“Individual heterosexual women came to the movement from relationships where men were cruel, unkind, violent, unfaithful. Many of these men were radical thinkers who participated in movements for social justice, speaking out on behalf of the workers, the poor, speaking out on behalf of racial justice. However when it came to the issue of gender they were as sexist as their conservative cohorts.”
― Bell Hooks
It’s like an “Injustice and Suffering Alarm”—my heart pounds and I get that hollowed out feeling in my stomach whenever there’s a tear in the moral fabric, an audible cry, a wince of pain or a whiff of cruelty. Once when I was living in Hell’s Kitchen I rang every doorbell next door, panicked like a crazy woman because a pigeon was flapping in distress, its foot caught on the fence behind the buildings. I had to save it. I can never turn away.
Last week the same feeling washed over me, the uptick in heartbeat, the discomfort in the gut. Only this time it wasn’t a pigeon. It was me and all the women I know, caught by surprise by the age old poison of degradation, the degradation of misogyny and sexism, veiled by an attempt at humor. Bigotry often hides in bad jokes. I remember jokes that used the “N” word not that long ago.
And now here was Hillary Clinton’s face on a bucket of chicken. What do Hillary and the chicken have in common? “Two fat thighs, two tiny breasts and lots of left wings”– that’s according to a local Kingston community leader. He’s proud of his cartoon and proud of posting it on social media. He think’s he’s funny. He think’s he’s exercising his American right of free speech, and when I reach out to tell him he’s crossed the line, it’s not okay to talk about a woman’s body, talk about her policies not her breasts–he tells me to “lighten up”.
But I can’t lighten up, so now I look closely at his FB page and holler out loud. There’s a drawing of a naked cave woman—pretty detailed, as a matter of fact—and she’s dragging a naked cave man by the scrotum. One “joke” after another, mostly aimed at women and several down right vulgar. Hillary is the tip of the iceberg. And I reach out again, privately, and tell him that he has a responsibility to the community. “Have some respect and dignity”, I type in the little chat box. And he sends one word back in response. “Likewise”.
And now I wonder how I will ever sit across the table from this man again and listen to him talk about making the community a better place. I feel betrayed. I’m disappointed he doesn’t have more sensitivity, more awareness; the struggle continues. And I try to pray. My heart beats faster and that hollow feeling sits in my gut, and I take a deep breath and turn on the news and watch my hometown burn.
And I know that sexism is the last acceptable expression of bigotry. I know that if this man were posting racists remarks, he’d be shouted down and held accountable. And yet, we let the undercurrent of misogyny take up space like it belongs at the table. We hurt one another and make judgments based on race and gender and ethnicity and class, and somehow this fool doesn’t understand the thread that links them all, the underlying fear and insecurity, the wickedness and wantonness, the ego and hypocrisy that fuels his message and every message of supremacy and hate. Like all injustice, sexism and misogyny damage our spirit and imprint our souls. And I watch Baltimore burn, and realize how very weary I am of the struggle. But I just can’t turn away.
Rev. Darlene L. Kelley April 29, 2015