Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Callousness and Compassion

Hello, world - 

You know I usually write long form pieces (long, loooong form pieces) on one topic, but with all the stuff going on in the world, I feel like I only have the energy to tackle little bits of things. So here goes. 

1) Ray Rice and internet nastiness:

I am absolutely disgusted by the abuse we have now seen for sure and which, if we are honest, we all knew took place. I am disgusted that it took this long for the Ravens and for the NFL in general to firmly respond to a clear case of domestic violence. And I am disgusted, above everything else, that fans and others on the internet feel like this is a good time to judge Janay - again, a victim of abuse. 

She wrote this morning about what she and Rice are going through, and the callous words of internet commenters (on both sides of the issue) are playing a huge part in her victimization. It's not enough that she's been abused by her husband, no - everybody feels like they need to pile on her and judge her for the way she's responding to her own abuse. Whether or not we feel like she should leave Rice, we must not strip her of every ounce of privacy and dignity she might have left. We are players in her abuse because we think we have a right to be backseat drivers in her life. 

What should we offer women who have been victims of domestic violence? Compassion. A statement of support. An opportunity to find a way out, if necessary. And just because she was viciously knocked out by her partner and decided to stay with him doesn't mean we shouldn't give her what every woman deserves at any time and without any need for justification - respect. Respect for her bodily autonomy, her choices, and her privacy. 

2) The reality of race in America:

It's so simple and so complicated, so I'll try to keep this brief - mostly because there have been so many amazing pieces on this issue already, and my two cents just can't compete. And I will be direct - 

If you think we live in a post-racial America, you are highly privileged not to have been on the receiving end of discrimination. If you think that America is a place of true equality for everyone, count your blessings, because that opinion is rooted in not having been a victim of horrific institutional practices (read, most obviously: police brutality) or of daily micro-aggressions which so many minorities are forced to accept, ignore, brush off. 

If you can't put yourself in the shoes of men, women, and children who are routinely oppressed - through inequitable access to education, or the ridiculously and painfully obvious imbalance of our justice system, or the mythologies of "welfare queens" and "thugs," or any of the numerous ways in which our society is utter madness - you, quite plainly, lack compassion, or at least some pretty important critical thinking skills. The way America functions just doesn't work. It doesn't work if you're poor; it doesn't work if, because of your poverty, you live in areas without quality education; it doesn't work if police officers feel justified in stopping you because of the color of your skin. 

One might think that after the minute-by-minute coverage of Ferguson, people would wake up and see what's really happening. One might think that yes, finally, we would be able to talk about this. And some people have, and some people have not. So let's all make a better effort - let's stretch those critical thinking skills and let's show compassion and let's not forget that what happened in Ferguson stemmed from what happens every single day in every single city in America. 

3) Sexual assault, and #yesallwomen:

Yup, if you've gotten this far, you probably know where I stand on this issue. But I'm going to say it anyway - 

One in five - one in five! - women are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. You think rape culture isn't a thing? Tell that to the college student who is carrying her mattress to class, every day, because she is forced to go to college with her rapist. Because her school doesn't recognize her rape. Because he is still welcomed in an institution of higher learning, and because his victim is given no recourse. 

Tell that to a brave, amazing group of students at my alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, who are working to address the cover up of multiple sexual assaults as well as a gang rape at Pike, a fraternity long known for sexual assault (I knew not to go there within the first week of college, back in 2005). Tell that to certain people in the JHU administration who were so worried about covering their butts that they refused to protect their students. 

Tell that to the boys I knew in the first few weeks of my freshman year who somehow assumed that because I went to their room - to talk about music! - that I would be totally okay with their tongues down my throat. Tell that to the boy in my dorm who would grab me in the hallway, of whom I was terribly afraid, and tell that to eighteen-year-old me who didn't know if she had any right to report the hell out of him, who didn't think anything would come of it, anyway. 

Tell that to all the women who couldn't get away. 

Tell that to girls who are shamed in school because they wear tank tops and shorts, and to the boys who aren't. Tell that to school administrators who want to control women's bodies and not men's behavior. 

Tell that to a woman in Indiana who was missing for two months and was found locked in a cage wearing a dog collar and a leash. Her captors wanted to get her pregnant, and they thought that showing her off to a friend would be a-okay. That no one would care about this woman who was nothing more than a thing to them, a vessel, a sick entertainment. 

Tell that to the women who say they don't need feminism and then, after reading all this and so so much more, tell them yes. you. do.

I could go on, and I would - but this is what I am talking about. This is how sometimes I can't write just one post because there are too many things wrong. I have to make a list, bullet points of this is the world we live in. 

My little corner of the world is pretty great, I have to say. Every morning I get to have coffee and look at the morning glories climbing my back fence, and I hear birdsong. Every night I get to be with my amazing husband, and at least once a day I get to talk to my mom or my sister. I paint and I play the piano. I craft, I write, I watch Xena: Warrior Princess. I have the best friend in the world who listens to me talk and with whom I often giggle uncontrollably. I get to spend time with my grandmother. 

And sometimes it is so much easier to shy away from the epic tons of wrong, the rules which made it possible for me to succeed but not for others, the way we victimize women, the backseat driving of the internet. But the thread of all of these topics is something we must not ignore - 

We need way more compassion. We need to give voice to values of kindness and respect, and we need to speak up to make the world as pleasant for others as it may be for us. We need to acknowledge our privilege and we need to be good people. We can't shy away from that responsibility. 

Maybe, some days, all I have are bullet points. And maybe - no, definitely - bullet points aren't nearly enough. But I can't ignore what's wrong with the world. Not if I benefit from what's right with my own. 

Despite my privilege, I care about these issues. I care about being compassionate, respectful, thoughtful. 

Please tell me that you do, too.