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Monday, July 25, 2016

Being a Woman in the Public Square in 2016 Sucks And Stuff Like This Doesn't Help



I just saw this. I don't know what to do with it. It's disturbing. It's frustrating. It's vile.

So why am I sharing it?

Because I want it to stop. I know, I know, I know. Wishful thinking. But damn it, I wince when I see it, even though I blacked out the offending word. I want you to wince with me. And between our winces, let's imagine what it would be like to be a woman in the public square in 2016.

Whether you agree with her politics or not, no one deserves this.

Here's the story....

I'm working on book review, and, as you would expect, checking my Google news feed every 6 minutes or so. Great habits, right? Anyway, I'm reading about the outgoing DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and, being a good academic, I checked her Wikipedia page.

That's when I saw it...

As soon as I saw that word, I took a screenshot, intending to send it to the Wikipedia editors. But by that point, her Wikipedia page was taken down. And then, with one more refresh, it was back to its original title.

Since then, I've been thinking about what to do with this image. The problem was solved, so I should just let it go. But isn't silence part of the problem with issues like these? I mean, that word. I don't know what it's like to be called that word. But I do know that it cuts in to the core of a woman, aiming to shred her dignity. Tear it apart. Demean. Diminish. To verbally assault in the worst way.

Let me say that I don't know much about Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I have been following the Wikileaks story from the corner of my eye. Maybe she has been "rigging the system." Maybe she hasn't. I really don't know.

But here's what I do know.

She is a human being. She has a family. She has a mother--we all do. There are people who love her. And there are people who rely on her for love. She sleeps and rises. She eats, drinks, and laughs.

In other words, she is not that much different than any of us. We all make mistakes. She makes mistakes. None of us are perfect.

Yes, she lives a life in the public spotlight. And yes, her decisions carry tremendous weight. For everyone out there who disagrees with her, now is your time to revel in her political demise. Schadenfreude. Let it rip.

But that word? Imagine if that word were attached to your mother, daughter, sister, or friend?

Now, I am certain that no guys in my circle would ever dream of doing something like this. In fact, I'm sure that they are disgusted like I am. But guys like me need to wake up to this sort of thing, and maybe even speak up too.

A while back, I watched a video called #MoreThanMean, where men read "mean Tweets" back to female sports journalists. What starts off as fun, funny, and lighthearted quickly devolves. The men often can't bring themselves to finish the tweets.


We need more of these blunt displays of dehumanizing speech put out in the open. In politics, sports and everywhere else in society, many women quietly walk through verbal mine fields that many men are oblivious to.

I am reminded here of a talk that I recently heard by Rebecca Schuman, where she recounted her many nasty encounters with trolls and others. What has stayed with me is Schuman's well-informed suspicion about calls for "civility." Too often, "civility" becomes a tool deployed by the powerful to dictate to the powerless what the rules of engagement are. Instead, Schuman proposed another word--compassion.

We can disagree. People do that. But let's start by honoring our humanity. Let's recognize what we have in common. Let's challenge each other to be clear about precisely where we differ. And let's be thankful that folks with opposing views can express themselves vigorously and honestly, while still knowing that their interlocular is a person too.

I know that this sounds like a kumbayaish sermon from a white-dude-academic who is using this space to purge his man-guilt. But when I saw that word on Wikipedia, I was reminded that the American Id is alive and well. I witnessed the old truism that politics can bring forth the worst in people.

And then I thought.... What can we do?

Maybe sunlight is the best disinfectant. Maybe bringing these things to the surface can awaken a sense of shared humanity that we all so desperately need.

I don't know. For right now, my naive idealism is helping with the continual wincing.

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