Monday, November 14, 2016

A Man of his Word?

Turns out the only campaign promises Trump plans to keep are the ones that attack women's rights. What did we expect? Here's a guy who has spent his whole life boasting about screwing women.  Looks like he finally has his chance to do it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Angry White Men...and Women

Those angry white women who came out in droves for Trump were there all along, but most of us didn’t see them.  Their stories and struggles were overshadowed by a drama where it simply was assumed that the part of the Angry White Voter—like most leading roles—would be played by a man.  And what happened is a stinging reminder that sexism isn’t just Trump’s problem: it’s all of our problem.

It's now clear that many women were not sufficiently moved by the idea of electing a woman president to cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton.  For these women—who span the political spectrum—other issues took priority.  I suspect that for many of them, the things they consider to be really important aren't perceived as women’s issues at all.  That’s a mistake.  To take but one example, in a country where three-quarters of people earning minimum wage are women, why were coal miners and steel workers presented as the archetypal disillusioned worker?  The point we needed to make—but didn't—when talking about the stakes of electing a woman to the White House is that women's issues matter to all of us, not just those who happen to identify as feminists.

Of course, given that this election pitted the first woman major party nominee against a candidate who takes evident pride in being a male chauvinist, it’s not as if gender talk was completely absent.  And yet, the big headline turned out to be a gender bombshell that few saw coming: the pivotal role that white women generally—and non-college educated white women in particular—played in muscling Trump over the finish line.

In retrospect, it was a stunning oversight—and ironically, one that reveals a deep disregard for women as members of our polity, even among those who claim to know better.  From the earliest stages of the campaign, as the pundits fumbled to explain the unexpected rise of candidate Trump, the dominant narrative emerged: that this would be an election pitting angry white men—guys aggrieved that a comfortable perch in the middle-class no longer can be counted on as their birthright—against the rest of us (who presumably aren't as aggrieved because this privilege was never ours to take for granted in the first place).  This story made sense, except that it failed to account for the formidable political power of all the mothers and wives and daughters living alongside those angry white men.

Could it be that even those of us who think of ourselves as “getting it” when it comes to gender still fell into that age old habit of paying attention to the man in the room while treating the women around him as if they simply don’t exist?  The reality is that Trump got elected because of voters who are angry and white.  And just because some of those angry white people also happen to be women doesn't mean they should have been written off or taken for granted—or that their votes wouldn't count just as much as their male counterparts' surely did.

Of course, this election was determined, as virtually all elections in this country are, not just by those who did vote, but also by those who didn't.  And the reality is that Clinton wasn't able to get enough people to the polls, particularly in those Rust Belt states where the Democratic base had been so energized by Bernie Sanders just months before.

The question we have to face now isn't why so many Democrats preferred the idea of a Sanders presidency to a Clinton presidency: that's an easy one. The hard question is why so many people couldn't bring themselves to vote for Clinton once it was determined that she would be the nominee. This is the question I find myself coming back to again and again as I think about all those Bible Belt conservative women who must have been gritting their teeth so hard their gums bled as they cast their votes for Trump.  But cast their votes they did.

I'd like to think the takeaway message here is that disgruntled Democrats are by-and-large a more principled bunch than their Republican counterparts.  And maybe that's true.  But I can't help wonder why it is that the idea of supporting Hillary Clinton struck so many voters as somehow beneath them—as if supporting her candidacy would constitute a singular abdication of moral standards, rather than registering as just another instance of the perennial electoral tug-of-war between principle and pragmatism.  Did people hold Hillary Clinton to a higher standard, judge her more harshly, or just experience a widely-acknowledged visceral dislike of her because she's a woman?  We'll never know for sure, but I'd like to think this election will be a chance for each and every one of us to think long and hard about why gender remains such a problem in this country, and what exactly it would take to convince us that now is finally the time to do something about it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The New Politics of Nudity

I had the chance to chat yesterday with a reporter from USA Today about Trump, Kardashian, and the new politics of nudity.  Check out the story here.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Slut-Shaming 2.0: Monica Lewinsky is a Media Whore!

See my comments on Al Jazeera America regarding the hubbub surrounding Monica Lewinsky's return to the public spotlight.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Miley Cyrus Mans Up

Miley Cyrus has been roundly trashed for her performance at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday night.  The Los Angeles Times reports that the media reaction to her hard-core act “veered between disgust and sadness.”  Predictably, conservative commentators condemned Cyrus for her decidedly un-family friendly act.  Even Brooke Shields, guest hosting on the Today show, called the performance “a bit desperate”—tough talk from someone who paved the way for tweeny-bopper sex symbols everywhere as a 14-year-old Calvin Klein model.

Just what was so shocking about Cyrus’ performance anyway?  Sure, she was barely wearing any clothes, but that hardly distinguished her from the crowd (although I’m sure the clam-clad mer-babe Lady Gaga was pretty annoyed being upstaged by a Disney girl).  And the twerking?  That’s hardly the stuff of outrage these days.  But couple those gyrations with a giant foam finger-phallus, and things definitely started to feel weird. 

So was it Cyrus’ show of unbridled female sexuality that caused the problem? That’s the view of feminist commentators who have risen to defend her against a tidal wave of finger-waving slut-shamers. But I’m not so sure.  As much as I believe in defending the right of women to strut their stuff, I’m not convinced that’s what Cyrus’ performance really was about. 

If you ask me, the act wasn’t a declaration of female sexual agency; it was an indictment of male sexual entitlement.  That night, Cyrus let loose a searing parody of dominant masculinity so cocky it made Robyn Thicke’s feel-good porn schtick look downright prim.  In contrast, Cyrus offered a plucky challenge to the status quo assumption that men get to play the role of sexual agents and women accept their role as sexual objects.

Talk about a blurred line.

None of this is to say that Cyrus’ performance is beyond rebuke.  Several commentators have expressed well-founded criticism of the disrespectful deployment of black women’s bodies as mere props in Cyrus’ circus act.   In particular, the now infamous “ass slap” struck many as an unapologetic exploitation of racist stereotypes.  But if Cyrus’ performance that evening is taken as a sendup of dominant masculinity, the positioning of black women in the act reads somewhat differently.  As a male impersonator, Cyrus was enacting—but hardly endorsing—the everyday intertwining of sexism and racism. And that should make us uncomfortable.  But let’s not be content with criticizing the messenger, lest we lose sight of the message. 

Cyrus came to the Video Music Awards and broke the cardinal rule of music videos: sexual exploitation should be sexy.  Instead, she made it icky.  Well, good for her.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Petraeus' Secret Weapon: The Apology

See this recent BBC News report in which I argue that Petraeus delivered a lethal strike to his detractors by issuing his "preemptive apology":

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fight for the Right to Party

It has proven oddly disconcerting to learn that the man charged with guarding our national security secrets has a few secrets of his own—though why we should be surprised that a guy who runs a spy agency gets off on deception is beyond me.  

Of course, any time a sex scandal erupts, it’s worth asking why we get so worked up about the private lives of public officials.  And at what cost?  Just imagine all the other things you might have done this Veteran’s Day if you hadn't spent so much time marveling at Paula Broadwell’s upper body tone.

In this case, we may tell ourselves the public's interest in Petraeus’ private life is more than prurient—national security is on the line.  Because even if intelligence-laden pillow talk doesn't get ordinary civilians like you and me going, who knows what a CIA chief embedded with his biographer will let slip when he’s “all in”?

Well, we all may be worried about the security ramifications of the Petraeus affair, but you know who isn’t?  The FBI.  Officials in that organization insist they were right to keep mum for so long because they found no evidence that Broadwell gained access to classified information.  No big surprise here, I suppose—I mean, what with all the unauthorized wire-tapping going on over there, those guys wouldn’t get a wink of sleep if they had to report every inappropriate relationship involving a government official (let alone the rest of us) to the proper authorities.  

Still, now that the affair has gone public, many are wondering whether the FBI made the right call in withholding information about Petraeus' affair from the White House for as long as it did.  But at least for the time being, the FBI has its story and they're sticking to it: a private affair is a private matter unless proven otherwise.

Apparently, others in the intelligence community agree.  According to a CNN report on Monday:

A senior U.S. intelligence official said an extramarital affair by a CIA officer is not automatically considered a security violation.

"It depends on the circumstances," the official said.
Ah yes, the circumstances.  Because now that we’ve learned the identity of the woman whose complaint launched the FBI probe in the first place, we see just what a difference context makes—at least to those in the national security biz. The mystery woman turns out to be 37-year-old Jill Kelley, who holds a position as “unpaid social liaison” at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, home of the military’s Special Operations Command.  The fact that Ms. Kelley was named “honorary ambassador” to the base in recognition of her as-yet vaguely understood social services suggests to me that engaging in extramarital sex may be regarded more as an entitlement than an embarrassment in those circles.

And so in the end, the most revealing aspect of all of this may be what it indicates about the mental state of those who break rules for a living.  David Petraeus lives in a world in which the end justifies the means.  Soldiers go to war to kill bad that the innocent may live in peace.  Spies lie, cheat and that truth, justice and the American way may prevail.  The FBI violates our privacy with warrantless that we may enjoy the blessings of freedom.  No wonder David Petraeus thought he could get away with it.