Here we go: On Hillary, feminism, and my promise to the universe

Okay, off the cuff, NO redaction, I’m just going to write this and see what happens.

I’d like to tell you, beloved and probably imaginary audience, about a day in 2008.

I was working as a researcher, a wonderful job with a degree of flexibility. So February 4, I asked my boss if he’d mind if I voted in the morning. I had no idea how long the lines would be or how late it would make me to work, which is why I wanted his permission to do it before work rather than after. He readily agreed, congratulated me on my adherence to civic duty, and made a joke about knowing who I was going to be voting for.

I was glad he thought he knew. The question made my stomach hurt.

A bit further back, I remember excited media speculation about Elizabeth Dole. As her husband ran for president, pundits suggested that she might succeed him eight years later. I remember wondering how I’d feel if the first female candidate for president on a national ticket was someone whose politics fundamentally opposed mine. I remember having vague, up-too-late conversations with floormates in the lounge, wondering whether the United States of America would first be prepared to have a non-white or non-male president: which ingrained prejudice could we overcome first? In 2008, I remember thinking: how strange that that question should be put to this literal test.

But the worst part, in 2008, was that I still didn’t know which candidate to vote for.

February 5, 2008

It was cold that day. Cold for Georgia, anyway, which meant it was mildly unpleasant standing in the long winding line outside the elementary school. We huddled a bit closer together than strangers normally might. And there I was, in line, still not knowing what I was going to do when I got to the end of the line.

I considered my options again. As a woman, I knew I wanted to see a female president. As an ally, I appreciated how momentous it would be to see a non-white president. But as a Democrat, I worried deeply about what four more years of hawkish Republicanism would mean for my country’s role in the international arena. The pressing question, it seemed to me, was which candidate was most electable against the likely Republican candidates.

I reviewed what I knew about the candidates. Fundamentally, their platforms didn’t seem that different to me — or at least, their platforms seemed sufficiently variable and subject to political whimsy that the differences didn’t matter much. But I had felt the charisma oozing from Barack Obama. I remembered the 2004 Democratic convention, at which a friend had been a delegate. I talked to her just after she saw Obama speak. “I just saw the guy who’s going to win the White House in 2008,” she said, and I was struck by her absolute conviction. The man has some presence, you have to admit.

And Hillary Clinton seemed exactly the opposite. Her declaration in 2007 seemed cocky and entitled, and her ads since had seemed like low blow after low blow aimed at Obama, whiny and aghast that she had to compete at all. And editorial after editorial assured me that she was — wait for it — “abrasive.” Nobody who worked in Bill Clinton’s administration seemed to like her. Her campaign for senate felt like machination. After two Georges Bush, she represented the perpetuation of a dynastic system in the United States which seemed fundamentally objectionable. And… abrasive and entitled and weepy and unlikable.

In the end, I was struggling to choose between a guy I found very personable and compelling, whose election offered a significant symbolic impact, and a woman whose only redeeming attribute was her symbolic impact.

I voted for Obama. As did a majority of other voters in the primary that day.

Super Tuesday didn’t end Clinton’s campaign definitively, but it wounded her grievously, and her campaign limped along thereafter. I’ll leave the analysis of that process to others. What I know is this: Super Tuesday changed everything for me. In retrospect.

After Super Tuesday, when Hillary Clinton didn’t immediately withdraw, when she had the audacity to continue fighting for something in which she believed, I couldn’t understand what was going on. Didn’t she understand that we didn’t want her? America doesn’t want you, Hillary. Go away. What did she think was going to happen? Who did she think she was?

I don’t remember exactly what it was that bothered me first. An offhand remark from Obama, I think, that I felt was vaguely sexist. I think I googled it to see if any bloggers out there in the wide cyberverse thought so too. Many did. Some of them had compelling analysis of how Obama’s whole campaign had been sexist. As McCain failed to criticize the subtle racism and xenophobia of his followers, so Obama failed to criticize the privilege, sexism, and patriarchal assumptions of his. I read about this. I learned more about exciting words like “privilege” and “patriarchy.” I read a phenomenal book called Big Girls Don’t Cry by the phenomenal writer Rebecca Traister. I read and read and read.

More importantly, I watched the 2008 campaign. I watched two candidates — not at all comparable in policy, or qualifications I might add, but similar in biological construction — savaged by the media and their colleagues. It felt gross.

And that, my friends, is how I stumbled into the feminist blogosphere, and how my personal rejection of Hillary Clinton in 2008 made me a relatively angry feminist.

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April 12, 2015

Today I sent Hillary Clinton a donation. I thought about it for a minute, because I know how hard it is to get oneself taken off the mailing lists if you express even the slightest interest in a candidate. But I owed her that donation, and I made it, and it felt great.

Here’s the thing: I’m not even going to 100% promise you I’ll vote for Hillary next November. We have no idea what will happen between now and then. Lots could happen. If it’s conclusively proven that she runs a top-secret puppy mill in her backyard, that’s going to piss me off. She could do lots of things that would compel me to make other choices. Another awesome, feminist candidate could suddenly appear and look viable and even more attractive. A satellite could fall out of orbit and land on my head, or Hillary’s. This is not a declaration of undying devotion, is my point.

All this blog post is, is a verbal Kermit-flail of excitement, because y’all, Hillary Rodham Clinton has decided to give me a second chance.

Now, dear readers, if you’re thinking any of the things 2008 Me thought about Mrs. Clinton, I’d like you to do some things. Read up on the expectations we place on women (that we don’t place on men) to be charming and sociable. Think about the kinds of conversations we had about Hillary (and Sarah Palin!) in 2008, and whether we’d have similar conversations about candidates with Y chromosomes.  If these things make you angry, maybe spend some time with some Feminism 101 blogs and think a bit about how this bullshit affects all of us, whether we are male or female, whether we embrace the term “feminist” or not. (But Beyoncé thinks you should.)

As for Hillary? There’s lots to evaluate. There’s her record on women’s issues, her demeanor as Secretary of State to a man who trounced her in the polls, her sense of humor, her tenacity in the face of Super Tuesday 2008, her qualifications… there’s a lot. There are compelling arguments against electing Hillary, including the aforementioned dynastic concerns, although we’ll have to be consistent about applying those concerns to the several Bush candidates waiting in the wings. She has obviously spent the past eight years thinking a great deal about her tone — even using the word “tone” makes me cringe a little, but it’s true. The declaration video released yesterday shows none of the entitlement with which so many took issue in 2008. Maybe she’s really ready this time.

But you know what? Let’s talk about that entitlement. The woman is qualified. She’s better qualified than a lot of people who have appeared on national tickets, that’s for sure. She’s at least as qualified as all of them. And she’s wanted this her whole life, and made no secret of it. If Barack “Charisma” Obama hadn’t shown up on the scene in 2008, she probably would have had the nomination in the bag. Our social perspectives on bragging might have made her look a little cocky, but would that have been as offensive in a man? I look forward to watching Jeb Bush run for president and seeing if he does it with abject humility. Certainly his brother was neither cocky nor inclined to use family connections to get where he wanted to go (that’s sarcasm, folks). Clinton’s cockiness in 2008 was, and is, worth an eye-roll, not the loss of votes.

I’m not telling you that you have to vote for Hillary; very far from it. But, my friends, I am definitely asking one thing of you. Let’s all do the next eighteen months critically. Let’s call out the sexist jokes, the eyerolls from male candidates (“Bitches, amirite?”), the dogwhistles about her qualifications and her potential PMS, any comments about pantsuits or cankles or scrunchies, the utter and complete bullshit that appears to be inevitable. Let’s just ask of each other that Hillary be allowed to run on her actual qualifications — and no, for the last time, that does not include anything negative you’ve heard about Benghazi — I mean actual facts. She’s a politician, she’s made enough poor choices and stuck her foot in her mouth often enough that there’s no need for conspiracy theories. And it’s facts on which she deserves to be judged, just like every other person on the ballot along with her.

That’s all I’m asking. Judge Hillary on actual facts, and hold the media and other candidates to that standard. And this time, this blessed second chance I’ve been given, I’m going to hold myself to that standard too.

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The Dress, And What It Says About Us

We’re living through an Internet Moment, guys. As silly as it is — and it is sort of silly — this is one of those things we’re all going to refer to down the line, like, “You remember when everybody went nuts suddenly one evening, simultaneously across the country and maybe the world, about a dress?” It’s many things, and it’s monopolizing conversation, and now that it’s a whole 24 hours old the haters are hating. Which bugs. But I’m tired and haven’t finished my first coffee for the day, so I’m not feeling very articulate about why it bugs.

Fortunately, my friend Teeter, of the truly excellent Red Rocket Farm (seriously, please go there and follow/subscribe/read, you’ll thank me) did an excellent job of articulating for me. With her permission:

Yesterday, I was super disappointed in all of you. Let’s try this again, OK? You said:

1. “I can’t believe my whole feed is about a dress. This is a waste of time.”

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This was a phenomenon! We got to be live, random, accidental data points for a crowd-sourced experiment. We learned that the person sitting next to us could be seeing something entirely different. For a day, we all were scientists. People instinctively began experimenting to figure out why this was happening. Jason held blue light up to my eyes for 30 seconds at a time, hoping I’d see white and gold. Countless friends photoshopped dresses to try and make it look one shade or the other. It was amazing! If this was an exhibit in a cool science museum, you would go home remembering what a strange and special experience it was. I’m sorry that Facebook didn’t entertain you in the way that pleases you, but we were busy obsessing, hypothesizing, experimenting, and being all-around inquisitive minds.

2. “The dress is blue and black/white and gold! Everyone who doesn’t see it this way is an idiot!”

This is like some sort of classic 1960s college experiment meant to turn kids against each other. I see blue and black. You see white and gold. And you know what?

THAT’S SOOOOO COOL!

That’s science and brain hacking and whoa.

So before you prove that you are a bigot by saying that anyone who sees color differently than you is an idiot, think about how this might be a metaphor for understanding other points of view (or races? or religions? I mean c’mon). If you insist on calling people idiots for seeing a white and gold dress, just understand that I hold you responsible for every war anywhere ever.

3. “Don’t care what color that dress is, all I know is it is ugly.” OR “Don’t care what color that dress is, but somebody needs to learn to take a picture.”

Aaaaand we’re back to the bigotry metaphor. Okay, first of all, you shouldn’t care what color the dress is. But you should care WHY we see it different colors, because it’s healthy to have a curious mind. What’s not healthy is insulting something just because you don’t understand it. And that’s what’s happened. You’re rationalizing now “No, I was just making a joke,” but really think about that thought process. You didn’t understand it, your brain said “I’m tired, this makes me tired,” and you said “Fuck it. I’m smart. This isn’t my brain’s fault, this is this ugly-ass dress’s fault.”

So try to stop doing that. It’s super bad! Feelings of anger or disgust at things you don’t understand (or worse, choose not to understand) are not signs of a good person. And you are a good person. I like you a lot (usually).
Also, someone designed that dress, and right now they’re waking up to find it posted all over the internet. This is going to be a weird day no matter what for them, but maybe let’s not make it a day that makes them feel like the entire internet hates them.

So please return to sciencey awesomeness. Please refrain from being a giant metaphor for bigotry.

Another great #yesallwomen response

My friend Dan — who is already awesome because he’s a scientist in the military who makes yarn as a hobby and names his dogs after Fraggles — wrote this. It was his status message and therefore kind of complicated to share, and since I want to share it far and wide, I’m putting it here. (With his permission, of course.)

I’ve been sitting on this for a while, watching friends pour out stories of microaggressions and not-so micro-aggressions. I believe my friends know I stand in solidarity with them, but it doesn’t feel like enough.

I try, mostly, to keep the majority of my politics off my unfiltered friends list (though I’ll be the first to admit I sometimes fail, and no one would ever mistake my opinion on things). But this recent event, these murders in CA, hit something that I hold a little too personally to not say something. I am “that guy” and I’m ok with that.

This post is not about gun control, though I believe in that. It’s not about better access to mental health care without stigma, though I believe in that as well. This is about something that, in some ways, I think we’re even poorer at talking about, that makes us even more uncomfortable. See, even here, on my own space I’m afraid to use the word for fear of scaring people off. The umbrella word is “misogyny”. Using that word scares people and makes people (erroneously) think of bra burning and such, but it’s the correct word.

But the problem I think most needs addressing is not what most people think of when they hear the word. As horrible as these murders were, they were the symptom, not the sickness. The problem is much smaller, and much bigger, and thus much harder to deal with. But, the saving grace is, I think that changing it, on a societal level, requires starting at the lowest, smallest, EASIEST point. On the day to day stuff so many people engage in. Which makes it both easy and hard.

I know that not all people agree with me on this. That’s why I’m “that guy” after all. It’s why I get rolled eyes when I call guys on it at the unit. I don’t really care. It’s the only thing an enlisted guy’s actually gotten angry and challenged me on, and I think that’s telling. Because I believe it IS that important. I believe that cat calls and wolf whistles, “women can’t drive” and “make me a sandwich” jokes do incalculable damage to women and men directly, and even more damage indirectly – by providing cover, by making people like this guy think his perceptions are normal, and making it hard for people to pull him aside and say, “Dude, get your head out of your goddamned ass.”

And to anyone that thinks these things don’t matter… you’re either not listening, or you’re at least presenting that you think those things are ok and thus you’re not safe to confide in.

I don’t say these things for kudos, or pats on the back. I say these things because I believe them in my heart of hearts. I believe that the world would be an infinitely better place if we could just manage that raised eyebrow, or that “Dude, really?” when we catch someone making *yet another* joke, less than 24 hours after sitting through a course on not doing that shit. It really just takes that little. Just expressing your disapproval makes that environment hostile to the assholes, instead of the victims. And know that there are a lot of us “that guys” out there, you’re not alone in thinking we can do better than that bullshit.

So, I have no idea who has actually made it through this thing. Or who’ll take it to heart. If you did, thank you. If you didn’t, maybe you can just go read this: Why It’s So Hard for Men to See Misogyny.

Thanks again, Dan. ❤

I’m Not Alone, Thanks: A knee-jerk reaction to Jonathan Safran Foer

My Facebook feed has been riddled recently with editorials about how we’re losing something in our lives as we plunge ahead into the iWorld. This sentiment seems pervasive: witness the high-larious Toyota ads that remind us how silly the internet is when compared with “real” life. It’s annoying to me. And while it isn’t exlusively the point of his piece, Jonathan Safran Foer’s “How Not to Be Alone” is blowing up my Facebook feed this week. Congratulations, Mr. Foer: you have officially damaged my calm.

I read a really interesting piece dealing with privilege a couple of weeks ago. I recommend it highly, even if the word “privilege” scares you. Seriously, it won’t hurt you. Check it out. Basically, Doug Muder analyzes privileged distress through the lens of the movie “Pleasantville” and its patriarch, who finds his world crumbling around him.

George never demanded a privileged role, he just uncritically accepted the role society assigned him and played it to the best of his ability. And now suddenly that society isn’t working for the people he loves, and they’re blaming him.

We can feel sorry for George. We can acknowledge that he’s not a bad person and doesn’t want his loved ones to suffer. But at the same time

George deserves compassion, but his until-recently-ideal housewife Betty Parker (and the other characters assigned subservient roles) deserves justice. George and Betty’s claims are not equivalent, and if we treat them the same way, we do Betty an injustice.

See, there are all these other people in Pleasantville who eventually come to the realization that life could be better if they stepped outside the framework making George’s life so beautiful. And those people and their preferences exist and matter.

I think Mr. Foer is the George in this stretched metaphor. I think he, and millions of people like him, likes human contact. It may even be true that for Mr. Foer and his ilk human contact — profound, in-the-moment, personal contact — is the optimum kind of social stimulation. That’s great. You’ve had thousands of years of human civilization in which it was pretty much the only kind of social stimulation, and the culture that’s created (in a very big sense, where “culture” encompasses every culture of human history) is a thing. It’s not malevolent. You didn’t decide to participate in human society in a way that makes other people miserable. It’s just the privilege of people who do well in those contexts to have enjoyed those contexts, if you see what I mean.

But I’m going to postulate that throughout human history there have been people for whom your happytimes have been work. Way back in the cave of our hairy foremothers, I bet you had one or two protohumans who really didn’t like chatting much. Maybe those were the people who ended up doing most of the doodles on the cave walls or inventing arrowheads because they were banging rocks together. I believe they still had things to contribute, even if they weren’t inventing dance and reenacting mammoth hunts around the fire. And I believe they existed, and I believe they mattered, and across the millenia I would like to give them a hug.

I’ve often thought that I’d like to go out for a drink — because yes! I do occasionally enjoy in-person outings! — with Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. I think both women were frustrated and bored by the drawing-room cultures that were their lot. I think both women found solace in their odd little hobby of writing, and I imagine that a lot of their contemporaries thought they were kind of weird. I bet a few of the Concord socialites of the day worried that Louisa May just needed a little encouragement to fully blossom as the social butterfly they knew was in there somewhere. I like to imagine Louisa May wishing she could escort them handily outside into the Concord snowdrifts.

I’m not knocking the argument that we all need to slow down. But we all need all kinds of things, and we each need those things in different quantities. Some of us probably need to party less, and some of us probably need to go out more. Some of us need to put our digital devices down on date night. Some of us need to learn how to upload photographs already because it’s really frustrating that they can’t share pictures they take of their grandkids (ahem, MOM). But the fundamental truth is that we all need to figure out this new culture… and we all need to figure out how it works best for us.

Because the thing is, Mr. Foer: I’m not alone. I’m the exact opposite of alone… when I choose to be. When I wake up at 3am after a gut-wrenching nightmare and I want a community of people online playing Candy Crush, I can find that. When my guinea pig dies, I know where to find a community of people who know exactly how I’m feeling, and even “knew” my guinea pig personally through my stories and posts. When I’m bored someone’s around to chat. When I have an insightful thought about a Dr. Who episode, there are legions of geeks ready to explain to me why I’m wrong. I’m not alone. And I absolutely, positively refuse to concede that the way I and my kind socialize is somehow less worthy than your preferred networking.

I am working on quieting my own ADD-y mind now and then, and being in the moment. I find those practices refreshing and helpful. They are useful tools in the toolkit I use as I navigate adulthood. Most of the time, I find having sixteen windows open on my desktop and three or four IM conversations going on even better.

“Shooting off an e-mail” may, in fact, be easier for me “because one can hide behind the absence of vocal inflection” — but that condescendingly implies that vocal inflection provides useful information for everyone. In this day and age of autism awareness, I’m disappointed that you don’t see this condescension yourself. Not everybody easily understands social cues. And people who use atypical vocal inflection in their own communication find themselves misunderstood, ostracized, and lonely. But they exist and they matter.

As we learn more and more about the permutations of the human brain, I wish we could stop bemoaning the technology that allows some of us to finally feel socially successful. If you took away my Facebook, Mr. Foer, I don’t believe I would actually develop the skills needed to flourish in your drawing room. I think I’d end up in the back of the cave, banging rocks together and being pretty damn sad. Why wish that on me? If you don’t want to come play in my chat room, feel free to go for a walk instead. The beautiful thing about the diversification of our culture is that now we both have the option to pick activities that feel good to us.

That’s the bottom line for George in Pleasantville, too. He has two options. He can feel betrayed and bitter because he’s no longer king of his little patriarchy and he can go form a political party that says offensive things about women. Or, he can try to build a life that is maximally enjoyable to him while also not oppressing Betty. Maybe if he talks to Betty about why she likes her life better now, they can learn things about each other and benefit from each other’s experiences. Maybe they can even work something out where she makes the occasional pot roast if he’s on perpetual standby to come kill the bugs. But if he just runs around yelling that Betty’s headed on a path of inevitable destruction — that our digital future, if you will, ends in people who exclusively “communicate without speaking or moving” — he just kind of seems like a jerk.

Betty likes her Facebook friends just fine.