Earlier this week, I watched in horror as longtime NBC journalist Andrea Mitchell was physically removed from a State Department photo op. The diminutive but determined reporter sought answers regarding key foreign policy concerns in China and Russia from State Department Acting Spokesman Mark Toner. Secretary of State and Big Oil shill Rex Tillerson has thus far refused to engage the media.
It’s an unprecedentedly silent time from the government’s foreign policy apparatus, and Mitchell has a duty to represent the public interest. Without a flow of information, the correspondent refused to act the part of photo op handmaiden for the administration. For this presumptive violation of First Amendment boundaries in the Trump era, Mitchell was all but shoved from the press room. Though her would-be intimidators included Trump staffers of both genders, it’s hard not to wonder if a male journalist like CNN Jake Tapper’s physical space would have been so casually invaded.
Then yesterday, my partner showed me a clip from the House Energy and Commerce Committee debate over Speaker Paul Ryan’s atrocious new bill – the “American” Health Care Act. Republican Representative John Shimkus characterized pool coverage for prenatal care as a constraining “mandate” placed upon our male citizenry. Obviously this is so misogynist and wrong on so very many levels, I CAN’T EVEN. But that, in my opinion, was not the most troubling aspect of Shimkus’ conversation with Democratic Representative Mike Doyle.
Nope. The real kicker is delivered by Doyle’s rejoinder to Shimkus’ jaw-droppingly ignorant observation: “There’s no such thing as à la carte insurance, John.” As if women don’t assume pool risk for prostate exams and millions of limp dicks. I don’t think Big Pharma runs all those erectile dysfunction television product ads as a public service.
As if women aren’t the life givers to this nation’s children, whom Republican lawmakers profess to care deeply about – until they come out of the birth canal. Then the little takers are on their own.
Not only must women physically bear all of humanity. In America, according to Shimkus and too much of his conservative ilk, they should be also charged more for the burden. Men should be allowed a path for shirking collective responsibility. Because freedom is hierarchical in this world view, and women are reminded as often as possible that they occupy the bottom rung.
Mike Doyle could have zeroed in on the essential atrocity of Shimkus’ free market gender discrimination, a codified by law approach to female othering. Instead he chose an existential lament on the limits of insurance business model feasibility for funding segmentation.
When I took a three-month news, social media and writing sabbatical after the 2016 presidential election, it wasn’t only because I was sad, angry and frightened over Hillary Clinton’s specific loss to a human Cheeto devoid of character or common morality. I was also stunned and heartbroken by the entire campaign’s exposure of the nation’s deeply rooted and stubbornly backward misogyny. It’s one of the few truly bipartisan issues on which our presumed and elected leaders unite.
Permit me to bring this to a personal level, with a couple anecdotes from a recently re-engaged female writer.
I’ve resumed somewhat normal social media activity only recently, perhaps less than two weeks. As a huge Chicago sports fan, I cheered yesterday’s decision by the Bears to release longtime underperforming Quarterback Jay Cutler from the team. I shared the good news across my networks on Facebook and Twitter. I should also mention that I do not generally interact with people I don’t know on either platform. So it was from a male “friend” that I received mansplaining corrective notes:
“I played football for many years as a kid and in high school, so, I know, from experience…. It’s always best to walk a day in that person’s shoes before forming an opinion about them.”
How does he know I’ve never played quarterback? And the patronizing satisfaction gleaned from sparing the embarrassment of an ill-informed sports opinion is clearly expressed. Nevermind the three decades I’ve spent studying the game, the NFL and the Bears specifically. My vagina prevented me from playing high school football so I’m dismissed from the conversation.
Over on Twitter, a former male colleague offered to educate me on libel after my last Contemptor column about Trump’s exhaustion of the media force. Unless there was a secret man meeting where the definition of the term was changed and implemented, I remain confident in my own understanding. And I’m comfortable with the distance of my work from the risk.
The point is this. These men do not intimidate me. They do not have the power to undercut my experiences and knowledge. But the simple, constant acts of deflection required by women to hold onto and assert their personhood are tiring business. It’s day to day exhausting in spheres both online and off. It’s personal, it’s social, political and in the battle for health care, a matter of life and death.
So I’ll stay out here. Andrea Mitchell will continue getting herself tossed from press rooms and maybe one day soon, we’ll convince white male lawmakers that they look incredibly stupid and regressive having any debate about 51% of the population that doesn’t include them.