America Hates Honest Women

[Content Note: Misogyny; white supremacy.]

When I say honest here, I don't mean it in the idiomatic sense of "married." I mean it in the sense of "tells it like it is." You know, that trait that many people claim to revere, but in actuality only applaud it when certain people look like they're doing it?

In 1983, in her social critique How to Suppress Women's Writing, Joanna Russ wrote about the informal ways used to erase women's writing, opinions, and, more broadly, women themselves from the public sphere:
If certain people are not supposed to have the ability to produce 'great' literature, and if this supposition is one of the means used to keep such people in their place, the ideal situation (socially speaking) is one in which such people are prevented from producing any literature at all. But a formal prohibition gives the game away — that is, if the peasants are kept illiterate, it will occur to somebody sooner or later that illiteracy absolutely precludes written literature, whether such literature be good or bad; and if significant literature can by definition be produced only in Latin, the custom of not teaching Latin to girls will again, sooner or later, cause somebody to wonder what would happen if the situation were changed.

...In a nominally egalitarian society the ideal situation (socially speaking) is one in which the members of the 'wrong' groups have the freedom to engage in literature (or equally significant activities), and yet do not do so, thus proving that they can't. But alas, give them the least real freedom and they will do it. The trick thus becomes to make the freedom as nominal a freedom as possible and then — since some of the so-and-so's will do it anyway — develop various strategies for ignoring, condemning, or belittling the artistic works that result. If properly done, these strategies result in a social situation in which the 'wrong' people are (supposedly) free to commit literature, art, or whatever, but very few do, and those who do (it seems) do it badly, so we can all go home to lunch.
In this quote, Russ makes the salient point that mechanisms of suppression are often effective and persistent precisely because of their informal nature. The very informality shields these mechanisms from intense scrutiny and critique because, after all, people can point to a law that technically does not prohibit an action and say, "You already have equality, so what's the problem?"

Meanwhile, informal pressures act as barriers to actual equality. These informal mechanisms are, oftentimes, the readymade cultural narratives which are at people's disposal — many of which (in Russ' view) don't even require active, conscious bigotry — to use in service of subordinating others.

Inequality is and has been the status quo in the United States of America, since its founding. A closely related thought, to borrow a phrase from Melissa, is that "There is no neutral in rape culture." 

This status quo was built by men who founded a political system premised on equality but imbued with contradictions in which certain groups were specifically excluded from participation and enslaved, killed, and kept in a state of subordination. The status quo, despite equality laws being on the books, was maintained not just by our government's consistent failure to acknowledge and atone for past wrongdoing, but by widespread public resentment at the very notion of acknowledging these wrongdoings, as well as politicians and pundits who coddle that resentment. See, for instance, a new lynching memorial in Alabama that leaves some locals "seething" because, per one resident, "It's bringing up bullshit."

When it comes to "telling it like it is," a significant portion of the citizenry would simply prefer that we not, at least when it comes to injustice.

A particular narrative about honesty and injustice exists for women, one that proves to be quite the riddle:
  • On the one hand, women are deceptive shrews and should be more honest;
  • On the other hand, when women are honest, they're selfish, uppity, reputation-destroying hags.
It's not difficult to grasp the resulting conclusion to this unsolvable dilemma: A woman should probably not speak at all, particularly in the public sphere, about politics, and/or in subversion of white male dominance. Speech that is not honest, but that works in collusion with injustice, is a path of lesser resistance, for many.

Looking first at the feminist revival/backlash we're currently in, let's take #MeToo, which has been an important cultural moment for survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse. Some survivors find that speaking one's truth can, itself, confer dignity and help with the healing process. What is less clear at the moment is the extent to which the consequences for rapists, abusers, and predators will or will not be significant and lasting.

I suppose it was inevitable for "men these days are scared of even being alone with women, man" opinions to be a thriving genre of opining, never-you-mind the stories of millions of women who have lived in actual terror of male predators for millenia. (See also, "there is no neutral in rape culture.") But, thus far, a handful of wealthy and high-profile men have been fired and retreated to their mansions to endure temporary(?) reputation blemishes, as they seemingly plot their redemption arcs.

Editor Tina Brown, for instance, has stated that Charlie Rose, whom eight women accused of sexual harassment, approached her to produce a #MeToo series starring himself, interviewing other men accused of sexual misbehavior. (Per Brown, she declined).  And yet, why in a multiverse already saturated with pro-rape devil's advocacy would anyone care about such a TV show but for the readymade, culturally-ingrained narrative that men's feelings matter much, much more than women's actual truths?

More recently, when Tom Brokaw was accused of sexual harassment, he released a rant against his accuser that somehow manages to be almost as bad as the actual allegations. And, in one of the worst and more stupid genre of letters ever conceived ("the collusion letter of support"?), 115 women from NBC signed a letter supporting Brokaw, some of whom reported having felt pressue to sign it.

Because, well, of course.

Authenticity and honesty are often demanded from women, but only if it coddles male power. If a woman can't authentically do that, she is pressured to fake it and then she's rewarded for doing so. Not legally, usually. But informally, so that it looks entirely of her own volition, even though with every predator exposed comes with it a status-quo, cultural whisper, "How about now? Has #MeToo — has this woman's truth — gone too far this time?" Because, for too long such things have been measured not by the pain of those who have been raped or harassed, but by the anxiety, fear, and pain of abusers.

This past weekend, as another example, the press was ass-over-heels on its collective fainting couch because a woman, Michelle Wolf, made subversive, critical jokes about a grotesque, startlingly dishonest, immoral, bigoted, and incompetent Republican administration. What really induced some prominent pundits to get a bad case of the vapors was this joke:
I actually really like Sarah [Huckabee Sanders]. I think she's very resourceful. Like, she burns facts, and then she uses the ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like, maybe she's born with it; maybe it's lies.

It's probably lies.
The joke was widely, disingenuously portrayed as Wolf "mocking" Sanders' appearance, but it was actually a riff on a make-up company slogan combined with the objective fact that Sanders lies to the American people, a lot, on behalf of a president who lies an average of 5.5 times per day.

Wolf told it like it was and she shouldn't have!

Mika Brzezinski, of MSNBC (which Trump has called "fake news"), tweeted that she "hurt" for Sanders. Kyle Cheney at Politico called Wolf "unnecessarily cruel." Jeff Zeleny, of CNN (which Trump has also called "fake news"), called the performance "an embarrassment." And, to top it off, the White House Correspondents Association released a statement bemoaning Wolf's lack of civility at an event at which politicians, the media, and pundits are routinely and historically roasted.

There is something so absurd — so Orwellian — about the political press on which we informally rely to hold power to account bemoaning a comedian's purported lack of civility toward a remarkably dishonest presidential administration that it almost defies definition. I keep coming back to misogyny and, specifically, American's hatred for honest women. And that seems to fit well enough.

Finally, no piece about America's hatred of honest women would be complete without referencing the asinine trend of "Hillary go away" pieces that have been published with clockwork regularity since the 2016 election.

I don't know what can be said that hasn't been said in this space already about this genre of misogyny, but for now, just compare, contrast, and keep in mind that it's now May of 2018.

Via The Atlantic:

screen cap of Atlantic headline reading: 'Hillary Clinton's High Profile Is Hurting the Democrats'

And, via The Week, regarding the man who was defeated by the above-referenced woman:

screen cap of Week headline reading: 'Bernie Sanders Has Conquered the Democratic Party'

The line to do a cannonball into the nearest volcano begins right here, folks. For, the gist of the Clinton piece is that, while, yes, Clinton is warning us about ongoing threats to our national sovereignty (i.e., being honest), it really is time for her to "stop whining." Yes. Really.

And why? Because American fucking hates honest women.

Now, yes, it is true that women in this country are hated for a never-ending, ever-shifting list of reasons. But a common thread that I see in all of the above recent news items is a very specific hatred of women who tell the truth. (Clinton, if you remember, was rated as objectively more honest than both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, although widely viewed as more dishonest than both. And, I still maintain that there's no lie in her widely-reviled "deplorables" comment.)

All of this is to say that a woman may be legally free to accurately charge a man with rape, roast dishonest public officials, or have the temerity to warn her nation about ongoing threats to democracy, but when she does so, it's made abundantly clear to them — and all the women and little girls watching — that she shouldn't have.

In fact, the readymade narrative goes, if a woman won't collude, she ought to be silenced so we can focus back in on the men in the story.

And, hey, I hear there are going to be some good ones come 2020.

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