Last night I went with my book club to see the new Wonder Woman movie. It was great—really, really, great. Greek mythology, good story line, awesome fight scenes and special effects, and nice chemistry between the actors. I’ve got a bit of a crush on Gal Gadot. She was wonderful. She portrayed Diana as being strong, intelligent, funny, compassionate, fearless, and honorable. Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, grows up on an island in paradise full of fierce Amazon women and goes on to fight with a scrappy band of heroes in World War I, where she encounters all kinds of rules about what women are supposed to be, and how we’re supposed to act. What I loved most about the movie is instead of conforming to these societal expectations, staying on the sidelines, she makes things happen. She doesn’t ask for permission. She knows what needs to be done and she takes the lead. She’s not worried about what people think of her or if anyone will follow her. She jumps in and gets it done.
Maybe Wonder Woman is the hero we need right now. She’s a good example of a leader, no matter your gender. We need people to take the lead, to jump in and make things happen.
It’s not been an easy week for many of us. Our president decided to withdraw from the Paris accord, jeopardizing our relationships with other countries and sending the message that America doesn’t care about the fate of our planet. Most of us do care though—we do believe our world is in trouble and we want clean energy. Our leader isn’t listening to us and is not representing our interests. He doesn’t seem to realize that he works for us, not the other way around.
That’s why I participated in the #MarchforTruth. We were a small but mighty group—only about 70 souls in our community attended today, but there are many more of us out there. Not everyone can attend every event, but we are united in our resolve to resist the forces threatening the environment, education, healthcare, equality, and our democracy. I was disappointed and embarrassed by the president’s decision, but heartened by the determination at city and state levels to honor the accord, reducing practices that harm the environment and embracing environmentally-friendly technology.
Similar to Wonder Woman, progressive leaders aren’t asking permission—they are taking charge and moving forward. If we can’t rely on the commander in chief to represent our interests, we’re just going to have to save the world ourselves.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
This week my thirteen-year-old son remarked that the U.S. presidential election is a lot like Pokémon Go. “How’s that?” I asked.
My son explained that two of the Pokémon teams, Valor and Mystic, are at war. “I’m biased,” he said, “because I’m in Mystic. Not to be ‘team-ist’, but Valor acts more like the Republican Party and Team Mystic acts more like the Democrats.” He went on to tell me a story he heard, where a restaurant owned by members of Team Valor gave Valor members a discount while charging members of Mystic more. “But to be fair,” he said, “there are examples of Team Mystic doing that same thing.”
“So what do you think about that?” I asked him. “Is it fair for one team to charge members of another team more? What if the restaurant were owned by white people and they gave discounts to white people, but charged black people more?”
“That wouldn’t be fair,” he decided. “That would be racist.”
This is not the first time we’ve talked about racism (or other social justice issues). This election year has not been pretty. No, it’s been pretty horrifying at times, but I have not shielded my kids from the ugliness. Instead, we talk about the things we hear candidates say and how those things could affect our country.
My sons are growing up in a different world than the one I grew up in. When I was in middle school twenty-something years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to hear racial slurs from my older relatives. I lived in a small town in Arizona, not far from the Mexican border. I’d estimate a third of my classmates were Latino. Some were new immigrants to our country, some came from families who had been U.S. citizens for several generations. I don’t remember thinking about race much—my classmates were simply my friends—until it was brought to my attention. One message I heard from a family member was I shouldn’t date boys from other races because if we ever had kids they’d be “mixed-race children” and wouldn’t fit in with society. Now I have a nephew who is bi-racial, and while I’m not naïve enough to think he’ll never experience racism, I truly hope he’ll live in a better world than the one I knew.
I had friends in high school who I later learned were part of the LGBTQIA community. Even though I knew gay people existed in the world, I didn’t know much about them or the issues they faced. At the time, I had no idea there was diversity within the LGBTQIA community, that people identify in different ways. Looking back, I understand why my friends had to keep that part of their identity secret. Coming out in a small town like mine was dangerous. At best, you would have been ridiculed and shunned. At worst, you might have been beaten or killed.
I recognize that my children and I are privileged. We’re white, heterosexual Christians. No one questions our race, sexuality, or religion. We’ve never had our citizenship questioned. None of us have disabilities, so we have not been ridiculed or patronized for that. No matter how much we discuss social justice in our home, my boys still have more privilege than other people in society, and while they can be allies, there is no walking in other people’s shoes. Not really. My children can have empathy and be educated on issues, but there is no educational experience that will make them understand how much privilege they truly have.
Still, I’m hopeful about their generation. My kids were in pre-school when our first black president was elected. They have no memory of a president before Obama. They have had friends of all different races, and even some from different countries. They’ve had teachers and role models who identify as LGBTQIA, and they are aware that some of my friends are members of that community. They accept all of these people as family and friends—as equals. It’s that simple for them.
My boys see the ugliness of the election for what it is—bullying—and they know bullying is wrong. They speak up when they see bullying happen at school, and they and their friends stand up for classmates.
So, as worried as I feel about the outcome of this election and the thought that electing Trump could negatively affect the lives of friends who aren’t white, or heterosexual, or Christian, (among many other concerns I have about his policies), I’m not worried about one thing. I believe my sons’ generation will hold to their values of accepting and respecting others. They will be resilient, no matter who becomes the next president.
By the way, I asked my son what he thought about having a president who was a woman. He shrugged. The idea wasn’t novel. Why would it be? He’s known teachers, principals, dentists, and doctors who were women. Both of his parents have doctoral degrees. His grandmother served as mayor in our hometown. In his mind, a woman can be whatever she wants to be. When I was growing up in the late twentieth century, the idea of a woman as president was frowned upon. Know what? I like the twenty-first century better.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
This post is less about politics and more about critical thinking. I’m not going to tell you who you should vote for—that’s your prerogative. I will challenge you to think critically though. Dr. Eskue Ousley is dusting off her Ph.D., so you’ve been warned. If you’re okay with thinking about tough issues, read on.
This week I read an article where Donald Trump stated, “Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote.” He went on to say, “The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card.” My point is not to defend Clinton (she’s capable of doing that herself, and already has), but to say that Trump has a history of making misogynistic statements. He also has a history of making generalizations.
What’s a generalization? Allow me to explain it using an example from grad school. I had this fantastic mentor at the University of Arizona named Gary Rhoades. He’s a brilliant professor with a gift for telling stories. One day his young daughter threw a banana at him. He got on to her about it, telling her not to throw things at people. Her response? “But Daddy, all little girls throw bananas.” A generalization is a concept inferred from specific cases. However, as in the above example, it may not be grounded in facts. It should be, if it aims to be credible.
Back to Trump—he too is making a sweeping statement (on par with a justification for throwing fruit), but where are the facts? What’s his source for saying a candidate would get five percent of the vote? Is he citing a poll? Has he done quantitative research, conducting surveys with representative samples? Doubtful. In all fairness, other people make generalizations as well. I daresay we all do (and that’s a generalization right there).
But what, exactly, is the “woman’s card”? I guess he is saying the only reason women will vote for Clinton is because she is a woman. Maybe some women will vote for her because of that. I cannot speak for other women voters, but I feel confident I can choose the candidate who best represents my interests without regard to gender. I also feel confident there is no force in hell that would make me vote for somebody who vomits sexist comments like he’s got diarrhea of the mouth, but I said I wasn’t going to tell you who you should vote for, and I won’t tell you who you shouldn’t vote for.
I would like you to think about those sexist statements, however, and to consider how even small aggressions based on gender affect society. (By the way, aggressions can go both ways, and they are not harmless.) We’ve lived in a world where rules were made based on gender. Some things have changed, to be sure. That’s why I have more education than my great-grandmother did.
There are some things that still need to change. I would like to see a world where my great-granddaughter can walk down the street without being harassed because she happens to be female. I would like her to never experience the fear she could be abducted and raped because some man drives past her as she’s walking alone, and tries to convince her to get into his car. That happened to me when I was a teen. The guy drove slowly past me, and when I crossed the street to avoid him, he turned his car around and followed me. He stopped when I entered the parking lot of a shopping center, where there were other people. This didn’t happen in a big city, rife with crime. It happened in my small, supposedly safe home town. The real tragedy? Every woman I know has a story like this. This is not a generalization. This is qualitative research, supported by quantitative research.
I would like to live in a world where I form my own definition about what it means to be beautiful. Beauty is, after all, subjective. It is in the eye of the beholder. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve observed that Trump often makes statements about beauty. He seems obsessed with the topic, using the phrase “beautiful women” and ranking women by attractiveness. To my ears, “beautiful women” sounds like some kind of sacred voting demographic, or perhaps a type of mythical beast, too ethereal for the likes of us lesser mortals. If you want to have a laugh, read his quotes, substituting the word “unicorns” for this phrase. As in: “I tend to like unicorns more than unattractive women.” Or “I love unicorns and unicorns love me.” Ridiculous, isn’t it?
I know beautiful women. They are smart and kind, and because of that, they are beautiful in my eyes. I believe Trump’s definition has nothing to do with intelligence or character. I suspect it has to do with genetics and surgery. I’m not against genetics or surgery. If your DNA has provided you with highly symmetrical facial features, good for you. If you feel you can’t be beautiful without altering your body, go for it. Who am I to tell you what to do with your body?
Do whatever makes you feel beautiful, whatever your gender. Wear what you want. Wear makeup. Or don’t wear makeup. Plank. Or don’t plank. But don’t tell me I can’t be beautiful because I choose to do something different, or because I believe being educated is part of what makes me beautiful. I’m certain I’ll never make Trump’s list of beautiful women, and I don’t care. Why would I even want to be on that list? It’s demeaning. He can say anything he wants (and he does), but that doesn’t define me as a woman or a voter. Like I said, I’ll vote for the person who best represents my interests.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
After I finished my master’s degree and got my first grown-up job, I decided to reward myself with a trip. I had been focused in college, trying to get through as quickly as possible to cut expenses. Perhaps overly focused—I took classes year-round, dedicating summer and winter breaks to study, as well as to working to pay for school. I’m not sure I would do it the same way if I were to go back in time—maybe I wouldn’t push so hard. Maybe I’d take advantage of a study abroad opportunity. At the time though, travel wasn’t something I could afford.
The first trip I took was to Europe. Since then, I’ve gotten to go to other places, like Australia and Puerto Rico. That first excursion was different though—I was on my own for the first time, halfway across the world. Well, not quite on my own. I signed up with a tour group, expecting to meet up with other travelers in their twenties. Instead, I landed in Amsterdam and discovered my fellow travelers were all of retirement age. After the initial awkwardness wore off, I had a wonderful time. It was like traveling with two dozen affectionate grandparents. I still stay in touch with one of the women I met. She’s now in her nineties, and sharp as ever. From her, I learned that having style is more about confidence than what you wear. She had so much charisma, it was easy to forget her age.
One of the most important lessons I learned from that trip is the world is not a theme park created for my amusement. I wasn’t in Disneyland. I was visiting real countries with real consequences. This was most evident to me in Venice. Our group was headed to dinner, and somewhere, dazed with wonder walking those beautiful labyrinthine streets, I fell behind. For one panicked moment, I was lost. I didn’t know where I was, or where we were headed. I knew no one (though some of the men in the streets seemed awfully eager to get to know me). Suddenly, the world seemed dark and dangerous. Luckily, our guide noticed I was missing and backtracked to find me. I was fortunate someone was looking out for me. From then on, I took pains to stay with the group.
Another important lesson from that trip was this: people think differently, and that’s okay. Growing up in America, I was unaware that people in other countries are not as squeamish about nudity. Eager to use the hotel’s pool in Munich, I donned my suit, grabbed a towel, and opened the door to the recreation area. An old man sat just inside the entrance, a white bathrobe draped over his shoulders. I’m not sure why he had the robe, because he sure wasn’t using it for its intended purpose. I got an eyeful. Old man full frontal. Shocked out of my naivety, but determined to try to fit in with the locals, I resisted the urge to run back upstairs to my room, and swam anyway. I wasn’t ready to shed my own suit, nor will I ever be, but I realized my way of thinking wasn’t representative of the rest of the world. I think that’s a good thing, because I learn more interacting with people who are different from me.
Then there was my trip to Australia. One night I gazed at different constellations than the ones I knew, and watched as a fruit bat sailed past the face of the moon. I met scuba divers from all over the world in the Great Barrier Reef, played underwater paparazzo with a shark, fed kangaroos, sat in on lectures at a university, and discovered that beets come standard on burgers in Australia. I’m not a fan of beets, but I loved learning that ketchup is called tomato sauce in the land down under. Even better, child safety seats are called baby capsules, which sounds much more exciting. Like tiny flying saucers for babies.
I also learned that the United States is on a world stage. At the time, one of the Bush daughters was getting married. Most Americans I knew could not have cared less, but I remember watching the news in Australia, which covered the story. Over b-roll of collectible plates featuring the young couple, the reporter claimed the nuptials of the President’s daughter were “as close to a royal wedding” as America gets. That aside, the Australians I spoke with knew more about American politics than I did.
One day a cabbie asked me about the upcoming presidential election, and whether I planned to vote for Obama or McCain. He favored Obama because he felt world relations would fare better under his leadership. I was surprised he had an opinion about it—I knew nothing about Australian politics, other than what I’d seen on the news during my stay. I realized how we vote in America doesn’t just affect the United States. There are global implications. I knew this, in theory, before that conversation, but hearing it from someone with a different worldview underscored the point.
As I’ve followed our current presidential election, I’ve been thinking about that cabbie a lot lately. I wonder what he thinks about this round of candidates. I hope, as a country, we do right by him and our other international neighbors. I hope we vote wisely for all of us.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016