Lean On

Several days ago, I was blessed to have an extended email exchange (yes, it could have happened faster via text message, but we’re both over 40 so it makes sense lol) with one of my mentors (yes, I have them too). I’m not naming her here because I didn’t ask her permission to do so. Anyway, I’m doing a talk at the upcoming ACPA Convention in Indianapolis. It’s a featured session where Stephen John Quaye, Vasti Torres, and I will each be giving short TED-like talks. I am feeling incredibly vulnerable about giving this talk (and even more so about sharing the fact that I’m feeling this vulnerable on my blog). I shared this with my mentor and she told me to stop overthinking it (constant struggle) and that she knew it would be “terrific.”

Usually the exchange would have stopped there, but that day, I sent another reply and then there was a volley of replies all featuring the blatant abuse of hashtags in a non-Twitter forum (hey, like I said, we’re over 40, we’re allowed). It went like this:

Me: Thanks #impostersyndrome  #whendoesthisevergoaway???

Mentor: #neverforsmartwomenandpeopleofcolor

Me: #thatsmightydepressing

Mentor: #weneedtokeepthefaithandsupportoneanother  #soundslikeasong:)

Me: Yes, #leanonme  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPoTGyWT0Cg

Mentor: #perfect

I share this, not to curry sympathy (really, not looking for that) and not to receive a flood of you’ll-be-awesome encouraging words (I appreciate the kind thoughts though). I’m sure I’ll get plenty of notes from folks telling me that I shouldn’t publicize this because it will only confirm the assumptions of incompetence that some folks have about me. They’re probably right. However, acknowledging my vulnerabilities, my mistakes, my missteps is part of who I am. I can’t hide that – not if I am serious about believing that if I show up authentic, others will be free to do the same, and therefore we can recreate our spaces to be brave (see more about creating “brave spaces” by Arao and Clemens in The Art of Effective Facilitation, Stylus, 2013).

Rather, I’m sharing this exchange to show the importance of having people in your corner who don’t only support you but understand the nuances of your journey and speak directly to the issues that otherwise work to destabilize your confidence.  She could immediately recognize the imposter syndrome I named because she has had (continues to have) to deal with it herself, despite being an accomplished scholar in her own right.

Moreover, she knew that I needed more in that exchange than a pat on the back. I needed affirmation that I wasn’t being silly and that my anxieties were not unfounded.  As she named, women across race and ethnicity and people of color across genders who are smart and talented often struggle with imposter syndrome. I might go further to venture that this may be experienced more intently by those educated or working in predominantly male and/or predominantly white environments. The cultural alterity of those spaces is so distinct and the aura of male and/or white privilege (and class privilege) is so pervasive that one is wont to feel constantly as though you don’t belong.  This is reflected even in recent publications such as Presumed Incompetent about the intersections of race and class for women in academe. Telling someone who names a struggle with imposter syndrome that they have no reason to feel that way (or questioning their competence because they do) is not helpful.

Some rivers we can cross over on bridge. Other ones, we just have to wade through with the support of others who are in the river with us.

Lean. On.


*I know, this is my first blog post in about 2 months. But I am writing one today and I will celebrate that.

“Study Debunks Notion that Men and Women are Psychologically Distinct”

“Study Debunks Notion that Men and Women are Psychologically Distinct”

Finally, there’s empirical evidence analyzing a bunch of studies that rejects the conclusion that there are categorical differences between men and women. We’re not “psychologically distinct” as men and women in the way that males and females are biologically distinct. This is something that queer people have been evidencing through our lives for millennia. It’s about time the rest of you caught up with us. 😉

Transgressing Gender: Another Level

Transgressing Gender: Another Level

Today’s post is the (edited) text of the opening keynote speech I gave at the University of California, Davis this past Saturday, December 1st for their “Ain’t I a Woman” Empowerment Conference.  It was the first time this conference had been held in 40 years.  It was last held as the first official event of the Women’s Research and Resources Center (WRRC) at UC-Davis.

Act One – Sojourner

“Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the Negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or Negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.”1

It has been one hundred and sixty-one years to the month since Sojourner Truth first spoke these words in Akron, Ohio at the Women’s Rights Convention being held at a local church.2  Perhaps it is fitting then that your keynote speaker this year comes to you from Ohio, albeit the opposite side of the state, to address this body at this empowerment conference.  Perhaps it is also fitting that I am the one to deliver this year’s speech, seeing as how I, like Sojourner Truth, disrupts, and possibly even transgresses, what it means to be a Woman.

Let me explain.  This convention on women’s rights that took place in 1851 was held in a church, which is neither irrelevant nor incidental to the situation.  Prior to Sojourner Truth taking the floor – and she did take the floor – several Christian ministers, all men, from various denominations, including Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Universalist ministers had spoken and dominated the discourse.  Frances Dane Gage, who convened the meeting in Akron, wrote that women did not typically speak in public.  I would argue that furthermore speaking publicly in church was not encouraged for women and that therefore the setting of this convention in a church did as much to silence women from speaking out about women’s rights as did any general social norm about women speaking in public.

Gage wrote in 1863, 12 years after the incident, that Sojourner had walked into the church with “the air of a queen up the aisle” and decided to take her seat on the pulpit steps. For those of you not familiar with traditional Christian church architecture and layout, that would be like her coming to the front of this auditorium and sitting right here [pointing to bottom of podium perhaps], facing you in the audience.  It was a bold act.  And from the moment she came in, Gage recalls that people began imploring her not to allow Sojourner to say anything to the crowd lest their cause, women’s suffrage, be lost on account of it getting “mixed up with” abolition and Negroes.

Recall that in 1851, we are still a decade before the first shots were fired in the Civil War and the South seceded from the Union.  We see Sojourner here in Akron before the election of Lincoln to the presidency and his pragmatic and strategic use of emancipation and the Thirteenth Amendment to cripple the South and set off Reconstruction in the aftermath of his assassination in 1865.  At the moment that Sojourner Truth enters that Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and other fervent abolitionists were working in Oberlin, Ohio and other cities along the Underground Railroad to render slavery all but dead by the time the Civil War begins.3

What is not dead, nor close to dying, not in 1851 and seemingly not even in 2012, is the idea of Woman naturalistically defined.  As Simone de Beauvoir wrote women are not born, but one becomes a woman.4  Sojourner Truth asks repeatedly in the first paragraph of her speech, “Ain’t I a woman?”  The answer that came back really was a resounding “no” as the cult of true womanhood that was at its height in the second-half of the nineteenth century, ascribed the title and status of “Woman” based on race and social class criteria that Sojourner Truth would never meet.  Even by 1913, when the women of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. would become the only Black women’s group, just a couple of months after its founding, to walk in the women’s suffrage march in Washington, D.C., the vote, having been secured and quickly undermined for Black men, was primarily still promoted as a fundamentally White woman’s right.

Sojourner Truth deftly undermines the patriarchal argument against women’s suffrage on biological, intellectual, and theological grounds.  She not only challenges her own exclusion from the circle of women whose rights were being argued for, but she also successfully argues for the expansion of women’s rights using the same worldview of the men who were objecting to those rights.  Gage later exalts over how Sojourner won the crowd over to their cause and notably does not use language that would include Sojourner in that cause.

So, no, Sojourner, you may be female, but you sho’ ain’t a Woman in 1851, not in the minds of your audience.  Which leaves me wondering, would Sojourner be a Woman today in 2012?  Am I, or anyone else who flaunts gender boundaries and binaries, a “Woman” in 2012?  Perhaps we ought even to ask whether becoming a “Woman” is something anybody should want.

Act Two: Gender Performances

But first let’s return to Simone de Beauvoir’s assertion that a woman isn’t born but becomes.  This can be because one’s biological sex is not equated to one’s gender.  Gender is not inherent in our biology; our hormones, reproductive organs, and sexual desires do not dictate, or necessarily inform, our gender.  We come to gender through the omnipresent socialization that is begun at birth and even before birth.  As soon as a woman is found to be pregnant, information concerning the sex of the fetus is demanded – ostensibly so that people know what to buy the child, what colors, what kinds of clothes, what toys.  After the child is born, these accoutrements are required so that people know how to treat the baby.

I will never forget an interaction I had with a woman when my daughter was about 6 months old (she’s now 13 years and 6 months, so that lets you know how much this stuck in my craw).  I was out for Sunday brunch, my daughter was wearing a Tigger outfit.  She had very little hair at the time and it was brushed down – no bows, no ribbons, no headband squishing her tender skull, and there were no earrings in her earlobes.  I had taken her into the restroom to change her diaper and a woman also in the restroom began to remark on how cute he was and that he was such an adorable little boy.  I corrected the woman twice, “it’s a girl actually.”  She immediately took umbrage with me, chastised me for not marking my daughter appropriately as a girl, so that unsuspecting, well-meaning people like her would know how to properly address my child.

I didn’t realize before this moment that perhaps Tigger – and all of Winnie the Pooh’s characters except for Kanga – were meant for boys and by adorning my helpless child in Tigger’s costume, I was violating her gender coding.  Was I trying to pass my girl-child off as a boy?  Cast my daughter in the role of a son?  Had I disrupted the natural order set in place by God Himself at the creation as those ministers in 1851 tried to claim?  Indeed, I was a bad mother, because I had failed to make my child’s sex – and therefore presumably her gender – publicly visible for inspection and appraisal.  I’m reminded of Foucault’s Panopticon; we are constantly under surveillance as a means of control.6

Becoming a Woman means fulfilling a set of naturalized expectations for comportment, pedigree, beauty, and social graces that have been reserved for White middle-class and upper-class women and to which other females – of different races and pedigrees – would seek to emulate and thereby (hope to) be granted the status of woman.  This is what Judith Butler argues in her essay on performative gender5, that gender is not merely performed as though it was an individual act, but rather gender is rehearsed before a public audience in such a way that it is no longer a private commodity to be traded by the individual, but rather the result of a public, communal construction.  Gender – the binary of masculinity and femininity – reflects, communicates, and seeks to promulgate a social status that is meant to support patriarchy and heteronormative privileges with the cooperation of religious authorities.

Consequently, when gender is constructed under the auspices of interlocking systems of oppression – patriarchy does not stand alone but works in concert with heterosexism, racism, classism, ableism, and religious dogmatism – who becomes woman and who becomes man reflect the narrow social constructions of those oppressive structures.  The social norms that have been developed to enforce compliance are hard to resist and often become co-opted even by people trying to transgress gender binaries and gender role conformity.

What do I mean by this?7

Masculinity and manhood still have naturalized, rehearsed performances that rely on the oppression of women and femininity, and the assumptions of women’s incapacity and second-class citizenship.  I see this when I look at television commercials for men’s hygiene products (e.g., Axe), as well as in ads marketing soft drinks (e.g., Dr Pepper Ten), even in commercials for website hosting (e.g., GoDaddy.com).  Men are socialized to relate to women as objects, whether of desire, protection (more the territorial than nurturing kind), or manipulation.  Regardless of how benign the objectification may be, it still reflects patriarchy.  Ultimately, how masculine-of-center lesbians and transmen perform and embody masculinity reveals how little work our society has done to change our performative gender acts.  In addition, it challenges masculine-of-center lesbians and transmen to consider their gender performances as opportunities to truly transgress patriarchal gender as manifested in hegemonic masculinity and hegemonic femininity.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen masculine-of-center lesbians and transmen relate to women in ways that reflect the worst patriarchal behavior I’ve seen in cisgender men.  I had a masculine-of-center lesbian once tell me that while moving boxes with a transman, he said to her, “Let me get that for you; this is a man’s job.”  Although she set him straight, it was his easy recitation of this familiar gender performance of the role “man” that is most troubling.

The same kinds of habitually rehearsed gendered norms happen at the other end of the gender continuum.  In those performances, cisgender women, effeminate gay men, and transwomen often default to “being a woman” as a rationale for their indecisiveness, love of shopping, chocolate, and Oprah, and supposedly superior nurturing skills.  This is how women are supposed to behave, think, look and departing from that usually has social consequence.  For example, it’s often considered “cute” when a girl is a tomboy as a child, but as they get older, they are expected to drop that performance and become what they really are – a woman.

Thus we perform a gender whose definition has been so rehearsed and become so “natural” that we can hardly think our way out of these performances.  This brings me back to the questions that ended part one of this speech: Am I a woman?  Should I, or anyone else, what to become a woman?

Act Three: Gender Transgressions

In order to answer these questions, we must first consider our context.  We are in the United States in 2012, particularly in northern California (as opposed to Danbury, CT or rural Alabama) and these are all factors that are significant.  Although the common setting of the United States and the year allow some social norms to be recognizable in otherwise variant parts of the country, local culture does add contour to the act.  So, with that in mind, consider that you were preparing for a theatrical role as the part of Woman.  What would you need to portray Woman as realistically as possible?

  • What would her costume be?
  • How would Woman speak, what vocabulary would be used, the pace and rhythm of speech would be set with what in mind?
  • What is the timbre of Woman’s voice?
  • What gender pronouns would Woman use?
  • What are Woman’s props, biological and otherwise?
  • How long is Woman’s hair?
  • Would Woman be the lead role or a supporting cast member?
  • What is Woman’s sexuality?
  • What would Woman’s backstory be concerning Man?
  • What is Woman’s motivation in the play?

Consider how much the patriarchal messages we’ve learned have informed our Woman.  Is there any part of her that patriarchy has left untouched?  What do your responses say about your own gender performances?  Take a moment and share with the person you introduced yourself to earlier.

Given this modern day performative Woman, what would be said about Sojourner Truth?  I know that I don’t see Sojourner or myself much at all in this character.  Some things fit, a lot of other things don’t.  If I reject the role of performative Woman, then what am I?  Ain’t I a woman?  Do I want to be?  As Monique Wittig has argued, “lesbians are not women” because woman has meaning only in heterosexual relationship to men.8  Take note of whether you assigned your Woman to be heterosexual and likely to be in the supporting role relative to a lead character that you assigned as Man; heterosexuality is used as a site for the practice of patriarchy.  Yet, gay and lesbian relationships can also be sites for the practice of patriarchy inasmuch as the people in those relationships still engage each other through a patriarchal relationship dynamic manifested in rehearsed, naturalized (i.e., performative) gender acts.

The reality is that in the theater of lived experience, most females do not fulfill the role of Woman as scripted and rehearsed with 100% precision, 100% of the time.  Yet, have I done enough to disrupt patriarchal rehearsals of womanhood by changing how I dress or speak only?  Given all that I have argued above, I would say no.  However, if I act too far outside the rehearsed, naturalized norm that is Woman, am I affecting transformation within the rehearsed performances of Woman-hood that are happening constantly everywhere around me?  Alas, I have no clue.

But, just maybe, if enough people “act out,” perform ourselves outside the rehearsed Woman and Man roles, perhaps Woman and Man will become empty categories and several new dynamic, evolving, innovative genders will take their place.  Now, that would be truly transgressing gender.

[End scene. Exit stage left.]



1 The text of Sojourner’s speech was found online at the Modern History Sourcebook collection, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/sojtruth-woman.asp.

2 More information about Sojourner’s speech and Frances Dane Gage’s enhanced description of the setting and reaction of the crowd can be found online at the Sojourner Truth website, http://www.sojournertruth.org/Library/Speeches/AintIAWoman.htm.

3 For further discussion and critique of Lincoln’s role in emancipation, the Thirteenth Amendment, and the end of slavery, please read this excellent critique of Spielberg’s film Lincoln by Aaron Bady in the Jacobin, “Lincoln Against the Radicals,” http://jacobinmag.com/2012/11/lincoln-against-the-radicals-2/.

4 Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 1949.

5 Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” 1988. Available online at http://www.mariabuszek.com/kcai/PoMoSeminar/Readings/BtlrPerfActs.pdf. There is also a great short video clip of Judith Butler speaking about performative gender available on YouTube: http://youtu.be/Bo7o2LYATDc

6 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 1975.  You can read more about it at the Foucault.info website, http://foucault.info/documents/disciplineAndPunish/foucault.disciplineAndPunish.panOpticism.html.

7 These next two paragraphs are adapted from my article in the third issue of TRUTH Magazine, “Gender Transgression 2.0.” Information about the magazine is available at www.truthmagonline.com.

8 Monique Wittig, The Straight Mind, 1978.

Death Rattle? Naw, Just Clearing Its Throat

This post begins on last Tuesday night, about 11:12pm EST, when MSNBC called Ohio for Obama putting him over the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the election. It begins when four states broke the 32 straight losses handed to marriage equality proponents. Throughout the course of the night Maryland, Maine, Washington, and Minnesota added to the number of states where any two consenting, unrelated adults can get married, regardless of their sex or gender. This post begins when on that same night 19 women were elected or re-elected to the Senate, the largest number in history. This post begins when a record number of Asian Americans, queer people, and people with disabilities were elected to legislative office on the national and state level. This post begins on that night when people who straddle the intersections of multiple oppressed identities, like Tammy Duckworth (woman, double-amputee, and Asian American) and Mary Gonzalez (woman, pansexual, and Latina) were elected to represent districts on both the national (Duckworth) and state (Gonzalez) levels that were supposed to reject them and their complicated multiplicity, but didn’t. This post begins when Florida was finally called for Obama, bringing the final Electoral College tally to 332-206 and Obama winning 50.6% of the popular vote, while Romney carried a karmic 47.8%.

This post begins with a dance party, ushered in by none other than DJ Kool’s iconic song surely “to get the people going” (nod to JayZ and Kanye), “Let Me Clear My Throat”:

If you’re like me, you couldn’t help but dance in your chair a little, just now. Indeed, over the past week, the victory of the marginalized has been heralded and people have been literally dancing in the streets, in their chairs, and anywhere else. Obama’s Democratic Party has been cited for its ability to build a diverse coalition of voices who recognized that we really were all in this together. Meanwhile, the GOP has been mocked, hammered, and castigated for allowing itself to become the handmaiden of (religious) extremists, out of touch with the modern world – “a ‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ world,” as Maureen Dowd quotes some Republicans admitting. Liberal commentators are announcing the “death throes” of the GOP, and of white, male (read, Republican) privilege to boot.

That’s an appealing narrative, heady and very seductive, and completely delusional. I refer back to DJ Kool and assert that White, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, economically-secure privilege has merely taken a moment to “clear its throat.” Let me explain by means of an historical analogy.

Fifty-six years ago, on this day in 1956, the Supreme Court struck down segregation on public buses. Mostly affecting the South, no longer would White people be able to unseat a Black passenger. Black people could ride anywhere on the bus they wanted, front, back, didn’t matter. Folks celebrated and although there was no DJ Kool yet, I would imagine that the sonorous tones of “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” stridently proclaimed victory in church basements and house parties. Wait, that song hadn’t come out yet either, so maybe it was a really bumping rendition of “We Shall Overcome” instead.

It was not just a matter of racial animus that made the idea of Whites riding the bus with Blacks side-by-side repugnant. Social class was also at work, most of the Black riders were domestics, cooks, day laborers – men and women who shared a social class status that put them beneath Whites whose own blue collar jobs afforded them the protection of unions, higher pay, and the illusion of class mobility into the upper income strata during an era where cars were still a luxury purchase.

The creation of the suburbs, which led to urban decline, the disappearance of walk-able neighborhoods in the inner-cities, and the exodus of property tax dollars from the city-center to the suburbs, allowed the racism and classism that birthed segregation on public buses to turn its death rattle into a throat-clearing reinvention of itself.

I couldn’t see how this operated until I left my small hometown of New York City for the Midwest,  ostensibly just for college. When I was growing up, it seemed like everybody rode the public transit system. From people who worked on Wall Street to people who worked Wall Street, social class did not appear to distinguish who rode the buses and subways and who didn’t.

But when I went away to college in Michigan and have since continued to live in Ohio, I noticed a very different dynamic. When I first moved to Columbus in 1996 to begin grad school, for example, I found an apartment on a main bus line, excited that I could leave my car at home and take the bus to campus, probably about a 40 minute ride on two different buses. When I shared that plan with others, people looked at me like I had ten heads and was dumber than a rock. Why would you ride the bus when you have a car? People explained that the buses were “dangerous,” “dirty,” and that they really were the enclave of the unhoused and the mentally unstable, as much as those who were simply poor. I rode the bus a couple of times anyway, just to see for myself, and what I noticed more than the filthiness and the unreliability of the service schedules was how few middle-class, White people I ever saw on the bus, especially beyond the downtown limits. I’ve seen this same dynamic play out in other cities in Michigan and Ohio and have heard the same bus narrative retold in other places around the country. The racial and class privilege that birthed segregation just found a new way to assert itself, cloaked in a narrative of convenience and independence.

So even as residents across more than 30 states file secession petitions and D. L. Hughley insightfully comments on the cognitive disconnect produced by the phrase “we, the people” for some U.S. citizens, what we are witnessing is hardly the death of anything. Privilege is just pausing to clear its throat.

An election victory, or even several in one night, is not enough to dethrone the notion that certain people want Bill O’Reilly’s “stuff” and “things” (i.e., the benefits of privilege), as they join O’Reilly in bemoaning the new minority called the White establishment (by the way, Bill, white men still control most of the seats in Congress). As Jesse Hagopian argues, and I agree with him, the current budget negotiations do absolutely nothing to reverse the flow of wealth from those who already have it to those who don’t have enough. Compromise inevitably preserves the status quo. As Frederick Douglass said over a century ago, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” Compromise is not a demand.

November 6, 2012 will go down in history for many reasons, but it was hardly the demand strong enough, loud enough, persistent enough to force the hand of power. Not unless it’s followed by continued momentum. As President Obama said himself in the wee hours of November 7th, our work was not completed at the polls on November 6 and it can’t wait until November 2014, either.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand.” So, what are we, those who want to sound the death knell of privilege, demanding? Are we really satisfied with women occupying 19% of the Senate when we are 55% of the population? Are we really placated merely by electoral victories? Political parties don’t reallocate power and privilege. Such reallocation requires the dismantling and rebuilding of the structural systems that award privilege. Tweaks and compromises won’t get us there.


Note: This post was originally going to be about the Republican Party and where it needs to go from here, but the anniversary of the end of public bus segregation took me on a whole different path.


I Wish

This post was triggered by my Facebook newsfeed. It’s Facebook’s fault that I’m writing this because without Facebook I wouldn’t even know this idiocy existed. Really, I wouldn’t, especially not today because I’m writing this from a room with no TV. Unfortunately the room has free wifi, so I blame my Facebook newsfeed. You can blame Facebook too if you want. Too bad we’d all be wrong for blaming Facebook, when the reality is that people really don’t think very long before they talk – or maybe the problem is that they really did think about what they were going to say and didn’t realize how problematic it was.

What I’m talking about is Paul Slansky’s blog post in the Huffington Post that publicized (because he said no one had yet) a recent interview that Paul Ryan gave in which he describes rape as a “method of conception.” Here’s the post and it includes the video so you can hear it for yourself.

I posted a comment about it on my Facebook page and a friend commented “he did NOT say that.” A couple of other friends, including me, also responded with various versions of “Oh yes he did!” I went out for dinner and thought about it some (again because I was in a place with no TV) and came back to my TV-less room, listened to the clip again, and responded to my post with two really LONG comments that were just too long for Facebook. I liked what I said (hey, if I don’t like it why on earth would you and why would I bother sharing it??), so I decided to make it my blog post for today. It’s not what I was going to blog about today, but that’s okay. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

I listened to Paul Ryan again because my friend who contended that he hadn’t said that really actually is a friend and I like her, so I wanted to try to connect with where she was coming from (I’m what Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger,  Tarule call a “connected knower” in their book Women’s Ways of Knowing). So, I listened again and tried to hear Paul Ryan through my friend’s ears (a friend who identifies herself as “NOT pro-choice” but she’s not necessarily a Paul Ryan fan I don’t think but she doesn’t like people’s words to be twisted – I get that; I don’t like that either).

Here’s what I posted after listening to it again:

“Just listened to it again. In response to a question specifically asking about his stance on whether abortions should be legal in cases of rape, he said, “I’m very proud of my pro-life record and I agree that [no matter what or maybe it was regardless of] the method of conception, the [definition of life] is the same.” So, yes, his comment was directed explicitly to explain that he believes, as a pro-lifer, that life begins at conception regardless of how the fetus was conceived. However, the statement also makes rape pregnancy morally or ethically equivalent to consensual sex pregnancy by focusing on the ends and not distinguishing the means. In Ryan’s world, the ends (a life is created) justify the means (“regardless of method of conception”). This is what I and others find so odious about his comments and the stance of this segment of the pro-life movement (I recognize that not all “pro-lifers” have such extreme views).”

The quote isn’t exact because my memory misses stuff and I refused to put myself through listening to it yet again. I can only tolerate so much foolishness and my mom told me that foolishness is contagious. Anyway, I let my comment get posted and then thought of something else to say. I’ve got that below with some additions for clarity in brackets:

“In other words, no, Ryan didn’t actually say that rape was an acceptable method of conception [he wasn’t talking about rape as much as he was talking about how he defined when life begins]. But by refusing to condemn rape AND ALL ITS [POTENTIONAL] OUTCOMES, his comment can be read in that way. And I don’t think that reading is unfair either to him or to what he said. Maybe I’m wrong for that, but that’s where I am with this right now. [I am pro-choice but] I wish abortion didn’t exist. [But far more than I wish abortion didn’t have to exist, I wish] that women’s access to birth control was not eroded, esp for poor women. I wish far more that our protections and safety net for babies put up for adoption and placed in foster care were as strong and deep as some want them to be for fetuses who have just been conceived. I wish far more that the quality of women’s lives mattered enough to allow women the room to make decisions for their own bodies. I wish far more that ppl who call themselves pro-life fought as hard for lives already here who are hungry, unhoused, terrorized by poverty, unemployment, gun violence, police brutality, and the prison-industrial complex as they do for the lives they want to bring here [and some do]. I wish far more for a world where rape and all of its consequences were recognized as the horrific breaches of human dignity, worth, and self-determination that they are. I wish far more for the world my mother’s generation thought they had already [given] to us and now I see slowly being destroyed.”

This is what I wish for today.

I appreciate my friend’s challenge because it made me go back and think more deeply about why I was so angry by what Paul Ryan, Todd Akins, and others have said over the past week. I think some deeper thinking is necessary all around this issue, quite frankly. I guess that’s another wish.