•  Annoyances, Equality, Manners

Nobody likes the smart girl.

Recently, I had conversations about The Election with two friends of mine—one male, one female, both educated, intelligent people with whom I enjoy a little verbal political sparring from time to time. I came away fairly unsettled. F1 and F2, you see, don’t know each other, and are very different demographically, socially, and politically—and yet they used virtually identical language to contrast their mistrust of Hillary Clinton with their appreciation for Donald Trump. Both cited Clinton’s support of her husband after his affair with a younger woman was revealed as reason to distrust her; at the same time, both were dismissive of the New York Times’ recent investigation of Donald Trump’s behavior toward women, saying in no uncertain terms that the story had been manipulated to smear the candidate. (F2 [sadly, the woman] went so far as to say that it “wasn’t Trump’s fault that he was rich” and that women were “throwing themselves at him.”) My friends see no irony in chiding one candidate for choosing to stay in a marriage compromised by bad behavior—surely, a private decision? —and chiding the media for calling another out because he asked a young model he had just met to change into a revealing bikini and then paraded her around at a party as though he owned not just the bikini but the body inside it.

It’s been getting pretty clear for a while now that the last eight years have largely been about how much America really hates Black people, and I’m worried that the next eight years are going to be about how much we really hate women. This isn’t just idle, middle-of-the-night musing; the facts are grim. The gender pay gap is widening at the lower and higher ends of corporate America. Big men on campuses east and west assault women with seemingly little danger to their own careers. Politicians speak on the national stage of “legitimate rape.” Women’s healthcare—and I don’t just mean access to abortion—is under attack at a level unprecedented in our history. America remains the only developed nation without mandatory funded parental leave. On the flip side of that equation, child care is abysmally expensive and often unsafe. And while well-meaning icons like Sheryl Sandberg urge us to lean in, there are plenty of women in this country whose shaky employment status isn’t conducive to that kind of self-promotion (but is conducive to all kinds of sexual harassment, which we don’t hear about because those women are too busy keeping their jobs to blow the whistle on their bosses and co-workers). So, not such a different world from the one twenty-five years ago in which Donald Trump felt free to show off the attributes of his newest “Trump girl.”

But never mind all of that—at least for the moment. Let’s agree on the idea that, if it doesn’t hate women, America doesn’t like them all that much. If you don’t believe that (really? Dig a little deeper and then tell me I’m crazy), there’s at least ample evidence that America doesn’t like Hillary Clinton. Case in point: my friends are hardly alone in their opinions. And I’m pretty sure that all the solutions to the much-vaunted likeability dilemma put forward by well-meaning people like David Brooks are doomed to fail. Because here it is, people: The ugly truth of American life—which you know if you’re a woman, you’re intelligent, and you’ve ever been jeered at on a kindergarten playground, whispered about in a sixth-grade classroom, studiously ignored at a high school dance, or offered temporary popularity in exchange for clandestine cheating in college—is that nobody likes the smart girl.

So now, assuming that the ever-shriller Bernie Sanders actually sits down and shuts up at some point (one can hope, no?), and we’re in a two-candidate race (apologies to Gary Johnson and the 47% of Americans apparently looking for a third-party solution), what? Do we look forward to five more months of helpful hints for Hillary, contrasted with “fair and balanced” coverage of Donald Trump’s behavior? More misogyny disguised as political commentary? It would be nice if at some point we could get around to some actual substantive policy discussions—you know, of the type one might expect as two people battle to win the privilege of taking care of the daily lives of more than 300 million people. But I’m not hopeful. Apparently, as a nation, we are still much more interested in commoditizing women than in actually getting to know them, which means that Hillary will remain the smart girl for the rest of the campaign and thus will continue to be deemed (a) unpopular and (b) unqualified to be President, because in her earlier years she was more interested in going undercover in racist school districts to improve educational opportunities for minority kids than she was in developing her golf game.

Getting back to my friends: Even if it disgusts me (and it does), I understand the appeal of Donald Trump. He represents that shiny, rich, safe, and above all, white America that so many people already miss as they look nine years down the road to a future in which their kids won’t do any better than they did and in which they will be, for the first time, the minority. But Hillary Clinton represents a better America—an America that is messy, imperfect, sometimes two-steps-forward-one-step-back, and nevertheless trying to find its way to a cautious equilibrium where everyone has at least a decent chance at a decent life. Donald Trump’s America, meanwhile, just wants the smart girl to shut up, do its homework, and give it a blow job.

I said to my husband recently that the only good thing to come out of this election cycle so far is that Donald Trump has reminded me that I’m not just a fellow smart girl, but a feminist. And so, over the next five months, I’m going to be working hard to remind all the F2s out there that this election will probably turn on them—and that if they stay home, there’s at least a fair chance (pace the intelligentsia, who assured us that the Donald wouldn’t get this far) that Really Bad Things will happen. Look, maybe Madeline Albright went a little too far when she said there was a “special place in hell” for women who don’t support other women. But in this election, I think she might just be right. I can only hope that hell isn’t America on November 9.

 •  Annoyances, Culture, Equality

There and here.

London has a new mayor, and the phenomenally accomplished Sadiq Khan—with a biography any good socialist would cheerfully give his or her left arm for—has been receiving congratulations from future colleagues worldwide on his victory in the election, which boasted the highest turnout ever for a mayoral contest. The mayor of Paris swoons over his “humanism” and “progressiveness.” Jakarta’s governor calls his victory an “inspiring story of democracy, merit, and tolerance.” A breathless tweet from -H herself extols Khan’s virtues as a “champion of workers’ rights and human rights.” Even the sister of his challenger, Zac Goldsmith, calls his victory “a great example to young Muslims.” This son of a Pakistani bus driver, who grew up on a council estate, avoided a rough crowd at school, developed a passion for education, politics, and equality, and keeps it real by taking out the trash and putting his two daughters to bed, is the darling of those who would unify a splintered electorate everywhere. Except, presumably, that other self-proclaimed great unifier, Donald Trump, who as of this writing remains undecided as to whether Khan would be allowed into the U.S. if he were victorious in the Presidential stakes.

These days in politics, you can either be a lover or a hater. There is no in between. Khan is a lover—a lover who because of his heritage and his looks would likely be targeted for suspicion in any number of cities in the United States of today. He insists, in his first interview with Time as Lord Mayor, that being British, Western and Muslim is not a contradiction; that his election symbolizes the spirit of Londoners who “respect, embrace, celebrate” their diversity; and that “it’s really important” that he “use his experiences to defeat radicalization and extremism.” He’s vocal on the need for good role models for young British Muslims today, so that when presented with the sometimes alluring prospect of fighting for ISIS, they can “just say no.” He’s not shy about his convictions and he’s willing to stand up for his beliefs, even when that puts him in danger—a fatwa was issued against him thanks to his support for gay marriage. Perhaps most importantly, he believes that his election means that “actually there is no clash of civilization between Islam and the West.”

I’ve been trying for a day now to reconcile Khan’s ascendancy to a position that puts him in charge of the daily lives of nearly 15 million people with the irrational hatred of Muslims in the U.S. that forces innocent travelers off planes; earns people death threats because of the color of their skin; and constrains the devout to abandon plans to build places of worship. This isn’t saying that there’s no anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.K.—there’s plenty, much of it in evidence during this election. Zac Goldsmith ran a campaign The Guardian called “soaked in racism”—ironic and sad, given his own not-exactly-mainstream-British heritage. But somehow the innate generosity of spirit and openness of mind that has always characterized the England we like to imagine, the England of Downton Abbey, triumphed—putting Khan and, by association, the entire nation on the right side of history. Would that I were certain the same sterling qualities of character would suddenly emerge over the next few months in our own political discourse.

It seems so, well, unfair that the often tortured relationship Britain has with its former colonies has come to this—to the seemingly inexorable rise to power of the son of an immigrant from one of those colonies—when we in our own country spend our time, when we’re not vilifying or murdering the descendants of people we used to buy and sell, complaining about those nasty immigrants who are taking all of our jobs away, threatening our families, and destroying our society. And indeed, it is a slap in the face to the much-ballyhooed idea of American democracy that a man named Khan now holds one of the highest political offices in the U.K. when here, he would have trouble getting ahead these days unless the middle letters of his last name were reversed. The big-hearted and hopeful America of the 1950s and 1960s, the America that marched steadily and compassionately toward progress of every kind, has disappeared into a vortex of debt, dissension, and disgust—a place where kindness and decency no longer have any real currency, and division is the order of the day. Democracy has room for every kind of attitude, of course, and we have seen glimpses of this America before. But today, thanks to the legacy of a generation’s worth of indiscriminate, profligate greed, we have more division than ever. Which means more hatred, and then more division, on and on, the ouroboros busily eating its own tail until someone cuts off its head. The dirty little secret of America—which, if things go the wrong way this November, will not be so secret any more—is that hatred has become not just the overriding tone of our discourse and the raison d’etre for much of our popular culture, but our guiding national principle. “Haters gonna hate,” in the sunnily styled vocals of our foremost pop diva. And how. Too bad we can’t just shake it off.

 •  Annoyances, Culture, Morals

You’re still not worried?

He won five states last night with popular vote tallies far greater than expected, and you’re still not worried?

Nate Silver says it’s “his nomination to lose,” and you’re still not worried?

He’s developing what appears to be a pretty plausible rust belt strategy, and you’re still not worried?

He’s fleshing out his foreign policy agenda—sounding almost as presidential as 43—and you’re still not worried?

Susan Page says we “shouldn’t make assumptions” about how the election’s going to turn out if he’s the nominee, and you’re still not worried?

He delivered a speech today that the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee described as “very good,” and you’re still not worried?

He’s already having a negative effect on the economy, and you’re still not worried?

Megyn Kelly is yielding to his dubious charms, and you’re still not worried?

A major poll has him at 50% support among Republicans and Republican leaners nationally, and you’re still not worried?

Really?

Let’s get into that last one for a moment.

There are 146,311,000 Americans registered to vote (actually, probably a few more now—that was as of August 2015—but let’s work with those numbers). 41% of those, or 59,987,510, are Republican or Republican leaning. And half of those, or 29,993,755, support him.

You can look at it this way:

The U.S. population is, at the time of this writing, 323,439,880. So, one in eleven Americans supports Donald Trump.

That doesn’t sound so alarming.

Or you can look at it this way:

Thirty million Americans are in favor of electing as their highest representative a man who’s racist. Misogynist. Anti-immigrant. Whose campaign tactics are right out of the dictator’s playbook. Who opposes marriage equality. Who thinks carrying concealed weapons should be an American birthright. Who thinks choosing a running mate who’s actively anti-LGBT would be a “great idea.” Whose platform is named for a political movement allied with Nazi goals. Who doesn’t believe in climate change. Who wants to deny health care to the people who somehow get through his wall.

Thirty million Americans.

I could go on. But I’d rather just ask you a question.

You’re still not worried?

 •  Annoyances, Culture, Manners

On law and order.

The one and only time I was ever ticketed for any sort of moving violation was on the evening of Valentine’s Day 2007. I was driving south on the West Side Highway and had just turned onto (I think) 50th Street when I was pulled over by a cop because I was talking on my cellphone—while holding it. When he said, “Do you know how long we tailed you with the siren on and the lights flashing? FIVE BLOCKS,” it woke me up. I never drove non-hands-free again.

We have a new-ish law here in Vermont that I thought would really improve manners on our highways. But let me begin with a bit of background. Vermont has fewer than 650,000 residents, but those 650,000 are pretty spread out. It isn’t uncommon for a commute to be 45 minutes, which here means 45 miles. I don’t bat an eyelash at driving to South Burlington twice a week to go to Trader Joe’s, because it’s only twenty minutes (26 miles) away. And so it goes, here on the roads. People spend much of their lives in their cars. And that means they do a plethora of things there. Things that endanger other people.

I used to be amused by my cousin Leslie’s assertion that, having grown up in California, she could smoke, drink a soda, eat lunch, do her makeup, and talk on the ‘phone all at the same time while driving. I’m not so amused by it anymore—not because I wouldn’t trust Leslie behind the wheel with my life, but because since we moved here I have so often almost been sideswiped on the highway, broadsided at an intersection, or hit in a parking lot by someone talking (non-hands-free) or texting. So I rejoiced when, last year, the Vermont Legislature passed a hands-free bill, and Governor Shumlin (after taking some time to opine as to how everyone ought to be counted on to “do the right thing” and we didn’t really need this sort of measure) signed it into law.

And here’s where we run headlong into the Vermont way of doing things. As far as I can tell, the law has made absolutely no difference. I am still avoiding idiotic behavior on the roads as much as I ever was, and as a matter of fact, it seems to have gotten worse. (In two separate instances over the holidays, for example, I was almost run over while walking across a parking lot by a woman who was driving while presumably updating a shopping list, and sustained $400 worth of damage to my rear bumper courtesy of backing into a pillar in another parking lot to avoid a woman talking on a handheld ‘phone and heading right for my front bumper.) And, despite a professed “crackdown” during the fall, when we all saw “PHONES DOWN…HEADS UP” signs along the interstate highways and there were apparently a bunch of people pulled over and ticketed, the police don’t seem to be paying too much attention to the problem. Apparently, everyone is still relying on the good citizens of Vermont to “do the right thing.” Which translates, as far as I can tell, to “doing exactly what you want to do.”

Here’s the thing. There is an unspoken compact among the citizens of New York City that goes like this: if you break the law, and you get caught, it’s a fair cop. You argue with the officer, but in the end, you suck it up and you accept the ticket. And so you mostly don’t break the law, or at least not much, and part of that is because you know you live with 7 million other people who are also entitled to get to the end of every day still breathing. And that, along with a hefty dose of heavily publicized examples of people who break the law in some pretty serious ways and get caught doing so, is how New York City continues to function as a relatively civilized place. But Vermont seems not to have this compact. No expectation of enforcement, no expectation of admission of guilt, no public shaming of those who break the rules, no dire consequences for anyone (well, except for the people who get hurt or killed by the lawbreakers). And so there doesn’t seem to be any reason for people to stop doing exactly what they want. Which—sorry, Governor Shumlin—isn’t always the right thing.

I see this in many arenas here, this unwillingness to admit that problems of societal behavior exist, and that we need laws to manage those problems, and people who are willing to enforce those laws. I’m sure the “it’s all going to be okay if we just ignore it” mentality stems from the time when Vermont was a wilderness tamable only by the sheer will of its inhabitants. At that time, survival was only of the fittest, and “every man for himself” was not just an aphorism, but a necessary skill. But Vermont is a very different place today, and we cannot always count on the same altruism that was so publicly on display in the months and years following the devastation of Irene to bring us all together as a cohesive unit. In Vermont, our homes and cars are our castles—but they are also neighbors to all of the other homes and cars throughout the state. And if we continue to treat those castles as inviolable—if we do not recognize the urgency of dealing in a comprehensive and decisive way with texting while driving, driving non-hands-free, and the myriad other social issues that as Vermont grows need our considered attention—we will through our omissions end up creating a culture that, rather than continuing to respect the individual, lays waste to what should be our common goal: a Vermont that is safe for everyone who chooses to live, work, and travel within our borders. Forgetting the texting while driving accidents for a moment, that would really be a tragedy.

 •  Annoyances, Culture, Morals

A bit of a rant.

I got an email a couple of weeks ago from Madesmith, promoting workwear designed by a woman “on a mission to create clothing for women that balances style and comfort.” On first read, this really excited me…since I work from home, in a profession that makes me somewhat of a creative type (at least I like to think so), I am always looking for a workwear alternative to (let’s be honest here, people) paint-stained sweatshirts and leggings. After all, it’s nice to look good for the dog. And the UPS guy. Oh, and my husband.

I clicked on over, and found that the new line, Nativen, was pitched ostensibly towards women who ‘work on their feet all day performing a number of manual jobs.’ I know a number of people who work thus—from nurses to ceramists—and so I was further intrigued. Plus, the pictures (moodily shot, beautifully styled, one featuring a bulldog) really got me. And I loved the look of the ‘Build Your Adventure bandana’ (which turned out to have been designed by the ever-amazing Lisa Congdon). So I clicked through to purchase.

Brace yourself. The bandana costs…

$88.

That’s eighty-eight dollars, folks. For a 21” square of cotton. Admittedly, ‘100% American grown and made.’ But still.

I have been feeling for some time that the fetishization of the maker has reached its apotheosis, and I think we have perhaps found here the moment where it has jumped the shark. Let me be clear…I have spent the bulk of my professional life advocating for makers in one way or another. Their work is all over my house. And I count them as some of my best friends (yes, I know what that sounds like, but it’s true). But not one I can think of would for one second entertain the idea of spending $88 for a square piece of cotton that would soon become irreparably stained with stock; caked with glaze; burnt by a soldering iron; or chewed up by the dog. What has happened to bring us to the point where the idea of workwear for the maker and doer is more important than the creation of workwear that working women can actually afford?

Understand that I do not mean to denigrate the work of Nativen’s founder, who is undoubtedly a lovely person who believes in her mission. But $88 for a bandana is not reality in my world; nor is it reality in the world of people who work on their feet all day. And in a world where most of the makers I know don’t earn a fraction of what their work is worth and can’t, because of market forces, that $88 is downright insulting. Now, if 50% of the purchase price went toward supporting continuing education for independent makers in America, perhaps I’d feel differently.

How about it, Nativen?