The ERA: What to Expect When We’re Respected

If we recognize on a federal level in the Consti-freaking-tution that women are entitled to equality under the law, then maybe we can understand the full potential of the United States. Maybe we can figure out what this amazing experiment of a country can do.

I come late to the ERA conversation. As a writer who concerns herself with politics, I find it as surprising as you do. But the truth of the matter is, I’ve never seen the social issues that I like to talk about through a particularly feminist eye. I didn’t identify that way. I just saw them through the lens of my experience. And because I have the right to vote, the freedom of the press and free speech, because we live in a pro-choice age, the ERA didn’t register on my radar. The fight had been fought and I could pay homage to the women who came before me by writing my viewpoints and publishing them widely, by reading, by voting, by making informed decisions and supporting my fellow women.

But that’s not enough.

Although I knew that the Equal Rights Amendment hadn’t passed, I didn’t really understand the implications. They are practical as well as immaterial. By that I mean that the fact that women are paid seventy-seven cents on the dollar to what a man is paid (sixty-four cents if you’re a woman of color) and that this is a federally recognized discrimination – carries out in myriad ways that tell women that they are paid less because they are worth less.

Worthless.

I didn’t really understand this, or believe it, until I started to consider it through the lens of a parent and to think of it in a racial context. I’l start with the first. In reading every single parenting book that came on the market and systematically throwing them out after I gleaned the one thing that made sense in each of them, I learned something about potential. Up until then, potential had been an enemy word to me. Potential was something I learned to hide in school because once a teacher learned I had potential, they expected me to live up to it. And that took work that I wasn’t willing to put in. My advice to friends from elementary school upwards was this: Never let ‘em see your potential. Once they do, you’re screwed. They are perpetually disappointed in you. A late assignment brings chastisement instead of shrugged shoulders. And if that bothers you, like it did me, potential makes you pick up a book and a pen just to quiet the mounting frustration of others. And it creates something else: a taste for praise. And if you’re anything like me, that taste, coupled with potential, might make you a writer. In other words: trouble.

Parenting books reinforced this, but from a far different perspective. They asked me to expect great things from my child – whether it be potty training or restaurant behavior – and to let that expectation dictate their potential.  Because the thing is, if you’re expected to succeed, it becomes more work to fail.

And I started thinking about Trayvon Martin. I wondered about how he presented himself and how perceptions of him dictated the events that led to the end of his life. I thought about potential again, about our former President, who, unlike Martin, wasn’t a good student. Yet being born into a successful family where privilege and stature fed the expectations of potential, George W. Bush became the leader of the free world. He believed he was worth more. And so he was.

And that’s the thing. Society seems to take on an active role about telling people what their potential is. We tell them through our culture, and we tell them through how we legislate. And that voice becomes internalized and affects behavior. It affects who we think we are. What we can do. And what we are worth.

Of course, not everybody. For every stereotype, there are exceptions. Not every white-bread mediocre son of American royalty becomes President. Not every dark-skinned son of an abandoned father and a mother on food stamps wears hoodies and are shot down: some become President. (As a senator, President Obama cosponsored the Women’s Equality Amendment. And when he was a state senator, he sponsored a joint resolution ratifying the ERA.) Some women internalize their diminished status. Some become dependent on men for safety and financial security. Some accept discrimination as a rule. Some think the fight for equality has been fought before us. But some become the COO of Facebook. Some carry on epic filibusters. And some will run for President.

ERA March

If we recognize on a federal level in the Consti-freaking-tution that women are entitled to equality under the law, then maybe we can understand the full potential of the United States.  Maybe we can figure out what this amazing experiment of a country can do.

Because progress has slowed. We’re at an impasse. We’ve lost sight of who we are and where we are going. We agree on little but that the system is broken. We don’t agree on where and how badly it is, or on how to fix it. We certainly can’t agree on who can fix it. But I think we can agree that by giving half of our population the tools – both tangible and immaterial – to help fix it, we can only go forward. Just ask Elizabeth Warren, Wendy Davis, Tammy Duckworth, Hillary Clinton and Allison Lundergan Grimes, to name a few of the latest rock stars on the national political radar.

With a law that cannot be repealed on the state level by backwards politicians who understand that the way to continue the status quo is to lower our collective expectations, what is possible?

But we have work to do. The ERA failed because a deadline for ratification was placed on it. There needed two-thirds of the states to pass it, yet only thirty-five did in time, just shy of the thirty-eight needed. A renewed effort is being put in place now to lift the deadline and with a three state strategy join the rest of the civilized nations of the world by legislating equality. NOW will only support candidates who agree to the three state strategy and on lifting the deadlines with their endorsement and financial contributions.Together we can get there.

And then we have to do the work.

The world is expecting us.

Color Blind

Somewhere along the line, the group of protectors known as the NRA was overtaken by white men with dollar signs in their eyes.

Remember the John Grisham novel “A Time to Kill,” when the defense attorney pleads the case of a black man who is on trial for killing two white men in rural Mississippi in front of an all white jury? He takes the courtroom through an exercise where he asks everyone to close their eyes and imagine the trauma and plight of the defendant’s daughter, who had suffered unconscionable rape and torture at the hands of the two dead men. The climax of the scene, and theme of the novel, was when the attorney asked of the courtroom, “Now imagine that girl was white.”

The defendant was acquitted, the good guys won, and racial equality thereafter reigned in the South. They lived happily ever after. (This was a work of fiction.)

I’d like to take you through a similar exercise. There’s a group of well-funded, professionally organized men who have interpreted our Constitution in such a convoluted way as to demand that it is their God-given right to own high-caliber assault weapons.  They argue that a cross-referenced document of who owns what and how many of these weapons is an infringement of that right. They are arguing against background checks at gun shows and over the Internet to prevent criminals and the mentally ill with histories of violence from obtaining firearms. The thought behind this is more nuanced than a simple “Mind Your Own Business” argument: it simply means that the fear that it would make it easier for the government to collect these weapons is stronger than the fear of the general public, including children, that the unregulated masses within this group have unrestricted access to these weapons. Even though there have been an increasing number of mass public shootings and copy-cat mass murders and there have been no gun confiscations of legally held guns. The leader of this group has proposed an even wider berth of gun ownership, even within the confines of our children’s schools. That this would make enormous profits for this group and the gun manufacturers who support it, is not the point. The point is their right.

I want you to do something for me. Close your eyes.

Picture this group of gun-wielding men spewing pieces of the Constitution from well-memorized pamphlets handed out at meetings. Picture the signs that they display that say, “We don’t call 9-1-1. We shoot.”

Now imagine that that leader and his ilk are black.

Let’s question whether Republicans would cling to their Second Amendment rights to bear assault weapons if Wayne LaPierre was black. Imagine, if you will, instead of an oldish looking white guy, whose looks don’t incite fear until he opens his mouth and the crazy pours out, a black man. Samuel L. Jackson comes to mind. He’s spewing about his right to form a militia as given to him by God and the Constitution.

Do you feel differently? Tell me the truth – I won’t tell anyone.

To white America, in some parts of the country more than others, the idea of a well-organized black self “regulated militia” inspires terror. It sounds like the Black Panthers.

As it should.

The answer to that is not that black Americans are scarier than whites, but that once a group puts its (financial) goal ahead of the human lives of our citizenry, they have become a threat. And they are scary.  Yet we have become so complacent as a people to believe that white men are less threatening, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of the mass murders that have terrorized the nation have been at their hands. A handful of Saudis attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and look at the measures we’ve taken to combat the Muslim stereotype. We could point to statistics of black on black crime and of black on white crime to try to justify the stance of the NRA to stand absolute against any reasonable restriction of high-capacity semi-automatic weapons, but it doesn’t compute.

In fact, there was a time NRA stood up to help train black Americans to protect themselves from the Ku Klux Klan and the local police in the South. There was a very real threat of white Americans coming to inflict mortal harm on black men and the NRA used its power, much limited in scope than it is now, to support the right to bear arms for newly freed slaves after the Civil War. Where soldiers in the North were encouraged to keep their rifles after the war, black American soldiers in the South were told no go. Southern white men were suddenly very pro gun control.

Black Panthers came in the 1960s to rectify that, carrying guns to the letter of the law. They armed themselves to the gills with weapons and a superior understanding of the law, believing that the power of equal treatment came with the ownership of guns. California’s open carry laws stipulated that guns must be seen and carried in a non-threatening way, and as such, the Black Panthers paraded with them.  Your liberal friends have passed around the Reagan meme, which quotes him as saying when he was Governor of California that “I do not believe in taking away the right of a citizen for sporting, for hunting, and so forth. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon nor is needed for the defense of the home.” Reagan went on to say that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” This was his response to the Panthers. He was all for gun control, if it meant limiting the access of guns to black citizens.

Somewhere along the line, the group of protectors known as the NRA was overtaken by white men with dollar signs in their eyes, and like Lance Armstrong, have taken a perfectly fine idea and pumped it full of steroids and padded their pockets doing it. And we let them. Because they don’t look threatening.

There are still threats of bad people doing bad things. There is still a need for protection. Some would argue that there is a real need for guns for domestic protection: for the house, to ward against intruders. Defenders of the NRA believe that the base of this group still stands for protection. Yet, the NRA’s official stance on arming a person who has committed domestic abuse on his wife, girlfriend, partner, friend?

Protect that the domestic violence abuser. The NRA has strayed so far from it’s roots as a protector of victims that it is now a protector of perpetrators.

In most states, a order of protection will not translate into an order to surrender firearms, even if the order of protection is granted because of a threat with a firearm.

In too many cases, as in the those of Diane Dye of Oklahoma, or Stephanie Holten of Washington, or Deborah Wigg of Virginia, the protection of a man threatening to use his constitutionally-ordained firearm to kill his wife has trumped the protection of the woman he threatened. His rights to bear arms usurped her right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Or in these cases, her right to live, because two of the three are now dead.

At the hands of white guys.

If we’re looking at guns as a means of protection in this country, protection of the weak against the strong, the vulnerable against the powerful, the victims from the bullies, we need to look hard at who is writing our laws, who is financing our legislature, and most importantly, to adjust our ideas of exactly what a threatening mob looks like.

Weigh-cism in America

Hysteria over New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s alleged lap band surgery has coupled with coverage of Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries’ interview in which he admitted, “I don’t want larger people shopping in the store,” into what I’d like to call America’s latest round of bigotry: Weigh-cism. Not that fat shaming in America is anything new, but this recent round calls attention to a unique brand of judgment that, like blaming and shaming the poor, finds acceptance in that the problem is understood to be preventable and rectifiable, and as such, a legitimate form of prejudice.

Just as the poor could simply decide to get a high paying job through hard work and chutzpah, the overweight need simply to avoid saturated fats and bad carbs. Lay off the fast food, brother, and the slings and arrows stop. Just get yourself some organic kale and run it through your Nutribullet.  What’s that you say? You can afford neither organic produce nor antibiotic and hormone free organic free-range chicken? Well, it’s your own fault for taking those two minimum wage jobs after getting your MBA from Harvard. Who does that?

The HBO Documentary “The Weight of the Nation” looks at the connection between poverty and obesity. The rising level of obesity in this nation coincides in a synchronized level with the rising gaps in economic disparity. Ironically, obesity is a big money maker: medications for diseases linked with obesity like heart disease, diabetes and sleep apnea are cash cows for the pharmaceutical industry.

The link between obesity and poverty is inarguable. The causes, however, are what can be in dispute. There is a lack of availability for heathy food options in poorer areas. Farmer’s markets and produce stands find their homes in affluent areas; in our poorest areas, cheap and fatty foods dominate in the prominence of fast food restaurants and hot dog trucks. It comes down to the resources available to different pockets of the population.

Anthony Iton, Senior Vice President of Healthy Communities, The California Endowment, suggests that in analyzing the death certificates for patterns in the causes of death, “your zip code matters more than your genetic code.” In fact, the nine poorest states in the US rank within the ten highest in obesity.  In short, we can’t address the problem of the rise in our overweight children and the fact that in some segments of the population, the upcoming generation will have a shorter life expectancy than the current generation for nearly the first time in nearly 200 years, without taking a serious look at the economy.

Yet, there is a roadblock when it comes to addressing this issue in any realistic fashion in part because of the collective attitude Americans have about personal responsibility. In these tight economic times, the programs for the poor are often the first things to go. Case in point, sequester cuts made to the FAA were quickly reversed when the impact was seen in flight delays and long waits. The unseen wounds made by the sequester cuts that will take time to manifest in ways we can measure are those made to the poorest among us, the social safety nets like funding for Head Start, public housing subsidies, unemployment insurance, veterans services, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

The way to alleviate any guilt for such blatant preference for economic support for those who need it the least is to either ignore it, or in a more sinister and manipulative way, to blame those in need. To take away the victimhood of the victim is not only good politics, but effective marketing. We can see it everywhere from the rants of right-wing talk show media to the status updates of listeners who pretend to outrage at welfare recipients who game the system, while in the same breath defend corporate corruption as smart capitalism. If it’s their own damn fault, I don’t have to feel bad about ignoring the solution. And I certainly don’t have to accept taking responsibility to contributing to the problem.

In this way, it’s encouraging to see Chris Christie take affirmative action on his weight issue. While the left makes derisive commentary on his figure and the right speculates about whether or not this will increase his chances for a Presidential nomination, I wonder if someone with the power of political office who understands and has experience with this problem can help bring attention to it. Whether the attention leads to jokes and the collective dismissive sweep of the hands or realistic discussion of solutions remains to be seen. In the meantime, I’ll be boycotting Abercrombie and Fitch.

(Not that I could fit into those jeans anyway.)

Selective Outrage

We drink in our news from the sources we trust, through the lens we feel comfortable with, amidst the people with whom we fit.

I think I have something bad to say about the liberal media. Until I read this piece in The Atlantic, I doubted one existed. I know that the news media comes at their subjects with some pre-formed conclusions, that Rachel Maddow and Bill O’Reilly view the same facts through different lenses. I know that Fox leans right and MSNBC left, the Times left and the Wall Street Journal right. And I thought that even with this bias, the news gets out to the people, and some of the more critically minded count themselves among the well-informed, and the business of life goes on.

Admittedly, I consider myself a liberal leaning lefty. Beyond alliteration, I align my political views with the social policies of the day: gay rights, women’s equality and the increasing misalignment of the socio-economic classes in this country. I’m anti-death penalty, pro-gay marriage, and have discussed at length my stance on gun control. But I’ve never written about abortion. I have my views and they fit neatly within the political party I identify with. They would surprise no one.

But I don’t talk about it. Because even if I support a woman’s right to choose, it’s ugly. And heartbreakingly sad. Yet, I believe that that right is necessary and that it is a personal choice to be made. The circumstances that lead to this choice vary in the myriad ways that people vary. We would be hard-pressed to find two identical stories, but we can connect with each other over the experiences we all share. The emotional toll on the abortion debate is high. For those who oppose it, it is nothing less than the murder of innocents. I don’t dismiss that view, even if I don’t concur.

Like the gun issue, I think it’s bigger, if there is something bigger than human life. I think to consider the issue, we need to incorporate lots of other issues, especially how we marginalize and discriminate against the poorest and darkest among us, about how the first things to go are the social safety nets and not the tax breaks, and about how if women are forced by people who are pro-life to have babies they cannot take care of, they are abandoned too by a country whose concern for them extends only as far as their gestation. Beyond that, they need to pull themselves up by their bootie-straps.

Violence abounds with this issue and voices lower to whispers among the like-minded.  Yet, something gets lost when that happens. In Pennsylvania, so much was lost.  For years, laws were broken, racism abounded in a dirty abortion clinic, and bureaucratic red tape was sidestepped because this issue is too political to get involved with. Pro-choice people, like myself, have stated our cases so strongly that abortion clinics in Pennsylvania stopped getting regulated. They moved on. And a monster of a man named Kermit Gosnell murdered fetuses and babies and women. He spread venereal diseases with filthy instruments, performed a grisly amount of illegal late-term abortions, delivered live babies he then murdered, and employed underaged, under-supervised, and under-trained people to administer medication. He pawned his black patients to that staff, and let his white girls see “the doctor.” Some of them died. And though several people alerted authorities over the years, the complaints weren’t followed up on. So many agencies dropped the ball. Might it be because the clientele was primarily non-white and poor?

This was isolated. His practice doesn’t represent a single other doctor, or human being, other than himself. But the lack of media coverage highlights something. The way that I heard the name Kermit Gosnell was in an article tweeted by the Atlantic with the details of the grand jury trial and the case being made for more media coverage. Conor Friedersdorf compared the coverage that Rush Limbaugh’s reaction to Sandra Fluke received in the media with the details of this case. It has all the gruesome makings for a front page, but it hasn’t been one. Not the way Limbaugh’s “slut” comment was.

We’ve all chosen our sides by now. We know where we stand and are ready to defend those positions from wherever we are: in the news, on social media, in coffee shops and bars. We drink in our news from the sources we trust, through the lens we feel comfortable with, amidst the people with whom we fit. Religion and politics have long since been discarded as subjects we don’t talk about in polite conversation at the dinner table. Polite conversations went out long ago with the dinner table. We’re informed and opinionated, but the middle ground has been sacrificed in the social civil war of a dialogue that pits us for or against each other.

Certain segments of the media has chosen sides as well. Was the underreporting of Gosnell a case of the liberal media not wanting to lose political points because abortion is one of the absolutes? Criticizing abortion has so much consequence that connecting something so heinous with something we support will undoubtedly bring fallout. Yet, the conservative media, mainly Breitbart News  and The Heritage Foundation, are full of criticism of the lack of coverage, yet they hadn’t covered it either. Marco Rubio tweeted, “Media blackout of Kermit #Gosnell case is shameful but not surprising. Powerful example of msm bias in America today.” Rather than addressing the moral corruption of a story like Gosnell’s, the right is circumventing it in order to fry bigger fish: the left, who is now, with names like Anderson Cooper  and vehicles like Salon, on the story. Turns out, Slate’s Double XX column has been covering it since 2011.

We’re looking for a demon, someone to blame in the face of an unimaginable crime born of ugly circumstance. That crime doesn’t fit the narrative of the liberal media. Yet, the conservative media, instead of focusing on the devil in front of us, is trying to win political points by blaming the left, when they should blame, rightfully, Kermit Gosnell.

I came to my political beliefs because I believe there was a moral imperative and a right side (on the left.) It is something supported by my conscience, a way to root for the little guy, the huddled masses, those traditionally discriminated against. It’s because I think as a country we are as strong as our weakest link and by supporting women’s right to choose, I can reconcile those beliefs. My support hasn’t changed, but my absoluteness has.

I have been afraid of a lot lately. Gunfire, mostly, since Newtown. Not for me, but for my kids. But I’ve also been afraid of being wrong. That fear often keeps me from considering what the other side has to say. It has me looking to dismiss impassioned arguments from those I disagree with.

But worse than that, it has kept me quiet. In choosing staunch and irresolute sides, we lose the nuance of our beliefs.  And in the case of Kermit Gosnell, we lose our humanity.

Liberal at a Gun Show

“Beautiful!” a man next to me breathed, but all I saw were the dead children of Newtown.

Gun rights purists can’t believe their luck. One lunatic on a Texas college campus has proven their point: it’s not the guns that kill people. If someone wants to wage deadly mayhem, he’ll find a means to do it. Gun control liberals can finally STFU now.

Except, a lunatic with a knife differs pretty distinctly from a lunatic with a semi-automatic assault rifle. Where Newtown saw thirty children shot multiple times, funerals spanning a month, and a nation in perpetual mourning, in Houston, Texas every single victim  lives. Two are in critical condition, the rest are stable. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, as is any human who has suffered the trauma of a physical attack.

Every attack on multiple people is different. Every one is isolated and born from unique reasons – the failure of the mental health structure here being the basis of some. To lump them together as an anecdotal instance to prove a political point is to compound that failure. No one wins here.

Yet, to dismiss the obvious point that a perpetrator with a knife is severely limited in the damage he can inflict does a disservice to the study of a problem we all want to solve. The real issue is the way we are trying to solve it. Gun rights activists – the purists, the ones who wave away any discussion of common sense restriction and the NRA who supports this kind of thought – attacks this problem with a pre-formed solution: the need for more guns. Then they back track through the circumstances to support that conclusion.

Let’s acknowledge right off the bat that gun control advocates are looking at an endgame as well. Some of us want to rid the country of guns. Period. But most of us don’t. Most of us want semi-automatic weapons out of the hands of non-military citizens. We want limits on the damage someone can inflict in minutes. But maybe we just don’t understand gun culture: the bravado, the righteousness, the patriotism and strength that comes at the hands of a gun. It’s a power I’ve never really considered.

And so I sought out to consider it.

We passed a scrawny kid, about twenty years old, before we even got inside the blue tent to pay our ten dollar admission to the gun show. “I have about a thousand rounds at home,” he told the girl next to him as they exited. I wasn’t sure how to take that – was it a lament? Only a thousand rounds? To do what with? Shoot up a target at a range, or a bison maybe, or enemies? Maybe it was a brag, like I have a thousand rounds of manhood back at my place, baby. The fact that I couldn’t interpret his intention probably says more about me and my lack of understanding of gun culture than anything else. But this is why I went to a gun show. To see for myself what it’s all about.

Still, I felt like an intruder as I made my way past the first booth – an NRA signup table full of literature and bumper stickers. I’ve been conditioned to think of them as the enemy and I wasn’t ready to face them head on, so we moved quickly on to a table full of hot sauce.  I tried a wasabi green tea dip that had a great flavor, sweet, with a kick that came at the end. I made my first gun show purchase. (No background check required.)

And then, fifteen minutes in, I was spotted. A local guy, whose son plays on the same lacrosse team as my son, recognized us as we pored over hard carved switch-blades. “Hey!” he called out, and at first I couldn’t place him. On the field, I know him as the dad with the sweet kid who handed out cupcakes on the field on his birthday. At a gun show, I was seeing a lot of angry ink and camouflage. The lacrosse dad didn’t compute, and it took me a minute to recalibrate the friendly face and soft voice of this man with the wooden barrel of the rifle he caressed like a woman.

We shot the shit (not literally) for a few minutes before he moved on to the Bushmaster display and we to listen to a Paul Revere historian lecture us about the difference between subjects and citizens.  As we turned away, he called over his shoulder, “I’m glad to see we’re on the same team!” My husband interpreted this to be 2nd grade lacrosse related, but I suspected differently. He meant 2nd Amendment related.

It turns out that the difference between a “subject” and a “citizen” is that subjects do what they are told and cannot affect change in their government. They have no say. They are slaves, which, according to this guy, is exactly what the Obama administration wants. He wants to rule over a constituency of slave-like subjects and it’s up to us, a gathering of about five people, to enact that change.

I saw tables of hand-carved handled rifles alongside more knives than I’d ever considered. There were pickaxes and holsters, wooden guns that held rubber bands for children. It was standing room only, slow moving through all that there was to see. Flags accented almost every square inch. There were more Confederate flags than I ever imagined existed this far North.

Live and learn, that’s what I was there for.

Displays were given to each seller, kind of like a craft fair, except the vendors were mostly older men, with exaggerated facial hair that seemed to make a statement of masculinity. I looked around for a clean shaven face and come up with only my own (and the woman selling the hot sauce.) That’s when I realized we were the only women in the place.

(So much for blending in).

The Bushmaster table had the good stuff and there was a three person deep perimeter to get to the assault weapons (which I would later be schooled do not exist.) Black, plastic looking, with more coordinating accessories than in my sister’s closet, AR-15s stood on tripods. They inspired awe among the people who crowded around me. “Beautiful!” a man next to me breathed, but all I saw were the dead children of Newtown. I calculated the mental health of those around me. I tried to judge who was sane and who was a maniac, who might take up arms and start a Paul Revere-like revolution, and who simply enjoyed the craftsmanship. But I couldn’t tell.

Could the vendors?

I perused a table of antiques from World War II, small green plastic soldiers that my son likes to play with. Metal tanks. GI Joe’s in the original packaging. Nazi paraphernalia. Swastika pins. SS badges. I asked the vendor if he sold a lot of the wooden boxes emblazoned with the Confederate flag, knives inside with Robert E. Lee’s picture hand-painted. He nodded. “People try to collect the whole set,” he told me.

A few children ran about, next to dads who looked through scopes with the gaiety of kids in candy shops. My husband held a rifle that reminded him of the one his grandfather had used, setting up soda cans in the backyard for him to shoot pellets at. My husband loves to shoot.

Targets.

It wasn’t really possible to leave without rubbing up against the NRA table. “Why,” I asked the bearded (of course) man at the table, “would I become a member?”

He didn’t miss a beat. “To protect your rights.”

“From what exactly?”

He explained that there were ridiculous laws enacted that turned normal, gun-toting Americans into criminals. Because of Cuomo’s freshly printed laws about the clip limits that legal guns must now have, the guns that this man has in his closet are now illegal. “I haven’t shot anything,” he told me, “but now I’m a criminal.”

He didn’t look like a criminal.

“But surely you don’t think assault rifles should be owned by every day Americans?” I asked him.

He rubbed his hands together like he’d been waiting for this question. He savored his response like a good steak. “No such thing,” he told me.

He went on to explain that the term “assault” is a human construct, an action that can only be attributed to a person, not an inanimate object like a weapon. His parter next to him rolled up a copy of Guns and Ammo and swatted him on his thick arm. “See that?” he asked. “That was a fully loaded magazine used to assault me.”  Never in all of his life, both as a civilian and in the service, had he witnessed a rife getting up and shooting someone all by itself.

This seemed like a long way to say, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people,” but I got his point. He then explained to me that automatic weapons – like machine guns – are outlawed, and should be. They spray bullets in quick succession and have no place in non-military society.  But semi-automatic rifles? Those are fine, he said, because a person needs to pull the trigger for each separate shot. It requires a commitment to continue shooting. There is a pause between each bullet being released into the world. That pause is what? A second or two? But those seconds constitute what seemingly reasonable people deem the difference between auto- and semi-automatic, between acceptable and not, between having a rightful place in society and not.

Seconds enough to duck? To run? To return fire? To live?

He handed me a pamphlet that had a training session for women stapled on the back. Women are the untapped demographic that the NRA is targeting as purchasers. They’d had to add on a second one because the first had filled up quickly. “After I take you out and show you how to hold a gun and shoot it, you can decide if you’re still scared of it or if it’s the most fun you’ve had in your life,” he said.

I took the pamphlet, but I won’t be calling. His idea of fun and mine are probably different.  The pamphlet, handed out by the S.A.F.E. organization (Sportsman’s Association for Firearms Education), was full of information to help convince me that the NRA was looking out for my best interests. It warned me that police chiefs who came out in support of gun control were pawns of big city officials who coerced them into positions they don’t really support. The towed the line for fear of losing their salaries and pensions. “This is why you see chiefs and their officers in the background when privileged officials posture against citizen firearm ownership and the Constitution by definition.” It went on to say that they have “decided to try to get in tune with the 20th century” by creating SAFE Twitter and Facebook accounts.

I might suggest that they try to get with the 21st century by acknowledging the very real dangers of gun violence. I might suggest that instead of selling the public on the idea that semi-automatic rifles are not assault weapons in a Laurel and Hardy rehearsed routine, they take stock of who the enemies really are. They are not those in power who are answering the voices who shout for the bloodshed to end. They are not those who ask questions that go deeper than a badly written propaganda piece stapled to shooting lessons. The enemies are those who seek to quiet the questions, to quiet the voices who disagree, and to urge us all to suspend critical thinking in lieu of easy answers.

I’ll acknowledge this, though. Something about the presence of big men standing protection made me feel safer, thinking that if I ever needed protection, I might have guys like this “on my team.”

Protection from whom? Well, that seems to be the question.

Innocence Stolen

I hope that the seeds we plant today will take root and that the power to hurt won’t be abused by my son or my daughter.

In the wake of the Steubenville rape, questions undoubtedly arise about how we can, as a people, prevent such a vicious tragedy from happening again. Blogs have abounded to confront such subjects as the media coverage, the focus on the victimhood of the perpetrators and the lack of empathy for the sixteen year-old victim. While we argue about whether to focus our attention on how women can prevent rape and how whistle-blowers need to be commended instead of targeted, one question haunts me: can empathy be taught?

No mother thinks she is raising a rapist. And while I can watch from the bleachers and judge these other parents, I know that I do so from the comfort of distance, as my children are still elementary school small, and these issues are years away from the reality I might one day face. They are still ignorant to the mechanics of baby-making; my son still squeals “Ew!” at the notion of kissing a girl.

My daughter doesn’t.

I remember from my childhood the always present crush on a boy, the tingle of a thrill when the boy I’d set my sights on looked my way. Hearts on a notebook, fervent wishes made in journals. The longing – for what? Attention? Love? At that age? What is it that makes girls chase boys from the earliest days of Kindergarten, while boys play sports and get filthy and build things, oblivious to our charms?

I generalize of course. While I am lucky enough to not know first hand the trauma of sexual assault, I do remember the pain that inevitably came at the hands of a boy. At some point, a note would be passed, a declaration made. A question: do you like me? Circle Y or N.

There are a lot of things I forget about my school days: my teachers’ names, books I’d read, math. But the sting that came with my first love’s rejection comes back with such clarity that I can feel it in my thirty-something year old body, sharp enough to draw a deep inhale of breath. The boy elbowing his friends, a cruel smile, a taunt, a jeer. The unmistakable circling of the letter “N.” The finality. The hurt.

While my daughter plays with her Kindergarten friend Olivia, giggling in her room and getting my makeup in her rug, my son is buried in his iPod, fingers gliding over a touch screen, pigs killed by enraged birds. He doesn’t notice the adoring eyes of my daughter’s friend. He is deaf to her nervous giggle, getting closer and closer, until she is compelled to bop him on the head, just to make him look up in annoyance, just for the thrill of a half-second of attention. That might be enough, I hear her think, to get him to notice me.

But he won’t. Not for years. I could pull her aside and talk to her about high school, about the time when circumstances reverse, and the boys awaken one morning suddenly conscious of the beauty of teenage girls. That’s when they bump into you by your locker. Just to get you to notice them.

But it isn’t my place to talk to Olivia. It won’t make a difference now. High school is so far away, a reality so distant that it doesn’t feel like one. High school problems and lessons too far off to have any impact on us now.

In the here and now, I pull my son aside, and ask him to remove his earbuds. I tell him about a time when I loved a boy in second grade. I tell him about a note I’d passed, about the hope in my heart, the excitement, the nerves. Then I tell him about what that boy said when he opened my note. I tell him about the hurt I experienced when he said, “Ew!” and pointed at me.

I tell him that a boy has a power over a girl who holds a crush on him in her heart. That he has the power to hurt her. That he doesn’t have to love her back, or even like her. But that he does have to be careful of her feelings.

And because he doesn’t have the capacity to love a girl like Olivia, but he does have an enormous reserve for his mother that won’t be diminished for years to come, he understands. He acts with kindness. In the years that are too quickly approaching, we’ll have another talk about vulnerability and the power to hurt. We’ll talk about bullying and kids who are smaller or weaker than he is. We’ll talk about girls who drink at parties.

And I’ll hope that the seeds we plant today will take root and that the power to hurt won’t be abused by my son or my daughter.

I’ll hope that it isn’t hubris to believe that empathy can be taught.

Proposition H8

The 1990s brought forth a bastion of political correctness. All at once, we were forbidden from saying “black,” “retard,” and “fag,”  in lieu of the more acceptable terms African-American, mentally-challenged, and homosexual. The politically correct terminology was so successful and so thorough that the words looked weird written on the page. It was uncomfortable to even write them. That’s because I’m a product of those nineties. If you miss a good racist joke, you can blame it on Bill Clinton.

In high school, we held assemblies in the auditorium and painted posters around the school to bring to the forefront what it meant to be tolerant. Tolerance was the term of the nineties and the platform from which the politically correct language would spring. We were actively taught in our liberal arts-led public brainwashing education, that in order to heal society, we had to tolerate people who seemed different than us. But tolerance as a term never sat quite right with me. I never wanted to be in the company of someone who was taught to merely tolerate my existence. But we had to start somewhere, right? And that start was with the accepted vernacular.

Civil Rights comes in waves in this country: in 1920 white women won the right to vote and later, “African-Americans” were awarded the same; progress was made in the way we looked at and treated the handicapped among us. And the word “gay” was maligned as a derogatory expression when we used it to mean “stupid” or “weak.” This week, marriage equality is rearing its head as the Supreme Court examines Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

When I started ninth grade, AIDS was a full-blown threat with some high profile public figures falling ill. We learned that Elton John was homosexual, and that our suspicions about Boy George were spot on. Four years after I left high school, Matthew Shepard was slaughtered by someone who was decidedly intolerant.

Something Maya Angelou once said has always resonated with me. She spoke about how we demonize the people around us, to call murderers or pedophiles, “monsters.” Not people. The words serve to separate and to alienate us from each other. We can’t call people like that “people” because that’s what we are. But no person is a monster, she said.  If one human could complete a heinous act, it is within the realm of possibility for each of us. The Latin phrase she quoted was, “Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto.” I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me.’

In a similar vein, she continued, we have within us the possibilities to accomplish what the greatest among us have: “If a human being dreams a great dream, dares to love somebody; if a human being dares to be Martin King, or Mahatma Gandhi, or Mother Theresa, or Malcolm X; if a human being dares to be bigger than the condition into which she or he was born—it means so can you.” All of us, each of us, human.

No matter what the courts decide, marriage equality is on its way, just as the times before them had come to cast aside our base judgements and remember the humanity that makes us hold more in common than we oftentimes like to believe. In time, “gay marriage” will simply be called “marriage.”

Beyond that, can we graduate from tolerating our differences to something else? I don’t mean love. I don’t believe we could love everyone we bump into. Respect? No, I think I could learn to love all human beings around me before I could commit to offering indiscriminate and undeserved respect. Coexist brings me to a bumper sticker on a hunter green Subaru, the paint peeling and rust flaking from the bumper. Coexist sounds like tolerate to me – a life lived next to someone else. It’s better than annihilating that neighbor, but I think we can do better. Celebrating our differences is way more than we can ever hope to realistically expect.

I watched a documentary about Matthew Shepard in my first psychology course in college, undoubtedly meant to foster awareness of others, their conditions, and how we react to them. In this psychology course, I learned about transference, a term that meant hating the part of someone else that was something you perceived to be a deep-seated trait of your own. Sort of like how I can’t stand judgmental people.  I remembered that Matthew Shepard’s killer was discovered to have been homosexual. That he butchered another human, calling him “fag” while he did it, not because he was intolerant of that boy, but because he hated that part of himself. He couldn’t bear to see it displayed so blatantly by another.

As I watched Rob Portman change his views of marriage equality after he’d discovered that his own son was homosexual, I thought about ownership. How if we could all own the things we don’t like in ourselves, we could stand up to our parties, our peers, and ourselves and voice our collective humanity in words that seek not to alienate, but to connect.

What would this country look like if we could learn acceptance?

The Winglish Dictionary. Left and Right

The Winglish Dictionary is a compendium of political terms and phrases as interpreted by the “Left” and “Right” wings of the American political spectrum. Feel free to add your own definitions in the comment fields or suggest additional terms for our crack team to research.

Capitalism

Rightwinglish
ca.pit.al.ism (noun): an economic system derived from theory uncovered in the book of Genesis whereby God created the free market (the earth), labor to exploit (Adam and Eve) and the corporation (serpent). Discovered by Adam Smith, perfected by Milton Friedman.

Leftwinglish
ca.pit.al.ism (noun): (1) a term originally defined by socialists at the turn of the Twentieth Century to define an economic system whereby ownership of private property is the basis for wealth and investment.  (2) an efficient economic model that when stripped of a rigorous regulatory framework can go terribly, terribly wrong.

Climate Change

Rightwinglish
cli.mate change (noun): (1) a hoax of epic proportion invented by Al Gore (shortly after he created the Internet) that is designed to infringe upon the God-given right of a corporation (see: person) to determine acceptable levels of pollution in the name of progress at any cost. (2) a naturally occurring phenomenon that rids the earth of weak-brained creatures such as dinosaurs (source neededexistence unclear) and liberals, neither of which possess the ingenuity to adapt. (3) a cost of doing business.

Leftwinglish
cli.mate change (noun): a manmade phenomenon whereby industrial pollution, in addition to creating a public health emergency, simultaneously strips away layers of the ozone while trapping greenhouse gases thereby forcing an unnatural rise in the earth’s temperature with disastrous consequences.

Debt Ceiling

Rightwinglish
debt cei.ling (noun): (1) a legislative limit to the amount of funds the United States government is allowed to borrow set by responsible Republicans concerned with future generations. (2) a figure that must be set in stone during a Democratic administration, yet flexible during that of a Republican.

Leftwinglish
debt cei.ling (noun): something Republicans only talk about when a Democrat is in office. 

Enemy Combatant

Rightwinglish

en.em.y com.bat.ant (noun): An individual who presents a clear and present danger to the security of the American people by (1)Being brown, (2)Having a funny-sounding name, and/or (3)Calling God “Allah” (which is Arabic for “God”)

Leftwinglish

en.em.y com.bat.ants (noun): Republicans.

Courtesy of Winglish Wednesday winners Anonymous (right) and Matt Paust (left).

Entitlements

Rightwinglish
en.ti.tle.ments (noun): a sense whereby liberals raise taxes on hard-working patriots to pay for lazy people who don’t work, roughly 47% of the US population. See also: welfare state.

Leftwinglish
en.ti.tle.ments (noun): legal term for programs citizens have paid into such as Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance. Said citizens cannot reap benefits without having contributed to the programs. See also: 401K packages. Unrelated to (noun) entitlement; sense of.

Family Values

Rightwinglish
fa.mi.ly val.ues (noun): cherished ideals such as marriage between a man and a woman, in a predominantly white society that lives abundantly as set forth by our Creator and delivered by Jesus Christ, an unmarried, brown-skinned homeless man who told others to give away their earthly possessions.

Leftwinglish
fa.mi.ly val.ues (noun): stuff Jesus actually talked about.

Gun Control

Rightwinglish
gun con.trol (noun): measure whereby liberals seek to circumvent the second amendment rights given to us by our Creator and the Founding Fathers, to bear and keep arms, any arms, in unlimited amount, by whomever, and to use them against imminent threats to be decided and interpreted by the bearer, as a means to restrict government’s continued infringements against our freedom. See also: Hitler, “Stand Your Ground” law.

Leftwinglish
gun con.trol (noun): common sense reform includes limiting access to high capacity magazines, military-type semi-automatic weapons, and mandatory background checks for gun buyers/sellers to be cross-referenced nationally.

Immigration

Rightwinglish
imm.i.gra.tion (noun): a dangerous process by which terrorists and colored people who speak in foreign tongues attempt to infiltrate the United States and make babies while stealing jobs from white people and living off welfare.

Leftwinglish
imm.i.gra.tion (noun): the process by which every citizen came to reside in the United States with the exception of American Indians.

Job Creators

Rightwinglish
job cre.at.ors (noun): blessed and noble people who should pay little to no income taxes for they are the engines of Capitalism.

Leftwinglish
job cre.at.ors (noun): the Chinese government

Marriage Equality

Rightwinglish
marr.i.age e.qual.i.ty (noun): the notion of marriage for any heterosexual person as given by God and maintained in the Constitution. Does not include: marriage for the gays, human to animal, polygamy, or redneck to a firearm (with certain exceptions as defined by Mississippi State law.)

Leftwinglish
marr.i.age e.qual.i.ty (noun): the union of two individuals determined to share equally in both the joy and misery of an institution established when the average life expectancy of a human was thirty-five.

Obamacare

Rightwinglish
o.ba.ma.care (noun): the notion that taxpayers should use their hard-earned money to pay the doctor bills of those who can but do not work, the forcing of small businesses to pay for the health insurance of employees at the expense of their profitability, forcing them to cut worker’s hours, the forced financing by Catholics to pay for the recreational abortions of the morally corrupt. Much different than its origins in Massachusetts as a means for the state to intervene to force responsibility for health care on her citizenry, by mandating health insurance. See also: socialism.

Leftwinglish
o.ba.ma.care (noun): (1) middle of the road compromise between a “single payer” healthcare system that seems to work everywhere else on the planet and the most expensive, least productive system we currently have. (2) meh.

Patriot

Rightwinglish
pa.tri.ot (noun): (1) a white citizen, born in the United States, forged in steel and armed to the teeth. (2) someone who defends his or her (but really his) constitutional rights against terrorism and tyranny by never questioning the government. See: Charlton Heston. See also: Ronald Reagan.

Leftwinglish
pa.tri.ot (noun): a man or a woman who exercises his or her constitutional rights to fight for a more just and righteous system of government for every person, even if that constitutional right is to question said government.

Patriot Act (Also known as The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001) 

 Rightwinglish

Pa.tri.ot Act (noun): (circa 2001-2008): measure of great importance to solidify defense in the War on Terror. Access by subcontractors of the NSA to look into the private acts of evildoers in order to access their secret plans and thwart plots against ‘Merica.

 UPDATE: overreaching and “un-American,” according to Jim Sensenbrenner, author of Act. (2013)

Leftwinglish

Pa.tri.ot Act (noun)(2001-8) disturbing overreach by government, infringing on the privacy rights of those who are to be presumed innocent and protected under the Constitution from warrantless search and seizure.

 (2008-present) – Necessary to protect citizens from terrorist plots, including cyber attacks. Revelations of phone records and online activities of innocent Americans tapped by NSA subcontractors is expected, commended, not an issue if one has nothing to hide, and an asset to the War on Terror. See also: yawn.

Pro-Life

Rightwinglish
pro.life (adjective): (1) stance of the morally righteous, anti-baby killing, including but not limited to, made-up claims of “rape” or “incest;” and the honoring God’s will.  The overriding of human rights by the fetus over the rights of the “host,” including but not limited to risking the life of said host. (2) anti-taxpayer funded murder. See also: pro gun, pro war, pro death penalty.

Leftwinglish
pro.life (adjective): anti-choice; stance made by men overriding a woman’s dominion over her own body; the forcing a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. See also: conservative stance against social programs for the poor, including but not limited to welfare, nutrition, and health care for the children they fight for the births of, ie. bottomfeeders.

Queer

Rightwinglish 

queer (adjective): a derogatory term traditionally meant to subjugate those that refuse to be a part of status quo.

Leftwinglish

queer (adjective): – RIGHT a community of folks who resist the gender binary and are free to be in relationships with folks they like to be with.

(Courtesy of Weekly Winglish winner Jon V. Green)

Rape

Rightwinglish
rape (verb): divided into several subcategories: “Legitimate Rape” – an action whereby a man forces sex on a woman who is not willing to engage in sexual behavior and communicates this by wearing conservative clothing and acting in an appropriate manner, ie. not consuming alcohol and/or “roofies” or by not entering a celibate religious order. “Forceable Rape” – a legitimate type, as opposed to “Spousal Rape,” “Statutory Rape,” and/or “Prison Rape.”

Leftwinglish
rape (verb): to force someone to have sex against his or her will. Period.

Renewable Energy 

Rightwinglish
re.new.a.ble en.er.gy (noun): (1) oil. (2) natural gas. (3) coal. (4) nuclear.

Leftwinglish
re.new.a.ble en.er.gy (noun): (1) energy derived from naturally occurring sources such as the sun and the wind that are replenished continuously (2) the thing we will all someday wish we figured out how to use more of when houses in Ohio are waterfront property on the Atlantic.

Sequester

Rightwinglish
se.quest.er (noun): (1) the culmination of President Obama’s ineptness, sly manipulation to make drastic cuts in defense, self-imposed punishment of the people to exacerbate divisiveness and to weaken America. (2) a means for Obama to try to raise more taxes to fund entitlements. Not at all the across the board spending cuts that John McCain and Mitt Romney proposed.

Leftwinglish
se.quest.er (noun): bi-partisan shit-show of an indiscriminate ten percent cut to domestic and defense spending set up to force Congress’ hands into creating a workable budget.

Socialism

Rightwinglish
so.cial.ism (noun): It’s not really clear, but it’s definitely bad and President Obama loves it. See also: Communism, Fascism, Satanism, Liberalism, Pansyism

Leftwinglish
so.cial.ism (noun): an economic system that advocates for social ownership of the means of distribution. Socialist motto: “To each according to his contribution,” meaning that economic rewards are based upon positive contribution to society. Seen in the United States’ public school system, which offers schooling to all children and is funded by property taxes and supplemented, based on need, by state and federal funding. Competition arises in the private school sector, which is a separately funded alternative to public schools.

Torture

Rightwinglish
tor.ture (noun): (1) the process by which information is safely and lawfully extracted from evil-doers in the name of national security (2) slang for rendition

Leftwinglish
tor.ture (noun): (1) illegal (2) knowing that millions of people listen to Rush Limbaugh and think he’s terrific (3) the Fox and Friends morning show.

Transparency

Rightwinglish

trans.pa.ren.cy (noun): clarity with which to view the functions and/or actions of government; to which the American public is in no way entitled to, especially if it comes by at the hands of the likes of anti-Patriot Julian Assange et al.

Leftwinglish

trans.pa.ren.cy (noun): something President Obama keeps saying we need, keeps promising to provide, but does not seem to grasp the meaning of; secret courts.

War

Rightwinglish
war (noun): the left’s continuation of restriction of liberty of, including but not limited to: Christmas, religion, guns, marriage, and family, but definitely not on women.

Leftwinglish
war (noun): armed conflict declared by Congress, within the confines of world law and United Nations sovereignty. Continuations of Republican-led battles on such wide-ranging subjects as drugs and terror. Non-pre-emptive. See also: Guantanamo, drones, surge.

Whistleblower 

RightWinglish

whi.stle.blo.wer: (noun) a soon-to-be ex-patriot who thrives on compromising the sovereignty of the nation.

LeftWinglish

whi.stle.blo.wer: (noun) the act of a conscientious objector.

(Courtesy of Winglish Winner Dorian Stern)

 

Lean In, Breathe Out

Two women have reached the forefront of womanly consciousness and have thrown upheaval into the feminist movement. Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayers have pitted feminist against feminist in an ugly battle that asks the age old question, “Can Women Have it All?”

While I hate to be the harbinger of good news on the Republican side, there have been some moments of clarity on the right that need mentioning. The instances where several key Republicans have come forward in support of gay marriage, the dinner meeting with the President to speak actual words that might result in actual progress, and the culmination of Rand Paul’s filibuster that sought to ask an important question about President Obama’s drone policy, all deserve credit. And while I hate to pause my disdain for anything Rand Paul, and I could pick up the gauntlet laid by the left in mocking him with the two sentence answer Paul received (in a word, nope, won’t attack Americans here) or focus on the potty break that stopped him from coming close to Strom Thurmond’s epic filibuster (“In the end, Rand Paul did not hate U.S.-citizen-targeted drone strikes as much as Strom Thurmond hated the idea of black people voting.”) I won’t. Because pointed questions, from anyone, are a good thing. And sometimes more important than the answers themselves.

So while the Republicans regroup and do some soul searching, I turn my eyes to the feminist movement, which has gained momentum after a rabid election year that saw attacks on Roe. v. Wade, too many disparaging definitions of the word “rape,” the vote of 138 Republicans against the Violence Against Women Act, and the ERA coming back into the conversation.  It seemed that women put the “Mommy Wars” on hold to unite under a shared cause that was strong, smart, and timely.

Yet, two women have reached the forefront of womanly consciousness and have thrown upheaval into the movement. Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayers have pitted feminist against feminist in an ugly battle that asks the age old question, “Can Women Have it All?” According to Sandberg, in her memoir/advice book that answer is yes, if they are willing to “Lean In.” Where women juggle the emotional minefield of childrearing and career management, Sandberg advises confidence above all, and the stretching of one’s belief in herself to know that she can accomplish what the men before and beside her have. There are sacrifices and weak moments of self-doubt, but nothing that can’t be worked through. As the COO of Facebook, she know from what she speaks.

At the same time, another high profile woman executive has made headlines by banning telecommuting in her company. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, issued what some women are interpreting as a stunning blow to mothers. By limiting her own maternity leave to a harsh two weeks post partum, Mayer has invited scathing criticism from women.  Yet Mayer brings up an important topic: if women want to be treated the same as men, should they be subject to the same limitations?  I could bring up the fact that women and men bring different, albeit equal, qualifications to the table and that historically men have unfairly benefitted from this patriarchal system. To take away the things that make possible women to balance work and family life moves the progress of women in the workforce backwards, not forward. This isn’t an equalizer as much as a destabilizer.

But I won’t.

What I will discuss is the way in which thoughtful, savvy women have brought insightful critique to these two women and have felt the result of a backlash of their very own. This backlash against those who are taking up pens to defend Mayer and Sandberg is creating a splintered movement much like the shattered remains of the GOP. Which begs the question: Are women the new Republican party?  Where once there was a cohesive group of thinking women, there is a degeneration into intolerance and  obstructionist douche-baggery normally reserved for the GOP.

Time Magazine gives prime placement to the debate, featuring Sandberg on the cover framed by the headline, “Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Successful.”  The New York Times Book Review this Sunday gave “Lean In” the cover treatment as well, fanning the flames of conflict by assigning Anne-Marie Slaughter to write the review. Slaughter earned her own place in the (patronizingly termed) Mommy Wars with her Atlantic piece in 2012 entitled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” placing her at opposing ends of Sandberg, leading to gossip that the two were enemies.  The enemy trope turns out to be a bit hyperbolic, however, as Slaughter concedes many points to Sandberg. While she still maintains that women might not necessarily be able to overcome work/life obstacles just by sheer ambition, she’s thoughtful. Respectful. Calm.

Would that I could say the same for Anna Holmes, whose New Yorker piece summarily finds and rips apart critiques of Sandberg’s book one by one, accusing most of the writers of pieces critical of Sandberg of “not having cracked open the book.” She takes Jodi Kantor and Maureen Dowd to task for publishing an unfinished quote by Sandberg that made her seem arrogant.  The partial quote, taken from a PBS documentary “Makers: Women who make America” provided the fodder from which column inches were inked: “I always thought I would run a social movement,” she was reported to have said. The rest “-which basically meant work at a non-profit. I never thought I’d work in the corporate sector” – provides a context that makes Sandberg sound less self-important and more likable. The damage, according to Holmes, had already been done, by causing women to take up their pens as swords to tear down Sandberg. As such, Holmes responds in kind, calling out every mainstream critique of Sandberg, as a “galling” “pile-on.”

All this makes me yearn for a time that seemed almost quaint, when Hilary Rosen’s glib comment last April that Ann Romney “hasn’t worked a day in her life,” opened up the proverbial can of worms, causing countless moms everywhere to look up from Fifty Shades of Grey on their iPhones to consider, again, just how to quantify the work of the stay-at-home mother. What makes these debates endless and unresolved is simply because they are unresolvable. With women making up the majority of the population, stretching across the socio-economic stratosphere, with roots laid down in the North or the South, in urban sprawls or flat country, there will be more differences among us than similarities. There will be language gaps, and ideological gaps, physical gaps, and yes, little overlapping where ambition is concerned, even in defining just what ambition is and how it manifests itself in the interests and abilities of different women all across this land.

But what pushes the progression and evolution of all of us as human beings are the questions we raise. Often more important than whatever the answers might be. We’d do well to remember that, and to take a cue from the indignant scrambling and infighting of the Republican party: that divided, we fail. We have far bigger threats than each other.

Scout’s Honor

If my son was raised in a loving home with me and a female partner, then I would not be allowed to wear the uniform. If I preferred soft breasts to hard chests, the Scouts would disapprove, and I would not be invited to be a leader.

I’m going to preface this by saying that I am no Angelina Jolie.  While you might find yourself tempted to draw comparisons between me and that sexy orphan-saving woman of the world, try to remember that although there are some striking similarities, I’m just your average, you know, soccer mom.

But where Angie and I overlap is in how we’ve sacrificed in our daily lives in deference to a greater cause.  Whilst Angelina had put off her wedding to Brad Pitt until every citizen of the United States could exercise their own equal rights to marriage (I would totally have done that too – Brad would just have to wait for me), I too forfeited personal advancement in pursuit of the greater good.

September has always acted as the start of the New Year in our household and this September I began the school year with some resolutions.  I would be a better, more organized, more involved mother.  I would make my kids proud.  I would volunteer at bake sales, join committees, show up to PTA meetings, and sign on as class mom. My daughter started Kindergarten this year and was excited for her first year of cheer, which met for practice twice a week from August through November.  My son played soccer, attended religious school, and moved up from Tiger to a Wolf Scout.  Since I work from home, I have the luxury (on good days, I call it that) of taking them to and from each practice, game, event, and meeting.  By the end of December, I’d stuck to my resolutions, for the most part.

It turns out some people had noticed.

At the December monthly den meeting for the Boy Scouts, speeches were given at the beginning, per usual.  We were all a little anxious for the leaders to finish about fund raising results and for belt loops to be given to mark accomplishments in bowling and good manners.  Santa Claus was expected to ride in on the town’s shiny red firetruck with presents for the kids, and they were all rowdy as a result.  My daughter was practically vibrating next to me, so I was only half-listening when they called for a new committee chairperson.  It seems some of the Webelos will be moving up to Middle School next year, and they’re taking their parent volunteers with them.

In between the Scout Master’s disappearance and Santa’s magical appearance, my son’s Scout leader turned to me.  “He was talking to you, you know,” she said.

I looked to either side of me.  “To me about what?”

“To be the next committee chairperson,” she said, a smile on her face atop the beige scoutmaster button-down she wore, decorated with patches and buttons, each marking progress made by our troop.

“What does a committee chairperson do?” I asked her, for two reasons.  The first was to stall, and to process what was being asked of me.  The second was also to stall.

“They organize all of the den meetings, coordinate activities, that sort of thing,” she told me. And then she waited, expectantly.  I looked at the current committee chairperson, a gentleman dressed impeccably in his own beige uniform.

I shook my head.  My throat constricted a bit as I realized that I could not ever consider taking a leadership role of any kind in the Scouts.  That meant that I was breaking the resolution I’d made early in the year. But there was a stronger resolution inside me that knew, with certain finality, that participating would break something in me.

“You can’t be a leader if you’re gay,” I said to her.

Her eyes widened, as if I’d just come out.

I hadn’t.

“Are you gay?” she asked me.

“No,” I said.

She shrugged as if to say, “Then it doesn’t matter.”

But it does matter.  If my son was raised in a loving home with me and a female partner, then I would not be allowed to wear the uniform.  If I preferred soft breasts to hard chests, the Scouts would disapprove, and I would not be invited to be a leader.  The fact that the Scouts approved of me, deemed me safe even as news of a 23 year old scout leader from Garden City was arrested for possession of child porn, filled me with discomfort. It seemed that “safety” and “straight” were synonymous to the Scouts.  I didn’t feel like I deserved some kind of extra bonus for inclusion into their club just because I happened to prefer men over women, sexually.  And if my son ever voiced a preference for the same sex, he would be unceremoniously rejected, no matter his prowess in bowling, or his sparkling manners (the sparkle might be the first tip off), or years of service to an institution that has shown him only the merits of community, hard work, and honor.

I tried to explain this to my son’s leader, and realized I sounded overly serious in the festive atmosphere.  She said she would probably agree with me, if she stopped to think about it.  My conclusion was that she didn’t.  Maybe most of them didn’t.  I didn’t believe that I was in a room of hard-hearted bigots.  Most of them probably felt the same affection for their gay brothers and sisters as I do.  I took a look at the leaders around me, decorated with badges and pins.  The women didn’t seem especially feminine, nor the men masculine.  They pronounced “we-blow” without any sense of irony. They just seemed like people who loved their kids.

Like I do.

So why then, do I feel so conflicted?  If my son wasn’t so excited to be a part of the Scouts, didn’t enjoy the camping trips and the projects so much, if the kids weren’t so cute and earnest, if the leader didn’t introduce so many interesting projects, I would have pointed my kid way away from an organization that has taken such a strong anti-gay stance.  But he does.  And I do too.

But I cannot put on that uniform, to wear that badge that says I support their bigotry.  I don’t. And for the first time this year, in breaking the resolution that I would get more involved in my children’s activities, I felt like it was working.  My cupcakes were found lacking at the bake sale and my class-mother duties suffered because it turns out creative craft ideas are not my strong suit.  Yet, I finally felt like I was a mother my kids could be proud of.

As for Angelina, she ended up marrying Brad Pitt after all, at the behest of their children, despite the lack of nationwide same sex marriage legislation. Just like me, her kids propelled her to an institution where not all were welcome.

Chalk that one up to another in our long list of similarities.