Brock Turner, Hillary Clinton, and the Need for Representation

A little less than four months ago, when Michigan had its primary and I cast my absentee ballot, I indicated that I was not going to publicly indicate who I endorsed at that time, although I indicated that I supported a Democrat and I previously indicated that I would be Uniting Blue.  Tonight, Hillary Clinton will become the presumed Democratic Nominee, the first woman ever to win the presidential nomination in a major party primary, and I’d like to tell you about my support for her.

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This is what a President looks like.

Since February, and even before that, I have rarely, if ever, posted articles in favor of either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, although I have posted many articles in support of progressive principles and the Democratic Party. Reading the tea leaves on my comments, you might suspect that I support Ms. Cinton. And I do. Now. In February, I cast my ballot for Mr. Sanders. That choice was difficult for me, because I admired (and admire) both candidates deeply, but I was swayed by the level of enthusiasm I saw in young people and people who normally perceive themselves as disenfranchised. As an aside, this is what truly won me over for Mr. Obama eight years ago – a story I have told several times, seeing African American elders waiting for the bus in Hyde Park and Kenwood, with Obama tees over their dresses, I fell in love with them immediately, and Mr. Obama by extension. Although I support Mr. Sanders’ positions on many, if not almost all topics, this is really the way that I personally “felt the Bern.”

Fast forward a few months. Tonight, Ms. Clinton will win the nomination, and she will be beset by attacks on her clothes, her voice, her experience, her qualifications. The system that put her in that position, by dint of a sizable majority of voters in Democratic primaries, will be cast as rigged. There is little appearance that her nomination, at this phase, will be met with any grace by most supporters of Mr. Sanders. In fact, my Facebook timeline is full of people commenting on how they “don’t know a single person who wants Hillary to be president.”

Well, I’m one, even though I voted for Mr. Sanders. Why? Because she is perhaps the most experienced, qualified candidate ever to run for the office, especially in foreign policy. Because she has devoted her life to helping children and families, something you all know I’m incredibly passionate about. Because she’s a unifying force within the Democratic Party and she will work effectively with teammates in the House and Senate to, yes, “get stuff done.”* Because she will build on Mr. Obama’s gains of the past eight years, and she will lift up progressive candidates, including women, who will change the dialogue in Congress. And yes, because she’s a woman, and I don’t find that insignificant in a country that’s never had a woman President.

So what does this have to do with Brock Turner?

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This is what a rapist looks like.

Although Brock’s violent rape of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, a crime in the process of which he was caught by passing cyclists, who had to restrain him until the police arrived**, happened some time ago, it burst onto the national conscience, just in the last couple of days. From the judge’s absurdly lenient sentencing (leading now to a recall campaign against him), to the remarkably callous and indifferent excuses given by his friends and father, to the deeply sexist, racist, and classist way in which this entire situation was treated***, this particular rapist’s case is unique only in that, due to the courageous voice of his victim, people are taking notice. The truth is, this happens every day. Most victims of rapists like Brock don’t even get their day in court. And when they do, they generally face the male gaze – from the judge, from the jurors, and from the media. And, just like with Brock Turner, their rapists are too often made into heroes while they are vilified for being women.

So, yeah, we get it, Brock is an asshole rapist, and the deck is stacked in favor of asshole rapists. But how do these stories come together?

Today, California will hand Ms. Clinton the right to campaign as the first woman nominee of a major political party for President. This will be the first time in more than 200 years that a woman had even a shot at being President of the United States. As clear as that message is that we are reaching a new phase in the empowerment of women, that same week, that same state, California, through the bench of Judge Persky, sent women an unequivocal, equally inescapable message, that our histories will not be trusted, our experiences will not be validated, and that justice will not be ours. It’s hard for me to ignore the simultaneity of the presence of these events in my consciousness.

There are many things that must happen to end what feminists collectively call Rape Culture****. Men must act – rape is almost entirely committed by cis men, and thus it is men and not women who must stop raping. The issue of unprocessed rape kits (and women sometimes being forced to pay for their own rape kits) needs to be addressed. There are many, many other things that continue to need to be done in changing the way we teach consent, empowering the voices of victims and survivors, and making sure that they have access to the services they need.

But we also need representation. Let’s be clear. For all the male allies we have, the hegemonic culture of men still does not take rape seriously. Like, at all. A woman presiding over Turner’s case might have produced an equally lenient sentence, but it’s hard to imagine a woman trivializing the situation to the extent that Judge Persky did*****. Not all women consider rape a hate crime, but most of the people who see it this way are women. As long as the bench rarely looks like us, as long as the legislature rarely looks like us, as long as the Oval Office has never looked like us, we are fooling ourselves if we think that men will carry the torch in its entirety to hold rapists accountable. We are fooling ourselves to think that rape victims will see justice in a system run almost entirely by men.

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Emerge Michigan’s own 2016 class of women preparing to storm all levels of government.

This is where it’s not really about Ms. Clinton. Don’t support her? Fine, although think carefully about what could happen if Mr. Trump were elected. Think it’s not just about putting one woman in one office? You’re absolutely right. But we must support putting women in positions of governance and power. This moment, which is just one of many more that have already come and must keep coming, was not brought to us by magic. This moment was brought to us by decades of hard work. Before Hillary Clinton, there was Shirley Chisholm. Organizations like Emily’s List, the PAC that supports pro-choice, progressive women in critical races, need our support. Organizations like Emerge America and its state affiliates, who are grooming future generations of women to run for office and win elections, need our support. The fact that we, as women who support Ms. Clinton, are dismissed as “vagina voters” covers over the fact that men simply cannot be trusted to create a world that is fair to women, by themselves.

This also goes beyond women and beyond rape. For very similar reasons, we need more Black and Latino/Hispanic voices in our legislatures and on our benches. We need more queer people. We need more disabled people, more people with lived history of mental illness, more in short of everyone who has experienced marginalization. Where we are those people, we should step up and look for opportunities to engage – locally, at the state level, or even nationally. We should consider more critically the need that we fill the progressive bench. Whether or not we can do that, the organizations and groups working to make these things happen need our support. Support as many of them as you can, support the one you like the best, but support them.

Whatever your feelings, and whatever your healing process needs to be, if you’re a supporter of Mr. Sanders who isn’t ready to unite, yet, or even if you never do come to support Ms. Clinton’s bid for the presidency, get engaged in some kind of activity that increases representation of people who are “othered” in governance. Even if you can’t see yourself living in a world with Hillary, get engaged in making sure that, someday, we might live in a world with no more Brocks.

* Bitches (yes, I said bitches, and I’m proud to be a bitch) get stuff done.

** Just in case you thought I’d be content describing it as “twenty minutes of action” … yeah, … no.

*** Particularly when compared to the equally absurd sentence (but in the opposite direction) Jasmine Richards of Black Lives Matter received for “felony lynching,” let alone the sea of mostly brown and black faces serving long prison terms for non-violent drug crimes.

**** Although the term is admittedly cissexist, some feminists, often including myself, choose the alternate term, Dick Culture, that emphasizes the hegemonic nature of the cis white man (and his dick), and which emphasizes that rape is one terrible consequence of a system of hegemony that causes many, many ills to society.

***** And it’s no coincidence that a woman is leading the recall campaign.

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Maybe It’s Time I Became an Openly Progressive Woman

I think it might be time I change my perspective on something. I have never affiliated myself directly with a political party – I’ve always been an independent. I’ve voted for many Democrats, especially at the national level, but I’ve cast votes for many Republicans, as well, often at the state and local levels*. I’ll always vote for the best person (ideally the best woman) for the job, but I think it’s time I sacrifice a little bit of my fiercely independent nature and pull in closer to the Sisterhood.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go to the first Women’s Health & Economic Summit, hosted by the Michigan Women’s Progressive Caucus, and particularly Democratic women from the State House. I had been quietly getting to know progressive women here in West Michigan, over the past year, in part because I see very clearly the war on women, on black and Hispanic people, on the LGBT community, and, all too often, on common sense. I do not wish to roll the clock back even farther, and I am keenly aware of the risk the next few cycles of elections holds for all of us.

I walked in on the event, yesterday, with some concern, which was not entirely unfounded. I am a businesswoman who has a very strong sense of entrepreneur identity. I work at a mid-size non-profit (Hope Network, which has a financial size of more than $100M in revenues), and I innovate there. We’re doing things now that have never been done at Hope before, and we already have in our cache the next, next, and next levels of what we’re trying to do (and are prepping the old guard to be very, very afraid). Some people also call those of us who are entrepreneurs “in the big box” intrepreneurs, and I do like that, too, although my businesswoman identity is tied into pro-social innovation, not the big box, so social entrepreneur is probably what I like best. Anyways, as I walked in the door worried that I would not be welcome as a businesswoman, even though we know how many progressive women are small business owners.

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Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), a hometown sister, delivering her statements early in the day.

I was a little right. In the Q&A following a morning panel, two people used their opportunity to ask questions to attack entrepreneurs and providers and everyone else who serves in the healthcare industry. While there is some validity to their point, I felt personally attacked by this, because it’s what I do, and although there is a great need for structural reform (for which I myself advocate, in fact, I advocate unhesitatingly for a transition to a single payer system, to, in essence, doing what works in many other parts of the world, rather than practicing American Exceptionalism), I do not believe in an attacking dialog on this, and especially not one in which there is no room even for healthcare providers to have voices.

Intersectionalism runs deep – this is not a claim to my identity, just a statement of fact. It’s the whole point of intersectionalism. I cannot put away the fact of my Indianness. I cannot ignore the fact that, during my lifetime, although Mr. Obama is a noteworthy exception, every time there has been a Democrat in the White House, relationships with India have become jingoistic on the American side, leading to cooling of bilateral cooperation and adversely affecting the lives and livelihoods of my family. I have, nonetheless, supported all the Democrats who tried to get there, during my adult life, starting with hand-delivering get-out-the-vote information for Bill Clinton when I was a senior in high school. In this same sort of way, and perhaps more saliently to me, because my identity as a businesswoman is probably stronger than my identity as an Indian (for better and worse), I can’t put away my belief in economic empowerment through business development when I enter progressive spaces.

I want to back up a step, though. Before that happened, when I walked in the door, people immediately recognized and welcomed me (and I wasn’t really sure there would even be many people I knew). I didn’t have to give my name. My friend, Amber, at the check-in station, already knew it. Representatives and activists came and made me feel welcome. Right away. This is pretty much what happens, time and time again, when I enter the spaces of my feminist sisters. It is frequently not what happens when I enter LGBT spaces**. And it’s something I’ve been listening to, thinking more and more about how I need to embrace my feminist roots, and my feeling that there is some structural mis-alignment (as exemplified by my giving) that over-represents my LGBT identity and underrepresents my feminist identity, when the latter is one I have been clear is much stronger for me. That is, my strongest identity of all is that of being a woman, of being a Sister.

So I did not walk in the door feeling unwelcomed – I walked in the door feeling very welcomed, at home, where I belong. This is a thing I’ll come back to, please bear with me. If the moment I described above validated my fears, they were subsequently invalidated by the rest of the day. I attended two great panels that were about empowering women economically.

The morning session I attended was music to my ears, talking about the value women bring to workforce development, and the many shared goals women of all ages and millennials bring to the workplace. The things with which we will change the world. We talked about fighting sexism, recognizing implicit biases in the workplace that harm women (and minorities), and building a workspace that meets the changing needs of the workforce as women and millennials come to dominate.

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Rep. Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) speaking at a morning panel about women and the strength we bring to workforce development

One of my goals is to integrate my life even more – I want to live my career, whether my current role as Director of my Center for Autism, or future ones, in a deeply feminist way. So we’ve been tackling a lot of these issues at the Center. And it’s tricky. I find my millennial leadership team members, amazingly, afraid to ask me if they can bring their young children into work due to a sudden issue with childcare. At my Center where we grow the lives and dreams of young children. In part, they’re scared because, technically, this is against our corporate policy. I respond (and HR may deal with me as they wish) by reminding my leadership team, gently, that they set an example of how to work with the families we serve, who are dealing with the same exact problems, and that of course they should bring their children in, and of course I trust their judgment in the matter. They do not need to say that dedication to their jobs will not be adversely impacted by their children paying occasional visits to my Center. I knew that already.

Time to admit I have some work to do.

Time to admit I have some work to do.

The rest of the day was much like that. Rashida Tlaib, alongside whom I spoke last year at Lady Parts‘ V to Shining V, received an award at lunch and delivered an impassioned and remarkably funny speech. Particularly impactful to me was her story of breastfeeding at the State Legislature and something atrocious a man had said to her, emphasizing that no matter how high we climb, we are still sexualized and objectified and well, treated like women. It mirrored something in passing that another Representative had said, which emphasized how women who are running the State still find themselves running home to cook meals for their families, much like I do.

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Rashida Tlaib of Sugar Law Center being fierce. It’s kind of what she does.

One more thing that resonated with me is how many of the women in the House spoke about how influential women in their communities had told them to run for office time and time gain – sometimes more than ten different women had told them this – before they listened. This has actually happened to me more than a few times in the last year, and at least two women I respect immensely have told me to do it. I need to think much more carefully about this, as I learn about what it is that I don’t know (which is kind of a lot) about the business of running for office. I think I worry, too, that I may not be electable, and that if I ran, I would be taking up attention that another politician deserves – taking up too much space. I don’t know if the former is really founded, because I have so many people in my life who are willing to support me. And I got a good dose of reminder that the latter is how entirely too many of us women think, entirely too often.

This is where I want to leave this story. I think it’s time that I think much more critically about my sense of need for independence, and the extent to which that’s a show, pretend, vs. my really deep-seated sense of Sisterhood, loyalty, and alliance. I need to question the implicit assumptions I have that Progressives and Democrats are anti-business. I need to listen to my heart, that tells me when I’m among progressive women, I belong more than I have ever belonged. I need to listen to my brain, which tells me that women are in a perilous time right now, and solidarity is more important than ever. And I need to listen to my voice, which tells me, sister, you’re stronger than you think you are, and you have more to say than you give yourself credit for. And I will listen. To all three.

* I do own my regret that some of the Republicans for whom I voted did what I wanted as a businesswoman but turned around and sided away from business interests, with social conservatives, when politically convenient, to the detriment both of women and of the LGBT community. While I’m a dimensional, non-single-voter issue, this is a compromise I recognize that I made, in the past, without full appreciation of the consequences, and I am trying to learn better.

** Although even in that story, Christina Karhl and her wife waylaid us for a drink and were one of the shining spots in that awful night.