Biden is a symptom, the issue is our culture

For many men, accusations from women regarding our behavior causes outrage: What am I, Harvey Weinstein? Apparently women can’t differentiate between rape and minor infractions. Yet it’s always these same men who roll their eyes when inappropriate behavior is legitimately called out, even if not criminal:

Why is everyone so easily offended? If it was a problem they should have said something at the time.

The recent allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden have started piling up with a number of women talking about how Biden invaded personal spaces and created feelings of discomfort during interactions through his long political career. No woman has called his actions sexual in nature, but their grievances are valid nonetheless, especially when the gentleman in question is looking to take the nation forward from the pussy-grabbing Trump years.

The women:

  • Amy Lappos claims Biden rubbed his nose against hers during a political fundraiser in 2009 when she was a congressional aide for US Rep. Jim Himes:

“It wasn’t sexual, but he did grab me by the head…. He put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me. When he was pulling me in, I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth.”

  • Lucy Flores, Nevada’s former lieutenant governor nominee, was left in shock after Biden smelled her hair and gave her “a big slow kiss” on the back of her head at a 2014 campaign event.
  • D. J. Hill was left feeling “very uncomfortable” when Biden rested his hand on her shoulder before moving it down her back at a Minneapolis fundraiser in 2012.
  • Vail Kohnert-Yount, who interned at the White House in the spring of 2013, recalled Biden putting his hand on the back of her head, pressing their foreheads together, and calling her a pretty girl – at their first interaction in the West Wing.
  • Caitlyn Caruso, after telling him her story of sexual assault at a University of Nevada event in 2016, said Biden hugged her “a little too long” and placed his hand on her thigh.

And this of course comes after rumors that Biden’s team were looking to use the strength and clout of a Black women in Stacey Abrams to boost their ticket.

Before you continue reading, consider for a moment having someone, whether a stranger or your boss, push your forehead or nose against yours, or come up behind you, grab your shoulders, smell your hair and kiss your head, all without asking if this is OK. A violation does not have to be sexual; it is a violation either way.

Also consider how Biden’s innocent interactions weren’t shared with the men he worked with. If you offer your hand to shake with a male colleague but go to hug the woman, then there is a problem with your selective behavior.

But here we are, even when the accusations aren’t looking to lock someone up, and people are still losing their shit. I’ll point out, though I don’t need to, that the majority of those with problems in the media are white, cis and straight. I’m talking of the Bill Mahers in the world.

According to Maher himself, these women should have spoken out sooner. It isn’t assault, it’s “not that fucking serious” and shouldn’t be discussed. Tainting a potential Democratic candidate will only impede beating Trump in 2020. This isn’t the time for petty allegations.

On his show Real Time, Maher brought up how people naturally interact, connect, and sometimes it gets physical. It happens to both men and women; if it goes too far then just say in the moment. Men let you know so the embarrassment shames the accused into changing their behavior. It’s easy; if men can do it then women should too.

Maher, with his shroud of privilege, is oblivious to the fact men are allowed to react in that moment. Our culture is designed for men to do what they want. Men are encouraged to make change; women are taught to follow. While men are credited for calling out bad behavior, and (white) men can cause harm and get away with it, we still struggle to even believe the women victimized by violent acts. We give women little to no reason to think anything will come from their speaking out.

Men always insist on the innocence of our actions. We didn’t mean anything by it so how could you portray it that way? As Ms. Karasek said, “it doesn’t matter how the woman feels about it or they just assume that [we’re] fine with it.”

On Wednesday, Biden released a video saying he would make the effort to change and understand. This is a good step. But his lack of an apology was noticeable. Rather, he insisted he had nothing to apologize for because his intentions were never problematic. And of course Maher lauded this approach. But the will to change doesn’t mean anything if you’re unwilling to hold yourself accountable. It holds even less sway when Biden made jokes about the situation at a public event the day after his video say him pledge to change his behavior.

In the run-up to 2020, what kind of world are we looking for? We’re already living the one where men can act without consequence, where apologies are sanctioned as weakness. Are we not better than this?

This isn’t about political purism – no candidate is perfect and seeking it will leave you empty handed. But if we were to scale ones character, Trump would be a three at best. Those looking to win at all cost like the Bidens and Mahers are around 5-7. So I ask, why are we settling? Why are our standards not set on at least an eight? A six may be better than Trump, but at what cost? We should have a leader who reflects values and respects the diverse communities who exist on the left of party politics. When someone fails to listen to or acknowledge their behavior towards the women who compile the majority of the progressive base, then what exactly are we fighting for if its not to be better?

As Ms. Reade tole the Union, her experience working with then-Senator Biden, though not sexualized, was akin to being a lamp: “It’s pretty. Set it over there. Then when it’s too bright, you throw it away.”

These women are representative of the millions made to feel uncomfortable every single day. Through the wolf-whistling, inappropriate shoulder rubs, and the asking to wait on meetings and events; the expectation to show a certain amount of leg, a standard of femininity, and visual aesthetic; to be the sole provider of emotional support and service; the demand to stay silent, to not resist, to not question, to not be too loud, to not speak aggressively; to be the cheerleader but not the athlete.

Instead of discussing casual misogyny in our culture, we defend the actions of men over the reactions of women. We fight over whether it’s Weinstein-enough to be worthy of our attention, and ignore how women suffer microaggresive behavior everyday, with statistics showing millions leaving the workforce because of toxic culture. We blame women for being unable to handle the added pressure, while playing ignorant when a man’s “not that fucking serious” actions redefine or completely erase a woman’s career.

The issue isn’t Biden, it’s the culture we continue to accept, and the millions of futures we alter because we’re unwilling to change. If we were, we’d already have more women in the workforce and the government, including the West Wing position Biden wants.

Biden, Beto & Bernie: desire for change doesn’t reflect intention of Democrats

According to polls listed on FiveThirtyEight, the top Democratic Primary candidates are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris…

And Beto O’Rourke.

Now maybe it’s too early to talk about identity politics. I like many will happily support the nominee to defeat the Supremacist in Chief. The Democrats are turning ever left, looking for new socialist/conscious-capitalist policies, embracing a plethora of thought, and shaking off the typicality of white men being the savior. So it’s odd that the most favored candidates look remarkably like the 43 of 44 who came before*.

2018 saw the House not only turn blue, but the majority of the representatives being sworn in were, for the first time, majority minority and marginalized. Noticeably, more women, and women of color, ended up in Congress. A new wave of progressivism, idealism, values, and who represents is washing over the country. The party, for the first time in its 200+ year history, looks more American. Yet when it comes to the highest office in the land (and world), despite the plethora of voices looking to lead, voters are still gunning for the same, recognizable, even establishment archetype – by around 70% of all polls.

Bernie, regardless of how it ends for him, will be remembered for pushing the party left on a national stage. He demonstrated government doesn’t need to be run by the center or the nearer-left. There is space for new ideas and voices looking to get shit done. Yet here we are in 2019, and the eye is still looking in the same direction.

This shouldn’t just be about what they look like, but Biden and Bernie are the established preference we’re used to seeing: old, straight, white men. They may have wonderful policy ideas, but so did many of the old white men who came before them. And like those men, both have questionable attitudes and actions towards women and people of color, and too long ago either (see: Biden on Anita Hill in the 90s, comments on busing, and Bernie 2016’s treatment of women and their value). It’s all well to have sound economic and environmental policies, but when actions as political leaders inadvertently exclude significant swaths of the population – namely those who aren’t white men – then liberal policies become as nationalistic as those on the right.

And then there’s Beto whose inexperience is there for everyone to see. Donald Trump showed that anyone can jump in and win the race, but also how bad things can be when you don’t know what you’re doing. Beto lacks the credentials of the other candidates, but his record is also fairly centrist, and at times even Republican. Yes, he’s a viral sensation, tapping into a resource others have failed. The reasons people point to him aren’t exactly overwhelming. There are no strong, detailed platforms, nor is there a genuine story to state a reason why he’s in the race. What he does have, along with the same platitudes, is a folksiness, a “good guy” label, which is much easier to hold when you’re neither woman, not-white, and LGBTQ+.

Beto has national recognition from his (losing) Senate campaign in Texas. He came close, and his campaign was a sight to behold. He turned out a base of voters who hadn’t entered into Texas politics in a long time, visiting every county and embracing thousands of people. Yet before he announced everyone was dying to know if he would step on to the stage or not. Stacey Abrams, another nationally recognized and defeated candidate in 2018 (although it was stolen from her unlike Beto) has alluded to running – where’s the media hype, love, coverage, and constant attention on her? I’ll leave you to figure that one.

But let’s compare Beto’s national acknowledgment with another candidate with that label – Elizabeth Warren. Who is currently chasing Beto in the polls.

Senator Warren has widespread respect for her understanding of the financial sector, for having worked to dismantle it to even the field for many years before stepping into political life. She is strong, level headed, and highly intelligent. Objectively speaking, there isn’t a candidate with a more detailed and broad platform for the country than Warren, and few have as much grasp of the key issues, both domestic and foreign. On an individual level, her message is championed. Her platform will be the one where Democrats turn going forward. And she has a story millions of Americans can empathize. But the media attention is next to none. Instead it’s about whether Biden or Beto before him would even enter the race, where these white men stand against Bernie, and who of the three gets which votes.

Yes, there is the issue of Warren using her very minimal and distant Native American ancestry to advantage. She should have to answer tough questions on it. But similar to 2016, the negatives focused on women are multiplied than those of her male contenders; as well as Biden’s and Bernie’s  history, Beto has an actual record – a DUI, and burglary via hacking. As Bärí A. Williams wrote, his candidacy is similar to a senior director at a tech company applying for a VP position after a review, failing to get the promotion, and then deciding to apply for the CEO job at a different company. This is failing upward – a special kind of privilege usually left to straight white men who don’t need to master the skills at other levels before heading to the top.

The Democratic voters made it clear new faces are wanted in politics, with a new wash of progressive values. Yet their desire doesn’t seem to reflect their actions. How can you demand change but still aspire to the same white men who have led America for all but eight years of its history? Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Harris, Booker – all of these candidates have platforms centered on leveling the field, on climate change, on the big issues impacting all Americans. Warren in particular could stand toe-to-toe with the progressive champion, Bernie, and yet she is still falling behind him by 20 points in most polls. There is no other reason for this than the standard tropes we use to separate men and women; likability, trustworthiness, authenticity, inspiration.

Those being polls apparently want the same comfort they’re used to. Perhaps after the devastation of 2016 that can be understandable. But rather than being measured on merit (in this so-called meritocracy *cue eye roll*), candidates who haven’t announced, or lack experience are already pulling way ahead of everyone else. All the women and non-straight, men of color with national platforms, experience from local office to the US Senate or former Cabinet Secretaries, are being discounted by the same microaggressions that give cis, straight, white men a leg up in every industry.

A President Biden, Sanders or O’Rourke would be welcomed, especially compared to Trump. But you cannot ignore the white male privilege in this race. Grand ideas and big announcements allow Democrats to whitewash the same negative points stapled to other candidates –criminality, inexperience, and chronicled histories of sexist and racist hypocrisy.

And if all of this wasn’t enough, let the money talk:

Of the top 3 candidates who have actually announced, two raised record-beating $6m and $6.1m funds in the first 24 hours. The third made one sixth.

I’ll leave you to guess which one that was.

*Grover Cleveland was a two-term non-consecutive President.

Representation matters, or: stop hiring straight, white, able-bodied actors to play all the roles

For much of its history, the film industry – regardless of plot or genre – has told stories focused squarely on white, male protagonists. There of course were some additions; the rise of the token Black character became a thing through the 90s, a not-at-all pioneering way of presenting audiences with just a tad more color to the wall of white.

Recent years have seen a push for not just diverse casts and crews, but in the stories being told; Black, queer, women, and those with disabilities. While these stories proved to be bankable for Hollywood again and again, we are rarely given an honest picture.

There is now a wider variety of people appearing on our screens, with the industry focus no longer centering solely on white-on-white-on-white narratives. Women are seen leading their projects, queer stories are on the regular, black characters’ have more than the singular purpose of bringing the “ghetto” punchlines to their scenes, and inspiring tales of disabled people making it in the ableist world are heart-warming.

Except that this is bullshit.

Women are still objectified, continuing to be presented for straight men to ogle, and too much attention spent on her relationships with her male characters. Black portrayals are restricted to lighter skinned actors, being more relatable to white audiences, while many other ethnicities are still played by white actors (Scarlet Johansson, stand up). And let’s not forget how white saviorism continues to play a lead in many non-white narratives in need of a big-budget release. And when it comes to queer and disabled storylines, roles are nearly always headlined by straight, cisgender, and able-bodied actors (sadly including even the ones I like).

Now this is usually where someone steps in with, “But they’re actors! It’s their job to play different people!” and, “Once again the political correctness police are looking to shut something else down.” And to you, I say:

As a disabled man on Twitter said, when was the last time you saw an able-bodied character played by a disabled actor? If acting is all about playing different people, then why did fanboys lose their shit when Doctor Who‘s latest interpretation was a woman? Blaming PC culture is the straight, cis, white man’s excuse for everything they don’t want to change. Actors, they forget are limited. They can only fill stories with realism and emotional depth from their own experiences, and sadly these white actors haven’t lived their lives as diversely as they may like to believe.

Able-y playing disabled

0_True-story-behind-the-Upside.jpgThe Upside sees Bryan Cranston star as a wheelchair-bound writer who hires Kevin Hart as his caretaker. Through the tropes of prejudice breakdown between black/white and abled/disabled people, it’s easy to forget Cranston is able-bodied. But people are now asking why an actor who is disabled couldn’t have taken this role.

If the goal is to tell an inspirational story then someone who knows what life in a wheelchair is like would have offered more than just the fact there is a chair.  There is little comprehension of both challenges and joys from life from this perspective. The Upside is one in a long list of standardized portrayals which leaves the inherently able-bodied audience to fill in the blank space with their own uninformed views.

Our understanding of what it’s like to be disabled is limited and doesn’t reflect the experience of those who live this life every day. There are microaggressions we don’t see, and mental health strains not spoken. Similar to how every Black movie was a tale of civil rights or slavery, it’s fair to assume not every movie with a wheelchair-bound lead needs to focus on a person’s life in that chair; there is more to tell than this.

Black stories, white saviors

The last few years has seen a broader range of Black movies hitting the screens. From the familiar slavery and pre-Civil Rights era stories in 12 Years a Slave and Detroit, we now have a Black Panther and Girls’ Trip redefining 21st Century representations of Blackness. Yet, the nonsensical importance of white characters in Black movies persists.

875_greenbookmovietonyvallelongadonshirleyviggomortensenmahershalaaliaWhite saviorism in film is only really there to appease white people, informing us of non-white-owned stories we hadn’t yet heard. Instead of seeing dialogue between two people of color, we find a forced chat between white and non-white people, rarely adding anything of substance to the scene. Not only does it simplify the discussion of race relations between Black and white people, like in The Upside, it, detrimentally, takes away the ownership of a story, like in Green Book, and walks past race and the Black experience, like in Crash and Three Billboards. The focus is always on white people solving a problem within a two-hour period because of the systemic racist understanding that white-is-might. Believe it or not, it isn’t that easy to wash over generations of discrimination while having a sit-down over a quick meal. Regardless of how good or bad they are, these films white-wash an experience no white person can or will ever understand.

The many faces of women

With women it’s a little trickier. Since moving pictures became a commodity, [white] women have always had a part to play, one usually occupying a love interest and/or sexual fantasy. As time progressed, women took more leads in the romantic comedy genre, telling fun tales of how they got their guy! Even when female leads in action, thriller, and other more serious stories were accepted, the insistence of the love story, even if it moved to a sub-plot, remained.

wonderwoman2Take Wonder Woman. Finally, a big, box-office movie about a strong, tough, brave, and intelligent female superhero taking on everyone she comes up against. Except she does it in an armored swimsuit with the help of men, one of which ends up being the great love of her life (spoiler: millennia surrounded by women, and the first man she meets is the one… if only I could get that lucky). I love Wonder Woman, but resent the fact a man had to help her save the world. Thor, Captain America, Batman, Iron Man… these dudes had a lady, sure, but they watched or looked after the men who did most everything else. And  at the end the women were treated with either a knowing look of love, or got a first kiss at the end; Wonder Woman slept with the first man she ever met in the middle of the film, made all the more interesting by World War I being the backdrop. It seems there will never be a reason to not sexualize women in these “progressive” times.

Gay for pay

Unlike movies about Black people, women, or those who are disabled, I actually have some personal experience when it comes to being gay. And the one thing that really pisses me off is the number focused on coming out stories or love interests. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an action movie with a gay character whose objective is to solve whatever problem he’s facing, and not on their sexual exploits.

When it comes to straight actors playing gay characters, this is where it gets a little more complex. First, generally speaking, this shouldn’t happen – there is a ton of LGBTQ+ men and women out there who can play believable queer characters, whether homosexual, transgender or non-binary.

article-2337204-19C5F693000005DC-964_1024x615_largeFor gay men, there is a whole fetishization of straight guys who we want to be gay (look at the aggressive demand for Shawn Mendes to come out). Watching hot, straight men kiss adds a whole level of taboo to the imagination. But it’s also problematic, building up the fantasy of the straight man or woman who we might be able to turn. It isn’t healthy for the many young lesbian and gay adult pinning hopes on an impossible fantasy.

For those who are gender non-conforming, being represented correctly is crucial to sharing experiences and ideas. The political battle transgender men and women face on a daily basis is painful. Stories of transgender people isn’t enough; we need to actually see trans actors play these characters. Using cisgender, heteronormative actors in these roles creates a fictitious bubble around movies, allowing audiences to suspend their belief, taking no real consideration of the complexities. Trans and non-binary actors leave an impression, forcing the audience to confront their own prejudice, either to eradicate it or build it up.

[Straight white actors] can’t handle the truth

Telling stories that neither depict real life experiences, nor share their truth with the actors who tell them, is frankly dangerous. All we do is build in the status quo of “we’re just doing enough”. Enough is rarely enough. It’s all good for Bryan Cranston to say we do need to have disabled people telling the stories of disabled characters, but then he went and starred in the movie anyway.

Representation matters because it casts a real light onto a platform which is largely presented as fantasy. These superheroes aren’t real, nor is the talking car, the devils from the earth… and neither are the women who seem to be more than sexual pleasure for men; the Black community able to define their narrative in a white world and not through white people; the disabled who share their whole experience and not just the obvious physicality making them different from able-bodied culture; and neither is the LGBTQ+ experience something more than the binary options presented to us by the heteronormative world.

A diversity of characters and stories were the first and second steps. It’s now time to accept a diversity of actors to do the one thing art is supposed to: tell the truth.

The Defamation of Serena Williams Part II: because, what? You thought it would end?!

Twice in one month. Who’s surprised? You shouldn’t be. If you saw the last piece I wrote – or the continued discussions over the racist and misogynist views people have of women and notably black women in the traditionally WASP sport, then it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Serena Williams has once again found herself thrown to the flames in just a few weeks. View Post

Serena Williams defies by being black, woman, and winning

Serena Williams has devoted her life to tennis. Her participation and continued success have provided the sport with a millions of fans who otherwise would not have noticed. After all, the history of the sport is simple; white country club. It was for the elites. It was mostly for men. And it was of course repressively white. In spite of this, Williams and her sister Venus have graced the game with intelligence, pride, and athleticism generally unmatched.

So it’s of no surprise to anyone when the President of the French Tennis Federation, Bernard Giudicelli, decided to call out Serena specifically for her supposed abuse and disrespect of the game: View Post