Monday Required Reading

  1. Three cheers for my ‘oh so woke’ sport.
  2.  Props to this brave, young French woman for agitating for a more frank approach to sexism and gender violence.
  3.  File this under “increasingly relevant”. A new study has found being angry increases your vulnerability to misinformation.
  4. Leah Sotille’s podcast Bundyville is state-of-the-art audio journalism. Along with Kathleen Belew, she’s my go to source on all things domestic terrorism. File her most recent writing, “All Bets Are Off”, under “increasingly relevant”.

When The Student Is The Teacher

Two to three months of not running due to injury now feels like two to three years as I seek to return to my previous level of mediocrity. On Saturday’s long run, I found myself eavesdropping in the back of the pack as two friends commiserated about how markedly their respective work cultures have changed. In simplest terms, an underlying “whose most ‘woke’ competition” has broken out in both their workplaces. 

The diversity leaders are attempting to teach their colleagues to respect differences, accept everyone’s social identities, and subvert traditional power dynamics. The participants are learning not to say how they really feel, lest they unwittingly stray from the liberal progressive path laid out before them.

Because the diversity leaders are focused on outcomes and not process, they’re plodding ahead completely unaware of the “go along to get along” self censorship that their work is whipping up. A phenomenon that makes meaningful change nearly impossible. 

As a long-time discussion leader, I’ve gotten very good at understanding this dynamic. And disassembling and reassembling it in my classrooms. But as an educator and fallible human being, I’ll never get that challenging work just right. At best, it’s always two steps forward and one back. Just like last week in one of my undergraduate classes. I flailed around a bit and then a student had the courage, and made the time, to enlighten me. 

In class, I suggested that as a country maybe we needed to recognize our limits and take some time to lower the temperature on conversations about politics and race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. “Pass the ball backwards” I suggested, before advancing up the pitch again.

My student gave me permission to share most of what he wrote me shortly after class ended. His fourth paragraph makes me think I did not communicate my message as clearly as I could have, but that does not take away at all from his overarching message:

“My takeaway from the conversation was that in the end, politics are simply politics, and one’s views reflect their level of education. This does apply in certain situations, but it is not applicable to basic human rights. As a white cishet (cisgender heterosexual) man, you do not experience these issues and therefore need to do more work to understand them. An important thing to remember is that the burden of your education on an issue does not fall onto those affected by it. As we have discussed in this class, most educators are white. I have had a very slim number of queer educators as well. Because of this, existing in these spaces made for white cishet people is exhausting. I am constantly expected to perform and have these conversations for people to convince them that I should be allowed to exist. Fighting constantly to be permitted to simply exist takes a heavy toll and as an ally in a privileged position it is your responsibility to do research and educate yourself on these topics rather than expect minorities to do the labor of educating you because for those minorities, those conversations can be dangerous.

As a white cishet man, you can have these conversations with certainty that you are safe. As a queer AFAB (assigned female at birth) person these discussions can put me at serious risk.

Furthermore, you need to understand how much more drastic this is with our current administration. Almost immediately after Trump came into office in 2017, his administration removed the official pages on civil rights and LGBTQ+ rights from the official White House website. Earlier this year, the Trump administration removed nondiscrimination protections in healthcare for LGBTQ+ people. Even more recently, with Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court, there has been new potential for marriage equality to be taken away. This is only an incredibly short list of ways that the Trump administration has directly impacted my rights. These conversations are so sensitive and are not as simple as disagreeing. If I meet someone who disagrees with my basic human rights, I am meeting someone who thinks that I do not deserve healthcare as a trans person and as an AFAB person. In a more extreme situation, as is with our vice president Mike Pence, someone disagreeing with me could mean that they believe I should be in a conversion therapy camp or worse. I do not have the privilege of agreeing to disagree because that disagreement can mean the loss of my life.

The human rights that do exist in our country today did not come from accepting or dismissing bigotry. The Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act of 1990 came to be because of disabled people protesting and restricting access to federal buildings, public transport, and other such things. The civil rights movement consisted of endless protests, sitting in the front of busses, and countless other acts. Women’s suffrage was fought for with protests and marches. Child labor laws came to be because of people fighting for children’s rights and safety. In Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, a riot is the language of the unheard. The expectation to be silent and accept mistreatment in hopes that we will be kindly gifted our rights and safety is ridiculous. This is why these conversations are not as simple as disagreement. I cannot sit and agree to disagree with someone’s opinion if their opinion is that I do not deserve basic human decency and rights.

To close this email, I want to reiterate that I do not mean this to seem like I am telling you exactly what you need to think or believe. My main objective with this is to hopefully bring you more perspective on why this mindset could be harmful. If you wish to discuss any of this further, I would be glad to discuss it over email. I appreciate you having a class environment in which I feel comfortable bringing up these issues and having this conversation.”

My second reply to him:

“Follow up question. Or more accurately, I’d like to practice active reading/listening to see if I understand correctly. Are you saying that some people (or maybe many people since 73m voted for T) are irredeemable and therefore personal safety has to take priority over dialogue? If so, I better understand why because of your thoughtful explanation of your lived experience. But as an educator working with students across the political spectrum, it’s difficult for me to conclude that.”

And his reply to my reply:

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that people are irredeemable, but more so that people that choose to not listen to minorities cannot be educated by them regardless of how much effort those minorities put into the conversation. The burden of those conversations can’t fall on the people affected by it because those people are being silenced, and therefore it becomes nearly impossible to change bigoted people’s mindset unless more privileged people educate themselves and use their voices.”

Obviously, I can’t tell my speedy running friends not to self-censor themselves, but my student has convinced me that opting out until “cooler heads prevail” isn’t an option for me. That doesn’t mean I have a failsafe roadmap on how to proceed. All I know for sure is I have to remain open to being taught by my students, and other people whose life experiences are markedly different than mine, and continue “getting more comfortable being uncomfortable”.

 

Weekend Assorted Links

1. The Trump Presidency Is Over. Peter Werner, a former Republican, weaves and bobs through the first half of this essay, and then, midway through, unleashes a flurry of devastating hooks. If it it was an actual fight the refs would’ve stopped it well before the end. Technical knock out for all but the most irrational.

2. Mad About Elizabeth Warren. A friend implores me to “Just get over it.” But how can I with piercing analysis like this?

“Warren the Presidential candidate was that girl with perfect grades in the front row of the classroom, always sitting up straight and raising her hand. “She was too smart, too rigorous, and always right,” as my friend Katherine put it. “‘I have a plan for that’ became a kind of joke at her expense,” another friend added. ‘She was so knowledgeable and so prepared that her life as a brilliant student stood out.”

Even in our famously anti-intellectual country, it is possible for a wonk to win the White House. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were intellectual superstars, and got elected anyway—indeed, Obama’s brain power was one of his major selling points. But, apparently, for a woman, being “brilliant,” “knowledgeable,” and “prepared” are suspicious qualities, suggestive of élitism and snootiness. On the other hand, if Warren had been obtuse, ignorant, and unready, that wouldn’t have worked, either. Being obviously unqualified to lead the free world only works for men.”

3. Merkel Gives Germans a Hard Truth About the Coronavirus.  Who knew she’s a trained physicist? Merkel and Warren are two peas in a pod, which begs the question, why are more German men okay with brainy women?

4. I have never really considered what Agnes Callard proposes, that The End is Coming.

“. . . so many of our practices—seeking a cure for cancer, building a new building, writing a poem or a philosophy paper, fighting for a political cause, giving our children moral lessons we hope will be handed down again and again—depend, in one way or another, on positing a world that will go on without us. The meaning of our lives, in the here and now, depends on future generations; without them we become narrowly self-interested, prone to cruelty, indifferent to suffering, apathetic.”

Only to add:

“Because here is something we know for sure: there will not always be future generations. This is a fact. If the virus doesn’t do us in, if we do not do one another in, if we manage to make everything as sustainable as possible, nevertheless, that big global warmer in the sky is coming for us. We can tell ourselves soothing stories, such as the one about escaping to another planet, but we are embodied creatures, which is to say, we are the sorts of things that, on a geological time scale, simply do not last. Death looms for the species just as surely as it looms for each and every one of us. How long have we got? At a recent public talk, the economist Tyler Cowen spitballed the number of remaining years at 700. But who knows? The important thing is that the answer is not: infinity years. Forever is a very long time, and humanity is not going to make it.”

Just because that’s a deeply depressing conclusion, it’s not wrong.

5. All The Ways I Failed to Spend My Massive Wealth. Of course, “he” could’ve just gone all in on the stock market a week ago.

 

 

Warren Exits—Patriarchy Remains Undefeated

In 1997 I traveled to China with Guilford College colleagues compliments of the Freeman Foundation. One female sociologist in our group, a firebrand feminist, had never traveled outside of the U.S.

One night we strolled through an open air market. Separately, she and I ended up purchasing some “peasant paintings”, inexpensive, beautiful folk paintings with farming themes done by rural artists. Afterwards, she wanted to know what I had paid for mine. When I told her, she lashed out, “Sexism!”

I couldn’t help but chuckle. I had cut my teeth negotiating with street vendors all over Mexico, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe. I know the song and dance, how to walk away, just slow and far enough for the vendor to come and get me and say my price is okay. She knew nothing of the sort.

Being wise to the ways of patriarchy and misogyny meant she saw sexism around every corner. She’s the exact opposite of my close male friends, whose intelligence I respect, because they discount ANY talk of patriarchy and misogyny when it comes to Elizabeth Warren’s aborted candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President. Never mind that this will the 46th time in a row that we’ve just happened to select male candidates. It’s just a coincidence.

Megan Garber cleverly and cogently explains how patriarchy and misogyny doomed Warren in this piece titled “America Punished Elizabeth Warren For Her Competence”. But when it comes to my close male friends, who tend to be college educated, treat women with respect, and are (mostly) anxious to turn the page on the Trump administration, Garber has a heap of problems getting them to acknowledge that their dislike for Warren had anything to do with patriarchy and misogyny.

Because they are me in China. They think the Garber’s of the world see patriarchy and misogyny where it doesn’t exist. Being blind to it, they are highly skilled at rationalizing their choices. Of course, mens’ worst rationalization is this, “We definitely would’ve elected a woman one of the forty six times if one was as qualified as the men.” Most men’s rationalizations are more subtle and nuanced than that, but almost as pernicious.

Here are Garber’s problems more specifically:

  1. My male friends will choose not to read her piece. It’s exactly twelve paragraphs too long. They will think they know what it alleges, that she’s seeing things that don’t exist, that they’re heard it all before.
  2. Even if they were to defy the odds and read it, they won’t take the time to consider whether it applies to them. They won’t ask, “Was my negative reaction to Warren even in part a result of what Garber argues, that the U.S. still doesn’t know what to make of a woman—in politics, and beyond—who refuses to qualify her success? If so, why am I prone to that line of thinking?”
  3. They won’t ask that because that would require them to consider changes not just in their thinking, but in their behavior. How do you undue thinking of especially competent female candidates negatively anyways?

Were they to truly grapple with how to not penalize women candidates for their competence and ambition, the patriarchy would begin to falter. As Warren’s candidacy illustrated, there’s no risk of that. Yet. Patriarchy remains undefeated.

Gendered Bullshit

I knew what I was going to think about Jennifer Palmieri’s essay, “The Hidden Sexism Behind the Amy Klobuchar Reports” before I started it.

Yes, reports of Klobuchar’s egregious mistreatment of her staff are drawing more fire because she’s female, one person referred to it as “gendered bullshit”, but the remedy is to respond more quickly and effectively whenever men in power abuse their staffs. We should be gender-neutral when it comes to abuse of power.

Ah heck, may as well read it anyways.

I can’t recall doing a mental 180 in a shorter period of time. There’s no such thing as gender neutrality. Palmieri’s argument is this:

“. . . the problem is not that political journalists fail to report altogether on demanding and difficult men in politics. It’s that the reporting on such behavior is presented in a dramatically different fashion than it is in stories about female bosses in politics—as a badge of honor, not a mark of shame.”

I let that phrase, “badge of honor, not a mark of shame” sink in.

Palmieri’s just warming up y’all:

“It is not hard to think of tough male bosses in Washington. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has a reputation for being demanding; you will find such stories chronicled in the press. The same holds for men in politics with whom I have worked. A Google search of “Bill Clinton” and “purple rage” yields a number of anecdotes about the private temper tantrums we in the Clinton press office would endure when preparing the president for White House news conferences. Profiles of my friend and former colleague Rahm Emanuel are littered with stories of his profanity in the office and warnings by his staff that anyone working for him needs to “develop a thick skin,” write off going to weddings or family vacations, and expect to be available “25/8.”

While the anecdotes about these men are not entirely flattering, they are presented as colorful asides meant to give dimension to the hard-charging zeal with which these individuals do their jobs. Stories about intimidating male bosses are typically not presented as disqualifying, but as evidence of these men as formidable leaders. These are men who should not be underestimated. These are men who should be respected.” (emphasis mine)

Hook firmly entrenched in mouth, Palmieri reels me in:

“Imagine if it was reported that a female politician was prone to bouts of “purple rage” or that she expected staff to skip weddings and family vacations, and be available to her “25/8.” She would not be admired for the hard-charging zeal she brought to the job. She would be seen as unhinged. She would not be considered a formidable leader.”

Damn. She’s right. And not in a subtle, nuanced way, but in a “Wow, I’m not nearly as enlightened as I like to think” kinda way. I’m guilty of the thought process she details, and when it comes to gender relations, I’m much less a Neanderthal than normal. Hence, the systemic nature of the double standard.

To resolve myself of my gendered bullshit, I once again am firmly in the Kobuchar 2020 camp. Or EWarren. Two formidable leaders, either of whom would represent a bit of an upgrade.

Postscript: Also worth reading.

25 Years His Senior—Say What?

Emmanuel Macron, hopefully France’s next President in two weeks, is 39 years old. His wife is 64. He fell for her when he was 15 and she was his math teacher. Because your susceptible to soap operas, you will want to read the whole story here.

I confess, the context for their meeting and their pairing strikes me as really odd. And yet, the President of the U.S. is 24 years older than his wife. Which, if I’m honest, doesn’t seem nearly as odd.

When it comes to pairing up, shouldn’t older women have the same rights as older men? Is this the ultimate double standard? Am I an unredeemable sexist? Of course, yes, and probably.

3F8A33D800000578-0-image-m-4_1492984233100.jpg

Equal Pay for Equal Work

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team is threatening not to play until they get paid the same as male National Team members.

Admirable, but the challenge is building a men’s-like revenue stream for salaries, meaning attracting the same quality and quantity of corporate sponsors. The men’s team gets paid more not because of some vast misogynist conspiracy, but because they have a lot more eyeballs on them both in person and on television.

Why do more people prefer to watch men play soccer than women? I don’t know. Women’s tennis is an interesting comparison. They’ve succeeded in creating similar prize money at least at Wimbledon and the other majors. A lot of people enjoy the women’s finesse and power game more than the men’s power game, probably because their rallies are longer and thus more interesting. In this ardent heterosexual’s opinion, women’s tennis is hella sensuous too (tmi?). Maybe women feel the same way about men’s soccer?

Yesterday, the Ladies Professional Golf Association held it’s first major in Palm Desert, CA. The winner, the best female player in the world, 18 year old Lydia Ko from New Zealand, earned $390k for her one stroke victory on a course I once hacked my way around with the best father-in-law one could ever have. On the men’s side, “journeyman” Jim Herman won the run-of-the-mill  Houston Open for a cool $1,224,000. Ko pocketed less than thirty three cents on the PGA dollar.

Again, way more people prefer watching men’s professional golf than women’s, creating vastly different revenue streams. Why, I’m not sure. It’s okay that I don’t know, but for the women professional athletes who are agitating for equal pay, they better figure it out if they want to succeed in closing the gap.

 

 

Serena Williams, Teachers’ Strikes, Personal Experience

Midway during her US Open Final match against Sam Stosur, Serena yelled “Come on!” while hitting a blistering forehand winner. Points are supposed to be replayed following accidental yelps, but since this one was clearly intentional, the line judge followed the rules and awarded the point to Stosur. Stosur went on to upset Williams who unraveled and yelled “You’re out of control,” and “Really, don’t even look at me,” and my personal favorite, “You’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside.” Williams was fined $2k on Monday which I’m sure will inspire her to take a long hard look at her insides (sarcasm).

On Monday on ESPN2 two analysts debated the line judge’s decision—Jemelle Hill, a youngish, always thoughtful African-American female sportwriter, and Skip Bayless, a pasty white*, cocksure, middle aged male who is almost always the debate aggressor. The exchange was interesting viewing because Hill focused exclusively on William’s gender, never referencing her ethnicity. In essence, she argued that since MacEnroe’s epic outbursts (hilarious picturing Mac wrapping up one of those with “and you’re just unattractive inside”) men have gotten away with far, far worse on court behavior. She added that Andy Roddick’s US Open outbursts were at least as bad as Williams. Bayless wasn’t buying it insisting it was a pattern with Williams and that she got what she deserved and should be banned from next year’s Open. What? Hill kept coming back to the obvious double standard, and surprisingly, to Bayless’s credit, he conceded the point at the end of the segment.

Hill was far more insightful and persuasive than Bayless, because, I’m assuming, she has direct, first-hand experience with gender and race-based double standards in her professional life. She knows it as soon as she sees it. I wish the moderator had asked Jemelle if she thought Serena’s race also impacted the public’s (and Bayless’s) stronger negative reaction to her outburst. But I digress.

Tacoma, Washington teachers are on strike. Among the issues, the district wants greater flexibility in moving teachers from program to program and school to school to better meet the needs of struggling students. Teachers want continuity and are fearful of one superintendent or one principal arbitrarily moving them from year to year. I hope I’m wrong, but given the stagnant economy, high unemployment rate, and growing antipathy for public unions, I predict the teachers will struggle to win the community’s support.

Also, only a very small percentage of the public has direct, first-hand experience with the challenges of public school teaching. Just as Bayless struggled to see a gender double standard in professional tennis, the public can’t see things from the teachers’ vantage point. I empathize with the teachers. Few people, even if they freely chose to enter the profession, would passively and indefinitely accept their modest (and reduced) pay, their increasing class sizes, and their district and schools’ top-down management.

I hope the public union vitriol is tempered, the conflicts can be resolved, and the strike is short for the students and families it will definitely inconvenience.

* Just as African-Americans are able to use the “N” word, I can use the “PW” phrase because I am PW.