“Gender shrapnel” is a series of small workplace explosions that occur when no one person or organization is purposefully discriminating against women based on sex. Follow the Gender Shrapnel blog for a new post on how gender and its intersectional categories of race, class, religion, sexual choices, and parental status operate in the workplace.
In her 2013 novel/memoir, The Ridiculous Idea of Never Seeing You Again (La ridícula idea de no volver a verte), rock-star Spanish author Rosa Montero tells of a legend of a 9th-century woman, Juana (Joan), who had passed for years as a monk, made a name for her/himself, and then became pope. Juana had spent years traveling with another monk, who presumably was the father of the baby to whom Juana would give birth while occupying the highest holy office in the land. Montero writes (translation mine): “The legend says that she proved herself to be a well-qualified and prudent pope. But, Juana ended up pregnant, with the aforementioned man of the cloth as father, and, one day, as she traversed the city in a solemn papal procession, Juana went into premature labor and gave birth right there in front of the people of the city. Imagine the scene: the golden crown, the staff, the silk, the subdued brocade cloth soaked with blood and splattered with lowly bits of placenta. It is said that the people, enraged and horrified, leapt on top of the woman pope, tied her to the feet of a horse, and dragged and stoned her for several miles before killing her.”
This one story, so powerful in its possibilities, speaks to contemporary gender issues. There’s the unevolved Catholic Church, welcoming women to leadership neither in the 9th century nor now; there’s the Catholic Church, still relying on the piety of its women parishioners to advance its patriarchal agenda; there’s the brilliant woman having to dress as a man to enact her brilliance; there’s the transvestite/transgender element for the monk couple, who cannot openly express their love and attraction for one another; there’s placenta, exposed to the world in all its silky power; there’s a baby, left alone while its mother is murdered; there’s a mother, who must be shamed, harmed, and killed for her supposed transgression, and there’s the age-old story of a woman being taught her place. There is a blending of religion and government. There is reproductive choice and subsequent retribution. There is justice, in all its patriarchal glory. There is a return to “normalcy,” with the men in charge.
Montero concludes the recounting of the Pope Juana legend with the papal protocol supposedly established after Juana’s murder (translation mine): The youngest prelate “had to tap the presumptive pope’s genitals under the seat and then call out, ‘Habet!,’ or ‘He’s got them!’ At that point, the cardinals in attendance would answer, ‘Deo Gratias!’, I suppose full of relief and rejoicing that the new Peter was another Pater.” I know it’s Fathers’ Day season and all here in the United States, but of course it bears mentioning that the Pater-Peter-Father-Pope inherits his rightly place as head of household, decision-maker, public figure, with all freedoms and rights properly accorded to him. That’s patriarchy—we have confirmed you have balls, and now you shall have everything else.
I want to return to the characterization of the legendary Pope Juana as “well-qualified and prudent.” When, in 1991, the well-qualified and prudent lawyer Anita Hill testified in Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearings regarding the sexual harassment she had experienced while she worked for him, she was maligned and scorned, and eventually ignored. (*See this 5-9-19 opinion piece by Anita Hill in which she again advocates in smart, specific, and determined ways for putting an end to sexual violence.)
In 2011, Thomas’ wife made an imprudent early-morning phone call to encourage Hill to stop her activism, and this year (2019), Hill received other ill-advised calls from Democratic presidential hopeful and current frontrunner Joe Biden, who step by little campaign-advised step, kept trying to take the nation’s temperature to assume as little guilt for his role in the 1991 hearings as possible. Joe is too busy preparing for his “Habet!”moment to understand and acknowledge the role he played in allowing Thomas to occupy the Bench for so long. Note, too, that David Leonhardt in this The New York Times opinion piece (1-13-19), encourages Biden to “Run, Joe, Run,” as he exhorts Biden to run for office because “your populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation” and because “you are not afraid of losing.”
The anti-reproductive rights Roman Catholic presence on the Bench—Thomas for almost 28 years and now Kavanaugh for too many months—sets the tone for the entire nation, from Alabama to Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and to Ohio. The religiously motivated and conservatively empowered pater familias confirms the might of the testicles and the decreased body autonomy for those with other parts in play.
Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri legislatures are making “handmaid” a verb, an action taken upon any and all women, whether or not of reproductive age or inclination. This action sends the message to us women that our whole selves are just a synecdoche, a decrescendo of body parts, pudenda, or what my son and daughter used to call “particulars.” Another blog post will explore ways to think of men’s whole selves as just their sperm, but today’s treats the unequal burden of school dress codes on girl students.
Our local county school system has made “dress code” a verb, dress-coding high-school girls left and right for the clothes they choose to wear or have available to wear. Some girls get dress-coded, and others don’t, even if they’re wearing the same clothes or same exact styles as the ones who do. Some girls don’t get dress-coded for a specific outfit four weeks in a row, but then do get dress-coded for that same outfit the fifth week. Some girls attend formal conversations about the dress code held at school. They are wearing clothes that the dress code prohibits. The administrators do not dress-code them or make any mention of it. Most high-school students have a certain set of styles available to them, and those styles also do not conform to dress code. Many students cannot afford one set of clothes for weekend activities and an entirely different set for the school week.
Also, it’s hot. We sometimes have ten days in a row of hot, humid weather in February or March, and very often we have this weather in August, September, October, March, April, and May. Schools have air-conditioning, but it doesn’t always work. It is just hot. Dress codes that mandate shorts and skirts to “mid-thigh range” are impossible to obey, unless Target, American Eagle, JCPenney, and any other number of stores completely overhaul their inventory. “Mid-thigh” also points all interested parties’ attention to one region—the mid-thigh. As a friend recently pointed out, school should point everyone’s attention to one region—the brain.
And the boys? They’re wearing whatever the hell they want and watching their girl classmates’ bodies get scrutinized, criticized, taxonomized, and harassed by adult teachers and administrators. These role models teach the students that girls’ bodies define them, thus making the girls objects, non-human, subject to whatever other decisions are to be made for and about them, not by or with them. Some girls are sent home to change and some are given others’ clothes to change into. Some girls are punished with after-school detention, and some with in-school suspension. These girls who dare to be themselves are labeled “defiant,” a loaded and gendered term in the context of school rules, hierarchies, and power systems.
This is the path to the Handmaid’s Tale. If a girl is just her body, then we forget that she has a brain and a skill set and an opinion and her own way of existing in the world. This objectification creates a shorter path from real, live, full-person girl to just body to state-controlled incubator, as we’re seeing in various states and on way too many courts in the land.
Furthermore, if we can’t even eliminate a binary gender-based boy/girl dress code, how will we teach students to embrace a full range of gender expression, thus creating a welcoming environment for all students who spend the day in the public school environment?
When I was in ninth grade (first year of high school), my mother made me wear a dress or a skirt every day. I was not a big fan of dresses or skirts, preferring to wear athletic clothing so that I could play pick-up basketball at lunchtime and make a quick change into practice clothes for after-school sports. My mother had the idea that you should honor the school day by wearing “proper” clothing, and so I wore a dress or skirt most days of ninth grade. I walked to school, carrying a book bag, instrument, and sports bag, and I climbed over a brick wall at the beginning of my walk to shorten the trek by at least a mile. Looking back, I can’t imagine my clothing was in a proper state most days by the time I got to school. In the meantime, this was the early ‘80’s, and my classmates were wearing the standard uniform of blue jeans and black concert t-shirts (winter) or shorts and black concert t-shirts (spring). My attire was decidedly impractical and uncool, but I did what my mother said.
I did what my mother said for one year, and then I didn’t. Obedience was silly and impractical. She knew that, too. I was 15 and had my own tastes and personality and hobbies, and I needed to wear the clothing that expressed all of that. I also had been buying my own clothes since I was 12, and it was time to buy clothes that I wanted to buy. By that point, my mother got the point. There was no need for me to stage a rebellion or to outline a case. It was just time for me to wear the clothing that made sense for the weather and my daily trajectory and activities.
I don’t remember that my school had a dress code, and I don’t remember any of us being scrutinized by teachers or administrators for the clothes we chose to wear. Admittedly, this doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; I just don’t remember our feeling bound by a dress code or, by extrapolation, of enforcement of a dress code. In other words, we were free to wear what was comfortable, to express ourselves through our clothing (or not to, if that was our preference). I could be the nerd in the dress for a whole year, and then I could be the tomboy in the gym shorts the next year. It didn’t matter.
It does not matter whether I like or do not like the fashions young people, and especially school-aged girls, choose to wear. What matters is that each and every person has fair and equal access to educational opportunities and success, with no undue burden placed on any gender.
When I go to my daughter’s sporting events, a disembodied voice from the press box commands the audience to rise for the National Anthem and for the gentlemen to remove their caps. I don’t consider myself a gentleman, and so I don’t remove my cap, which I’m wearing to keep the setting sun out of my eyes as the game begins. I believe this is the only instance in which the boys and men are being asked to obey a dress code element that the girls and women are not—but it’s only due to the gendered assumption that only one gender wears baseball caps.
I believe, too, that women administrators (and maybe teachers) often bear the extra burden of enforcing dress codes because dress codes often make men afraid to have to look at or to be caught looking at adolescent girls’ bodies. All of it is weirdly sexualizing, creepy, and unnecessary.
This 2016 Forbes Magazine article looks at the history of dress codes, and therefore the history of gender bias through clothing impositions, stating that: “In ancient Sparta, Athens and many other Greek city states from around the 4th century BCE, there was an appointed group of magistrates called the γυναικονόμοι (“controllers of women”).” You can guess where the rest of the paragraph will take you. This 2014 NPR piece examines the inconsistent nature of public school dress codes, as well as the pervasive gender bias in the codes themselves. NPR also links to the National Center for Transgender Equality site as a resource for schools to be more inclusive in their dress codes. In 2015, the ACLU of Idaho sent out a legal memo, which “notes that gender stereotyping dress standards can violate the U.S. and Idaho constitutions, federal laws including Title IX, and the Idaho Human Rights Act. Requiring boys and girls to dress differently or according to government-imposed gender norms is unlawful gender discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. and State Constitution also prohibit this type of discrimination.” (See more ACLU dress code information here; see also this interesting and thorough 2015 piece from The Atlantic.) This 2016 Newsweek article signals the dangers of mandating what women employees must wear or must not wear.
Let’s stop looking mid-thigh and start going full-brain. In summary, a poem:
Parts is Parts
Women are like Perdue chickens,
born whole, then harvested for our parts,
the breast meat, the drumsticks, the thigh;
no head left, no brain there.
We’re like Perdue chickens,
bred for service,
A neighbor recently commented that we should not teach our daughter to do chores, that not knowing how to do chores would help her to do fewer of them in the future. I have thought about this a lot in terms of day-to-day equity at work and in the home. After all, chores do have to be done (they do, right?). My parents assigned chores as evenly as possible to the seven of us, often not along gender lines since there was already such great gender imbalance (two girls and five boys). This should have taught us all that we were part of a group bigger than ourselves and, therefore, that we had to contribute to ensure the group was taken care of. I can only speak for myself when I say that I believe this early teaching took root.
Now, though, when I recall the stern speech I delivered a while ago to my daughter (“I want you to be more generous—of your time, labor, material goods, and humor”), I wonder how to strike an equilibrium between teaching her to contribute equitably to group needs and teaching her to give too often or too much. The same goes for my son, who should probably receive the opposite speech from the one my daughter got. In a more perfect community or culture or world, our children would simply love themselves and their neighbors and therefore have a built-in sense of labor equity. Maybe we are working our way in that direction, somewhere, in some way. You will find this quandary to be threaded through the text below.
Gender mishaps have piled high of late, and so I have compiled a list of do’s and don’t’s. Some items from the following list can certainly apply to other intersectional points (national origin, race, religion, socioeconomic class, sexual expression, etc.), but I am framing the list through gender. These suggestions appear just to make good sense, but the more I exist in the workplace, the more I wonder what good sense is.
Don’t’s go first, do’s second, so that the post at least appears to end on a positive note.
Don’t call a woman Spanish professor “Señora” and a man Spanish professor “Profesor.” While we’re at it, do use the term “professor” (or “doctor,” if you prefer, especially for the science folks, who seem to prefer this title) for all of your professors when you’re addressing them in English.
Don’t assume that women co-workers will take care of all the gifts and the cards. If gifts and cards are happening, all department members can figure out how to proceed.
Don’t invite a woman to participate on a committee by telling her you need a woman on the committee. Instead, decide what expertise and experience she brings to the group, and ask if she’ll contribute those.
Don’t confer with senior women only about the minutiae of the department.
When interviewing candidates, don’t have women in the department address only lower-level teaching and men in the department address only research.
Don’t leave most or all of the advising to the women. The more women advise, or “nurture,” the less the job is valued, and the more women are doing the undervalued work.
Don’t “reply all” to a group of co-workers and write exactly what your woman co-worker just wrote in the previous e-mail.
Don’t laugh when a woman negotiates. Don’t ignore women’s negotiations and honor men’s.
Don’t tell women job candidates to calm down.
Don’t run a meeting, come to consensus, end the meeting, and then visit individual offices to undo the consensus.
Don’t reverse departmental decisions. When you reverse departmental decisions, do consider if, by undoing them, you are valuing men’s opinions more than women’s.
Don’t touch women co-workers who don’t want to be touched by you. If you assume they do want to be touched by you, you could be wrong. If you assume they don’t want to be touched by you, you’re on the right path.
Don’t assume women are weak. This will bite you on the ass.
Do plan ahead. This allows for everyone to contribute to the work equally.
Do figure out how to share the work. Use a spreadsheet, list the job responsibilities, and fill them equitably.
Do think about power and hierarchy. If you have power, why do you have it? How can you use the power to do the most good for the most people? If you want power, why do you want it?
Do consider representation. How many people of color are in the room when big and small decisions are made? How many women are in the room? How many people of color and/or women have the opportunity to speak, vote, and influence the decisions?
Do attempt to put aside your own expectations for others’ behaviors and self-expression. If you can’t, then do attempt to be aware of your own biases.
Do be honest—with yourself and others.
These two lists should just serve as a mini-refresher. Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace treats all of these suggestions in more theoretical and more expanded practical ways.
Spanish speakers know the nuanced differences between the verbs ser and estar, and Spanish language learners encounter lesson after lesson on the differences between these two verbs, both usually translated into English as “to be.” If you combine “aburrida/o/x” with ser, it means “to be boring,” while combining the word with estar means “to be bored.” This important distinction plays out in many other combinations, making the use of these two key verbs rich, rewarding, and rife for linguistic play.
But today’s blog post is not about grammar. Today I am thinking about the word “dull” in English in the context of world, national, and local events. I am both dull—not sharp, not ready, not synapsing as I usually do—and dulled—adrenaline on overdrive and body on shutdown—by these events. I still feel anger, frustration, sadness, and outrage, but I feel them in a muffled way—not quite robotic, but also not quite human. The other day, a dear friend and fellow activist spoke through tears as he described the case of Nusrat Jahan Rafi, who reported to Bangladeshi authorities the sexual assault committed by the principal of her school, only to be burned to death by a group of men attempting to defend the principal and punish the woman for reporting.
The BBC recounts the story in this way: “Nusrat Jahan Rafi was from a small town, came from a conservative family, and went to a religious school. For a girl in her position, reporting sexual harassment can come with consequences. Victims often face judgement from their communities, harassment, in person and online, and in some cases violent attacks. Nusrat went on to experience all of these. On 27 March, after she went to the police, they arrested the headmaster. Things then got worse for Nusrat. A group of people gathered in the streets demanding his release. The protest had been arranged by two male students and local politicians were allegedly in attendance. People began to blame Nusrat. Her family say they started to worry about her safety.”
The consequences listed in the BBC article are common in many reporting environments, and the family’s worry for their daughter’s safety was of course deeply connected to their tacit understanding of patriarchy’s unremitting violence. My friend’s appropriately shocked and sad response to this incident contrasted sharply with my quick, understanding nod and shift to a different topic. This is not like me. Violence and injustice usually move me to tears, and then to action. Kindness and generosity do as well. And there I was, noticing my friend’s tears from a distance, unable to register shock or sadness, despite the fact that every minute of every day I am so worried for our world, so worried about how power for power’s sake and sheer selfishness have taken over. My response was both dull and dulled.
Three years ago, when “Candidate Trump” (to use Mueller Report terminology) had gained major traction but few people believed he could win, Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace came out. All of the sharp, feisty observations I had made about gender injustice in the workplace were tempered in the book by abundant research, a sober, academic tone, and a writing process that required a certain slow care. The sharpness was made necessarily duller, as the pen battled the sword. At the same time, I watched the GOP continue to push its retrograde rhetoric and policies and to gather support for a Groping Old President who would mock the disabled, cage children, otherize the non-Christian, non-U.S. born, non-white, non-hetero, non-male, and peaceful populace, and weaponize the White House in support of only him. The shrapnel—based in gender, race, religion, national origin, ability, and any other attribute designated by the GOP as weak—continued to swirl around us to such an extent that it became the norm, the weapons in the air, the fight and flight.
Hillary Clinton’s recent op-ed in The Washington Post (4-24-19) reenacts the dynamic of the period prior to the 2016 presidential election and the election itself in that a smart, tough, and experienced woman tells the country what’s what, and she’s right, and the country somehow pays her no mind. She should not have to do the mea culpa she performs early in the piece: “Obviously, this is personal for me, and some may say I’m not the right messenger. But my perspective is not just that of a former candidate and target of the Russian plot. I am also a former senator and secretary of state who served during much of Vladimir Putin’s ascent, sat across the table from him and knows firsthand that he seeks to weaken our country.” Once again, a woman is having to state her well-known credentials just to be able to do the work, to write the rest of the article, to school the country on what it already should know. Clinton cogently lays out a four-point plan for responding to the Mueller report. She concludes by saying, “Of all the lessons from our history, the one that’s most important may be that each of us has a vital role to play as citizens. A crime was committed against all Americans, and all Americans should demand action and accountability. Our founders envisioned the danger we face today and designed a system to meet it. Now it’s up to us to prove the wisdom of our Constitution, the resilience of our democracy and the strength of our nation.” Clearly, Clinton’s intellect has not been dulled by the repeated attacks against her, nor by what those repeated attacks say about United States patriarchy and failing democracy.
In the meantime, in our little local area, our high school is operating under a dress code that is more burdensome—in both the text of it and the application of it—for girls than for boys, thus suggesting that a Title IX discussion is warranted. Girls believed to be in violation of the code are labeled “defiant” and are unduly punished, thus again demonstrating how we police women’s bodies and then punish women for standing up for body autonomy. Besides the dress code, concerned citizens interested in at the very least a discussion of an outdated non-discrimination policy for the public schools are told that everything is fine and that no discussion is needed. What are administrative groups so afraid of? How do we overcome the throbbing dullness of groupthink and groupspeak in our government?
It is no wonder the senses dull. I understand more viscerally now what I never understood in studying coups d’état and dictatorships, that the daily struggle to resist in the early-going can exacerbate the challenges of the longer-term resistance.
My Spanish 240 students and I just read Pablo Neruda’s poem “Explico algunas cosas,” remarking on the poet’s call to the world to see the bloodshed on Spanish soil during the Spanish Civil War, the three-year struggle that would define the violence and alliances of World War II. We commented on the title, literally translated as “I explain/I’m explaining some things,” but perhaps more aptly saying this, “I’ve got a few things to say,” or, “I’m putting some things on the table,” or even, “Listen up, people, there’s some bullshit in the world.” I love this poem’s no-nonsense title, and I am particularly grateful for an era in which a poem’s verses can move people, groups, and nations to think and act.
Over the past two or three weeks, I have had several luxuries in my own little town and little time to sort through my impressions and opinions surrounding them. This blog post is simply about getting a few things on the table, trying to understand my own reactions to the brilliant and creative work I have heard delivered or performed live in this short time.
I have heard Joy Harjo read her poetry, establishing voice and cadence and connection to the past and to Oklahoma, lamenting colonization and genocide and the willful ignorance surrounding these purposeful conquests. She highlighted the Monacan Indian Nation as an important part of Virginia history. As I sprinted from Harjo’s reading to Rebecca Traister’s presentation focused on her book, Good and Mad. The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, I thought again about how poetry packs a wallop, how it doesn’t have to be angry to show anger, how it doesn’t have to say, “This bullshit happened again,” to communicate that the bullshit did indeed happen again. As I jumped into the Traister talk, I was struck by how the author’s style changed when she moved from her prepared remarks to speaking off-the-cuff. Her prepared remarks slowed things down, stated an academic case, supported it with evidence. When she spoke off-the-cuff, which really was not off-the-cuff but rather a brilliant demonstration of how much Traister holds in her head and how quickly she constructs the most lucid of arguments, you saw Traister allow the fire and anger to emerge. You saw her live the academic argument she has made so often. You saw her fatigue and frustration forged into smart fury, each comment building to the next, each example eliciting knowing nods from most of the audience.
As I walked from Traister’s talk to a group discussion of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, I sorted through how anger works in, for, and against me. Anger shows on my face (friends often remind me that, even if I’m silent, people can actually still see my face), knots in my belly, and pumps blood through my body. It drives me to a clear outline of the points I’m mad about and forces me to take some kind of action. I’m sure it works against me in a whole host of ways that I don’t usually slow down long enough to analyze or to halt. I arrived at the building where the book discussion was scheduled and laughed out loud thinking of my daughter when she was about four years old. We had been at a 4th of July fair until too late. She was in a tie-dye dress, had red, white, and blue popsicle stains across her face, and wild curls across her head. She was four, and she was pissed. When we got home, and I was drawing a bath for her, she stood over me imperiously and announced that she was mad, mad for three reasons. “Number one,” she yelled, index finger in the air. “You didn’t let me cross the street by myself.” “Number two,” she continued, new finger up and waving in my face. “I wasn’t allowed to have another popsicle.” Third finger up, the trifecta of her ire. “And, number three. I am NOT taking a bath.” I watched anger galvanize her thoughts and her forceful articulation of them. I remembered thinking, “Yep, apple, tree, and all that.”
The White Fragility discussion challenged those of us who were present. I realized immediately that I often approach social events and community gatherings too much as an academic. I wanted to talk about the book—what I liked, what I didn’t, what I had learned, what I still needed to know, what my weaknesses are—and had little patience for those who just wanted to talk about the issue. I was still in Good and Mad mode and had to let it go and just listen. The next hour and a half reinforced for me the fatigue people of color must experience as they hear iteration after iteration of white people coming to terms with their own racism, sometimes in the most stroking and least aware of ways. It also reinforced the challenge of living at various intersections and having to watch this play out in many different contexts every day. Nevertheless, it is also clear that working in and as community means living these iterative processes and hoping that, slowly but surely, we are circling back to a more advanced point in our development.
Three nights ago, many of us heard the story of the 8-person local group who traveled to Tijuana in December to offer legal aid to migrants at the border. The group provided excellent information on international human rights, immigration law, asylum procedures, and specifics about migration through Central America, Mexico, and the U.S. They also shared the ways in which they were struck by, undone by, worried about, tenderly addressing all the need and tension and preoccupation about further separation and economic hardship. A colleague talked about being touched again by the power of the law and the need to help people shape their narratives. As the whole group discussed the “credible fear” interviews for asylum, I could not stop thinking about the additional credible fears our own country has created through detention, separation, and general dehumanization. An excellent lunchtime presentation yesterday about the forthcoming documentary film The Burning allowed me to draw parallels between the migrant and refugee crisis in Morocco, Algeria, and Libya and the one addressed by the Tijuana group. The mighty hypocrisy of it all, the unnecessary trauma of it all. We are living this vaivén, this back-and-forth between evil enacted by powerful people and desire for good brought about by people on the ground.
Two nights ago, again on campus, I joined a packed house to watch BlackkKlansman. I saw most, but not all of the film, but thought it was incredibly powerful in its unflinching portrayal of racism and its institutions, of hatred of an entire race, layered with profound anti-Semitism and misogyny. I hope to hear about the discussion after the film. Maybe it was a few steps ahead of the white fragility discussion of a few weeks ago.
Meanwhile, across town at our local public schools, some great and worrisome events have taken place. The high school boasts a state champion, Danielle Crawford, in the shot put and the state championship academic team (I can’t yet find a link announcing this), along with outstanding performances in the state championships by several swimmers. At the same time, though, the high school had planned to hold one of its few assemblies for the whole school. The assembly, just now scrapped, but only due to some necessary consciousness-raising, was to feature a preacher named Bob Holmes, who sees public schools as “mission fields,” hopes to guide students to Jesus, and states that girls who have been raped can find forgiveness from Jesus. A local middle school also this week witnessed one of its teachers making racist and sexist remarks to a student.
There is so much work being done, and so much work still before us. Of course, as a nation, we have also just witnessed the theater of the absurd of the GOP defense of Trump through their attack on Cohen. The racist, conman, and cheat-in-chief continues to exercise his white supremacist, misogynist, dictator power. The more we “explicamos algunas cosas,” the more cosas there seem to be. In the meantime, I am profoundly grateful to the many people across the globe who are finding ways to ask us to see the bloodshed on our lands and do something about it.
(Here is a letter to the editor I have just submitted to support ratification of the ERA.)
White women got the right to vote in 1920, 133 years after the Constitution was signed in Philadelphia and 129 years after the approval of the Bill of Rights. African-American women waited even longer, until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These plain historical facts reveal to us the multiple gaps left by the Constitution’s framers and the ways in which we must encourage the document to catch up with and to reflect contemporary realities of citizens and citizenship.
The Equal Rights Amendment, a Republican endeavor of the 1970s, is still alive, well, and ready for even more support in the state of Virginia. Virginia could become the 38th state—the last one necessary—to ratify the ERA, following Illinois (2018) and Nevada (2017).
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.” This simple text reminds us that women’s rights are civil rights and that strict scrutiny is needed for gender discrimination cases, as is already the case for race and religion.
84% of the 197 constitutions in the world guarantee gender equality, and all international constitutions since 1950 have included gender equality clauses. The ERA provides a national standard for the elimination of gender discrimination. In the United States, widespread, bipartisan support for the amendment speaks to the common-sense nature of it.
This is a great time for the United States to step up its game and ensure all citizens equality under the law. Virginians, let’s do our part! You can sign local and state petitions in support of the ERA, contact your delegate and the House Leadership every day, visit the General Assembly now or in the future to advocate for the amendment, write to Delegate M. Kirkland Cox, Speaker of the Virginia House, and spread the word to friends and neighbors of the Commonwealth.
(The Head of Saint John the Baptist, by an anonymous Spanish painter. Wikimedia Commons.)
I notoriously did not realize the relationship was ending. Wait, “ending” makes it too progressive. Over. I notoriously did not realize the relationship was over. How could it be? I was still in love. Love was still so new. I had delivered my vulnerability, a sign of trust that surely meant love would last. Friend after friend gave me gentle warning signs: “You know, I think I saw him around town last weekend with someone,” or, “Maybe I saw him out romantically with someone else, I don’t know.” Oh, no, I thought, that’s impossible. Because that’s television bullshit. That’s a bad movie. People in real life tell each other when they’re moving on. People in real life understand respect. In real life, relationships end in straightforward but kind ways because they reflect the respect that has developed right alongside the relationship. Of course, I’m not being broken up with, because I would know! Alas. Four months later, I called the boyfriend (ex-boyfriend of months, I just didn’t know that) to break up with myself on his behalf. Whew, that felt good. That was appropriate closure.
I remember over-extrapolating the lessons to be learned, magnifying each moment so that my 21-year-old self could synthesize, analyze, and remedy the one-sided break-up so that my 22-year-old self would never again participate in an unhealthy romantic relationship. Self, I said, you will always break up with someone in person, and you will always give honest reasons for the break-up. It turns out that most people with whom I subsequently broke up were mostly uninterested in the “honest reasons,” which included genuinely liking the person but not seeing a romantic future, needing more excitement, needing more time to myself, that kind of thing. So sure had I been of my lessons learned that I went into debt to fly to Spain to break up in person. That sent the wrong message, too. After all, if I was flying all the way to Spain, didn’t that mean I wanted to be with that person? The melodrama—me staying with friends after the break-up, him staging a drunken, 5am “Yo, Adrienne” moment in the friends’ apartment stairwell—that melodrama, too, was unnecessary.
What did I learn from these experiences and my teacherly tendency to create a lesson out of everything? (Yes, back then, I even declared that no one should pretend they’re experiencing certain physical sensations in the boudoir that they’re not because it reinforces bad habits. I sure did like to draw conclusions and teach lessons!) I learned that I am blinded by my own overly-defined moral code, misreading, unreading, or disreading signs and cues and thus neglecting to tune into others’ codes. I was the Amelia Bedelia of relationships, certain that “drawing the curtains” was an art project and “trimming the tree” a forestry expedition.
Last week, which was the very first week of 2019, smacked me down with such drama that I started to magnify moments and extract lessons. Experiencing the worst arthritis flare I’ve ever known, I hhhheeeeeeee-ed through spasms of pain in my neck, adopting some kind of Lamaze breathing just to live to the next spasm, feeling like I was supposed to give birth and realizing the only thing born(e) was pain. I’m not looking for sympathy. Many of you kind people offer that all the time in a million different lovely ways. I mostly just need to narrate the pain and evaluate the medical experience.
The pain stabbed vertically and diagonally with such a vengeance and clarity, especially in the middle of the night, that I was suddenly certain there was a god. But no, I puffed and seethed, if there were a god, the potent being would not be vengeful in this way; this would not be god’s work. God’s work would be loving, gentle, thoughtful, subtle. Damn it, this is a vengeful god’s punishment. No, there is no vengeful god. And besides, asshole, you don’t believe in god. Ruminations on faith, spirituality, and religion gave way to a deliverance—the image of my head on a platter, benevolently severed from my neck, which could go screw itself. I saw my head as that of John the Baptist, served up on a silver platter. But there was an easy smile on my face, a sense that this break-up between head and body was surely a good thing, the best for both parties, the correct path ahead. Decapitation might be an extreme form of separation, but, damn, how soothing it could be.
I think you get my state of mind.
In the more lucid moments of the week, I started picking up on the signs that my most excellent rheumatologist was breaking up with me. How had I not realized this months earlier when, instead of telling me to make an appointment for six months hence, he told me I could make or not make another appointment? He must have been seeing other patients. He had given me his cell phone number so that I could text with questions. Oh, no, now he wasn’t answering the texts. Questions about tapering from prednisone, approving a standing desk, improving my health in order to stave off more effectively the next flare. All these questions, previously so carefully addressed and treated, languished in the little green lozenge of a text message. The rheumatologist and I spoke on the phone one desperate day last week, and, he seemed, well, done with me.
Still heeeeeeing and whewwwwing my sounds of pain, I called again and reached the “rheumatology fellow” of the Department of Rheumatology. The rheumatology fellow, new in his relationship with me and not yet fed up with unabating pain, offered excellent advice and soothing reassurances that I was doing everything I could. When the real rheumatologist called the next day, the break-up happened. “I think it’s time to refer you to a pain clinic.” Shit, I thought, just the term sounds like sheer torture. Besides, don’t I still have rheumatoid arthritis that should probably be treated by an expert in the field? And, if this was a prescribed path, one that ensures treatment by a rheumatologist only up to a certain point, then why didn’t I know that from the beginning? What are the secrets, the undercover protocols that you only learn about when they’re through? I’ve never been the stalking type. No, in fact, the laissez-faire approach to lack of response is much more my way. I would not stalk the rheumatologist. There would be no calls to his fellows, no repeat texts, no rabbits.
That’s when I remembered that a dear friend of mine with the same ailments had been summarily broken up with by her doctor who, when my friend had arrived at the end of pain treatment possibilities, said, “There’s nothing more we can do for you.” Oh. That is deep, I thought. This is that moment. How did I not see this coming? There is nothing more they can do for me. That is a freaking wake-up, break-up call if I’ve ever heard one.
In the wake of this, as the pain has abated, my movement has returned, and the lessons start to take shape (as faulty as they may be), I am again startled by my own vulnerability, naïveté, and, let’s be frank, relative isolation on this medical path.
Dr. Melanie Greenberg tells us in Psychology Today that neuroscience links break-up pain to actual physical pain: “Our brains appear to process relationship breakups in the same regions as physical pain. This doesn’t however, mean that romantic rejection causes actual physical pain. Rather, your brain is signaling that both are important events to pay attention to. There may be an evolutionary reason for this. The function of pain is to alert the person to physical danger or harm so she can take protective action. In the animal kingdom, one’s chances of avoiding predators are much higher as part of a group than alone, therefore social rejection may have been an actual threat to physical survival for our early ancestors. If this is the case, it might partially explain how difficult it is for many people to let go of the ex-partner and move on.”
The friends and family members who have warned me that the medical-industrial complex will make it mostly about the pharmaceuticals are right. As excellent as my rheumatologist is (he explains things; he asks questions and listens to answers; he carefully teaches residents under him about what he is doing and how; uh-oh, I’m backsliding on the break-up), he is wholly uninterested in discussions of diet and exercise, and I suspect that this comes from his training, the same training taking place in outstanding medical schools across our nation. The friends and family members who are easing me into this break-up have made gentle suggestions to get me on a broader path. At my ripe old age, I am again realizing that I am my own medical self and my own medical case worker, and I have to do a lot of trial and error off the formal medical protocol track to figure things out. I’m looking at this not as a new break-up, not as a severing of head from body, but as playing the field.
Our local resistance group, 50 Ways-Rockbridge, celebrates this Thursday its two-year birthday. We will celebrate with a simple party–food and dancing for any able to join–to remind us of how we continue to build community and why we must continue to resist the acts that take away our rights and attempt to dehumanize us.
A little over a year ago, I wrote this blog post to summarize the work of 50 Ways over the previous year. Today’s post uses last year’s as a launching point to look at 2018. I will make a few observations about this past year and then share the revised “big list” for 2018.
Late 2016 and 2017 brought on a necessary frenzy of activity, including: creating an organization from the ground up; learning to listen to individuals, issues groups, and community groups and sort through needs; communicating priorities; and showing up, time and again, to protest the latest affront to our democracy. The first year was characterized by urgency, novelty, and community presence.
This second year has focused significantly more on Get Out the Vote initiatives, thereby bringing our group closer to those of the Democratic Party. This tighter relationship caused some 50 Ways members to raise issues of partisanship, thus encouraging conversations about the identity of our resistance group, its ability to welcome people of all or no political stripes, and its message. We navigated these fraught issues through face-to-face conversations about which candidates can do the most good for the most people. We also sometimes shared frustrations and dissent through e-mail, remembering to allow for disagreement and to focus on mission. As I write this, I recognize that the 50 Ways Board members, whom I so respect and admire and with whom I’ve worked so closely for two years, might well interpret 2018 in a markedly different way than I’m doing here. Their blog posts would and should read very differently from my own. There is room for this, as long as we continue to resist the dehumanization of ourselves and our neighbors and the deliberate attempts to make our democracy falter.
Right now I have a stack of papers to grade, new courses to prep by January 7, and a long list of 50 Ways chores in front of me. This past year, for me and, I think, for many of my friends in the trenches, has also been about finding some balance between resistance and the day job, resistance and our creative efforts, and resistance and our family lives. I remember the moment at a recent board meeting, two years after our first board meeting, when I realized that we were all declaring ourselves in it for the long haul. That’s a powerful moment for all it acknowledges: that our labor matters; that our labor is many-splendored; that our labor bears fruit; that our labor is shared; that our labor mixes a strange cocktail of joy, frustration, and fatigue.
I am so grateful to all of the board members, issues group coordinators, and hardworking 50 Ways members for these past two years. Happy Birthday!
Here’s the “big list.” Please let me know what I’ve missed or forgotten.
What We’ve Done So Far
Brought together over 200 people in person to participate in the group
Brought together over 600 people on Facebook
Collaborated with Indivisible groups across Virginia
Held monthly meetings, which have included visits by representatives, delegates, candidates, and members of community organizations and agencies
Supported a greater variety of candidates in our area, including big mobilization for Jennifer Lewis’ campaign to flip the 6th and Christian Worth’s campaign for the Virginia House of Delegates
Supported the revival of the Lexington-Rockbridge NAACP and supported Coming to the Table
Celebrated with the Rockbridge NAACP at the fantastic Freedom Fund Banquet
Welcomed expert speakers on a great variety of issues
Sponsored a community picnic
Sponsored 50 Pints for many Mondays in 2018
Participated in the CARE-MLK Parade and the Rockbridge Community Festival
Enjoyed getting to know more of our neighbors in a variety of settings
Supported our subcommittees, studied the issues, and created talking points
Relied upon the excellent leadership of our issues coordinators (THANK YOU!)
Sponsored community events on excessive policing and on African-American history of Lexington and Rockbridge (Racial Justice)
Collaborated with the W&L Immigrant Rights Clinic and W&L ESOL to find paths to citizenship for Lex-Rock residents and ran a fundraiser for these efforts (Immigration Committee)
Collaborated with Project Horizon, CARE-Rockbridge, and W&L ESOL to launch the Festival Latino (Immigration Committee)
Supported the Law School trip to Tijuana to provide legal aid at the border (Immigration Committee and all 50 Ways)
Run a series of colloquia on climate change and celebrated Earth Day (Environment Committee)
Worked on The Diversity in the Workplace Jobs Initiative
Sponsored in-person protests and vigils for the Environment and for Women’s Rights, LGBTQIA+ Rights, and Immigrant Rights
Sponsored two “Farm Talk” events (County Unity)
Supported our local schools through creating expert lists for enrichment, tutoring lists for after-school help, grants for public school programs, and volunteers for additional breakfast service (Mentoring Initiative)
Worked to create greater awareness of Title IX issues and greater protections for public school students (LGBTQIA/Women’s Rights, Racial Justice, and Mentoring Initiative)
Sponsored films (Environment, Gerrymandering, and Women’s Rights), ACLU Rights sessions (First Amendment), informational talks and panels (Environment, Gerrymandering, Healthcare, Immigrant Rights, Racial Justice, Title IX, and Women’s Rights), and workshops (op-ed writing, Twitter, organizing rallies and marches)
Encouraged greater participation in and interaction with the city and county school boards
Shown up—to protest the pipeline, immigration injustice, gun violence, a Supreme Court nominee, and corruption surrounding the Mueller investigation
Shown up—at candidate talks, forums, and rallies
Held weekly, biweekly, or monthly issues group meetings and big group meetings
Monitored governmental corruption
Revisited our mission statement and reinforced it, all the while entertaining lively debates about how best to research, educate, and act
Created t-shirts, a banner, magnets and stickers to share the word about 50 Ways
Reformulated our attractive, lively website for resources and action
Maintained a large e-mail database for daily communications with 50 Ways members
Sent hundreds of postcards to our representatives and to our neighbors to get out the vote
Knocked on hundreds, probably thousands, of doors to get out the vote
Written dozens of letters to the editor of our area newspapers
Sent thousands of e-mails and made hundreds of phone calls to our representatives
Accepted generous donations from community members
I know, I know, I’m coming late to the gratitude party. Nevertheless, we all know that feeling and expressing gratitude matter at all times of the year.
I am not going to make a gratitude list here, although I certainly feel profound gratitude towards many people in my life from the past and present. I am going to thank one group, and I’m going to keep it short.
This giant, big-ass shout-out of gratitude goes to my Spanish 204 class from this term. Why them? Because they are freaking adorable. They are the most adorable class I have ever taught, and I have been fond of very many classes and students over my (gulp) 30-year teaching career. Not one of the students in the class will read this post, but I certainly hope they all know how much I have appreciated sharing every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning with them.
These 15 students, every single one of them, have said “hello” and “goodbye” to me every single day—always in Spanish, always sincerely. They have greeted and taken leave, sometimes in their tired, unshowered, groggy, and decidedly collegiate states, but always as a sincere, kind, slow gesture. I ask how they are doing, and they actually tell me, always in Spanish—not always the most perfect Spanish, but always their most perfect Spanish—and then, unfailingly, to a person, they ask how I’m doing and listen to the answer.
As the semester has advanced, the students have also asked each other—strangers at first, but now, I think, real friends—how things are going. They listen to the answer and take note. I find it particularly significant that, when they emerge from group discussions and report back, they almost always report on each other, rather than speaking first about themselves. They are extraordinary in the care they take of each other and of me. This class has a community-based learning component, which means that each of the students works for at least one hour a week in our Latinx community. Maybe this means the class somewhat self-selected in terms of interest in others and general big-heartedness.
We have laughed heartily together—over their hilarious skits, our silly plays on words, and experiences they have had on campus or in our community. I laughed all the way to tears one morning when a group presented their newscast, complete with a commercial with a musical performance to sell cat food. Is it not also adorable that, in an effort to say “wait list” (lista de espera), a student said “hope list” (lista de esperanza)? I just love these things, even after so many years in the teaching trenches.
We have also huddled together on some days, hushed and chastened by tragic national news of more violence and death, more separation and anguish, and by local news of more overt expressions of racism.
This lovely class has made me think of a kind of a formula, something like “self + going beyond self + other = love,” or, more simply, “self + another = us.” I am more than grateful to have been able to spend every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of this term with this special group of students.
I find I like to use what precious free time I have these days crying. I have anticipated this weekend—no trips, no candidate dinners, no Skype meetings—with such gusto, such certainty that I would smile my way through chores and walks, work and play. Instead, I decided mostly to cry a lot. I think it was brought on by an e-mail from my hilarious, retired, world-class mountain climber, creative writer, and sculptor aunt, who admitted to my strangely addicted football-watching family that she had never watched a football game, in all of her 79 years, in full. Upon seeing my nephew, her grand-nephew, score in a televised game this week, she declared it a “lovely touchdown.”
This made me cry because my aunt is the sister of my mother, whose pithy quotes, equanimity, and loveliness I miss still every second of every day. When I have free time, I mostly remember my mother and cry. She would not want this. In fact, she would see it as a terrible waste of time and the antithesis of watching lovely touchdowns. But I haven’t always done what she would want—ironically, my disobedience is certainly something she would want and expect.
All of this business allows me both to dwell on mourning my mother and to think slowly about vigils and vigilance. My mother died a year and four months ago. I thought I would “recover” sooner than I have. But I just still miss her and her style, generosity, and tone every single day. I hear her voice in that of my siblings, detect her humor in that of her siblings, see the loss of her across my father’s body.
Today I wondered if the mourning process hasn’t been layered by other mournings of the past 24 months. All of the gun violence, in some cases targeting specific groups, and in some cases, “just” revealing untreated mental illness loaded into the canister of a gun, this gun violence has us half-closing our eyes as we see loved ones who feel the harm as we do, whose eyes shine wet atop the candles we hold at vigil after vigil. Maybe I’m affected, too, by my son’s beautiful reading the other night of Federico García Lorca’s “Romance de la luna, luna” (here sung by the amazing Camarón de la Isla), with its haunting “u” sounds (Huye, luna, luna, luna) and its finality in death (El aire la vela, vela/El aire la está velando). The air keeps vigil.
The air keeps vigil. That’s how I see our country now. The air watches. Vigil is in the air. We are on a 24/7 system of watching and waiting, wondering and worrying, working and weathering. We are tense. We know another black church can get shot up, another synagogue torn apart. We know another woman can get raped, another white man given a job for life. We know another voting urn can be set up, another slate of votes discounted. We see, we watch people fleeing their countries to find some peace in another country, and we recognize the irony of this conflicted, contorted country somehow providing more peace to a migrant than her or his home country did. We know what dignity is. We fervently celebrate its presence but frequently mourn its absence. In my own little town, we know a rainbow flag can rise and fall, a racist hate group can rise and rise, and a sense of safety can falter. We cry, we worry, we run, we weep. Vigils and vigilance take it out of us. All that vigilant adrenaline, spent on combatting evil. All that vigilant adrenaline that could somehow be put towards loving community.