2018, feminism, Politics

FEMALE POLITICIANS AND THE CHRISSY TEIGEN CONUNDRUM

A few days ago, columnist Jonathan Chait from New York Magazine published a piece titled, “Democrats Have Great Female Presidential Candidates. They Need to Avoid the Victim Trap.” In it, he described the ways that powerful female politicians, namely Junior Democratic U.S. Senators Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), are reported about in the media.

He describes Senator Harris’ June Senate Intelligence Committee interaction with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in which Harris continually pressed Sessions to answer questions that the latter tried to dodge with the excuse of a particular “policy.” Numerous times, Harris was interrupted by her male colleagues, leading to numerous articles reporting on that, rather than Harris’ strength of interrogation.

“The men-interrupting-women theme fell into a familiar source of social media umbrage,” wrote Chait. “And those reactions, initially registered on social media, formed the basis for much of the coverage that followed.”

Chait highlighted the coverage of Harris as an example of “victimhood” in order to make his point that female politicians lean into that victimhood as a way of appealing to the leftist base.

“On the left, victimhood is a prime source of authority, and discourse revolves around establishing one’s intersectional credentials and detailing stories of mistreatment that reinforce them,” said Chait. “Within the ecosystem of the left, demonstrating that you have suffered harassment or microaggressions is a big win.”

He described a recent GQ profile of Gillibrand, who went into more detail of the sexual harassment that she’s endured. “Much of the story followed this theme, describing not only Gillibrand’s leadership on the issue of sexual harassment, but her status as actual victim of harassment.”

He ended his article by saying, “Playing to the most popular tropes in progressive circles on social media is a seductive way for Democratic female candidates to capture attention from activists. It may not be their straightest path to the White House.”

When first reading it, the premise could have been extremely interesting and valid. The argument could’ve been directed at the media, and the ways that we often lean into stereotypical representations of women. It might’ve been a lampooning of the articles that, instead of applauding Harris and Gillibrand for their perseverance, focused on the male interruption.

However, the headline and ending paragraph seem contradictory to what some could say is the meat of Chait’s piece. It took the twist of assuming, or at least implying, that Harris and Gillibrand at least partially to blame for the coverage they received. He never acknowledges the obvious – that Gillibrand and Harris did not create the coverage that portrayed them as victims.

Chait plays into the very thing that he is critiquing. Rather than writing about them as he argues they should be written about, Chait imposes his own world view upon these women by assuming what they must be thinking and doing.

It’s a phenomenon that’s come up recently in an entirely different sphere, a situation I’m dubbing the “Chrissy Teigen Conundrum.”

“if I had my choice, not a single story would ever be written about any tweets of mine. they make people (me) seem like…the most annoying people,” Teigen tweeted, about…I guess the thing I’m doing. “the “clapback” wasn’t “epic”, it was just a fuccccccking tweet – just please stop with these stupid words.”

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It’s a common critique of Chrissy Teigen, that she is annoying or omnipresent on social media. But as she points out, rightfully, that’s not because she’s doing anything. It’s because journalists make the choice to write about everything she does, and use clickbait-y titles to draw readers. But because all we see is “Chrissy Teigen,” that’s all we associate with the deluge of coverage.

We are not annoyed by Chrissy Teigen, we are annoyed by the coverage of Chrissy Teigen, with which she has nothing to do.

Blaming Chrissy Teigen for the coverage she receives is as ludicrous as blaming Harris or Gillibrand for the victim-slanting coverage they garner.

I don’t doubt that people leaning into certain narratives is true in some cases. But I don’t think that’s what’s happening here, or what’s happening at large. Chait views victimhood as a media or political strategy. In his lens, there is no way that Gillibrand could be discussing the harassment she’s received for any other reason than to garner sympathy in a 2020 presidential run. It’s possible that Gillibrand was not ignorant to the fact that she would gain sympathy, but that was in addition to shining light on a malignant and previously hush-hush tenet of politics.

And if that’s his view, it’s bizarre that he does not point out that Trump won on a platform of victimhood, playing up the false victimization of white, middle-class Americans, particularly men. He does not mention this once, preferring to attack female politicians who, as far as we know, did not request such coverage. He does not mention Representative Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), or how she pushed back against Treasure Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s meandering with “Reclaiming my time,” which could ostensibly be considered the antithesis of victimhood or rerouting the “man-interrupting-woman” trope. He also fails to point out that, despite instances of harassment, these female politicians rose to the uppermost echelons of American politics.

“Spinning” narratives, particularly ones of hardship or victimhood, is not new, nor is it a particularly female action for politicians to take. However, it is almost always women who are slammed for taking part in that.

“On the left, victimhood is a prime source of authority.”

There is the notion that victims disclosing harassment are doing it with nefarious or shady intentions. The truth is that, often, the intent of disclosure is very clear: to open dialogues about harassment with the aim of minimizing and eliminating those situations. There is power in opening up about being a victim, but that in itself does not constitute a power play.

Pointing out bias (in gender, sexuality, race, class or religion) is often just that, but it also serves to highlight that there are peoples (often of intersecting identities) who are disproportionately affected by biases.

Painting Gillibrand’s discussion of the sexual harassment she’s faced, or critiquing Harris for how she was covered, has a very distinct aim – to discount sexism, racism and other biases as political ploys and grabs at attention. It diverts from any conversation about how these things came about and what might be done about them.

Chait’s argument, under the guise of concern, boils down to this notion: if you have been a victim, then you are weak. If you disclose harassment or abuse, you are seen as weak. And people do not someone weak in the Presidency. Again, it’s telling that he does not bring up Trump, who constantly and consistently affirms his place as a victim – of the media, of the Democrats, of the political system. So perhaps the problem is not the victimhood platform, but the fact that they are not men.

The article ignores that people who have been harassed, assaulted or victimized are survivors; have thrived despite such obstacles; and that those people might actually make better, more empathetic and more driven presidents than, say, someone who has no experience with such hardships.

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Essay, feminism, Thinkpiece

CITIZEN ROSE – SUSPENDING DISBELIEF

While watching the first installment in a series of five, I remembered how primed we are to not believe women.


 I went into the first episode interested, but hesitant. I didn’t really know much about it, just that it was on E!. The only similar project that E! has done recently was I Am Cait, which skewed more documentary and less reality than any previous programming. Citizen Rose is a documentary, but it often elevates to an art piece. It’s non-linear at times, and broken up by short vignettes and multiple perspectives and angles.

I decided to watch it after watching the short clip, that’s since gone viral, of Rose getting into a verbal altercation with a trans woman at a book signing for Brave, McGowan’s new book. McGowan said that the trans activist had been a plant utilized to disrupt her, and she promptly canceled the tour. One of my favorite podcasts, Babe?, discussed both the incident and the documentary – I love their opinions, so I felt curious enough to watch it. The first installment is uploaded in full onto YouTube.

I want to preface this by saying that I am white, I am cisgender, and I am male. My privilege informs how I see the world, and while I try to educate myself and be mindful, I still have that lens built into my experience. If I say anything that’s uneducated, or misinformed, or wrong, I would love to be educated.

I think the biggest thing I took away from Citizen Rose was how deeply the instinct to not believe women is built into me.

I noticed it when Rose said that she was targeted by spies and was worried about being killed; I had this gut reaction to call her a liar, or crazy, or delusional. But then I realized that she had already been proven right.

In Ronan Farrow’s article, he described the lengths Harvey Weinstein went to discredit Rose. He used two different black ops spy units, one called Black Cube, to infiltrate Rose’s life – find out things that could be used against her, steal her then-unpublished book from her. This is, according to Farrow, proven. I had forgotten this actively, so when Rose said that the trans woman at her book signing was a plant used to attack her, I immediately dismissed her.

But I was more willing to believe a man that was fact-checking than the woman herself. I had this knee-jerk reaction to distrust Rose.

If Rose was right about the spies following her, then she might be right about the plant. The problem is that we don’t know, but we refuse to offer her the benefit of the doubt. And even if it’s not true, McGowan has existed in a world of constant gaslighting for the last twenty years. She was never believed, or heard, or acknowledged. She didn’t know who to trust. For twenty years, she must’ve felt like she was losing her mind.

This is part of the problem. We refuse to believe women. And I don’t think that this is an accident.

I thought back to the recently released Quentin Tarantino audio about Roman Polanski.

“He had sex with a minor,” Tarantino said in the recording. “That’s not rape. To me, when you use the word rape, you’re talking about violent, throwing them down – it’s like one of the most violent crimes in the world.” Though Tarantino later said that he was playing “devil’s advocate” in that interview, what does that say about how he views rape? And how does that translate into his work?

In one of her speeches, Rose talks about the cult of Hollywood that dictates how we perceive people.

“This is what you are as a woman…this is what you are as a man,” she says. “This is what you are as a boy, girl, gay, straight, transgender.” Then she leaned into the microphone, “But it’s all told through 96 percent males in the Director’s Guild of America; that statistic has not changed since 1946.”

Hollywood is often dismissed as shallow, vapid and fluffy. But perhaps that’s on purpose. Because if you don’t see it as substantial, then you don’t see it as a threat. Then you suck down the poison they give you without even thinking, without even realizing how it informs how you perceive the world. Representation matters not just for its own sake. It affects every part of you, how you see other people and how you see yourself. So if movies tell you that women are objects to be pursued, and that men must be dominant in their pursuits, you are being trained to not recognize rape and assault. You learn it through the rigid definition of what predators tell you it is.

But that’s not the truth, and that’s what Rose is trying to say. The things we’ve been given, the tools and the vocabulary, are built on an altar of maintaining the status quo. It’s meant to keep women quiet, docile and objects; it’s meant to keep men aggressive and unemotional and straight.

“Don’t rock the boat.” “Don’t be dramatic.” “Don’t worry.” “Don’t be a bitch.” “Don’t exaggerate.” “Don’t be crazy.”

At one point, Rose asks the viewer to recall everything they know about her. That’s she slutty; that she’s crazy; that she’s unwell. And she asks them, us, to think about who is telling that to us.

In many cases, it was people under the thumb of Harvey Weinstein. People like Weinstein used the cult of Hollywood to introduce and reinforce stereotypes and misinformation about women, queer people, people of color. And that immediately cripples any point to the contrary, because you will never, ever be believed.

Rose McGowan is not perfect; far from it. She’s messy and complex and complicated and says the wrong things sometimes. But that’s everybody; we are all imperfect. But think about why we insist that our leaders be completely without flaws – is it because we need to be led by perfect people, or is it meant to stop us from rallying behind someone? Is it meant to keep us rapid and frothing at each other, rather than at the people who deserve it?

It’s why we attack the actors, usually female, who star in Woody Allen’s movies but still give Woody Allen money for filmmaking. It’s why we attack Meryl Streep. It’s why we tear apart women when they step out of line, but offer second chances, and third and fourth and twenty, to men. Why we call grown men “boys” but slut-shame girls.

When Rose got off the stage after her speech, she saw that an article had already written up about it. And in a line that would normally be so quiet and such a throwaway, she said, “Wow. This is incredible. Someone listened to me.”

No one, ever, ever, listened to Rose, or Asia Argento or any of the other survivors. There were people who knew what was going on: who walked past the locked doors, who let up unsuspecting women to towering offices, who massaged away the truth: no one listened to people like Rose.

So when I was watching, I tried to suspend my disbelief, my societally-ingrained reflex to dismiss her as “crazy.” And once I did that, I listened.

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2018, feminism

Man to Man: What Men Can Do

In the aftermath of the 2018 Golden Globes, where women (verbally and sartorially) expressed their anger, hope and sadness surrounding the #MeToo campaign and the Time’s Up fund, there was a lot of criticism leveled at the male celebrities who, besides wearing “Time’s Up” pins, were noticeably silent.

Some men offered the explanation that they wanted to give the platform to women; they did not want to overshadow women; they did not want to mansplain. But what men don’t understand is that they, we, can use our various platforms to educate and call out other men to be better friends, allies, lovers and peers. We cannot, and should not, expect women to change an entire culture single-handedly.

So here are some things that I, as a man, think other men can do to express support.

1). If you hear something, say something:

Harassment takes a lot of forms. It can be sexual, workplace, verbal, nonverbal. It doesn’t even have to take place in front of women. If you’re with your male friends, and they’re speaking inappropriately, condescendingly or rudely about a woman or girl, say something. We have access to spaces that women sometimes don’t, and, unfortunately, we can have undue influence over other men simply because of our gender. So if you hear something inappropriate, your silence is a sin of omission. It doesn’t matter if you did not say anything. By saying nothing, you’re cosigning their action.

2). Listen:

Men are born with such levels of privilege that we are often unaware of how much it plays into our everyday life. If a woman, person of color or gender-nonconforming person tells you something, just listen. You don’t have to fully understand why it’s upsetting, but you have to acknowledge that it’s upsetting to them. There are certain things I’ve experienced as a queer person that, when complaining to heterosexual friends, didn’t seem to cross that boundary. Don’t minimize or attempt to explain away. Just because it doesn’t happen to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen at all.

3). Seek consent:

This applies in a major way to sex. Seek constant, enthusiastic consent. Consent is not a one-and-done thing; keep asking, keep making sure that your partner is actively consenting to whatever you’re doing.

4). Understand your own language:

This in particular can be applied to gay men, and especially white gay men. We are oftentimes guilty of being misogynistic towards women. It might fall under the radar or be explained away by “cattiness” or “sass.” But being gay does not give you a pass to demean, disrespect or condescend women. Any man calling a woman a “bitch,” “slut,” or “cunt” is being misogynist, regardless of his sexuality.

5). Don’t cosign gendered behavior:

It’s easy to fall into gender tropes, and to pass those along to children can be incredibly damaging. It might be as small as complimenting a little girl on her clothing, but saying how “tough” a little boy is. Avoid romanticizing kids (i.e. “Is that your boyfriend/girlfriend?”). They’re kids, dude. Allow boys to be vulnerable; let them express their emotions. If we teach boys to suppress their emotions, say that being emotional is feminizing, or urge them to be “big boys,” what we’re really saying is, “You don’t deserve to have emotions.” That pain, sadness and anger comes out regardless, and can be leveraged against women and girls.

6). Promote women:

Look at your Twitter timeline. Is it all men? Is it all white? Starting small, like following people of different genders, races, socioeconomic statuses and political affiliations, can fundamentally change the way you think by exposing you to different perspectives. Read the work of women; retweet them; highlight them amongst friends.

7). Confront your own thinking:

There was a time when I realized that I was uncomfortable at the sight of my female friend’s nipples poking through her shirt. I ignored it for a while, until it came up in conversation and we talked about it. Even as you actively try to be feminist, you grew up in a society that suppresses female sexuality. It’s okay; we all did. Understanding why things make you uncomfortable does not make you a bad person. It means accepting that we all have been damaged by our upbringings; it means that, once recognized, we can change our thinking. Try to understand why you think something; analyze whether that’s valid or not; adapt accordingly.

Understand that, consciously or not, you have probably participated in harassment of women. Understand that, and work to change it.

I’m ending with the closing paragraph of an article Roxane Gay, a celebrated feminist, author, writer, and social commentator, wrote for the New York Times on October 19, 2017:

“Men can start putting in some of the work women have long done in offering testimony. They can come forward and say “me too” while sharing how they have hurt women in ways great and small…It’s time for men to start answering for themselves because women cannot possibly solve this problem they had no hand in creating.”


Below is a list of women that I follow on Twitter whose work, opinions and writing inspires me, challenges me and calls to me. If there is a woman who you think I should be following, please let me know!

Maggie Haberman, White House correspondent for the New York Times

Roxane Gay, professor, writer, author

Patti Harrison, comedian

Janet Mock, writer, producer, activist

Evette Dionne, writer, editor

Parker Molloy, writer

Ashley Nicole Black, comedian, television correspondent

Celeste Yim, comedian

Karen Attiah, Global Opinions editor for Washington Post

Ijeoma Oluo, Editor-at-Large of The Establishment

Kamala Harris, U.S. Senator

Erin Gibson, writer, comedian, podcaster

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feminism, LGBTQ, Life, Politics

THEN & NOW — the 1970s (ish)

This morning, I was walking my dog when I found a Polaroid on the edge on my lawn. A few months ago, my neighbor passed away. She was amazing, super fiery and funny; we were actually quite close. We would go to Home Depot together and pick out plants for me to plant in pots around her house, and I would help her if she needed it. She was in her mid-eighties, and a total badass, and I was sadly at school in Boston when she passed away. But in the following months, and the last few weeks especially, her children have been cleaning out her house.

This morning, the last remaining furniture and garbage (which had been piled at the end of her driveway) was cleared away, leaving behind a few scraps and this grimy, grubby Polaroid, picture-down on my lawn. I flipped it around and it was a picture, taken from the stoop of my neighbor’s house of our street—A silver-blue Volkswagen Beetle parked on the curb, framed by lush green leaves. I took it inside, cleaned the grime off the back and the edges, and really looked at it. There’s no date on the Polaroid, but judging from the make of the car, and the amount of time my neighbor lived in her house, I would guess it was taken in the ‘60s or ‘70s.

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Source: Danny McCarthy

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