Look At Me (Part Three)

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When we think about the meaning of events in the world around us, we interpret them through a fusion of past, present and future horizons. Philosopher Hans-Georg-Gadamer wrote about the fusion of past and present horizons in the interpretation of texts, but I say that the future we want to bring into existence is also part of the eternal now that forms the context of our thinking.
We live in a country where writer Gore Vidal called the USA the United States of Amnesia. It often seems as if we cannot remember from one day to the next, much less the last century. However, if we are to understand the current moment, it is important to understand the past. When I wrote about the Anita Hill portion of the Clarence Thomas Hearings, I put that moment in a historical context. Here is some more of what I wrote:
“Once upon a time in America a discussion about birth control was considered obscene, and to tell even married people about ways to control child birth became a free speech issue. In 1912, Margaret Sanger, a nurse and birth control activist, started speaking to left-wing audiences about health issues, including sex education and venereal disease. . . . Sanger published “Woman Rebel”, a paper aimed at working-class women, and one of her goals was to advocate for “birth control.” She argued that a woman’s body was hers alone and to force a woman into motherhood was to deny a woman her right to life and liberty. She did not print birth control information, but she printed letters from working-class people requesting the information. The post office refused to mail the publication and indicted Sanger. She used the arrest to call attention to her cause. . . . Sanger did not stand trial for the charge but left the country instead.
Before leaving, Sanger published a pamphlet that gave information on contraception: “Family Limitation: A Nurse’s Advice to Women” which was distributed by her friends with the Industrial Workers of the World, a socialist organization working to end capitalism. Her pamphlet was intended for poor people who could least afford a large family and who did not have access to information that middle-class women had. Some working poor women were eager for the information, but many were embarrassed to speak of such things openly and others did not have the capabilities or the energy to put birth control information into practice.
Sanger found it difficult to enlist both poor and middle-class women in her struggle until she opened a birth control clinic in the fall of 1916. Making sure that the district attorney was notified, she was arrested, tried, and convicted. The publicity surrounding her arrest and trial brought wide support from middle-class women. As a result of her work, the New York Court of Appeals broadened the law so that physicians could give advice to married people about how to prevent or cure disease. Birth control information was given by doctors under this provision.
Once upon a time in America, women were excluded from political convention platform committee meetings. In 1924, a list of women’s concerns had to be taken into the platform committee meeting by a man. Those concerns included conservation, an 8-hour work day, collective bargaining, a federal employment agency, equal pay for equal work, federal aid for maternal and child health and welfare, and education to prevent venereal disease. Many of these concerns became federal policy during the New Deal. During the depression and during World War II, women found themselves caught between the domestic ideal and the realities of national emergencies.
Abortion had been legal in the United States until around the end of the 1800s. In contrast to their daughters’ daughters’ and their daughters, women’s rights advocates of the nineteenth century did not favor either contraception or abortion. According to historian Nancy Woloch “. . . throughout the nineteenth century, contraception and abortion were condemned by a wide range of women, from feminists to free love advocates to pious churchgoers, since both encouraged the sexual exploitation of women.” But in the early twentieth century, women began to celebrate their own sexuality and to reject Victorian notions of female purity and restraint. At the same time, economic realities set in and both men and women wanted to find ways to control childbirth. Illegal abortions became common and many women sacrificed their health and in some cases their lives. So, in the 1970s with rise of a new wave of feminism, the repeal of anti-abortion statutes became an important component of the feminist agenda.”
Since Roe v Wade gave women across the country the right to an abortion, anti-abortion forces have been working to undo the decision. States have passed a number of restrictions that have nibbled away a woman’s right to choose. When Clarence Thomas was nominated to replace Justice Thurgood Marshall, his anti-abortion stance was an issue just as Brett Kavanaugh’s anti-abortion position is an issue today.
However, the issue before the nation in the case of Thomas 27 years ago and in the case of Brett Kavanaugh today has to do with their personal conduct and whether or not the alleged conduct is enough to keep them off the Court. I say again that I believed Anita Hill then, and I believe the women now.
However, there is a portion of women’s history that demands our attention now that was not an issue then. In the #MeToo moment when woman are coming forward with their stories not only of sexual harassment, but of sexual assault and of rape, the question becomes how will the United States Senate and the society as a whole respond to survivors of sexual assault.
The president of the United States has fallen into a familiar pattern. Deny. Deny. Deny. Then, attack the accuser. He did this at a campaign rally in Mississippi where he mocked Dr. Ford’s testimony before the Senate. Thus, making her a victim a second time. Then he relied on the tendency of women to side with their men rather than to stand in solidarity with other women. Think of your husbands and your sons, Trump told the women in the audience. This is a historical fact that Simone de Beauvoir identified in her seminal work – “The Second Sex”.
At the same time, this is another way to refuse to see the women. Look at the men. Do not see the trauma that the women who have accused Kavanaugh have lived with their entire adult lives. Look at the men. Do not see the millions of women who have experienced sexual assault and still carry the trauma of the assaults with them throughout their lives.
In a fusion of past present and future, people who refuse to see the women are making a future of continued sexual assault and physical and psychological violence toward women inevitable. They seem to want a future that looks like the past, not one that will hold powerful men accountable for their actions. On the other hand, this is a moment to say to women and to girls, to men and to boys: you cannot use people as instruments of your personal pleasure without consequences.
Look at me. This is an imperative from women resounding in the fusion of past, present, and future horizons. This is not the moment to refuse to look, to see, and to act accordingly.
See: Simone de Beauvoir, “The Second Sex” and Nancy Woloch, “Women and the American Experience” 2nd edition.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”