Nothing New Under the Sun

I thought things would be different.

When my daughter was born I was reading the book Sisters in Law about Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The book was a look at the contrasting lives of two incredibly influential and important women. They had different political views, different backgrounds, and different outlooks on life. Yet, they changed the world for women.

They both began their terms in my lifetime.

I thought things would be different for my daughter and for all the women born in her generation.

I remember watching Anita Hill testify before congress. I was 9 and I watched the hearing at my grandparent’s house. I don’t remember what exactly was said or what I thought at the time. I remember watching her sit in that chair, the indignation of all those old, white men, enveloping her. She sat there, her chin up high and exuding this powerful aura. I remember exactly how I felt watching her.

The man she was accusing of sexual misconduct was confirmed to the Court anyway. And here we are again. A Supreme Court nominee has once again been accused of sexual misconduct. There have been hearings and there will be an FBI investigation, but the old white men are still there and they still drive the bus.

Since the Me Too movement gained momentum, we’ve been extolling people to believe women. Listening to the things that are being said on social media, in private, on the congressional record, the problem isn’t that women aren’t believed. The things the current nominee is accused of, everyone knows they happened. The problem isn’t that his accuser isn’t believed. The problem is that the people who have the power to change things do not care. The problem is that men do not want things to change.

I have hundreds of Me Too moments. Some I’ve shared publicly, others I don’t want to talk about. All of them things I had shoved to the dark corners of my mind. Women are told, beginning when we are very young girls, to ignore things, to take them as compliments, to let it go, to get over it because it’s not that big of a deal.

So we do. Or, at least we try. All those hundreds of moments. A roster of Me Toos that build and grow when we deign to walk down a public street or apply for a job or drink a beer. Ignore it, ignore it, it’s not that big of a deal. We are told to stop being victims. I had forgotten most of my Me Too moments. They were buried and hidden because I couldn’t think about the damage they were doing to me as the scrolls lengthened. I’m starting to remember them; I didn’t hide them well enough.

We beg men to be concerned about the way women are treated. Think of your daughters, your wives. Would you want them to be victims? We worry about our daughters. I worry about mine.

Then, my son was born nine months ago. A skinny baby boy with a head full of hair born a white male in a society that prizes those two traits. Assuming things stay as they are now, he will grow up in a middle class home and attend good schools. He will have access to the sorts of things that will allow him to take advantage of his privilege.

We talk about our daughters so much. We don’t want them to be victims. But I am a woman and I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by strong women. We may have been abused by men, but we are not victims. I am not worried about my daughter. Things may happen to her despite my desire to protect from every evil in the world. No matter what happens to her, she will not be a victim. I see that in her already.

I worry about my son. He will grow up in a good family. We will raise him to be aware of his privilege and with a sense of obligation to use it for good. He will be taught to see women as sovereign human beings. I worry that the messages from society will override that. He will be handed power and influence and those things can be intoxicating. He may wish to skate by on this privilege. He will have opportunities my daughter will not and he may think those opportunities are because of something he has done to deserve them, not because of traits he has no control over. He may wish to take, rather than ask.

We will work hard to raise him to grow into a man who knows better and is better. But his privilege will remain whether he wants it or not. He will have to reject the messaging that will be drilled into him outside the walls of our home.

I’m not worried about my son being falsely accused of sexual harassment or assault or rape. I’m worried about him doing these things.

He has these big blue eyes and chubby baby thighs. He loves to crawl and eat and attack our dvd player. I can’t imagine him growing up to be one of the white men I’ve watched degrade women’s’ humanity or the men who have sought to rob me of mine. I wonder if their mothers thought the same of them when they were chubby innocent babies.

We need to focus less on worrying about our daughters, and focus more on teaching our sons to see women and all non-males as sovereign human beings.

That’s what will change the world.

(I want to make sure and point out that boys are men are also the victims of sexual abuse, harassment, and rape. My son may grow up to identify as non-male. He may grow up anywhere on the LGBTQ spectrum. I’m simply looking at the percentages. As things are now, this is my viewpoint when I think about raising him. That can absolutely all change and give us new considerations as we try to guide him to become a humane and loving adult.)

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Men Should Be Worried

A White House lawyer said of the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh that “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried.”

Every man should be worried.

I want every single man in the country, the world, to be worried.

I want you to worry about every hookup you’ve ever initiated. Every suggestive comment you’ve ever made.

I want you to worry so hard it keeps you up at night as you cycle through every drunken liaison, everything boundary you pushed, every line you crossed telling yourself that you are just a kid and not old enough to know better, even though you knew better.

I want you to worry about the way you think about women. I want you to worry about whether you see them as humans or merely a receptacle for your wanton lust.

I want you to worry about your daughters, your wives, your lovers, your mother. I want you to worry that loving these women is not enough for you to respect all women. I want you to worry about why you cannot respect all women without referencing your daughters, your wives, your lovers, your mother.

I want you to worry about every flippant comment you’ve made about every girlfriend you’ve ever had. I want you to worry about how they think of you now. I want you to worry about your evil ex. I want you to worry about what you did to turn the relationship sour. If you are in a heterosexual relationship, I want you to worry about your current relationship. I want to worry about the expectations you have of her simply because she is a woman.

I want you to worry about the myths our culture has perpetuated that have become so ingrained they feel like truths. I want you to worry about what you’ve been told is your role as a man in society. I want you to worry about those myths you want to be true.

I want you to worry so hard you cannot sleep. I want you worry so hard you cannot eat. And when you do sleep and eat, I want you to worry so hard you have nightmares about it and choke on it.

I want you to worry about your friends, your sons, your father. I want you to worry about the things you implicitly condone when they talk about women. I want you to worry about the things you explicitly condone when you bro-pat them on the back. I want you to worry about what you say to your children about women and what you tell them about their roles when they become men or women or non-binary. I want you to worry about what your beliefs and values tell you about gender.

I want you to worry about the women you’ve hurt.

I want you to worry about what you have taken from women. I want you worry about everything less than enthusiastic consent.

I want you to worry about repenting. I want you to worry that you cannot do enough to make up for it.
I want the worry to drive you and push you to be better, not just to try. I want the worry to compel you to speak up to your friends. I want the worry to teach your sons a version of manhood that doesn’t include the possession of women.

I want the worry to make you better, but not just better. I want the worry to steer you toward respect. I want the worry to impel disgust when you think about the lines you’ve crossed, the boundaries you’ve pushed, the women you’ve hurt, and that which you have taken without enthusiastic consent. I want that disgust to flow toward every man who has done those things too.

Every man should be worried.

Every man needs to worry.

Me Too

It isn’t just the men in positions of power.

Unless you take into consideration that all men hold a position of power.

I’ve been thinking about this lately. I hadn’t thought much about it in years because there was no point in thinking about it. But the country is talking about this sort of thing and I can’t not think about it.

Me too.

I had a boss who once told me over email that I would get a raise if I came to work naked. I didn’t keep the email and when I quit that job I was very explicit in my exit interview that the reasons were fiscally motivated. I didn’t include that incident, which was only one of many comments, because I wanted to come off as level-headed and not a reactionary little girl. Even in telling this story I am carefully to avoid any hint of exaggeration, any description that could be described as embellished.

I had another boss who was accused of sexually harassing a coworker. She said he called her into his office alone and asked her to take off her shirt. He denied it, of course, and there was no “proof” other than the accusation. He pulled out the excuses I’ve come to recognize as tired diversions: that she wasn’t attractive, she didn’t have much filling out her bra, she wasn’t a good worker. I didn’t believe her. This is one of my biggest regrets in my life. I should have. I see now that what she said happened absolutely did happen. I wish I could go back in time and believe her. It’s just that I often wonder, if I could do that, what could I have done about it?

The head of HR for that same company was fired later that year for asking interviewees inappropriate questions of a sexual nature.

But, you have to understand, it’s not just men in power.

I started working at Safeco Field was I was 19. I’d always looked young for my age, and was asked at least once a game how old I was, most often by men. I’d tell them and would often get the reply, “You don’t even look old enough to drive!” Sometimes this was asked out of anger, like when I was responsible for carding people in the Hit It Here Café (“You can’t even drink, how can you tell me I can’t!”). Sometimes it was when I wouldn’t let them bring prohibited items into the game (“You mean a 19-year-old girl has the final say on what I can bring into the game?”). Sometimes it was to see if I’d have them arrested for what they wanted to say or do afterwards.

There were a lot of opportunities for men to say things to me. I encountered thousands of them every game. The worst of it happened when the games were over. We would stand at the bottom of the stairs and look for people leaving with their unfinished beer. We watched thousands of people leave every game, many of them good and liquored up, but alcohol consumption is never an excuse for bad behavior.

All through the egress, I’d have men touch my arms, pat me on the back, and oh so subtly (you know, not at all subtly) brush up against me, their hands “accidentally” sliding past my chest, or their pelvis gliding along my body.

They’d say all sorts of things to me. “Can I take you home with me?” was probably the most popular. But I’d get questions on what I was doing after the game. I’d be asked if I was there was keep them in line, because they were naughty boys. I’d be asked if I was in a sorority at school and if I liked to party.

(At one point I started telling people I was dating a linebacker on the UW football team. That worked until fall when it was suggested that I must be lonely since he was occupied with football.)

There was the group of 20-something guys who discussed as they stood feet away from me in line whether they would have sex with me and what dirty things they thought I’d do. There was the man who sold Grand Salami magazines outside Home Plate Gate who salivated over me when I straightened my hair one day. He wasn’t actually jerking off in front of me, but he may as well have been for the looks and words he gave me that day.

I wasn’t silent about what was happening. I talked about it all the time. I was told all the time that there was nothing that could be done about it. I’d just have to deal with it.

Most of my coworkers then were a little older, mostly college age guys. I often wonder what they thought about everything they saw happening to me. Occasionally one of them would step in and tell someone to back off when they got a little too handsy or inappropriate, but mostly they joked that I needed to be put in a cage for my own protection against the crowds.

It was something I had to put up with if I wanted to work at Safeco Field. And I really wanted to work there because it was a cool job. It was fun to tell people I worked there. It was fun to see a little bit behind the curtain. It was incredibly fun to be part of the 2001 season.

I had to put up with the constant, unrelenting harassment if I wanted to work there. I worked for a company that was contracted by the Mariners to do security, mainly bag checking at the entrance gates. We had to be nice to every asshole who walked through the gates, no matter what. So I learned to laugh off the inappropriate comments, and I learned to smile and thank men for their comments on my hair and my body and their inquiries into my personal life.

One time I didn’t. One time I snapped and essentially told a man to fuck off (not in those words, but that was the gist). He complained to the Mariners about me and I was reprimanded for the way I treated a fan. Because you can’t expect middle age men to behave appropriately. The burden is on a teenager to accept-with a smile-whatever abuse that man chooses to bestow upon her.

I learned to deal with it. I decided to be flattered by the attention, as many men told me I should be. I learned to embrace the utter disregard of myself as a person and accept that I was a visual object. I behaved in ways that make me cringe with horrified embarrassment when I think back on them now. I imagine having conversations about what it was like for me with my male coworkers and having them tell me, “Well, you acted this way. You behaved that way. You brought it on yourself.” I imagine these conversations because that’s exactly what women are told, when we have the attention forced upon us and when we try to find ways to cope with it.

My experiences feel trivially minor compared to the abuse many women suffer at work. I feel lucky for this. Yet, they truly affected me negatively throughout my 20s. They influenced the way I thought about myself and the way I measured my own worth. They colored my outlook on the nature of men. I know, I know, not all men. But ENOUGH men.

It’s not just the men in power positions, except men know they have an intrinsic position of power over women in society. They know that women will face punishment for not accepting their pervertedness. They know when we are young and trying to find our place in the world that they can influence where that place is. It took me fully 10 years to get to the point where I realize how fucked up that is.

It’s the men you work with. The men you see walking down the street. The men who go to baseball games and see a 19-year-old in khaki pants and a polo shirt two sizes too big. It’s even the men who aren’t overtly doing anything. The men who would laugh as their friends would harass me. The men who shrugged their shoulders when I talked about it. The men who dismiss the behavior as something about which nothing can be done.

It’s so fucked up. And what I experienced was minor. I feel lucky about this.

It’s all so fucked up.

The Old Familiar Sting

The world doesn’t want us to care.

The world wants us to remember that we’re all nothing. A tiny speck in the universe, and of course we are.

I think we’re born caring. I think sympathy and empathy are part of us all.

Until the world beats it out of us.

Caring is pain. It hurts to care about other people.

The pain is thinking about the parents of the children killed by police. It’s the dagger of learning that a journalist was killed in a botched rescue mission. It’s reading that a rape survivor’s story is being called in question because a journalist royally fucked up their job. It’s a fictional story on The Wire about 14 dead Russian girls brought to the US for prostitution because it’s the real life story of so many women.

The world doesn’t want us to care. It wants us to turn our backs. To hide from this pain.

To care about the world is to embrace the pain and realize that it’s always going to hurt.

Sometimes I feel like the pain is going to kill me. It probably will. But it’s worth dying for.

Even On A Cloudy Day

It’s easy to be infuriated by anything related to rape and sexual assault, and the world provides us ample opportunity.

But that anger and the overbearing sense of injustice can be crippling. It’s easy to look at what’s happening and think it’ll never get better. But it is getting better.

The good to come out of all the idiotic things that are being said about rape, is that things are being said about rape. It’s out there. If admitting you have a problem is the first step I’m not sure that society as a whole is quite there, but we’re not drinking rape out of a paper bag in dark alleys anymore, so I call it progress.

We’re all in an uproar over the Bill Cosby rape allegations (and the idiotic things said in the media about it. Looking at you, Don Lemon). I feel like I missed something because the drugging and the assaulting and covering up first came out almost 10 years ago.

It was settled and brushed under the table and we all forgot about it because we all wanted to forget about it.

A silent head shake during a radio interview a decade later, and it’s completely different.

Now there are consequences for Cosby. Now, we’re all in an uproar. I understand the feeling of injustice that this didn’t happen 10 years ago. If we’re angry about that, we’re missing the point.

The uproar is happening now. It’s a big deal now. We’re not forgetting now.

This is proof that things are changing.

Short Story

Her friend’s father was slowly flitting away.

Her friend asked in voice tinged with desperation, “Tell me what to do. You must know what to do because you’ve been through this too. How do I handle this? How do I make the hurt easier to bear?”

She counseled, “You take a deep breath and you put one foot in front of the other.”

She told her friend this because she knew she couldn’t tell the truth.

Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner

“‘Our forefathers would have built these projects!’ they say. ‘They had vision!’ That’s pure nonsense. It wasn’t the vision and principles of our forefathers that made this country great. It was the huge unused bonanza they found here. One wave of immigrants after another could occupy new land, new land, new land. There was topsoil, water-there was gold, silver, and iron ore lying right on top of the earth. We picked our way through a ripe orchard and made it bare…we’re going to pretend that things are as they always were. ‘Let’s just go out and find some money and build a dam and we’ll all be rich and better off.’ We’ve been so busy spending money and reaping the fruits that we’re blind to the fact there there are no more fruits. By trying to make things better, we’re making them worse and worse.”
– Glen Saunders, in Cadillac Desert

Quod me nutrit me destruit.

What nourishes me destroys me.

This is a tattoo Angelina Jolie has. I’ve always be fascinated with it, with the saying and the way it boils a truth to such diametric simplicity. It’s our fatal flaw. It’s the Shakespearian tragedy in each of us.

It’s like a river. Water is essential for life and to survive we must have access to water. Lakes and oceans are nice, but the source of this water and the transmission of this water is through our rivers.

Rivers provide drinking water, irrigation, recreation, and a source of optimism. Then, they turn on you. They dry up and take away their optimism. Then, they overflow, wiping away everything they helped build.

It’s the ebb and flow of nature. Ice ages and global warming. Decades of drought and decades of rain. And there’s human beings, trying to scratch out an existence on a planet that’s always been out of our control. Our fatal flaw, our nourishment turned destruction, is our egos.

We want to control nature and bend it to our will. This is probably why we’ve survived as a species so long. The opposable thumb is pretty great, but it would be useless without an ego to back it up.

Whether or not global warming is caused by humans, or by the cyclical nature of life is impossible to say for sure. The fact remains that there is plenty of evidence that human beings are destroying the earth.

Cadillac Desert is a fascinating survey of the damage wrought on the western United States by the egos of politicians wishing to control nature and bend nature to the political whims and desires of those in charge. It’s a story of corruption, greed, egotism, and idiocy. In other words, a quintessentially American story. (It’s also a pretty good argument for Libertarianism if you happen to dislike powerful governments with the ability to get that corrupt and greedy.)

We can protest environmentally detrimental projects. We can change our system of government and vote out leaders who seek to destroy us. We can do a million different things, but there’s an inevitability to environmental destruction.

As long as we have a planet to live on, the egos of human beings will pluck and pull and twist and wring it dry of every life giving thing it has, until there is nothing left.