Friday, October 21, 2016

In Defense of Wives, Daughters, Sisters and Mothers and the Men Who Love Them

I wrote this before the November 2016 election. But the time, the election, the subject matter, was so fraught, I didn't publish it. Now, nine months-ish later, I think I can handle putting it out there. Cheers! -- The Working Mom


I think it's pretty clear to anyone who reads this blog that I'm sort of left-leaning, a left-leaning centrist.  "Rockefeller Republican" might even describe me well, if they were still a thing. So, as it turns out, I find, as the culture has shifted, I've become a flaming liberal...for Texas.

Part of that liberality comes, too, from my age and my feminism. As I've aged and experienced the world as a woman, my views of women's rights and dignity have become more defined. Behaviors the 20-something me didn't believe exist anymore, became clearer to me as I aged through my 30s and into my 40s. I mean, honestly, would you have believed that a male attorney, my opposing counsel, would have suggested in court, on the record, that the only reason I was objecting was PMS.  (FOR REAL.) And it happened to me within the last five years. (Thank God, that the gay, male, Navy vet judge I was appearing before had a sense of what it feels to be the other:  he rained down on that guy swiftly and with blistering fury.) re feminism and the role and treatment of women in our society, during the 2016 Presidential race:  It was revealed that one of the candidates had said (and allegedly done) vile, sexist, objectifying, and assaultive things about (and/or to) various women at various times in various places. 

Many men, mainly conservative men, rightly denounced this behavior and these words. And many of those men referenced their wives, daughters, sisters and mothers in their denouncements. These men would not want the women they love to be treated this way, they said, and therefore, they concluded, no woman should be treated this way. 

Many people on the left criticized this "defense" of women as patronizing. You should denounce this sort of talk and these sorts of actions because you are a decent human being, not because you have female relatives that you love.

And that's true. It's totally and completely true. 

It also totally misses an important principal about humans:  If you've got a loved one who is a member of a group who is discriminated against, you are more likely to support that group. There's ample evidence of this regarding gay rights. We may not like that the motivation for supporting gay rights for some people is largely selfish:  they want their loved one treated well. But we cannot deny that, in another time not so long ago, the homosexual relative would have likely been outright shunned or shoved into the closet by their own relatives, not celebrated and loved for who they are. 

The same is true of women. There was a time not so long ago that women who were on the receiving end of sexist talk and assaultive behavior would have been seen as sluts. And there was a "this wouldn't happen to my wife/daughter/sister/mother" attitude.  The women that these things happen to are the other. The framing of the condemnation of these words and these acts as a defense of certain conservative men's wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers represents a profound shift in thinking.  These men, who 40 or 50 years ago wouldn't recognize that their female loved ones could become victims of sexist language, sexual discrimination or sexual assault, now understand that all women, not just those other women over there, are potentially targets of this vile behavior. 

And that's a major cultural shift that we need to recognize. Yes, it would be better if the condemnation were born of pure humanity, untinged by the self-interest of not wanting to see one's female relatives victimized. But we feminists have to acknowledge that the almost en masse realization that all women may find themselves victims of sexual discrimination and assault, not just those dirty women over there, is an important cultural shift in the way women are considered in our society.

In other words, we feminists, we left-leaners, we Rockefeller Republicans, need to cut these conservative guys some slack. Forty years ago, they would -- likely -- be blaming the women for what was said and/or done to them, never dreaming that women in their own families could suffer the same abuse. That they see that it could happen to all women, even the women they love, is a step forward for women's rights.  Sure, it's baby steps, but it's baby steps in the right direction.