Calling Liberals Out about Kellyanne Conway

I asked you all not to make me do this again — to make me write something where it comes across like I’m defending Donald Trump. For those that haven’t heard me say it before, I don’t like the man. I don’t like what he stands for. I don’t like that my nieces and nephew are spending their formative years in a world where he is President. And I don’t like Kellyanne Conway either, for that matter.

Content Note: Sexism, Crude commentsRoadway stop sign. Keyword: Kellyanne ConwayImage Description: Red roadway stop sign

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I’m Canadian, but I watched the campaigning for Election 2016 from the word “Go!” I didn’t like Kellyanne Conway when she was working for Ted Cruz, I liked her even less during Donald Trump’s campaign, and I like her even less now. I have a grudging something-very-vaguely-resembling-respect for her in that I think that she knows that she’s full of shit and she’s found a way to weaponize it — The Daily Show did a good piece on Kellyane Conway’s rhetorical strategies  — and you can’t deny that, while it was working, the method behind her madness was arguably brilliant. But the fact remains that she’s full of shit, and it’s hard for me to have any long-term something-very-vaguely-resembling-respect for someone who lies so easily and so much that Morning Joe will no longer interview her.

That’s a low, right there.

There is plenty — plenty — about which Liberals can rightfully criticize Kellyanne Conway:

  1. How she joined Trump when it looked like he’d win, after personally maligning him as part of the Cruz team. Although, to be fair, she wasn’t the only person involved in Election 2016 who sold out in this way.
  2. Her allegiance to a bully of a President who’s just about every “-ist” there is.
  3. Her refusal to give a straight answer to a question — the reliance on lies, deflection, and denial. Not something that just she does these days, and not something just the GOP does, but frustrating all the same.

However, liberals are *not* sticking to criticisms of her on these grounds. I’m hearing some nasty sexist attacks of Kellyanne Conway from liberals, in conversation and on Facebook and other places, and that needs to stop.

We are better than this.

If You Don’t Like What Kellyanne Conway is Doing or What She Stands For

Then you need to say so and make an argument.

Don’t:

  • Say, “She’s ugly” or “She’s haggard-looking” or “She looks like a coke addict.” Especially if you’ve talked in the past about how sexist it is that there’s so much focus on looks in women in politics.
  • Call her a “whore.” I shouldn’t even have to explain why this is wrong.
  • Make crass, sexist jokes about her. At the Washington Press Club Annual Dinner, Cedric Richmond said, about the picture profiled in the video below: “And you can just explain to me…that circumstance, because she really look kind of familiar in that position there…”

ETA: Richmond’s joke was in response to a thread in a comedy routine earlier in the evening by Republican Tim Scott that “a whole lot worse” had happened on that sofa in the 1990s. Richmond’s full joke (as opposed to the bit that CNN chose to air) went as follows: “Tim, you kind of opened the door. I really just want to know what was going on there, because, you know, I won’t tell anybody. And you can just explain to me that circumstance — because she really looked kind of familiar in that position there. Don’t answer — and I don’t want you to refer back to the 1990s.”

Image Description: Kellyanne Conway kneels on a white sofa in the Oval Office, knees slightly apart, back against the back of the sofa, looking at her phone. She wears a dark dress that ends just above her knees.

Richmond has since apologized to Kellyanne Conway for his joke, and insists that he didn’t mean for it to be sexual. I wasn’t sure that it was at first, but I changed my mind before I even heard the full joke, after thinking about just what was aired on CNN. I’m still mentioning it in this call-out despite Richmond’s apology because Nancy Pelosi didn’t seem to think that the “familiar” joke required an apology when she was interviewed about it on “State of the Union” on March 5.

In case the captioning doesn’t work, here’s the transcript:

Jake Tapper: I need to ask you about this rude joke that was told this week by a member of your caucus, a Democratic Congressman, Cedric Richmond, at the Washington Press Club Annual Dinner at the expense of White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway. Take a listen:

Cut to Cedric Richmond at the event

Richmond: And you can just explain to me that circumstance — because she really looked kind of familiar in that position there.

Cut to Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper: Leader Pelosi, the joke was sexist, it was disgusting…shouldn’t the Congressman apologize to Kellyanne Conway and, honestly, why isn’t the Democratic Party expressing outrage about this?

Nancy Pelosi: I wasn’t at the dinner; I’m just finding out about this. The fact is, I’m still in sort of a state of, “What is going on here?”, that the person who occupies the White House is the person who was on that Hollywood video that said the crude things he said about women. You all are criticizing Cedric for something he said in the course of the evening, and maybe he should be criticized for that, I just don’t know the particulars. I do every day marvel at the fact that someone who said the gross and crude things that Donald Trump said wouldn’t even be allowed in a frat house, and now he’s in the White House.

Jake Tapper: Well, I think we’ve covered the Access Hollywood tape quite a bit, but I guess the question is: If one only criticizes Republicans when they make crude comments, does that not undermine the moral authority if you don’t criticize when Democrats make crude comments?

Nancy Pelosi: Well, I think everyone was making crude comments and I, I just don’t know, I wasn’t at that dinner. But I was at the dinner last night at the Grid Iron Club and we were all, I think, quite, shall we say, respectable. I’ll look at what my colleague said there. But I do think that, in the Oval Office, we were always…always with decorum appropriate for the White House.

Nancy Pelosi, Meet Me at Camera Three

I thought that the Access Hollywood video was disgusting, too. But Kellyanne Conway wasn’t there, and even if she was — citing Donald Trump’s record of bad behaviour toward women doesn’t mean that a member of your party gets a pass when he makes a female White House counselor the subject of a sexist and disgusting joke. Nor does “everyone was making crude comments” excuse his.

I appreciate that you were trying not to make definitive statements about a situation that you knew little about, but you came across as defending a colleague who told a sexist, demeaning joke about one of the President’s main advisers, even going so far as to imply that because she didn’t conduct herself with the standard of decorum that you and your colleagues did in the Oval Office, that she should expect that rudeness.

And if the GOP had done that to Hillary, you and a bunch of other Democrats would have screamed bloody murder. You know it’s true.

I just hope that later on you reconsidered your words and how they came across, and that you were one of the people that encouraged Richmond to apologize.

Bottom Line

Again — there is plenty to criticize Kellyanne Conway on without being sexist. derogatory, dismissive, and crude.

Criticize Kellyanne Conway all you want. But have some integrity about it.

Don’t let Trump take that from you.

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Annoyed by Autism Mom Hoodie

Content Note: Ableism, Autism Stereotypes, Caregiver Stress, Disability Stereotypes, Disabled Child Murder, Sexism

A Facebook friend, a mother with an autistic child, called attention on her profile last night to an “Autism Mom” hoodie that she’d seen advertised:

Blue pullover graphic hoodie with "Autism Mom" in prominent blue block letters at the top of a block of text in different colours of block text covering the front. Puzzle piece logo in red and yellow under the text, just above the hoodie pockets. Keyword: Autism Mom

Image Description: Navy pullover hoodies with large block of writing on the front in lines of yellow, red, and light blue, with a puzzle piece logo in red and yellow at the bottom.

It’s hard to read the writing on the hoodie. It says:

Autism Mom

A Superhero With

Messy Hair, Bags Under

Her Eyes, Stung Out

Nerves, Who Has A

Happy Child Because

Of All That She Does

The puzzle piece icon is underneath the writing.

My friend’s comments on the hoodie indicated that she wasn’t sure how she felt about it. I have some thoughts (obviously)

First of All…

Let me first say that, having worked in family support positions, I realize that parents of autistic children (and children with other disabilities) are often under enormous strain. I remember more than a few meetings with parents about their children where I changed course and said, “You know what? Your child’s actually doing okay right now. I’m kind of worried about your stress level. What can we do to help you?” And why wouldn’t parents feel stressed? Funding is constantly being cut. Wait-lists for supports get longer and longer. Even crisis services are difficult to access. And I know from my work doing planning for youth transitioning into the adult system that parents’ fears for what will happen to their adult children after they’re gone are ever-present and very difficult to deal with. I felt these fears too, seeing how little was available for the young people I was supporting. But I got to go home at the end of the day. Parents don’t get to do this.

I would never want to come across like I’m minimizing the potential stress involved with raising a disabled child. I’ve been privileged to see the genuine joy that families take in it, and working with those families was the best part of my job when I was in the field. But the unique challenges and stresses also need recognition.

It’s difficult to strike that balance between acknowledging the challenges involved in raising a disabled child and validating parents’ legitimate needs of frustration and getting across in general a more disability-positive in general that all parenting is difficult and that children are children — disabled or not, some have more complex needs than others.

This Autism Mom hoodie doesn’t strike that balance well. At all.

More specifically – What was Autism Mom Thinking?

This Autism Mom hoodie contributes to messaging that’s proving terribly dangerous for autistic children, who are murdered by parents and caregivers in shockingly high numbers. It says that autistic children cause their mothers nothing but grief and that autistic children can’t be happy unless mothers have worked themselves into high levels of stress and potential ill health. It reinforces the general stereotype that those who parent or do caretaker or support work for disabled people are “saints” because our needs are so difficult to meet and the specific messaging (that Autism Speaks has been shoving in our faces for so long) that autism is a evil entity that steals children and destroys families and that must be eliminated at all costs.

It’s also terribly shaming. Children (autistic and neurotypical) can be unhappy for a lot of reasons. Sometimes the reasons can be very difficult to address and can involve a wait-list for supports and/or treatment, a waiting period for treatment to take effect…the treatment may not work, and everyone has to start over…and some families have access to supports and treatments that others don’t, for a variety of reasons. But this hoodie would have mothers of autistic children believe that if their child isn’t happy, it’s because they aren’t trying hard enough. That’s a horrible thing to have pushed in your face when your child is suffering and you really are doing everything that you can, and it makes me furious.

And what about autism dads? Fathers don’t care about their autistic children and work hard to try make them as happy as possible? Ugh. This hoodie makes me more and more annoyed the more I look at it.

Doubtless some people will think I’m overreacting, but I’m a writer…words matter to me. Marketing fail, whoever made this shirt.

On An Unrelated Note

American friends, you’re probably aware that you have an election coming up.

I’ve been addicted to CNN for the past six weeks. I’m to the point where the thought of Donald Trump as President makes me feel physically ill. I’m begging you to keep him out of the White House.

Please.

Anyhoo. Have a great weekend and a happy Halloween!

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Ableism, Other -Isms, And Why I Prefer “Seinfeld” to “Friends”

I don’t blog about disability in media very often, but Andrew Pulrang profiled “Seinfeld” on his Disability Thinking podcast recently, and it really made me think. (He’ll be posting a second podcast on “Seinfeld” in the near future; there really is a lot to talk about when it comes to this show. Keep watching Andrew’s website for details, and listen to his first podcast on “Seinfeld” and disability.)

Content Note: Ableism, Sexism, Classism, Misogyny, Media Depiction

Seinfeld meme. Jerry Seinfeld stands in his TV apartment, wearing a gray button-down shirt, a shocked expression on his face. A quote from the show, "Well, good luck with all that" is written across the bottom of the picture in yellow letters. Keyword: Seinfeld

Image Description: Seinfeld meme. Jerry Seinfeld stands in his TV apartment, wearing a gray button-down shirt, a shocked expression on his face. A quote from the show, “Well, good luck with all that” is written across the bottom of the picture in yellow letters.

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I love “Seinfeld”. I’ve seen every episode several times, and will still watch the reruns and find them funny. My family can have entire conversations in snippets of “Seinfeld” dialogue, which I realize isn’t necessarily something of which to be proud, but there it is.

I’ve managed to retain this level of fandom despite being achingly aware that over its run “Seinfeld” had moments of blatant racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, classism, and probably just about every other “-ism” that you can think of, including just plain bad taste. Apparently I’m not the only one that noticed – Sola Agustsson recently wrote an article for Alternet.com about sexism and racism in “Seinfeld”, “10 ‘Seinfeld’ Episodes That Might Be Considered Sexist and Racist Today”.

But she also got taken down in comments on her article for not understanding the thing that lets me (mostly) gloss over the glaring prejudices of the four main “Seinfeld” characters: The whole point of the show was that Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer are supposed to be terrible people. They’re shallow and self-absorbed, they use people with little guilt and almost zero empathy, and they rarely do anything unless there’s something in it for them.

They wanted to be nicer people – but only because of how their real orientation to the world made them look to others, and not out of any real concern for those around them. This is what made the show subversive, ironic, and frankly, hilarious, because the harder the four main characters tried to do “the right thing”, the more apparent it became that they were really just awful people who didn’t care at all.

Disabled People in “Seinfeld”

Take one of the episodes that Andrew rightfully says got the most attention and is about disability. Jerry, also a comedian in the show, promises a fan that he’ll go see his son, a “bubble boy” that has to live behind a plastic partition in his parents’ home because of his poor immune system.

(We learn later that everyone but his mother, including the people in his town, call him “The Bubble Boy”, which is a disability issue all by itself, but not one that we can blame on the four main characters. We don’t even learn his name until well after George and his fiancee Susan meet him. It’s an indictment of how society treats him. )

George and Susan arrive at the house first and find not a bubble “boy”, but a fully grown, very rude bubble “man” who eventually asks Susan to take off her top (the opposite of the “disabled people are sweet and polite” stereotype that we see so much in the media; Andrew discusses this in his podcast.)  Suppressing the urge to respond negatively to the Bubble Boy’s rudeness (which would be “politically incorrect”), George and Susan allow themselves to be talked into a game of Trivial Pursuit. When George and the “Bubble Boy” disagree over the pronunciation of an answer, George finally loses control, the “Bubble Boy” starts to strangle George and George loses control, stabbing at the plastic partition and deflating the “bubble”. His desire to be politically correct has been overcome by his temper, which often happens with George.

“Seinfeld” did a good job of highlighting society’s ableism as well as the main characters’. That’s difficult to do. It requires very good writing.

Now, I don’t know about the writing process for “Seinfeld”, but it seemed that each week the writers came up with a character (sometimes two), said “What if we took a person out there with this set of characteristics and put them in the group’s path”, and that was pretty much that character’s role. Mostly they were romantic interests, like Elaine’s elderly boyfriend, a stroke survivor who required a lot of care. One week it was the Bubble Boy. There were a few characters that had brief story arcs, like the man stalking Elaine and Jerry (who the writers imply has a mental health diagnosis, but never say what it is.)

Are Disabled People Props in Seinfeld?

Andrew also discusses in his podcast the idea that you could accuse the writers of making disabled characters props, in “Seinfeld”. However, with the exception of a small group of secondary characters that had a bit of backstory, everyone in “Seinfeld” besides the main four characters were props. They mostly got burned somehow by being involved with Seinfeld and his group, presumably never to appear again, and the underlying message at the end of each episode was, right up to the group’s one-year imprisonment at the series end for not helping someone who was being mugged, “Don’t treat people like this group does. They’re assholes.”

Unlike other sitcoms in the 90s and after.

Are the Characters in “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother?” actually Likeable?

I enjoyed “Friends” in the 90s, and I found it amusing when I rewatched it on Netflix. However, I noticed the second time around that this group that was supposed to be so close also:

  • Spent a lot of time picking on each other. To the point where it often seemed mean.
  • Were very competitive, and sometimes threw each other under the bus.
  • Couldn’t be happy for each other if a positive change for one meant change for the group.
  • Watched the womanizer of the group treat his dates like crap and never called him on it.
  • Sometimes deliberately behaved in ways that negatively affected another friend’s career.

These people were assholes, but we were supposed to love them. And they set the mold for another “Friends”-types show that debuted in 2005, with a similarly dysfunctional peer group that we’re supposed to love.

“How I Met Your Mother” had the same pattern of young people living and dating in New York, hanging out in a bar instead of a coffee shop, but ramped up the sexism to the nth degree compared to “Friends” (and “Seinfeld”, for that matter).  Neil Patrick Harris as Barney Stinson makes “Friends'” Joey Tribiani look like a lightweight womanizer. Barney sometimes gets called on the womanizing, but more often than not friend Ted is his wingman. At one point, “HIMYM” manages to work approval of Barney’s womanizing and slut-shaming of one of the female members into the same scene.

A peripheral character, a therapist that one of the main characters dates at one point, says about the 5 main characters: “‘You’re all the most codependent, incestuous, controlling group people I’ve ever met!” There was an almost identical scene in friends where a therapist that Phoebe is dating offers about the main characters: “Actually it’s, it’s quite, y’know, typical behaviour when you have this kind of dysfunctional group dynamic. Y’know, this kind of co-dependant, emotionally stunted, sitting in your stupid coffee house with your stupid big cups which, I’m sorry, might as well have nipples on them, and you’re like all ‘Oh, define me! Define me! Love me, I need love!.”

CBS was widely criticized for a racist episode of “How I Met Your Mother”, and on my rewatching of that series I saw some references that I was surprised got by the network (“Mexican Wrestler Ted”, for example).  There are no disabled characters in the show. At least in “Friends” Chandler dates a disabled woman for an episode. She dumps him, and (surprisingly) comes out looking like the decidedly shallower of the two.

The point is that at least “Seinfeld” was honest. It didn’t try to be anything but what it was – stories about terrible people that wanted to nice, but didn’t really want to give anything up to do it.  So they’d do the “politically correct” thing, inadvertently out themselves as being anti-social and barely able to cope with the friendship between the four of them, and we’d all tune in next week to see in what new way they could ruin someone’s life. The thing is, “Friends” and “HIMYM”  weren’t any different (and neither is the CBS hit “The Big Bang Theory, increasingly) – more peripheral characters with story arcs, maybe, but ultimately? Stories about terrible people…more actively masquerading as nice people.

However, they sure were branded to be people that you should trust and love and emulate.

That feels dishonest to me.

And I’m not going to feel guilty about watching “Seinfeld” until people start talking more realistically about that.

More reasons why you wouldn’t want to be friends with the “Friends”

 

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