Behind the Veil

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Women and their head coverings have been much in the news lately. There have been alternating praise and criticism for Melania and Ivanka Trump, for instance, for their sartorial choices on their recent Mideast trip with the president.

Some found hypocrisy in the fact that the women refused to wear a hijab when in Saudi Arabia but were practically covered head to toe in black to meet the pope. Others cheered their spunk and refusal to bow to a hated Islamist ideology. Similar decisions to cover or not cover their heads have been the subject of criticism for other First Ladies, such as Michelle Obama.

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To all of this I have to ask, what’s the big deal? I am far more disturbed by the fact that President Trump said nothing about the dreadful state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia than whether the First Lady was making a pointed political statement by allowing her hair to be seen. On the other hand, such criticism might be seen as hypocritical coming from a man who does not seem to hold women in particularly high regard. Still, it’s all relative, and I hope that at least privately the president put pressure on Saudi Arabia to advance the rights of women as a condition for continuing to arm them to the teeth.

What I find most disturbing about the recent brouhaha over headwear for women is that society persists in judging every single thing about a woman’s choices, right down to her clothing and hair. It’s the 21st Century, and yet we’re still focused on women as ornaments, somehow not fully human. No one mused philosophically about what the color of Donald Trump’s tie or the cut of his suit might indicate about his beliefs or intentions.

Muslim women who choose to wear the veil do so for myriad reasons, most of them religious. Why that choice should be denigrated and looked upon as political is beyond me. The primary purpose in covering one’s head and chest seems to be modesty. What devout Christian would have a problem with women being modest? Yet because of terrorism and the need to demonize those who oppose us, Americans have taken a hostile stance against Muslim women in hijab.

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Years ago, there was a great TV series called Jack and Bobby. It was about two young brothers, one of whom would one day become the president of the United States. The boys’ mother, played by Christine Lahti, is a college professor, and she has a hostile exchange with a female student who wears the hijab. In a memorable scene, Lahti’s character attacks the woman for allowing herself to be controlled by a male-dominated culture. The young woman throws back her belief that American women are the ones being controlled by men’s need to see them as perfect physical specimens whose looks are constantly on display.

That exchange gave me pause back in the Nineties, and it sticks with me to this day. Women of all cultures should be free to dress and speak and act in whatever way they choose. And it should be their character, intelligence, and personal inner qualities that are focused on, not their clothing, their hair, their modesty, or the lack thereof.

The real veil women are often required to hide behind is the metaphorical one imposed by a society that still does not see them as equal to men. Until we address that reality, what a woman does or does not wear on her head makes very little difference at all.

Snowflake, Meet Deplorable

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During the presidential campaign, I winced when I heard Hillary Clinton refer to Trump supporters as “deplorables.” First of all, name-calling is a mean-spirited and ineffective way of getting one’s point across. Secondly, I knew Trump supporters would have a field day with the comment, using it to point out how elitist and out of touch Clinton and her liberal base are with Middle America.

Conservatives have done their best to portray liberals as rich, intellectual elites who live on the two coasts and ignore the needs and wants of Americans in the “fly over zone.” Much was made of Hillary’s being part of the establishment in Washington, despite the fact that Trump was being propped up by career politicians in the Republican Party and is himself an “out of touch” billionaire.

The fact is that when it comes to belittling and mockery, the political Right is just as culpable as the Left. Lately it has become fashionable to sneer at college students as “snowflakes” who melt at the least little challenge to their multicultural, pie in the sky, kumbaya sensibilities. Over the past two decades, in fact, conservatives have taken an anti-intellectual posture, as if being smart and educated are bad things. What conservatives are really miffed about is that most colleges and universities have become bastions of liberalism where right wing ideas are marginalized. So their method of fighting back is mockery.

Since Bill O’Reilly was forced to resign from Fox News, the new champion of liberal-bashing has become Tucker Carlson. Tucker is a blue-blooded, boarding school, East Coast WASP, but you’d never know it the way he makes time to ridicule rich people. A regular on his show is Mike Rowe, a self-proclaimed man of the people whose job as host of a reality show called Dirty Jobs apparently makes him akin to all working class Joes. Rowe comes on regularly to belittle rich folk who would buy such preposterous items as pre-dirtied jeans or torn up sneakers for hundreds of dollars. I happen to agree that this practice seems crazy. But the subtext is what I object to. Here is a man worth millions of dollars pretending to be folksy and down to earth. Sound familiar? And who is his biggest fan? The baby-faced Carlson, who was born rich and undoubtedly has had servants taking care of his “dirty jobs.”

My point is this: We will never get anywhere in political discourse if we spend our time putting down people with opposing views. All Trump supporters are not racist. All Hillary supporters were not out-of-touch millionaires. We can criticize actions, statements, and policies without resorting to sarcasm and ridicule. With the exception of comedians, who are paid to be rude and sarcastic, Americans of all stripes need to put down their sharp weapons and try to meet in the middle. A little mutual respect would go a long way to heal divisions and truly make this country great again.

 

The Trump Effect

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Since Trump’s improbable run for the White House, public and political discourse in America seem to be devolving. Trump himself was able to call immigrants rapists and “bad hombres,” demonize Muslims, criticize women’s looks, and talk about his inappropriate sexual advances – all without having a substantial effect on his popularity. Notwithstanding the interference of the Russians and James Comey as factors in the Trump victory, Trump and his supporters seem to have taken this fact as license to spout off any mean-spirited remark that comes to mind. I call this the Trump Effect.

Case in point are some of the comments Republican lawmakers have made about health care in their efforts to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. For instance, Rep. John Shimkus questioned why pregnancy coverage should be required, and Rep. Roger Marshall said that poor people don’t care about their health anyway. More recently, after the House passed a bill that would allow states to opt out of coverage for pre-existing conditions, Rep. Robert Pittenger helpfully explained that people can just move to another state if they can’t get coverage. And Rep. Mo Brooks implied that getting sick was a moral failing that the “rest of us” shouldn’t have to pay for. Worst of all, Republican members of the House of Representatives voted essentially to deny health insurance to millions of Americans while keeping their own government-paid health plans.

The Trump Effect has not been limited to politicians. Across the country, Trump’s election has emboldened some Americans to dust off their swastika posters, shout racist epithets at strangers, and attack people wearing head coverings whom they think are Muslim. For example, not long ago, a man was removed from a plane for harassing Muslim passengers and asking them if they had a bomb in their luggage.

And speaking of airlines, the Trump Effect seems to have caused companies to say, “Screw it” in their approach to customer satisfaction. After the egregious abuse a man endured being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight, one would have thought all the major airlines would have run employee sensitivity training immediately. Instead, we keep hearing of more abusive behavior on the part of airline employees. Recently, an American Airlines flight attendant had to be reprimanded for her handling of a woman and toddler with a stroller. And just the other day, a young couple was threatened with jail and the removal of their children if they did not take their infant out of his car seat and give the seat (that they had paid for) to another passenger on an overbooked flight.

I honestly feel sorry for the writers of satire such as Saturday Night Live. People’s real life behavior has gotten so outrageous that it is hard to exaggerate for humorous effect. In fact, the situation in our country has gotten so awful that our comedians more and more have felt the need to play it straight. Jimmy Kimmel, for instance, made a heartfelt plea to lawmakers not to pass a law that would force families to watch their infant die because they couldn’t afford life-saving treatment.

Of course, Jimmy’s plea was met with compassion and restraint, right? Fat chance. Instead, we got deadbeat dad and right wing radio blabbermouth Joe Walsh saying, Sorry, Jimmy. I don’t care if your kid dies. I don’t want to have to help pay to save him. Yeah, I’m actually getting nostalgic for George H.W. Bush’s “thousand points of light” and his son’s “compassionate conservatism.”

The Trump Effect has also extended to alternate views of reality. Because Trump so often outright lies, members of his administration have been emboldened to do so. Remember Kellyanne Conway’s infamous “Bowling Green massacre”? Trump has peopled his Cabinet with climate-change deniers and shown his knowledge of history to be shaky at best. How else to explain his gaffes about Jefferson Davis and Andrew Jackson? The latest lies, of course, are about the effect the new health care law will have on ordinary Americans. The Republicans are hoping those lies hold until at least after the mid-term elections. Meanwhile, Trump, with a totally straight face, tells Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull that Australia’s universal healthcare program is better than the one in the U.S. No shit, Sherlock.

I don’t think I’m hyperbolizing when I declare that the Trump Effect is turning civilization on its head. Our rapidly descending standards for what is acceptable in a U.S. president are influencing the rest of American government and the society beyond. We need a return to norms of civility and kindness before it’s too late.

Zuckerberg: Kill Facebook Live

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The advent of Facebook Live struck me as odd – and unnecessary. Now it strikes me as irresponsible. In the past year there have been disturbing instances of violence broadcast live on this feature, the most recent being a Thai man who strangled his infant and shot himself. Does anyone want to see this? If you do, I’d rather not meet you.

Human nature has its fair share of perversity, I realize. Graphic porn and violence, gory first person shooter video games, sadomasochism, strange obsessions and fetishes. Even mainstream network television has gotten extreme. One of my favorite escapist TV shows, Scandal, for example, has featured so much on screen torture that I am fairly close to ditching the series.

But the live feature on Facebook seems to be inspiring violent and disturbed individuals to broadcast heinous acts for the world to see. While I would not go so far as to say the existence of Facebook Live causes these violent acts, I do think there is an exhibitionist quality to much of our current internet activity.

I personally have resisted watching any of the publicized incidents of Facebook Live violence because I think it’s bad for our minds and souls to witness such things – especially to see them over and over until we are numb to acts that should distress us greatly. And I think that is a sufficient reason to shut down this misguided feature of social media.

After the 2016 presidential election and the proliferation of fake news, Mark Zuckerberg pledged to find ways of ferreting out misinformation. I would call upon his leadership now to get ride of Facebook Live. Any potential positive aspects of live broadcasting on Facebook (although I fail to see what they might be) are outweighed by the harm of the graphic live violence that is becoming too frequent.

Instead of watching or broadcasting on Facebook Live, let’s turn to our families or get out and engage with people face to face. That’s called Life.

 

 

 

Unfriendly Skies

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In the latest episode of Sky Wars, an American Airlines flight attendant got belligerent with the mother of a toddler, wresting a stroller away from the woman and hitting her child in the process. This incident follows on the heels of the disgraceful United Airlines debacle, wherein a paying customer was seriously injured while being dragged off a plane. These days, the fear of a terrorist commandeering an aircraft has been dwarfed by  fear of the very airline employees who are supposed to keep us safe.

To be fair, being a flight attendant has become one of the less glamorous jobs in the world. In ever more cramped quarters, these airline personnel are expected to see to the needs of about 200 travelers, all the while making sure everyone is safe. And in fact, most altercations on airplanes are between passengers, not between customers and crew. So add to the flight attendant job description the need to be airplane referee, cabin librarian shushing loud passengers, and ersatz bartender cutting off belligerent drunks.

Air travel used to be a glamorous luxury. Passengers would be treated to full meals served by smartly dressed flight attendants in roomy airplane cabins. Travelers never felt the need to board a plane with more than a briefcase or handbag in tow. Unfortunately, this more civilized travel experience was costly, and few normal people could afford to fly.

As airlines stepped up the competition, ticket prices came down and inconveniences went up. Many of the formerly complimentary perks of flying have been removed. Now most airlines charge for checked bags and in-flight entertainment, for instance. And meal service for anyone not traveling in first class is nonexistent. Meanwhile, in desperate measures to cut costs, airlines keep squeezing in more seats, leaving less aisle space and leg room for already disgruntled passengers.

All of this is a recipe for disaster. With more passengers per square inch and everyone dragging aboard roller bags to avoid baggage fees, the potential for conflict and flight attendant fatigue has gone way up. On a recent flight, I witnessed a passenger holding up the boarding process for a good 20 minutes as he stood in the aisle trying to find space in the overhead bins for his oversized bag – all the while manhandling other passengers’ luggage and generally causing a ruckus. The Southwest flight attendants deserve awards for patience in dealing with this guy in a courteous and helpful manner.

The other reason for short tempers on the part of passengers is that, prior to boarding,  they have just suffered the hassle and indignity of having themselves and their possessions searched by TSA agents in this post-9/11 world. I myself have had my hands test positive for gun or explosives residue and been physically searched and manhandled at security. Whenever my husband gets a pat down, the TSA agent asks him if there are any sensitive parts on his body. He always answers, “Just my genitals.” The agent never finds that amusing.

The litany of travel woes in the world of flying is long: endless lines at security, tiny and cramped airplane cabins, overbooking situations, passengers eating smelly foods brought from home, minuscule airplane bathrooms that smell like the sewage plant, all manner of animals on board, babies crying, passengers watching shows on their laptops at deafening volumes, surly airline personnel.

Still, a method of transportation that can get an American from one coast to the other in less than 6 hours is nothing to sneeze at. It sure beats a tedious train trip or crowded bus ride – or a cross country family car trip with incessant potty stops and whining, “Are we there yet?”

Young Women Need Feminism

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Kathrine Switzer made history in 1967 when she participated as a registered runner in the Boston Marathon. Despite rules barring women from competing, Switzer signed up and managed to run the entire marathon, despite an official physically trying to drag her out of the race. Fifty years later, Switzer jubilantly ran in this year’s Boston Marathon, leading a group of 100 women runners.

After the race, Switzer was quoted as saying,  “If young women today take for granted the fact that they can compete like men in the sport of running, that’s fantastic. That’s what we wanted when we began working for acceptance.” (amightygirl.com) I’m not so sure I agree with her.

I think it’s a problem that young women today don’t realize how many rights women gained only through the activism and struggle of their forebears. It has been less than 100 years since women won the right to vote in America. Even in more recent history, women were discriminated against in the workplace and barred from many rights that today’s woman takes for granted.

In the 1960s, for instance, women could be refused a credit card, and married women had to have their husbands co-sign to obtain one. Married women were also listed on passports as simply the wife of a man. Most of the Ivy League schools barred women from admittance until the late Sixties and beyond. And only married women with menstrual difficulties were allowed to purchase contraception in the early Sixties.

Even as women began entering the workplace in greater numbers, they faced widespread harassment and discrimination. In the 1960s, women earned approximately 60% of what men earned, largely due to the occupations that were open to women, but also because men were looked at as the breadwinners and therefore in need of greater compensation. This was quite overt, as evidenced in the comedy The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in which Mary’s boss quite clearly states that she is being paid less because she is a woman.

Aside from salary issues, women were subject to sexist and discriminatory policies at work. For example, a woman could be fired because she became pregnant. Flight attendants in the 60s (called “stewardesses”) were subject to height, weight, and attractiveness qualifications. And stewardesses could be fired for getting married. After all, the predominantly male clientele on flights wanted unrestricted access to attractive single women whom they could sexually harass with abandon.

This week Fox News icon Bill O’Reilly was forced to resign under allegations of sexual harassment, following his old boss, Roger Ailes, who also left the media giant amid such accusations.

Back when I was a young working college student, there was no such concept as “sexual harassment.” Women were routinely subjected to unwanted comments and advances from co-workers. I remember being forced to kiss my boss – on the lips! – on my last day of work at an insurance agency. There was no recourse available to women until Gloria Steinem’s exposé of the Playboy enterprise brought to light the rampant victimization of women in the workplace.

Today many of the rights women take for granted are imperiled by a conservative movement that wants to relegate women to their past restrictive roles as wives and mothers. Particularly in the area of reproductive rights, legislation is intruding upon the rights of women to obtain contraception and other medical care of their choosing. And as indicated by many recent high profile instances of sexual harassment and domestic violence, as well as the current pay gap of 20% between men and women (aauw.org), women still need to fight for our rights, not take them for granted.

Many young women today dislike the term “feminism,” seeing it as a pejorative term for a ball-busting hater of men. What they need to realize is that without feminism, they would not be enjoying the freedoms and rights they enjoy today. And without continued feminism, those rights may slip away in the future.

Deja Vu

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_87171044_composite976_afpAmericans had our comeuppance when we ridiculed the Brits for their foolish vote on Brexit. After the UK decided to break from the European Union, many Britons had  “voter’s remorse.” Many didn’t really understand what they were voting for. It seemed a travesty – until November 8, 2016. On that day, many of us had to eat crow when we realized our nation had just elected an unstable, egotistical game show host as President of the United States.

Now the French are having their turn in the spotlight with a presidential election, and it feels to me like a bad case of deja vu. There are so many parallels between the 2016 American election and the upcoming contest in France.

As in America, there is no incumbent running for president. The two likely contenders are Marine Le Pen of the far right National Front party and Emmanuel Macron, a centrist “insider,” while in the wings there is a Bernie Sanders-like figure in Jean-Luc Melenchon, a leftist with rabid followers who likely will refuse to vote for the more centrist Macron, leaving Le Pen’s unlikely candidacy to imitate that of Donald Trump, the xenophobic outsider who wants to make their country great again.

The nationalist, anti-immigrant stance of Le Pen is similar to that of Trump’s. Like Trump, Le Pen is capitalizing on the sentiment that immigrants (mostly Muslim) are taking resources from hard-working Frenchmen, causing violence, and creating a clash of cultures. Her refusal to cover her head in a meeting with Lebanon’s highest religious leader solidified her support with the far right. She has also denied France’s complicity in sending thousands of Jews to their deaths during World War II.

Also as in the U.S. election, Russia is meddling with the French election. For example, Russian website Sputnik spread rumors that Le Pen’s likely opponent, Macron, is gay.  Le Pen, for her part, paints Macron as a part of “the system” and vilifies his opinion that globalization is actually a good thing.

The white nationalist movement is growing in Europe, due in part to the refugee crisis and in part to the economic uncertainty of a rapidly changing, interdependent world. Leaders like Trump and Le Pen appeal to a “me first” mentality that causes people to hark back to an imagined simpler time when they and their country were considered strong and great.

Unfortunately, the isolationist tendency to retreat from the European Union and from trade treaties, to crack down on minorities and immigrants, and to scapegoat those who don’t fit a sanitized cultural mold won’t make our countries safer. Rather, such nationalism will create greater polarization, inequality, and radicalization, all of which will serve to destabilize our great democracies.

I hope France does not succumb to the politics of division and hate. But I am not optimistic. After all, this is a country whose cultural hero used to be Jerry Lewis.