By David Michael Newstead.
In January, I spoke with the Twitter users that popularized #MasculinitySoFragile regarding their perspectives on gender in America. Skip ahead eleven months to the present and there’s still plenty to talk about after one of the most negative presidential campaigns in recent memory. For more insight, I checked back in with @anthoknees to discuss misogyny, gender, and where to go from here. Our conversation is below.
@DavidMNewstead: In your opinion, was 2016 a watershed year for misogyny?
@anthoknees: Within my 27 years of living? Definitely. Misogyny is not new, but just like Donald Trump’s election woke a lot of people up to the white supremacy that founded this country, Hillary Clinton’s loss woke up those paying attention to the sexism and misogyny that men benefit from. There has also been an increased call to U.S. college campus administrators to take responsibility for their Title IX failures, particularly around sexual assault. And locally, the Oakland and Richmond police departments are facing massive public scrutiny for sexual misconduct and rape with minors. Yet despite all of this, cisheteropatriarchy rules supreme and men still have the final say.
@DavidMNewstead: What’s behind that patriarchal dominance? And has your view of it changed over the course of the last year?
@anthoknees: While I think about masculinities, gender relations, and kyriarchy daily, I do not necessarily think pinpointing what’s behind the patriarchal dominance is something I can easily do. Based on what I’ve lived, read, observed, it seems to me that it is a learned behavior and a societal norm that has existed throughout time and go through various, often violent, cycles. Men are not born thinking that we are naturally better, stronger, or “destined” to dominate. In fact, men aren’t born, men are created. The same applies to every gender. While our genitals are a fact, our gender identity, gender expression, and even biological sexual identity are social constructions that really do hold us and everyone around us hostage. From gender reveal parties that begin before we’re even born to the sexual scripts we are taught throughout our lives what a man is expected to be, and how a man is supposed to dominate. It then becomes a legacy that we are more than willing to uphold.
So, to answer the second question, the last year has been the year I have really gotten serious about deconstructing my colonial notions of what gender is and what it can be. What I’m seeing now is that this patriarchal dominance, as you call it, is taught to us and we gladly uphold it because it benefits men more than it harms men–in almost all scenarios. Where it falls short is clearly the violence inflicted on our entire world in the name of patriarchy. It is not just women, trans folks, femmes, or even men. This notion that men must conquer people, land, and animals is at the root of capitalism and white supremacy. The overwhelming majority of white women who voted for Trump weren’t just voting for whiteness or supposed economic security. When a candidate can talk about grabbing women “by the pussy,” imitate a disabled reporter, insinuate that he’d like to sleep with his daughter, and still win so many popular votes and electoral votes? It’s a problem that is much bigger than individual acts of sexism or misogyny, and instead indicative of a much larger societal and structural problem. So again, this year was really about realizing that all of these systems are connected and while I cannot tell you why it started, it makes sense that it has continued.
@DavidMNewstead: Where does the struggle for gender equality go from here?
@anthoknees: It’s easy for me to be cynical, but where I do see hope is the next generation. For example, I see kids who know that they’re trans at a very young age and are finding protection and love from trans folks and queers my age and older. I see a lot more freedom sexually for young women. I see a lot more talk about folks who are intersex and feel like they don’t have to hide it anymore. And I see a whole generation that is realizing that a straight identity and a binary understanding of gender may not be the best way to go. I see us listening to the youth, particularly young women, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming folks of color. I see the current generation of folks who fit or don’t fit into these boxes listening to our elders. And then I see that our elders had folks to look up to, but a lot less and many who were a lot less visible than they are today. My fear is that with increased visibility comes violence and hate crimes. Anyone who is not cis, straight, male, and able-bodied is susceptible to be harmed in some way as we continue to fight. But in looking for some sort of gender equality, I see more attempts to work toward gender equity as the next step. That is at all levels, but particularly the decision-making positions in every aspect of our lives. Additionally, that equity must be guided and led with a truly intersectional framework. If we work toward gender equality or equity without a proper understanding of race, ethnicity, class, gender, nationalism, ability, and more? We’re doomed to repeat the past history of a white-woman only feminist politic, a western-only feminist politic, and overall exclusionary politics that have truly damaging consequences.
By David Michael Newstead.
This was originally posted on Collective Action for Safe Spaces. Learn More.
Brianne Nadeau is a member of the D.C. city council representing Ward 1, which includes Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, and parts of Shaw among other neighborhoods. Over the past year, Councilmember Nadeau has spearheaded efforts to address widespread street harassment throughout the District and today she joins me to discuss her work and the issues affecting residents of the nation’s capital.
David Newstead: Last December, you pushed for a roundtable on street harassment in D.C. What motivated you to do that?
Brianne Nadeau: When I first moved to the District of Columbia, I started getting involved in groups that were working to address street harassment. It was not my first time living in a city, but it was definitely my first time experiencing street harassment with the frequency that I did. And so, I sought out a community for that.
When I came to the city council, I realized that I could bring a new focus to this issue and bring more attention to it. Working with CASS and working with other community organizations that care about violence against women, we got the roundtable scheduled.
The roundtable was a big victory, but it is really only the beginning.
David Newstead: Did any of the experiences people shared at the roundtable make an impression on you?
Brianne Nadeau: Yes. I was actually brought to tears several times during that discussion. I think partially because I could relate to the stories, but also the stories about how young the girls or the women had been when their harassment began really moved me. We had a mother and daughter come testify. And the daughter is in school in D.C. and she was talking about the way she’s been harassed as a young girl. A lot of the women told stories about being harassed as young as age twelve. And the reason that was so moving to me is that it really makes me think about the spaces that we’re creating in our community or not creating in our community. For a young person, I want to be able to protect you and keep you safe and also let you be who you are. And a lot of times when we’re being harassed in public – women – we shrink. We make ourselves smaller. We try to not be seen. And that’s the exact opposite of what we’ve been trying to teach women all these years. Which is, you should shine. You should exert yourself. You should be heard. So, it’s really a mixed message.
David Newstead: If you’re comfortable talking about it, what’s been your experience with street harassment?
Brianne Nadeau: I’ve had several incidents. I shared a couple of them in the hearing. One was a time when I was walking to work down U Street near where I live and I was professionally dressed. I was just passing by a corner that I would always go by on my commute. This was in the morning before work on a weekday. And a man was just harassing me and I said “You know, I don’t appreciate that.” And he said “Well if you don’t want to be harassed, why do you dress like that?!” Which was strange to me. I mean, it was rude and inappropriate, but also I was dressed in a suit. So, what does like that mean? Right? What is the definition?
I’ve had countless experiences where I’ve just been walking up and down 14th Street. I sometimes describe it as the gauntlet and I pretty much assume if I’m doing that route that I’m going to be harassed on one side of the block or the other.
But since the roundtable hearing, I had one other incident that I’ve been sharing quite a bit, because really it’s the intersection of my world. So, I was up on 16th Street in Ward 4 in a fairly residential area and I was there for an event. So, I was walking down to the school up there. And as I was walking down 16th Street, a municipal vehicle passed me and a municipal worker in uniform on duty started harassing me. I was wearing a red dress, so he started off with “Hey, lady in red!” And I shook my head at him as he passed by and they stopped at a light. So, there he was. I’m walking and he has full access to me, because he’s stopped and he just keeps harassing me. And I think I said, “You know I’m sure you don’t mean it, but this is not something that we all appreciate. It’s not appropriate. Please stop.”
I said “Please stop” several times and he kept at it. I can’t even remember now what he said, but it was something like “Enjoy it” or whatever. Totally demeaning, but I had to keep going to my event. As I was walking, I typed a message to the director of that agency explaining what had happened. The director immediately responded and acknowledged that it was not appropriate, that it was not acceptable, and that it was not what those staff are trained to do. Of course, they are trained not to do that. And that the director would address it.
But I was struck in that moment that A.) how unlucky for that worker that he harassed the person who introduced the bill, right? But also he’s probably done it to many, many people and the odds are that he eventually would have gotten to me. A bigger piece is, you know what if we just started with training every D.C. city employee? That would be thousands and thousands of people who had the training not only about what street harassment is and not to do it, but also how to be an active bystander. So, I’m thinking more and more about that now and perhaps making that part of our Human Resources program, because it’s a start! These are our people.
David Newstead: Tied to that, you’ve recently been working on legislation to form a taskforce on street harassment. What do you hope to accomplish with that effort and where do you see it going?
Brianne Nadeau: CASS has done a great job of studying anecdotally what happens in D.C., but we would like some hard data on incidents of street harassment. So, we want more study and we also want educational resources. We’ve talked with the Office of Human Rights who would be managing this process if the bill passes. And they’re excited about it, because they feel like they can really contribute and do a real educational campaign around this issue. Because this isn’t about locking people up, right? That’s not what we seek to do. What we seek is to change behavior.
David Newstead: So, a lot of the groundwork is being laid?
Brianne Nadeau: We are laying it little by little. And you know no pride of ownership for me, really. We just want to get it done. So if my bill doesn’t pass, but we still get all these pieces done – I’m happy!
David Newstead: What are some of the barriers that you’ve encountered regarding your bill or just facing this wider effort?
Brianne Nadeau: Interestingly enough, there are two incidents that surprised me of people really being opposed to what I’m working on. I went on the radio to talk about the bill and the issue. Actually, the Director of the Commission on Arts and Humanities was also there, because they put money into arts grants around street harassment. Which is very exciting too! There’s a whole public art grant now.
David Newstead: Like murals? That’s cool.
Brianne Nadeau: Yeah! He’s a great person to talk to too. Very enthusiastic. So, the two of us were on the radio and a woman called in basically to be like “I don’t understand why you’re dealing with this issue. This isn’t a big issue.” And I always try to gently explain that it really is a big issue, because I think a lot of times women are conditioned to accept the behavior because they’ve had to. So, my goal is that we look at street harassment ten years from now the same way we look at workplace sexual harassment. I was just watching the HBO film that was made about the Anita Hill hearings and actually getting very worked up while watching it and thinking about all she went through at the time. But back then, you know your boss could proposition you, harass you, and it was just the sort of thing people would go to work and say “Well, that’s what happens to us, because we’re women,” like it was a fact of life. And now it’s completely unacceptable.
David Newstead: Like in Mad Men?
Brianne Nadeau: Exactly! But also, this was in the 1990s! In my lifetime, women were harassed in the workplace and it was totally acceptable. Or at least, it was accepted and now it’s not. And what did it take? It took some laws and it took a lot of education. I’d like to be able to do that with street harassment in this country, in particular in the District where I have a little bit more influence. But if we could do that and eradicate that from women’s lives, then we could start tackling other issues.
David Newstead: Just to broaden our discussion, there have been several incidents recently that CASS has been highlighting involving violence and harassment against the trans community and the LGBTQ community writ large. Can you speak to how these efforts would address the issues that they go through?
Brianne Nadeau: Well, the thing that we know about street harassment is that women of color and trans women are targets of it more than anyone else. And so, one of the goals in tackling this is to really address that as well. Because as a young white woman, my experience in the world is very different than a woman of color, than a trans woman. I want to insure that we are supporting those communities.
David Newstead: Just to ask about this, because I know Jessica Raven and other CASS people have been working on it a lot. Do you have any thoughts on their Safe Bar program and how does it factor into your work?
Brianne Nadeau: I love the Safe Bar program. Safe Bars is really exciting not only because of all the bar staff that are getting trained in the District, but how it’s really expanded beyond the District. You know, CASS says it in their name: the more we create safe spaces in our communities, the safer our women are going to be. And I think a lot of it is also just about reminding everybody in our community that it’s our responsibility to look out for each other and when we see harassment to say something about it, to diffuse the situation, and through all of that work ultimately be safer in our community.
David Newstead: You touched on this when you mentioned going on the radio, but you know there are a lot of issues affecting D.C. residents. Why do you think this is so important?
Brianne Nadeau: I think it’s important, because it touches the lives of so many women living in the District. There are very few women I’ve ever encountered that haven’t been harassed on the street. And when you start talking to women about this, they open up. I mean, the stories just pour out. So, it’s clear that it’s pervasive and it’s clear that it impacts people’s lives. In the most severe cases, it means women are afraid to take transit or they’re afraid to walk down the street and that’s deeply impacting their ability to have a career, to have a social life, and to just have a good quality of life.
By David Michael Newstead.
Moonlight is a story told in three parts: childhood, adolescence, and manhood. It follows a boy through the painful realities of growing up in Miami in the 1980s. It’s a humanized portrait of drug use, race, and sexuality that builds in intensity as the film progresses. The violence and traumas are vivid, but the performances make Moonlight so compelling. Beautifully shot, it’s an achievement on every level. Impactful and significant.