Culture

We still can.

Last night, President Obama closed his farewell address with a few borrowed lines from a campaign speech he made in 2008. I know this because I have listened to this speech many times since then, in moments of doubt, happiness and when I wanted to hear a familiar, trusted voice. It’s important to remember that this speech– one that solidified the campaign message that ultimately won him the presidency– was made during a moment of unexpected loss. He had just conceded New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton.

When he took the stage, he congratulated her, and then delivered his remarks as planned. It was a rallying cry that felt almost triumphant, even in the face of uncertainty. He had not even won the nomination at this point, and was still many steps away from the White House. I have always thought that it was his words that night that stuck with me, but I now realize that it was his audacity.

In 2011, I was a nobody at a thankless job, and I finagled my way into an opportunity that I had dreamed of for years. Meeting the President and the First Lady is a memory that endures, vivid and prominent in my brain’s lockbox of prized experiences. While shaking his outstretched hand was surreal, I was struck more by the fact that he was, in fact, human, and decidedly so.

I have always been reluctant to hail people as heroes or even role models, knowing that placing those you admire on a pedestal only gives them further to fall. But for whatever reason, when he asks me to believe, I know that I will try. When he tells us that we can– we still can– I know deep down that he is right.

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Culture

We have become numb to this.

“There’s been another mass shooting in America,” says President Obama.

The despair in his voice is steeped in weariness.

“We have become numb to this.”

We’ve all seen this movie so many times that we can recite each line, and it is a dialogue for the ages. We became desensitized to the brutality behind these acts of violence long ago. Now the magnitude of each one is akin to a single wave on a tumultuous sea.

For another week or so we’ll see posts about it on Facebook: commemorating victims, praising first responders and calling for action (however unspecified that action might be). Then the names and identities of those lost will be eclipsed by happier news. We’ll enjoy a brief and cautious respite while we await the next tragedy.

College campuses, high schools and even elementary schools have become hunting grounds for disturbed, disgruntled young men who believe they’re entitled to the respect, understanding or admiration of their peers. They’ve been allowed to incubate dangerous, dysfunctional beliefs about society, about women, and about their own importance, while those around them live in fear or denial. They come from mostly privileged or seemingly normal family backgrounds, and should have been forced into seeking help (or into the hands of the law) by more responsible parties. Instead, almost all have used legal guns to commit awful crimes, purchased with ease by themselves or their family members.

So few of us are equipped emotionally or otherwise to own deadly weapons, and these deluded young men are no exception. So why is it that someone with absolutely no business owning a gun should have the right to one?

“This has become routine.” This is our routine, and it appears we’re uninterested in changing it.

We may never know the depths of another person’s misanthropy or rage, or the depths of their pain and suffering. Surely these individuals missed out on some opportunity for compassion and understanding in life, and it led them down a path of destruction. But we can’t be expected to pay for the misfortunes the world has wrought against them, and we shouldn’t be giving them the opportunity to voice their frustrations through a hail of bullets on a college campus.

A gun is not a toy, nor is it a charming tradition. Having one is not an exercise in freedom, especially when it comes at the expense of the rights of others to truly live freely. So let’s stop dancing around semantics and identify guns for what they are: instruments of violence, and nothing more. The responsibility of owning one should be viewed as the ultimate shackle, and anyone who takes it on deserves to feel its full weight upon them.

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Culture

In defense of Malia and Sasha

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Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty.

There’s been a bit of talk recently about the blasting of the Obama daughters, Malia and Sasha, for their attitudes and attire at the nationally sacred turkey pardoning ceremony this Thanksgiving. (Personally, I had been waiting with bated breath since last year’s ceremony to see how 2014’s turkey would respond to the grand gesture of a presidential pardoning. Like Sasha and Malia, I was nonplused by the animal’s reaction.)

We don’t need to rehash the details of this attack on the Obama girls– we’ve all read about it a few times over. The thinly-veiled political posturing is so lame and predictable that I’m not going to give Ms. Lauten’s comments any credence here. She used young girls as pawns in an attempt to attack their father, using the cheap, well-worn tactic of attempting to scandalize their [completely normal, non-scandalous] behavior. Because that is what we do when we attack women: call them out for not smiling wide when they’re supposed to, and not following the fingertip-to-hemline rule set forth by our grandmothers.

The media and the public seized upon these comments and rushed to the girls’ defense– not just because they are Malia and Sasha Obama, but because they are young girls undeserving of a grown woman’s vicious scrutiny (or anyone’s vicious scrutiny, for that matter). Which raises a question: do any women deserve it, regardless of age or station in life?

Let’s shift focus and look forward to 2015. I want to talk about what’s going to be “in” next year, but perhaps we should start first with what’s definitely “out.” What’s totally played out are these irresponsible character assassinations steeped in stale (yet pervasive) misogyny. Lauten’s words and their consequences show us that while these attitudes often seem to prevail, we are tired of seeing, hearing and reading them. The outrage that proceeded this attack, while complicated and multi-faceted in its own right, does illuminate something for me very clearly. We need to stop taking aim at other women and girls for their willingness and aptitude at “playing their parts,” as Lauten so unfortunately puts it.

So what’s in for 2015? I guess that’s yet to be seen. I’m hoping it might have something to do with empowering women to define their own roles and make their own decisions about how to live with class and integrity. For those who aren’t quite convinced, it might be time to bite your tongues and jump on that bandwagon. We’re now seeing what might happen if you don’t.

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I just can’t today.

I had started writing a post about the new Elizabeth & James fragrances at Sephora and other things I’m currently coveting for fall, but I had to stop myself. I’ll get there, but I just can’t with all that right now.

I’m going to take a break from my normally unbridled materialism to talk about something I’m really, truly coveting. And that’s to stop seeing headlines like this:

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And this:

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And this:

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I made a joke earlier today that Huffington Post should really start a tab under which to file stories about “Horrible Things Happening to Women” in the world today. Sometimes, at least for me, humor is the only way to keep from descending into a really dark place. It’s a wonder that the sheer volume of these demoralizing stories hasn’t broken the internet yet. (Yeah, I’m aware that that’s not how the internet works.)

I can’t shake the feeling that over the past decade or so, the world has become an increasingly hostile place for women. I’m not even talking about a decline in feminist ideals or an inability to shatter glass ceilings, I’m talking about an upswing in literal brutality and violence. And the acceptance of that threat of violence as an inevitable part of the female experience.

The world has apparently spoken, and it says that the onus is on us as women to make the right choices and keep ourselves safe from those who could potentially harm us. If we’re negligent in those duties, it’s only natural that we’ll suffer for our mistakes. Ray Rice’s wife (then fiancee) has been chided for provoking him into knocking her unconscious. “She hit him first, didn’t she?” “What did she expect, provoking someone like him?” “No one knows the details of the situation, so how can we judge?” The list of bullshit qualifiers that people– real people with public influence, not just internet commenters– have tried to amend to this incident is endless. But none of those excuses matter.

Stories like this– and there have been so many, too many of them– have damaged us. I hope that damage is reversible. It’s a really sad thing to realize that justice for women in situations like this isn’t a given. If you choose the wrong guy. If you’re in the wrong place. If you’re too drunk. If you forget to watch your drink. If you’re dressed “immodestly.” If you get in the wrong cab. If you say the wrong thing…. And if you suffer for any of these choices, you must be prepared for the realistic possibility that no one will share the blame. You’ll be left wondering what, if anything, you could have done differently, to avoid what was done to you. Because as a woman, no one has your back but you, and you should know that by now.

Let’s talk about things heretofore undiscussed: the possibility that maybe, possibly, it might be prudent to ask men to step the fuck up. I know this would be a first, and they’re certainly not expecting it. But it might be time. History tells us that we can’t expect much (but history says a lot of bad things, I guess). Men, get it together. You are failing.

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