When God Sends Your Black Friends White Paternalism

So there’s this post going around, “When God Sends Your White Daughter A Black Husband.”  I would like to take some time to do a close reading of the language in it and talk a little bit about how, as white people, we can do horribly wrong things in our attempts to be helpful when it comes to confronting racial bias.  If you have not read the post, it is a letter that a white mother has written to other white mothers whose daughters may be choosing interracial marriage.  And while it is meant to encourage other white people to embrace their children’s choices, it goes too far in whitewashing very complex racial issues and ignoring the consequences that white attitudes have for people of color.

I’m going to go through that post now, copying the harshest of the language and deconstructing what may be read as implied meanings.

The story starts out with the writer explaining how she’d had a wish list that she prayed for her daughter’s future husband to be, and jokes that God “called [her] bluff” by sending “an African American with dreads named Glenn.”  What is unstated here is that she’d always assumed the man that she was praying for would be white, and it turns out that if she’d thought about it, she may have prayed for a white husband.  But given the title of the post I suppose that’s not surprising.

The writer then goes on to say that interracial marriage used to be taboo and even illegal, but isn’t anymore, and states that “though I never shared this prejudice, I never expected the issue to enter my life.”  Again, she’d always assumed her daughter would marry someone white, even though she claims she isn’t prejudiced.  So if she wasn’t prejudiced, why did she assume that her daughter would marry someone white and why did she say that God sending her daughter a black husband was “calling her bluff?”  Despite the author positioning herself as being openminded and accepting, her mere writing of the article gives tell to the lie- it had never occurred to her that her daughter may date someone black.  There is a very real, subtle but real, prejudice at play there.

“Glenn moved from being a black man to beloved son when I saw his true identity as an image bearer of God, a brother in Christ, and a fellow heir to God’s promises.”  The structure and language here are very interesting.  First, Glenn was a black man.  Then, as he proved he had certain good qualities, he also became something else: a beloved son.  This implies that being a beloved son and a black man are somehow contradictory or disconnected ideas.  Also, it states that his “true identity” is as an image bearer of God.  Is that also separate from his identity as a black man?

Then there is the anecdote about a fellow Christian’s worry over the possible future children of this union, “It’s just . . . their future children. They have no idea what’s ahead of them!”  This confession shows that there was an acknowledgement that having interracial children could be difficult.  What is interesting is that the writer brushes this off as a shrug- no one knows what is ahead of them!  No one picks the trials they face!  But that admits that the author believes having interracial children would be a trial.  That race affects one’s life is both tacitly acknowledged and painfully ignored simultaneously, in the way that only a white person can manage.

Then the author gives this problematic advice:  “Calling Uncle Fred a bigot because he doesn’t want your daughter in an interracial marriage dehumanizes him and doesn’t help your daughter either.”  Oh.  Okay.  The author encourages people to simply ignore “naysayers” as long as people aren’t “undermining the marriage.”  I think it’s worth mentioning here that experiencing bigotry does undermine marriages.  Relatives objecting to the marriage based solely off of the color of one person’s sin does undermine the marriage.  Encouraging people to just lovingly ignore racism helps no-one, other than tacitly racist people who don’t like confrontation.

The post continues on, talking about building relationships and trusting God.  It’s all very saccharine and generally good advice to anyone whose child is marrying anyone.  What bothers me, though, is that the issue of prejudice and racism is never confronted head-on.  If anything, prejudice and racism are swept under the carpet.  The author never delves into why she may have never assumed or wanted her daughter to marry a black man.  While she does lather on her son-in-law’s positive qualities rather thickly, she never discusses why those qualities may have surprised her in a black man with dreads.  She never talks about why other people might object to the marriage.

She does the opposite.  She ignores the issue of racism as if it weren’t important or even central to the necessity to write about her experiences.  She ignores the impact of race on the experience of of her daughter and son-in-law.  I have to wonder if her daughter and son-in-law feel that the proper approach to relatives who objected to their union was just to ignore the racism and pray?  I wonder if they felt that such objection undermined their relationship?

Instead, the issue of race was treated as a merely cosmetic issue.  I could imagine a similar missive being written about when God sends your tall daughter a short husband, or your athletic daughter a chubby man.

The impact of race on people’s lives is manifold, especially so for people of African heritage, even more-more-so for people who are known descendants of slaves, and I imagine that impact is even greater in the South (where the writer lives.)  What bothers me the most is the lack of introspection on the part of the writer, and the lack of repentance, and the lack of a call to introspection or repentance.  Without understanding how racism works in our own hearts we cannot repent of it or work against it.  We cannot ignore it as a cosmetic or inconsequential concern and simply shrug it away as if it doesn’t matter.  Rather than being a much-needed confessional of how entrenched and dangerous racism is, how badly we need to confront and defeat it, the writer instead gave us a rather prim 8-step tutorial on how to smile and pretend nothing is wrong.

All the while, what is really wrong is clearly printed between the lines.

 

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Donald Trump isn’t called by God.

So if you search around much on the internet, you’ll stumble across a growing movement of Christians saying that Donald Trump is called by God to strike fear into the heart of America’s enemies.  I think this is something to prayerfully consider, testing it against the word of God.  Anyone who knows me personally won’t be surprised, though, that I find it deeply troubling.

1 John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

 I won’t link to these blogs- if you’re curious, feel free to Google.  I don’t want to lend further notoriety or money to a movement which I do not trust.  But I do want to discuss why I feel that the Bible provides sufficient evidence that anyone claiming Trump was anointed by God is a false prophet.

Matthew 7:15-20 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

What fruit has Donald Trump’s tree borne?  Divisiveness, fraud, corruption, a kingdom built on taking advantage of the poor, skirting the system, idolatry and bigotry.  How could such a person be called by God?  To claim such a thing is true shows a spirit either blinded to the knowledge of Trump’s true character, or a spirit which (I think this is far more likely) is taking advantage of the trusting nature of Christians and the language which codes belonging to them in order to further the agenda of a very dangerous man.

  1. Trump’s kingdom is built on idolatry.  Trump covers all of his properties and businesses in his name and his own likeness, often plating them in gold and only the finest of materials in order to further the idea that his name, not God’s name, is synonymous with prosperity.  His kingdom is a temple to his self, not the principles of the Bible.
  2. Trump’s kingdom is built on principles of taking advantage of other people, the political and legal system of the United States.  Trump’s real estate empire owes it’s success, in part, to his ability to buy up properties that were lost in bankruptcies, raze them to the ground, and build ostentatious new properties in their place.  Often this has been accompanied by complaints from impoverished communities that have been literally over-towered by Trump:  as commercial properties encroach on poor neighborhoods, people are forced out of their homes.  This is further compounded by the fact that Trump has taken advantage of bankruptcy laws in order to force government subsidizing of his own financial risk taking- he has LOST an incredible amount of money trying to game the system, and he’s passed those losses on.  Furthermore, he has padded his ability to do both of this things, skirting zoning laws, having cities pay for the right to have towers bearing his name, etc, by shamelessly buying politicians.  In what could not be a greater bit of irony, when Hillary Clinton was the Senator for New York, Trump often gave money to her own causes and invited her to bless his.
  3. Trump’s kingdom is built on bigotry.  Trump has called for the wholesale slaughter of Muslim women and children so that terrorists will stop, as if killing their women and children wouldn’t be MORE of a reason to hate the United States.  He has accused all undocumented immigrants of being drug-dealers and rapists.  He has called for large-scale deportations of the like that the United States has never seen, which would leave children born in the United States without parents and would tear families apart- but even worse (if you are a capitalist, like Trump) it would cripple American industry and leave thousands of fields empty of hands to pick food, slaughterhouses empty of workers, and factories bare of the people needed to pack and ship.  Perhaps because I am a woman, though, the type of bigotry I find the most disturbing from Trump is his open contempt for the opposite gender.  He calls breastfeeding mothers “cows,” he tells women they’d “make a pretty picture on their knees” and his favorite insult for any woman, be her the nominee of a party or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, is that she isn’t pretty and his women are “prettier,” as if a woman’s worth starts and ends with her physical characteristics.  This contempt for the fairer gender, contempt for women who were made by and loved by God, based off of nothing but a callous assessment of their potential as sexual objects, is abhorrent.  No man of God condemns a woman for not being a valuable enough sexual conquest.  Let’s not forget that a good portion of Trump’s wealth comes from the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, a gleaming temple to the idolatry of beauty as the sum of a woman’s worth.
  4. Trump’s kingdom is built on divisiveness.  From the petty divisiveness of pitting Apprentice against Apprentice to the large-scale divisiveness of pitting Republican against Republican, Mexican against Caucasian, Muslim against Christian, Gay against Straight, Pro-Choice against Pro-Life, and on down the line, Trump has built his world on pitting people against each other.  His campaign includes almost no (if not literally no) actual agenda.  Other than banning Muslims from entering the country, building a wall between here and Mexico, and ending our trade deficit with China, he has said nothing of any real substance.  How would he HELP people?  How would he grow the economy?  How would he improve foreign policy?  His answer to that is that we can’t trust Mexicans, Muslims, or the Chinese.  Divisiveness, pure and simple, not solutions.
  5. Trump’s kingdom does not value truth.  There is almost too much to write here- but suffice it to say that Trump’s world is riddled with inconsistencies like a tree trunk laced with termite trails, to the point where stunned onlookers often wonder how much longer it can stand.  His stance on abortion, gay marriage, trade, his own wealth and business acumen, and so much more have changed with the winds so many times it’s impossible to keep track of what he has believed when.  He has been accused of fraud and is losing that case, he has often conserved his wealth by refusing to pay contractors and then suing them when they file for payment, he has often protected his own assets in shady legal maneuvers to allow companies to die and go bankrupt without putting his personal wealth on the line- often to the grave expense of his employees.  Some people will argue back against this accusation, saying that what Trump does is “good business,” but where in the Bible does it say that we can manage our worldly goods in a way that contradicts Biblical Principles and then still claim to act for God?  If Trump is a man of God, should not the fruits of his business be a testament to God’s goodness, instead of a testament to avarice and fraud?

So no, I do not nor will I ever believe that Trump was called by God.  All the evidence of Trump’s works on Earth can be seen in the faces of my students, when they write poems describing how much he scares them, when they beg the adults in their vicinity to vote against him, and when I literally hear them praying for Trump to fail.

Unless the “enemy” Trump has been called on to strike fear into is American women and children, he has not nor could he ever have been called by God.

Safety Is Not Guaranteed

Or, “How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Refugees.”

Ben Carson proudly backs a “majority of US Governors” who want to block Syrian refugees from coming into this country.  Paul Ryan calls for “a pause” in the refugee process, which typically takes two years, to reassure political leaders that refugees are adequately vetted.  (They are screened seven times, by several agencies, more than any other kind of immigrant.)  People across the United States are calling for the refugees to be kept out.  Government officials propose alternative solutions like, say, forcing all the refugees back into Syria and simply putting them in camps there and guarding them.

I understand that this is a complex issue and answers don’t come easily, but when I see my Christian brothers and sisters calling for the refugees to be sent back to Syria, or to be housed in “nearby countries where people are like them,” what I see isn’t a rational discussion about the issue, but a reaction based off of fear and xenophobia.  I have seen Christians using the Bible to defend both sides of the argument, arguing alternately that the Old Testament is stringent in it’s command to care for foreigners in our land and that we are called to provide for our own.

People say things like “why take in refugees from THERE when we have homeless people HERE?”

People say, “why should we WELCOME TERRORISTS?”

People say, “we have a responsibility to protect our families!”

Bible verses fly like chaff on the wind, the casing of an argument that is built around a very different kind of seed.

So come now, my friends, let’s try this again.

Why take in refugees from THERE when we have homeless people HERE?  Once upon a time, I was a supervisor in a homeless shelter.  And while my salary was paid by the kindness of our donors, and we received adequate support, I was always a little shocked by how many people didn’t help.  The amount of people who actively supported and donated, especially the amount of people who gave with any regularity, was a small percentage of the booming Christian population surrounding us.  The truth is that while homelessness is a growing problem in the United States, the people actively working to help homeless people are almost constantly having to beg for support, redirecting funds and personnel that could be helping the homeless to raise more funds.  If we really cared about the homeless, shelters wouldn’t have to be constantly begging for cash and calling their donors to ask for more food and socks and diapers.  It is both disheartening and outrageous to see homelessness used as an excuse to NOT help refugees, when the government funding for the programs that help the homeless is constantly under threat of being removed.  The Republican Presidential Nominees using “we need to help our people here” as a talking point for refusing the refugees have also said that they would cut funding to HUD, which sponsors shelters, and have said they would get rid of “tax loopholes” like the Community Development Block grant, which is part of what kept my own shelter in the black.

Point one:  You don’t get to use the homeless as a shield for your opinion if you actively support defunding the programs that currently keep them off the street.  Entire Republican field- I am talking to you.

Why should we welcome refugees if some might be terrorists?  Well, for one, while people are quick to talk about rising crime rates in European countries accepting refugees, the evidence is that the crime rate has risen in proportion to populations, showing that refugees commit the same amount of, or fewer, crimes comparative to their native counterparts.  While one bomber in Paris was found with a fake Syrian passport, his presence in France was due entirely to the amount of refugees arriving on boats in Greece and the European Union’s open border policies and lax refugee laws.  The refugees awaiting placement in the US are not the same ones washing onto the shores in Greece.  They are living in UN refugee camps and applied for placement years ago.  They are going through an intense screening process and would only be placed in the States if they are deemed to be a good fit: they have family here already, are connected with community groups here already, or have skills that would make them beneficial to the US economy.  The refugees that the UN would refer for placement in the US would already have protective barriers that are known to decrease the likelihood of terrorism, since terrorists are generally people who are disconnected from communities due to extreme hardship.  The presence of a fake passport on a terrorist in Paris tells us that the terrorists want us to fear refugees and send them back to Syria.  Do we want to be so easily manipulated?

Point Two:  If you fear refugees, you do what the terrorists want.  The first step to overcoming terrorism is to not fear what terrorists ask you to.

But we still have a responsibility to protect our families!  Except we have to ask ourselves what we need to protect them FROM.  One thing we want to protect them from is living in a future where the actions we take today could haunt them.  One way we could haunt our children is by making our country responsible for millions of deaths because refugee camps were overrun, people hand nowhere to go, so they were trying to cross the seas en masse on rubber rafts.  The fact that the US was unwilling to take in Jewish immigrants prior to WW2 remains as a stain on our collective conscience.  How many people could we have saved if we’d been compassionate?  But people had, then, the same fears they have today:  what if the refugees steal our jobs, rape our women, cause crimes, are actually spies?  While the problems today are slightly different and there is legitimate reason to suspect that terrorist organizations would take advantage of refugee programs, that is why the government of the United States already has refugees pass seven screenings through various organizations before approving them for placement, in a process that takes several years.  Ten thousand unscreened refugees aren’t going to show up and wage war tomorrow.  It isn’t going to happen.  While one or two psychopaths could possibly leak through, it would be in a percentage proportionate to the population at large.  And while one or two psychopaths can cause a lot of damage, we face mass shootings from our own citizens with some regularity.  By taking in refugees, we help the UN to provide stability throughout the Middle East by taking some of the pressure off of their refugee camps.  This helps to keep everyone safe and sap the power from the terrorists, who benefit from Syrian families suffering.  Besides which, if you feel justified in “keeping your family safe” at the expense of the suffering of innocent people, that is truly shudder-worthy.

Refugee camps catch on fire.

Refugee camps are susceptible to fatal disease outbreaks.

Female refugees, especially young women, are often the victims of unreported crime.

Refugees have inconsistent access to medical care, to education, and to basic niceties of life.  The war in Syria could rage for decades; in the meantime, are we meant to believe that we make the world safer by leaving these people to burn to death, to die of viral meningitis, to be raped and beaten?

Will their children learn to love us and our freedoms if we leave them to suffer?

Point three:  You cannot make the world safer by perpetuating the conditions that breed terrorism.  If you want the Muslim world to love us and our freedoms, bring them here.  Show them our freedoms.  Love them.  Let them learn to love us.

Besides which, the Bible doesn’t guarantee us safety.  If anything, it does the opposite.  The Bible is full of references to persecution, stating that as Christ suffered so we will also suffer as his disciples.  Let’s not forget the fact that we follow someone who lovingly offered his body to the scourge so that his blood would be shed to save us.  And we can’t even offer up our local community center to a refugee family so their children can play?

1 Corinthians 14:10-  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

This is an opportunity for us, in our weakness and fear, to be made strong.  This is an opportunity to put our faith in God, to put our fate in God’s hands, and to trust that His will be done.  This is a time to pray for the wisdom of our leaders that they make the right call when placing refugees.  This is a time for us to sacrifice our pride as the servants of mankind and to pour out blessings on the refugees, trusting that as we do so in obedience to Christ that our faith and humility will open their hearts to God’s love.

This is a time to act like Christ.

Let us not forget that Jesus washed Judas’ feet the night before he died.  That he ate with Judas, that he called him friend.

Let’s not forget that anything God calls for us to sacrifice, even our lives, is never too much.  That we have faith in him that he uses every harm for good, every wound to show his grace and mercy.  When we open our mouths to say that we must ignore the needs of the innocent because it is “too risky” to help, that we must leave orphans and widows in squalor because we must protect ourselves, what we say out of the other side of our mouth is that we no longer believe that serving other people in obedience to God offers us any sort of reward.  We want to reward ourselves with our own safety.

Is that what faith does?

Let us not forget that as the Bible teaches us, everything we have is God’s in the first place.

Psalm 24:1  The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it

All we have we possess as His stewards.  If we truly believe that, that this is His country and not ours, we need to ask ourselves not what we want but what He requires.

Does God want his children in the Muslim world to suffer in camps, living exposed to the elements in tents, subject to fire and disease, famine and cruelty, indefinitely while a war wages in their hometowns?  Does he want us to turn a blind eye to their plight out of fear that one or two radicals may slip through the cracks?  Does God value OUR safety more than THEIRS?

photo via the associated press

Impossible Standards

Floating around in my brain. There are several threads pulling together. One is a very clever link that’s been going around showing real men posing in underwear as compared to models. Sort of a “yeah, men get the short end of this stick sometimes, too,” deal. And while it’s interesting to see those sorts of things, there is so much that can, and should, be said about the difference between the glorification of the masculine and feminine in the media.

Because while men’s bodies are airbrushed, stylized, and overdone: it’s still never quite the same as the pervasive and damaging way that women are treated by advertisements.

For one? Men are glorified as strong. While the extent of that strength as posed by the models may not be achievable by all men, the pursuit of that strength is arguably not as physically damaging as the pursuit of ultra-thinness is for women. Another is that the overall masculine ideal that is portrayed is not as conflicting as it is for women. Men should be strong, that’s the ultimate message. Whereas women are told to be strong and also weak, to be virgins and also whores, to need men while being independent, and a host of conflicting messages that lead to guilt no matter what ideal a woman pursues. We need to be clean and dirty! Skinny AND curvy, etc! WE NEED TO BE EVERYTHING WHILE ALSO VACUOUS AND WAITING TO BE FILLED WITH YOUR MALE STRENGTH. WOOO!

It’s impossible.

A male friend made a remark about how growing up reading comics he was all too familiar with impossible ideals. And while the hyper-strength of superheros is certainly an impossible ideal, comic books really don’t try to convince the reader that they are somehow failing if they aren’t bit by a radioactive spider, right? The ideal is there, but the permission to not meet it is also there.

There aren’t many bra manufacturers out there giving women permission to not need the newest push-up bra.

Of course one has to admit that men are more and more getting the complicated messages- be all-absorbed in your work and success but also a caring father. Have six pack abs but drink that beer. You know, the impossible to meet dualities of our society.

But ultimately it’s still not quite the same, because looking at history men have always been allowed strength. They’ve always been given license to lead. They’ve always been granted more autonomy. Their strength comes from the self, the self that they are encouraged to have. Ordered to have.

Whereas women? Our “self” has been expected to be our spouse, our family, our role in society. Our sense of self is something we have to buy into by accepting what is laid before us. So it’s harder to shake those media images, because deep in our internal programming is the belief that we have to buy in to be safe, because cultivating a sense of self outside of that is intrinsically dangerous.

Even so, when I look at the perfectly sculpted ideals, both masculine and feminine, what I see is not an answer but a death. To become that, we give up what we are now, we cut away at ourselves to fit into a mold that has been designed with no real knowledge of who we are.

Maybe I have a stronger reaction because I never watch TV, never read magazines, never look too closely at billboards and don’t live in a big city. When I see those perfect abs or perky boobs spread out to sell me something I have this horribly visceral reaction.

They have no humanity. Don’t buy in.

Let’s REALLY talk about institutionalized abuses.

So yesterday I wrote a blog post which I worked very hard on.  I tried to compassionately ask that men please just listen to the women sharing their stories right now, and then I told my OWN story in order to illustrate a culture of misogyny that I had experienced.  I only had one sentence in the entire blog post which made a generalization about the male experience, and it was “and men are trained that it is okay to blame us, because their privilege is more important than our rights.”

Did I say that all men abuse women?

NO.

Did I say that all men are evil?

NO.

Did I even say that all men are complicit?

NO.

What did I say?  I said that society, as a whole, has a different attitude towards men than women.  Men are given license, by society, to blame women for the way in which women are treated by men.  I was very deliberate in not having gone any further than that and stopping my claims there.  Partly, because a blog post should only ever be so long; but, mostly because I understood that no matter what an individual writer says, when you’re writing about an issue which is broadly in the media people tend to react to the issue itself instead of your words.

I immediately received a personal backlash.

The thrust of the arguments which I had with several men, both privately and publicly, is that it is wrong for women to make generalizations about men.  Making those generalizations weakens women’s argument, puts men on the defensive, makes dialogue impossible, and so forth.

I was forced, then, to make a choice:  To either continue to restate my actual argument which necessitated a generalization, or to capitulate.

Why does the argument necessitate a generalization?

Let me take you to a moment in Guadalajara Mexico,when I was cornered by a police-man on a motorcycle.  My gut clenches and I am looking for any avenue of escape, but there is none.  Why am I looking for an avenue of escape?  Because the woman I am staying with, a native of the city, says that police men are known to rape white girls when they are on Spring Break.

She made a generalization, didn’t she?  But she made one because the generalization was necessary.  Sure, she could say, “some policemen have”, but that is still general.  Or she could say “there are a hundred known cases of”, but that is actually too clinical to be effective.  The problem that she is addressing, that she is trying to communicate to me, is one that is endemic in the way the policemen of that city operate.  To address an endemic injustice, one MUST use language that encapsulates the system.  The system of police, in that case, which is based summed up in the statement “policemen are known to rape.”

Or, let’s look at the civil rights movement.  In his infamous “I have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, said, “Instead of honoring this obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked ‘insufficient funds’.”  This is literally the first of many generalizations that the good Dr. made in his speech.

Okay, men, go dig him up from his grave and explain that making generalizations weakens a person’s argument.

Sometimes, when you are talking about systemic injustices that are institutionalized in the very way in which society operates, generalizations are all you have left.  When a black person talks about their experiences, generally, with white society, do we accuse them of being prejudiced against white people?

See, the #YesAllWomen movement has been characterized as being sexist in the way that generalizations against race are racist.  There’s a difference, though, between being racist and addressing systemic injustices that are based on race.  When someone says “all black people are lazy”, they are being a racist.  When a black person says, “white people are better rewarded by the academic system”, they are simply pointing out an injustice which society ignores, an injustice which is documented and undeniable.

When women say, “men are given permission to silence women who speak up about abuse by slut-shaming them or making them responsible for their own mistreatment”, women are simply pointing out a systemic injustice in society which, guess what!  Is documented and undeniable.  Sociologists have been puzzling over issues such as these for decades, and it is undeniable- empirically, scientifically undeniable-that there is a double standard in society.

So I will ask again that men listen to women address these injustices with open ears, open eyes, an open heart, and a closed mouth.

Men. Women. Society. Meh.

First, I have to say that I understand why the #NotAllMen backlash is happening.  It’s a frightening thing to feel that you may be unwillingly drafted into a bitter generalization.  The immediate response is to say, “not me, right?”  But, friends, that doesn’t mean it is the right response.  Let me illustrate with a story.  The college campus I work at has a majority of Hispanic students, and the Writing Center where I work is often a home-away-from-home for students that are looking for a quieter environment to study.  This is a good thing, as we work hard to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere for our students. Sometimes that safe and comfortable atmosphere lends itself to somewhat uncomfortable conversations.  For instance, once I was sitting at the front desk when a handful of Latina girls started talking about their frustration with a particular instructor.  Soon that conversation ballooned into their frustration with the attitudes they encountered as Latina students in a world that seemed stacked against them, where men and white women seemed to hold all of the power and they were minorities on many levels.  It wasn’t long before they were talking about how white women don’t seem to understand how much luckier they are than women of other races and cultures.  And I was itching, absolutely itching, to join in the conversation and talk about how many odds I had to face and to more or less ask, “not me, right?”

Thankfully something told me to hold my peace.

The conversation wasn’t about me and shouldn’t have been about me. I learned something.  Despite all the hardships I faced, the fact that I’m attractive and white has definitely helped me to edge out other women who are just as deserving as I am, but just happen to have darker skin and rougher features.  My whiteness has benefited me, but I’ve been allowed to ignore that fact and focus on the areas that are still a struggle: that I’m a woman, that I’m a returning student, that I’m a mother.  Because I do face prejudice I can take it for granted that I also have a great deal of privilege.  

Let me repeat that:  I have a great deal of privilege.  I have the benefit of pale skin and a middle class upbringing that allows me to sidestep institutionalized prejudice.

So, men, I’m going to try to say this all as kindly as I can:  You have the privilege, you have the power.  Like me, you don’t have to think about your privilege because from your perspective it’s just how life works, and you can drum up a million examples of struggles as evidence that your privilege isn’t complete.  Yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, you have privilege.  And the only way you will learn to appreciate that privilege is by listening to the other voices in the room without exerting your ability to co-opt the conversation.  I get that you wonder, “are they talking about me?”  I get that you see the anger unfolding and you don’t want to be subjected to it.  I get that you may even be angry that you feel like you are having to shoulder some of that bitterness unwilling and undeserved.  The truth is that you will now know whether or not women are talking about their experiences with men like you until you take the time to actually listen.

Please.

Just listen.

Now, my lady friends:

Don’t shut up.  Please don’t shut up.  The worst part of the institutionalized misogyny of our culture is the way in which it robs us of our voices because we are trained to expect every outcry to be met with criticism and scolding.  Even when we’re assaulted, even when we’re raped, even when we have blood and bruises to demonstrate the wrongs against us we still have to prove that we are victims.

We learn, pretty quickly, that things heal better if we nurse them in silence.  But, that silence leaves us at risk for greater pain.  So do not, ever, shut up.  

When I was seventeen I went to college for the first time.  I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t.  Stress and poor grades and frustration led me to drop out a semester in.  Or, at least, that’s the story I tell.  But really, I may have done a lot better if a few weeks into my stay there I hadn’t been assaulted by someone I thought was my friend.  Now, I was told that it was my fault for being alone in a room with him.  I was told that it was my fault for dressing provocatively.  (In jeans and a tank top?)  I was told that it was my fault for “leading him on” or not “reading the signals.”  And for a long time, I did believe that it was my fault.  

It wasn’t until recently that I put any amount of thought into how twisted it was that this guy, who stuck his hands down my pants uninvited, was treated like a victim of MY sexuality and naivete and everyone, even my girlfriends, played along.

Thank God my brothers had taught me how to throw a punch.  But, even so, I was lucky.

In the movies, girls sit around sipping cocktails and talking about when they lost their virginity.

In my own experience, we show each other our scars and speak in hushed voices.  We each share our stories of assault.  Rare, very rare, are the girls that have no such story.  We imagine such girls like birds of extravagant plumage, floating down from heaven, like unicorns or mermaids, creatures of fantasy.  We imagine unstained girls as such because we do not known these women.

Yes, all women I know have a story of the time that they were handled roughly by men.  Maybe a husband, a lover, a father, a brother.  Maybe a stranger on a bus.  But we all have our scars, and many more of us than are willing to admit have physical scars we invent fictions for, so that when someone says “what’s that mark on your chin?” we can laugh it off and tell the charming story of our own clumsiness.

Because the real story of having our head shoved down against the bedpost is just way too humiliating, right?

Because it’s somehow our fault?

This, right here, is the institutionalized misogyny.  We, as women, are taught to bear the burden of our victim-hood as if it is our responsibility that we are victims.  And men are trained that it is okay to blame us, because their privilege is more important than our rights.  Now, not all men see women as extensions of their will or objects to be used.  I understand that.  But the patterns of behavior that trap women in perpetual silence are propagated by society and are misogynist.  Sometimes, men participate in the cycle completely unaware.  Often, women do the same.

And what could change that?

Women, don’t shut up.  Men?  Listen.

 

Superheros, Fiction, TV, and lady problems.

I often say things like, “oh, I’ve got this BIG LIST of problems with the way women are portrayed in (insert form of media).”  Every once in a while someone will say, “oh?  I’d like to see the full list.”

So I’m working on compiling many various rants into an easy to read, distilled, bloggy form.

Here’s a start:

  1. Men get respect by default, women get questioned.  Go visit any fictional world, be it the world of the X-Men or Buffy’s Sunnydale or Xena’s realm, and you’ll see men being respected while women are, well, um… how can I put this nicely?  Women are accused of being female.  When the man rides into town to save the day on his horse or car or private jet, no one is like, “oh, he’s going to save us?  A MAN?”  But when the woman shows up, inevitably someone is going to point out that she’s a woman.  And they will do it with scorn.  So why is this?  Well, I’m sure many of my readers are thinking, “isn’t it obvious that people don’t expect the hero to be female and so she has to prove herself?”

    That thought, right there, is the problem.  The problem is there is no obvious reason why the woman should have to prove herself able to save the day, unless it is really true that women are not as capable as men.  Also, how does the woman normally prove that she’s just as salty a sea-dog as any given man?  Several examples come to mind and they all have something in common:  she throws down physical violence.  On the rare occasion she may just flay the doubting man with words, but more often than not she’s got to leave someone bleeding.  If a MAN was walking into the room and throwing punches as an introduction, how would people feel about that?  So there is a two-part problem:  the first is that women are doubted as capable where men are greeted with respect, and the second is that respect for a woman generally evolves from acting out in violence, or otherwise taking on attributes that are seen as “masculine”.  (Drinking a guy under the table, or smoking a cigar, or joining in the mocking or sexualization of other women.)

  2. Men confront danger, women find themselves in it.  Take any bit of media where you have both a male and female protagonist in a traditionally “male” role, like police officer or lawyer or spy or superhero, and count the amount of times that the male and female get into trouble.  I can guarantee you that the woman is going to inevitably end up in a lot more conflict that she didn’t choose, and also that it is almost inevitable that she will face the threat of rape, whereas the man does not.

    Why?

    Maybe the idea is that women can’t handle themselves as well.  Maybe it’s simply more titillating to see women trembling in fear or blundering into bad situations.  Maybe, as one friend once said, “the threat of physical violence against women is simply assumed.”  But why?  One prime example of this is Law and Order: SVU.  The main characters of that enterprise in the first several seasons were equals.  They were partners.  But while the man was greeted with respect and ability, the woman was greeted with endless questions and danger and yes, the threat of rape (or the reality of rape in her backstory.)  Why?  Well, one might say it’s because he was the more seasoned officer and she was the new one on the squad.  Wait… why is that?  Why couldn’t the more seasoned female been rescuing the newbie male from his own incompetence?

    Hm.

  3. Unequal relationships.  If a male superhero dates a girl, brace yourself for the tears.  She’s going to get into trouble.  She’ll be a victim.  She’ll probably die.  And if a female superhero dates, you can bet that it’s only a matter of time before her exposure to violence becomes a problem in their relationship.  Wait, what?  Why is it that you so rarely see a girl going to extreme lengths to protect a man, as Katniss does with Peeta in the Hunger Games?  Why is the central theme of all relationships where danger is an issue, the danger that the woman faces?  Spiderman may lose his love to violence, but then Jean Grey is exposed to violence as a way to demonstrate the relationship between her and her superhero heart throb… despite the fact that she herself is powerful?
     
    Take Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an example- she’s the One, right?  The most powerful.  She kills more demons than she can count, and still if she’s dating anyone, you can bet they aren’t going to like her getting her pretty little hands dirty.

    “Oh,” one guy-friend once told me, “that’s because she has to fight for respect.”

    Sigh.

  4. The Problem with Rape.  I’ll keep this short.  Yes, I get that the reason almost every major comic book, movie, and TV show that has a female character in a position of strength brings rape into the discussion is that rape is such a reality for women.  But the way in which it is done too often glamorizes the pain instead of dealing with it honestly.

    And do we really want to just throw our hands up and say, “it’s such a reality?”

    Is that where we want to live?

  5. Getting Beat Up By Men You Respect, and Having To Like It.  Buffy.  Xena.  Nikita.  Starbuck.  Sidney Bristow.  ANY FEMALE SUPERHERO EVER.  Getting punched in the face by a male mentor is par for the course, and if you’re a real woman you will understand that he’s kicking your ass just to make you stronger and you will ask for more.

    Eff.  That.  Shit.

 

And this is just the beginning.