fight for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and the right to privacy and decision-making in our reproductive lives.

We live in a culture where male privilege and power are embedded, entrenched in every sector of society, from corporations and churches to academia, entertainment and news organizations, sports, science, and medicine. It’s a culture in which females are admonished to nurture and ensure the comfort of males while at the same time, we are reminded to protect ourselves from the uncontrollable sexual excesses of males because they can’t help themselves and can’t take responsibility for their behavior. We are taught to be good girls who dress properly, remain abstinent and restrained, who never go anywhere, not even the bathroom, alone. We are trained to be silent.

When women found the courage to tell Sigmund Freud about their sexual abuse he labeled their stories fantasies. Anita Hill was told that too. That’s why women don’t tell their stories. “No one will believe me,” they say.

Now that’s changing. In the last month calls to sexual abuse hotlines have spiked by 200 percent. Friends are telling friends. Wives are telling husbands and partners. Girls are telling parents. And women like Ana Marie Archilla and Maria Gallagher, the two brave women who demanded that Senator Jeff Flake look at them when they were talking to him, are putting politicians on notice: We are not going to be invisible or quiet or silent any longer. We matter!

As Rebecca Traister wrote in a New York Times editorial, and as poet Audre Lord, feminist writer Carolyn Heilbrun, and activists like Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too Movement, recognize, what has been denied to women until now is anger and expressions of anger. That stops now. We are speaking up, crying out, and refusing to be silenced any longer.  

So, as I write this commentary a cursory, controlled FBI investigation aimed at appeasement is occurring. The outcome of that investigation and what happens subsequently carries deep significance for our political future. But it doesn’t match the importance of what is happening in our culture as we make change and see it coming, however slowly.

It is coming because of courageous women like Anita Hill, Christine Blasey Ford, Ana Maria Archilla, Maria Gallagher, and the multitudes of others who will not be silent  any more in the face of violence perpetrated against them. We will no longer defer to malicious men. We will no longer suffer political rape symbolized by the cry to “plow through” uttered by men in power. We will fight with everything we’ve got until men crawl kicking and screaming toward seeing, hearing, believing and respecting women.

It begins with three simple words: “I believe her.” And “thank you, Christine.”

                                                            ###

 

 

 

A Deeper Look at What the ME TOO Movement Can Teach Us

 

It’s been some time since the Harvey Weinstein revelations opened the floodgates of personal stories about sexual harassment and assault. Still, women’s stories keep coming, and so they should. We must bear witness if things are going to change, not only in the halls of Hollywood studios and Capitol Hill offices, but everywhere that people live, work and carry on their lives.

We’ve learned good lessons in the telling of those stories, and in the copious commentary that followed. We’ve recognized that Zero Tolerance policies must be implemented and enforced, that non-disclosure agreements, buyouts and retaliation must end, that the real issues behind acts of aggression against women and girls - culture, misogyny, male privilege and power, for example – are big, complex, and urgently need to be the center of exploration, discourse, and social change. We know that we have to educate our children, both male and female, about what is acceptable and what is not in human behavior. We need, as one columnist put it, “to move away from the narratives of victimization and sympathy.”

But there is a deeper analysis occurring now and it is beginning to help us understand the dynamics involved when one person hurts, attacks, terrifies and traumatizes another, based on gender.

In her important book Women and Power, English scholar Mary Beard reminds us that the silencing of women was ever thus. Aristotle thought women’s voices proved their wickedness and that virtue lay in masculine tones. Mythology shares stories of women who’ve had their tongues cut out to silence them while other tales have women turned into inanimate objects.

Such attempts at silencing females have long trailed women, from Odysseus’s wife Penelope to Hillary Clinton and other women in the world’s public spaces. Stories of silencing women, whether mythological or modern, are part of our personal stories too – “mansplaining,” not recognizing the value of our ideas until they think they were theirs first, ignoring our leadership skills. As Beard says, “When it comes to silencing women, Western culture has had thousands of years of practice.”  So have Eastern cultures. A recent NPR story exposed schools in China to which girls are sent to learn that their purpose in life is to serve their husbands silently, even those who rape and beat them.

Beard urges us to “interrogate our notions of power,” and to examine why they exclude women. Why are our ideas about authority, mastery, and knowledge perceived as gender-based, she asks. And how, when institutional structures are “coded as male,” can you ask women to fit into them? Clearly, the structures themselves must change.

Greg Weiner, writing in The New York Times, reminds us that character matters when it comes to moral behavior, which “calls for a deep capacity for judgment.” True morality, he argues, must be cultivated and must exceed private, coded actions.  

Adding to the #ME TOO tsunami, Paul Bloom’s recent discussion of new books in The New Yorker includes Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others, an exploration of humans’ capacity for cruelty, by philosopher David Livingston, who quotes Claude Levi-Strauss: “Humankind ceases at the border of the tribe,” the noted anthropologist said. Here, the tribe consists of men bound together by deep-seated misogynistic feelings that render them incapable of seeing, and treating, women as equally human.   That’s why it’s easy to “slut-shame” and to say you can grab women by their genitals; after all, they are not “like I am.”

In Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, Kate Manne, assistant professor of philosophy at Cornell University, makes this observation about sexual violence: “The idea of rapists as monsters exonerates by caricature.” She argues that we must recognize “the banality of misogyny,” much as Hannah Arendt argued that the world had to acknowledge “the banality of evil” after the Holocaust.  Manne raises “the disturbing possibility that people may know full well that those they treat in brutally degrading and inhuman ways are fellow beings, underneath a more or less thin veneer of false consciousness.” Like others, Manne argues that that there is a larger truth in this tendency. “Misogyny, she says, is “often not a sense of women’s inhumanity as lacking. Her humanity is precisely the problem.”  Men, she explains, have come to expect things of women, including attention, admiration, and sex. “Misogyny,” adds Bloom, “is a mindset that polices and enforces these goals, it’s the ‘law enforcement branch’ of the patriarchy.”  Bad women must be punished.

This is heady, important, and sometimes difficult stuff.  But it offers the possibility of deeper examination that could lead to necessary exploration of factors that explain why so many men do what they do to women, especially in the workplace where females may be highly threatening.

Such analysis leads to other important considerations: How does this psychological and sociological reality within cultures influence media coverage of stories about women? Who gets to frame issues and how?  What language do we use in interpreting women’s experience? Who tells their stories? What impact can this deeper grasp of human psychology have on decision-making in the halls of governance?

That’s just for starters.  Still, we must begin somewhere. As Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) has said, “This is our moment.” Oprah Winfrey sounded a clarion call to action in her Golden Globe speech. Now, poised for the moment when we do move forward, women’s voices, experiences, and insights are leading the way. Surely, that is how it should be. Their time has come.

ME TOO: Who Among Us Doesn't Have a Story to Tell?

She was an exceptional legal secretary, a regal beauty, and an independent woman who repeatedly tried to ignore her boss’s advances.  One day, upon his return from a foreign business trip, he presented her with a string of French pearls and a litany of love. It was the 1930s so the secretary saw no way out but to quit her job. That woman was my mother.

She was a motivated professional who took her work seriously.  The first time it happened she worked for a medical board that certified physicians. At a formal dinner one evening, a doctor rubbed his hand up her leg under the tablecloth. She pushed it away. Later the doctor invited her on a trip to the Caribbean. She rebuffed him.

The next time, she was working in a different city when, standing next to her seated boss as he reviewed a document she’d handed him, he put his hand up her skirt. She slapped it away.

The time after that, she was on assignment in another country. Her work finished, she approached the local director to say goodbye. He grabbed her, kissing her on the lips.  Repulsed, she pulled away. But once again she told no one, because it was a time when women didn’t speak of sexual harassment or sexual assault, there being no words for it She was silent because she didn’t want to lose her job or be accused of “asking for it,” and she knew nothing would be done about it anyway.   That woman was me.

It isn’t necessary to cite other times it happened to me because by now everyone sort of gets the picture.  And I was one of the lucky ones: I was never raped.

Now, thanks to a growing number of brave, bold, truth-telling women, we are finally talking about the rampant sexual assault and harassment taking place in just about every workplace you can name. We are naming names. We are outing a pervasive culture of sexual abuse that exists in this, and most other cultures. We are refusing to be complicit via silence, choosing now to raise our collective voices in order to press charges so that we can put an end to the madness of male power and its concomitant sense of entitlement.

We thought Anita Hill’s dignity and truth-telling all those years ago might have been the beginning we see now, but it didn’t happen then.  Thankfully it’s happening now, because of a growing cadre of women who will no longer submit to second-class status, silence, or male prerogative.

Many of those women now hold public office. But they no longer hold their tongues. By telling their stories in the halls of power, they are starting to bring down men who insult them, trivialize them, accuse them of being liars and sluts, physically assault them, and once made them feel small and afraid.

There are men standing with us now too, taking up the fight against sexual harassment and abuse. Perhaps they heard playwright Eve Ensler when she said, “I am over the passivity of good men. Where the hell are you? You live with us, make love with us, father us, befriend us, get nurtured and mothered and eternally supported by us, so why aren’t you standing with us?” To those men, we say, it’s about time, and if they really kick in, thank you.

Rob Okun is one of them. He is a writer and psychotherapist who edited a collection called Voice Male: The Untold Story of the Profeminist Men’s Movement.  In a recent blog on www.counterpunch.org he wrote, “For decades, men who have never battered or raped would offer excuses for not standing up for women who faced harassment – and worse – offering this lame rationale: ‘I don’t engage in these behaviors, I’m a good guy, these are women’s issues, not mine.’ Those days are over. Sexual assault is not a women’s issue; it’s a community issue, and men, ready or not, we have to break our silence.”

In his piece, Okun credits women with “dragging domestic and sexual violence from society’s shadows” as they created rape crisis centers and shelter for domestic violence survivors. He credits the few men who stood with them initially as allies while coming to grips with their own passivity in the face of violence against women. He calls upon more men to act. He also calls out Donald Trump, who “has yet to pay a price for his sexual assaults.”

The work of Okun and other men working independently and alongside women is encouraging. But like gun violence, the problem of sexual harassment and assault will not simply disappear. It will take concerted group effort, and individual brazen acts. It will require telling our stories. It will take laws and enforced regulations in various workplaces. It will call for zero tolerance.

Can we get there in the age of Weinstein, Spacey and Trump?  As one good man said not long ago, “Yes, we can!” But only, it seems, if we raise our voices, tell our stories, press charges, and vehemently declare Enough!

Back to Barefoot and Pregnant Politics

 

In the late 1970s as I was beginning my career in women’s health, one of the first feminist icons I met of was a flamboyant, passionate, and deeply committed woman named Perdita Huston.  She had made her mark internationally working as a journalist and a Peace Corp professional, but what put her on the feminist map was her 1979 book Third World Women Speak Out

 

Huston’s book was remarkable because she was the first person to give women in the developing world a chance to tell their own stories. She gave them voice, and with that voice what they proclaimed most loudly was that they wanted fewer children, and they wanted those children to be educated.

 

It was a radical moment with far-reaching ramifications because it coincided with the early days of family planning becoming a goal of international funding agencies like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). With the help of the Women in Development movement, spawned in large part by the Women’s Movement at large, donor organizations had begun to realize that family planning was key to a country’s economic and social development and that women’s reproductive health was an issue that mattered.

Subsequent years revealed that family planning was, indeed, a wise investment. Countries like Egypt and Bangladesh showed that once women controlled their fertility, families, communities, and countries benefited, whether by increasing educational opportunities for girls, widening agricultural opportunities for women, or bringing women into decision-making at some levels of society.

None of this happened quickly or easily; there are always naysayers and development “specialists” willing to argue against innovation (and empowering women), no matter how simple and effective an intervention may be. But gradually the world saw how important family planning was to the healthy development of nations, let alone women and their families.

Now fast forward to Trumpian times, in which the president has reinstated Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City Policy of 1984 – revoked by Bill Clinton, restored by George W. Bush, and revoked by Barack Obama - in which nongovernmental organizations are forbidden to receive U.S. federal funding if they perform or promote abortion in other countries. 

Trump goes even further. His administration, including the Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury and Labor, wants to make it easier for employers to deny contraceptive coverage to their employees if the employer has “a religious or moral objection” to doing so. The administration also wants to make it harder for women denied birth control coverage to get no-cost contraception directly from insurance companies, as they have been doing.

In an attempt to rush this through, the administration made the absurd claim that taking time to seek public comment would be “contrary to the public interest,” and went so far as to say that coverage of contraception could lead to “risky sexual behavior,” a nod to those who believe women’s sexuality is evil.  Not only is that one huge misogynistic insult to women; what is riskier than setting women up for unwanted pregnancies while trying to eliminate safe abortion and shut down Planned Parenthood?

 These actions are a setback of huge proportion. They affect not just American women, but women around the world.  In Madagascar, for example, the change in policy is forcing dramatic cutbacks by the largest provider of long term contraception in the country, Marie Stopes International (MSI), which receives millions of dollars from USAID for its work there. Ironically, abortion is illegal in that country, but MSI cannot receive American aid because it will not renounce abortion as part of reproductive health services in other parts of the world.

Hundreds of women and girls flock to remote MSI clinics where they receive everything from malaria prevention to HIV treatment to contraceptives. It’s a scene repeated all over the developing world no matter who is providing services. What is to become of all those women?

The policy, already making its way to the courts, is clearly aimed at mollifying organizations like March for Life and Real Alternatives, anti-abortion groups that don’t qualify for religious exemptions but claim to hold strong moral convictions unrelated to a particular religion.

In his long string of lies, Trump and his administration have claimed, absent of any evidence, that its new rules won’t have an effect on “over 99.9 percent of the 165 million women in the United States,” while simultaneously arguing that low-income women will still be able to get subsidized or free contraception through community and government health programs. All this while the administration plans to substantially cut government spending on such programs.

The President’s attack on birth control, safe and accessible abortion, and the Affordable Care Act is low on intelligence and high on lies. It is spiteful, vindictive, woman-hating, and downright mean. It will hurt millions of women and their families. There are only two ways to describe it: utterly inhumane and grossly misogynistic. Everyone should be resisting mightily.

The Power of Women's Truthtelling

                                                        

“What would happen if just one woman told the truth about her life?” poet Muriel Rukeyser asked as Second Wave feminism was finding its feet. Her answer? “The world would split apart.”

Rekeyeser understood how powerful women’s life stories were. She knew that wrapped in those stories lay a reality that represented the underpinnings of male-dominated institutional cultures, whether from the marketplace, the academy, or the Church. She also knew that if women could give voice to that reality they would help to expose those patriarchal cultures and perhaps even change them.

The history of women’s courageous truthtelling is long and instructive. From their diaries, journals, letters, autobiographies, poetry, books and a collection of writings dating as far back as Egyptian tomb inscriptions circa 2300 B.C., women have been writing in ways that Plato later called “passionately direct.”

Sixteenth century St. Teresa wrote a brutally honest book called “Life” and 17th century Alice Thornton described her everyday life with notable emotion. The 20th century saw an explosion of uninhibited, political writing from women like Ida B. Wells, Emma Goldman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and others who asserted themselves effectively through expressions of their personal power.

Fast forward now to 21st century social media and other platforms, and to 2017, and think about what happened to Bill O’Reilly. And make no mistake about it. It wasn’t just the withdrawal of sponsorship by major companies from The O’Reilly Factor on the Fox network that brought Mr. O’Reilly down. It was women telling their stories, women supporting them, women advocating for them, and feminist legal experts like Lisa Bloom.

Without truth-telling women exposing the institutional culture of sexual harassment at Fox, the sponsors never would have ended their sponsorship. Sure, the power of the purse was a driving force, and it’s fine to acknowledge that. But let’s also acknowledge that women consumers exerted pressure on Fox’s sponsors, and most importantly that the impact of women telling their stories was hugely important and deeply powerful in effecting O’Reilly’s disgraced departure.

The media either overlooked or downplayed this point. For example, the iconic conservative lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, told CNN with absolute certainty that women coming forward didn’t account for the network’s decision. It was O’Reilly breathing hard into a taped phone call that did it. Another male guest agreed with him as he repeated the claim that it was the advertisers who finally got to the network.

Attorney Lisa Bloom, to her credit, was quick to point out that it was “the effort by a group of women who day after day after day were calling in complaints, who were going on TV despite their fear, who were putting the public pressure on, who were going to the advertisers,” she fumed. “Maybe that’s what happened! I want these women to get credit.”

Wendy Walsh, the woman who brought her case to Bloom and agreed to go public with it – not for any financial compensation but so that “other women and [her] daughters wouldn’t have to go through similar experiences,” added that while advertisers pulled their support from O’Reilly’ show, they did it “because they care about their women employees and they care about their women consumers. It was girl power.”

What happened at Fox clearly doesn’t suddenly end the anti-woman culture at the network that paid $13 million to five women to settle their cases of sexual harassment and gave O’Reilly a golden handshake of $25 million. This should tell you all you need to know about how rampant the problem is at Fox News: 21st Century Fox has made payouts related to sexual harassment allegations at Fox News totaling over $85 million, the majority of which was paid to men ousted from the network because of harassment allegations.

Clearly, sexual harassment cultures still prevail and ending them will not be easy, as we know from our recent election and current political landscape. But because of the legacy of women truthtellers, and the courage of the growing number of women coming forward to speak truth to power, at least now when we ask, “What would happen if women told the truth about their lives?” the answer can include the fact that at least some sexual predators will get busted.

I think we owe the women who have begun, hopefully, to change the landscape in which we live, at least a little recognition for that, and a very big thank you.

The Look of Fear on the Human Faces of Misogyny

 

We hear the word “misogyny” so often in the litany of worries about a Trump administration that, like other words in that long list, it begins to lose meaning – although the silencing of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was a great reminder. Behind that word, however, are the faces – and lives - of women, both inside the U.S. and further afield. We need to hear their stories, in their own voices, to remind us what’s at stake for women when a government is headed by a man who gloated over his own acts of sexual assault and called women “pigs.”

 

Writer Jia Tolentino recalled recently that “during the Obama Administration, I had begun to feel, thrillingly, like a person. My freedom no longer seemed a miraculous historical accident; it was my birthright.” She experienced her loss as a “woman-specific disaster,” captured in the words of a woman at a protest in New York the night after the election. “I’m afraid that a man will hurt me in public, and everyone around will think it’s okay.”

 

Women serving in the military and female veterans are feeling the potential threat of misogyny in particular ways that call for empathy. “Many of my close friends are survivors of sexual abuse in the military,” says advocate and filmmaker Patricia Lee Stotter. “Both men and women who have been raped and sexually harassed during the years they served their country are now enraged and despairing. It’s understandable. When Mr. Trump was asked about the problem of rape in the military, he said, ‘What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?’”

 

It’s a horrible trigger,” Stotter continues. “and it’s re-traumatizing survivors of military sexual assault. Their cases were adjudicated within the chain of command which was another act of violence. … For survivors of military sexual assault, the idea of a predator being commander in chief is devastatingly reminiscent of their experiences in the military.”

 

Speaking on the promise of anonymity, one woman veteran who suffered military sexual assault, told me that “women feel unsafe because Trump’s rhetoric is what many of us experienced in the military. I’m triggered. I can’t sleep. I’m having trouble focusing. I am nearly blind with anger. I feel unsafe.” Corroborating Stotter’s concern, she continued, “Both women and men that are assaulted while serving in the military may have very limited faith in the chain of command when the Commander in Chief normalizes abusive behavior. And otherwise decent people may be swept up in either participating in normalizing, or failing to oppose assaults or harassment fueled by the Trump Effect. When abuse is given a green light, nobody is safe.”

 

Here is a voice from abroad that illustrates how far-reaching the Trump Effect is. Annie Viets, an American business professor teaching at a private Saudi university, sent me these remarks. “I have heard a number of comments since the election from students who want to get their masters degrees abroad. In the past, the first choice of many of them has been the U.S. But now some students who were thinking of using their scholarships to study there are looking toward Europe. They say, ‘It doesn’t look like we’re going to be welcome in the United States anymore.’” And Saudi Arabia isn’t even on the restricted list, so far.

 

What make this so sad Viets says is that, “When students return from the U.S., they are forever friends of our country. Their experiences are inevitably positive and they develop a deep appreciation for our freedoms and way of life. Welcoming young people from around the world to study is essential if we want to spread the value of democratic principles peacefully. In turn, we benefit from their many lively minds and perspectives.”

 

Rula Quawas, a professor of Women’s Studies and Literature at the University of Jordan in Amman, says her students are afraid of coming to the U.S. on scholarships too. However, she wrote me, “the fear will not stop them from coming to be educated. I agree with them. This is the time when we should stop being afraid. We must be vigilant and push back when the need arises. But we are not going to let one man or his administration hijack our dreams. We are entitled to a good life and a good education.”

 

In this spirit, an American woman who asked not to be identified told me, “The venom being spewed toward women is stunning and terrifying. As a woman and an activist, I feel afraid too. I don’t think a lot of people – even the good men – are getting the level of trauma and threat women feel. But women are mobilizing and we will keep up our acts of resistance, whether they are marches, strikes, donations, letters to Congress and news outlets, or speaking out in public forums. We will support each other as we strike back in solidarity. We must remember to share our stories, pace ourselves for a long battle, marshal our resources, laugh when we can, feel the warmth of family and friends, honor what we have achieved, and trust in our own resilience.”

 

Writer Susan Chiva puts it this way: “The overall struggle is to stay relevant in the age of Trump.”

Take note, Mr. Trump: We can – and we will.

 

The Archetypal Journey of Hillary Rodham Clinton

Like many other feminists, I tweeted and posted to Facebook at a furious pace after the second presidential debacle that was billed as a debate. “Whether Trump did or did not do what the infamous tape suggested – and I think we all know which is true – the act of celebrating sexual assault as male prerogative and patriarchal power is deplorable,” I wrote. I addressed Trump’s stalking, stuttering and snorting in lieu of substantively addressing policy issues, and I shared my astonishment at his having received good reviews while Hillary Clinton was judged to be off her game for maintaining a calm, polite, focused demeanor in spite of being stalked, verbally abused, threatened with imprisonment, and confronted with the sick stunt perpetrated by her opponent.

Then I read Rebecca Traister’s stunning analysis of the subtext of the debate in New York Magazine and realized how much more there was to consider. Traister, a smart feminist analyst and writer, talked about Donald Trump’s loathing for any woman who might defeat him, and his hideous ways of showing that hatred, including being verbally and physically threatening.  “The worldview that Trump affirmed over and over again, during decades in the public eye, is one in which women are show horses, sexual trophies, and baby machines, and therefore, their agency, consent and participation don’t matter,” she wrote.

Traister continued, condemning Republicans as “a party that has been covert in its cohesion around the very biases that Trump makes course and plain,” referring to their anti-woman legislative agenda, including its attempts to shut down Planned Parenthood and much worse in some states. She pointed out that Republican legislation aimed at disempowering women, and the Republican response to Trump’s gutter talk, reveals a “fundamental lack of recognition of women as full human beings,” not simply mothers, daughters and wives, as they insisted when disavowing their candidate. In the end, Traister said, the weapons of choice among misogynists for beating powerful women are humiliation, objectification, shaming and sexualization. That couldn’t have been made more explicit than by how Donald Trump behaved toward Hillary Clinton during the debate.

No sooner had I finished reading Traister’s compelling article when my daughter called to make another stunning point. “I think Hillary is on an archetypal journey,” she said. “She has to go into that dark place and emerge on the other side intact.”

It was a brilliant observation. Think about it. Women have traditionally been denied The Quest or journey to enlightenment. Locked in their castles birthing future kings, or in convents, where they spent the better part of their lives invisible beyond the cloister gardens, they were denied their hunger for a wider world, their intelligence and courage continually hidden from sight and declared non-existent or illegitimate. Almost the same can be said of women relegated to post-war suburban isolation even though they were, in many cases, well-educated. Many of them who dared to seek a larger role than wife and mother were quickly admonished to go home and make babies when they bravely sought careers.

Two of the most easily recognized female archetypes are the Nurturing Mother and the Temptress. The nurturing mother sustains the warrior on his journey, while the temptress tries to seduce him away from his quest through her sexuality. But now, in Hillary, we have a new female archetype – a warrior woman equal to, and in this case surpassing her male counterpart. She is a warrior capable of undertaking the quest, and emerging intact to win the Golden Fleece.

Another key element of the archetypal journal involves entering into and surviving the Underworld, often a dark cave.  Hillary Clinton has had to survive the darkest of caves in an underworld full of deranged men and incipient violence. A good many male warriors might have given up in comparable circumstances, but she persevered, intent on making it back to the light. Luckily, along the way she has had good Mentors to help her overcome the ever-present obstacles of the arduous journey she has undertaken.

Among the many symbols of the classic Archetypal Journey are mountains, water, serpents and rainbows. Hillary Clinton still has some murky waters to wade through, waters that are home to snakes continually lashing out at her. But when she finally gets to the other side of the river and ascends the mountain there is likely to be a rainbow of colors there. Many of us will be standing with her, relieved and hopeful once more, able to see the world as a place of safety and beauty again.

We will all be changed by the experience. Sometimes that’s all it takes to reach a more enlightened way of being.

 

Marching Toward Dystopia

Marching Toward Dystopia

 

It’s hard to believe, given Donald Trump’s constant and egregious lies, his frequent name-calling and hate speech, his puerile tongue lashings, his visible ineptitude, and his recent debate performance, that he can be viewed as a serious threat to Hillary Clinton’s election in November. Issues and behavior that would have brought down any other candidate, ranging from imitating a disabled reporter to insulting a Gold Star family to being involved in three serious lawsuits, to refusing to reveal his taxes or professional health reports should have stopped him long ago. So should his inability to discuss policy priorities with any depth and his pugilistic, pro-Putin posturing. Yet, here we are as I write this commentary, nail-biting our way through every new poll and prediction, scratching our heads about how this looming disaster could possibly be happening.

Whatever the inevitable political and psychological post-mortems reveal, one thing is frighteningly real: Donald Trump has exposed and unleashed the underbelly of American society, releasing into the ether rampant racism, virulent anti-Semitism, overt hatred of “the Other,” including Muslims, and frightening violence borne by those whose world view he represents - people so full of animus toward human beings who don’t look, think or act like themselves that Hillary Clinton was honest enough to call them “deplorable,” a descriptor verified by polls questioning any standard of decency among other Americans.

Noted political commentator Rebecca Traister saw trouble coming during the Republican convention. She wrote,” What we have seen … is the Republican Party offering its stage and its imprimatur to speakers who have not appeared reluctant or conflicted, but rather buoyed and energized by the way in which Trump’s candidacy has allowed them to come out as inciters of sexist, racist, violent mob action and xenophobic fearmongering. What’s more, by framing their hateful rhetoric in terms of patriotism, they are reminding us that much of the poison in this country runs deep.”

The kind of indecency and poison that Trump spawns and encourages is all too clear when his son says we should be “firing up the ovens.” It is clear when white supremacists pride themselves on finally being legitimate within the public arena while wearing white hoods and waving Nazi or confederate flags. It is more than clear when a 69-year old woman on oxygen is physically assaulted at a Trump rally by one of his supporters.  

The examples of hate-filled rhetoric and behavior among Trump supporters abound in social media, if not in most of the mainstream press, which has been woefully inadequate in its coverage of Trump’s mania. Even should he lose the election “the message of hatred and paranoia that is inciting millions of voters will outlast the messenger [and] the toxic effects of Trumpism will have to be addressed,” a New York Times editorial noted. Those effects include documented increases in bullying in schools and increases in anti-Semitic and other hate crimes. 

Analogies drawn between Trump and Hitler, considered in bad taste and reluctantly shared to make clear similarities in terms of their political strategies, may still be useful. To quote Robert Paxton, an authority on fascism, in Slate.com recently, “The use of ethnic stereotypes and exploitation of fear of foreigners is directly out of a fascist’s recipe book. ‘Making the country great again’ sounds exactly like the fascist movements. Concern about national decline was one of the most prominent emotional states evoked in fascist discourse, and Trump is using that full-blast, quite illegitimately … . That is a fascist stroke. An aggressive foreign policy to arrest the supposed decline [is] another one. Then, there’s a second level, [one] of style and technique. … [he is] like Mussolini … the bluster, the skill at sensing the mood of the crowd, the skillful use of media.” 

In light of the terrifying specter before us should Trump prevail, the challenge for those who understand how close we could be to a dystopian future is convincing people who don’t like Hillary that they have to vote for her anyway. I’ve tried and it’s not easy. Some of them don’t get that democracy resides in participation and that without voting they are colluding with a possible Trump win that could mean we enter into an inconceivable Draconian age. Some of them think he’s not as bad as the show he puts on. Some of them just don’t seem to care.

How did so many people whose very interests and futures are at stake become so apathetic and deluded? That is perhaps a question for another time.

Right now what matters urgently is that as many people as possible vote, which means that all of us experiencing cold sweats ratchet up the dialogue, knock on doors, argue with our right-leaning friends, do whatever it takes to shine light on what the options are: Either we vote smart and elect Hillary, or we dig in our heels and hope to survive years of dictatorial disaster. 

Want to know what that feels like? Ask anyone whose lived under Saddam Hussein, Assad, Romania’s Ceaușescu, and now Mr. Erdogan of Turkey.  It’s not a pretty picture. As Trump would say, “Believe me.”

                                                       

 

 

   

Time to Get Behind Hillary

Now that she is the Democratic candidate can we give Hillary Rodham Clinton her due?

She may not be perfect. What politician, or human being, is?  But she has taken more heat than anyone running for office should have to, and now the time is here to “put a sock in it,” as the British say.  Or as my high school typing teacher taught us, “Now is the time to come to the aid of the party.”

Like lots of others I’ve had issues with Hillary.  For a start I don’t like political dynasties no matter which side they represent.  I think she made a mess of health care reform during her husband’s tenure and I don’t like that she stood with him for punishing welfare reform. Some of her senatorial votes, especially regarding military intervention, were clearly questionable. Recently I could have throttled her as she pandered to AIPAC in her unconditional support of Israel with nary a mention of that country’s transgressions against the Palestinian people. I get that she sometimes acts as if she were exempt from the rules. And I wish she had donated her Wall Street speaking fees.

But Hillary is a woman of extraordinary intelligence, sound judgment, and experience that runs wide and deep. Her “skill set” is amazing. So is her patience and her cool in the face of contempt. (Think Benghazi and emails.)  Much of that contempt derives from her being a woman.  A lot of old white guys don’t like smart, powerful women, and sadly neither do some women.  Hillary has shown real fortitude as she’s faced unfounded attacks on her character, personality and ability.  It’s time we gave her credit for that.

I can say with some authority that she is also nicer than people give her credit for.  The first time I saw her up close and personal was at an event honoring the late, great feminist leader Bella Abzug. Hillary greeted the audience warmly, her big blue eyes and wide grin a portrait of genuine friendship.  She joked about Bella’s hats and told tales about their shared experiences. When her remarks grew serious she moved us all, speaking passionately about issues she and Bella cared deeply about, women’s rights and children’s welfare topping the list. We felt her real concern and commitment to these and other matters, witnessing how they moved her. We saw in her the ability to act forcefully on behalf of others less fortunate than those of us in the room that day. We left inspired.

Several years later I was in another room with Hillary.  It was an auditorium in Hairou, China, site of the 1995 non-governmental forum at the Fourth World Conference on Women.  She was America’s First Lady, but that didn’t stop her from speaking truth to power in Beijing’s political halls. A few days earlier she had declared to China’s leaders and the world, “Women’s rights are human rights! And human rights are women’s rights!” It was a stunning and courageous statement. When she came to the NGO forum to speak she was no less forceful and daring. Her words about the denial of women’s human rights all over the globe resonated to the 3,000 women lucky enough to have gained access to the auditorium, to the more than 35,000 conference participants who heard or read her speech later, and to all the world’s women waiting in homes and huts to learn what was happening at that awesome event.  The power and passion in that speech was unforgettable.

I’m not suggesting that I’m on Hillary Clinton’s Rolodex. I’ve never broken bread with her nor have we had personal exchanges. But having been in close proximity to her on a few occasions, I can say that she has been treated unfairly, mythologized, unduly doubted, diminished, and insulted without cause. It’s time for all that to stop.

For far too long now – indeed through the ages – women have been punished for revealing their intellect and their agency. They’ve been pilloried for being political, privately and publicly. Many have been silenced, tortured, murdered for daring to speak their minds or make their own choices. (Just a few days before I wrote this piece, a young Middle Eastern woman died in an honor killing for refusing to marry the man her father had chosen. Elsewhere a teenager died as a result of forced female genital cutting.)       

The world must come to realize that women, who constitute the majority of the earth’s population, deserve to have a seat at the tables of decision-making and conflict resolution, and to rise, with demonstrated competency, to positions of leadership. Here in our own country, we must acknowledge that women like Hillary Clinton deserve to be taken seriously, treated with respect and honesty, and recognized for their immense abilities, especially in critical, dangerous and divisive times.

It’s time now for us to have Hillary’s back, and to have her back in the White House. She may not be perfect, but she is perfectly capable of leading the country forward, and yes, carrying with her the best of the Obama legacy.

Who could possibly say that about her dangerous, and dare I say deranged opponent?

 

                       

A Frightening Move to the Right in the US and Elsewhere

Anyone who saw Donald Trump asking for a Hitler-like salute to accompany a vote pledge from his supporters, or watched an angry follower elbow-punch a protester in the face, should realize that if he were to take the White House, we would all be in deep trouble. Trump’s behavior, ideas and political rants are outrageous and alarming.

But make no mistake: we’d be in trouble if any Republican candidate were to win the election. Trump’s opponents espouse much of the same policy claptrap when pressed; they just use softer language and forego violently throwing protesters out of the room with the Stalinist vigor of the frontrunner. The party of the right has helped fuel the escalation in violence and vitriol we are experiencing. They’ve done nothing to put a lid on what’s happening and they continue to support Trump in the election. They have never disavowed his accusations about the President’s birthplace. They’ve refused to pass legislation the president proposes and they have never treated Mr. Obama with respect.

Even more worrying than the fascist machinations of the authoritarian Republican poll leader is the numbers of people flocking to his events cheering on his stereotypical scapegoating.  The hate inherent in Trump supporters is a scary reminder that a lot of Americans stand on shaky ground.

We are not alone in the fact that about half our population is dangerously right wing.

Recently Spain’s conservative government strengthened laws originally aimed at controlling separatists. The laws resulted in the arrest of puppeteers who used a political play on words at a Carnival show and the prosecution of a musician and a poet whose work suggested criticism of the government, all in the name of fighting terrorism. Maximum prison sentences for such infractions have been increased and a new “gag law” penalizes unauthorized public demonstrations.

Even before the Paris attacks in November last year France reinforced a similar gag law to punishes statements deemed to be inciting terrorism. Since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, French authorities have moved to enforce the law and have been accused of rushing to convict people who may have spoken provocatively outside the realm of terrorism.

Other European nations, both east and west, have also enacting broad and troubling laws, some aimed at maintaining a leader’s control, others at limiting political speech as fears of Islamic extremism rise. Germany, for example, is showing serious signs of moving right in view of the Merkel government’s welcoming of refugees.

In Turkey, the Erdogan government recently seized the largest circulation newspaper in the country which had been critical of his leadership. Within 48 hours it was publishing pro-Erdogan propaganda. In shutting down the press police acted after a court in Istanbul placed the paper under the administration of selected Trustees without explanation. The editor of the paper was fired and Turkish sources reported that the paper’s online archive was being eradicated. This action is just the latest move by the authoritarian Erdogan, who has imprisoned critics, jailed journalists, and gone back to war with the Kurds. Oh, and it’s now illegal to insult Mr. Erdogan. Nearly 2,000 cases for that crime were filed over the last year and a half.

The New York Times, in reporting events in Turkey, noted that “it is unsettling that the US and Europe have responded so meekly to Mr. Erdogan’s trampling of a free press.” It’s also unsettling that EU countries are not willing to bear any responsibility for trapped refugees. The challenges of resettlement are huge, of course, but part of the reason no country wants to help the teaming masses is an almost hysterical fear of terrorism, which seems to have trumped (no pun intended) human rights and compassion.

In Poland, the ultra-conservative government has cleared the way for hard line legal changes, including a likely total ban on abortion and further curbs on gender and human rights. Their constitutional tribunal, the country’s highest legislative court, is losing its independence thanks to the Law and Justice Party’s win last year – a Party aligned with hostility toward migrants.

Meanwhile, Israel continues its trek right. A Pew Research Center report issued in March found that almost half of all Israeli Jews want to see the transfer or expulsion of the country’s Palestinian population. For the past decade or more racist ideas have gained power in Israel, scholars point out, powered by ultra-Orthodox rabbis and other fundamentalists. This attitude has led to attacks on Palestinians as well as women and gay activists, some of which have resulted in barely punished homicides. And still the illegal building of settlements continues, basically assuring that a two-state solution can never prevail.

As we grapple with our current political landscape as well as the debate over First Amendment rights vs. national security spawned by Apple’s refusal to unlock a terrorist’s iPhone, we need to be mindful of the full picture, and the real threats, surrounding civil rights here and elsewhere. Never has it been truer that “no man [or country] is an island.” The shift right in so many countries, possibly including ours, is perhaps the most important issue we will be forced to grapple with in coming days. Let’s not think, as many Germans did, “It could never happen here.”  It could. And it well might if we are not both vigilant and smart.  

 

                                               

Shut Up and Put Up: A Military Culture of Retaliation When Rape Happens

Sometimes as a journalist one thing leads to another and you suddenly find yourself going down a dark rabbit hole that you hadn’t planned to visit. That’s what happened to me recently when I was writing a piece about how the Veterans Administration’s mental health system and the military in general were failing women in need of care following sexual assault.

I interviewed a lot of women veterans who had suffered military sexual assault while serving their country for that piece and what I heard wasn’t pretty. Nor were the things they said about what had happened to them when they sought help, or when they tried to tell their stories. That’s the part that led me down the rabbit hole, because the truth is retaliation is rampant in the military against those who tell the truth about what happens to victims of abuse.

“It’s a culture of silencing,” one source who’d been warned not to talk to the media told me. “They take away your First Amendment right to free speech.” Then he called me, twice, in a panic.  “Don’t use my name,” he said. “I still work for the VA.” Soon afterwards I got a call from another source who asked that I water down her comments. “My husband still gets his care at the VA,” she explained.

But don’t take my word for it. In May 2015 Human Rights Watch released a report called “US: Military Whistleblowers at Risk” in which it detailed retaliation for reporting sexual assault. “Military service members who report sexual assault frequently experience retaliation that goes unpunished,” the report said after its 18-month investigation in partnership with the human rights organization Protect Our Defenders. “Despite extensive reforms by the Defense Department to address sexual assault, the military has done little to hold retaliators to account or provide effective remedies for retaliation,” the report said, adding that “the Military Whistleblower Protection Act has yet to help a single service member whose career was harmed.”

Let’s put a human face on this travesty. “A Sergeant told me he would kill me if we ever went into Afghanistan because ‘friendly fire is a tragic accident that happens’,” a female soldier told Human Rights Watch.  Another reported that she was assaulted by a cook whose colleagues harassed her so much she couldn’t eat in the mess hall. She “lived off of cans of tuna” for seven months. In another case a female Marine’s name and photo were posted to a Facebook page where other Marines could comment. “Find her, tag her, haze her, make her life a living hell,” someone wrote. Another soldier said she should be silenced “before she lied about another rape.”

Is it any wonder that one advocate I interviewed said she advises women who come to her for help to “get out right now because you life is on the line.” She told me “it’s not unusual for women to go missing” or to have their deaths called a suicide.

A study conducted by the Rand Corporation in 2014 revealed that 62 percent of women who reported unwanted sexual conduct to military authorities experienced some form of retaliation. The study also found that 35 percent of women reporting sexual assault suffered an adverse administrative action, 32 percent suffered professional retaliation and 11 percent were punished for infractions after reporting. It didn’t count the number of women who receive pseudo-psychiatric diagnoses like “Borderline Personality Disorder” which is often used to damage or end a victim’s career.

“These sickening stories of retaliation against survivors should make every American angry,” Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY) has said. “We keep hearing how previous reforms were going to protect victims, and make retaliation a crime. Yet there has been zero progress on this front and this mission is failing. Survivors will not be able to get the justice they deserve until we change this business-as-usual climate without any real accountability and create a professional, non-biased and independent military justice system.”

Don Christensen, president of Protect Our Defenders, agrees. “When no one is held accountable for retaliation, it creates a hostile environment for all survivors, and sends a message to criminals that they can act with impunity. When a survivor who reports sexual assault is 12 times more likely to suffer retaliation than they are to see their rapist convicted, it demonstrates the military has a long way to go to fix this problem.”

After talking to so many brave women who have suffered terribly, first by being raped and then for telling the truth about it, I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I’ve written their stories here and elsewhere, which has led me to wonder occasionally if I will be retaliated against in some way. So if my column doesn’t appear next month please come looking for me. Maybe you should start with that ultimate black hole – a military brig – where someone who bears an uncanny resemblance to Al Capone may well be watching over me.

What to Do About a Collective Unconscious in Despair

“Every great social movement begins with a set of ideas validated, internalized, and then shared and amplified through media, grassroots organizations, and thousands, even millions, of conversations,” David Korten wrote in Yes! Magazine in 2011.  “A truth strikes a resonant chord, we hear it acknowledged by others, and we begin to discuss it with friends and associates. The new story spreads out in multiple ever-widening circles that begin to connect and intermingle.”

That was the spirit, post-Ferguson and the killing of Michael Brown, it seemed to me, that resonated with so many of us when the call came from many quarters for a new civil rights movement. We had seen again the incipient racism in America that remained unresolved by activism or legislation in the 1960s, racism that was fueled rather than dissipated by the election of our nation’s first Black president.  We saw another March on Washington and it reminded us of the days when Rosa Parks (and a pregnant teenager named Claudette Colvin) refused to sit in the back of the bus and Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream.  We began to think that a new civil rights movement was being born, and that it would carry us forward to a new and better time. Maybe it still will.

Another civil rights movement started in the 1960s, aided by a book called The Feminine Mystique and other feminist truth-telling tales. That movement too needs to be resurrected as a new Congress tries to deny the elementary reality that women are people too.  In its first three days, three measures were proposed in the House of Representatives striving to deny women their reproductive (and constitutional) rights. Such repressive legislation is offered by uninformed, uncaring, and dare I say stupid people akin to the anti-woman gadabout Phyllis Schafly, who remains stuck in the 1950s notion that happiness for women resides in marrying the right man who will give her children, a frost-free refrigerator, and dinner out on a Saturday night.

Marches representing women’s fight for justice and equality also took place in the time of 20th century civil rights activism and they were just as powerful as those led by Rev. King and other Black leaders. The marches for women led by Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem and others were attended by huge numbers of diverse people who thought it was time to end discrimination, second-class status, and state-sanctioned abrogation of human rights.  As the growing chorus for women grew to be global during the UN Decade for Women (1975 – 1985) women began to see themselves and the world through the lens of gender and were changed forever. They are still forcing legislation to catch up.

Many social critics, activists, and others - me among them - believe these movements for civil rights and women’s rights were the two greatest social movements of the 20th century.

But there was another movement during that time that we must remember and resurrect as well. I mean the environmental movement launched by Rachel Carson and her 1962 book Silent Spring.  The book prodded us to examine our relationship to nature and asked that we value the earth we inhabit because its resources are not infinite.  Carson singlehandedly awakened the world to the fact that it was imperative to take responsibility for protecting and conserving nature if we were to enjoy a safe, healthy collective future.

Each of these movements served to transform the way we live. So did the intercultural exchange that became inevitable with the jet age and now the Internet. As David Korten put it, “Together the great social movements of the 20th century and the expansion of international communication has unleashed global scale liberation of the human mind that transcends the barriers of race, class and religion and has enabled hundreds of millions of people to see themselves and the larger world in a new light.”

We need, rather urgently it seems to me, newly-resurrected movements that will take us further in the direction of healthy social change and lead us away from our growing collective despair.  Efforts like Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Planned Parenthood’s Action Fund, organizations like Environmental Action and others represent good and necessary grassroots action.  But something even bigger has to happen, something on the scale of the civil rights and women’s movements that draws huge numbers of people together in solidarity and makes them visible and powerful enough to exert real influence on those who make policy and control purse strings.

What I’m talking about goes beyond post Gilded Age populism.  And it is not anarchy; it’s not even a call for – God forbid – socialism.  I’m simply wondering if we have what it takes to meet the urgent need for unified action that can move us toward the right to dignity, the right to safety in our own communities, the right to privacy in our personal decisions, the right to economic security, the right to a Congress, let alone a justice system, that is colorblind, fair and above all, just.

Just the thought of it goes a long way to altering a collective unconscious in despair.