Sunday, January 22, 2017

Thoughts on Sexism, the Election, and the Worldwide March

The Women's March on Washington, DC, as evidenced by this New York Times photo album, turned out to be a Women's March Everywhere. Accordingly, this post explores sexism as a pervasive force, our 2016 presidential election result as prima facie evidence that sexism continues to exist in the United States, and yesterday's march as a monumental and transformational global statement that sexism is unacceptable and must stop.

Mr. Trump's campaign exploited many classic dividing lines among people, including class, race, national origin, religion, and gender.  While there are many classes, races, religions, and nationalities throughout the world, there are only two genders. We humans have had our entire history to practice sexism, and in my observation all classes, races, religions, and nationalities have done so to varying degrees. In some cases sexism is blatant and obvious, but in others it has worked its way beneath the surface so that we sometimes don't easily recognize it. Sexism is a dividing force that lacks the demographic limits of the other "isms," and this potentially universal scope is what makes it so powerful and pernicious.

The United States has a history of discrimination against women but also has made great strides to overcome that. Women fought for and won the right to vote. Women went from severely limited job opportunities to entering traditionally male-dominated professions, such as law, medicine, finance, politics, science, engineering, and the military. Women fought for and won reproductive freedom.

In spite of this progress, challenges remain. Preserving reproductive freedom is an ongoing struggle. Workplace discrimination persists in many forms, including the under-representation of women in some fields and specific institutions, and the lack of equal pay for equal work. A tendency also persists among some to blame sexual assaults on the victim.

Much of the foregoing is well-understood and openly discussed. The elephant in the room is the role sexism played in our 2016 presidential election.

My first blog post attempted to explain how we elected someone like Donald Trump, and a few commenters noted that that I hadn't addressed the point that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, was viewed by many as a deeply flawed candidate. Putting aside for the moment that Mrs. Clinton received nearly three million more individual votes than did Mr. Trump, it does appear to be the case that there were many "Never Hillary" voters, including some Democrats, who refused to vote for her because they viewed her as some combination of dishonest, untrustworthy, corrupt, and self-serving.

While that might explain an unwillingness to vote for Hillary Clinton, it does not adequately explain why Mr. Trump was a better alternative.  Based on his own direct statements and additional information that presented itself throughout the campaign, Mr. Trump, when judged by any objective measure of these integrity-focused criteria, should have been deemed equally objectionable.  Although I don't know anyone who personally cited the candidates' respective genders as the main reason for their decision on whom to vote, the striking double-standard used to evaluate them with respect to this set of "general integrity" issues suggests the possibility that latent sexism was indeed at work.

Perhaps there are some Trump voters who would disagree that there was a double-standard with respect to these integrity-focused criteria because they genuinely believed Donald Trump to be honest, trustworthy, free from corruption, and motivated by a desire to further the common good.  Even if we give Trump voters the benefit of the doubt regarding their analysis of this set of issues, we still must examine the role of the overt sexism that was so prominent in Mr. Trump's campaign.

By election day, it should have been beyond dispute that Mr. Trump had a pattern of repeatedly denigrating women as individuals and as a group. His pattern went beyond sexism into the realm of misogyny, which involves not only discrimination against women but also a downright contempt for them. Most people are familiar with Mr. Trump's track record here, so instead of rehashing all of it I will simply point you to the Telegraph's Donald Trump "Sexism Tracker" for a running tally.

One example that is worth highlighting is the Access Hollywood footage from 2005, during which Mr. Trump said, “I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her [referring to the woman he and host Billy Bush were about to meet]. . . . You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. . . . And when you’re a star, they let you do it. . . .You can do anything. . . . Grab them by the pussy. . . . You can do anything.” Mr. Trump tried to downplay these comments by characterizing them as private "locker-room banter" from many years before, but that excuse (1) rang hollow in light of his overall history and (2) did not render the underlying comments any less revolting.

This one piece of footage alone should have ended Donald Trump's campaign on the spot.  In a country with a low tolerance for sexism, these comments would have prompted even the most ardent partisans and "Anybody Except So-and-So" voters to say "enough is enough" and find another choice.  Instead, someone who repeatedly denigrated women and even bragged about sexually assaulting them amassed enough electoral votes to become President of the United States.  Sit back for a minute and think about what it means when the person who holds the highest office in the land, and the only elected office for which all of us vote, can get by with that kind of behavior. How soon will others feel free to follow his example?

Thankfully, some among us did not have to think about it for more than a second.  The call for the Women's March on Washington, DC, went up almost immediately. Anyone who was halfway paying attention knew this was going to be a big event in DC and other major US cities. Nonetheless, I'd venture to say that even those of us who were paying attention were stunned at the sheer magnitude and global scale of the response.

On January 21, 2017, an estimated 500,000 people marched on Washington, and collectively another 500,000 are estimated to have marched in other cities and towns throughout the United States. It didn't stop at our shores. Large crowds abroad stood with the women of America and marched in scores of other places on every continent on this planet. Yes, there was even a show of solidarity on a vessel in the waters just off the coast of Antarctica (this for me was one of the most compelling photographs in that New York Times photo album I mentioned above).

Because sexism's divisive potential knows few bounds, neither does our potential to unite against it and say we won't have it, or other forms of division that so often accompany it.  When the world's most powerful nation finally went too far down the path of fear, division, and negativity, it's women rose up, and men and women at home and around the world rose with them, to say, "This is wrong. We will not tolerate this. Together we must overcome this, and to that end oppose those who would stand in the way of progress."  This kind of worldwide, simultaneous, organized mass protest of a domestic election outcome is unprecedented in my lifetime.

Donald Trump inflamed the basest aspects of human nature to win an election in the United States, and the entire world responded by telling him, and indeed all of us, that our shared sense of human dignity and decency is greater than that. Although the worldwide marches were prompted by and focused on Mr. Trump's derisive treatment of women, the signs and chants and speeches and other forms of expression within the crowd touched other issues such as LGBTQ rights, climate change, racism, religious intolerance, and, at the London march, Brexit.  The common thread that coursed through all these various issues was that the forces of equality, justice, freedom, openness, and love can and must prevail against the baser aspects of hate and fear of "the other."

An election that seemingly divided one country 10 ways to Sunday has inspired the world to unite for all the right reasons and focus on our common humanity! What a beautiful and encouraging silver lining this is.  I suspect yesterday was not a one-time event, but rather the beginning of a movement. Oh, how I hope that will be the case, because that is exactly the kind of force required to overcome the sexism and other divisive forces that have weakened us as a country and a community for far too long.

As Dr. Martin Luther King tried to tell us long ago, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hatred cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Yesterday wide swaths of the world told us they were choosing to be the light and the love.  May that continue to be so, in our organized protest moments but even more importantly in our daily lives.

*This blog consists solely of the views and opinions of its author.

1 comment:

  1. Count me in as a proud, male, member of team WOMAN!!!