The Stanford Case and My 2016 Boiling Point

Yesterday should by all rights have been a good day. I made a nice bit of money this week thanks to overtime. Besides getting nearer to the final revisions to my novel, I have two essays in mind on cleaning out my bedroom in Ohio and listening to Hamilton. And Kate Kasenow sent me the most extraordinary art I have seen in a long while, art far too beautiful to grace the writing of someone like me.

But it is not a good day. I am upset. And for once I need to purge my emotions.

I’ve had it for now with men.

Brock-Allen-Turner-012715

Especially men like him

Now this is a comment I don’t make lightly, being a biological, cisgendered man myself with reasonably good self-esteem. But I’ve hit a boiling point which makes me look at a problem…and also recognize myself in the problem.

Yesterday, Buzzfeed published a letter read in court by a young woman sexually assaulted by Brock Turner, the Stanford student-athlete who was found guilty but given a light sentence by the judge—a former Stanford athlete himself—who said a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner.

The letter is not pleasant reading. It is heartbreaking. It is a picture of a society that looks upon victimized women with suspicion. That shows leniency to those convicted of doing the victimizing. That is fundamentally broken, and this in an age when women now outnumber men in the population.

No, it is not pleasant. It is necessary. And it should be taken seriously by all of those like me who have a vested interest in changing a society where this is one of so many indignities women face: lower pay, taxes on necessary feminine hygiene products, and the increasing restrictions on their legal, moral rights to make decisions about their health to name only three others.

The past years, culminating in this election year, have filled me with hope, as a swelling number, especially in my generation, are seizing the opportunity to make such a social change. It will not happen overnight but the light is shining.

That being said, I wonder how many steps we will move forward.

Emmett Rensin, a left-wing political writer and editor, was suspended by Vox after he tweeted statements encouraging people to use violence at Donald Trump rallies. This stood out to me in the wake of the similar action taken against Matt Breunig, who was fired from his blogging work after aggressive, abusive behavior towards fellow political writers and progressive thinkers who disagreed with him.

Many of the people Breunig verbally stung were women.

This is a frightening development for me. Many progressive women on twitter, especially two whose writings I greatly admire, Sady Doyle and Imani Gandy, have documented over the past month the harassment, insults, and threats they and others have foisted on them by fellow left-wing men. I can only imagine what the response would have been had they spoken with the same charge as Rensin and Breunig. Doyle and Gandy’s tweets and essays speak to the problem far better than I do, but the picture they paint has revealed something I know far too well.

I broke into comics a little over five years ago, and I immediately became aware that women in the nerd culture worlds are harassed, put down, ignored, sometimes physically victimized. GamerGate was merely the culmination. It is a concerted effort by men who fear inclusion to tell brilliant, strong women that their voices do no matter, as little as that most important voice in Stanford’s mattered.

We cannot afford to have this conflict arise in our political atmosphere right now.

The stakes are too high.

Many of my friends know I have opinions about the election. The point I make now is not about the candidates. We know what Trump is all too well, and I firmly believe that both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders recognize the world is changing and want to meet these issues I wrote of with a firm eye towards solving them.

My point is this: I have spent the last five months having a multitude of political discussions with my friends, and gathering a variety of opinions, listening, absorbing. And I will tell you that the best dialogues I have had have been with women. Two whom I love dearly and have known for over a decade, Emily Steers and Judith Bogdanove, are the greatest advocates for Clinton and Sanders, respectively, that I know; both of them always remind me of the good they do and what they represent in a period when the press seems ready to ignore or assail them. And the other conversations I’ve had, including one two nights ago in a noisy bar, one last week in a Thai restaurant, one last month conducted over Facebook messages, are real exchanges of ideas. This climate has left women as a group with the most to lose, and their determination and what they know and speak of from experience, even when we disagree (and even the people I agree with most always have opinions I disagree with), inspire me to alter my viewpoints and adjust my thinking; indeed it has been in talking to women about politics that I find I have to be at my most rigorous and open in thought–I do no get off easy. In trying to understand them, they change me irrevocably.

With some men, political discussion can sometimes be very different. I have had many great conversations, like the one I just described, with the significant majority of my male friends. BUT…

I will say this is anecdotal, based only on my experience, but there are some things that I can tell you I do not find in talking with women. It is only some of the men I know who dismiss opinions that do no align with theirs out of hand. It is only some of the men I know whose admirable sincerity is matched by an excruciatingly painful moral superiority that enables such dismissal. And it is only some of the men I know who have called for both Clinton and Sanders, depending on which one they dislike, to drop out of the race.

This adamancy is foreign to me.

I am a person of firm principles that have matured with years of thought and action. But my principles are worth little if they do not help the people less fortunate than me. My principles are worth little if I do not make them malleable, for as a great man who died yesterday said, “a man who is the same as fifty as he was at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.” And my principles are malleable not because I seek popular opinion or the easiest way, but because I am more and more aware of people who live very different lives from me, speak to what I cannot, and thus give me a glimpse of what I can never fully know yet I would be wretched to ignore.

My life has been immeasurably bettered over the past decade as these ideas rooted within me. I have met the greatest creative partners one could imagine. I have grown and strengthened my friendships. And I have become more engaged in this world than I have before.

And yet it may not be enough.

This final part is where I place myself in shaky waters. One of the most earnestly political men I know once asserted to me that there is a difference between becoming feminist by learning about it and becoming feminist by lived experience. In all honesty, I am in the former camp. Feminism was a confusing idea for me for far too long, and only recently have I absorbed what it truly means. My allyship is a very imperfect work in progress. And I think that this imperfection alone puts me in the camp where I am still more of a problem than a solution.

But I try to do what I can.

And right now that is to act as I can, give as I can, and listen as I must. Listen to this multitude of voices who herald the inevitable in our world, and use what I learn to try to make it better.

Because that is all we need to do to start. Simply listen and believe. Start with the unbelievably brave young woman from Stanford and go from there.

Photo from WHIO.

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