Sunday, May 25, 2014

What We've Learned From the Elliot Rodgers Murders

There is no one reason for the recent killing spree in Isla Vista.

There are a myriad of reasons. Although I'm sure mental health played a part, plenty of mentally ill people don't kill other people. But what strikes me as unique to this particular crime, is the way in which his rampage was fueled by misogyny, as many feminists have pointed out.

I won't rehash their arguments, but I will reflect on discussion of his mental health as a way to minimize his ideology.

Looking at these videos and the very common theme, which is that Rogers feels sex is owed to him, and that women are unfairly denying that to him, one can't say that misogyny didn't play a role.

The question is "How much of a role did misogyny play?"

In my opinion, it played a pretty strong one. It would be easier to simply leave it at "mental illness" even though we don't have the facts on what his illness was, because somehow that makes us feel comfortable. He was an outlier. Despite the fact that there are many mentally ill people in the world, we have been taught that "crazy" people are rare. If Elliot Rodger is simply one deranged killer, we don't have to look inside ourselves and examine our own misogyny. It is scary to think that this is lurking inside so many of us, and so many people we know. I have spoken to numerous people, whether acquaintances, co-workers, college classmates, high school classmates, etc., who have expressed themselves in a very similar way to Roger.

That is why the first video terrified me. I certainly did not watch it to the end.

What's worse are the YouTube comments on his channel, many of which pondered whether or not this all could have been avoided given those "blond sluts" Rodger referred to had just offered the sex he obviously deserved. Then all of this mayhem could have been avoided, they argued. That sort of commentary should serve as proof of how widespread this attitude really is.

Although (for all we know at this point) his mental illness could have driven him to punish women with such severity, it certainly isn't the main reason he decided to exact violent revenge on women. If he didn't kill all of these people, it is quite possible he would have committed another violent act, assuming he were perfectly well. To not examine the ideology behind it is to dismiss other ways men exact revenge on women for the lack of interest every day. Less severe, but impactful acts of violence occur every day. Mental illness does not create the drive to kill women for very specific reasons - reasons that you can find on many, many websites.

They're too specific, too familiar, to be discounted and pushed aside as the ramblings of an unwell man.

For better insight and commentary than I can provide, please read here and here and here.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Let's play the game: Is that really sexist?

Hillary Clinton's age:

I would be the first person to say that age should be an issue when considering a president. It should be a part of the conversation. In that way, I don't think that bringing up age, in itself, for Clinton, is sexist.

It is the way her age is brought up that is sexist.

In 2008, when her age was far more typical for a presidential candidate than it may be now, Bill O'Reilly wondered if we really wanted to see Clinton age in office. If you wonder which angle, Bill O'Reilly is aiming for when he takes down Clinton, it's usually her gender he aims at. Do you think his insistence there "must" be a downside to a woman president is simply O'Reilly sexism, or is it aimed at Clinton? I would say both:

Rush Limbaugh brought it up, making the issue of her aging very gendered. Do you really want to see a woman grow old? Because men grow old so well, and my male presidential candidates should exist to please my eye. Lookin' at you, sweater vest, or as I mom called you, the "handsome one." *shudders*

As Ana Marie Cox noted on Up With Steve Kornacki, women are told they have an expiration date. We are constantly reminded of it. So what would an appropriate question on Hillary's age look like? See John McCain and Bob Dole.

Jill Abramson's firing:

As every writer and reporter covering this issue has said before, we don't know everything that happened.

I can't say with any certainty that it is sexist. As Jessica Valenti rightly noted on her blog, sexism does not announce it is there. It is slick, not oafish, most of the time, and that is why it's still around after all these years.

What sticks out to me about this is the way in which she received the boot. First we have a Politico piece that uses every gendered word in the book to describe Abramson's behavior. Then we have many of those same words brought out for a second rodeo when time came to justify her firing. That is fairly suspect. The only legitimate reason I am aware of for at least criticizing Abramson is making a decision without consulting the right people, i.e. Dean Baquet.

Even so, it doesn't appear to justify her firing. And then we have Abramson bringing in a lawyer to discuss pay equity.

You put all of those issues together, and then add to it the way that Abramson was "dumped":

The New Republic's Rebecca Traister explains in her piece, "Abramson's Firing Was Singularly Humiliating:

Abramson’s firing was among the most harsh and humiliating I’ve ever seen play out in the media's recent history. Within minutes of the editorial meeting at which the turnover was announced, Abramson’s name had been scrubbed from the masthead of the paper she’s run for the past two and a half years. A Times spokeswoman told Buzzfeed that Abramson would not be remaining with the paper in any professional capacity and would have no involvement in the transition of power. Sulzberger made no pretense that this was anything other than an unceremonious dump. When staffers reportedly expressed concern that Abramson’s firing would be a blow to women, he helpfully explained that that women in top management positions are just as likely to be fired as men in top management positions.

When you contrast that with the warm and fuzzy departure that Howell Raines received post-Jayson Blair, it is pretty hard not to come to the conclusion that sexism played a large role in this, even if sexism wasn't the only reason Abramson lost her job.

Most Women Can’t Afford to ‘Recline’

Rosa Brooks wrote an engaging and refreshing take on the Sheryl Sandberg revolution for Foreign Policy, telling women to sit back in their LazyBoys and recline. Brooks says that our work culture is toxic, promoting the idea that more work hours are better, and that being burnt out is somehow better for us than having the breathing room to innovate. In many ways, I couldn’t agree more.

I know how it feels to be tired, because I worked a 5a.m. to 2p.m. day and went to sleep while I could still see daylight peeking out from the curtains. In my spare time I would interview sources for freelance pieces, so that I could cover all of the topics I found interesting and make extra money. And I went on dates that I almost fell asleep during because I had forced myself to be awake for 20 plus hours.

That said, my life may have been less overwhelmed with work than someone who worked two jobs, or a job combined with an entire course-load, or someone married with kids who runs the section of national news organization. But I know how it feels to long for that day when I can take a deep breath and cut myself some slack.


I think we need to consider how unrealistic it is to ask some women to stop going and going like Energizer bunnies. The truth is that only a few, select women have the privilege to zonk out at the end of the work day, and it doesn’t simply depend on whether or not they have children or a spouse.

It reminds me of the way in which a certain segment of the population insists we stop voting or vote for a third party candidate to send a message to the two respective parties. It’s all well and good to say that. I’d love to send a message to Democrats and Republicans that their blithe acceptance of to full exuberance for money in politics is despicable. But I know it’s not realistic until we become more organized in our response to money in politics.

Young white men usually push for this simple response, but I rarely see it from women of color, LGBTQ people, or anyone else who really has something to lose if the candidate supporting their interests cedes ground to another because the third party candidate won, or no one turned up at the polls.

Brooks can talk about doing this, but I think she and others need to present it in a way that tells us (besides asking our significant others to help out more) how women and men alike can demand flexibility from the workplace, whether it’s white collar or blue collar. It has to be part of a greater labor movement if it were to work for most people. If you are upper middle class, you can decide to spend less time at work, and you may not get the corner office Sandberg speaks of, but you may have a comfortable life anyway. You may still have free time to read books, try out new recipes and enjoy a spa day now and then and maintain a decent salary at the same time.

That’s not an option for someone who isn’t young, poor or faces discrimination or all three. Then it isn’t optional to lean back. If you’ve already made it, and earned a reputation, a title, and gone through most of the milestones we expect of women (however unfair those expectations are) , you’re in a much better position to lean back.

I know Sandberg’s book has always been seen as a book for the elite, and I understand why. It speaks to a white-collar office culture that not everyone works inside. In fact, most of the media representation of office culture is centered on the hierarchies of cubicles vs. corner offices, and leaves out restaurant work, construction and maintenance and housekeeping work.

But there are some ways in which Sandberg’s hyper-energetic, use-every-moment-of-the-day-to-your-advantage-lifestyle speaks to more women’s realities than Brooks does. If you’re young and just starting to pay off loans, or if you came from an impoverished to lower middle class background, and no one could help you afford that internship, you need to always be on. There isn’t a choice.

You must pay your bills on time. You must make the rent. If that means taking on a night job to pay for the necessities while you take on that unpaid internship, so be it. If that means writing for $12, because it’s better than having zero visibility and writing nothing, as you wait tables and go to school, so be it. And if that means taking on two jobs just to feed your kids and keep the lights on, then, “Oh well.” You just don’t have time to think about taking any time off. Leaning back would actually hurt you. And it’s hard to tell women to recline when they’re the majority of minimum-wage workers.

You could lose your job if you don’t follow the unwritten rules of your work culture. You could lose extra income if you decide to stop and smell the roses.
You could be the first to go if jobs are on the chopping block and you’re the one young person who decides to leave on the dot, even though you don’t have kids.
You need to pay off your loans, so you take on extra work, even at the expense of your relationship.

The problem isn’t with the core of what Brooks is saying: That our workplace culture needs to change and respect its workers. We have to stand up for ourselves. But we need to look at the debate from more than one perspective, and typically the perspective we see is from middle to upper middle class married (mostly white) women with children who have much less to lose. It leaves out a large swath of people - Millennial women, single women, childless (or childfree) women, women of color and LGBTQ women, all of whom face greater hurdles to finding a “room of her own.”

If Feminists Failed Monica in 1998, Did New York Feminists Fail Lis in 2014?

In the past week, feminist writers have looked back on Monica’s treatment by many feminists and liberal intellectuals at the time and declared that everyone could have done better. But are we doing better now? The feminism we see now has grown more diverse and more inclusive, with Twitter campaigns challenging white feminists and the ability of a single video bashing Robin Thicke to go viral and create notoriety that will help build a feminist activist’s channel. A blog hits the right nerve at the right time and is reposted on the right website and suddenly we’re talking about transgender women and feminism. But more often than not, feminists with real clout are part of a mostly white, straight, Ivy League-educated group from middle class backgrounds, and that can affect what feminists focus on. Oddly enough, in feminism, you still have to be the right kind of woman to merit said support. We’ve seen this recently, in the case of Lis Smith.

In her interview with Vanity Fair last week, Monica Lewinsky said that feminists had failed her. I agree, to the extent that many mainstream feminists did not acknowledge Bill Clinton’s part in the affair, placing blame and ridicule squarely on Monica’s shoulders. She was either a dimwitted bimbo looking for cheap thrills or a calculating asexual young woman, looking to influence one of the most powerful men in the world. Now, she has been portrayed (at the time) of being a na├»ve young girl who was taken advantage of – by Congressman Rand Paul.

It is unlikely that any of these caricatures capture the truth of what actually happened, and who Lewinsky was at the time. She was 23, and old enough to know better, but the president was the president, married and in his 50s. The reduction of this young woman to a handful of gendered stereotypes was reason enough to defend her. Feminists need not have called her a helpless victim in order to defend her. A one-sided attack, in which a woman is depicted as someone who failed in her role as a sexual gatekeeper, and a man is depicted as a helpless oaf, should always be countered by feminists – not supported by them. But not all feminists railed against Lewinsky. Many simply stayed mum.

After all, one of the first things that Clinton did in his presidency was sign a series of executive orders that undid the Reagan-Bush era policies that restricted family planning and abortion and he vetoed a partial birth abortion ban – not an easy stance to take at the time. Betty Friedan called Lewinsky a “little twerp” and Katie Roiphe admitted that she hadn’t seen mainstream feminists support Lewinsky in the New York Observer article “New York Supergals Love That Naughty Prez.” Although Roiphe is not by any means a model feminist or necessarily a feminist at all (she has been largely criticized by feminists) she was aware of the dialogue on Lewinsky the time. Maureen Dowd, author of the book “Are Men Necessary?” which examined the benefits and drawbacks of being in a relationship with a man as well as balancing career and domestic duties, is the same woman who won a Pulitzer Prize for portraying her as a crazy, promiscuous and vapid.

Most recently, we have a case that is very different from Monica’s – in which the woman in question – Lis Smith – did not actually do anything wrong. Lis Smith, who ran Bill de Blasio’s communications efforts, committed the crime of dating Elliot Spitzer. Spitzer and his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, filed divorce papers in mid-January, which does not come as any surprise to watchers of New York politics. Andrea Peyser tore apart Smith’s character as if it were 1998, or earlier, using odd old-timey language to decimate her character, such as “youngish cookie,” “hot and fit political insider,” and predictably, “bimbo,” adding that she does “presumably not charge Eliot for service rendered.”

With the exception of Jen Chung at The Gothamist, Ginia Bellafante at The New York Times and Lindy West at Jezebel, not many feminist writers or reporters jumped on the story, or rushed to defend Smith in the midst of Peyser’s attacks. There were a few tweets calling Peyser sexually repressed from male journalists, but not many insights from the feminist peanut gallery. It’s not hard to see why from a purely superficial reading of the situation and the people involved.

In the eyes of many feminists or liberal opinion writers in general, you have an unsympathetic man (Eliot Spitzer), a woman who isn’t famous and largely keeps to herself and a sympathetic man (Bill de Blasio). Is it worth challenging de Blasio, the newest liberal darling for hopeful progressives, a man whose life story couldn’t be more picturesque and supportive of liberal ideals, and who may run for president someday? No. Not when it’s your man. And in this respect, it isn’t very different from Clinton, despite Smith’s personal life being completely immaterial to the workings of de Blasio’s administration.

If anything, this case is much more deserving of outrage. You have a evidence of the new, progressive America in de Blasio, rejecting the commercial interests of Michael Bloomberg, who is supportive of the middle class, people of color, LGBTQ rights and women’s rights. Or at least that is the narrative. If the mayor had consensual sex with an intern it would be more moral and feminist than tossing out an employee because of whom she sees outside of work. Instead of standing up to and questioning the outrage over Smith’s dating life, and using it as a teachable moment to discuss gender and politics, de Blasio simply gave up. If prolific and well-respected feminists – a group mostly based in New York – have any credibility, they will raise the issue if he ever becomes a contender for president or vice president. If they don’t, Republicans surely will, the way Rand Paul did by raising the ghost of the blue dress. Only this time, it may be effective, because Democrats won’t be able to defend it.