Telling Senator Warren to Shut Up? Hell No! When They Go Low, We Will Too

mcconnell-warren

The maelstrom over Mitch McConnell’s insulting “shutting up” of Senator Elizabeth Warren has provoked some thoughtful commentary on how very typical it is for women to be silenced in majority-male environments.

“The unpalatable truth is that women encounter this behavior in most professions,” writes Susan Chira in The New York Times. “It often comes from well-intentioned men who are horrified when it is pointed out or oblivious when it is going on, as well as those who are less enlightened.”

I have encountered this kind of behavior many times in my own profession. For example, one man who I’m sure would think of himself as “enlightened,” recently stormed out of a meeting in a rage after a woman colleague, tired of listening to him hold forth interminably, dared to interrupt him in order to insert a thought of her own.

Yes, women still struggle to get a word in edgewise, not only because of the behavior and expectations of others, but also because of our own internalized socialization, which enjoins us to be polite, wait our turn, speak only when we’re very sure of the value of what we have to say.

In the wake of the Women’s March on Washington and all the solidarity marches around the country and around the world…in the wake of the Drumpf administration’s retrograde and quite open attack on women’s rights…in view of the extreme seriousness of our historical moment…

IT IS CLEAR THAT WOMEN CAN NO LONGER AFFORD TO BE QUIET.

For many of us, the idea of speaking up in a meeting or a crowd can be frightening. We may not think of ourselves as community leaders, or want to step outside the comfort zones of our carefully defined personal and professional lives.

But these are not ordinary times.

We stand on the precipice of a future that may well be more cataclysmic as anything the 20th century threw at us.

We are told that Bannon, the evil genius behind the throne of the orange man, is eager to foment World War III. Through his golem, DT, he is provoking and needling our allies, sometimes by making friends with common enemies like Russia; he is weaseling his way into the Vatican and trying to stir up dissension among the Cardinals under the current peaceful, green-minded Pope; he is going out of his way to exacerbate the climate change problem by putting the full weight of the presidency behind fossil fuel extraction and distribution, the hell with environmental impacts.

A new “axis of evil” is being laid out for us, the conditions for war made artificially inexorable, just as they were in 2001 when Bush & Co. lied to America and threw us into the needless Iraq war.

I stand for reproductive rights just as much as the next woman, but American women, I’m telling you, we have even bigger battles to fight right now.

Women’s rights are human rights; critical issues of economics, geopolitics and environment are women’s issues; women need to be seen and heard—loudly, nastily, stubbornly—on every issue of concern to our nation and the world today.

Mitch McConnell is going to find that while he may have silenced U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren on one evening, there are going to be dozens, if not hundreds and thousands of women standing up to take her place. Thought we may not be welcome in the august chambers of Congress, we can barrage members by phone, email, snail mail and social media to make our voices heard.

170121211838-28-womens-march-dc-super-169.jpg

We can and must work in our communities to plan the ousting of the idiots in the 2018 elections, when every single House seat will be up for grabs, along with a good number of Senate seats and governorships.

We have to get used to the idea that the Repugs will play dirty, and be willing to fight fire with fire. No more “when they go low we go high.” When they go low, we have to go low too, in the interests of winning!

Women, especially white women, are a key demographic in upcoming elections. Progressive white women need to reach out to the 53% of white women who voted for Drumpf and find out why. What did they see in the slimeball–I mean, the guy? Are we seeing some sad version of Stockholm syndrome here?

This is a time for coalitions across all kinds of borders. We can win the battle for our country and our future, but only if we put aside perceived differences and focus on what unites us.

I am remembering “Me and Bobby McGee,” the Janis Joplin song from the 60s, with the refrain “Freedom’s just another name for nothing left to lose.”

American progressives, we don’t have much to lose now. We have everything—EVERYTHING—to win. Let’s get out there and WIN THIS!!

 

Useful organizing links:

Indivisible Guide to Resisting the Trump Agenda

Women’s March on Washington Next Step: Huddles

People’s Climate March on Washington, April 29, 2017

General strikes, including “A Day Without Women”

Guide to the Anti-Trump Movements

“Tales from the Grassy Bank”: Day One of the New Resistance

What an exciting day it was! Today was a day when once again, people all over America and the world took to the streets to stand up for justice.

la-na-pol-womens-march-live-kamala-harris-the-women-s-march-is-1485027028

This time it was a “women’s march,” but lots of men came along in solidarity, and I was glad to hear Senator Kamala Harris, in her speech to the crowd in Washington DC, sassily point out that the economy and jobs are “women’s issues.” Women’s rights are human rights, as the saying goes, and no society can be successful if half their population is left behind.

It’s frustrating that we are still fighting for the same rights that our mothers and grandmothers sought decades ago. How could women’s right to control their own reproductive health be threatened once again? Why do we still not have pay equity? Why is “women’s work” like housework and childcare (or teaching) not respected or rewarded? Why don’t parents accrue social security for time spent doing the hard work of raising the next generation?

I flip between moments of truculent hope, when I look at that sea of energized women and men in the streets of our nation and believe that We the People Have the Power—and moments when I see in my mind’s eye the pink bulbous faces of the Republicans who dominate our Congress, as well as hold most of the Governors’ seats in our country, and despair that our side will be able to overcome their political stranglehold.

They have their hands on our throats now, and they’re squeezing hard.

c2uaqf6xuaesylaBut we are many; they are few. They can’t choke all of us; they can’t cut our mikes or silence our social media feeds.

We’ve burst through the old gates that used to keep the people in their place—outside of the halls of power. They may be able to drag protestors out of the Chambers of Congress, but they can’t drown out the howls of protest we can put up on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram walls.

Let’s see them try to take away our health care rights, like access to family planning. Let’s see them try to put the bogus “pre-existing condition” obstructions back in place. Let’s see them try to throw the poor and the elderly and the sick off the health care rolls.

Let’s see them try to expand fracking into every suburban neighborhood, with pipelines criss-crossing state parks and town squares. Let’s see them start pushing Big Oil again at the expense of our precious oceans and forests.

Let’s see them try to divide and conquer us by fanning the flames of inter-group rivalry, a classic “master’s tool” from colonial times: white against black, religion against religion, men against women, straight against gay and on and on.

You know what Congressboys? We’re too smart for that shit now.

We see right through you, Mr. Emperor-with-no-clothes Drumpf. You’re an embarrassment. You only got where you are by lying, cheating, and kicking your opponents in the balls (or the pussy, as the case may be).

As many of the speakers said today, this is only the beginning of our resistance. We’re going to have to stay focused and be willing to give time, energy and treasure to this fight, which is truly shaping up to be THE fight of our time, the fight that will determine the future of our planet for—well, perhaps forever.

If that sounds like hyperbole, I assure you it is not. The stakes are HIGH. The going will be TOUGH. We must stick together and keep our spirits up for the long haul.

16105811_604696691984_6532979208172387937_n

Capacity crowd at the Colonial Theater for the Berkshire Sister March event (this is just half the theater, taken from backstage)

Today in my little corner of the world, a group of talented creative women made it possible for some 1,650 people to get together in our biggest local theater, the Colonial, and watch the livestream of Democracy Now! reporting from the march in Washington DC. In the afternoon, a few of us presented a staged reading we had prepared—six writers reading their own powerful responses to the election, and six actors reading highlights of the U.S. Constitution. I wish I could share it all with you, because it was totally amazing!

I only have the short piece I presented, which I called “Tales from the Grassy Bank.” As I say in the piece, I decided I didn’t want to do what most of the speakers in Washington were doing: getting people all riled up about everything they hate about the way our political system malfunctioned this year.

Instead, I wanted to get the audience to slow down and get beyond the personal and political, reminding ourselves about the planetary, our Mother Earth who has been so patient with our misbehavior as a species, and who is always there for us to turn to for solace when the going gets too rough.

So this is what I presented, January 21, 2017 at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield MA, at the Berkshire sister march event.

Tales from the Grassy Bank

by Jennifer Browdy

            Although I have a lot I could say about how much I disagree with the people taking charge of our government right now, and the policies they stand for, I’ve decided that I don’t want to spend my precious time on this stage strutting and fretting and repeating the tales told by the idiots now in power.

After all, Shakespeare reminds us that in the end all that posturing is only sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I want to take us to a different place.

Close your eyes, if you want to, and imagine we’re sitting outside on a summer day, on a grassy bank by a rushing stream, shaded by a big old willow tree. The sun is warm but in the shade of the willow it’s cool and calm. An occasional bee drones by, and you can see the blue dragonflies darting above the water. A cardinal is singing his heart out in the tree high above us.

Sitting here in this peaceful place, you can feel the strong, massive roots of the willow holding up the bank, and holding you up with it. The power of the intertwined mat of roots rises up through your tailbone, up your spine, and reaches out through the top of your head towards the sun—the brilliant sun without which the green bounty of this special place could not exist.

This is the place from which my activism springs. Everything I do in the world can be traced back to my love for and deep connection to the natural world, and my awareness my life has no meaning—and indeed, I could not exist for a moment—apart from this connection.

This is true of all of us, whether we’re aware of it or not.

The important thing to understand is that we belong to the Earth, and we have a deeper purpose here than being poor players on the superficial stages created by others’ political agendas.

What we are here to do transcends the tumult of our particular time and place, which is why it’s so important to take the time to turn off our screens, disconnect from the mad rush of the 24/7 news cycle, and focus on doing the inner work that is a necessary prologue to effective activism out in the world. Slowly and patiently we must cultivate our capacity to become the fierce defenders of this Earth we so love.

When we work at this together, our lone quiet voices will swell to become a mighty river, a roaring torrent that will sweep away the tales told by idiots and replace them with a deep understanding of ourselves–as individuals, as members of our society, and as integral parts of the entire ecological web of our planet.

Whenever you start to feel lost in the sound and the fury, in the superficial madness of our time, remember that the grassy bank is always waiting there for you.

You can always retreat to your own special willow tree, and do the slow, timeless work of aligning the personal, political and planetary, remembering and honoring the elemental sources—Earth, Water, Fire and Air—from which we all spring.

Truly it’s a hellish landscape we’re walking through these days. But if we persevere, with the spirit of Mother Earth as our guide, we’ll be able to find our way out to the place where we can look up together, and see the stars.

img_0775

Stockbridge MA, Sunset and Moonrise. November 2016. Photo by J. Browdy

With thanks to my sister writers, performers and organizers of this inspiring event, “Rock the Constitution!”: Kristen van Ginhoven, Jayne Benjulian, Jana Laiz, Barbara Newman, Lara Tupper, Sheela Clary, Rachel Siegel, Grace Rossman, MaConnia Chesser, Corinna May, Lori Evans, Joan Coombs, Ariel Bock, Brenny Rabine.

Barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen? Hell no!

Parsing the memes dealing with women in this election season is almost dizzying.

From “binders full of women” to the insinuation that if women get pregnant from a rape, it’s “something that God intended,” Republicans seem determined to put their feet their mouths over and over again.

There are signs now that women are getting the message, and getting more politically active as a result.

Yesterday I received the new Lesley Gore video, “You Don’t Own Me,” from several sources; if you have’t seen it yet, it’s worth a look: it’s a composite of many different women (most of them young) telling the politicians to get their f**king hands off our bodies (emphasis mine).

The specter of Roe v. Wade being reversed has a lot of women frightened.

We seem to be heading eerily towards the scenario imagined by Margaret Atwood some thirty years ago in The Handmaid’s Tale: a nightmare landscape of environmental devastation and societal breakdown, where the elite, safe in their gated communities, feel righteously justified in considering forced childbearing the only function of fertile young women.

I am still trying to wrap my head around the reality of the fact that we live in a country where Viagra is fully covered by insurance, but contraception often is not.

We live in a world where powerful men can get away with assaulting women and boys repeatedly, with the collusion of those around them. Sandusky and DSK, I’m looking at YOU—but these just the most scandalous recent cases, there are so many more in their club.

And if we move over to the virtual world, the violence against women’s bodies grows exponentially.  People always tell me that there’s all kinds of porn out there, from the soft & cuddly to the whips and chains, but from what I know, there are an awful lot of men jerking off to women’s pain.

I really don’t like calling men out like this.  I believe that many–probably most—men are fine upstanding citizens who would never hurt a woman.

But the truth is that we women need all those fine upstanding men to stand up for us now.

I was shocked at the statistics released last week showing that if only men voted in the Presidential election, Romney would win.

That means that an awful lot men support the kind of patriarchal social structure Romney indisputably stands for.

When is the last time you heard of a Mormon woman running a big company, or holding political office, or doing much of anything outside of doing the admittedly fulltime work of raising a big brood of children?

And then there’s the other half of the ticket, Paul Ryan—a Roman Catholic who seems to be Scrooge re-issued in a virile young package.

These two are the front men for a huge back-to-the-future wave of religious conservatism that employs much more subtle means than the Islamic Brotherhood, but with the same ends: to uphold male privilege and keep women securely ensconced in the private sphere.

A Romney might take a look at those “binders of women,” but in the end he’ll choose a nice young white man as the “most qualified” of the lot.

A Ryan might approve of a married woman leaving the home to earn some extra bread for her husband’s table, but if her daughter was raped while mom was out and got pregnant, too bad—suck it up, have the child, life goes on, and it’s just too bad that rapists are so rarely punished.  After all, boys will be boys, and girls ask for it.

If all American women voted in this election, President Obama would win by a landslide.

Obama has been good to women where it counts: he’s drastically improved health care and fought off the insurance dragons who want to label even pregnancy a “re-existing condition”; he’s stood up for women’s ownership of our reproductive health; the stimulus he put into place in his first year has kept our economy limping along,despite the repeated and concerted efforts of Republican Congressmen to sabotage it; and his government showcases a number of powerful, strong women who provide excellent leadership models for all Americans.

Shortly after he was sworn in as President of the United States, Barack Obama wrote a public letter to his two daughters, Malia and Sasha, in which he says:

“These are the things I want for you—to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That’s why I’ve taken our family on this great adventure.”

The historic election of the nation’s first African American President represented a giant step forward for this country.  A racial barrier that had seemed insurmountable fell, just as suddenly as the Berlin Wall fell two decades ago, ending what had seemed to be an everlasting Cold War.

We need the gender barriers to fall too. I know there are young women in the political pipeline today who have the dream of breaking through all the glass ceilings and reaching the sky, and we should be doing all we can to support them.

Today, what we need to do is prevent the takeover of this nation by rightwing religious conservatives.  We need to vote President Obama back into office.

And then we need to keep going, to make this a nation where all our children—no matter their gender, their race, their class, their religion or their ethnicity—can soar.

Surmounting the challenges facing us not just as a country, but as a planet, will take every ounce of creative, innovation and intelligence we can muster.

We need all our children to turn their minds to this task.  We can’t afford to leave half the population—our women—barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

Leadership revisited: from ruthless and reckless to thoughtful and wise

This week I finally had a chance to see the new documentary film that has a lot of people buzzing, MISSREPRESENTATION, written and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom.  The film clearly and graphically makes the argument that women are systematically objectified and dumbed down in the media, and that this is connected to the on-going gender disparity between men and women professionals.

Having taught women’s and gender studies classes for more than a decade, the film didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. But it presented the information in a slick, well-argued way that had the audience gasping, nodding and cringing by turns.

I was somewhat disappointed with the conclusion of the film, however, which mostly urged the audience to take personal action to challenge the misrepresentation of women in the media and in business and politics, and to personally resist social pressure on women to focus on how they look rather than how smart they are and what they do.

Yes, raising personal awareness and mounting personal resistance is important.  But what’s really needed is systemic change.

A great illustration of what I mean by systemic change came my way this morning through a New York Times reprint of a Reuters piece by Chrystia Freeland, “Cultural Constraints on Women Leaders.”

Freeland discusses a new study by University of Toronto business professors Soo Min Toh and Geoffrey Leonardelli, who asked a simple question: Why aren’t there more female leaders?

You can read the article yourself to find out more about how they answered the question.  What interested me most was the author’s conclusion: that even in societies that have been relatively open to women’s advancement, “the one thing women around the world have failed to do is create paradigm-shifting companies.

“None of the great technology start-ups — for example, Google, Apple and Facebook — were founded by a woman. Nor were any of the leading hedge funds, the innovators in the world of money, established by a women. Women are not just underrepresented in this space of transformative entrepreneurs — they are entirely absent.”

Freeland concludes that “the final frontier for women, even in societies that allow them to lead established institutions, is to be ruthless and to take big risks, essential qualities in world-changing entrepreneurs. Instead, as the authors found of female entrepreneurs in Malaysia, women often have to “lead as if they were mothers or teachers.”

This conclusion just demonstrates the extent to which even a very intelligent woman like Chrystia Freeland is still a prisoner of her social indoctrination.

Because the point is that it’s those risk-taking, world-changing entrepreneurs–all men–whose reckless leadership has so endangered our planet that we live in constant fear of the “sixth great extinction event.

It would be a profoundly GOOD THING for our planet and human civilization if our leaders guided us “as if they were mothers or teachers.”

Yes, I am writing this on an Apple laptop which I love, with my iphone on the desk beside me. Yes, I use Google and visit Facebook daily.

But is my attachment to these gadgets and conveniences more important to me, or the world, than our very survival as a species?

What good will my iphone do me when global heating goes out of control, leading to food shortages, storms of biblical proportion, and general lawlessness and fear?

The mother and teacher in me knows that those who look to me for guidance depend on me to choose a safe, wise path.  I will not lead them over a cliff.  I will weigh the risks and benefits and make the decision that benefits the group as a whole.

That is not true of the risk-taking cowboys who have led us to the brink of environmental, financial and social collapse as the 21st century dawns.

We need more men and women to come forward as responsible leaders and tell old-school folks like Freeland, in no uncertain terms, that her ideas of leadership are profoundly flawed.

It will do us no good if women achieve leadership success in the same old masculine terms.  If we are to survive the challenges that await us in the coming years, we need to change the paradigm of successful leadership.

Lead as if you were a mother or a teacher.  Let’s try that on for size.

IWD 2012: If not you, who? If not now, when?

Is it coincidence that on International Women’s Day 2012, Earth was bombarded by one of the most intense solar flares ever?

I can’t see them from my window, but apparently Northern Lights are visible way further south than normal tonight, thanks to the extra radiation from the Sun.

Could it be that the Sun is urging us on, sending us the pulse of a solar storm to motivate us to action?

What do I wish for women, this IWD? What do I want from women today?

I am tired of women being held hostage on the basis of their reproductive capabilities.

Yes, we are the ones who bear the babies after sex.

Sex happens and we love it.

Babies happen, too.

If a woman doesn’t want to bear the baby that takes root after sex, she has every right to decide what to do about it.

Period, end of statement.

Women have the right to be educated about their reproductive options.

Women have the right to have access to contraception, no matter their age.

Insurance companies have no right to treat contraception differently than they would treat any other drug.

Men are very happy to have insurance cover their Viagra so they can screw to their heart’s delight.

Fine.  But don’t deny women the same right to manage our reproductive capabilities as we see fit.

***

Today in class, when we briefly discussed IWD and women’s equality, it was inevitable that one young woman present had to tell the group how much she enjoyed cleaning house, so that she couldn’t imagine that the “second shift” would be a burden.

I just let it go.  Honey, let’s talk again in another 15 years, I wanted to say (my students are generally under 20 years old).

I would like you to come back to me in 15 or 20 years, when you have a toddler and an infant and are working fulltime, and tell me that you love cleaning and it’s perfectly OK that you do more of it than your so-called partner.

***

Yeah, OK, a little bit of anger there.

I was glad to see an article on Common Dreams today entitled “That’s Enough Politeness – Women Need to Rise Up in Anger.”

Hell yeah.

Women like me have been trained to be oh-so-polite.

We don’t rock the boat.

We are grateful for our jobs.

We are grateful for our mates.

We are grateful for our home and our children.

We don’t talk about the personal sacrifices needed to maintain all of the above.

As Laurie Penny puts it, “Women, like everyone else, have been duped. We have been persuaded over the past 50 years to settle for a bland, neoliberal vision of what liberation should mean. Life may have become a little easier in that time for white women who can afford to hire a nanny, but the rest of us have settled for a cheap, knock-off version of gender revolution. Instead of equality at work and in the home, we settled for “choice”, “flexibility” and an exciting array of badly paid part-time work to fit around childcare and chores. Instead of sexual liberation and reproductive freedom, we settled for mitigated rights to abortion and contraception that are constantly under attack, and a deeply misogynist culture that shames us if we’re not sexually attractive, dismisses us if we are, and blames us if we are raped or assaulted, as one in five of us will be in our lifetime….

“Politeness is a habit that what’s left of the women’s movement needs to grow out of. Most women grow up learning, directly or indirectly, how to be polite, how to defer, how to be good employees, mothers and wives, how to shop sensibly and get a great bikini body. We are taught to stay off the streets, because it’s dangerous after dark. Politeness, however, has bought even the luckiest of us little more than terminal exhaustion, a great shoe collection, and the right to be raped by the state if we need an abortion. If we want real equality, we’re going to have to fight for it.”

***

This International Women’s Day 2012, I want women to dare to take some risks. Dare to get angry!  Dare to think outside the box!  Dare to want more than whatever you think you should have!

Women of the world, you are needed as never before.

The Earth Mother herself lies bleeding, prostrate, raped and pillaged and on the edge of complete surrender—which will mean the death and destruction of all of us , her children.

She needs us to stand up for her, to stand up for ourselves, to insist that the old conquistador’s model of forced rape will not cut it in the 21st century.

This International Women’s Day, I want American women to stand with our sisters all over the world to insist that we are more than the sum of our reproductive organs.  We are more than house slaves.  We are more than corporate slaves.  We are not reducible to any of the ciphers by which some of us are regularly netted and ensnared.

Women of the world, there has never been a time when your input, your perspectives, your influence has been more important.

Don’t assume that someone else will take care of it for you.

We are depending on you now.

The Earth herself is depending on you now.

This International Women’s Day, I say to the world’s women: there has never been a more crucial time to step into your power and act to protect your communities and our planetary home.

If not now, when?

If not you, who?

Now.  You.  And us, together.  Men and women, all over the world.   Now, you.  Now.

%d bloggers like this: