Deserved to die?

A while back an article was brought to my attention about Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student who was murdered while out jogging over the summer. This wasn’t a straightforward, fact-based news story detailing the tragic death of a promising young woman, but an opinion piece by a judgemental “Christian” woman calling herself The Thinking Housewife who suggested that Mollie was at least partially responsible for her own death. Yep, she pointed an accusatory finger at the girl who was abducted, killed, and dumped in a corn field. Please tell me I’m not the only one who thinks this is ludicrous. The author of this blog post speculated that Mollie was a target for a man to murder simply due to her clothing choices and their effect on her attacker’s impressionable male brain. Here it is in her own words.

“Feminism is also to blame for her death. A society that says female modesty and restraint are oppressive does not protect young women from potential predators. No amount of feminist social engineering can change the facts of nature. A woman who jogs in skimpy clothes on country roads — or even in the city — is a serious temptation to a small criminal element. Jogging in revealing clothes – or even just jogging alone – is dangerous. Safety depends on modesty and restraint.”
The Reckless Female Jogger

This is blatant victim blaming. Heaven forbid some “ladies man” has to control not only his lustful thoughts, but his violent sexual tendencies in the presence of an attractive woman. From the news reports I’ve read, Mollie’s alleged murder got angry when she rejected his advances, and his response was to attack and kill her. First of all, females running outside (or inside, even) are not doing so for the benefit of onlookers! Believe it or not, we exercise for our own health and well-being and not as a pretense to beguile the opposite sex. Additionally, society has convinced men that they are entitled to the attention of any woman they want just for having a penis. We ladies are supposed to be flattered, bat our eyelashes, and thank our lucky stars when a member of the male species deems us worthy of their consideration. These are lessons that we all need to unlearn.

As you can see in the above photo, the members of my running group don’t wear anything remotely provocative. Some of the ladies are in great shape, but the rest of us aren’t quite so fit (including myself!). Still, even though I don’t look like a fitness model, I wear tight shorts or pants when I run (because if I didn’t I would have serious problems with chafing), and I wear fairly close-fitting shirts too (because otherwise the fabric would move against my skin and cause rashes in terrible places). No, I don’t run in short-shorts or an exposed sports bra, but my outfit still wouldn’t be considered “modest” enough for The Thinking Housewife. According to her, if some man approached me with ill intent it would be at least partially my fault for enticing him with my provocative clothing choices. How dare I wear an outfit that’s appropriate for my current activity! I have been on the receiving end of unwanted attention while running, and I’ve responded in the most rational way possible – I flipped the bird at those jerks. But I’ve been one of the lucky ones who hasn’t been physically assaulted – not because of my outfit, but because I was extremely fortunate. What a woman is wearing rarely has any impact on a man’s bad behavior, and implying otherwise does a disservice to both sexes.

Offended vs. offensive

In case you were wondering if there was any resolution to the issue in my last post, the McGaugh Elementary principal apologized in an email to school families on Thursday. From what the online article quotes, it sounded like a half-hearted apology to me. One those that basically says, “I’m sorry if I offended you,” where the inclusion of the word “if” means that the author isn’t really admitting fault. Instead, the blame is put on others for being offended. This seriously pisses me off, but it’s not up to me to forgive her. That’s for the families and the school district to decide.

As a follow-up to my previous blog post I thought I’d address a similar situation – one that involves me this time. In February 2017 I posted a statement on my Facebook wall after a shocking interaction with a friend that left me nearly speechless. In one afternoon this friend managed to make derogatory statements about blacks, transgender people, immigrants, ComicCon attendees, and the homeless. I didn’t even know it was possible to display that level of insensitivity in a single day. In general I don’t think it’s my job to try and change people’s opinions, no matter how different they are from mine, but in this instance I could only hold my tongue for so long. After she attacked homeless people for “checking out of society” I finally challenged her views. It didn’t really make a difference, but I couldn’t just passively listen to her stream of ignorance any longer. I was so upset that when I got home I posted something vague about it on Facebook. Here’s what happened next. (Note: Other than my own, the names have been changed to avoid further conflict.)

  • Lauren: I’ll preface this with the fact that I’m a liberal and a feminist, but I’ve had all the intolerance I can stand. I just don’t understand how inclusiveness, sensitivity, and avoiding offense can be a bad thing.
  • George: Taken from Reddit – “There’s nothing wrong with being offended by something.
    There is a problem with not being able to personally deal with your own feelings of offense, and trying to regulate/control other people so that you won’t be offended. It’s selfish, bigoted, and myopic. As they say; offense is taken, not given.”
  • Jane: Translation – “I want to be able to do whatever I want, and if anybody holds me accountable, I would like to pretend it is because they suck, not because I am sometimes wrong, or because being a human who has social relationships with other humans necessarily means sometimes being told I messed up and apologizing.” Seriously, George, this quote is bizarre. If you were walking down the street and someone punched you in the face, would you be wrong to say, “What the hell, man?!” Being racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. is repulsive, hurtful and preventable, and it’s actually peak fragility to think one must never get pushback about it.

Some people don’t seem understand that there’s a difference between “offended” and “offensive.” I am not a member of any of the groups that my friend disparaged that day so I wasn’t directly offended by what she said, but her comments were undoubtedly offensive to blacks, transgender people, immigrants, ComicCon attendees (nerds like me, actually), and the homeless. Just because a person’s insulting statements don’t apply to anyone in their audience doesn’t mean that they aren’t still insults. I wasn’t to blame for objecting to my friend’s comments, but that’s what George’s response above would have you believe. I used to be married to a man who blamed me for everything so this behavior of making the opposing party the one at fault isn’t anything new. But that doesn’t mean it’s right. Never feel like you are “selfish, bigoted, or myopic,” as George said, because you call out someone for offensive things they say. We have to continue to challenge abhorrent views and behaviors or humankind will never make progress. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Subtext is important

It’s an extraordinary day when the daily post from my least favorite blogger isn’t the thing that gets me the most riled up (although today she wrote about the “sin” of obesity so it was a close call). Nope, today it was something from my own little community that disturbed me the most. When I woke up this morning I saw a thread in the Seal Beach Facebook group regarding law enforcement and news crew activity at the local elementary school. Fortunately it wasn’t something life-threatening like a shooting or a hostage situation. Thank goodness! After reading the associated article on the Orange County Register I learned that the McGaugh Elementary School principal posted something contentious on her personal Facebook wall regarding the Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick. Yep, another social media scandal. We can’t seem to learn from even the very recent past when it comes to these situations. Here’s an excerpt from the OC Register article.

Along with thousands of other people around the country expressing similar viewpoints, Roni Burns-Ellis turned to Facebook Tuesday, Sept. 4, to condemn Nike for featuring controversial quarterback Colin Kaepernick in an ad. But as principal of McGaugh Elementary in Seal Beach, Burns-Ellis drew her own controversy. Above her photo of a Nike T-shirt cut into pieces, Burns-Ellis wrote on her personal Facebook page: “My newest rag! When Nike signs an anti-American thug to represent their brand, I will not support, wear, purchase or endorse their product.”

I added the bolding myself because that is the root of the problem. After reading the principal’s FB post, a Seal Beach resident went to the school administration’s office to complain about her use of a racist term to describe Kaepernick. This woman is in a position of leadership over not just adults, but also children. It’s understandable that parents would be alarmed by racist views expressed by such leadership, right? The elementary school has students of many colors and backgrounds so the principal’s FB post is not just generally offensive, but directly offensive to black students and their families. Seems straightforward to be, but unfortunately not to everyone. The main dispute in the Seal Beach FB page thread was over whether “thug” is in fact a racist term. So many people cited the bland dictionary definition to prove that race was not an implication in the principal’s use of the word. The shortsightedness of this argument is astounding. Unfortunately, there are untold numbers of words that have meanings beyond than the ones in a large, dusty, probably outdated volume. How many times have you had to consult Urban Dictionary to ascertain the current usage of a word or phrase? (I am old and out of touch so I use Urban Dictionary a lot!) We are all aware that calling a person of color an ape, baboon, or monkey is overtly racist, especially due to a few high-profile cases this year, but you won’t find words explicitly defining those terms as racist in your home dictionary. I found an NPR article that explained it better than I ever could – “One of the things that Americans have a whole lot of trouble with…is that words never keep their meanings over time. A word is a thing on the move. A word is a process. And that’s what’s so confusing about the N-word. And that’s what’s so confusing now about this word, thug. Any discussion where we pretend that it only means one thing is just going to lead to dissension and confusion.” The bottom line is that subtext is lost on folks who willfully ignore it. Luckily there was one encouraging comment from a woman in the FB thread.

A vast majority of McGaugh’s military families are minorities. Military members who take off their uniform at the end of each day and step out into the civilian world, only to face discrimination because of the color of their skin. Minorities in the military are not safe from unjust treatment by people in positions of power. I hope all of you parents/community members reading this will take a step back and remember that behind a parent’s job title, there are people and families of color, including black husbands and sons like my very own, who benefit from people like Kaepernick speaking up for them. Calling a black man a “thug” just because you don’t agree with the way he’s exercising his freedoms as an American is racist. It truly is. Please remember that every single service member past and present, signed an oath to defend the constitution and the freedoms that it grants. I don’t pretend to speak for all military families, but I do know many local military families (and thousands across the country) share my sentiments. And I hope you all will help hold those who are supposed to advocate for all of their students, students of color included, accountable for not doing so.

I couldn’t have said it better myself! In a post back in May, I stated that “Some people don’t understand that free speech means that in the United States you can’t be arrested or executed for your opinions, but it does not mean you are completely free from the consequences of what you choose to say. Hate speech can absolutely get you fired.” Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequence! We’ll see how this plays out for the McGaugh Elementary School principal.

Shutting down hate

“In the past I don’t think I have expressed my opinions as freely as I should have. Before now I have felt intimidated by opinionated people and rarely did I oppose them for that reason. Everyone should be able to say what they think, but in a way that does not degrade any particular person for their beliefs.”
5/19/99 webpage post

I was reading my very first webpage post from 5/19/99 the other day and I was struck by the above excerpt. It’s remarkably wise for my immature and inexperienced twenty year-old self. I’m pretty sure I talked a big talk, but didn’t live up to it in real life. Even so, my thinking was on the right track at a young age. Unfortunately I met my ex-husband a couple of years later and over the course of our eleven year relationship I was groomed to keep any displeasure to myself. I’ve written about emotional abuse in my marriage before and this was another aspect of it. Anytime I expressed unhappiness I was somehow persuaded into thinking that everything was my fault and that I should fix the problem on my own (whether or not I caused it) and keep quiet about it. It was a real step backwards in my personal development. Eventually I came to the miraculous realization I that I didn’t need to live that way! I rescued myself from that toxic relationship and a lifetime of misery with someone who didn’t respect me.

Now that I’m older and finally free to be whoever I want I am relearning the same lessons that I did back in college. Not long ago there was an incident at work where I was compelled to shut down hate speech. Working closely with a lot of people I am fully aware that we all have differing opinions, and we are entitled to them, but there are lines that I am not willing to tolerate being crossed in my presence. So when I heard a co-worker expressing anti-Muslim sentiments there was no way I could let it go. In no uncertain terms I informed him that his conversation was not appropriate for work. I didn’t try to correct his views (although I consider them repulsive – I respect all religions while not being religious myself), but made sure that he knew that he should not be discussing them at our place of employment. I’m pretty sure he thought I was joking because he ignored me and kept talking. So I raised my voice and forcefully said, “I’m not kidding, that is not an appropriate topic of conversation at work.” (As a side note, internally I feared I was being bitchy. Thanks to society women are conditioned to be pleasant all the time or risk being considered bitches, but that didn’t stop me from standing my ground when he didn’t shut up.) So what was the response after my second admonition? “I thought this was a free country.” Seriously? This made me even angrier than the initial religion bashing. Some people don’t understand that free speech means that in the United States you can’t be arrested or executed for your opinions, but it does not mean you are completely free from the consequences of what you choose to say. Hate speech can absolutely get you fired. My blood was boiling at this point, but I had a job to do so I got back to it. Later that day I described the incident to a manager because I think all employees have an obligation to stop this despicable sort of discrimination. Fortunately management took my report seriously and the situation was quickly dealt with. Still, it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. It blows my mind that people walk around with so much hate. Our world would be a much more harmonious place without it.