privilege

Hillary, Rape Culture, and an Uneasy Agreement with Trump

The Trump campaign has, since the beginning, seemed a caricature of what conservative politics has turned into over the past two decades. Instead of hiding behind dog whistles, he’s blatantly, proudly blasted out sexist, racist, classist and xenophobic rhetoric like it’s going out of style. It’s working for him, which is more than a little unnerving.

His sexism, in particular, is beyond question. This is a man who told an employee she’d look pretty on her knees, who disparages women’s appearances instead of engaging with critique, who accuses media members of being on their period when they dare question him, who dismisses fellow conservative competitors for not being pretty enough to win, who — when running out of options — chooses to leap on his female opponent’s use of a bathroom.

He’s a misogynist asshole. Point blank.

Last week, in yet another chapter of absurdity, he claimed that women were yuge fans of his, and that stalwart feminist icon Hillary Clinton was anti-woman. Derision, side eye, and shade came down in an avalanche, and rightfully so. There is no world in which Trump could be considered a greater ally for women.

And yet…

Alright, stay with me for a minute. Set aside your fervent love of Clinton. Simmer your Sanders adoration. Acknowledge your intense fear and loathing of the GOP field, but don’t let it cloud your vision. Put down the pitchforks for a second, and please just listen.

Because I’m about to agree — in part — with Trump. And I might hate myself more for it than you do.

See, Trump’s criticism of Hillary’s record on women wasn’t just a random jab; it was connected to the philandering ways of Bill Clinton.

At first I snorted at the support he provided for the conjecture. Frankly, I don’t care who sleeps with who and who accepts it or doesn’t. The Clintons are ostensibly good with each other despite past dalliances, and since it’s really none of my business, it’s a non issue in my mind.

If that had been the extent of his attack, I’d have gone back to a Netflix binge and chalk it up to another transparent GOP smear attempt. But Trump wasn’t just talking about the consensual extramarital affairs. He was also making reference to the accusations of sexual harassment against Bill that have come to the forefront over the years, and Hillary’s role in those sagas.

Bill has been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment or assault since his career began. Some of those accusations wound up in court. Some of them were settled outside of court. Some of them were shouted into obscurity. But they’re there, as are accounts of Hillary’s attempts to bury them with private investigators and bullying.

And this is where I get stuck as someone who tries very hard to be a good ally for survivors of sexual assault and an advocate against rape culture.

On face, I want to holler with the rest of my progressive friends about all the good Hillary’s done in her life for women, about what a positive role model she’s been. I want to say that those allegations were never proven and this is just another desperate Republican attempt to quash Hillary before she gets the nomination.

But I can’t. Because I get angry when people say that Cosby, despite numerous accusers and a record of out of court settlements, doesn’t deserve our disdain. I get frustrated when people say that Woody Allen marrying someone he’s accused of molesting excuses his gross abuse of power. I get sick when people shrug off player after player in the NFL for their assaults because the women accusing them are obviously just seeking attention. I get exasperated when people tell me to stave off judgment until a legal system (that has proven itself woefully inadequate) adjudicates another woman’s trauma, like their decision is the ultimate arbiter of reality.

And to look at Bill Clinton’s tattered history without the same critical lens because I think his wife is better than the horror show in the GOP presidential field would make me a massive hypocrite.

We can say that none of these cases were ever proven in court, but that’s a bullshit dodge. The legal system fails survivors of sexual assault early and often, starting with authorities questioning attire and prior relationships and ending with a he-said-she-said deflection.

We can choose to say fall back on the he-said-she-said excuse in general discussion of the topic, too, but that’s crap, as well. How many allies posted about how absurd it is that we discount the trauma of multiple women in order to defend the acceptance of one man’s denial when the Cosby travesty gained public notoriety once more last year? Bill has had multiple accusers, as well. He also had out of court settlements. Why does he get a pass?

We can roll our eyes and say he’s being targeted because he’s a prominent public figure. He certainly is, but that’s the exact reason why we should be willing to look at the situation critically. It is not easy for survivors to come forward under far less visible circumstances; it is infinitely harder to do so when being put under a public microscope and having your story and person torn to shreds is a certainty. Multiple women have been willing to face that level of scrutiny. That’s not something someone does for fun. And as the data shows, false accusations are exceedingly rare.

We can look the other way when considering Hillary’s behavior involving the accusations. And maybe, to some extent, that’s fair. Yes, there have been reports that she hired private investigators in order to bully accusers into silence, but a lot of those reports have also been circulated by notoriously unreliable conservative pundits and politicos. I’m willing to concede that those reports might not be true.

But those aren’t the only criticisms that can be made of Hillary on this note. Indeed, her response to Trump’s comments was problematic in and of itself. After being pressed on the subject at a New Hampshire event, Hillary replied:

I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence.

It was a safe response, of course. Nothing wrong on the surface. But when you look at the history of the allegations against Bill and the way those cases were handled, the dismissal of the accusers was not a function of evidence; it was a function of politics. Hillary knows (or should know) about the infrequency of false allegations and how that information interacts with Bill’s track record, but instead of grappling with that, she’s buying whole hog into the fallacy with this comment.

And yes, we can talk about how she really doesn’t have any other pragmatic response. Evidence shows that her numbers surge during attacks like these; buying into them would be like refusing a gift horse. And the idea of having to grapple with such a disturbing reality in such a personal relationship is overwhelming, to say the least. I absolutely get that. 

But you know what’s even harder to deal with? The trauma of sexual assault. Political convenience is a crass and callous excuse here.

And while Hillary’s record is largely a positive one for women, she’s never been a particularly vocal advocate for sexual assault survivors. She’s apologized to other nations for rapes committed by American troops, but unlike her fellow female Democrats, she’s yet to call for reform in how the military handles rape cases internally. In fact, outside of rather soft rhetoric (as seen above), she’s stayed away from any substantive engagement of sexual violence issues.

Again, probably because it’s not real convenient.

And before it’s said that I’m targeting Hillary, let me make it clear that the Sanders response wasn’t a good one either. When asked about the ongoing feud between Hillary and Trump, Sanders said:

I think, you know, we have enormous problems facing this country and I think we got more things to worry about than Bill Clinton’s sexual life. I think — interestingly enough, maybe Donald Trump might want to focus attention on climate change, understand that climate change is not a hoax, as he believes that it is, that maybe Donald Trump should understand that we should raise the minimum wage in this country, which he opposes, and maybe we should not be giving huge tax breaks to fellow billionaires like Donald Trump.

So I think maybe he should focus on those things.

This is just as bad as Hillary’s deflection, if not worse. We’re not talking about “sex”; we’re talking about assault. And while I’m not going to deny that the other issues he references deserve attention, to argue that sexual assault is somehow unworthy of attention as well is an asshole move. It’s also a common move in positions of privilege to deflect conversations that are uncomfortable or politically perilous.

To be fair, I can’t let this critique discount Hillary or Sanders as candidates. Both have a lot of good to offer, and both are infinitely better candidates for president than anyone the GOP is offering. The stakes are too high to dismiss them out of hand. But being willing to accept the lesser of evils during such a time doesn’t mean we stay quiet about imperfections in the candidates we’re willing to consider. When we prioritize painting candidates as perfect over demanding they do better and be better, nothing changes, and we’re no better than the rabid GOP supporters who refuse to criticize their own party.

Listen, I hate having to give anything Trump says the time of day, but I cannot, in good conscience, just ignore this issue. And if you’re calling yourself an ally of sexual assault survivors, neither should you.

(Waits patiently for the tomatoes to start flying.)

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Defeating Racism is About More Than a Flag

Every now and then, a subject deserves a good rant, but someone else is better suited to give it voice. Today, Rethink the Rant is happy to host just such a voice on an important subject in a guest post from Todd Rainey.

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Rev. Clementa Pickney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, Daniel Simmons, and Depayne Middleton Doctor were murdered last week in an act of white supremacist terrorism. Their deaths, the latest in an ongoing series of tragedies, are a painful reminder of the threat that is white supremacist ideology.

Illustration by Sarah Green

Illustration by Sarah Green

After issuing calls for forgiveness and reconciliation, participants in the 24 hour news cycle have directed considerable energy to the confederate battle flag. The flag is certainly a racist symbol (this is not up for debate), and it has no business being flown – especially by a government.

Although the removal of the confederate battle flag isn’t the only political struggle in the wake of the attack, it seems to be one of the more salient political agendas offered in the wake of the Charleston shooting.  The flag adds insult to injury where victims of racism are concerned, but our energies against the insult must surely give equal measure to the injury that provides its power.

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The confederate battle flag needs to go. It has needed to go. The flag needed to go as much two months ago as it must go today.  Whether the flag removal campaign is the spearhead of larger movements such as #BlackLivesMatter or a stumbling block remains to be seen. I fear that without due diligence, it can easily become the latter. Political symbols serve as shorthand for larger issues. But overemphasis on the abstract symbols of racism can come at the expense of more concrete gains.  Symbols have real power, but they are given that power by some material structure. In the case of the confederate battle flag, its power is derived from not only the klansman with his gun, but the economic development plan which isolates minority neighborhoods. Addressing the symbol without attacking the power would change only the flag under which our country’s leaders will marginalize the victims of white supremacy.

The murderer in Charleston rallied behind the confederate battle flag. Yet it wasn’t the flag that turned him into a terrorist. It was media coverage of race, a toxic brew of racist organizations, and his own perverse notion of white entitlement. Surely those deserve as much attention as the piece of shit flag they band behind.

Hating the confederate battle flag is part of America’s time-honored tradition of hating racists more than it loves the victims of racial supremacist policies. It’s far easier to hate a racist than it is to love the black community from which much of white America lives separately. It’s ironic, of course; the reason racism is bad is because of those it victimizes. When forced to confront a monster of our own making, the image of the racist in american political discourse is as a stand-in for all our racial sins. By demanding change of those we label the worst sort of racists, we export our complacency in the complex web of racism, then burn the effigy as an act of atonement.

These politics are especially difficult to manage when considering the timing of the removals. Tragic as they are, these murders cannot be considered an exception to the norm in a country founded on racial violence. The confederate flag has flown over countless more deaths in the name of white supremacy. The timing of the anti-flag movement seems to suggest that only the right sort of tragedy can precipitate such a movement. And by all means, if this is the tragedy that causes it to come down, it’s a win we should take. But we should also question why this particular event has been anointed worthy of the symbolic change when so many more were made to suffer its insult, all while we remained silent.

In a world with no confederate flag, we’d still have officers that took the shooter to a Burger King after his arrest. We’d still have a judge who said that the real victims were the family members of the shooter. We’d still have a wealth gap and de-facto segregation. The racial history of this country would be as much of a stain, its segregation as appalling, and its racial double-standards as inexcusable.11141350_10153422968176880_3279347084887726016_n

We’d have one less insulting symbol. If that’s enough to satisfy your sensibilities about justice, you’ve missed the point and set the bar too low. Still, it’s a start, and I hope that its removal becomes a symbol for a deeper, more earnest conversation in the media about the anti-racist movement.

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 16a3f18Todd Rainey is an educator and forensics coach living in East Texas. A former competitive collegiate debater with a degree in economics, Todd also has a passion for history and politics. When he isn’t building a curriculum, coaching his students in competitive public speaking, chasing after his precocious daughter, or playing Go, he reads and writes about social movements past and present.

Peak Privilege: No, I am the REAL Victim Here

Watching the news cycle has me feeling perpetually ill. It’s not just the headlines, though those are unbearably nauseating on their own. And it’s not the spate of typical reactions – overtly racist and sexist and classist drivel that’s easy to point to as being the bile of bigots. That I’ve come to expect. No, the worst part of it all has been the victimization of the tragically privileged.

Case in point? Mary Ann Twitty, the now disgraced former clerk from Ferguson.

In case you missed it, Twitty is the woman who was fired after the DOJ report revealed she had sent some incredibly racist emails. Make no mistake – these emails were patently offensive. There was a picture of Reagan feeding a chimp a bottle that was described as a rare photo of the former president babysitting Obama. There was one that framed the abortion of a black woman’s child as a boon to Crimestoppers. There were more uncovered by the DOJ, but they only published a handful. There was no doubt that this woman should lose her job.

I’m not going to say that losing your job of nearly 20 years isn’t a terrible experience. It must be even worse knowing you deserved it. But what came out of Twitty’s mouth next… I just… ugh.

Twitty sat down with KMOV in St. Louis to discuss the scandal. When asked if she thought the jokes were funny, she replied:

Funny as in humor wise? Yes. Not because it was racist or biased, just funny because it was just funny jokewise. I feel bad because that’s not, I don’t want people to look at me and say ‘she sent those racist jokes out because she’s racist or biased.’ I am not.

That comment might be funny if not for context. See, the thing is, if you think that the content forwarded was funny, you clearly don’t see the people you were discussing as people worthy of the same respect and dignity you demand for yourself. You see them as less based on characteristics that have nothing to do with worth. That’s racism. You’re a racist. There’s no getting around that. Hiding behind the facade of comedy is the modern Emperor’s New Clothes. You think you’re hilarious; the rest of us think you’re an asshole.

But Twitty didn’t stop there. See, not only is she clearly not a racist, she’s adamant that she is also the real victim here. She was just doing what everyone else was doing. My six year old daughter knows better than to do that. If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you? Didn’t your mother ever throw that one at you as a kid? How old is this woman? Has she not yet learned to take responsibility for her actions?

Apparently not. In fact, Twitty is so invested in her status as a victim that she went on to say:

It took me a while to get over the feeling of being raped and being thrown under the bus. I’m human, I meant nothing bad by it.

Human. Right. Let’s talk about how inhumane that comment was.

Twitty was not raped. Rape is the violation of your body by another human being. There is no consent involved. It’s not a result of something you did; it stems from another’s desire for power and disregard for your agency.

The offense here is high enough that I feel the need to address the offender directly.

Your body was not violated, Ms. Twitty. The pain you’ve endured was entirely of your own creation. You behaved in a manner that showed absolutely no respect for the agency of those who look and live differently from you. You were cruel as a means of building yourself up. The reward for your cruelty? A momentary grin. The consequence was losing your job. Your inability to engage in critical thinking or perform impact calculus (or, ya know, exhibit some basic humanity) brought this on, and is no one’s problem but your own. You consented to the potential consequences when you made your choices. This was nothing like being raped, ma’am. If anything, when extending the metaphor – and rape metaphors suck, so I don’t encourage you to do so – you’re on the opposite side of the coin, claiming to be a victim after committing a crime.

How dare you compare facing the music after proudly broadcasting your racist, classist, bigoted sense of humor to the utter trauma endured by survivors of sexual violence? How can you possibly follow up such a black-hearted comment with a claim of being “human”? Nothing you just said was humane.

I know there are those of you who might feel sympathy in regards to Twitty’s comments about intent. That doesn’t matter. Let me repeat that: intent is irrelevant here. Just because one doesn’t intend to hurt someone doesn’t excuse their behavior. A drunk may not intend to kill someone while driving under the influence. A person throwing a punch in a rage may not intend for their target to sustain significant injuries. Hell, a rapist may not intend to cause their victim PTSD. None of these arguments are foreign to me. None of them are valid excuses. Not under the law, and not as human beings.

Those are extreme examples, but the point remains the same. Even if we take the rhetoric down a million notches, it doesn’t change. Consider it on an interpersonal level. If you say or do something that causes a close friend pain, and they tell you as much, would you ever respond by saying they’re raping you because you didn’t intend to hurt them? Of course not.  Intent. Does. Not. Matter. It doesn’t matter in the extreme, and it doesn’t matter among close friends, and it certainly doesn’t matter when you think you’re not hurting anyone but you are.

You know what does matter? Owning up to your mistakes and facing the consequences.

Twitty did no such thing. After showing a total lack of compassion for those different than her, she didn’t take responsibility for her behavior. After being called out for her total lack of compassion for those different than her, she claimed she was a victim. Worse still, she did so through further callous commentary.

Sympathy is the least appropriate emotion here. Her behavior and reaction to being punished are more akin to a toddler throwing a fit after being put in time out than an adult taking criticism and adjusting her behavior accordingly. In fairness, she’s far from alone. The company ain’t great though: Gamergate folks claiming their hobbies are being ruined by women calling for an end to sexist behavior, White folks claiming reverse racism in the context of privilege conversations, men who think misandry is a real and widespread problem, “Christians” who feel they’re being persecuted because two people of the same sex who are not them are able to get married and see each other in the hospital, judges who think little girls are responsible when raped by their teachers, those organizing defense crowdfunding for the officer who killed Walter Scott in cold blood. I could go on.

Twitty is part of a larger trend among those in a position of privilege who whine when they’re called out for their poor behavior, claiming they are the true victims. They don’t care about history or context. They’re more worried about their own hurt feelings than their role in a problem that’s way bigger than their joke. They don’t understand that their comment contributes to a tidal wave of pain hitting others on a daily basis. They don’t see making people feel uncomfortable or unsafe as a big deal, and certainly not worthy of consequence… probably because they’ve never been made to feel that way.

And for as much agony as Twitty is experiencing in the short-term (while remembering that she brought it on herself), it will pass. Unlike Twitty, the people of color she jokes about face stigma, discrimination, outright hatred, and lethal threats on a daily basis – and not because of something they did, but because of who they are. Unlike Twitty, that’s not something that will go away or fade from public memory.

There is no comparison here. You are not persecuted because someone calls you out. You are being presented with an opportunity for growth, and squandering that by drawing completely inappropriate parallels with people who experience actual discrimination is beyond the pale. And more and more, it’s becoming acceptable to do exactly that.

No headline is more nauseating than this reality.