Some preliminary thoughts….
Of Traffic and Trump
Debate hangover abating, but slowly. I woke up thinking of Claude Levi-Strauss’s classic work on the exchange of women and alliance theory, and how Gayle Rubin reworked his male-dominant-yet-oblivious-to-gender model. In her classic The Traffic in Women, Rubin argues that within capitalist patriarchy, women are the currency — the commodities or objects exchanged — as men negotiate their relationships with one another and jockey for position within a male dominated hierarchy. To quote Rubin, “If it is women who are being transacted, then, it is the men who give and take them who are linked, the woman being a conduit of a relationship rather than a partner to it.”
Segue to Trump’s lewd conversation with Billy Bush and on to Trump lining up four of “Bill’s Women” prior to the debate with hopes of positioning them among his supporters at the subsequent town hall meeting. Who is really the audience for this “locker room banter” and offensive discussion of which male has access, rightfully or wrongfully, to a woman’s body? And what does it mean when well-intentioned men denounce Trump, offended for their wives/daughters/mothers/sisters? It ends up being all about men. Women and access to them is patrolled by men in an effort to assert their position within a hierarchy of other men. Who gets to make the sexually aggressive remarks and moves becomes a game of, well, which male trumps the other while the women and their bodies are the medium through which this elaborate cock fight occurs.
And the visuals from last night? Many have already tweeted about this and I agree with the stalking imagery. I also note the unspoken aggression that kept Trump erect throughout the debate (sorry, but it is all so phallic that I will not feign resistance to the temptations of language). The predator moving from side to side, always in the frame, always shadowing his target before he pounces. Only a rich white male could get away with that posture last night. Imagine if he had been an African-American man prowling and scowling behind a white woman? Again, men jockeying for position with other males: class, color and masculinity converge. Rich and white trumps…well, pretty much everyone else it seems.
And for those good, decent men who do not speak or act this way, and might attempt to intervene to express their disapproval when other men begin the verbal sparring and the cock fight? I know you pay a price for “not being a good sport,” for “not being one of the guys,” for being — I bet you have heard this a few times — a “wimp” who has been “pussywhipped.”
The take away from all of this? Power and privilege do not cede of their own accord. Make some noise. Get out and vote.
Today we await word of the judgment in this long search for justice for the victims and survivors of the 1985 massacre in Accomarca, Peru. Chapters 11 and 12 of Intimate Enemies are based upon ethnographic fieldwork in Accomarca during and after the TRC. This massacre was not a case of “one bad apple,” but part of a planned counterinsurgency offensive carried out by the Peruvian armed forces. Justicia por Accomarca!
Thank you, Vice President Biden, for speaking out. I post this for every student who has reached out to me about what happened to them on the Harvard Campus, and in an appeal to my former colleagues at Harvard to finally stand up and speak out about the professorial sexual misconduct they have silently witnessed over the years. We are responsible for adding that missing piece to the nationwide conversation about Title IX. We owe it to our administrative staff, our students and our untenured colleagues — the most structurally vulnerable vis-a-vis senior faculty — to step up and end the complicity that allows this abuse of power to continue. And if you are still searching for the words and for the courage, watch The Hunting Ground, watch Spotlight ….it is time to do something, to say something. It’s on us.
I fervently hope my lawsuit makes it safer for concerned faculty to step forward and speak out about campus sexual assault and harassment, and that this ruling helps to challenge the retaliation against faculty who join our students in working to ensure that college campuses are safer and more equitable learning environments. The brave young women and men who are organizing across this country deserve our admiration and support. They are my inspiration.