justice


The good people over at Bitch, Ph.D are frothing at the mouth over Clinton tape in which Hillary compares her experience to McCain’s and dismisses Obama’s as minimal. That is just “fucking unacceptable,” the usually-measured B says, because we need to not tear down the competition in comparison to the opposition candidate; in other words, saying that Obama has less experience than McCain is tantamount to a McCain endorsement from Clinton (despite the fact that the Clinton camp has been vocal in saying they’ll support Obama if he wins the nomination, which the Obama camp seems to have some trouble swallowing).

Well, maybe I’m dense (it’s been well-established that my social sensors are not as finely tuned as some of you more emotional types; the INTJ blood runs strong), but it seems like a fairly mundane bit of campaign blather to me, not something to rend one’s garments or tear one’s hair over. I’m more worried about the Obama camp’s missteps, particularly Susan Rice’s epic claim that Obama and Clinton are “both not ready” (!!!!) to answer that 3 a.m. phone call. No matter how out of context that is, Rice’s words are phenomenally stupid, unless she’s a Republican plant. Because if there’s anything that says “Pick red!” to the undecided, unaffiliated voter hesitating between red and blue, it’s a Democrat claiming that her own people are incompetent on national security. Geez. “Yeah, we’ll fix the economy and give you health care, but then Al-Qaeda will come in and destroy your home and your children. But really. Elect us. Please.”

Of course, some people are accusing Clinton of fear-mongering with that ad, and they have an argument. But I’m pretty sure that in political campaigns, that kind of thing goes on all the time. Clinton is playing ball. Obama has taken a difficult position, one of trying to maintain the moral high ground, which means that whenever she throws him a particularly dirty pitch, he takes umbrage rather than swinging (and then his teammates, like the now-infamous Samantha Power, loyally start slinging mud under their breath and are shocked when their comments are overheard). It is, in a very interesting primary season, kind of a letdown.

But the larger issue that bugs me is this: why are the Clinton camp’s attacks on Obama so “divisive” and unforgivable, while the Obama camp’s attacks pass with nary a murmur? From where I’m sitting, they look pretty similar, but I’m stunned by the rage at Clinton I’m seeing. Where does it come from? And could it have anything to do with the idea that Clinton is held to an impossible standard because she’s a woman?

I’m not discounting racism. It’s as real and as destructive as sexism, and I happen to believe in reparative justice/Affirmative Action enough to think that voting for a qualified minority candidate partially because of his or her minority status (meaning gender or race) is a fine idea. But it seems we have an easier time giving Obama a pass for being black (at least the hypermasculine American white view of black males doesn’t totally conflict with the idea of being in power) than giving Clinton a pass for being a woman. And doesn’t that say something about which group, in the 21st century and beyond, will continue on as an underclass?

Think about it, women of color. As a woman of color myself, I sure am.

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So this morning I was accosted by a member of our preschool co-op, who asked “So, you had a rough day yesterday?”

“It was fine,” I replied. “What’s up?” Because, of course, her question was a preamble to a discussion of the fact that one of the other members of the co-op is upset. This person, whom we’ll call Frannie, is as far as I can tell a very nice woman who loves her child, an only son, very much, and this person’s son, whom we’ll call Charlie, is the one who had a rough day yesterday. I first began to suspect Charlie wasn’t a happy camper when I noticed him punching one of the baby dolls with both fists as he kneeled over it, but I figured hey, we all have to get our aggressions out some way; he then proceeded to throw the same baby doll like a missile at the heads of several unsuspecting children, bean a little girl with a large, hard plastic car, squeeze the breath out of Thing One after sneaking up on him from behind twice, and scream wordlessly in our faces when we suggested he apologize. Basically, Charlie was on a tear, and anyone who got in his way was getting the smackdown.

We all have days like that; it’s just that toddlers don’t have the filters in place to squelch their destructive impulses. A few months ago Thing One finally got comfortable at the co-op, which meant that instead of being the mildest-mannered boy there he became Aggro Gnome, and I was often greeted by a row of concerned shift-worker parents who would list off his many infractions. It sucked, but you know what? That’s what toddlers do. It’s not necessarily a reflection on you as a parent or on the essential character of your kid or on the care you give him. A year ago, I might have felt that way, but since Thing Two was born I have become eminently capable of seeing Thing One through the cold eye of a parent whose primary concern is protecting someone else from his rampages. Really. It changes you. With your first kid, you’re hyper-sensitive to his emotions and you worry about everything, and with your second kid you realize a)sometimes your Pride and Joy is behaving like a prize bull at a rodeo and b)it’s not possible to be as attuned and empathetic as you once were because doing it for two children with occasionally conflicting interests would DESTROY YOUR MENTAL STATE. So you loosen up a bit. You realize hey, these things happen, and I don’t always like the way this kid acts, and that’s okay. There are a few parents who have this ability naturally, but most of us take at least the arrival of #2 to turn down our hyper-attenuated Parental Concern/Protection and Defense Reflex button.

So basically, Frannie is “in tears” because of either the fact that multiple other parents mentioned to her that Charlie committed various acts of aggression yesterday or the way they did it, which was similar to what I found myself the beneficiary of when Thing One’s Reign of Terror began (he has since calmed down, though he still has moments of random violence and/or startling disregard for others’ feelings). And that’s fine. Frannie’s a sensitive gal, she obviously loves “her baby,” and it’s tough to find out the defenseless little being you’ve nurtured from the womb is beating up others (animate and inanimate) at preschool. I can relate.

But what I can’t understand is how that suddenly became My Fault. Because there was a definite tenor of What Did You Do, or at least How Could You Have Been So Mean, in this conversation, and because Frannie didn’t even look at me when I said hello to her this morning, despite the clear rule in our co-op handbook that if you have an issue with someone, you need to talk to them within 24 hours.

She has 2.5 more hours, and I’m not holding my breath. Really, I wish I could say this: I know it feels bad. It does. But don’t kill the messenger when you find out your child is not an angel. The messenger is just trying to help you do your job, which is to adapt to the fact that your former angel baby is now a toddler who has some moments of apparent sociopathy. Harvey Karp writes about this. It’s a normal stage of development. It is not cause for you to run to the den mother and whine SHE’S BEING MEAN TO ME!

Because it’s not about you. And as soon as we all realize that, we can start actually paying attention to what our children are doing rather than worrying about our own egos and our own need for them to be little darlings.

And because when we take the fact that we’re upset and hurt and scared by our child’s behavior, or our own inability to alter or cope with it, and turn that around into a chance to blame and aggress some unsuspecting person who is trying to help (especially when that unsuspecting person actually spent a half-hour outside getting your kid to play on the slide with her own, even though her own was understandably apprehensive about this, and it was the first time your kid cracked a smile all day), then you’re doing exactly the same thing as your child, which is making your issues everyone else’s problem. And while that’s a normal part of toddler behavior, I’d like to think that by our thirties, we learn a little bit of restraint.

Hello, Wisconsin! Nice to know you’re not above falling in line with “the wave” of coolness. Nice to know that, chubby and Germanic and working-class though you are, you, like your coastal brethren, can still fall prey to the latest trends.

Another busy week, coupled with some nastiness at work reminiscent of, say, having a root canal done by a dentist who failed to clean raw sewage off his hands after a water main break. But anyway. The coverage of this year’s primary rolls on, and NYCweboy has wondered out loud if the press has won, writing their story of Obama’s meteoric rise as they have, casting Hillary as an evil stalwart of the corrupt old guard. It’s depressing, and maybe it’s true: the vast majority of people I know (who, demographically, are mostly in Obama’s camp: the educated, the relatively well-off, the snooty, the idealistic, and the young; those who can afford to sing along with Scarlett Johanssen and erupt into fits of hormonal giddiness about Sir Talks-a-Lot’s oral prowess) don’t seem to really care what Obama is about, because his movement is real. Yee-haw.

So here we go, and I promised I’d give money and time to Obama if he gets the nomination because, obviously, nothing could be worse than another four or eight years of retrenched social and political conservatism in the form of aggressive foreign policy, failure to reform health care (although Obama has amply demonstrated he doesn’t really know how to do that either), and pandering to upper tax brackets. And I will. But I’m starting to feel less and less enthused about the Anointed One, mostly because I think that, however corrupt/calculating/disingenuous you find the Clinton camp, their criticisms are right on:

1)Obama is all about soaring rhetoric and not so much about ideas.

2)Obama plagiarizes his rhetoric. The evidence is pretty egregious. And yeah, maybe I’m a pedant, and certainly I’m a nitpicker, but it sticks in my craw that his obvious plagiarism of Deval Patrick’s speech is getting a free pass from the media, and from Patrick himself, even though the governor was obviously taken aback at his endorsee’s duplicity.

So maybe NYCweboy is right. Maybe the press decided this for us, and we went along, because that’s what we do, except for those of us who don’t. I’m a contrarian and an outsider from way back, and I see in Barack Obama an ability I never had: one to take all the characteristics that might have alienated people from him and play to their sentiments, to make himself the cool kid, the B.M.O.C., the one who makes you forget what he looks like or where he comes from. I don’t envy him it or begrudge him it, but I just don’t find it that appealing. Because to me, it ought to be more than a popularity contest.

I know I’m in the minority — where else would I be? And I know I’ve got about a snowball’s chance of seeing Hillary, whom I originally viewed as similar but now, due to what Christopher Hitchens accurately termed a “tsunami of drool” bestowed on Obama, see as the red-headed stepchild in this equation, get the nomination. But hey — “right” ain’t about “fair.” I’m not going to completely give up hope; to do so would be to say that the rest of this little democratic process doesn’t matter. So I’m going to keep gunning for the stepchild.
I have never been a political donor, but I’ve now given money to the Clinton campaign. Twice. And though I’ll vote for the Democrat this fall, I have just one wish if that Democrat is Obama:

Take a cue from Hillary. Turn up the substance, turn down the charm, figure out when to shut up.

Oh, and one more thing while I’m passing messages to the candidates:

Confidential to John Edwards: join forces with HRC. This is your chance to be a kingmaker, shake things up on Pennsylvania Ave., and actually fix a few of the things that are broken around here. As far as I can tell, being veep under B.O. will be all about making the cool kidz happy, and that’s no longer your thing, ennit?

Well. The discussions of how misogyny and racism play into this Democratic primary keep on raging fast and furious. Mostly misogyny, because, as Robin Morgan points out, racists know better than to out themselves, but nobody thinks twice about a couple of slams on women.

However, I was part of a discussion on a blog I read occasionally this morning that demonstrated to me that racism, too, is alive and well in America. Here it is:

Let’s be honest – Hillary and Barack have made it this far because of their gender and race. The people who got forced out of the race were all more qualified and had better , smarter policies. If anything, we should be upset that gender & race preferences are leaving us with less qualified candidates.

Wow. Who knew that people felt so comfortable airing out their racism in public (as well as claiming superpowers that enable them to know the whys of things even the most seasoned political analysts can’t explain). To be fair, this was a comment to a post, not by the author of the blog. However, the author of the blog (whom I won’t name here out of a wish not to make anyone feel scrutinized, whom I had considered an enlightened and gentle person, and who started the discussion by asking why the backlash against women voters for Hillary seemed so much greater than that against black voters for Barack) chimed right in with:

[Name Redacted], that last paragraph? Very well said. I’m still chewing on it a bit, but I think you touched upon something very, very interesting.

Yeah. It’s very, very interesting all right. It’s very, very interesting that the poster in question feels completely comfortable claiming he knows that the reason Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have made it this far is because of preferential treatment based on gender and race, that they are the beneficiaries of some kind of wrongheaded Affirmative Action on steroids, that they are Not Worthy of being where they are and would not have been chosen if the white male candidates hadn’t been run out of the race so that The Powers That Be could prove they were p.c.

Apart from the problem that claiming there is any monolithic decision about whose candidacy survives is ridiculous (and the American people, even the rich ones who give a lot of money to campaigns, are hardly a monolith, as the fact that Mike Huckabee exists demonstrates), that statement is based on such deeply-rooted racism and sexism (and ignorance — does the poster think that Affirmative Action means “hiring lame-ass candidates who are token representatives of minority groups?) that all I can say is this:

I am ashamed. I’m ashamed to be in the same country as that kind of attitude — or in the same world. I am ashamed that bloggers who seem like nice, normal, kind people can swallow such racist claptrap with nary a murmur. I am ashamed to see the attitudes of educated, moderate people are so little removed from the type of violent racism that causes things like this to happen.

I’ve had a stomach ache for days due to being continually bludgeoned with woman-hating remarks about Hillary. Now my stomach is revolting with revulsion, disgust, and disheartening disillusionment at what this kind of attitude — particularly from my own peers — betrays. I don’t want to look at my children and know that this is the kind of attitude they will continually confront in their lives, for being minorities, for being female, for being anything other than cowardly, goose-stepping supporters of the fucked-up status quo. I don’t want to, but I have to — because I know that they will confront these attitudes and, worse, be the victims of them.

Because I have been confronting racism and sexism my whole life. Because I have been the target — as so many of us have — of racism and sexism my whole life, and I just got a big fat piece of proof that little has changed.

I’ve been hammering and hammering away at all my privileged white friends, all of whom are voting for Obama for indefinable reasons, and it’s the indefinable reasons that bug me: because this campaign is so tainted by deep-rooted misogyny and because these selfsame white liberals I hang out with are giving themselves a free pass to indulge in it, and a pat on the back for being cool enough to get past the racism endemic to America and cast a vote for the black dude, that my internal justice meter is roiling with agita: I do know a couple of people who are voting for Obama, but most of the people I know are voting against Hillary (see this), and frankly, it’s starting to remind me of fifth grade, when arbitrary selections of “cool” became a reason for the ravening ten-year-old wolves to get their teeth in anything that didn’t conform and rip it to shreds. I saw a comment in the NYT that explained Obamamania thusly: “I just want something to believe in.”

And I thought I had low expectations of politics.

What this primary has demonstrated to me is that being a woman, particularly a woman married to a powerful man, is deeply not cool, because our consciousness is not yet mature enough to realize that a woman can be powerful without rejecting her womanhood (see: Amazons, Artemis, Joan of Arc, Thatcher).

And that our unconscious protection of these entrenched anti-woman attitudes will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo.

Prince wrote a song about this kind of problem, and the name pretty much sums up the problematic: “Pussy Control.” I think he’s right to say, “All y’all’s loaded.”

Or, as blogger Election-year Weltschmerz says, “Many whites understand that black people are justified in a legitimate struggle against their own oppression (however problematically they might think about it); many men (and some women) do not think that women’s struggles against patriarchy are so justified.”

Pity, isn’t it?

Being a child of the seventies, I was raised on Free To Be, You and Me, which was, I suppose, my parents’ generation’s attempt at rectifying the ills (intolerance, rigid gender roles, etc.) of their own ‘father knows best’ upbringings. It’s only natural; one of the major things I’ve observed about human nature is that the primary drive of many parents is to right the wrongs their parents inflicted on them, if it’s not to continue perpetrating the same wrongs on their own children (my husband, whose Baby Boomer parents are ten years younger, was raised on this recording, which I can only speculate qualifies as the former, as the Baby Boomer’s main complaint is that their parents were uncool, although if you think “cool” is Paul McCartney singing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” then you have bigger problems than I can solve).

Anyway, I loved Free to Be, You and Me, because it addressed all the limiting stereotypes my parents had grown up with and which were still making themselves evident in the late 70’s and early 80’s. “William’s Doll” is one of the songs that sticks out. You may remember it, but if not, you can see the cartoon and hear the song:

Yes, that is Alan Alda singing along with Marlo Thomas, and yes, the cartoon William manages to stay cheerful and well-adjusted until his grandma finally brings everyone to their senses, despite having undergone the censorious faces of his peers jeering, “A doll…a doll..don’t be a jerk!” at every opportunity. It’s a silly and obvious song that goes straight for the schmaltz and ego appeal at the end, not to mention being tacitly complicit with homophobia (Aw! Loosen up, Dadsy. William wants a doll because someday he is going to fertilize a woman’s egg with his sperm, just like you did! He wants a doll so that he can be a man). And yet I love it. I loved it when I was a little kid and I love it now, and I think the reason is that the clever grandma manages to defeat the father’s crushing narrow-mindedness with its own logic, and the little boy gets a reprieve from phallocracy long enough to get what he wants, which is a doll. To love. Because little boys want to nurture things, too, and because it’s just awful when Alan Alda pretends to be an eight-year-old ridiculing a peer (he’s so good at it!).

So when Thing One was born, I resolved not to let his gender identity be so rigidly defined, not to dress him exclusively in the navy, khaki, and hunter green with heavy machinery or mode of transport appliqués that seems to dominate the world of young boys’ clothing, and to let him have a doll. I wanted him to see people as people first and not have to gender-pigeonhole everyone he saw, not to make assumptions about sexuality based on appearance or hair length, and not to feel self-conscious about asserting his maleness. And it was working pretty well until he started going to the co-op, where a lot of the parents are more like William’s dad than they are like his grandma, and where, apparently, some adults have managed to communicate that pink is for girls.

Now, Thing One does have a lot of navy, khaki, and hunter green, because my cousin is the main source of our hand-me-downs and she is apparently not offended by the idea that you must train little boys to look like minature G.I.s or construction workers-in-training, but he also has a lot of unisex stuff mixed in, and some things that were meant for girls: a batik flowered blouse, for example, and a set of socks that prominently features pink (pink with hearts, pink with stripes, pink argyle, etc.). And I was happy that I was inculcating in him the idea that it’s totally normal for a boy to wear pink heart-patterned socks. But one day, all my hopes were dashed: he came home from co-op and informed me, “Mama, I have pink socks like a girl!”

I inwardly groaned, but I persevered: the next time we were playing with his Fisher Price “Main Street,” I named one of the little plastic people (scroll down) K. after his father. It happened to be one with the “lace collar” that is Fisher Price code for “female,” but I figured, what the hell. Who’s to say men can’t wear lace collars? So I went ahead and named all the people, including the bald policeman (Beth) and a couple of other lace collar-wearers (Paul, who is K.’s real life best friend, and Bobby). Thing One accepted it without a murmur, and I was feeling pretty pleased, but then K. came upstairs and I shared with him the news that he had his very own Fisher Price replica, and you know what he said?

“That looks like a chick!” he said.

Never mind that my husband owns more products and wears more girly colors than I. Never mind that he’s metrosexual enough to have me do his makeup when he has an unsightly blemish. Never mind that his friend Paul would probably agree that inside, they’re both a couple of little girls and that there’s something apropos about representing them both as plastic, armless Fisher Price children with plastic molded ‘lace’ around their necks. Apparently, the plastic scalloped collar is just way too threatening to his manhood.

I was disgusted. Only two years old, and already learning a set of stupid, arbitrary rules about what it means to be a man, along with a lot of implied misogyny and belittlement of women, their abilities, and their freedoms. I don’t want my kid to be William’s jeering pals, saying “dolls are for girls,” and I also don’t want my kid to be William and have his dreams crushed because people are paralyzed by the idea of a boy not acting like Rambo all the time.

But maybe there’s hope. Because yesterday morning, Thing One was playing with his dollhouse, and you know what he said? He said, “Mama, I’m a pussyboy!”

I’m not entirely sure what he understands by that. But if he’s OK with it, then so am I.

Call me a pessimist, but I’m getting a little tired of what one of my colleagues might call “the election jiggery-pokery,” especially as I slog through the dozens of pages of South Carolina debate transcripts hoping to find a nugget of truth or a kernel of sincerity (I don’t watch the debates for three reasons: 1)at that hour, Thing One is still marauding around this house, and I’m asleep before the reruns, 2)I don’t have cable, and the TV is in a closet somewhere, which is why my children are not going to have ADD (insha’Allah), and 3)I can’t actually stand the strident tone of candidates’ voices when they’re going at each other like rabid pit bulls and/or whining for the favor of the camera. I need my politics “affect lite”; the neutrality of print helps me evaluate the choices based on what candidates actually say, rather than the fact that they probably want to drop-kick each other, especially HRC and BHO, and if I had had to watch John Edwards’s face while he was smarmily referring to himself as “the white male candidate,” I might have had to break out the Courvoisier — I was already wearing a rhinestone-encrusted pinky ring).

So I’m trying, this morning, in between grading papers and supplying my two-year-old with healthy, low-sugar snacks, to make sense of the debates so that I can confirm or dispute what I think I already know, but even I recognize this as a losing proposition, because as much as I and a bunch of other people deny how much election choices depend on identity politics and first impressions, that is exactly what they depend on. David Brooks makes that point in his op-ed, “How Voters Think.” This little tidbit pretty much sums it up: “In reality, we voters — all of us — make emotional, intuitive decisions about who we prefer, and then come up with post-hoc rationalizations to explain the choices that were already made beneath conscious awareness.”

America, you are not objective. Those of us who prefer to think we are, are of course just engaging in higher-level self-deception and post-hoc grandiloquence, which is, I suppose, true for the candidates as well. And while I believe it happens that a candidate’s words can alienate the voters, I think it’s much less frequent that his or her words can win voters over for exactly that reason: we have already made up our minds. It remains for us only to be dissuaded.

That actually explains why Clinton spent much of the debate trashing Obama’s integrity and he and Edwards spent most of it tag-teaming Clinton, fangs out, when Obama wasn’t taking polite digs at Edwards and Edwards wasn’t trying to look morally superior to the other two. Because their constituencies are with them now, and they’re going to stick. The real question is: how many of the other guy’s people can they confuse or disillusion?

Or maybe the real-er question is: is John Edwards going to reprise his role playing second fiddle in the national election this year? Let me be the first to say that, if he is, I’m happier with either of the front runners than I was with Kerry, to whom I threw my vote for one reason only. And the media machine certainly seems to be trying to promote that idea: after Iowa, there were whispers of “Obama-Edwards 2008,” and this morning, the headline “Clinton, Edwards hold private post-debate meeting” appeared on the Cnn Political Ticker blog. The entry features a photo of Clinton and Edwards looking chummy and sincere.

Of course, the photo was not taken at the alleged “private” meeting, which several aides have described as “accidental” and “consisting of light chit-chat.” But who cares? We’re being groomed to think that Hillary and John are either colluding against Barack, or experiencing a meeting of minds that might usher them both into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Together. Which, again, would do little more than placate Edwards’s tiny share of the vote, and which is probably based on the fact that — thanks to massive friction between Bill and Barack — there’s no way Ms. Clinton and Mr. Obama are teaming up for anything but a Bush-trashing session.

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