The book I didn’t read, and why

I’m not sure I’m ready to write about this as my conclusions are still provisional, but I’ve got to do something to jog myself out of the rut I’ve been in lately.

Background: When Hillary Clinton’s book about the 2016 election was announced, as a fan of Hillary, I put myself in the library queue to read it. I was 178th in line and the library system bought twenty copies, so I knew it would take a while to find its way to me.

Middle background: Almost every woman I know well has been affected emotionally, at least to some extent, by the current atmosphere around the accusations of sexual harassment. You may remember that I started keeping track of the Kevin Spacey allegations and then I had to make myself stop documenting it, stop following it. A lot of us have been harassed or assaulted in professional settings, and for someone like me, the whole thing has the fascination of a train wreck. I need to stop reading about it and I can’t stop reading about it. It’s opened and refreshed wounds I thought were heavily scarred or at least decently covered. And of course we had two very long, painful conversations about it at Thanksgiving, not least because of course not all the guests — the hosts were my cousin Architect and her husband, who doesn’t have a blog name — were in agreement, even if we were all more liberal than the average American. Which doesn’t take much these days, admittedly.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot and this is where I’ve gotten to, narratively.

When I was a child, my parents and the atmosphere around me communicated to me that women who alleged rape, assault or harassment were lying. Such women “were just saying those things to see what they could get.” Women who behaved correctly would not be raped, assaulted, or harassed, so if, in fact there was some case that something had occurred, it would still be the woman’s fault. I can’t give a specific instance in which this lesson was ever taught, but the reason I know it was a firm article of conviction is that when Bill Clinton became a presidential candidate and revelations about his coercive sexual behaviors emerged, I assumed that the women involved were lying, because I’d been inculcated with the belief that women who allege these things are just in it for themselves. I expanded that conclusion with the assumption that someone was persuading or paying them to say these things in order to destroy the Clinton candidacy.

I watched the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings and Anita Hill’s testimony. It was a tumultuous couple of months in my life, though. I started graduate school, Jimmy Conors turned the U.S. Open on its head, and then Clarence Thomas hearings. And I remember not coming to a conclusion. Probably still operating under the “accusers are liars” paradigm? I don’t remember now. I remember my college bestie was frustrated with me for not believing Hill.

I remained a supporter of Bill Clinton until the 1994 non-response to the Rwandan Genocide, when my faith was shaken. It was finally destroyed by the 1996 Welfare Reform. But I remained a fan of Hillary. She and I had a lot in common, socially. Midwesterners, raised in the church and in more conservative than average lower middle class families, students at private liberal arts colleges, women with professional ambitions, not sure exactly what to do about romantic relationships, with the example of supporting men’s careers rather than prioritizing our own goals held over heads. I hadn’t yet been harassed in 1991, but as the Clinton candidacy escalated the attacks on her, not just on unfortunate remarks she made but also on her professional and life choices, I could very much identify, because I had experienced the same cultural forces at work on me in subtler and gentler forms — and this was crucial — a generation later. Was it really possible that so little progress had been achieved in a generation, that women were still expected to focus on children and home, that we would be publicly excoriated for making our own choices? Then came her husband’s presidency, the unwillingness of the public to accept her political work despite her qualifications, and the many legal investigations, all of which exonerated her. Many were frivolous. In any case, I concluded she was no dirtier than any other candidate I had voted for and probably less dirty than some.

Above all, she seemed like a target. She was a target. She is a target. And frankly — that’s explicitly about her being a woman and more specifically, a woman who didn’t conform.

Then, in 1998, Bill Clinton’s activities with Monica Lewinsky came out. I had just moved back to the U.S., and widespread dissemination of ideas and documents over the Internet was a new thing. I remember reading documents relating to the case from my adjunct office at the community college because we only had dialup at home. I remember being incensed that he did not resign immediately. I remember thinking that it was silly to claim there was a “vast right-wing conspiracy” at work to sink them, since it was clear that Bill Clinton had both had sex with his (former) intern and in fact perjured himself. I don’t remember reading Gloria Steinem’s defense of him in the New York Times in 1998.

No: In 1998, I identified most with Monica. I was 29. And I remember thinking above all that I had done stupid things out of love, or infatuation, or raging hormones, when I was 22 and 23, but I had had the good fortune not do them with the President of the United States or have them discovered by the special prosecutor. I assumed she was telling the truth. Bill Clinton admitted she was telling the truth. And if Hillary Clinton was angry and said some things that were out of order, wasn’t that entirely normal in a situation like that?

So. My admiration for Hillary Clinton grew as the years passed. She held important positions, got important work done. The investigations of her behavior never stopped, but they were all politically motivated, and she was repeatedly exonerated. Again, her behavior wasn’t any different or worse than that of any other politician.

Fast forward to 2016. A lot of changes have occurred in my life. I’ve been harassed, twice, in two different jobs (and possibly experienced discrimination, although that bit remains uncertain in my mind). The second incident is bad enough that — as I can see and say now — it ended my academic writing career. And I’ve read some research about the relative veracity of accusations women make of harassment and assault, most of which finds a “false accusation rate” of 12 percent or very much less. I now know myself exactly why the vast, vast majority of women don’t make these allegations, about all the forces that militate against us, about the calculations why no one will believe us or all of the negative things that will be done to us for speaking up.

And yet. I did not rethink.

People who despised our current president and did not want to vote for him told me they nonetheless could not vote for Hillary Clinton because she had stayed with Bill after the Lewinsky affair, and I disagreed with that conclusion. Thinking back to my early admiration for her, I reasoned — and I still believe this — that she had thought about how to accomplish her goals back in the 60s and 70s and realized that Bill Clinton was the deal she was going to have to make, the project she was going to work on. She was the smart one and he was the political genius. That you don’t just abandon something like that if you can find any way to stick with it. And that Hillary said bad things about Monica, well, that seemed entirely normal behavior to me in a situation like that. Even if I didn’t admire it, I found it understandable. What wife is supposed to embrace supportively the situation of the woman with whom her husband engages in adultery?

So when DJT appeared on stage with the women who had accused Bill Clinton, I read it as another political trick. Which it also was. But not only. It was a dog-whistle to his constituency. But — following my awareness that about 90 percent of such allegations are true, statistically I should have believed at least 90 percent of those women.

I did not rethink.

I did not rethink.

Now we’re in the middle of this uproar, which shows no signs of flagging, not least because there are probably hundreds of as-yet-uncovered incidents and crimes to be mentioned. And I am rethinking.

Why didn’t I believe Bill Clinton’s accusers? Or rather, I know why I didn’t in 1998. But I don’t know why I didn’t in 2016. What was wrong with me? Was I really just that excited about a woman’s candidacy? It’s implausible to me that Hillary Clinton didn’t know the truth about all of these incidents by 2016. Moreover, it’s implausible to me that her big feminist supporters didn’t know, either.

All I know is that I believe the first woman who accused Al Franken. I think he should resign. Most of my more liberal friends — including women who see themselves as feminists, and whom I see as feminist, too — think he should not. And I see liberals in the social media sphere doing all the things that Steinem did in 1998, that GOP supporters are doing to the women who accused Roy Moore: victim-blaming, slut-shaming, saying the ends justify the means, saying that we have to tolerate these behaviors in our midst for political reasons. It’s back to 1970s Wisconsin and women only saying those things for what they can get.

I’m not sure what I’d have done if I had been thinking straight last November, or during the primaries. The Sanders campaign was from the beginning deeply distasteful to me, and the situation did not improve as the campaign went on. He differed from Clinton on maybe six things and I felt he was wrong about four of them. I could not have voted for any other major or minor party candidate. I could not have stayed home. Or I don’t think so. Maybe I’d recapitulate my vote, in awareness of what I was doing.

I don’t know. I’m deeply nauseated and unsettled by the current atmosphere, and by my political choices.

So when the book ended up on the “hold” shelf in the library for me today, I turned it back in. Maybe I would learn something about the campaign by reading it, but I’m just too exhausted by all the lies of the last generations to be lied to again this week.

~ by Servetus on November 28, 2017.

19 Responses to “The book I didn’t read, and why”

  1. I totally get what you are writing about here – I remember how I thought and who I believed back then and why compared to now – we still have along way to go but slowly things had been changing and culminated in what is going on now and how people are finally beginning to be held accountable. And when you included the Rwandan genocide I vividly remembered the shock of all of Canada when Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire was found on the park bench in June of 2000. Things were finally brought into the light that needed to. His memoir is hard to read, I’ve only been able to read excerpts – I don’t think I could emotionally handle reading the entire book at once.

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    • I was really really angry at the time of the Rwandan genocide and still am shaken by it – and then Bosnia happened and it seemed to be happening all over again. It was really a time when it truly struck home how powerless the world is to stop atrocity. It was an awakening for me at the time I guess and it still hurts.

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      • I read Philip Gourevich’s book with a student group. I haven’t looked at Dallaire’s book but it’s impossible to read about without wanting to sob or vomit.

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  2. Excellent post. I feel in some ways we were expected to drink the Bill Clinton Koolaid and look the other way. I never could, and voted for a third party candidate, thinking Hillary would still win. I rember around this time seeing other cases of sexual assault not coming to justice locally and not understanding why others didn’t care.

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  3. Can you believe both the victims and still believe that the perp shouldn’t resign? What is to be gained by Franken resigning when Trump and his ilk are still there? Ultimately the one group who voted for Hillary nearly unanimously were black women – these women were most directly affected by the law and order choices that her husband made, and yet they voted for her.

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    • I don’t know. I’m wrestling with it because it’s true that I believe that the choice to vote for Stein in contested states meant that millions will probably lose health care. I was outraged beyond reason when I saw Susan Sarandon’s latest statement.

      At the same time: workplaces will never be safe places for anyone if people like Franken don’t resign. (Not just Franken, of course, but everyone who sexually abuses their underlings.) My African-American friends are saying, you’re worried about that? Lower-class women get raped at work regularly. I know this is true. I also think it is a concern for black women.

      My own damage is speaking here, too. I’m aware of that.

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    • Part of the question I am asking myself is something like: we stood behind Bill Clinton the rapist because of all the things we didn’t want to lose — and we lost them anyway. This is just another iteration of that question. Stand behind Franken the assaulter and Conyers the harasser because of all the things we don’t want to lose. The history of how that question gets resolved is not very promising.

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      • The people making the argument that we should stand behind Franken and Conyers because of what we could potentially lose…that argument seems pretty thin. Seems like there would be a good chance Conyers and Franken both could be replaced by Democrats. I’m frustrated that Nancy Pelosi didn’t have more to say than Conyers is an icon.

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        • I was angry when I heard Pelosi’s remarks as well. In general, I’m not a part of the faction who thinks she needs to go, but that statement was enraging.

          I think the argument is probably stronger now than it’s ever been — insofar as the Senate really hangs by a thread and a lot is at stake. But OTOH a lot was at state in 1996 and what we got from Bill Clinton’s presidency was largely not an improvement in social programs.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m sorry to hear you were a victim too, in particular that it was the end of your writing career. I am lucky in this respect.

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  5. this was a very open and honest peek into your warring thoughts and feelings, and I appreciate how hard it must have been to not only share them but to put them into words that made sense. what I found particularly interesting is the view of women in your childhood. I just assumed that since your mother seemed to be well read and interested in things other than the typical small town farmer’s wife would be, that her thinking would be more progressive. and maybe that’s just an oversight on my part, since I wasn’t a regular reader of your blog at the time that you shared thoughts and memories about her. my mother, on the other hand, taught me that men in power, and men who wanted power, always tried to take and always got away with it. we, as women, need to be on the look out for that and to combat it in the most effective way: behind the scenes. the public will always side with them b/c they will dig up dirt on the women & twist it, find the women’s weak spot and exploit it. so be conniving, be vindictive, and hit them where it hurts like a ninja in the night; seeing them crumble will be reward enough. that was a hard stance to embrace for me b/c I was not vindictive and I was naive enough to believe in the system & that good would prevail in the end. so when Hillary stood by her man, I saw that as her holding on for dear life to the political train that would get her where she wanted to go, and that thought really soured my stomach. I am not a career woman, and I come from a long line of non-career women, but I could never see myself sacrificing that level of integrity for professional aspirations. every one deserves a second chance, but a third and a fourth and a fifth…no. so by the time the 2016 election came along, I saw Hillary as just another member of the boys club who just so happened to be a girl. being stuck between a political rock and a hard place with my progressive mother and my conservative husband is always a difficult place to be for me, and that election was no different. it was a lose/lose situation for me. but the thing that I war with myself about is not whether I believe the accusers but rather where to draw the line in terms of separating personal character and professional ability. we continue to revere the politicians of the past who did the same things that our current politicians are doing. not that the behavior should be condoned, but when is it means for resigning? always? are there different levels? the cynic in me thinks that if you were able to make it to the top levels of government in this country, you’ve most likely had to sacrifice your integrity at one time or another in order to get there in the first place. while the optimist in me, the one who thinks that justice will prevail in the end, thinks it’s high time that ‘club’ mentality was disbanded. but what would that look like, realistically? who would be left? 😐

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    • I think one could have considered my mother progressive in the sense that she was not a libertarian, i.e., her political position was probably somewhat like that of someone like Bob LaFollette. But in every cultural respect she was deeply conservative. It’s one of the questions that’s been on my mind last year, as I’m sure she’d have voted for Trump and I’m not sure how our relationship would have accommodated that. There was a strain of attitudes toward men in her generation that sort of said, well, we’ll let them think they’re in charge but we know who really gets things done, but simultaneously condemned anyone who challenged that social picture. I’m glad your mother was so enlightened.

      re: not being vindictive and thinking that the system was heading in the right direction — I was totally that way, too, and it’s part of why I never wanted to call myself a feminist. I didn’t think we needed any organized entity or ideology to represent our interests; it was only when I realized men didn’t think that way at all that I changed my mind.

      re: making compromises — it’s definitely true that pursuing a career always asks one to make them. I am less bothered by real compromises (in Hillary Clinton’s case, that might have been something like the decision to support Bill’s career at the expense of her own) than by unnecessary ones (the going along to get alone where people being harmed) or the blatant, unnecessary exercise of power (what Franken seems to have done — he made women uncomfortable because he could and his defense is essentially that he didn’t even realize he was doing it — talk about power and privilege) or attempts to get it that don’t wash (Elizabeth Warren’s false claim to Native American heritage would be an example). The latter enrage me more, perhaps, because they turn into these things that tarnish worthwhile political programs.

      Maybe it’s just the case that people in power need to demonstrate for themselves that they have it, and that sexual harassment and assault are a way that they do it. So people in power will always behave this way and those whose wagons are hitched to those men (Hillary Clinton in this case) will rationalize that somehow. I really don’t believe that every high level politician or captain of industry or highly acclaimed artist has surrendered his/her integrity — but they have probably exercised their prerogative of power in other ways.

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      • my mother may have been progressive in how she tried to instill in me self-worth equal to men (which my father did not agree with) or that there are multiple ways to win battles of power, but she’s very outspoken in what she believes, to the point that she’s close-minded to anything she doesn’t agree with.

        during this election/aftermath, more than any other, all of the labels make me feel like I don’t fit anywhere. I’m one of those people who sees multiple sides to a situation and tries to understand each of those sides before taking a stance on anything, which is not something that most people consider a positive attribute when discussing politics and social issues. some see it as indecisiveness, while others have come right out and told me that it’s/I’m annoying. pair that with the idealist part of my personality that is constantly being let down, and it’s just difficult all the way around. so yes, it probably was an unfair generalization to say that everyone at high levels of gov’t have gotten there by less than admirable means at one point or another; that’s my bitterness talking 😉

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        • I just really badly want to know the truth (about anything) and I resent obfuscations. I may not always successfully avoid participating in them but I would like to do so. It also makes me “not an easy friend,” as I’ve been told so often. (Well, that and my willingness to talk about my reactions to things.) I do feel like the last fifteen years or so have involved an increasing tendency of politics to try to force us into boxes — this may have something to do with the Internet / social media insofar as I often feel with things like FB that they are trying to make me conform to their categories in what they serve me, as opposed to coming up with a category or categories that meet my needs.

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  6. […] Hillary Clinton, What Happened. I blogged about it here. […]

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