Thursday, August 15, 2013

The other side of the Limbaugh-Kutcher Love Fest

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has been pitching a big tent for actor Ashton Kutcher since Kutcher's insightful speech at Sunday's Teen Choice Awards.  The unusual seriousness of the speech in that venue was itself newsworthy, but Limbaugh's gushing over the speech has made more news than the actual speech did - probably because he is usually spewing bile over the Hollywood set.

Rush Limbaugh spent several minutes of his show on Wednesday playing clips from the Teen Choice Awards and patting Kutcher on the back for sharing the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps values that young people just are not hearing enough of. (Show portion and transcript)  Our youth, Limbaugh contends, are being lied to and being taught that rich people and evil corporations are taking opportunities away from them.

I agree with Limbaugh that Ashton Kutcher gave a great speech.  I watched it and was very impressed at his message, and his passion. (As a public speaking professor I was also pleased with his speech construction: tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, remind them what you just told them.)  I also agree that his messages - that hard work is necessary for success, that looks are superficial, and that you have power over your life - are ones that young people need to hear often.

But the Republican pundit overlooked a few points of Kutcher's life and speech.  Those hard-work opportunities the actor mentions happened before he was 19, when he was discovered in a bar and became a model.  Mere months later, he was signed to That '70s Show, reportedly after a single audition.  While I've heard modeling is back-breaking work, it is not a path to success available to many young people, and there is more than a small element of right-time-right-look in this story.

Because he became a model/actor/producer, Ashton Kutcher's criminal conviction for third degree burglary and his incomplete college education did not hinder his progress.  For most young people trying to get ahead, a record and the absence of a college degree would be like albatrosses around their necks.  Convicts are disqualified from several occupations and employers are not rushing to hire anyone with a record. Someone with a record getting a loan to start a business is about as likely as Rush Limbaugh supporting the Dream Act.

In his speech, Kutcher equates sexiness with intelligence, thoughtfulness and generosity. (How does Ashton exercise those to get his washboard abs I wonder...)  Rush does not mention that portion of the speech in his praise-fest - understandable, since generosity is not a core Republican value.  Yet, generosity is absolutely essential to a society's success.  There will always be people who need a helping hand because social strata (and in the United States, race) greatly limits their hard-work opportunities. Pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is not possible if there is no strap...or no boot.

Many rich people and large corporations fight tooth and nail, within and outside the law, not to pay their taxes.  Taxes pay for libraries, education, HeadStart programs, food assistance, public healthcare - boot straps for the underprivileged. Republicans stand with corporations to squash workers' rights and living wage requirements - turning hard-work opportunities into hamster wheels of poverty. Jobs and opportunities are persistently out of the reach of minorities and the poor because of racism and classism, removing rungs on the proverbial ladder to success.

I applaud Ashton Kutcher's speech, and even Rush Limbaugh's sharing it with his audience.  But if Rush and others of similar minds continue to ignore that we are not playing on a level-field and that all our bootstraps aren't of the same quality all the speeches in the world wont make a heck of a difference.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Put on your dark-colored glasses

Among my nearest and dearest on Facebook and Twitter there is a glaring distinction this morning:  Black friends are outraged at the not-guilty verdict rendered in the George Zimmerman trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Most white friends are silent or jubilant.

How could there be such a disparity?  We all heard the same evidence.  How can we see it so differently?  Again, going by social media postings we can think racism, the racial empathy gap, naivete, insurmountably different views of the world we live in, or vividly disparate life experiences.

It is a scary notion that justice faces these challenges every day in the United States.  Zimmerman was judged by a jury of his peers - people who likely view their world in the same way he does.  Chances are, they were not a jury of Trayvon's peers.

While most of us will never end up in front of a jury (despite what some folks think), our whole lives become scarier when we think of those challenges as part of our every day lives.  Are friendships even possible where there is an impossibility to see the world from each other's point of view?  Is rapport at work possible when experiences are so different?  Can there be commonality of purpose at PTA meetings if the fears and concerns for our children are so different?

A few weeks ago, while her racist language was breaking news, I was talking with two white women about celebrity chef Paula Deen.  That conversation drifted into a wider conversation about race, at which point one woman said to me, "You talk about race a lot."  (Trust me, I don't.) It occurred to me then, as it occurs to me now, that her (and others) inability to see that I do not have the luxury of ignoring race comes from those dissimilar life experiences.  She has never been followed around a store.  She has never worried about her husband or her sons being pulled over for no reason.  Every time someone has ever been rude to her, she didn't get a job, or she received poor service she assumed there was some reasonable explanation.  She never had to wonder if it was because of the color of her skin.

Does that mean that we can't be friends?  I hope not.  One day she may be a member of my jury pool.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The line between slut shaming and personal responsibility

If you are a YouTube watcher you may have seen popular vlogger Jenna Marbles' Things I don't understand about women: sluts edition and the responses from fellow vloggers Chescaleigh, Laci Green and others speaking out against her 'slut shaming.'  The women and their followers speak passionately from their positions - calling women on irresponsible behaviors or defending women against derogatory perceptions.
In her video Chescaleigh refers to a 2011 New York Times article that focused on an 11-year-old rape victim's dress and demeanor as an example of society's tendency to blame victims of sexual assaults. The inclination, like journalist James McKinley's, to find the 'why' of a rape in the behavior of the victim is not new.  Laws have had to be enacted to prevent that kind of thinking from affecting rape trials.  Statistics indicate that one of the primary reasons many rape victims hesitate to report their assaults is the fear of being tried in the court of public opinion.  In theory, we all know that a question like "What was she wearing?" is irrelevant to the crime.  Yet moral judgments about victims, and character assassinations in defense of accused perpetrators persist. Sexual assaults continue to be the only crimes about which people commonly wonder if the victim was not maybe asking for it.  And before Chescaleigh and others were slapping Jenna Marbles on the wrist in cyberspace, groups (such as those that have organized Slut Walks in Toronto, New York, and other cities around the world) were condemning these attitudes in the media and in other arenas as dangerous and misogynous.

Has our defense of women been one-sided though?  As we defend the rights of women, shouldn't we also promote personal responsibility? 'Slut shaming' and victim-blaming have become synonymous terms and it is now politically incorrect to criticize women for any kind of sexual behavior.  That there is never any circumstance in which a woman deserves to be raped is no reason for women to relinquish all responsibility for their behavior. We all take precautions to prevent personal harm - we lock our doors at night, we look both ways before crossing the road, we keep our social security and banking numbers private.  Those are all smart things to do. Why, in the name of feminine rights and equality, would we advocate anything less for women?  I will not be telling my little sisters, young female cousins or my co-eds that they should be throwing all sexual morality and self-respect to the wind because no one has the right to judge them.  Rather than telling women in my sphere of influence that they should be able to do all the things that men stereotypically do and not be besmirched, I will be giving my little brothers and nephews all the reasons why they should respect themselves and respect all women.