Post-Election Hangover

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Being a pessimist is supposed to be a bad thing, but it usually works well for me. It protects me from a lot of psychological turmoil. For instance, by holding dress rehearsals of the worst that could happen, I was able to wake up the morning after the election without an emotional hangover. I hadn’t spent the night high on hopes of a Clinton win; if anything, I was stone cold sober. I just didn’t trust the predictions that she was going to win. The polls looked too close to call it one way or another.

I was so sure that there was a very real possibility that Trump might win that I went to bed at 9 on election night. I had no interest in spending the whole evening stress eating and biting what little was left of my fingernails. Unfortunately I woke up around 1:30 and decided to check the results. Even though I’d been expecting it, it was still a shock when I saw how many electoral votes Trump had. I kept checking the news and people’s responses on Facebook as if somehow it would turn out to be a mistake. There was this disconnect between my intellect and my emotions. My mind was registering the reality but my spirit was wailing, “No! It can’t be!” Even though it hurt, like picking a scab on a wound, I made myself stay up for Trump’s victory speech. I didn’t get back to bed until 3:30 and I had to get up three hours later for work. I’m surprised that I got back to sleep at all.

Having Trump win was almost a relief, not just because it proved that my instincts were right, but also because it ended the suspense. Anticipating something that you fear is usually worse than coming face to face with it.

But I won’t lie, it is also deeply upsetting. What is hardest to swallow is the feeling that millions of Americans agree with Trump about women, sexual assault (“Boys will be boys.”), reproductive rights, immigrants, refugees and Muslims, torture, a free press, civil discourse, and, most of all, the importance of being honest. (I still can’t fathom how his supporters could harp on Clinton’s supposed dishonesty while Trump was repeatedly caught in half-truths, reversals, and out-and-out lies.)

I spent the first few days after the election in denial—except for when I would suddenly jerk “awake” and remember that he really was going to be our next president. (Actually, I still have that reaction whenever I hear or read the words “President Trump.”) I kept imagining his supporters gloating, and indeed, a lot of them have been, especially on social media. What pissed me off the most were the comments about how Clinton supporters/liberals/Democrats should stop their whining and get over it. As if they would have reacted any differently if Trump had lost.

Right now I feel like I’m in a holding pattern. I’m still expecting the worst, but I refuse to go down the road of crying, “The sky is falling!” just because the clouds are hanging low on the horizon.

 

 

 

 

Party Unity My Ass

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Some of you may remember the designation PUMA,  which was used to describe Clinton supporters who had an “all-or-nothing” attitude about the 2008 Presidential campaign. In other words, if Clinton didn’t receive the Democratic nomination, they were going to leave the party. (Hence, “Party Unity My Ass.”)

I wasn’t a PUMA then and I’m not one now. I wanted Clinton in 2008, but it was more important to me to avoid a Republican presidency than it was to achieve a female one. So I voted for Obama. I’m not going to go into how that worked out for me in this post, except to say that Obama has been like the boy who stuck his finger in the hole in the dike. If it hadn’t for him, we would all be awash, if not drowning, in a flood of Republican rhetoric and misdeeds. It’s been bad enough as it is.

I voted for Clinton in my state’s primary but I’m not going to pout and sit out the election if she doesn’t get the nomination. For one thing, I’m not as heavily invested in Clinton this time around and I do think that Sanders is a decent alternative. So I have no problem switching my allegiance to Sanders if he becomes the nominee. My main concern is that we nominate the person who can beat the Republican candidate.

The way things are going for the Republican Party right now, it’s beginning to look like the Democrats are the only ones who can give this country a sane and respectable President. There is no consensus among Republicans; they are as polarized as a party as the U.S. is as a nation. As popular as Donald Trump has been in the polls and some of the primaries, he still has an overall disapproval rating of 60%. Even over half of Republican women don’t like him.

Democrats are lucky compared to Republicans: we have two decent choices. I just hope their respective supporters realize how much is at stake if we get another Republican presidency. (Especially if the President is Cruz or Trump.) Not voting at all is a cop-out. Voting for a Republican is a betrayal.

No matter who gets the Democratic nomination, we need to stay united. Republicans would love nothing more than to see droves of Democrats forsake their party. There is no such thing as a perfect political party—or candidate. But if you believe that Democrats get it right more often than they get it wrong, then you need to swallow your disappointment if “your” candidate doesn’t get the nomination and vote for the one who does.

Sexism in the Gaming World

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A few months ago I listened to an interview on NPR with Laralyn McWilliams, a woman who works in the gaming industry. (She was the lead designer on games like Full Spectrum Warrior and the creative director for the online game Free Realms. Currently she’s the chief creative officer at The Workshop, a game studio based in Los Angeles.)

About a year and a half ago, what became known as #Gamergate stirred up a tremendous brouhaha in the video game industry. Although it wasn’t specifically about the role of women in that industry, charges of misogyny and sexism soon began to dominate the discourse. Incredibly, women gamers received rape and death threats for daring to speak out about their experiences.

Even though McWilliams herself doesn’t feel that she has been impeded by sexism in the course of her career, she still feels that it is a big enough problem that she was willing be interviewed about it. When asked why she thinks sexism is rampant in the gaming industry she offered these comments:

Tech itself is male-oriented; software is even more male-oriented than that. And because games for many years have mostly made games for men, it’s even more male-oriented than the rest of them. So it’s sort of this more condensed version of all of the problems in tech…

There is a tendency in tech, and in games in particular, that if you are a woman who talks about the issues facing women in games, that becomes what defines you. You become “the woman who talks about being a woman.” When honestly … it largely continues to feel like my gender should be irrelevant.

When I heard this I had an “aha” moment, because what she describes is a perfect description of the reaction many people have to feminists. Even if all you do is point out that women don’t make as much as men (all other things being equal), you are labeled a “woman who talks about being a woman,” or, God forbid, a feminist.

This phenomenon isn’t restricted to women talking about “women’s issues.” Any time a member of a group that is discriminated against dares to speak out about that discrimination, he or she is shouted down for playing the “victim” card. I’ve heard commentators on the (mostly conservative) radio stations dismiss claims of discrimination by calling the claimants “whiners” who want the world to feel sorry for them. Any criticism of the status quo is seen as a ploy to receive special treatment.

They just don’t get it: people who feel that they have been discriminated against don’t want special treatment; they want equal treatment.

I know, I know: I can hear the arguments now against quotas and affirmative action. I’m not here to argue for or against such tactics that are often used to level the playing field. But those tactics wouldn’t be necessary if it were possible to change people’s minds without them. What employer is going to hire a woman if he’s convinced she’s going to take off work too much because of family responsibilities? Or if he assumes she can’t carry her weight because “women are weaker/less competitive/too emotional”?

Some people think that laws reflect the prevailing views in a society and should only be enacted only when there is a consensus for them. But I think that the opposite can also be true: sometimes laws have to be enacted to force society to confront and correct certain problems.

On the other hand, some things can’t be mandated. For instance, you can’t force women to enter the tech field. Nor can you force the public to buy games that were created by women. But women aren’t asking to be accepted just because they’re women; they’re just asking for the same opportunities that men are given.

I realize this is a tricky business. How do you prove that a man was given preferential treatment just because he’s a man or that a woman was denied an opportunity just because she’s a woman? Usually you can’t. But laws can be put into place that protect women who are merely attempting to have the conversation.

 

Call Me What I Tell You to Call Me

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Vanity Fair’s July 2015 issue features a glamorous woman on the cover with the words, “Call me Caitlyn.” Inside is a 22-page article about that woman’s journey to trans-womanhood. If you didn’t know any better, you would have no reason to suspect that this woman used to be a man. But because of the media coverage (hysteria?), almost everyone knows better. The irony is that Caitlyn Jenner probably would like nothing better than to be left in peace to be the woman she’s always longed to be. But because she’s a celebrity, she will probably never have that experience.

And yet I think her decision to “come out” in such a public way was actually quite brilliant. Stories about her “fluid” gender identity have been circulating for quite a while now and I applaud her decision to tell her own story. Less than two months ago, Jenner gave his last official interview as Bruce, with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, in which he explained his struggle to become and accept the person he believes he was really meant to be. The Vanity Fair feature is her first public appearance as Caitlyn. And, in his words, “As soon as the Vanity Fair cover comes out, I’m free.”

As you might expect, the public’s responses have been all over the place. Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” made the astute observation that now that Jenner is a woman she is going to have the unfortunate experience of being treated like one; in other words, as if the only thing that matters is her appearance. Many other people have applauded her bravery. Still others feel that she is, at best, in need of some soul-saving, and at worst, an abomination. And then there is the transgender community, which might well see her as its ambassador.

There is also a fair amount of cynicism leveled at Jenner’s actions. She has been accused of doing all this as a publicity stunt and a way to drive traffic to her reality show, which is set to debut this summer on E! Network. She laughs at the idea that she would go through all this (including surgery to feminize her features) just to pay the bills. On the contrary, she sees this as an opportunity to educate the public about what it means to be transgender as well as offer hope to other people who are transgender.

Many people believe that it’s impossible to be “born in the wrong body,” that saying you’re the opposite sex (from the one you were assigned at birth) doesn’t make it true; and that being transgender is a choice. But even the DSM (the manual  used by clinicians and researchers to diagnose and classify mental disorders) recently revised its terminology from “gender identity disorder” to “gender dysphoria” to remove some of the stigma and enable trans men and women to get help with their “profound state of unease or dissatisfaction” about the gender they were assigned at birth. It’s not exactly saying that transgender is as “normal” in its way as heterosexuality or that it’s just one of several ways to be gendered in our society, but it has backed off from treating it as a mental illness.

We need to stop treating being transgender as a disease or a sin and start listening to the people who claim it as their gender identity. There must be some reason why they feel the way they do; it’s not likely something they would make up as a lark. Imagine having others tell you that you’re crazy or perverted just because you’re trying to express who you feel you are at the fundamental core of your being.

When I first saw the Vanity Fair cover, I thought “Call me Caitlyn” was a plea, for understanding and acceptance. But the more I thought about it, the more I hoped that it was a command instead. We all have the right to tell others what to call us and we need to exercise that right without apology. To do otherwise is to lose who we are.

 

 

Why Sexual Harassment is Alive and Well in 2015

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anita-hillTwenty-four years ago Anita Hill testified before Congress about the alleged sexual harassment she experienced from the then-Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas. Last year a documentary, called simply “Anita,” was released which chronicles the whole affair in painstaking detail.  I haven’t seen it so I can’t comment on its accuracy or objectivity, but I have to wonder why the film was made at all, and why it was made now. (See trailer for “Anita” here. See here and here for YouTube videos of Day 1 of the Clarence Thomas Second Hearing.)

Surely this is old news. After all, politicians don’t sexually harass their employees or colleagues anymore, do they? Didn’t they learn from the media circus that erupted when Anita Hill’s charges came to light that they don’t dare invite the same public scrutiny? And haven’t men from all walks of life learned that sexual harassment is a no-no in this society?

Hell, no. Sexual harassment is alive and well in 2015 America. The only difference between now and then is that sexual harassment is more frowned upon—in principle. Most companies now have strict anti-sexual harassment policies, for instance. But just because sexual harassment has been exposed as an evil, at the very least illegal, practice doesn’t mean that it isn’t still going on. People just hide it better (unless they’re incredibly stupid).

With all the attention that the problem has received over the years, the public censure of and consequences to the perpetrators, you would think that victims would feel emboldened to step forward. But too many women (and men) are still afraid to complain about it. Why?

  • Often the person who does the harassing is in a position of power over the person who was harassed, making the victim feel that his or her job is at stake if he or she reports the harassment.
  • Even when the perpetrator is a co-worker, the victim may fear retaliation or shunning, for the simple reason that no one likes a “snitch.”
  • The victim is either not believed or is blamed for the harassment. (“He is just making it up to cover the fact that he willingly participated.” “She must have done something to encourage it.”)

[When the alleged perpetrator is a man and the victim a woman, the man is more likely to be believed for the simple reason that men are generally seen in a more positive light than women are. Traits like truthfulness and integrity are ascribed to men while women are seen as deceitful and unstable.]

  • It’s very difficult to prove. The person who has been harassed needs to keep meticulous notes about the harassment: who, when, where, what exactly was said or done. Witnesses are rare, either because the harasser was careful to avoid having his actions or words witnessed or, more likely, because potential witnesses themselves are afraid of retaliation if they testify against the harasser.
  • Denial. What disturbs me the most about the way sexual harassment is treated is that people still persist in minimizing it, in shrugging it off as no big thing. “She’s just oversensitive/can’t take a joke (or a compliment).” (The same people tend to minimize rape by insisting on using the term “forcible rape,” as if the level of violence is what matters, not the fact that the woman said “no.”) Many people complain that it’s hard to tell exactly what constitutes sexual harassment. But the truth is, it’s not rocket science; there are some very clear guidelines. Once it’s established that the action or comment is, or appears to be, motivated by sexual interest, one of more of the following needs to also apply:
    • Is the action or comment unwanted (signified either by out-and-out rejection or by obvious discomfort)?
    • Does the action or comment make the work climate uncomfortable or unprofessional?
    • Does the action or comment cause a worker’s performance to suffer?
  • But perhaps the biggest reason why people don’t report sexual harassment is because they just don’t believe that anything will be done about it. Sexual harassment policies are only as good as the willingness to follow them, including acting on complaints decisively. Employers talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Oh, they’ll refer the offender to some kind of counseling or sensitivity training, or move one of the parties to another location. But often what happens is the complainant is the one who is moved, or even later let go, for some “unrelated” reason. Sometimes an employer finds it easier to settle a few lawsuits than to do all that is required to avoid sexual harassment in the first place. However, the smart employer realizes that tolerating sexual (and other forms of) harassment has other costs that affect his bottom line: low morale, absenteeism, high turnover rates and low productivity.

For more information about sexual harassment, including what recourses victims have, read the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Sexual Harassment Fact Sheet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empathy: Would it Bring World Peace?

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world-peace-logo_4qghS_65We’ve all heard the adage (or some variation thereof), “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.” This is about developing empathy, which is in short supply in this world. If there is one thing that causes disconnects between people, it is a lack of empathy. Every time we criticize another person or group, we almost certainly are guilty of not being empathetic.

Being empathetic is not the same as being sympathetic, but most people seem to think it is. Empathy can lead to sympathy, but sympathy doesn’t necessarily lead to empathy. You can feel sorry for someone without entering into his world, or more specifically, his head. In fact, sympathy implies that you are maintaining some distance and looking at a person’s situation from the comfort of your own (superior) position. Empathy is harder to attain and harder to feel.

Months before I converted to Islam, I wrote a post about the Islamic item of clothing called the hijab. (Women’s Rights: The Headscarf.) At the time I had no idea that I was going to convert, let alone that I would ever wear the hijab myself. I felt sympathy for the women who wear it, because of the way they are viewed—and treated—by non-Muslims. They can’t “pass” as non-Muslims, or fade into the background when it’s uncomfortable to be identified as one. (For this reason, I view wearing the hijab as a mark of bravery as much as a symbol of one’s faith.)

But I can’t say that what I felt was empathy. I simply didn’t know enough about what it was like to wear the hijab, what courage it took to put it on every day, the strength of motivation that was required to wear it in a society that is ambivalent (at best) about Muslims.

I’ve heard of social experiments where non-Muslim women have put on the hijab for a period of time (usually a day or a week, at the most) in order to get some idea of what it’s like to be a Muslim woman, let alone a woman who wears one (often known as a “hijabi”). That’s fine as far is it goes, but it doesn’t begin to address all the issues faced by Muslims, like finding a place to pray five times a day, or fasting during Ramadan (or learning how to pray in the first place, if you’re a convert).

I no longer wear the hijab and, in fact, am in a state of flux about exactly where I stand in the matter of religion. I still subscribe to the basic theology of Islam, but I’m undecided about how “Muslim” I’m willing to be. But I will never be sorry that I converted. Because if I hadn’t I don’t think I would have the empathy it takes to understand where Muslims are coming from. I could have studied Islam for a thousand years and it wouldn’t have taught me what I really wanted to know, which is: what is it like to be a Muslim?

Obviously we can’t convert to every religion, let alone pretend to be another race, for instance, in order to develop empathy. But there is a lot we can do to approximate walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

  • We can learn another language.
  • We can travel, whether it’s to a different country or another part of town.
  • We can watch movies with subtitles.
  • We can read, anything and everything.
  • We can listen to different types of music.
  • We can try different cuisines.
  • We can attend a different kind of religious service.
  • We can sponsor a child.
  • We can invite someone to dinner.
  • We can make a friend.

Anything that exposes us to another culture can help us to develop empathy. But the most important step we must take is to stop limiting ourselves to the way of life we were born into. We have to step outside of our comfort zones. We have to open ourselves up to discoveries and be willing to learn something new, preferably every day.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that the more foreign something seems to you, the more important it is that you embrace it.

It’s so much easier to stick to what we’re used to, to take potshots at things we don’t understand, to hang out with people who are like us. But that’s a recipe for disaster. We can see the results in our world today. What is discrimination but an attempt to prove that the group belong to is better than the group you belong to? What is war but a refusal to admit that we all want—and have a right to—the same things: safety, security, sustenance, love, acceptance and happiness, for ourselves and those we care about?

Developing empathy is an ongoing and many-layered process. None of the suggestions above will, by themselves, help you to become deeply empathetic. But taken together, and repeated often, they will help.