The track that takes a woman to the White House, where she will be our first female president, is fraught with hazards. Misogyny, sexism, bullying, intimidation, threats of violence, and death threats abound on this track. Well, no one expected a smooth ride, but should we have expected all these derailments?
What do I mean by “derailment” you ask? Derailment is when a discussion of one issue is diverted into discussion of another issue, often by a member of the group that was being called out about their bad behaviour being the cause of the first issue. What’s wrong with that? Well, it’s hard to have productive discourse when the person you are talking to dismisses your feelings and experiences as trivial and unimportant or uses your expressions as a springboard to segue into discussing their own issues. Maybe some examples would help…
A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend about my feelings and fear over having a man like Donald Trump poised to take the highest office in our nation. I was telling her how I feared that even if he lost his bid, how close he got to the office will, to some, legitimize his attitude and behavior towards women. She was telling me she further feared that this attitude would pervade our culture beyond bald-faced misogyny and take root in an uptick of microaggressions and the ever-insidious internalized sexism/misogyny that sometimes even co-opts women into becoming their own oppressors. A man who had been listening to our conversation decided we would benefit from his opinions on the matter. Can you guess what those were? Rather than addressing our concerns he chose to use our conversation as an opportunity to talk about his concerns with what it would mean for the country to have a man like Bill Clinton in close proximity to the presidency. He chose to view our conversation about our concerns over Trump’s very-much-current problematic behavior as an invitation to speak on his non sequitur concerns over Bill’s behavior in the past, ignoring the glaring fact that Bill Clinton is not running for president this year. When we tried to point out to him that his comments had nothing to do with what we were talking about, he got angry, defensive, and insulting. Inadvertently, he also instantly proved my friend’s point about the uptick in microaggressions.
More recently, I was commenting online about my experiences as a Delegate for Hillary at the Nevada State Democratic Convention. Specifically, I was talking about my being kept in a ballroom until the Bernie Delegates cleared out and then being escorted to my car, all for the sake of my personal safety. I talked about how it wasn’t my first contested convention, so I had reasonable expectations about how things would be based on our state’s ‘08 convention. Back then, Hillary had won the popular vote of our state but Barack Obama had won the delegate count and emotions were high, to say the least. This year was a whole different level of “high emotions” and I expressed how shocked and upset I was with my experiences. I felt that to have a political event translate into a literal fear for my safety was not alright and a discussion about perspective was needed. I felt it was wrong for some men to feel that such behavior was excusable simply because it happened in a political arena. My comment was instantly met with a reply from my husband’s friend, a Sanders supporter. Rather than speak to the issues I was addressing he chose to bypass them altogether and ask me to justify to him Delegate counts, procedural rules, voice votes and the like. He was not a delegate to the convention, but he watched live streams and read comments from friends that were, he had “important” questions about the events of that day. In short, rather than step up to the plate as a Sanders supporter, and talk about the problematic behavior of letting your feelings about political outcomes translate into violence, he chose instead to divert attention to his feelings about a “rigged system” perhaps as a way to justify such behavior.
Sadly, I could go on and on with examples of moments where I, or other women I know, express concern or upset over our experiences with sexism and violence during the current political cycle, only to have our expressions ignored and our attention drawn away to other “more important” issues. I won’t go on and on though; I have faith that anyone reading this gets the gist. What I want us all to take away from this is there is a time and place for everything. When women are talking about fearing the behavior of men, both physical and emotional, it is NOT the time or place for anyone else to talk about their concerns over other issues. For that matter, when any person is talking about their personal experiences with oppression, be it racism, sexism, classism, et cetera, that is not the time or place to bring up concerns about your own experiences, especially if you are doing so to avoid addressing your own discomfort due to the ways in which you may relate to, or are similar to, their oppressors. If you really want to relate and you really want to have a conversation with a person, you need to listen to and hear what that person is saying. You need to address their concerns first, before you ask them to address yours.
Photo Credit: Will Langenberg