Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Little Ladies?

It started with Sandra Fluke.

But only because I myself am not female, and therefore don’t get to hear the kinds of comments that my female colleagues have endured since approximately The Dawn Of Time.

It started long before Sandra Fluke, I’m afraid.

Maybe I’m dodging responsibility when I note that the American media first started to notice how badly women can be treated by men a couple of years ago, when Fluke, an attorney and women’s rights activist, testified in a Congressional hearing about birth control issues. The Conservative Radio Host Who Shall Not Be Named (but whose name nearly rhymes with Flush Chainsaw) responded to her testimony by calling her a slut on national radio. From that point forward, with dismaying regularity, the media has brought forth more and more frequent accounts of the objectification, mistreatment, and abuse of women.

Has it seemed to you that the rate of these reports’ appearance has accelerated lately? Maybe the online algorithms are better able to sense us clicking on certain article links and guide us toward other related ones, so we see them more often. Or maybe the humans who run the media know a clickable story when they see one. “Hey look! Another jackass statement by someone who ought to know better. Stop the presses!!” Or whatever dramatic thing it is that editors yell, nowadays.

So it’s the media’s fault?

Not solely.

In any case, I’m getting less and less impressed with the species I belong to.

I guess I just find it startling that lots (seemingly) of men still, in the year 2014, talk about and talk to women as if it were the year 1914, or 1614. Or 14.

It’s yet another way we’re an awfully long way from the Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Utopian Vision Of Humanity.

These two particular stories got my attention, in just the last two days:

[1] According to the Huffington Post, “The buzz over a new book [“Off the Sidelines”] by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) this week has been all about her revelation that some of her male colleagues seem to have a fixation about her weight. She recounts that one expressed concern that she might become ‘porky’; another made the backhanded suggestion that she was pretty even when she was fat.”

The Talking Points Memo story on the subject said, “In one incident from her early days in the Senate, Gillibrand describes an older senator who approached her from behind and squeezed her waist. ‘Don’t lose too much weight now,’ she recalls him saying. ‘I like my girls chubby.’ … In yet another instance, a Southern congressman held her arm as they walked down the chamber aisle, telling her, ‘[y]ou know, Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat.’ Gillibrand also recounted the time a labor leader advised her to improve her looks if she wanted to win a special election for her Senate seat in 2010. ‘When I first met you in 2006 you were beautiful, a breath of fresh air. To win, you need to be beautiful again,’ he said.”

The remainder of the HuffPo article contains recountings of similar incidents from the history of the US Senate, including the evening during which Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) “found herself alone in an elevator one evening with 91-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who did not recognize her as a colleague. He inquired whether the ‘little lady’ was married — and then proceeded to grope her breast.”

[2] Thursday, several Fox News on-air personalities “defended the practice of catcalling, insisting women should ‘let men be men’ and downplaying the harmful impact widespread street harassment has on women.” They highlighted a New York Post op-ed piece that suggested that women should “deal with” “flattering” catcalls.

One of the program’s co-hosts, Kimberly Guilfoyle, defended the practice by saying, “let men be men,” and, “look, men are going to be that way. What can you do?”

(The Center for Disease Control, apparently, can do this: emphasize that street harassment counts as a “non-contact unwanted sexual experience”, and is therefore part of the most prevalent form of sexual violence for both men and women in the United States, impacting as much as 99 percent of women.)

Significantly, this exchange occurred during an episode of a relatively new Fox News Channel program called Outnumbered, which FNC describes as “guided by four savvy women and one man … designed to provide viewers with a fresh take on the latest news”. As if women commenting on the news was somehow a weird and wonderful new idea. One could easily suspect that this casting decision was designed to provide Fox viewers with the opportunity to pity the poor fella who is surrounded by four women who pose a dangerous challenge (to him) because of their savvy-tude. (Instead, the program has quickly set a new standard for almost-hilariously-sexist assertions, and not just from the poor fella.)

Yeah. Too many smart women in the room is dangerous.

Have to keep the little ladies down. Preferably in the kitchen. Barefoot, where possible.

In thinking about this topic, I first wondered if perhaps the people who are most prone to saying hideous things about (or to) and doing hideous things to women … just lacked any previous interactions with strong women that might have caused them to view women differently.

Then I realized that this statement sounds right on the edge of “were any of the women in their early lives strong women?”, which seems to put the blame right back on the women for not being strong … which is not at all what I was going for. I’ll cut to the chase here, and then circle around and get back to it at the end of this piece: every human being deserves respectful treatment, regardless of whether they “don’t take no crap from nobody” or they’re shy and retiring people. It doesn’t matter. They’re humans. They don’t deserve the kind of treatment that many men are giving many women … regardless.

What I was thinking of, I believe … was the sheer number of women I have known, throughout my life, that shaped my understanding of how women were just worthy of respect as men. To put it bluntly, I have indeed known women who either [1] were exceptionally good at whatever they did, [2] had personalities that included the almost cheerful disinclination to take crap from other people, [3] were wonderful, kind and decent people, or [4] all of the above.

This list would include my mother, who is All Things Grand In This World (and a tough cookie, to boot), and my sister, who is dauntless in the defense of her brother’s honor (but will stick it to him, if he has it coming).

This list would include all of my elementary school teachers.

This list would include friends from high school whom I recognized at the time as being far better academically than I, and friends who could debate me right out of the room, and friends who clearly were towering talents in instrumental music and theatre performance (and not even sixteen years old yet). And all of them willing to spare this shy person a “hello” in the hallway, a “hello” that would more often than not make my day.

This list would include people from that summer arts program I have occasionally referred to here, some of whom were very effective instructors of mine, and some of whom were the kind of students whose achievements have since surpassed their instructors’.

This list would include people I met in college (yes, mostly bandos, but others too) who have remained the most stalwart of friends since, especially during moments of Life Crisis.

This list would include numerous professional colleagues, in the public-school teaching and music-education communities, the general vicinity of whose expertise I can only hope to approach one day. Who are also funny and irreverent and helpful and wise people.

This list would also include a number of friends from one or more of those circles who have recently endured some intensely challenging personal and professional circumstances, and either have come out the other side brilliantly, or, I am certain, will.

Some of the things being said and done to women, I wouldn’t dream of saying or doing in a million zillion years. I suspect that this is at least in part because I know a lot of women who would slap me silly (metaphorically or physically!) if I told them something like “you’re pretty even when you’re fat” … and I would have it coming.

So what’s the deal?

Is it that the men out there who treat women badly, who think of women as inferior creatures in whatever way, have been surrounded by, not so much non-strong women, but women who for whatever reason have not felt empowered to not take the abuse?

(That sentence does make sense. I swear. Go back and read it again. It’s a labyrinth, but there’s a prize in the center.)

Not that this is any excuse. We’re all humans. We all deserve at least basic respect.

But could that be part of it?

If it is, then perhaps I’m fortunate to have known the people I’ve known.

August 30, 2014 Posted by | civil rights, current events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments