An Elephant on Fire


From time to time, a bad habit bursts into flame. Most bad habits are, by definition, world views and behaviors that don’t necessarily play well. But, for the most part, they stay at a level low enough to be ignored. Chewing on fingernails, for example. Interrupting is another one.

Some of these bad habits arise from social agreements about the worth of people that just aren’t fair – that erase dignity. And some of those, as they come to more general awareness, are referred to as elephants in the room.

Sexism – an elephant since the slow and steady emergence of women’s suffrage early in our country’s history – seems now to have burst into flame.

Of course, the problem does pop up in public discourse. Questions of women’s rights to determine what happens with our bodies, questions of equal pay for equal work, urgent questions of violence – each is regularly in public conversation.  Then come tweets by GOP nominee Trump on women’s bodies, on our appeal as objects of beauty and sexual gratification. A shift in public decorum that deeply troubles many citizens but comforts others. The comfort from public words that finally “Tell it like it is.”

I have to say, I like the telling it like it is part.

And, all of this filling the air in the historic moment when the United States has its first woman presidential nominee.

Catalytic? Probably. The elephant is on fire.

Unacceptable as sexism is – horrific as experiences of rape, domestic abuse – infuriating as careers at lower pay, glass ceilings, and being erased daily in barrages of gendered stereotypes – this conflagration is actually a good thing.

Women talk about these things. And we don’t.

Women are, no matter our conversation, massively fatigued by hostile environments playing as normal. We need our work, we need to care for our families. We’re busy and tired and “just one person,” so we go along. Sometimes we’re aware that going along keeps the bad habit of institutionalized sexism going. That makes us more tired.

Then come times like these. Like the powerful and overdue public conversations linked with the Black Lives Matter movement, the current sexism-on-steriods may be enough also to catapult that ubiquitous issue above the threshold for denial.

Since before its formation, racism has never not been going on in this country. Sexism, too. Both have deadly consequences – each urgently needing to be addressed with vigor, fervor and wisdom. And, both linked with presidential politics.

In matters of socially sustained oppression, actual and enduring cultural change may only begin when the covert is made overt. Nominee Trump is obliging. Nominee Clinton is responding. And thanks to the related bursts of manic media (regardless of content), sexism is joining racism in the public’s face.

I’m good with there being no escape.

And talking about these things is only one step. What each of us does must be deeply understood as essential to any solution. Dignity isn’t a mystery and it isn’t that difficult to live from – except for our fears, based too often in direct experiences, of having our dignity denied.

There’s an elelphant on fire.  It’s time for action.


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