What if you prefer your monsters fictional? (On violence, war, hate crime, etc as more human than monster…)

(This post originally ran at Womanist Musings. It has since been updated to reflect the comment thread from the original posting and my subsequent rethinking of this topic. As always, I am thankful for those who take the time to comment, to open up the dialogue, and to help me question/refine my own thoughts.)

I am beginning to wonder – have we become less like Frankenstein’s monster, who was horrified by his own monstrous reflection, and more like traditional vampires, who could not see their own reflection? I am in hopes the monstrous acts of violence, war, hate crime, etc will  lead us to contemplate our collective reflection in that largest of mirrors – our society – and to become horrified by our own monstrous acts (as well as our monstrous inaction).

As pointed out in a comment from Sparky (of Spark in Darkness), designating people as monsters and their acts as monstrous allows a distancing — as if what she/he/they did is profoundly Other, not human, not us, not a reflection of our society.  As Sparky points out, this shuts down analysis and allows for the writing off of certain acts as an aberration. “I hate it when we describe criminals as monsters. Because I think it is used to AVOID showing and AVOID examining. It is used as a simple closing word, a dismissal, and avoidance,” he writes. We certainly saw this phenomenon with the Abu Ghraib torture and the writing off of Lindsey England as a “bad apple,” a monstrous women.

We also see it in the labeling of Sarah Palin as a monster (as many pundits do and as one comment in the thread named her). While I am no fan of Palin, I think labeling her as a monster demonstrates Sparky’s argument. Palin is a product of U.S. culture and politics — in fact a creation that mirrors in many senses what is expected of a powerful woman. It is our society that is monstrous, evil, greedy, sexist, racist, etc — humans like Palin are the products of this, the modern Frankenstein “monsters” that SHOULD reveal to us our insanities and injustices. By labeling her a monster we instead Otherize her, discounting how she is a logical product of U.S. empire.

When I posted a few weeks back at my Seduced by Twilight blog on “What does a monster look like? someone commented as follows in the thread:

“I think REAL monsters are those that don’t look like monsters at all. The most innocent looking, quiet ones that wait in the shadows and kill young women are today’s monsters. Monsters are violent and relentless but not always obvious.”

While I agree that real monsters are scarier than fictional ones, I am intrigued about the way we use the word monster both to designate creatures of the imagination – vampires, zombies, dragons, etc – as well as to designate people who act in ways defined as monstrous, cruel, and evil.

The etymological roots of the term monster come from “monere” (to warn), “monstrum” (that which teaches), and “monstrare” (to show). As noted in this essay on monsters, “The theme of teaching or guiding is thus implicit in the etymology, with the English word ‘demonstrate’ turning out to be a cousin of ‘monster’ in that the Latin ‘demonstratum’ is a past participle of ‘demonstrare’, which means ‘to point out, indicate, show or prove’.”

These etymological roots indicate that monsters (both those we create in our fictional worlds AND those that inhabit our societies) teach, warn, show, prove, and indicate.

Though I agree with Sparky’s points that labelling some as monsters can lead to a lack of analysis, I do think that the etymological roots of the word provide us with a critical lens with which to examine today’s “REAL monsters” (as they are referred to in the above comment). The daily acts of rape and murder should WARN us that our society condones and perpetuates violence. These monstrosities of war should TEACH as that war is not the answer. The prevalence of hate crime should SHOW as that we are not in a post-racial, post-feminist, or post-heterosexist world. All of these different acts of human monstrosity DEMONSTRATE, INDICATE, and PROVE that our corporate capitalist heteronormative patriarchy breeds monsters at an alarming rate.

Those we generally consider monsters – those that kill/torture/abuse indiscriminately and repeatedly – do serve as a warning – a warning that our society not only allows such monsters, but actively creates them. Are not such monster indicating that our world breeds violence? Do they not point out that the main modes of societal organization – patriarchy, corporate capitalism, militarism – is perhaps the perfect conditions for monsters to thrive? Does not their existence – in exorbitant numbers and in all branches of society – priesthoods, schools, sports, government, media, etc – PROVE that we may be creating more monsters than we can slay or contain, let alone eradicate?

I am focused on such so-called REAL monsters for reasons close to home. Last month, a 17-year-old female from my town was raped and murdered while jogging alone in a local park. This past weekend, on Easter Sunday, the attendance secretary from my son’s school was shot in her home, as was her husband, by a disgruntled neighbor who decided the best way to solve their long-standing disputes over a parking space was with a shotgun.

I am also focused on such REAL monsters due to a slew of hate crimes on the campus where I teach – crimes that have largely been ignored by campus administrators as well as the local media.

I know that such incidents are far from unique. I know such monsters lurk in every neighborhood, on every campus, in every corner of the globe, and certainly in many governments, religious organizations, and law enforcement teams. But, somehow, the warning seems more urgent when such monstrous acts become so common as to be expected – as if daily violence, rape, murder, and hatred – not to mention never-ending war – is par for the course.

What if “traditional” wasn’t used as a catch all term meaning ‘good’ or ‘natural’? (Or, what ‘traditions’ should we vote to perpetuate come Tuesday…?)

If you have been on this planet long enough to learn how to read, you have likely come across phrases such as “It’s tradition” or “We’ve always done it this way, it’s a family/community/religious tradition” or “traditional family.”  In sayings such as these, the word ‘tradition’ is used to indicate something is good, right, natural, worth doing, etc. People say things like, “I will go to my mother’s for the holiday, it’s tradition” or “traditional recipe” or “American tradition.”

While there are many bad traditions, we don’t tend to talk about these things as traditional. For example, it’s quite traditional for many whites to raise their children to be racist and/or deny white privilege. Yet, we don’t tend to speak of the “white racist tradition.” It’s also tradition for boys and men to learn to degrade and objectify women — sometimes they learn this from their fathers, sometimes from their friends, and certainly from popular culture. Yet, we don’t speak of “sexist tradition.” It’s also tradition for the USA to rely on an exploitive labor system and an economic set-up that favors the very rich. Yet, we don’t say “the USA’s traditional to use slave labor” or “the tradition of keeping all the wealth in the hands of white male elites.” We don’t say these things because traditions are assumed to be good, to be things worth keeping.

Lately, the word ‘tradition’ is being thrown around a lot in relation to heteronormative concepts of family and marriage. Here in California, the “Yes on 8″ camp (or, in other words, the we support homophobic hate crew) use lines such as “protect the traditional family” or “protect the tradition of marriage.” Here, ‘traditional’ is used as a synomym for “the right kind,” as in, “protect the right kind of marriage, not that crazy gay kind.” Notice that the Yes on 8 crew does not uses phrases such as “support homophobia, it’s tradition” or “it’s traditional to hate and exclude others who are not like us,” or, “save traditional marriage – keep the man in charge and the woman as property.” No, none of these “traditions” are named as such.

And, as a post at Straight Not Narrow notes, the Yes on 8 crowd seems to interpret the need to “keep traditions” quite differently than how Jesus might have characterized tradition. As the post notes, in the book of Mark, Jesus contrasts “the traditions of men” from “the commands of God,” and, not surprisingly, suggests that God’s rules are the ones to follow, not human traditions. Here is the quote from Mark 7:8-9:

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions.”

Now, I don’t personally believe in the bible, but for those that do, doesn’t the way Jesus characterizes tradition here not jibe with how the Yes on 8 crew is using the word? Tradition in the above is characterized as bad, as willful, as going against God. Huh, I may be on to something there. If “the traditions of men” are going against “the commands of God,” then upholding “traditional marriage” (as the Yes on 8 crew is doing) is actually hubris – it is taking the stance that “my tradition” or “my belief” is better than everyone else’s – including that of God, Jesus, etc.

A story about a ballot measure introduced in Olympia, Washington puts the hypocrisy surrounding the “traditional marriage” in stark relief. As reported at the SeattlePI back in 2007:

“Proponents of same-sex marriage have introduced an initiative that would put a whole new twist on traditional unions between men and women: It would require heterosexual couples to have children within three years or else have their marriages annulled.”

Gregory Gadow, who filed the I-957 proposition, claimed the initiative was filed “in the spirit of political street theater” with no real intention to actually put this into law, but rather  “to get this on the ballot and cause people to talk about it.” (See the full story here.)

Such “political street theatre” makes it abundantly clear that “traditional marriage” is touted as a good thing without much analysis as to what this really means. While it is ‘traditional’ for most marriages to result in children, does this mean that marriages which don’t are no longer real or valid?

Ideas surrounding “tradition” also circulate around California’s Prop 4 initiative. The Yes on 4 camp, that would like to limit reproductive rights, uses the platform of protecting “traditional family values.” However, as anyone who doesn’t live with their head stuck up their backsides knows, the ‘traditional nuclear family’ model in the US is rife with heinous and hypocritical ‘traditions.’ For example, the tradition of seeing the women in the family as servants, as property, as items to barter or ‘give away’ to men/future husbands. Or, the tradition of valuing sons more, of putting male’s education/goals etc first. While these traditions are thankfully waning, they are by no means under threat of extinction. If Prop 4 passes (and if the even more draconian Prop 11 in South Dakota passes(see here for more on Prop 11)), the ‘tradition’ of controlling women’s bodies and their reproductive capacities will be strengthened – or, in other words, we will be moving BACKWARDS in terms of equality, social justice, and reproductive freedom.

“Tradition” has also been used in the presidential campaign to promote racism and sexism. As Obama threatens the ‘tradition’ of white male rule, he has been targeted in extremely racist ways that feed on the tradition of white supremacist views that are still prevalent in this ‘free’ country. And, as the sexist coverage of both Clinton and Palin reveals, any woman, even when she is a right-to-lifer, weapon/oil/war loving darling of the right, is framed as a threat to the tradition of male/power privilege.

While some traditions are good, (like calling your dad on father’s day, or eating meals together as a family, or voting!) others, (like sexism, racism, homophobia) are abhorrent. While all people should have equal rights and privileges, equal opportunities, the right to marry if they choose, the right to control their own reproductive capacity, the right to run for office without being targeted by racist/sexist campaign propaganda, all traditions are certainly NOT equally good or right.

Thus, when something is touted as good because it is ‘traditional,’ let us all pause and think about what traditions we want to perpetuate and what traditions need to be axed. The ‘traditional family,’ ‘traditional marriage,’ and ‘traditional leaders,’  are not actually altogether good traditions, but traditions that work to limit access to privilege and power and that disenfranchise women, people of color, and non-heterosexuals.

Up with feminist, progressive traditions and down with traditions of hate! And, please, please consider what traditions you would like to perpetuate when you vote come Tuesday…

What if Palin’s “straight talk” were not so darn pageant worthy?

I have to admit, I did not watch the entire veep debate. I was able to handle the entire presidential debate, partly because Obama (unlike so many poli-tics*), is a great speaker, a PROFESSORIAL speaker, which I personally (along with Female Science Professor) think is a very good thing.

Though I had the best intentions of watching the full debate, my stomach started to turn as soon as Palin asked the condescending “Can I call you Joe?” question to Senator Biden. This was of course a pre-meditated attempt to further that friendly, folksy, everyday moose-killing hockey mom image of hers. However, I was insulted – and think Biden had the right to be as well. To presume first name basis with someone you have just met, especially in a setting such as this, is downright presumptuous.

Then, as she launched into her “you betcha’s” and “joe-six packs,” my head began to throb in the way it does whenever I am exposed to GWs speeches. In fact, while she has been called Karl Rove in a skirt and likened to Dr. Laura, she is in many ways very much like a female version of GW, you know, the guy her ticket is trying so hard to distance itself from… Both of them exude that ‘true blue American’ image, promote ideas of “frontier justice,” rely on photo ops and staging rather than substance/smarts, and, neither of them can pronounce the word “nuclear.” Oh, and apparently, (as the Couric interview revealed) Palin shares Bush’s belief that reading the news is unnecessary …

But, the last straw came with the repetitive winks. With the first wink, I found myself in a state of disbelief. “No, she didn’t just do that did she? Surely not during the debate… Maybe those designer glasses of hers pushed an eyelash into her eye…” But, she did it again, and again (four times in all, as this video here shows).

So, some 25 minutes in, I could watch no further. I decided to read up on the debate afterward in order to save myself from nausea. As I ruminated about being so repulsed by her performance that I simply could not watch it without either hurling a brick through my TV screen or hurling my dinner into the garbage can, a thought popped into my head: I feel this same way when exposed to televised beauty pageants. As I have done scholarly work in this area, I have sometimes HAD to watch pageants for research purposes. It is a truly painful experience. All the fake smiles, all the every hair in place gleaming white smiles plasticity, all the faux caring about the world sound bites… Aha, I realized, Palin’s performance irked me so much not only due to her inability to answer the questions or offer substantive analysis, but due to the fact she was acting like the debate was a Miss America contest.

As I began to read around the blogosphere, I found many others irked by her glittery performance. But, the person who captured my own reaction most closely was the wonderful Sara Benincasa at the beginning of her VLOG “THE BIG DAY!“:

“This is for the bathing suit portion of the debate.” Classic!!! Now, I realize that Benincasa’s portrayal mocks Palin as not all that bright and ultra shallow, but, well, she seems to keep affirming that these things are true. Not being able to answer what newspapers you read or name Supreme Court Cases? Doesn’t make you sound too bright there, Palin (no, I won’t presume to call you by your first name).  Turning “Maverick” into a logo, winking and aw-shucksing, buying a tanning bed for your governor’s mansion?!? Well, these indicate there is not a lot of substance (or at least not any kind of substance I would vote for) below all that thickly piled on style.

As Emily Bazelon makes clear in her article “The Un-Hillary: Why watching Sarah Palin is agony for women,” Palin’s gaffs are particularly troubling due to the paucity of women at the top of the political ladder. When she flubs up, or when she winks, it is more fuel to the fire of sexism.  Or, as Bazelon elucidates:

“…Palin’s gender is at the center of another set of reactions I’ve been hearing and reading among women who don’t support her ticket, filled with ambivalence over how bad she is. Laugh at the Tina Fey parodies that make Palin ridiculous just by quoting her verbatim. And then cry. When Palin tanks, it’s good for the country if you want Obama and Biden to win, but it’s bad for the future of women in national politics. I’m in this boat, too. Should we feel sorry for Sarah Palin? No. But if she fails miserably, we might be excused for feeling a bit sorry for ourselves.

Palin is the most prominent woman on the political stage at the moment. By taking unprepared hesitancy and lack of preparation to a sentence-stopping level, she’s yanking us back to the old assumption that women can’t hack it at these heights.” (read the entire piece here)

Indeed. And her playing into the “I’m just a regular old hockey mom” role further entrenches outmoded stereotypes rather than breaking them. She is like an Ann Coulter wet dream.

If she were anti-choice, pro-kill from helicopters, pro-war, pro-abstinence only education WITHOUT all the pageantry performance, that would be plenty bad enough. But throw in the tiara worthy smile, the flirtatious winks, the professional waves and camera hamming, well this makes her not only a horrible candidate for anyone who cares about reproductive justice and social equity, but also for anyone who cares about breaking down the stereotypes and beliefs surrounding women’s ‘special’ 2nd class, just a mom (or potential mom) status.

Further, her pageant worthy performance seems devoid of what Miss America calls “the platform.”  This “platform concept…requires each contestant to choose an issue about which she cares deeply and that is of relevance to our country.” What is, in fact, Palin’s platform? Supposedly she is an expert on energy policy, but I have seen little evidence of this. Her platform seems about as empty as Miss Teen USA’s infamous answer to the question “Why can’t 1/5 of Americans locate the US on a world map.” In fact, is Miss Teen USA’s answer really that different in quality to some of the answers Palin gave during the Couric interview? Sadly, I think not. Watch for yourselves and see if Miss Teen USA’s speaking style reminds you of Palin’s verbal histrionics…

However, making links such like this is bound to 1)bring the trolls out with comments like “listen ugly feminist, don’t hate her just cuz she is hot” or 2)garner comments that I am being sexist by picking on Palin, one of my “sisters.” Over at Alas, a Blog, Jeff Fecke offers excellent analysis of this “pretty and female” stance:

“The right is fond of complaining that feminists and feminist allies hate Sarah Palin because she’s pretty. We don’t. She’s conventionally attractive, yes, but that’s not really surprising. Most politicians are on the pretty end of the spectrum, from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton to George W. Bush to Mitt Romney. Not all of them, of course, but many of them.

Palin’s physical attractiveness is, for feminists, a null issue. She’s pretty? Fine, but will she be a good vice president? A good president?  She’s not going to be able to negotiate better with Putin because she’s pretty – but it won’t be a handicap, either. No, her mind is the part of her anatomy we’re most interested in.”

Yes, that mind that the satirical comic from DemocraticUnderground.com indicates labels the globe into us (#1) and them (evildoers, pussies, and people who do laundry).

As Fecke’s post argues, we should “have enough respect for Palin to argue for her on her merits as a leader” and “that her merits as a leader are wanting is no reason to reduce her to her sexuality.” I agree entirely, I just wish she would stop reducing herself.

*Jon Stewart breaks down the word in his joke from Episode 18, in 2008:Poli (meaning “many”) Tics (meaning “blood-sucking insects”)”

What if WPD’s (white privilege deniers) are just as dangerous as WMD’s (weapons of mass destruction)?

 

Anyone twenty or older who has been somewhat awake to global issues has undoubtedly heard of “WMD’s” and knows that the “war on terror” was justified via claims that “terrorist countries” had, or were about to have, weapons of mass destruction. This was revealed to be a lie – a lie even the promulgators of mass deception, the MSM, had to eventually admit. (And, as those with their heads not stuck in the sand of denial must surely realize, the U.S. is more of a “terrorist country” than many of the other places it throws that label at).

Thus, the war-cry of “they have WMD’s” turned out to be a lie – a lie that was vehemently defended by the likes of Bush, Powell, Cheney, Rice – you know, the whole US Empire gang. Yet, this gang denied their wrongdoings for sometime, trying to cover their lying tracks with claims they were misled by misinformation.

Denial seems very popular these days amongst politicians. And, while wealth is not “trickling down” as the republicans and neo-cons keep promising it well, one thing that is definitely trickling down is denial.

One type of denial I come across regularly is WPD – white privilege denial.

WPD sounds like this: “Yeah, I’m white, but I worked REALLY hard to get where I am. I am not successful because I’m white; I’m successful because of my work ethic.”

Or, it sounds like this: “I suffer from racism too. I went to a school where I was one of few white kids and I got picked on all the time.”

Or, it sounds like this, “I am discriminated against as a white person because I can’t get financial aid or scholarships. I don’t get the benefit of affirmative action. ..”(By the way, for a post that debunks myths surrounding affirmative action, see here.)

Or, it sounds like this: “I am not white. I am a mixture of German, Dutch, Scandinavian, and Scottish.” (Hello! What the hell color do you think that is? Mix a bunch of different whites together and what do you get? White!!!) Another one in this vein: “I’m not white, I am Caucasian.” Duh.  You and Homer Simpson.

Many white people are very reticent to own up to their white privilege. Many, in fact, get VERY ANGRY when confronted with the claim that their white skin privileges them in NUMEROUS ways.

What these deniers often fail to realize is the concept of intersectionality. They think because they are disadvantaged or oppressed in other ways that this somehow cancels out the white privilege. But, one can have white skin privilege, or be, as I like to call it, a POWP (person of white privilege) and NOT have class privilege, heterosexual privilege, male privilege, etc. Or, as Tim Wise puts it, “None of this means that white folks don’t face challenges. Of course we do, and some of them (based on class, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, or other factors) are systemic and institutionalized. But on balance, we can take for granted that we will receive a leg-up on those persons of color with whom we share a nation.”

Or, in other words, regardless of how many other ‘oppressive marks’ one has, white skin is NOT a mark of oppression, but a mark of privilege.

Just how dangerous are these WPD’s? Very!

Like weapons of mass destruction, white privilege deniers are incredibly harmful. They damage the fabric of society. They perpetuate racism, prop-up white privilege, and create animosity within social justice movements. WPD’s keep white privilege in place while simultaneously blaming POC at an individual level for problems that are societally induced and maintained.

WPD’s are those white people that claim racism doesn’t exist while they go about being racists in their daily lives. WPD’s are those white people that always try to change the subject when a critical examination of whiteness takes center stage. WPD’s get offended when you tell them their whiteness is showing. They defend their position in society, their status, their prime place in history with all sorts of excuses, and particularly with claims that they themselves have worked REALLY, REALLY hard for any perks they have. They also love to pull out “I suffer from all the horrible stereotypes about white people” talking points such as “Because I’m white, people think I am rich and stuck up, but it’s just not true,” or, “Because I am white people think I am racist, but I am not. I have a black/Mexican/fill in the blank friend.” Blah, blah, blah.

WPD’s suffer from, as Renee at Womanist Musings calls it, the “Audacity of Whiteness.”

Face it all you WPD’s, if you ever find yourself denying your white privilege or complaining that you are oppressed because you are white, you are acting not only as a WPD but as a WMD –  as a weapon of mass destruction. Racism is weapon, and one that undoubtedly takes a massive, destructive toll on society. As a WPD, you are actively attacking the world with your racist weaponry, with your white privilege denial.  As Tim Wise notes, “White privilege is, in short, the problem.” (Read his excellent post, “This is your nation on white privilege,” here.)

Yes, white privilege is the problem, and white privilege deniers are a massive weapon that helps to keep this problem in place. If only we heard speeches of the like: “The USA has been found to be harboring WPD’s on a massive scale. Those of us who care about bringing an end to this world threatening fact need to take united action to help these WPD’s overcome their dangerous ways. Join with me, today, to lead our world out of its WPD dependence.”

As I don’t foresee this type of speech coming down the pipes anytime soon, and certainly not from the likes of Sarah Palin (who Sarah Benincasa spoofs as ‘meeting her first black person’ here), those of us who see WPD for what it is need to do our part to eradicate this invasive form of denial. So, POWPs and POC, I encourage you to make this week (and every week) one in which you do whatever you can to get WPD to put down their weapon.

(For a related post I wrote a while back on the social construction of whiteness, see here.)

What if Sarah Palin (and all the other “it’s a personal issue” voices) understood that THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL? Or, what if we baked a new damn pie?

I was going to avoid writing about Palin, mainly because the topic has already been covered so well by so many others. However, thanks to prompting from a reader, I decided to add my two cents to the discussion.

In reading around the feminist/progressive blogosphere, I have noticed two distinct threads that intrigue me in relation to Palin. The first is that many bloggers have weighed in on the matter of her 17-year-old daughter’s unplanned pregnancy, arguing this is a ‘personal matter’ and Palin’s daughter should be left out of the discussion. For examples of this line of argument, see here and here. The second thread that intrigues me is the analysis of how Palin’s ‘personal life’ and practices (i.e. 5 kids, a love of moose hunting, etc) shouldn’t have any baring on the analysis of her as a leader and, that, further, the focus on these details is fueled by the inherent sexism of our society. For an example of this line of argument, see here.

I agree with both of these lines of argument to an extent. Regarding the first, I agree Palin’s daughter should not be dragged through the mud because of the misfortune of suddenly having her life thrust into the limelight due to her mother’s VP candidacy. However, I disagree that this ‘personal, family matter’ should be left out of the discussion. (I will elucidate why shortly).

Regarding the 2nd line of argument, I agree much of the coverage of Palin has been sexist in the extreme and that we, even if we don’t endorse Palin or agree with her political stance, should call out the sexist attacks/coverage of Palin (as we should with any woman). However, I disagree that her ‘personal life’ should not be part of the political discussion.

As I thought about these issues, a famous feminist slogan began ringing through my head: “The personal is political.” While there has been much debate over the origins and meaning of this slogan over the years, it is most widely attributed to originating from the title of 1969 essay penned by Carol Hanisch.

In common usage, it has come to mean that what we do in our personal lives has political ramifications and, conversely, that our personal lives our dictated by the politics of society. Here, ‘politics’ is not meant in the specific sense as in of/or relating to electoral politics and politicians, but, rather, as in the broad systems and ideologies of power that shape society.

Hanisch, in her 1969 essay, was responding specifically to the belittling of feminist consciousness raising as unimportant, as unrelated to broader systems of power, and as ‘just therapy.’ Hanisch was also criticizing what she saw as an ‘anti-woman’ stance of some segments of the movement at that time – or, to clarify, a stance that attacked other women rather than the system of male dominance/patriarchy.

Hanisch and other radical feminists liker her called for a ‘pro-woman’ stance that avoided blaming other women or constructing them as dupes, and called for blaming the system instead. In relation to the now famous slogan “the personal is political,” this meant that the personal issues facing women were linked to the wider societal systems and institutions – that, what you do in your own house, your own daily life, is linked to (and defined by) the politics of the society in which you live. Or, as Hanisch put it in her essay, “personal problems are political problems.” Or, as Elanas at blogher defines it much more recently, “there is an entire political structure that takes shape in my everyday life. My personal life is a function of the political order.”

This slogan is very pertinent to Palin’s candidacy. She has been the victim of an extreme “anti-woman stance,” both from the mainstream media and from alternative media/the blogosphere. She has been personally attacked and vilified from the minute her candidacy was announced, as Kim Gandy elucidates here. Hanisch was critiquing just this type of stance, suggesting that we should not attack the individual woman, but the system that creates (and rewards) women for their appearance, their normative beliefs, their buying into patriarchy/sexism etc.

The “personal is political” slogan and the sentiment behind it also informs Gloria Steinem’s recent piece “Wrong Woman, Wrong Message”. When Steinem writes that, “Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It’s about making life fairer for women everywhere. It’s not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It’s about baking a new pie,” she elucidates that the ‘pie’ of our current culture is unjust, and that everyone’s ‘personal’ piece of pie is part of the bigger pie. When this pie is racist, sexist, classist, etc, it’s no good to have a nice big privileged piece of it – rather, we need to make a new pie! We should not be celebrating Palin’s nomination as a victory for women (and certainly not for feminism), rather, we should see it as a solidification of the existing system that tries to make itself look equitable by giving CERTAIN women bigger pieces of the existing corporatist patriarchal white supremacist pie.

So, how does all this further link to the “new hotness” as one sexist troll called Sarah Palin in the commentary on Steinem’s piece? Well, firstly, the fact that Palin’s appearance has been EXCESSIVELY focused on links to the fact that our pie, our society, is filled to bursting with sexism and that women, no matter how powerful, are ripe for being sexually objectified. Even though I do not agree with Palin’s anti-choice, anti-woman, anti-justice stance, I still take issue with the fact that we live in a society that thinks it’s ok to value women mainly for how ‘hot’ they are. This links to “the personal is political” notion in that our sexist society affects the personal lives of women via the way it values them based on their appearance. In Palin’s case, perhaps this affected her personally by giving her the message that beauty contests are a-ok and competing to be “Miss Alaska” is say, more important than competing for equitable wages.

In regards to the most recent kerfuffle over her teen daughter’s unplanned pregnancy, this ‘personal’ issue is one that is no doubt affected by the ‘politics’ of a nation that pretends teenagers won’t have sex if we don’t teach them about it (as with abstinence education). Moreover, claiming that this is a ‘personal matter’ is utter hypocrisy. So it’s personal when Palin’s daughter gets pregnant, but when anyone else does, it should be a matter of the state??? Or, as Gary Younge puts it in his piece on Palin, “The woman who would like us to keep her daughter’s pregnancy a private matter is running for office so that she can make the pregnancies of other people’s daughters an affair of the state.”

As Younge also points out, “Palin decided to showcase her personal life, and particularly her motherhood, as a centerpiece of her candidacy.” Thus, as he advises her (and other politicians in general) “if family and children are off limits, then do us all a favor and keep them the hell off of the stage and away from the microphones.”

Or, as Tim Rutten similarly argues in the LA TIMES “the fact of Bristol Palin’s situation and the way in which she and her family have chosen to deal with it are legitimate issues, because they involve public policy issues on which Sarah Palin, candidate for vice president, has taken political positions.” These positions include opposing sex ed in schools and trying to eradicate choice for everyone not in her own family. So, if you are a Palin, you get to make reproductive choices. Not a daughter of Sarah? Sorry, no choice for you. (To get a laugh from the mind-blowing hypocrisy of this stance, see Samantha Bee’s brilliant piece here.)

The other thing we need to consider is that not only is the personal political, but the political is also personal. Political decisions, acts, laws, etc., affect our personal lives each and every day – they determine everything from how much we pay at the pump to whether we can get our birth control prescription filled at the local pharmacy. As such, the binary split we tend to uphold between public and private, between the political verses the personal, is false (as are all socially constructed and maintained dichotomies).

So, yes, I agree that much of the commentary on Palin (and Bristol) has been intrusive, however, I disagree that the fact Palin’s teen daughter is pregnant is a “personal issue” – especially given that Palin, as a current governor and possible VP is using her personal (evangelical fueled) religious beliefs to limit the choices and opportunities of the people in her state and potentially, if she becomes VP, of people all over the world.

I also agree that much of the commentary on Palin has been very sexist. And this gets me back to the pie issue. When our culture is akin to a pie baked with sexism, flavored with anti-choice laws, laced with abstinence only education, and filled to the brim with the sexual objectification of women, should we really expect any different? Well, not unless we work together to bake a new damn pie! (And guess what?!? Palin doesn’t want to bake a new pie, she just wants a big ole piece of the existing one – with a side of moose.)

What if the question wasn’t one of “liberal or conservative” but one of “democratic or fascist”?

As if I needed to make my blood boil more in the heat wave that is radiating across San Diego, while listening to NPR on my drive home, I began to hear the voice of Mitt Romney booming from my radio. I instinctively reached to change the channel when I heard the question “What do you think Washington is right now, liberal or conservative?”

“This I gotta hear,” I thought.

With the rhetorical question “is our government liberal or conservative?” framing his RNC speech, Romney attempted to claim that we live in a country that leans far too far to the left, that we have a liberal Supreme Court (yeah, Alito et al or SOOO liberal), and that we are all under the spell of ‘big government liberals.’

Now, it would have been nice if Romney had defined for his listeners exactly what he meant by ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ as these are very slippery, complex terms. For now, let’s suffice it to say that ‘liberal’ seemed to be used by Romney in the catch all insulting way it is by many Republicans and neo-conservatives – it supposedly means one is too easy on “terrorists,” that one supports “government dependency” (yes, because believing social services like education and healthcare are the purview of the government is so sadly dependent…), that one cares WAY TOO DAMN MUCH about the environment and wants to make the US “dependent on Middle Eastern Tyrants” (MR’s words, not mine!). Romney even suggested that liberals are to blame for high gas prices. Yeah, Mitt, that has nothing to do with the big oil industrial complex, global militarization, and CONSERVATIVES blockage of getting the US off of the oil sauce. (See, for example, the wonderful documentary Who Killed the Electric Car. As a hint: it wasn’t liberals.)

While many would call me ‘liberal,’ (my dad, in fact, likes to call me a ‘bleeding heart liberal’), I choose to call myself progressive. This is partly due to the fact that many self-proclaimed liberals and leftists have of late widely diverged from tenets I hold dear, and also because I think ‘progressive’ more correctly sums up my beliefs. You see, we progressives want to PROGRESS society forward by bringing about changes that benefit all people, not just people in the United States, not just people with white skin, not just people with sausage and waffles (my son’s way of referencing penis and testicles). Conservatives, on the other hand, want to CONSERVE the status quo. They want to keep things as they are. Heck people, it says it all right there in the word!

But, let’s get back to good ol’ boy Mitt. What if the question wasn’t one of “liberal or conservative” (as in his speech) but one of “democratic or fascist”? Well, if he was asked “Is this country right now democratic or fascist?,” I am quite sure he would loudly proclaim that we are a democratic nation, that we are, as the closing words of his speech proclaimed “the hope of the world.”

Yet, as you can read and view here, here, and here, the United States currently exhibits all of the warning signs of fascism. In fact, Romney’s speech inadvertently conceded this fact when he characterized the US as an Orwellian society. As he said, “It’s time for the party of big ideas, not the party of Big Brother.” Now, Romney used this line to insinuate that the ‘liberals’ who supposedly rule this country are the party of ‘Big Brother’ (he apparently has never read the novel 1984 or he would now that BB is far from liberal). Yet, what is true in this line (although I am sure he didn’t mean it in this way) is that we indeed are under the leadership of ‘the party of Big Brother.’

Big Brother and the fascist society depicted in Orwell’s novel thrived on perpetual war, on keeping the masses overworked and undereducated, on controlling not only all media but language itself, on demonizing sexuality, on hatred, prejudice, sexism, racism, etc. Sound familiar? Sound a little bit like the US? Would you like to CONSERVE these ‘values’ or might you be interested in PROGRESSING society – changing society – in ways that benefit all humans, not just those with money, power, white skin, certain religious leanings, and who belong to certain clubs (Bohemian Grove, PNAC, etc).

Indeed, reading 1984 feels more like reading non-fiction these days.

Sadly, the key question we need to be asking is not “Is the US liberal or conservative?” but “Is the US becoming, or is it already, a fascist state?” How about posing that much more important question in your next speech Mitt? Or, do you wish to continue to allow “retreat in the face of evil extremism”? (A hint here Mitt, the ‘evil extremism’ I refer to is that of the corporate elite and their lackeys that rule the globe, NOT to the people you so broadly paint as evil – i.e. liberals, people of the Islam faith, and people of Middle Eastern descent.)

If I needed reminding why I am progressive (which I didn’t), Mitt certainly gave it to me… (In fact, listening to the coverage of the RNC makes my ‘bleeding heart liberal’ self want to cry, throw up, revolt, move to another planet…) If McSaim and Pain win, oh goodness, well it will be just as depressing (if not more so) than the last two stolen elections.

So, to end on a more positive note, let me close with a progressive shout out: “Go McKinney!”

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