Merriam – Webster Definition of Lip Service: an avowal or advocacy, adherence, or allegiance expressed in words but not backed by deeds – usually used with pay
Our country inaugurated a new president a week ago today. The following day there were Women’s Marches from Washington DC to communities and campuses around the United States and in different locations all over the globe. The following are some of my thoughts and observations.
I found the Pussyhat Project to be a well orchestrated and unifying gesture for the women who chose to attend marches or supported the concept of showing solidarity around the topic of women’s rights, through the creation and wearing of pink hats. I was in no way inspired by the numerous march attendees who opted to individually or in groups dress as enormous vaginas, appearing to be birthing full-grown adults. Though I imagine Hobby Lobby appreciated the high sales of varying shades of pink and lavender fabrics. If you’re feeling like being crafty for a cause I have a friend who’s looking for 300 baby blankets to take with her to Africa this spring and I also have a neighbor who can hook you up with a pillowcase pattern to make fun pillowcases for critically ill hospitalized children. Your local high school theater or show choir could also benefit from your handiwork.
In terms of not wanting to objectify women, I’m unclear as to how dressing like genitalia somehow takes the focus off of that. I will say that it was easy to divide the age of the costumed women by those who opted to crown their costumes with yarn and those who opted for a clean V. Though my own children are now adults, my personal litmus for politics is “will this be awkward to explain to a child?”. Before I had children, I gave little thought to such things but I have in a previous blog told the story of my son questioning why the show he was watching was interrupted and me needing to explain that the President was apologizing to the nation. His questions led to me having to further explain that he had previously lied to the country during a similar appearance. That was followed up by my “white lie” of “he kissed someone who wasn’t his wife”. My son was three in 1998 and I have never regretted not getting into the oral sex infidelities of the Commander in Chief at that time.We did discuss that childhood memory during a conversation from college earlier this week.
While pink hats convey a message which might be easily explained as simply as “they are part of the same team”. The tawdry costumes sort of defy explanation. Most parents have taught their children to some degree that there are private parts of their body. Having grown adults parade around publicly dressed cartoon-like as those private parts seems to have no real benefit. Clearly these were not the marchers who were there because they were concerned about the environment, as I’m envisioning most of those are headed for landfills. Perhaps some will be sold on eBay “One slightly used Cooter. Best offer.” why not just use the same description from their online dating profile? Then there are also the proud women who think that these marches have the same significance as the marching of the suffragettes and will hang onto it for future generations. Fast-forward to 2110 “Mom, what is this?” and then the thoughtful explanation “That’s your great-grandmothers vagina that she packed in moth balls. She fondly talked about the importance of her work with fellow women at the time.” then the poor kid will be looking around for great-grandfather’s penis costume, because after all if the entire objective is equality, that only makes sense.
I have on occasion while writing my blog posted a bold prediction. My crystal ball is telling me that a college student or group of college students, perhaps even those participating in a Greek Life organization (fraternity/sorority) will be kicked out of school, placed on probation or summoned to the Dean’s Office after wearing the very same costume(s) on Halloween next year. It will be deemed as vulgar, inappropriate, objectifying. They will come back with the explanation that they were supporting women’s rights and likely they will be ridiculed and ostracized by various groups on campus. My crystal ball is getting foggy but some people after seeing fellow students in those costumes may need to seek out a safe place. If anything, the costumes struck me as a distraction from what many sincerely wanted to communicate. If all I have in common with you is shared anatomy, that’s not much to base a movement upon. Especially knowing that people of all genders, orientations, melanin content, faiths, abilities and education don’t necessarily share the same political views. When you are encouraging participation by people wearing hijabs for modesty, it seems downright intentionally offensive.
My political activism began as a 17-year-old high school student who was trained by the Minnesota Secretary of State to register voters. The first campaign I worked on was while in college during a fellow students failed attempt to win a seat on the City Council. During caucuses I typically am either the convener or the secretary for my precinct. I serve as an Assistant Head Election Judge in the county where I live. I get one vote, just like everyone else.
I’ll be the first to admit that this most recent presidential election was unlike any other I have witnessed in my lifetime. While the Bush vs Gore election left us wondering who our president would be for an extended period of time, I think the most shocking election result while I’ve been politically active was the Minnesota Governor’s race where former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey’s son Skip ran against the party switching St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman and they were both defeated by former Navy Seal and All-Star Wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Minnesota is politically fickle, consistently liberal and is the only state who garnered electoral college votes for favorite son, former Vice President Walter Mondale who was soundly defeated by Ronald Reagan.
Something that I think has changed within my lifetime is how voters respond to a loss by their candidate. I feel that perhaps we are reaping the results of a generation raised to not compete (not keeping score during childhood games) and unable to graciously concede. There is an art to losing gracefully, it has to be developed. West St. Paul native Harold Stassen serves as a fine example of a Minnesotan who recognized that one does not have to quit simply because they don’t achieve what they desire. Politically successful as the Governor of Minnesota and the only person to ever hold the title Director of the US Foreign Operations Administration (a post that existed during a portion of the Eisenhower administration) his efforts to win his party’s endorsement as a Presidential candidate failed nine times. From 1944 when my father was in junior high and my mother was in elementary school and every four years all the way up until 1992 when I was a parent myself, he threw his hat in the ring.
As I’ve blogged about before, I am a political junky. I watch the conventions of both major parties. I enjoy the debates. I watch news programs and enjoy reading the paper. I love discussions and will call into question a social media post of a friend if I’m unclear on what their point is. I made a discovery only recently when taking a CareerCode Inventory (a job-focused version of the Holland Code) that identified me with a trait most do not have. A skill of my type is the capacity to “See every side of a story”. Seeing this in my detailed code description, I realized that my friends aren’t intentionally being obtuse, they actually don’t possess the ability necessary to easily see something from a perspective other than the one they identify with. While fiscally conservative and socially more centrist in a liberal state, I am accustomed to having my opinions vilified. Minnesota prides itself on high voter turnout, I have often said that it’s more important for informed voters to vote. As my own children began voting, I recommended they select a few offices and learn about those candidates and choose based on their values who to support and if they didn’t want to learn about the judges, or school board or council members that was okay. Other than when casting a straw vote during caucuses, or during a primary to determine who is on the ticket, I have never felt an obligation to vote a straight party ticket.
Over the years I have had many friends tell me that they “aren’t interested in politics” as though they are picking an interest like sports or theater. One can live without attending a play or following an athletic franchise. Politics are more like oxygen, they impact your quality of life. While this most recent presidential election pulled some people into political activism, it seems that the aftermath is what has really mobilized people who had perhaps not engaged in politics much before. So an election which most Americans were looking forward to getting over and done with has polarized citizens in the aftermath more than during the campaign itself. If that can be done in a respectful way, that strikes me as a win. Having citizens engage may be something that had been set aside with the increase of more couples both working, a greater number of single parents and perhaps a more mobile citizenry. Perhaps it’s the result of taking Civics classes out of schools and people not fully grasping the concept of a “Government of the people, by the people, for the people…”.
Many of my friends participated in the Women’s March the day following the Trump inauguration. Friends from elementary school showed up in my Facebook feed, some marching with their husbands, others marching with their daughters. Due to the turnouts, most weren’t actually marching at all but were gathered with others, some in the pink hats, others holding signs. There were friends I attended high school and college with. Still more proudly sharing where their college-aged students were marching. A former supervisor of mine posted locations across the country where various members of her family were peacefully participating. My favorite was a college friend who posted a picture of his daughter, a high school senior who organized the “Girl Up Women’s Walk” before school at the American School of Doha that drew 250 participants. I watched portions of the DC event via CNN.
In nearly every post that I saw and every video that I watched the participants appeared to be having a great time. They looked happy, much like people look when attending a music festival or large sporting event. The two exceptions were the arrest of a moronic counter-protester in St. Paul and a video of a Trump supporter having her hair lit on fire at one of the rally locations. Both appeared to be isolated incidents that did not reflect the congenial attitudes of most of the participants.
The messages and reason for participation seemed as varied as the participants. Some stated they were there because they were anti-Trump. Others expressed concern for the environment. Some were asking who the Democrats would have running in 2020, having me hope that EITHER party put forth legislation with some limitation on campaign length, as financially and emotionally these two-year campaigns are not helping the country! There were people concerned about health care, others about LGBTQ issues. Scarlett Johansson and others spoke about Planned Parenthood.
I chose not to go, because despite the name Women’s March there were clearly opinions and values held by many women that were not welcome. I have never thought that an aspect of my anatomy informs my opinions on topics. While I am much more in favor of being “for” something than “anti” something I didn’t feel any real compelling reason to engage on that particular day, in that format. I am someone who has always volunteered, financially supported and contributed to causes and ideals that I believe in. I was pleased to see the freedoms of Americans being exercised, as they are protected. There are many things that I personally oppose, that I have no issue with others being in favor of, that’s what makes America a great country and unlike many others. I think the benefit of such large-scale gathering is that a percentage of those participating may follow-through and engage in supporting causes in their communities. Others admittedly were there simply to get a look at it, or feared they would be missing out on what might be an historic event if they did not attend, or succumbed to the peer pressure of others. Some felt angry and scared and wanted to be enveloped by a group of like-minded individuals. The reasons people chose to participate are as legitimate as the reasons other chose not to.
Many of my friends who participated are educators, nonprofit workers, attorneys and others in positions that are committed to the care of people of all ages and capabilities. Whether through their work, religious activities or simply in their own homes I would estimate that everyone that I personally know who participated or supported the efforts of the Marches is a compassionate person who has legitimate concerns. I would also describe the people I know who avoided the events in the same way.
I found most of the signs to be sincere, clever (“I’m with Her” with arrows pointing in all directions was a popular one) and legible. I will admit the ones that caught my eyes were the ones that can best be described as vulgar, distasteful and some that were just outright confusing. Seriously, if your “menstrual blood is going to flow through the streets” for any cause, you need to see a physician. To put little girls in Hello Kitty costumes and put signs on their backs about not touching their pussies, is about as appropriate as having the same girls dress as pole dancers for Halloween. I’m never in favor of using ones children to further a cause. It’s like putting a tattoo on a child, that’s a personal choice that they should be mature enough to make an informed decision about. One should never make assumptions about their child’s sexuality or political affiliation being the same as their own.
Those are my thoughts. I could have put them on a sign and met up with my friends to share some of them. With social media, there are much easier methods of conveying our messages to people throughout the country and around the world. A luxury the women who fought for our right to vote did not have. One of the great parts of being an American is that we don’t have to agree, with each other, with the president, with our neighbor. We’re not a homogeneous nation. We never have been and it’s doubtful we ever will be. I am mindful that many don’t agree with me and I respect and defend the right of others to peacefully share their message as well. In regards to “Lip Service”, time will be the measure as to if the words are backed by deeds.