Learning to Listen

America has a hard time listening. We can watch the news and see what’s going on, but there’s a difference between looking and listening, especially when there’s so much noise to filter. Learning to listen requires us to go beyond the words, to hear and appreciate what’s also being communicated in moments of silence.

Over the past week, we’ve seen our listening problems rise to the surface, unfolding via the growing reports of harassment and misconduct by Harvey Weinstein. News coverage prompted numerous celebrities and victims to emerge from the shadows years, or even decades later. What caused the delays? A familiar set of problems – hostile work environments, fear of retaliation, a power imbalance and good old fashioned fear.

Actress Rose McGowan’s Twitter account was suspended after sharing her own abusive experience with Harvey Weinstein. Her initial accusation was shushed out of court for $100,000. The deluge of accusers that have supported McGowan’s account reflects another dark chapter for male accountability in Hollywood. It’s clear that Weinstein’s actions were well-known, and textbook bystander silence was the rule until the accusers generated enough media coverage to make it safe for other powerful men to come out against Weinstein.

Consider this situation in the context of the recent repeal of campus sexual investigation standards promoted by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The repeal means that the burden of proof shifts even further toward victims, while protecting rapists like Brock Turner.  The result? Offenders are receiving the communication that they can abuse with minimal (if any) repercussions.

In the short and long term, victims are facing ever steeper battles to be heard while waiting for (historically) ineffective campus police/security to take action, under rules which mandate that rape kits and tests be performed within 72 hours of an attack. Additional roadblocks placed in front of people who deserve support.

Remember that the man-child in the Oval Office stands in the company of Weinstein and Turner for his own aggressive and unwelcome behavior towards women. There was outrage a year ago when the infamous Access Hollywood footage came to light, but not enough to derail his campaign. Is that predictive of Weinstein’s fate? Some time in the pop cultural penalty box  before business resumes as usual?

We cannot afford silence any longer. There isn’t space to devalue the traumatizing experiences others. A nation recovering from several natural disasters (with a notable lack of action and coverage in Puerto Rico), a President speaking to hate groups while cancelling necessary healthcare subsidies for lower-income citizens….we need a multitude of loud voices against these atrocities, but we must also learn to listen. The cynically powerful and repressive are muffling voices that should be heard. 

F is for Feminism

Let’s get a a couple of facts out of the way:

1). I’m a feminist.

2). If you respect any of the women in your life, you should be one too.

Feminism, as defined by Merriam Webster is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” or “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” For the sake of this conversation, let’s use both variations as working content, rather than the ludicrous urban dictionary definition. I’m currently reading Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist and one of the core takeaways is that as long as you adhere to the basics of equality, feminism is flexible. No matter how you react a word however, the truth is there’s a lot less respect for women around the world than there should be in 2017, and a lot of this inequality flies right under our noses.

In a previous post, I mentioned that pregnancy is considered a pre-existing condition in the recent Congressionally-approved repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). However after she read my post, my mother pointed out I was playing softball. Her point: under some pre-Obamacare insurance plans, not just pregnancy, but RAPE could be classified as a pre-existing condition in some states.  If ACA is fully repealed, non-consensual sex could still be categorized as such, depending on providers and channels of coverage.

This health care onslaught against women comes at a time when we have definitions like Urban Dictionary’s crawling around the Internet (even as a “joke,” it’s highly offensive and disturbing). And there are many who treat the label “feminist” like a curse word, avoiding it altogether. What’s wrong with being an acknowledged pursuer of equal rights?

Answer: Nothing.

The “problem” is that asserting modern equality of any kind (see: Black Lives Matter) upsets the status quo and is viewed as a threat by the reproducers of ideology. Humans are capable of great change, but are too often resistant and intellectually lazy about the associated effort. But here’s the reality: women are treated unfairly. In the workplace, in interpersonal interactions, and by too many governments.

Most of you reading this are probably well aware of the gender climate. Apologies – the last thing anyone wants is another lecture from a white man. I know I’m writing from a position of privilege on complex set of issues that don’t subjugate me.  All the more reason to speak,  to push for an end to these injustices. My life has been enriched by strong women who overcame obstacles they shouldn’t have had to. As a society, we’re standing on yet another precipice of choice between advancement and regression. If I’m in a position to support and advocate, I will and I must.

The examples of regression are numerous.  Headlines display a barrage of egregious physical and political violations. Last week a ten year-old who was raped in India was granted (oh thank you justice system) permission to abort her abusive rapist’s child. This same district horrified the world in the case of a brutal gang rape, where the driver blamed the victim for “being out too late” and not what he considered a “decent girl.”

We don’t have to leave American shores to find other disgraceful examples of sexual violence that debase a women’s person-hood. Baylor University football players are accused of drugging and raping female students as a demented bonding ritual. This kind of depravity treats half a population like a commodity; a viewpoint enforced by governing bodies who attack women’s access to healthcare. Iowa just swapped out Medicaid money for state funds, which limits those funds’ usage at centers that provide essential care if they also offer abortions. Life and death decisions for women are founded on the opinions of those who can’t possibly empathize – mainly rich, white men. 

It’s almost a mistake to label the aforementioned examples “regressions.” The word ignores the history and constancy of gender inequality. Nothing here is new, but somehow it feels freshly discouraging.

Until a few months ago, a path to gender progress in American was visible. Hillary Clinton was primed to be the first female President of the United States of America. Despite constant hectoring (see this satiric compendium of everything she’s been called) voters seemed to be With Her. Instead, “Grab’em by the pussy” Donald Trump won the election, leading to the Women’s Marches as a direct response. For many the civil unrest offered hope that we haven’t lost our sanity altogether, that as a democratic nation we’ll resist all forms of tyranny. 

Maybe I’m guilty of romanticizing that moment, believing the day’s momentum would propel women forward. Easy access to healthcare, freedom from toxic slut-shaming, working side-by-side with men without the spectre of sexual harassment. But progress doesn’t move in bursts. Unfortunately it comes in fits and starts. Knowing this, let’s keep standing and protesting.

Getting Human Rights Wrong

Last week, America’s foreign policy shifted in a startling way. Our nation went from home of the free and the brave, to a potential Airbnb stay for oppressive dictators. Donald Trump is courting foreign leaders who have been likened to Hannibal Lector, and is opening the floodgates to negative possibilities by meeting one of the world champs of human right’s violations.

To the uninformed, inviting Rodrigo Duterte to the White House doesn’t seem that extreme or worrisome – foreign leaders are called to Washington on a regular basis. It’s common, expected diplomatic behavior. That this head of state, specifically, was invited is alarming, because a quick Google search turns up a number of 7,000 civilians killed due to his war on drugs in the Philippines (as of March 2017). Other evidence of his disregard for human rights can be found in additional returned searches. Legal experts assert that if Duterte were not President of the Philippines, he wouldn’t be allowed into the U.S due to these violations. But these are not normal times. There are certain similarities between Duterte and Donald Trump. The current egoist occupying the Oval Office would apparently love the opportunity to speak to himself through a fun-house mirror.

Combine Trump’s curious condoning of Duterte’s murderous war on drugs, with the recent designation of Kim Jong-Un as a “Smart Cookie.” Add in his ongoing obsession with Russia’s Vladmir Putin, and we’re looking at a bleak future for human rights. This is a president easily swayed by flattery who quickly absorbs problematic ideas. He shouldn’t be left alone unsupervised. All three of these foreign powers (The Philippines, North Kora, Russia) sit high on the Human Rights Watch violations list, with regressive policies against free speech and mounting (state controlled and sponsored) paranoia of the west, specifically the United States.

The truly terrifying take away from a potential visit with Duterte isn’t what could happen in the future, should The Donald develop a strong relationship with the leader. The real horrors are the shades of dictatorial political systems and regimes that have already infiltrated America. There are more examples than space in this column to provide, but you don’t have to look far to see escalated aggression against any group defined as “other” (read: non-white, poor, homosexual, religion other than Christianity). The divisive rhetoric from world leaders such as Duterte, Putin, Jong-Un and Trump creates a muscled environment for hateful propaganda to flourish. It encourages divisive hostility, supporting an “us vs them” narrative (looking at you, Breitbart, with your glowing “special report” of the first 100 Days of the Trump disaster) that  supporters embrace.

Mr. Trump signed an executive order (his 35th in just over 100 days in office- this list summarizes the first 29 and six more have been produced since) promoting “religious freedom,” which allows tax-exempt churches to advocate for and endorse political entities. This is another dangerous muddling of the lines between separation of church and state (The Constitution only mentions Congress in Amendment I). Many readers (myself included) interpret this as a blank check, allowing Indianans to refuse to bake me a cake if I decide to tie the knot. We all know how that turns out.

That’s just one tame example of authoritarian, dogmatic creepage. But right now, we have a President who’s achieved his definition of “winning” almost entirely through executive orders. He’s resentful of the press (no-showing at the Annual Correspondents Dinner) and prefers to create “alternative facts” while decrying reason and established journalism as “fake news.” We’re looking at the early stages of a dictatorship with a self-generating propaganda machine. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the arrest for laughing during confirmed racist’s Jeff Session’s Confirmation Hearing,  the same week that Alton Sterling’s highly publicized death resulted in no charges for the officers who shot him.

While all of these are technically separate events and occurrences, together they point to a narrowing notion of freedom in America – one where racism is rewarded, undue aggression is allowed a free pass if the victim isn’t a cisgendered white male, specific religious beliefs Trump (pun intended) others, and unrepentant murderers receive invites to the White House. The closing window of life and liberty also expanded last week to shut out the poor and unlucky further. The House passed a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, expanding the definition of pre-existing conditions to absurdly discriminatory levels (pregnancy is now apparently a pre-existing condition, whereas erectile dysfunction is not).

Detractors might say that coddling up to a man like Duterte could help promote a growing relationship with China. An increasingly hostile North Korea faced together and all that. I’m going to go however with a less is more approach. Given their records, Duterte and Trump should never be in a room together. America can’t risk it.

Jimmy Kimmel and Charles Pierce Humanize Media ‘Enemy’ with AHCA Rebukes

“While the House bill was rushed through without an immediate opportunity to assess its public popularity, budgetary impact or full coverage devastation, it’s worth remembering that the previous incarnation was supported by just 17 percent of Americans. That’s a unified, nonpartisan rebuke from a voting public coming to understand that health should not be a choice between food on the table and a doctor’s visit. A major illness shouldn’t bankrupt a family. We’re remembering that the Declaration of Independence, one of the founding documents of our imperfect union, declares our universal, inalienable right to life. Not just the lucky, well-funded few. All of us.

It’s our job as members of the media to pull the curtains away from yesterday’s decadent Washington fete and expose the real harm that will be done if this farce of a bill actually passes through the Senate. However unlikely that prospect seems to conventional wisdom now, let us recall that even top Republicans thought the “reform” issue was dead not 10 days ago. And a bombastic, buffoonish television reality star could never be elected President of the United States, right?

Yes it’s the media’s job to ignore all Trump administration claims of “winning.” We must continue shining a factual, human light on the losing his agenda inflicts on the middle and working classes. Some of us are doing better than others. A tip of the hat, and genuine thanks, to Kimmel and Pierce.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

We Bombed Syria. What Now Trump?

“I was not a fan of President Obama’s ‘red line’ followed by a general approach of confusion and inaction toward a ravaged Syria. But neither am I in favor of unilateral violence ordered by a President cloaked in corruption, scandal and general, inhuman oddity.

The first two and a half of months of the Trump administration have been a break necking blur of stupidity and heartlessness. However, the third leg of this gang’s unholy stool is incompetence and while they’ve tried to illegally ban certain immigrants and wrench grateful Americans from their Obamacare, we can be grateful they’re too disorganized to succeed. But Syria has been bombed, officially. It has never taken genius or coordination to fire weapons and indiscriminately kill.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.