Changing the Odds So No Child Has to Overcome Them

There are several challenging, and therefore uncomfortable, scenes in Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later (2007); however, when I show this documentary in my courses, few students recognize those scenes as either challenging or uncomfortable.

At one point, several black men from the Little Rock, Arkansas community are gathered outside the school, and they speak directly about the need for blacks to take care of their own, clean up their own communities. These men directly mention the damage of black-on-black crime (which is about the same as white-on-white crime, although the latter is almost never mentioned).

Throughout the documentary, as well, a number of black students confront how hard they work and how some of their fellow black students simply do not try—echoing a rugged individualism and personal responsibility narrative that a white teacher/coach and her white golf team members express.

I use these scenes as teachable moments about the negative impact of respectability politics on marginalized groups:

What started as a philosophy promulgated by black elites to “uplift the race” by correcting the “bad” traits of the black poor has now evolved into one of the hallmarks of black politics in the age of Obama, a governing philosophy that centers on managing the behavior of black people left behind in a society touted as being full of opportunity. In an era marked by rising inequality and declining economic mobility for most Americans—but particularly for black Americans—the twenty-first-century version of the politics of respectability works to accommodate neoliberalism. The virtues of self-care and self-correction are framed as strategies to lift the black poor out of their condition by preparing them for the market economy.

…Today’s politics of respectability, however, commands blacks left behind in post–civil rights America to “lift up thyself.” Moreover, the ideology of respectability, like most other strategies for black progress articulated within the spaces where blacks discussed the best courses of action for black freedom, once lurked for the most part beneath the gaze of white America. But now that black elites are part of the mainstream elite in media, entertainment, politics, and the academy, respectability talk operates within the official sphere, shaping the opinions, debates, and policy perspectives on what should—and should not—be done on the behalf of the black poor.

Respectability politics works in conjunction with seemingly innocuous narratives (rugged individualism, lifting yourself by your bootstraps, personal responsibility) to keep the accusatory gaze on individuals and away from systemic inequity. In other words, political and economic elites are more secure if the majority of people believe all success and failure are primarily determined by individual traits and not by privilege and disadvantage beyond most people’s control.

This semester that discussion has coincided with Laura Ingraham attempting to publicly shame LeBron James to “shut up and dribble,” a not-so-clever self-promotion for one of Ingraham’s vapid books.

Along with Kevin Durant’s heated response, James (see video in the link above) stressed, “We will definitely not shut up and dribble.”

Watching James, however, and listening carefully present us with the dangers of his “defeating the odds” motivation (listen to about minutes 1:50-2:15), his own powerful and impressive rise to being King James.

I am not criticizing James, however, and fully support his response, refusing to shut up and dribble.

But a message that suggests anyone can or should be able to achieve what an outlier, James, has achieved is ultimately harmful, speaking through and to the most corrosive aspects of respectability politics.

This call to teach children to beat the odds, in fact, is shared all along the political spectrum from right to left.

The ultimate flaw in a beat-the-odds mentality is, again, that it suggests success and failure lie mostly or solely in the individual, a matter of choice and effort—like having “grit,” a growth mindset, or a positive attitude (all ways to fix inadequate children).

This is a terrible message for children especially since success and failure are mostly determined by systemic forces—except for rare outliers—and the message allows those with the power to change the odds to escape accountability.

LeBron James, I believe, is right about his importance as a role model, as a stellar example of what black success looks like despite the odds being unfairly against him in the form of racism and economic inequity.

And as long as we as a society choose to ignore the odds, choose to allow racism, sexism, and classism to exist, I suppose we should find humane and supportive ways to encourage children to work so that a few of them may hit the life lottery and beat the odds.

But to be blunt, that’s a pretty shitty cop-out for the adults who could, in fact, change the odds so that no child has to overcome them.

It is ultimately a heartless and ugly thing to see children as lacking the drive to beat odds that shouldn’t exist in the first place.

It is political cowardice and public negligence to remain fatalistic about the odds as we watch those odds destroy the hopes and dreams of our children.

If anyone should shut up, that would be Ingraham and her entire cadre of right-wing know-nothings who shovel the very worst narratives that help guarantee those odds will remain in their favor.

And as we listen to James instead, let’s resist demanding that he or any so-called racial minorities somehow erase racism and then begin to demand that those who benefit the most from the odds use those privileges to dismantle those odds.

That, I know, is a powerful ask, but it is one that certainly holds more credence than asking children to be superhuman because we have James dribbling across our flatscreen TVs.

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The Outlier Fallacy: Keeping Our Accusatory Gaze on Individuals, and Not Systemic Inequity

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and a celebrity—both of which speak to his exceptional talents, especially in the context of being a black man in the U.S.

In many ways, Tyson is the anti-Sheldon (the fictional nerd genius of The Big Bang Theory), and his celebrity as a scientist serves as a powerful model against corrosive racist stereotypes.

I am but a redneck with a doctorate (EdD) that most in the hard sciences, like Tyson, would brush aside, and my scholarship and public work as a social scientist also land me squarely well below the credibility bar against Tyson’s stature as a hard scientist and celebrity.

None the less, I must offer a friendly rebuttal to Tyson on a recent Tweet:

To which I replied:

Despite his status as an astrophysicist, his wealth of knowledge as a scientist, Tyson’s celebrity, I fear (much as is the case with Oprah), has clouded his better sensibilities.

The celebrity class in the U.S. often uses that celebrity to hold forth well beyond their areas of expertise (see as the king of this practice, Bill Gates). And Tyson very well could have good intentions here, and I concede he may not deserve being held liable for the codes of his Tweet (How many read “broken childhoods” as code for “living in poverty” and/or “single-black-parent home”?)

Tyson’s public is rife with those who cling to successful blacks who reinforce their racism: OJ Simpson, Ben Carson, Bill Cosby, Clarence Thomas, Charles Barkley, to name a few.

And so Tyson is holding forth as a Great American Winner, and winners often believe that the primary cause of their success is in their own character and effort; winners, in other words, are apt not to consider the role of the rules in their winning—notably rarely considering that the rules could be unfairly tilted in their favor.

So there are two fundamental flaws in Tyson’s Tweet: First is the implication that in the U.S. we are not already focusing on “those who succeed in spite”; and second, “those who succeed in spite” are outliers, and thus, both in the hard sciences and the social sciences more problematic than the potential source of understanding human behavior.

Tyson’s suggestion is trapped within the rugged individualism/bootstrap myths of the U.S. and then speaks to the same—but coming from Tyson, his argument feeds some nasty racial and racist narratives as well (If only we could inculcate in all blacks the character and effort that the black winners [outliers] have…).

People who succeed have character traits that trump people who fail—goes the narrative. And thus, all we need to do is fix those people who do not succeed.

This outlier fallacy fails as science, but it also keeps the accusatory gaze on individuals. While Tyson suggests we focus on winners instead of losers, either option is flawed in that it allows systemic forces to be ignored even though systemic forces (not individual qualities) are often the primary cause of outcomes.

Let’s recalibrate Tyson’s Tweet just a bit to see the problem: Why don’t we study black men who do not find themselves in the criminal justice system instead of studying black men who are incarcerated to understand criminalization?

This proposal, of course, puts the gaze entirely on black men, and fails to recognize the first level problem—the criminal justice and policing systems in the U.S. are significantly inequitable for black Americans.

If our goal is equity and social justice for people trapped in poverty and for so-called racial minorities in the U.S., as well as seeking ways to support children better who are living broken childhoods, Tyson’s musing ignores how we already are failing both goals and promotes an outlier fallacy driven by the white gaze, something fostered among the winners who cannot allow themselves to question the rules that created their winning.

Especially in this time of Trump, seeking equity and justice cannot afford a celebrity class blinded by its celebrity. “Those who succeed” and “those who don’t succeed” are not the sources of where our gaze should be; those are outcomes driven by a game that is rigged.

Let’s reconsider the rules of that game and not the participants, whether they succeed or not.

Judicial Negligence Compounds Political Negligence in South Carolina

Conservative politics as a very thin veneer for racism and class warfare has long characterized the South, including South Carolina, regardless of party affiliation—once Democratic and now the same sort of recalcitrant Republican.

Strom Thurmond personified this ugly fact of my home state—him a brash racist and among the now seemingly endless line of powerful white men who also viewed and treated women as subhuman as well. The current disaster of Roy Moore stands as yet more of that same, embodying a crass blend of political, judicial, and morally bankrupt popular in the South, the Bible Belt.

The twenty-first century, regretfully, has not exorcised these ghosts in the machine, as SC remains nearly a cartoon version of Southern stereotypes.

SC public schools (and public universities, in fact) exist in 2017 as a bold middle finger to everything promised by a democratic nation. But despite the political rhetoric, SC has failed its public schools; public schools have not failed our state, whose political leaders care none at all about poor, black, or brown children being currently (and historically) mis-served by K-12 education.

Political negligence of public schools—or more accurately, negligence of public schools that serve the most vulnerable children and communities in the state—is one of the perverse traditions that defines SC.

That tradition has a willing accomplice in the judicial negligence of the state as well. Cindi Scoppe explains:

In the three years since the S.C. Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature had to provide a decent education to all children, one justice wrote in this month’s final chapter of the quarter-century-old school adequacy case, “we have had the benefit of seeing the defendants make steady progress toward remedying their failure to provide our state’s children with a minimally adequate education.”

Particularly encouraging, he wrote, is the fact that the state has “recently come to realize that merely pouring more money into an outmoded system will not lead to success.”

Popularized as the Corridor of Shame, political and judicial negligence actually thrives in pockets all over SC, not just along the I-95 corridor that does in many ways bisect the more affluent midlands and upper state from the crippling rural poverty dominating much of the lower state except for pockets of affluence in coastal havens for the wealthy and the riches of tourism.

The conservative ideology driving political negligence has withstood the slow drag of the courts in SC, which has now fallen lockstep into that same sterile argument about “pouring more money into an outmoded system”—as if SC has even flooded public institutions with money.

Political and judicial negligence in SC—a microcosm of the same negligence nationally—remains entrenched in commitments to ideology over evidence, hard truths neither political leadership nor judicial pronouncements will admit.

First, and foremost, one hard truth is that public schools in SC are mostly labeled failures or successes based on the coincidence of what communities and students those schools serve. Schools serving affluent (and mostly white) communities and students are framed as “good” schools while schools serving poor (and often black and brown while also over-serving English language learners and students with special needs) communities and students are framed as “bad” or “failing.”

This political lie is grounded in the three-decades political charade called education reform—a bureaucratic nightmare committed to accountability, standards, and testing as well as a false promise that in-school only reform could somehow overcome the negative consequences of social inequity driven by systemic racism, classism, and sexism.

The ironic and cruel lesson of education reform has been that education is not the great equalizer.

Education reform is nothing more than a conservative political fetish, a gross good-ol’-boy system of lies and deception.

Second, and in most ways secondary, another hard truth is that while education is not the great equalizer, public schooling tends to reflect and then perpetuate the inequities that burden the lives of vulnerable children.

In-school only reform driven by accountability, standards, and testing fails by being both in-school only (no education reform will rise about an absence of social/policy reform that addresses racism and poverty) and mechanisms of inequity themselves.

Affluent and white students are apt to experience a higher quality of formal schooling than black, brown, and poor students, who tend to be tracked early and often into reduced conditions that include test-prep, “basic” courses, and teachers who are early career and often un-/under-certified.

Nested in this hard truth is that much of accountability-based education reform depends on high-stakes standardized testing, which is itself a deeply flawed and biased instrument. Tests allow political negligence since data appear to be objective and scientific; in fact, standardized testing remains race, class, and gender biased.

Like school quality, test scores are mostly a reflection of non-academic factors.

Ultimately, SC’s children and then the state itself are being cheated by a failure to admit hard truths. I agree, then, with the big picture conclusion drawn by Scoppe:

It was never clear to me whether our constitution requires the state to provide a good education to all children, or simply to operate public schools. What was always more than clear was that it is the job of the Legislature to provide an education to every child in this state. And that it is insane — and morally indefensible — not to provide a decent education to all children. What was always more than clear was that it is up to the Legislature not only to provide the funding but also, as Justices Beatty and Toal and Kay Hearn always emphasized, to make sure the districts are organized appropriately and school officials have the right powers and duties and we have the right laws about what is taught and how it is taught and that the problems are corrected when the schools don’t deliver.

This is a moral imperative about children, about human dignity and agency.

Let me end with the ignored but obvious hard truth: Education funding matters, but doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results is insanity.

Millions and millions of tax dollars in SC have been squandered on ever-new standards and ever-new tests; where is the political and judicial rhetoric about that? SC for decades now has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on school report card that have accomplished nothing except demonizing schools that happen to serve poor and black/brown children.

SC must seek instead the political will to implement first social policy that addresses the scar of poverty and racism in our state. Concurrent with that, education reform must end its affair with accountability and begin a journey committed to education equity.

Our children deserve more than the accidents of their births, and then, as a people, we owe every child an equitable and challenging education that invites them into an honest attempt at democracy and freedom.

Political and judicial negligence is inexcusable, but remains a SC tradition.

Men in a Time of Reckoning

This is my mistake
Let me make it good

R.E.M., “World Leader Pretend,” Green

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry

R.E.M., “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry),” Reckoning

“Believing women about assault,” writes Caitlin Flanagan, “even if they lack the means to prove their accounts—as well as an understanding that female employees don’t constitute part of a male boss’s benefits package, were the galvanizing consequences of Anita Hill’s historic allegations against Clarence Thomas in 1991.”

Flanagan’s piece examines the 1990s and the era of Bill Clinton in the context of our current #MeToo reckoning that appears to involve men great and small in virtually every walk of life.

Flanagan shreds the veneer of party politics and confronts directly:

If it is possible for politics and moral behavior to coexist, then this grave wrong needs to be acknowledged. If Weinstein and Mark Halperin and Louis C.K. and all the rest can be held accountable, so can our former president and so can his party, which so many Americans so desperately need to rise again.

Two powerful aspects of this current flirtation with reckonings now haunt me, even as I am skeptical that any sort of sustained reckoning will occur beyond a few specific men, even as I am cynical that men will suffer any sort of sustained reckoning.

First, as #MeToo has begun to multiply seemingly at an exponential rate, and as more and more men are being named despite the backlash women as victims continue to suffer, a troubling refrain has developed from men, a fear of the unknown as threatening as the alien microorganism in The Andromeda Strain.

After Harvey Weinstein’s reckoning, Woody Allen uttered the most prominent version of this fear—What if this becomes a witch hunt? Allen whined.

Among my peer group, I have heard friends forefront as fact: Innocent men are going to be accused.

And then novelist John Grisham held forth about men like him already trapped in a cycle of unjustified incarceration: “We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody,” these men victims of criminalizing those drawn to child pornography.

That men have responded to this reckoning by being hypersensitive to the plights of the innocent men is just as damning as revelations of so many men being physically and sexually abusive.

Once again, men have turned the daily and life-long terrors of being a women or a child into the irrational fears of men, mostly white men.

Any man who now suddenly fears being “falsely accused” of sexual aggression or worse must check that fear against the lived reality of women and children who exist now and have always existed with a rational fear of the horrors associated with simply being a woman/girl or a child—because men are often monsters, because any man represents for every woman/girl and child the potential for being a monster.

Here is reality: Countless innocent women/girls and children have been sacrificed throughout history, and this continues now. It is likely that most abused and assaulted women/girls and children have never exposed those men due to the very real double fear of being demonized themselves. Far more guilty men go completely free (except for their conscience) than those guilty men who are exposed and held accountable. If this reckoning includes some innocent men falsely accused, and that likelihood remains incredibly small, the balance of justice has still not been swung even minutely toward equal and just.

A second aspect of the reckoning centers on Richard Dreyfuss confessing (while denying) he “thought it was a ‘consensual seduction ritual.'”

This second consequence of the current reckoning is complex, but it offers a possible path toward that reckoning spreading in ways that benefit everyone.

Dreyfuss seems trapped in the norm of sex and love being circumscribed as a struggle of power with its most reductive version being men as predators and women as prey.

That dynamic erases entirely the woman’s role in consent and being sexual, autonomous beings, and it normalizes men as aggressors, initiators, predators.

The irony of Dreyfuss’s wording is that there can never be anything consensual about such seduction rituals grounded in inequitable power and male aggression as well as imbued with a perverse materialistic and idealized view of women’s chastity and sexuality (nested in both their consent and their bodies).

The #MeToo reckoning, then, will be either a passing blip on the radar of men as monsters or something sustained for the good of all humanity.

The latter depends on men’s ability to respond in two ways, two ways unlike the examples above: “I’m sorry,” followed by “This is my mistake/Let me make it good.”

Both are precarious responses requiring men to be essentially better humans than the evidence has shown so far.


See Also

Can Penitent Sexual Predators Ever Be Granted Redemption?, Vanessa A. Bee

Reporting sexual assault

There Are No Innocent Men: Sacrificed/ Sacred Women and Children

In The Washington Post—not The Onion or McSweeney’sMichelle Boorstein reports:

“Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus,” Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler told The Washington Examiner. “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

Mary, Joseph, and Jesus as Christian mythology are being contorted into a disturbing Trumplandian justification of Roy Moore. While the overwhelming evidence against Moore appears quite likely to have no effect in the same way as video evidence of Trump as sexual predator slipped by, there are problems with the traditional story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus that have served this new abnormal.

The Mary used to justify Moore is framed both as a teenager and a virgin—an idealizing of womanhood that erases huge elements of any woman’s full humanity.

The Moore controversy and its unmasking of evangelical Christianity is a growing subset of the larger confrontation of how many men fail women and children as sexual predators, abusers, and aggressors—names now without any need for elaboration: Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, Louis CK, Bill Cosby.

Like politics, entertainment and especially comedians have carried the brunt of the unmasking so far. As some reconsider comedy routines of Louis CK, for example, many things once considered funny now seem horrifyingly missed.

Mary as sacred teen virgin—and Jesus as superhuman because he was born of the sacred teen virgin—is a parallel problem to “the Sacred Soldier, nameless and faceless, used as both sword and shield against the enemies of power and the status quo,” as William Rivers Pitts explains.

There is, in fact, no ultimate difference between treating anyone (or any group) as subhuman and treating anyone (or any group) as worthy only in the ideal.

The very ugly open secret of white evangelical Christianity includes grooming girls in childhood and during puberty to be a perverse mix of sexual and virginal, but fully in the service of a man.

Physical and sexual violence against women and children has its roots in both seeing women and children as less than human and framing women and children as sacred.

Both are dehumanizing and both are the consequence of the male gaze.

In his stand-up comedy heydays of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Steve Martin was a staple of Saturday Night Live. One of his routines, “What I Believe,” has kernels of deeply disturbing realities being confronted now. The first half goes as follows:

I believe in rainbows and puppy dogs and fairy tales.

And I believe in the family – Mom and Dad and Grandma.. and Uncle Tom, who waves his penis.

And I believe 8 of the 10 Commandments.

And I believe in going to church every Sunday, unless there’s a game on.

And I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, wholesome and natural things.. that money can buy.

And I believe it’s derogatory to refer to a woman’s breasts as “boobs”, “jugs”, “winnebagos” or “golden bozos”… and that you should only refer to them as “hooters”.

And I believe you should put a woman on a pedestal.. high enough so you can look up her dress.

Martin’s satire of belief imbued with both a passing image of the predatory man in everyone’s (?) family as well as harsh critiques of religion and the dark underbelly of idealizing women captures the open secrets being dismantled in 2017.

If manipulating the foundational story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to protect a predatory man isn’t enough—and I would argue this is beyond enough—consider novelist John Grisham’s egregious defense of men like him:

“We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody, would never touch a child,” he said. “But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn.”

This rests inside the same genre as Woody Allen’s fear of witch hunts.

But Grisham’s argument exposes how the sacrificed and sacred coin works to render women and children as less than human while maintaining a culture in which men are always fully human regardless of even the most inexcusable failures.

Grisham, Allen, and Louis CK (using child molestation as fodder for humor) may sound extreme, but only if we remain trapped in a narrative of women and children as either sacrificed or sacred while all men are fully human, every flaw forgiven.

So I return to Martin’s “Uncle Tom, who waves his penis” and offer Richard Dreyfuss exposing himself and his own rebuttal that he “thought it was a ‘consensual seduction ritual,'” adding:

The fact that “I did not get it”, he said, “makes me reassess every relationship I have ever thought was playful and mutual.”

Louis CK, in his apology, also claimed he had never felt he was harming women since he always asked before exposing himself.

Like Kevin Spacey, Louis CK’s career is in jeopardy, his newest film’s distributor has dropped the project. But in that film, one scene offers yet another out for what appears to be an essential flaw in men:

The movie, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September, is about a TV writer (played by C.K.) whose 17-year-old daughter forms a relationship with a 68-year-old filmmaker.

“I mean, everybody’s a pervert. I’m a pervert. We’re all perverts. Who cares?” one character says in the trailer.

“Men have not succeeded in spite of their noxious behavior or disregard for women; in many instances, they’ve succeeded because of it,” writes Rebecca Traister, adding later: “That’s because this world is stacked in favor of men, yes, in a way that is so widely understood as to be boring, invisible, just life.”

Invisible like the women and children rendered either less than fully human or sacred, the first of which Traister confronts:

But here’s a crucial reason he behaved so brazenly and badly for so long: He did not consider that the women he was torturing, much less the young woman who was mutely and nervously watching his performance (that would be me), might one day have greater power than he did. He didn’t consider this because in a basic way, he did not think of us as his equals.

Traister then concludes: “The only real solution may be one that is hardest to envision: equality.”

A solution still ironically controlled by men.

Traister explores how she and other women have been complicit in the culture being exposed by #metoo, admitting, “as a young woman I could never truly believe that members of the opposite sex could be as cartoonishly grotesque as they sometimes were.”

Now, the question appears to be about the fundamental nature of men and how they navigate those weaker than them—perceived as or actually weaker such as women and children.

What is without question, however, is there are no innocent men.

Women and Children Last

I am always hesitant to suggest anything is unique to now, as if history isn’t right there for us to recognize our enduring human failures. So I will refrain from evoking “unique,” but I am convinced this is distinctly relevant for the now of 2017: In the U.S., the real and the satirical seem nearly indistinguishable.

Take for example Monologue: Dad of Newborn Girl Explains the Importance of Women’s Issues to a Table of Women at a Coffee Shop, a piece as brilliantly satirical as it is disturbing when revisited in the wake of revelations about Harvey Weinstein among a people who elected Donald Trump president.

On social media, I witnessed some misread the McSweeney’s article, missing the satire, and concurrently watched as many confronted the exact phenomenon occur in response to Weinstein’s sexual violence grounded in his wealth and power: Men expressing how they understand women’s issues because they are sons, fathers, or husbands.

Possibly my greatest existential angst as a white man is grounded in the weight of how often men have failed women and children through physical violence and sexual coercion and assault.

Weinstein has triggered my own discomfort and anger at Hollywood, personified for me by Woody Allen, and a powerful problem I have been wrestling with my entire adult life: the tension between the work of art (Can it still be “great”?) and the horribly flawed artist.

Several films, for example, remain burned into my soul because of this:

Cinematic rape and the killing of children—these films are nearly unwatchable for me, even when I appreciate their artistic value.

I have written about a similar tension when watching True Detective (HBO).

And I anticipate the same sort of discomfort I feel each time I watch Blade Runner (the aggressive kissing scene) when I eventually watch Blade Runner 2049, confronted for whether or not it portrays futuristic sexism or simply is sexist.

But this tension about art and artist as a problem, a question, is in no way concurrent in the reality of men as violent, as sexual predators.

There simply is no room for equivocation, as Allen and Oliver Stone, among many others, have offered.

There simply is no room to suggest these abuses are more about power than the men who are abusers.

The fact is that men have a default position of power over women and children; men as violent, as sexual predators and rapists, exist regardless of social status of those men.

Poor men hit their children, abuse their women partners, and poor men rape.

Only two facts exist with any credibility here.

First, as Arundhati Roy has explained, “We know of course there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

Therefore, the voices of women and children matter first, foremost, as the targets of violence by men.

Second, this is a problem nested in men and perpetuated by the social norms created by and maintained by men.

Therefore, only men can end rape culture, toxic masculinity, and the abuse of children.

Laurie Penny, in a piece that should be read fully, confronts the ways in which terms such as “consent” as well as a woman’s right to her sexuality are used in ways that are themselves oppressive even when they appear to be otherwise:

The first thing you need to understand about consent is that consent is not, strictly speaking, a thing. Not in the same way that teleportation isn’t a thing. Consent is not a thing because it is not an item, nor a possession. Consent is not an object you can hold in your hand. It is not a gift that can be given and then rudely requisitioned. Consent is a state of being. Giving someone your consent — sexually, politically, socially — is a little like giving them your attention. It’s a continuous process. It’s an interaction between two human creatures. I believe that a great many men and boys don’t understand this. I believe that lack of understanding is causing unspeakable trauma for women, men, and everyone else who is sick of how much human sexuality still hurts.

And while I have examined the importance of intimacy, privacy, and consent—not as well as Penny, however—I am more fully aware of the inherent flaws with the seeming chivalry of “women and children first,” a concept grounded in paternalism that acknowledges a sort of comparative vulnerability between women/children and men.

The real world, however, paints a different picture—women and children last.

Men who view the world, including women and children, as their spoils, to do with as they please.

Again, speaking as a man, we are the problem, and we must be the solution.


See Also

Hollywood and Academia: Is the problem the same?

The Horizon of Desire

Intimacy, Privacy, and Consent

Growing Old Not the Problem, But Lack of Community Is

Since I teach mostly young people, college age, and have been an active cyclist with much younger friends for a while now, I have depended on a persistent self-deprecating joke about being old.

Since the end of 2016, a pelvis fracture, a winter of illnesses including the flu for the first time in decades, and then my mom’s stroke followed by my father’s death have all tempted me to shift that joke to a more serious view of life. However, I am increasingly convinced the problem with the human condition is not aging—which is inevitable and preferred to the alternative—but a lack of compassion and community in the U.S.

While literature and pop culture are awash in portrayals of the challenges that families bring, Kurt Vonnegut spent a great deal of his work as a writer—in speeches, essays, and fiction—arguing passionately for more human kindness as well as the importance of the extended family, an idealizing of tribal life that recognized the horror that is human loneliness.

Like most people, Vonnegut himself may have failed some or even often as a spouse, sibling, and father, but that doesn’t diminish the power and truth behind his essential message.

I suspect I have compassion for Vonnegut’s flaws since I share them along with his ideological commitments to kindness and community—regardless of how inept I can be at both.

And my curmudgeon tendencies are strong, but as I grow older, and as I struggle with the necessary deteriorations of aging, I am more and more apt to recognize the futility of lamenting aging, of fearing and regretting old age (whatever that may be).

I remain frustrated with aging, and my vanity is triggered more than I like to admit. But I am more convinced than ever that the real fear is a lack of communiy as I continue to struggle with how to provide for my mom the sort of late life she deserves despite the consequences of her stoke (which took a significant part of her humanity) and the barriers we are encountering because, to be blunt, she has very little money to sustain her—and the typically horrible insurance that most working-class and poor people are saddled with (if they have any at all) in the godforsaken U.S.

Many times I have lamented that in the U.S. we simply do not care about children, and about that I am both deeply saddened and convinced. But that callousness and carelessness is a subset of a much larger and damning part of the so-called American character: we simply do not care about any vulnerable populations: children, disabled people, carers, and the elderly.

The great and caustic residue of being a rugged-individual culture is that we are willfully choosing to reject community in favor of Social Darwinism, consumerism, and the all-mighty dollar.

Instead of social safety nets being a foundational commitment among us, we have chosen to cast everyone to the fate of the Invisible Hand, our claims to being a Christian nature reduced to so-much hokum in practice.

The cost of growing old is in fact not the deterioration of the mind and body, but the consequences of aging being magnified by a people who refuse to provide for vulnerable populations as an unwavering commitment to human dignity.

I will continue to joke with my younger students and friends about being old; it is fun and often a way to assert my humanity into an environment that I recognize will eventually discard me because of age, although my privileges of being male, white, and well-educated will inoculate me for quite some time.

Despite my many, many flaws, my anger about the callousness of the U.S. toward vulnerable populations is not about me, and extends well beyond my sadness at how the world does not really care about my aging and disabled mother.

My anger is reflected in why Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones” has resonated so powerfully over the past several months. Smith forces us to admit “[t]he world is at least/ fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative/ estimate,” and she keeps us focused on the vulnerability of children.

My anger is enflamed because I do believe Smith’s closing lines: “This place could be beautiful,/ right? You could make this place beautiful.”

My anger grows because I doubt we will ever assure that comes to fruition.

To squander vulnerable populations—from children to the elderly—is to abandon our souls, to spit in the face of beauty, to declare our society morally bankrupt.

“So it goes.”