In 1905, America was 40 years post-slavery and Jim Crow–a system of unequal everything, from train seats to schools to jobs, and which was held in place by brutal violence–was well-ensconced. Lynching threatened African Americans for damn near everything they did, and Reconstruction–the period post-Civil War that initially held such promise for freed people–came under sharp fire by southern whites as a time of tyranny and lawlessness. That year, Thomas Dixon published The Clansman, a book that gave many white southerners exactly the image it wanted of itself: the South, it said, had been a romantic, chivalrous place destroyed by Reconstruction. Reconstruction, it continued, led to an epidemic of sexual violence by black men against white women, an epidemic the KKK fearlessly righted by lynching those men. The Clansman was a dogwhistle–though purely fiction, it justified racist brutality both in the past and going forward. Yesterday we heard that dogwhistle again as The Man in the High Office (what I’m calling our president now) doubled down on a campaign claim that immigrants coming to America from and through Mexico are rapists–implicitly, of white women, and needing to be stopped. Continue reading On Rape: A Particular, Historical Dogwhistle
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. Continue reading It’s Not Always About You, White Dudes (You’re Just Not Used to That)
2017 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.)
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.
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!)
Oh, New York Times, you’re killing me.
Mid-April the long-esteemed Gray Lady hired Bret Stephens to join its staff of opinion writers. Stephens hailed from the Wall Street Journal and his hiring served as an addition to the Times’s conservative lineup, featuring don’t-even-get-me-started-on-him David Brooks and “I flew with kids, which is worse than being beaten on a plane” Ross Douthat. Given the Times’s coverage of the Clinton email debacle and their unwillingness to condemn 45’s pro-fascist leanings during the campaign last year, I’ve all but bailed on the Times’s coverage of nearly anything. The addition of Stephens feels like the last nail in that particular coffin.
To wit, check out Stephens’s interview with Jeff Stein at Vox. Here, let me paste for you:
You wrote one column for the Wall Street Journal about the imaginary enemies of the liberal mind, and one of the ones you named was the “campus rape epidemic” —
Focus on the word “epidemic.”
You wrote, “If modern campuses were really zones of mass predation — Congo on the quad — why would intelligent young women even think of attending a coeducational school?”
My question to you is: Isn’t it necessary for women to attend these coeducational schools for their economic and educational advancement? Isn’t it possible that’s why they’d be there even if there’s a higher risk of sexual assault?
Of course it is.
But if sexual assault rates in, let’s say, east Congo were about 20 percent, most people wouldn’t travel to those places. Because that is in fact — or, that would be, in fact, the risk of being violently sexually assaulted.
I am not for one second denying the reality of campus rape, or sexual assault, or behavior of the sort you saw from that swimmer at Stanford — that’s inexcusable and should be punished.
I’m taking issue with the claim that there is an epidemic based on statistics that, when looked at carefully, seem to have a very slim basis in reality. So what you’re transforming is horrendous, deplorable incidents into an epidemic — and that’s not altogether supported by reliable data….
they should go to institutions of higher learning. But I guess my point is this: The statistic that one in five women is sexually assaulted on college campuses is a highly dubious statistic.
If it were a true statistic, it would probably create a very different environment. My sister went to Mount Holyoke. I don’t think single-sex education has been thriving in recent years, but there would be more of a movement to single-sex education if in fact this epidemic were as epidemic as that statistic suggests.
(Jeff Stein, “The NYT’s new columnist defends his views on Arabs, Black Lives Matter, campus rape,” Vox, http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/4/26/15413718/bret-stephens-new-york-times)
Wow. Just. Wow. There’s so much to unpack.
Here’s Stephens’s theory, in a nutshell: Women mustn’t be raped/assaulted on co-ed campuses as often as they’re saying they’re being raped/assaulted, because if they were, why would women go to co-ed campuses? (full disclosure: I went to Mount Holyoke).
The logical underpinnings of his theory are that:
- Women are liars. Women lying about rape is a dogwhistle, disproven over and over and over again. With very few exceptions, women do not lie about assault because even mentioning being assault starts a sequence of scrutinization usually accompanied by cross-allegations, violence, and verbal/emotional abuse by peers. But women lie, evidently, so as to create this false statistic.
- Everyone knows this statistic is false, which is why women continue to attend co-ed institutions. This approach, of course, lacks consideration of the trends in education which suggest most women, despite the numbers that Stephens thinks would encourage them, do not want to attend a single-sex school. It lacks any understanding of the gendered nature of secondary ed, the ways that women are taught from a young age to see each other as competition rather than support. I live in a state with an enormous flagship university with a huge sexual assault problem. I see women flock there. There are days I don’t get it, but I at least try to understand the multiple components at play. Further, big state schools are often less expensive for residents than private schools (Mount Holyoke wasn’t cheap). And additionally, Stephens seems to imply here he sees little reason why a woman might chose, for example, Stanford, despite its known history of protecting rapists. Maybe because it has programs Smith doesn’t? It’s in California? It’s none of Stephens’s goddamn business? Oh, ok.
- Relatedly, in his construction of co-ed campuses, Stephens is clearly imagining them, whether he realizes it or not, as male spaces. His logic goes like this: if he’s wrong about the statistic—if it’s as bad as we know it is—then these spaces SHOULD be all-male, because women shouldn’t go there. Let that roll around your noggin a bit. He’s not suggesting that if this statistic were true (it is) that the campus cultures should change—he’s sure as hell not touching the issue of rape culture here because I suspect he doesn’t believe it’s a thing—women should avoid those cultures.
That’s some old-boy network shit right there.
And don’t even get me started on his metaphor of the Congo. It’s so laden with implicit undercurrents of campus-rape-as-race-problem, that someone smarter than I should take it apart.
In short, shame on you, New York Times.