Hope Hicks: Babysitter to the Chief

Today we’re going to talk about Hope Hicks. She’s yet another outgoing part of the rapidly-imploding presidential administration, announcing her resignation a few days ago after being interviewed by a congressional committee. While Hicks was, arguably, in a very powerful position (especially at her very young age), the administration turned her into a mother-figure to the president, doing emotional labor on his behalf rather than letting her do her actual job. This, I think, is yet another window into the creepiness, the backwardsness, of this administration.

Who is Hope Hicks?

Hope Hicks was born and raised in Greenwich, Connecticut, child of a man who served as VP of communications at the NFL. That’s her ticket, right there, to instant high-powered connections. After a stint as a teen model, she worked for a NY communications group she met at the Superbowl. She met the Trump family through that link, as Ivanka was one of that group’s clients. Inside a couple of years she was working for the Trump organization, and then she became part of the campaign team. She was 26 and had no political experience. Inside the next year or so she became the official White House Communications Director.

And now she’s leaving

After confessing that she told “white lies” on behalf of el presidente, Ms. Hicks is on her way out. The Washington Post included this charming bit in a piece on March 3:


In contrast, Wikipedia* describes the  White House Communications Director’s job as helping support and communicate a president’s agenda and serving as a chief speechwriter.

These two things–the WaPo description and the one from Wikipedia–do not go together.

Women do the emotional lifting

There’s been a lot of talk in the last year or so about the concept of emotional labor: in a nutshell, even when housework, in one example, is evenly divided between a heterosexual couple, it’s usually the woman who is the manager, making sure the paper towels get put on the shopping list and the laundry gets started. She is often the one to tell her partner what needs doing, and he does it. It’s a lot of work that often goes unnoticed by members of the household. To some degree, women accept doing emotional labor accepted–the argument is that we’re raised to do that stuff, automatically.

Another element of emotional labor is sustaining other people by tending to their feelings, without expecting reciprocity. Assumptions about women’s nurturing instincts are deeply embedded in those expectations. Included, too, is the assumption that women prefer to be caregivers, whereas men are bad at it.

It looks to me like that pattern is repeated here in the current administration. Hicks’s position is allegedly one of serious power and authority, when described in its official capacity. Hicks’s actual position as lived appears to be one of neither, truly, as her job seemed to be that of babysitter to the chief.  ‘Tending to his moods and whims’ is not communications work, it’s coddling. And it’s exactly the kind of coddling our society–and him in particular–expects women to do. And while she might have been paid, and likely well, she was paid to be the communications director–not the babysitter.

Masculinity, power, exploitation

Given the makeup of his administration, even as it rapidly changes, this phenomenon isn’t all that shocking. Few women hold any positions of equity with the men in there, and people of color barely exist. What the president wants is a clique of sycophants, and the job of women in that circle is to make sure he’s happy. Wikipedia* suggests most of her job was taking tweet dictation and screening him from unpleasant encounters. A beautiful woman, she was both a set piece–an object for a man who has told all of us many, many times about his delight in objectifying women–and his source of comfort. She kept him managed and fed his needs, as well as his ego. This is creepy as hell as well as patriarchal in nature.

In this administration, all actual power goes to men, who are expected to exploit it for personal gain (the EPA leader, Scott Pruitt, is a great example of this phenomenon). Exploitation of people and resources is a key indicator of virility for el presidente and his ilk, as the press recently has discovered. Women, on the other hand, receive largely symbolic power. Their chief job is to protect the baby president at all costs, whether it’s from questions, the television, or what have you.

Without Hicks, the WaPo surmises, the president is likely to become increasingly unstable. Without a mommy, he’s going to throw tantrums whenever TV reporting is unfavorable or he faces disagreement. So buckle up, friends.


*I don’t love Wikipedia, as its easy editability also makes it ripe for inaccuracy.  It’s a useful primer on a variety of topics, tho, and when it’s done well, contains lots of sourcing.

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My Face Wants Me to Make Weird Choices (plz send help)

Maybe I just need a glitter facial.

Skin changes throughout life, and while I’d hoped that my smooth and supple post-teenage acne stage would last forever, it hasn’t. I’ve got a skin issue I can’t seem to remedy or find easily online so I started looking at getting a facial. This impulse runs pretty much contradictory to my fairly public stance (twitter-public, anyway) on beauty regimens. I love makeup and now that I’m older I use really nice moisturizers and the like, but I try not to be vain and try not to spend serious money regularly on vanity-related things. But my face is making me crazy.

(Related: Have you seen Dumpster Dog’s post on the cost of women’s beauty regimens? And that most women get a full waxing of their nethers routinely? That blew my mind. Too much pain and so many dollars.)

Now part of my reason for not spending lots of dough on my face is frugality (or, frankly, cheapness), but the other reason is that I don’t think women should worry so much about meeting particular beauty standards. Who cares? And then, of course, I feel like a hypocrite for caring.

Or perhaps it’s time for a citrus soak. A bit too Ophelia for me.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve got all these teeeny tiny white bits on my lower face. They look kind of like dry skin but I think my dry skin only exacerbates what they are (I’ve been using an oil cleanser, cold cream to remove makeup, and an argan oil cream to moisturize, plus drinking lots of water–I can’t do much more there. I tried a serum, made no difference). They kind of look like sebaceous filaments, only they’re not greasy or, as those usually are, in an oily area. Sometimes I can scrub some of them off, but usually even a pore strip won’t peel them away.
I’ve got one of these terrifying-looking comedone kits and still, nada. Pulling them out with tweezers gives me the best results, and that’s not saying much. The worst part about them is that my makeup goes on fine but by midday looks all dried out, primarily around my mouth.

They’re driving me NUTS, and I realize how dumb that is, since I can’t even snap a decent photo of them. I also feel like I’m abandoning my feminist cred by being as focused on my face as I am.

Are citrus soaks just a thing when you search stock photos for “facial”?

I’ve tried lots of moisturizers, moisturizing regimens, I’ve consulted with the fine people at Kiehl’s (my face is too sensitive for their stuff, alas) and at Sephora (tho at Sephora everyone is so young this felt like a lost battle at the start). I feel like I’m being silly, fretting over this, and it’s exactly the advice I’d give others–it’s minor, don’t worry about it. And surely don’t spend more hard-earned money trying to figure this out. No guarantee a facial will solve it and a quick googling has revealed how appallingly expensive those are.


Help a sister out.

What would you do?

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It’s Not Always About You, White Dudes (You’re Just Not Used to That)

So last week some friends and I–women I dub my “feminist fight club” as we argue with people on social media for fun–had a convo about one member’s brother. Said brother is conservative and a frequent sparring partner. In a conversation about something regarding the fight against racist and sexist discrimination, he said, “the fact of the matter is that the middle class white men vote in large numbers and would be on your side if only the message was tailored differently.” This week, kittens, we’re going to tear that quote apart. It’s resonant as it reflects an unwillingness on the part of many people to understand our current historical moment.

TL/DR: It’s not about you, assholes, but you need to listen.

The conversation had gone like this: the brother argued that liberal messages were “exclusionary” in nature and thus, by default, made white men reluctant to take part regardless of whether they agreed with the message (say, that people face racial discrimination) or not. He felt liberals (for sport?) “railed against the white man” and ruined their own missions because such white men wouldn’t get on board…because they evidently feel discriminated against.

Implicitly, the brother’s argument is that messages should be tailored to white men, even if they’re not about white men, and that if they aren’t, white men will (deliberately?) resist, even if those messages make sense. So when we talk about racism or sexism, then, we need to make it about white men; or, at the very least, we can’t suggest white men are somehow keeping this racist/sexist system in place.

Essentially, he doesn’t want us to think about how privilege works and that if we do–and if we challenge what privilege does–we have to do so without threatening those in privileged places.

I have a newsflash for him, as my dad would say: insisting or expecting messages about racism and sexism be tailored to what white men want to read and hear is part of the problem. He’s grown up, as we all have here, in a culture where the overwhelming majority of messages are tailored to white men. Conversations that suggest otherwise–see films about women or by women, or about and by African Americans–are nearly always pitched as niche, because conversations about white people and particularly white men dominate.

Perhaps you’ve seen conversations online about the Golden Globes?

In one corner, we have those who are angry and frustrated to see women snubbed for the eight millionth time in the major category of best director. And in the other, we have those (cough, white men, cough) who insist that the selections are about TALENT, duh, and women just haven’t shown enough. They’re also saying that women are only 7% of film directors because of that reason–certainly not because of systemic sexism and an old boys club that limits women’s access to directorships.

Exhibit A.

That unwillingness to grasp the message and to make it about them–here, “white men are the best directors” is implied as normative fact–echoes what the brother above was saying. A corollary is that men’s stories are normative and women’s are “chick flicks” or “chick lit” (books have the same problem as film in terms of perception and coverage, like in the NYT’s book reviews). Another corollary shifts the lens from sex to race and finds the same thing.

And I’m just a voice among many, many people who have made this argument particularly in the last couple of years: we’re asking men like the brother above to listen to our points and our stories, and they then make it about them. We argue it’s always been about them, let’s hear it be about us, and they flap their wings like startled chickens:

“How could such a thing be? We mustn’t tolerate it! How confusing for us!”

And you’ll forgive me for being glib there, but here’s the thing: maybe these messages, white men, aren’t ABOUT you or FOR you, but you need to hear them so that you consider how you operate in the world. We need to work for a world in which white and male are not the default, normative assumption about quality in anything–stories, acting, directing, teaching, leading the nation, you name it. You need to believe us that that world will be better, because white male mediocrity isn’t inherently the best.

And to that end, white dudes STFU about Oprah.
Exhibit B.

Just stop. Her speech wasn’t for you. Whether or not she runs for office is her business at this point, and putting the focus there minimizes the incredible words she spoke at the Golden Globes. It was for women. It was for people of color. White men need to hear it, but they don’t need to offer running fucking commentary. PARTICULARLY, we don’t need the comparisons of what she has that Hillary Clinton didn’t: stop pitting women against each other. If mediocre white men by the hundreds can all be part of leadership and power, then guess what? More than one woman can, too. And those women are two of the best.

{here’s a link to a transcript of Oprah’s speech, which inexplicably has a photo of Meryl Streep at the top and no photo of Oprah…wtf… }


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Last week I was royally pissed when I saw someone tweet about their latest blog post in which they compare themselves, as an indebted person, to being enslaved.


I didn’t click on it because I title like that–and a subtitle that doubled down on the idea–is designed to garner clicks, and I’m not going to grant my precious clicks to some inane bullshit.

But here’s the deal. Debt can suck. It can drain what funds you have. It can restrict your mobility. Hamper your goals.


American slavery began as a transatlantic nightmare in which humans were corralled, then shoved on ships so tightly packed that in some cases, captains anticipated a 20% loss. Yep. The trip took about 6 weeks, six weeks of being chained to other humans, lying in your own filth, sometimes with corpses.

THEN those humans who survived were inspected like cattle and sold to the highest bidder so that they might work until they died of exhaustion–old age unlikely–doing backbreaking labor, usually in sugar or rice or tobacco.

One’s status was determined matrilineally–FUCKING CONVENIENT, GIVEN THE PATRIARCHY–which meant that rapacious owners could assault the women they owned regularly and then ENSLAVE THEIR OWN CHILDREN.

Those children became fodder for the internal slave trade, which was the same system, minus the transatlantic ship and now featuring boats from places like Virginia down the Mississippi, to places like Louisiana. And now they farmed King Cotton more than other crops.

Families were broken at the will of enslavers.  Runaways were beaten for daring to leave the system. If you look at runaway slave advertisements–readily available online–you can begin to see a pattern of injury descriptions that are concurrent with “hobbling” injuries–injuries to prevent further running away. Slave patrols–made of poor whites who wanted a piece of the system they could not buy themselves–beat even those slaves legally on the roads, nevermind runaways.

In Virginia for a long time if you “killed a slave in the course of correction“–beat them to death–the colony reimbursed you.

Modern slavery is only so different–secretive, where it was publicly acceptable before. Often overtly sexual in nature. Some undocumented immigrants also live in virtual slavery as housekeeping staff to those who exploit their status in order to keep hold of them indefinitely.


Out of respect for those who were enslaved and those who are, just stop it.

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Well, If it isn’t another white man with a gun

By now you’d have to live under a rock to have missed this week’s edition of “there’s a mass shooting, but let’s not talk about it.” Once again, a young white man obtained military-style weapons and took his rage out on innocent people. And while we’ve all offered Hopes and Prayers (trademark pending) and wrung our hands over the State of the World, I’d say it’s safe we stop here and wait until next week to start the cycle again. If I sound cynical, it’s because I am. As a nation we refuse to discuss the actual factors these things have in common and so we insist there’s nothing we can do. Tho there is.

Probably by now you’ve seen that the shooter this week had a domestic violence record. We know that many if not most of the men who propagate these kinds of massacres have some history of hitting their partners, who are overwhelmingly women. We know that men who hit women often do so out of rage, out of a sense of ownership, and because violence is a means of demonstrating power. Similar things could be said of why people shoot up innocents–it’s about anger, power. We know that there’s a whole culture in the US of men who feel entitled to women’s time, attention, and genitals, and who fly into a rage when they feel they’re not getting their due (see MRA douchebags). Similarly, these men seem to feel entitled to shoot up others in their anger. We have what’s called a correlation here–men who perpetuate massacres often hit their wives and girlfriends. This is not to say that domestic violence alone isn’t a problem that needs eradication on its own merits–it absolutely does–but that there’s also a predictor here that our society is ignoring.

So let’s contemplate that situation. Why isn’t anyone at the policy-making level looking at this?

My argument is that if you don’t generally see women as autonomous individuals–human beings–you don’t see hitting them as a problem. If you see women as a caste subordinate to men, you might see them as hittable when they step out of place. You probably run the whole list of “well, she must have done something to deserve this” excuses through your head before you ponder what’s wrong with the male who did the hitting. As a nation, that’s where we’ve been headed more overtly lately. Take, for example, the Violence Against Women Act, which our current Department of Justice hates. As a senator, Jeff Sessions said the bill wasn’t “sound” and so voted against it. Recently, an undocumented teenager was held hostage by the Justice Department, which wouldn’t let her get an abortion until weeks later, she and the ACLU won a lawsuit against them. Our own VP calls his wife “mother,” and our president has public recordings of his brags about assaulting women. A Wisconsin lawmaker recently gave a speech in which he alleged abortion hurt the economy, as it eliminates potential members of the labor force–women, in such a scenario, are just breeders. These are just a few example at the highest levels–you can peruse any number of websites to see much more run-of-the-mill discussion of women as object, breeder, housekeeper, and not autonomous humans.

A consequence of not seeing women as autonomous humans (literally, culturally, or otherwise) is that domestic violence against women is not taken seriously. Sure, we’ve got lip service, but look at how stuff plays out. The NFL has plenty of players who have records–no one cares. Women who fear deportation don’t report, because they are especially non-people–women AND of color AND undocumented. Dual-arrest laws, in which both members of a fight are apprehended, were well-intentioned efforts to defuse fights between partners and sort out what happened have led to declines in reporting by victims who don’t want an arrest record. NPR here talks about a woman who had several restraining orders against her ex, but still would be arrested if she called for help.

So if, as a nation, we have a track record of seeing women as non-persons and if we don’t take domestic violence as seriously as we might and we combine that with white supremacy, well, here we are.

Because whiteness is a key piece here. Overwhelmingly, the men murdering civilians in theaters, in churches, at concerts, are white. And we have a system that functions to hold white men in place at the top–we have a patriarchal, white supremacist system. So when you and I say, “DAMMIT if we’re not going to talk about gun bans, can we talk about banning men who engage in domestic violence from having access to them?” we get a firm “tut tut” and no desire to engage from our dear congresspeople. Overwhelmingly. And the reason for that is that if they begin to look at this shit–REALLY look at it–they’re going to note that white men who don’t see women as humans, who feel entitled to women, are carrying it out, and then for many congressmen, they’ll see themselves. Perched atop the patriarchal white supremacist pinnacle, investigating the commonalities among those men and deciding to hold them responsible implicates those men and implicates themselves.

So until we’re rid of those men in the echelons of government, beholden not just to the gun lobby but to a vision of themselves in which they are entitled as white men to all the spoils, we won’t see an end to the carnage.

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Everything’s Exhausting: Title IX

Everything's Exhausting: Title IX
It’s me.

Things have been happening so fast at the federal, state, and personal level that I haven’t had the wherewithal to process and post much in ages. Two special-needs kittens are exhausting, as it turns out, between vet visits and adjusting them to overnight sleeping (rather than locking them into a room of their own, they now have the run of the house overnight. This isn’t great for non-kittens). My job has been busy and parts of it have been kind of draining.  Politics here in our state are garbage (we need a budget to make up for decades of unfunded pensions which have left us a multi-billion-dollar hole, and the GOP and some Dems here suggested gutting the state’s public higher ed as a solution). And 45 et al are, well, their own form of draining and exhausting.

So. here we are.

Arguing that we don’t deserve to have health care gutted because the Kochs promised big bucks if the GOP does it–that lives are worth more than their money. Waiting for Mueller to begin publicizing indictments as our  president raids campaign funds for his own defense, which certainly suggests a lot of somethings. Plus natural disasters. Shit is wearisome.

So much goes on in an average week that it’s hard to remember that what happened last week still matters even as this week piles it on. Many people are quick on the draw, posting their thoughts as stuff happens rather than after digesting it, as a consequence of this pacing. I’ve debated on the pointlessness of writing on last week’s stuff, but since that stuff still matters, onward I forge.

Let’s talk about Title IX, which Betsy DeVos plans to dramatically alter following an announcement last week.

Title IX guarantees sex and gender parity in higher ed so long as the institution receives federal funds in some way. Initially developed to give women access to sports at co-ed schools. Women’s teams were few and far between at most universities, chronically unfunded and seen as irrelevant. Title IX has also become an important tool in addressing sexual misconduct on college campuses. This is a new phenomenon, developed after then-president Obama issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” arguing that parity in higher ed included access to educational spaces, and that having to attend class, for example, with one’s rapist meant that women (overwhelmingly it’s women who are assaulted) did not have parity of access.

Title IX developed protocols for university reporting of sexual misconduct on college campuses, stemming the tide and tradition of universities shielding such information from public or federal scrutiny. Many universities downplayed sexual misconduct–this includes everything from harassment to assault–and women faced all kinds of other harassment for reporting. So women rarely reported. Since the Title IX changes, university protocols to remove the allege assaulter from spaces (this can go as far as expulsion) has led more women to report assault, and schools like the University of Connecticut had to face a real reckoning when its rates of assault became public.

Reckoning is good.

Reckoning forces change. And it created spaces in which women who long hid the rapes and groping to speak out, which many women avoid because of the backlash she often faces–anything from social ostracization to public doxxing to the usual blame-the-victim garbage.

Well, Betsy DeVos wants to do away with all that.

Now on the surface what she suggests doesn’t sound entirely crazy, and some intelligent women are even defending her points. She argues that rule-by-letter isn’t good governance, that a systemic approach would be better. Ok. She argues that schools expelling alleged assaulters violates our innocent-until-proven guilty legal system. But here she’s missing several key points.

  1. School isn’t necessarily public space. Schools have their own rules and policies. Schools can and should be subject to federal and state laws, but what DeVos is referring to is our legal system. Should the alleged assaulter go straight to jail? No–that person is entitled to a trial like everyone else. But if schools feel that an alleged assaulter’s presence is violating Title IX’s argument for equal access, then they have the right to take what actions they choose.
  2. DeVos rooted her point of view in the claims of Men’s Rights Associations. These people are BATS (the We Hunted the Mammoth archive can fill you in). They see men, usually white men, as being on the losing end of our society, a society which has shriveled because of feminism. They regard women with hostility at best and brutal animosity at worst. They argue not just that expulsion and the like isn’t fair, but that women mostly fabricate allegations of assault–thus, assaulters are expelled for fraudulent reasons. DeVos herself has even said that some 90% of campus assault allegations are really just break-up and drunk sex, regretted.

The costs of claiming assault are often so high that, as noted above, women don’t often report it when it happens. Only a very tiny sliver (2-10%) of assault allegations have been proven to be falsehoods or unsubstantiated (though there’s no common definition of those terms used): to say otherwise is to perpetuate a myth. What we have, then, is a proposal to make assault less punishable by the colleges and universities themselves and compelling women to repeatedly cross paths with their assaulter until a legal trial–which can take years to even get started–concludes. Should this be shocking, given that the man who hired DeVos bragged about sexually assaulting women? Nope.

It feels like we have our eyes on more balls than we can handle right now (pun firmly intended). Exhausting though it is, we have to keep at it. We have to engage in a public discourse on all of this stuff–assault, health care, election veracity, saber rattling–so that we don’t come to normalize what isn’t normal. Treating women like gossipy, threatening demons used to be normal–it’s not anymore and we shouldn’t go back there. If we stop being appalled that 45 publicly calls foreign leaders “rocket man,” we’ve begun to allow the erosion of our basic system.

We deserve better than 45 and his horse-people of the government apocalypse.  I’m being dramatic, but the stuff that’s going down–lots of it in the name of making money, holding on to power, and erasing Obama’s legacy–is apocalyptic to a lot of people. Take time to breathe so you don’t wear out. We need you in this conversation.

We won’t go quietly back to what was.

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So long, NFL

So Long, NFL2017 is the year I’m abandoning the NFL. I’ve been a dedicated Patriots fan for years (born and raised) and an avid Fantasy Football player. I’ve swallowed a lot of garbage–turned deliberately aside–in order to keep watching and playing. But this is the year that ends. Here’s why:

  1. The NFL gives no fucks about women. On occasion they pay a little lip service, like last year’s campaign against domestic violence. Or they slowly add women as sideline reporters, which took both network and NFL changes. These things are good, but they’re not enough. The NFL, at best, slaps the wrists of those accused of domestic violence, but that’s not even common. Vice reports that 44 current players, ready to start the season, have been accused of physical or sexual assault. Players can pretty much do anything short of kill someone and still have the NFL’s blessing, so long as you still play well. Then there’s the cheerleaders: they work hard, they’re athletic, and they’re paid peanuts. Having cheerleaders on the field is thus solely about exploitation–the NFL could pay them better, but doesn’t.
  2. The treatment of Colin Kaepernick has been awful. He’s been effectively blackballed after protesting police violence by kneeling during the national anthem. So, if I understand this correctly, this is how things work: fighting dogs is ok but protesting racist state violence is not. For shame.
  3. Those two things are really more than enough for me after years of pretending like they don’t bother me. But the unwillingness of the NFL to deal with its head injury problem–and the amount of damage their lack of concern has led to–is disturbing. I get why they like big hits–big ratings, especially in a season that competes with basketball, America’s most popular sport. And players know that head injuries are a risk of the job. However, the NFL has hidden behind an “it’s not so bad, let’s not talk about it” ethos for years. It has to stop.
  4. And here in New England, Robert Fucking Kraft. Sure, he’s built a great team and he seems like a charismatic enough guy. But supporting 45–giving him a Superbowl ring with his own name on it recently–is disturbing. What’s the line at which he says “yeah, not anymore”? Kraft’s got lots of African American players on his roster–45’s response to Charlottesville didn’t shake him up in some way, make him wonder at his own ethics? If he hires all these guys and has no trouble with 45’s response, we should start to pull apart his motives. He’s there to make money–he doesn’t give a shit about the players themselves, either as individuals or groups. It’s appalling.

The season starts soon and it’ll be weird not to have my usual background sounds on while I work on the couch on Sundays. I love football. I’m going to miss it. I’ve got family ties built around it that I’ll miss this fall. But the NFL owes the people far more than it has given, and it needs to do more to renounce its misogynistic, racist ways before I come back. Here’s hoping for 2018.

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TF’s No BS History Corner: Everything Old is New Again (and not in a good way)

Last week was a personally rough week. I didn’t post much as I dealt with stuff. I was thinking about a Monday post about that jackass at Google, until that seemed like the second or third most important story of the week–escalating tension with North Korea being another, and Charlottesville a third. So here we are.

What you might not know about me is that I’m a professional historian by trade. I know US history pretty well, and I know its social contours–its constructions of power based on constructions of race and other issues–particularly well. I’m a historian of women–that’s my own work–but I teach the whole kit and kaboodle. And while I’m sorry for some that they found the events of the last week shocking, as someone who teaches US history for a living, well, the most I can say is that I’m horrified while not surprised.

Everything old is new again.

So here’s a history lesson for you. Someone tweeted the other day that the (justifiable) anger using the word “Nazi” this week misses a key point–that we have a long history of our own white supremacy (would that I had any idea who it was so I could share). In fact, the Nazis based some of their laws and social policies on our very own Jim Crow. And our very own Jim Crow is based on what were called “black codes” and “slave codes” from the era prior to the Civil War.

The other piece you should know is that when the South lost the Civil War, Johnson–who took office when Lincoln died–effectively pardoned the Confederacy. Congress was recessed, so he took it upon himself to forgive confederate members, so long, essentially, as they promised not to do it again. When Congress came back, it was furious and overturned Johnson’s measures, but the real damage was already done. Johnson’s laissez faire approach to the south enabled what was known as the “Lost Cause” to emerge–the assertion, after a long, brutal war, that the South’s cause was just. The south’s cause, of course, was maintaining slavery–that was the ‘state’s right” they were concerned about, and the reason they seceded. (Check out Alexander Stephens’s “Cornerstone Speech” ca 1861. He was the VP of the Confederacy.)

This 19th century cartoon depicts white carpetbaggers being hanged by the Democratic KKK (thus the labeled donkey).

In any case, Congress was really forceful about Reconstructing the south both physically and mentally following the war. White northerners (denigrated as “carpetbaggers” by southerners) went south to help establish schools for freedpeople and Republican strongholds (don’t be fooled–the two parties switch sides, and while the GOP was once the party of progressivism and Dems of slavery, that all changed by the Depression and cemented by the Civil Rights Movement) the combination of Lost Cause sentiment, time, and northern racism allowed that force to drift quickly away.* By the mid-1870s, the KKK’s violence had led to Republican departure and the erasure of Black gains (political and otherwise). We get what’s called “Redemption”–the returning of governance to those who ruled prior. And the north was happy to look away.

Tulsa riot
Hand-captioned photo rejoicing in the Tulsa riot of 1921 that left hundreds of Black people dead and thousands homeless, reassuring white supremacists of their power and control.

By the 1890s, veterans held JOINT reunions, agreeing that all had been brave. Left out of that narrative both implicitly and overtly were people of color. It’s not a surprise that Jim Crow became entrenched and lynchings commonplace in that time. And that shit spread beyond the south, unsurprisingly. Race riots–which is the not-entirely-adequate term for when one race (African Americans) were attacked by another (whites)–rampaged across the nation through the early 20th century.

So, here’s my argument: What we’re seeing in Charlottesville is a visible, high-profile manifestation of a problem that’s been bubbling along for centuries. It’s not just a resurgence of Nazism and fascism, though that’s part of it–it’s a manifestation of a deeper, mean part of our own homegrown history. It’s neo-Confederate, neo-Lost Cause (hear the rhetoric of “we won’t be replaced”–it’s akin to the ranting and raving in the 19th century that there could be no equality, only replacement of one supremacy by another).

Another day, we can talk about sex, gender and STEM–that’s what I research, and let me tell you–the shit from that ex-Google employee, embraced by many, is the same rhetoric as in 1910. Maybe History Corner can be a recurring piece.

*Not that white do-gooders were without problems, but that’s a whole other story. On all of this stuff, check out David Blight’s Race and Reunion. (<–Affiliate link!)



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Taking the Gloves Off: So You Hate Political Correctness?

There are few phrases I hate more than “political correctness,” but not for the reasons you expect. People love to use that turn of phrase to be derogatory, seeing it as a great burden. But what do people mean when they say, “I have to be politically correct” or “I hate political correctness”? What are they actually referring to?

My Casual Observation

In my experience, people decry political correctness when they feel it keeps them from being, frankly, rude. For the most part, complainers are white people. They’ve enjoyed a lifetime of respect as the normative national culture–the US revolves around white people and their needs, particularly around white men.

“Political correctness” is a phrase that refers to extending that respect beyond whiteness, beyond maleness; it’s not a pain in the ass unless you see extending respect to others as a pain in the ass. It asks you to not be deliberately exclusive of others; it asks you to be more mindful in your language and actions, that both have meaning. While on occasion this way of being may become cumbersome, at its core, “political correctness” simply extends welcome and respect to people who have been marginalized.

Why is that so hard?

Why do people get snide about extending that kindness, that respect? In my exchanges, people have expressed a desire to not think that their words have meaning beyond those they intended. For example, a friend of mine carefully explained to a woman who just didn’t get it that “gay lifestyle” meant that it was an option to be gay, that it was, say, like embracing a beach lifestyle. It never occurred to her that her language had meaning. Most–including this woman, initially–are quick to say that calling them out is political correctness, running amok. No–it’s just people demanding you treat them with respect. Sometimes doing so means you have to listen and consider how other people feel.

Political correctness is not a matter of always being offended, as the “liberal snowflake” trope implies. No–it’s a matter of reminding all of us that words have meanings, and that those meanings are not just dictated by those in power.

But Don’t Take My Word for It

This article does a great job of delineating the ways a rejection of “political correctness” has become a key element of rightwing discourse throughout the global west. This anti-embrace of political correctness has led to the wild misunderstandings of what the phrase means in the interest of self-serving politicking. The author, Dr. Anna Szilagyi, has a really nice point that I’ve seen play out over and over: the rightwing idea that being PC is being censored.

Some people–particularly on the right, which means particularly white and male in the US–see “political correctness” as censorship because it asks them to consider what they say. As a country with freedom of speech, they find that a problem. But those making that argument should undertake a little introspection: if you feel censored when you use inclusive language and are not verbally abusive towards others (I mean that generally–you’re not sexually harassing someone, you’re not using racial epithets, etc), then why is it that you wish to say such things and feel oppressed when you feel you shouldn’t? In short, what is wrong with you that kindness and respect to others feels burdensome? Are you pining for the days of making sexist jokes in the office? What’s that about? You aren’t somehow braver or more authentically you for being derogatory to others.

Someone I follow on Twitter today had a post thanking “you guys” and “you girls, because we have to be politically correct.” Now I suspect he means to be tongue-in-cheek, but it stuck with me, particularly after weeks of arguing with people who kept insisting they were tired of being politically correct but couldn’t articulate what that meant. It made for slow argument. I do know some women who don’t like the term “you guys” as it is male-gendered; personally, I think it’s been in our lexicon long enough that the gendered meaning is nearly meaningless. But when we talk about being politically correct as some smirky bullshit we are forced to tolerate or acknowledge glibly, we deny the power of language. And we deny that language has been used since it’s inception (I suspect–surely for centuries) to marginalize some and push others to the inner circle.

Methinks You Doth Protest Too Much

That white men tend to be the complainers is mind boggling, given their position at the center is pretty well-cemented. Are they fearful that giving others equal respect and kindness means they lose that position? Do they only feel powerful when others are not? Our current president has only gotten where he is because of a deeply entrenched, centuries-old system of white supremacist patriarchy. For someone like our current president to argue that his position is a vindication of anti-political correctness is a way of reminding the rest of us–women, people of color, and poor people (though there’s lots to unpack with class) that our place is at the margins of power, not the center, and that we are not worthy of that basic respect.

So the next time you or someone you know rails against “political correctness,” ask them what they mean. See if they can’t unpack it. Call them out. Maybe it’s just a semantic change we need–a new phrase–so that we might realize all of us deserve respect and kindness.

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Health Care is a Feminist Financial Issue

Well, folks, today is a much better day than I anticipated, as the ACA remains the law of the land, Medicaid remains intact, and I won’t anticipate my premiums skyrocketing more than usual next year. Let’s talk about health care anyway, and then maybe we’ll get a politics-light weekend.

Health care is a feminist financial issue.

The “Health Care Freedom Act” drafted at lunch yesterday but GOP senators and voted on around midnight last night permitted states in most cases to strip away the essential benefits the ACA determined. Many of those benefits apply to women. Free annual gynecology visits and maternity care (I’m not sure of the cost there–still copays? no copays?) and just two examples. The big one, hard fought, was accessible, free birth control. You still needed an insurance plan for these benefits (another issue–access and affordability are still not what they might be, or are in other countries) but still: that the ACA mandated coverage of basic women’s health needs was a tremendous jump forward. One of the reasons Mr Tenacious and I have the plan we have (work-sponsored) was because it became super affordable once, for example, my annual gyn visit was without copay, since it’s the only regular appointment I make.

(pssst–we’ve talked about some of these things before, as the House drafted the AHCA)

When women’s health care is affordable and guaranteed, women are able to do much more in their lives. When we control our own fertility, we can make sound choices about our futures. We can plan our careers; run for office; and create families with children when and if we want them, not just when it happens to happen. While there has been a lot of rhetoric about why the ACA is bad and needs repeal, this point hasn’t been explored so much: that repeal is directly oppressive to women and their advancement. Perhaps that isn’t so much an accident, though I feel like a conspiracy theorist suggesting so.

Historical precedent

During the second world war, the government sprung for day care all over the nation to facilitate women’s work in factories. When the war was over, rather than have a debate over the merits of better sex parity in the workplace and ignoring that many war-working women wanted to stay working, the government shut those free daycare centers down, lickety-split. The consequence was that women stopped working. The lack of women’s health provision (among so many others) in the various repeal-and-replace bills feels similar. While the ACA promises more social, political and work advancement for women when they don’t have to worry about unintended pregnancies and undetected cancers, the r-and-r bills shut those paths down.

A small coincidence that women who left the GOP’s position on health care faced threats from their party (those are three separate examples: two involving violence).

And so.

While you may be healthy and able-bodied now, that doesn’t guarantee you will be forever. In the same way singles like me pay for schools for kids I don’t need (I have cat–she rejects education), we pay into health care so as to cover those of us who need it. If we learned nothing from this week’s health care roller coaster, it’s that we all need more women in the senate and the house. We need good, accessible, affordable health care for them to do so. All we need is the political will for both.


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