Thursday, June 15, 2017

Nevertheless, She Persisted

Anyone else still seething after watching Kirsten Powers shut down a CNN colleague over calling US Senator Kamala Harris “hysterical”? Watch the original interaction here and judge for yourself how “hysterical” Senator Harris was.

Ms Harris is not unstable nor at loose with a wandering womb, she is a well-educated, focused and intelligent Senator who was not only the first woman attorney general in California but the first Jamaican American, the first Asian American, the first Indian American and the first African American attorney general in California. Listen to her questions. She is not attacking Attorney General Sessions with loose founded accusations but asking questions like the dogged prosecutor she once was. Jeff Sessions, in turn, acts like the affronted southern gentleman who cannot understand  a simple question but then who wily tries to obfuscate the hearings by answering Senator Harris’ questions with tangential meanderings.

Hysteria was a 19th century medical term given to women who, among other things, had a “tendency to cause trouble”.

It is a term used today to shut women down.

Similar to how Senator Elizabeth Warren was told to “be quiet” after trying to read aloud a letter written by Coretta Scott King about, ironically, Jeff Sessions.

To me it is in the same vein as men calling women “girls”. In 2013 I blogged about this when I did a short stint as a sales clerk in a hardware store. I saw how guys didn’t like it when I turned the tables. I wrote: Last month at my day job, a twenty year old young man wished me and two other women, all three of us at least twice his age, a goodnight. He said: G’night girls. I responded back: G’night boy. He did a double take; he hasn’t done it since.

Ask yourself why women employees are usually called girls while male workers are always referred to as “men”.

I know that some of you may be saying that this is unimportant in the big scheme of things. To which I argue, so violence against women is trivial? Calling a woman hysterical, telling them to be quiet or calling a work colleague a girl sets the stage for disrespect. Disrespect says: you are not enough as you are, you are not in control of your faculties, you are immature, not smart, able or creative enough to be heard. It reinforces the implicit hierarchy in our society that states females, no matter what age they may be, are somehow less than, not quite up to par or of needing male guidance.

Disrespect dishonours boundaries. It invites condescending and paternalistic behaviour.  Disrespect is the precursor for an unspoken violence that threatens and sometimes acts on physical abuse. Disrespect is contagious and insidious. How often have you heard women themselves call other women bitches just because they are assertive and show leadership? How often do we quietly internalize the patriarchal hierarchy and silence ourselves?

We need to remember Senator Mitch McConnell’s unintentional rallying cry to feminist everywhere when he tried to condescendingly defend the silencing of Senator Warren. He said: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Yes, let us not be shut down. Let us all persist.

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