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Friday, October 31, 2014

Well, this is random.

Sure, I haven't touched this blog in three years. And it's true that I have publicly declared that I would not make public declarations about politics (unless, of course, you give me a couple of glasses of something lovely -- maybe a nice sancerre -- before you ask about my views). But I'm irritated. And sober as a judge. (Oh, wait. We're in South Carolina. Are our judges all sober? A great number of them are, but let's say I'm as sober as a person who hasn't consumed any alcohol in the last 24 hours or so.) Sobriety, both the temporary and intentional type, has been on my mind recently. But I digress.

I choose to live here in South Carolina. Though I complain about the lack of snow, I couldn't fathom living in a colder climate. Our weather grants us a long beach season, the ability to play tennis in December, and a lot of fashion freedom. I do my best to love the Gamecocks, and would cheer my heart out at a Citadel game any day. Without the food traditions in this state, I never would have learned to cook from scratch, with a cold Tervis tumbler of white wine in my hand, without a recipe. Our bountiful produce inspires me in the kitchen, and the fall greens are as delicious to me as the okra and tomatoes of summer. I love knowing farmers, getting my food from the source, and throwing last-minute dinner parties where everyone gets my jokes and enjoys the meal.

But I hate the things we are known for: flying that d*mn flag, a ridiculous symbol of our stubborn ways, drinking -- to excess -- just because there's a game on, racism, demonstrated in a variety of ways large and small, and the abuse and disrespect of women. And I'm all fired up about that last one today.

I grew up in South Carolina, the daughter of a realtor who worked all hours, but still had time for family, and a mother who met all of our needs and then some, but still had time to volunteer all over town. My parents never, not even once, not even a little, made me feel like being a woman was any particular thing. Their expectations for me were the same as they were for my brother and my other two sisters. (Well, they didn't expect me to do much on any athletic field, and I met those expectations. My siblings made up for it with their mad skills. I win at yoga.) They set high standards for me, telling me not to worry about paying for college, that they would pay for the best school that would accept me. They didn't harangue me about grades, they just assumed I would make As. And I did. (Well, mostly. But this is my blog and I can say what I want.) Their fourth child was a boy, and if they ever cared one way or the other about the gender of any of my siblings, they hid it really, really well.

Though they were politically and morally conservative, that ideology didn't include sexism. My family is a mixed political bag. There are staunch republicans, rabid democrats, and a sprinkling of everything on the political spectrum. We all care, and political discussions around the holiday table can get lively. But we all care about each other, so those lively discussions can take a quick turn, and often end up in laughter, as we make fun of each other, then go watch the game, or shoot basketball in the driveway, or just decide it's time to clear the table together. 

I don't recall ever having an argument at home in which someone took the racist or misogynist side. Those sins are neither democrat nor republican to me. They are just sins. And I saw a lot of those sins, just not in my home, not even subtly.

Every state has its issues, and I understand, by choosing to live here and enjoy everything South Carolina has to offer, those issues will be mine. Casual discrimination against women makes me a little crazy.

"Heh, heh, heh," he laughs, leaning against his new truck, a third family car, for recreational use, "Hell if I'll let my wife have a housekeeper. We don't have that kind of money!" He and his wife both have jobs, and maybe a kid or three. 

"So, your husband tells me he bought you a new car!" Really? I don't recall consulting him or seeing him at any of the myriad dealerships I visited. Also? I don't even let him drive it, not because he is a man, but because he parks on curbs, and it'll mess up my tires.

"She's just not a nice girl" or, alternately, "She's a hell of a gal," with an old-fashioned, filthy leer. Because she, you know, may or may not have had sexual relations with another unattached consenting adult.

"We're having a bake sale. Can you bring something?" This question has been asked of my husband exactly never, as far as I know.

Versions of these remarks came from people my own age, women and men who are supposed to know better. Did they stop me from going about my day? Of course not. But do they inform my sons about the way they should view women? Do they get into our collective consciousness and give people reason to dismiss, mock, and abuse women? Yes, I believe they do.

A few days ago, democratic candidate for governor State Senator Vincent Sheheen made a speech. I'm told by a very smart, republican woman I know that he was making some reasonable political points. Then he makes a mistake. (See the video here.)

"Let's escort whore out the door," he says, in reference to Governor Haley.

I get nervous when I speak publicly. The word "whore," obviously, rhymes with both "escort" and "door." I could have made the same mistake. Easily. It sounds like a practiced line, written by a speech writer, but people make mistakes in the heat of the moment. What should have happened next?

Though it may have interrupted the poetic flow of his speech, State Senator Sheheen might have said, immediately, "Excuse me. Let's escort her out the door." Alternately, he could have ignored the gaffe and carried on. If I made an error like that, my voice would get shaky and my face and ears would turn beet red, as the blood from my shamed heart flooded to them. But, I get it. He's an experienced public speaker, so he might handle it better than I. But he didn't even flinch.

He repeated the sentence, using the correct word. But then, in what appeared to be a cross between a bad imitation of Matthew McConaughey and the douchecanoe guy I referenced above who refuses to "let" his wife hire a house cleaner, he laughs. He smirks. Maybe he winks. He chuckles inwardly at his own joke. He segues into the next part of his speech by pointing at an unseen audience member and saying, "Oh, no, listen! You gotta' tell the truth!" With a big grin.

His voice cracks like an adolescent who has made an off-color joke, one that got some laughs, and gotten away with it, because the grown-ups have had a few drinks. 

But let's say the gaffe was just a gaffe. After the speech was over, he should have apologized to Governor Haley directly, either by phone or in person. When the video went public, he should have apologized again, expressing shame and embarrassment and explaining, truthfully, that he had already asked the governor's forgiveness. Instead, he issued a classic non-apology.

"I don't use that word you people* are claiming that I used," Sheheen said. "I don't use it in private, and I don't use it in public, but if anybody heard wrong, and certainly my words were garbled, then you know I apologize because I don't want to send that message to anybody."

As a woman, I don't think Governor Haley has done me or the people of this state many favors. I don't think State Senator Sheheen will, either. If Governor Haley laughs at people like me, at least she doesn't do it to my face, while people around her egg her on. 

We have to stop allowing people to make casual jokes at the expense of women. They aren't funny. Neither are racist jokes or homophobic jokes. We're all adults. We need to do better than that to get a laugh. Because those jokes don't help us grow or accomplish anything.

So who gets my vote? I don't know. I will vote, if only to register my opinion that neither candidate represents me. I was faced with a similar choice in another election. Should I vote for a republican who, almost by accident, had sided with me on a few key issues, or a democrat who, politically, was on my side of the fence, but who worked with people who campaigned dirty, at the expense of people who never should have been targeted. I was younger then, and cast my vote for a libertarian candidate, whose views fell far afield of my own. I knew he wouldn't win, but I should have cast my vote more responsibly. Abstaining on the ballot is a statement, albeit a weak one. What do you do when you can't go either way?

If y'all will excuse me, I need to go make a pot of pumpkin chili and roast a mess of pumpkin seeds. Happy Halloween**, with respect for all.

* Just a tip: Including the phrase "you people" in an apology is never a good sign.

** And if you don't observe Halloween, I apologize for the reference and hope the festivities aren't too annoying. I mean it.

1 comment:

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