- Laura Perry
WARNING: This blog post suitable isn't for kids, and may not even be suitable for most adults. Seriously. Lots of trigger warnings - sexual assault, abortion, feminism, you know, low-key stuff like that.
In the midst of the truly disheartening news around the world in general and the dumpster fire that is politics in the state of Alabama, it's spectacularly easy to get discouraged. This week alone, a throw-down happened in the Alabama Senate Chamber over the abortion bill. House Bill 314, the so-called "Abortion Bill," was up for debate. It's considered the strictest bill of its type in the country, declaring a fetus is a person as soon as it's "in utero," and allowing for sentences of up to 99 years for doctors who perform abortions. Senate democrats had suggested an amendment that would allow for exceptions for cases of rape or incest; the Alabama GOP wouldn't even allow discussion of this. This bill is so poorly written that women who miscarry could be forced to prove that they didn't do anything to endanger their fetus, magnifying a traumatic event with the second trauma of being interrogated by ignorant bloviators with a political agenda. Whether you're pro-choice or not, it seems like perhaps the debate about this issue and policy decisions should be more nuanced and sophisticated than this - and certainly more compassionate.
The same week, literally THE SAME WEEK, some moron in the Alabama Legislature named Dickie Drake - yes, that's actually his name, I could not make this up - introduced a bill to criminalize making false rape accusations. So, if you accuse someone of raping you, and they are not found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (convictions are tricky in rape cases, folks, and judges are biased against women), you could yourself be charged with a crime. This in spite of the fact that rape and sexual assault are already colossally under-reported because women don't want to go through the unmitigated hell of having their life torn apart by a defense attorney, and the smart money says even convicted rapists are unlikely to serve any time, because . . .
All of this happened shortly after a 26-year-old bus driver was sentenced to NO JAIL TIME after being found guilty of raping a 14-year-old girl (because she was only his first known victim, after all), and a 34-year-old man was sentenced to probation after keeping a 17-year-old girl imprisoned for a year and regularly assaulting her.
So for those of you keeping score at home, that means that in the state of Alabama, if/when these bills pass, a woman could be raped, be intimidated out of reporting it because what if he's not convicted and YOU go to jail instead, and then be forced to carry her rapist's baby to term.
I was barely hanging in there, folks, like JUST BARELY. This sort of unremitting awful feels impossible to cope with when you look at it head-on. But, as is not unusual in situations like this, it was a much smaller thing that was the last straw.
Today I opened Facebook and saw this post:
And 20 years after earning my Bachelor's degree in Women's Studies, and 19 years after giving birth to the first of two card-carrying feminist daughters, and 5 years after beginning work in diversity and inclusion at a major university, it struck me ALL OVER AGAIN:
They do not see us as people.
Let me say that again: many men, a surprising number of women, and an absolutely unbelievable number of lawmakers DO NOT SEE WOMEN AS PEOPLE.
This guy, who is otherwise apparently a decent guy, can not conceive of a world in which a man and a woman can be friends without the guy wanting to hook up with her. Why, he reasons, would any man be friends with a woman just to, you know, enjoy her company? Have fun? Share a love of movies or coffee? Have the same hobbies? No, the only value a woman brings to a relationship is that she will eventually yield to any man's pure animal charm and be invariably drawn into a romantic relationship with him. It couldn't possibly be anything else, which is almost certainly terrible news for my husband and my friend Steven's wife (and for Steven and me, since we love our spouses). This whole time, I thought Steven and I were just friends because we like each other's company and enjoy many of the same things. According to Facebook Guy, that's not the case at all. It can't be.
This casual misogyny tackled me and took me down because while I expect the worst institutionally, as I've watched things like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford being dismissed in spite of her incredible believability in order to put a frat boy sex criminal on the Supreme Court, I still have hope for my fellow average human beings. The people I interact with every day. Mitch McConnell, and Lindsey Graham, there may be no hope for (there probably isn't). But the guy who works at the coffee shop? The woman who likes the same books at the public library? Surely we're more alike than we are different.
So when I see some dude explain to God and everybody on Facebook that he can't conceive of why a man might want to be friends with a woman JUST BECAUSE SHE IS A HUMAN PERSON THAT HE LIKES, it makes me lose whatever small fragment of sanity I've got left.
The inability to see one another as humans of equal status and worth is a profound and deep-seated spiritual malady. It's not just a man/woman issue - ask any lesbian, gay, or transgender person how freaking hard their life has been just GETTING UP AND BEING ALIVE AS THE PERSON THEY ARE and I swear it's because far too many straight, cis-gender people don't even see our LGBTQ+ family as real people. It's Ramadan right now - I wonder how many of our Muslim brothers and sisters feel that they have to go to work and hide the fact that they're fasting all day (because they're observant in their faith) from intolerant "Christian" coworkers. We're denying other people the right to live and be honest in their beings because we believe if they aren't like us, THEY AREN'T EVEN HUMAN.
If this is where you fall, if you have trouble seeing that transgender kid as a real person with as much value as you, if you feel an irresistible urge to yell, "Go back to your country!" when someone speaks Spanish, I'ma suggest something radical: God does not love you more.
She does NOT.
In fact, the Jesus you claim to worship regularly came down on the side of the powerless. Actively, unrepentantly came down in favor of the marginalized, the disliked, the socially unacceptable. He actually shamed spiritual leaders out of carrying out a totally legal sentence (stoning) against a women who had been caught in the act of adultery - that's how much he freaking despised your legalism. He delivered the (bad) news that everyone is your neighbor, and that you should love your neighbor as yourself, and by that he meant your gay, homeless, Muslim, immigrant neighbor.
And just because you never suited up with the KKK or held a sign that said, "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" doesn't mean that you're not de-personing someone right now.
I'll start with the confessions: I am guilty of de-personing other people regularly.
Here's how I do it. I hear a story of something bad happening to someone. And then I think of all the ways that that person is not like me, which gives me a false reassurance that the bad thing could never happen to me or someone I love. It's internal, so none of you see it; it's exhibits universal bias against everyone going through misfortune, so I don't have to feel like I'm racist or xenophobic. But it does the same thing that that casual Facebook post did: it groups people together and makes them less real to me than I am.
I'm not proud of this. I am working to change it. This is a bad coping mechanism for generalized anxiety. But it still throws walls up between me and people that I should love and value as I value myself.
I do not hold out any hope for the Alabama Legislature. As an institution, they are corrupt, ignorant, and largely incompetent. I hold out about equivalent non-hope for our system of national governance.
But we can change our spheres of influence, the circles in which we move, by pushing back against our own internalized assumptions about the walls between us and doing our damnedest to tear them down. Maybe, please God maybe, one person at a time we can work for a world in which Muslims and Jews and Buddhists and even Christians (maybe) and our LGBTQ+ family and even men and women can be friends with each other, without banal, harmful bias, without exception.
We must do this.
Lives depend on it; and those lives might be our own.