Friday, January 19, 2018

All The Single Ladies ...


Every once in a while a topic comes to mind that tends to get lost in all the drama surrounding the current administration. It's usually something that tends to have people somewhat polarized, but often not along the usual lines.

This is one of those topics.

Over the past few years we see occasional stories cropping up about teen-aged girls wearing "inappropriate attire" ... to school to the prom, to the mall, wherever. Surprisingly, the strongest cries about this topic (albeit for different reasons) come from the extremes of the right and the left, while the center just rolls their eyes and tries to make it through another day in this new political landscape. The left wrings their hands about how immodest dress is an invitation to sexual harassment. The right squawks about pretty much the same thing, but from a different position: that immodest dress sends the wrong signal to boys, who then act inappropriately.

Both of these positions ignore some very fundamental facts. First, a woman -- of any age -- is not an object to be admired or lusted after, nor should she be dismissed as being a slut, or a prude, or a tease, or anything else based on her mode of dress. Second, the idea that it is the woman's job to remove the temptation for males to behave poorly is ludicrous in that it removes all responsibility for their own behavior from males.


Consider the above picture. This is a lovely young woman who was going to her prom in the dress shown. It is a very pretty dress, and one that I would not at all be uncomfortable with either of my daughters wearing in any situation (well, maybe not to mow the lawn ...).

She was told she could not enter the dance because of her bare shoulders, even though her mother had added two inch straps and a lace bodice to the dress.


This is indicative of the larger problem within society. If a woman is sexually assaulted, the first thing many people do is as "What was she wearing? What was she doing? Why didn't she just leave?" This patriarchal attitude is carried through our justice system, when women who report being assaulted are often made to feel like they are the criminals, having to justify their actions as not being provocative.

Another issue is that these rules are often imposed by those who take the viewpoint (often subconsciously) that women are incapable of handling unwanted attention, and therefore must be protected ... not only from those who would harass them, but from themselves (you know, because the poor dears are just too silly and flighty to figure these things out for themselves). Of these rules and strictures are created with the best of intentions; it's the implementation and the lack of input from the women themselves that is galling.

I have two daughters, 21 and 15. One is very tall, slender, and willowy. The younger one is more voluptuous. Both have challenges in dealing with unwanted advances. Both of them also have my complete faith and trust that they will be able to handle themselves quite nicely, thank you very much, and they don't need an angry middle-aged guy pacing and growling vaguely threatening things to the guys that come around (I still do it, but it's mainly for my own entertainment ... they know that I am basically harmless).

We, as a society, need to have that same faith in all women, except where explicitly indicated otherwise. Yes, schools should have the right to enforce dress codes ... equally, without using them as a pretext to shift responsibility for personal behavior away from one group and onto another group who are the recipients of that behavior. Yes, parents have a right to tell their daughters that they have to wear prairie dresses and veils to the prom, if that is part of their ethos, but they do not have any right to shame other girls from other families for not adhering to their personal code. However, it is vitally important that we remember the following three things:
  • Teen-aged boys are dicks. They are immature, shallow, self-centered, and often are not even aware that what they say and do is obnoxious.
  • Teen-aged boys are perpetually horny. So much so that they will often delude themselves. For example, when I was in high school, I was at a friend's house who had cable TV  but no premium channels. However, depending on weather conditions, you could sometimes get a fairly clear picture from the scrambled Cinemax signal. One night we were at his house, hooting and hollering over what we though was Skinemax soft-core porn ... until we looked it up in the listings and discovered that we had been ogling and drooling over a documentary about lemurs in Madagascar.
  • People want to impress each other. Girls will wear short shorts. Boys will wear tight shirts that show off their physique (if they have one). There are entire rows in the grocery store dedicated to products to help people be more attractive to a potential mate: hair care products, skin care products, cosmetics, deodorants, perfumes, colognes. Hell, there are entire stores dedicated to this stuff. All of this is intended to allow a person -- of any age -- to basically become a walking, talking, living, breathing billboard advertising a single product: themselves. "Look at me, I'm doable" is basically what they are saying to the world.
Above all, we need to remember this: if a woman is sexually assaulted, whether it's a persistent unwanted advance or out-and-out violent rape, it has absolutely nothing to do with what she is wearing and everything to do with the poor behavior exhibited by the perpetrator.

So, the next time you hear about a woman who was assaulted behind a dumpster, instead of saying "What was she wearing? She may have been asking for it"and then giving the perpetrator a slap on the wrist because "the punishment would be too hard on him," perhaps we should be saying what most people of conscience would say: "I hope she's okay, and the guy that did this needs to go away for a very long time."

I gotta lie down.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Where Is The Balance?


By now y'all have seen the video above of Jorge Garcia saying goodbye to his family before being escorted away by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. I'm not going to re-litigate the details of his case here; we all know what they are. The consensus among the general public is that Mr. Garcia's consequences here are needlessly harsh. Which raises the following question, not just in relation to this case:

When are we going to lose our Puritanical streak? I mean, it's been nearly 500 years.

According to popular history, the Pilgrims fled to America to escape persecution. While the terms "Pilgrim" and "Puritan" are often used interchangeably when discussing pre-Colonial American history, the truth is that the Pilgrims were a separatist movement within Puritanism. Puritans were a sect of Protestantism that sought to "purify" the Church of England from its "Catholic" practices. The Pilgrims, on the other hand, felt that the Church of England was too far gone and therefore new churches should be formed.

Interestingly, our current Puritanical leanings are based in untruths. For example, a common conception of Puritans as being prudish is only partially true ... Puritans were quite open about sexuality, provided it was within marriage -- in fact, one Puritan settlement in Western Massachusetts banished a husband and sent him into exile because he refused to fulfill his marital duties to his wife1.

The problem, in my view, is that American society still hangs on to vestiges of this Puritanism ... the false view of Puritanism. We see it all around us, in the way we deal with gender issues, or criminal justice, or commerce. Underlying all of these things is a very basic concept: retribution.

For instance, let's consider criminal justice. For decades progressives have been advocating for a criminal justice system that focuses more on rehabilitation, the thinking being that it makes more sense to teach criminals how to not be criminals so they can actually contribute to society when they are released. Our inner Puritans, however, take a much harsher view: that punishment must be swift, severe, and uncompromising, and any display of mercy is merely a display of weakness. For nearly fifty years, this Puritan sensibility has won out, with the result that we have overcrowded prisons and absurdly high rates of recidivism.

Mr. Garcia's case illustrates this undercurrent perfectly. Yes, he violated the law (whether he should be held liable for that, given that he was only ten years old, is a different topic altogether). Under a rehabilitative model, his thirty years of being a model resident, and the fact that he is raising a family of citizens with his citizen wife, should all be factored in. We should be not only looking at the original infraction, but also the effect this is going to have on his kids -- who, as citizens, have rights that may be being violated here.

However, the trump administration is taking the "retribution" route, insisting that he broke the law and punishment must be meted out. It matters not whether this punishment is proportional or even appropriate, the driving force here is vengeance through retribution.

How will Garcia's case end up? Hard to say. There are a number of groups taking up his cause (and, by extension, the cause of all other undocumented immigrants with families who are citizens), and it is entirely possible that he will get a day in court and be re-united with his family. However, until we grow out of this mindset of "gotta get even" and turn toward a more thoughtful, nuanced approach, we will be seeing heartbreaking stories like this repeated over and over and over ...

I gotta lie down.

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1Coffin, Charles (1987), The Story of Liberty: So You Will Comprehend What Liberty Has Cost, and What It Is Worth, Maranatha Publications, ISBN 093855820X

And The Oscar Goes To ...

Yeah, yesterday's column? Um ... no. Yesterday I posted that I had undergone a change of heart, a radical shift in my political lean...