education, modern problems, sexism

Chivalry and critical thinking skills are dead in Texas…

Last night, I read about Shallowater High School, a school near Lubbock, Texas that was in the news because of a controversial assignment that got complaints. An English teacher, who was teaching “Beowulf” and the works of Chaucer, had a tradition of having her students explore the concept of chivalry. The boys were expected to dress in suits and ties. The girls were to wear dresses and heels. For one day, the men would help ladies to their seats and open doors for them, and they were supposed stand when a lady or person in authority entered a room. The ladies were expected not to speak unless spoken to, not to complain or whine, and they were supposed to walk behind the men.

The first time I read about this assignment about chivalry, it was in an article for a television station that was short on information and long on media bias. My initial impression was that it was kind of a silly assignment that sounded ill-conceived. But then I read more about it in The New York Times and learned that the teacher who had made the assignment had been doing it for a long time. Many students actually looked forward to taking part in it, which made me want to learn more about what it entailed.

In the course of reading more about the assignment, I learned that those who were uncomfortable with it were allowed to write a one page essay on chivalry. I also learned that the intent was of the assignment was to show students that chivalry was actually promoting male chauvinism and marginalizing women. The message was that chivalry, which is often touted to be “good” and is now “dead”, is not so much about promoting good manners and courtliness. It was about keeping women in their so-called place, according to the men who wanted to stay in charge. Apparently, past students who had taken part in the assignment got the message, even if it sounded kind of “sketchy” in practice.

This year, the assignment made the news, because some parents complained about it, claiming it was “sexist”. I will admit, my first thoughts, when I read about it was that it did seem a bit sexist. But then when I read that a lot of students actually enjoyed doing it, I changed my mind. Having been an English major and read “Beowulf” a couple of times myself, I appreciate anything that makes that story more engaging for young people. Moreover, I figured there had to be something more to the assignment than what was being put out to the masses. According to the New York Times:

“I really don’t think it was the teacher’s intention to have it be such a sexist lesson,” said Hannah Carreon, 18, a senior at the high school. “There were girls that were excited to get to do this finally and get to dress up.”

And those who didn’t want to participate didn’t have to. Seems fair enough to me. Nevertheless, thanks to the uproar, the school district superintendent, Dr. Anita Hebert, said the assignment was canceled, adding “this assignment has been reviewed, and despite its historical context, it does not reflect our district and community values.” Very fine, and she’s certainly within her rights to have the assignment changed.

Given how thin skinned many people are these days, I think it would be difficult for teachers and administrators to teach, especially in a creative way, without offending someone somehow. I don’t have a quarrel with the school administrator’s decision to revise the assignment, even though some students may have been disappointed. Schools have to evolve with the times, and nowadays, people are less inclined to be open-minded about alternative methods. Most people won’t even bother to read a news article before exploding with outrage, after all.

From the New York Times article.

But then I went into the comment section and there were many outraged reactions left by people who obviously hadn’t read the article. One person wrote that the teacher must be a “misogynistic man” and went off on a screed about racism and misogyny.

I know I should have kept scrolling, but I was lonely, irritated, and bored last night. So I commented that the teacher who had made the assignment was a woman who had been teaching this particular lesson for years. It was a long-standing tradition in her class that, apparently, had been well-received in years past. The teacher was actually trying to show the students that so-called “chivalry” wasn’t actually chivalry. From The New York Times:

The exercise had been scheduled to take place on Wednesday. Female and male students, who had been reading “Beowulf” and the works of Chaucer, were given assignment sheets that described 11 “rules for chivalry.” They would be awarded 10 points for every rule they followed.

Boys were asked to rise any time a female student or faculty member entered a room, to avoid profanity or “vulgar words” and to “allow ladies to leave the room before they leave.”

Girls had to walk behind men or “walk daintily, as if their feet were bound”; address men with “a lowered head and a curtsy”; “clean up” after their male classmates; and “obey any reasonable request” from a man.

According to Colin Tynes Lain, 18, a senior, the teacher had anticipated backlash and said students who were uncomfortable with the assignment could write a one-page essay instead.

In the past, Mr. Lain said, the teacher had given parents and teachers a written disclaimer explaining that the goal of the project was to show how the chivalric code was used to obscure chauvinistic principles that harmed women.

“That’s what she was trying to pull our attention to,” he said. “That this was not chivalry in any way.”

But to read the comments, the teacher was perceived as some boneheaded cave dwelling man who was trying to suppress women with a backwards assignment meant to push them down. And when I gently pointed out that the teacher was a woman who was trying to teach about how chivalry was actually not so good, I got a lecture about racism and misogyny from several “woke” ladies who felt I needed a “schoolin'”.

I commented again that many of the students had been looking forward to the assignment. And they also had an alternative assignment they could do if they didn’t want to participate in the teacher’s lesson on chivalry. But that comment only served to further inflame the “woke” woman who hadn’t bothered to read the article, along with a few others who felt this assignment was so damaging. So my parting shot, which got lots of likes, was something along the lines of.

“Y’all can spare me the lectures on misogyny. I’m simply reporting what was in the article. I didn’t say I liked it or agreed with it. If more people would read before commenting, the world would be a better place.”

I often complain about conservatives. But you know what? Sometimes liberals are just as bad. Some of them have this agenda they just feel compelled to push, often without any critical thinking or forethought applied whatsoever. They often make judgments without knowing all the facts or context. And, just like conservatives, they often make perfect asses of themselves.

I will admit, I have read about some assignments that appeared to be especially tone deaf and ill considered. For instance, just last year, a high school teacher in Iowa was placed on leave for asking students to pretend they were “black slaves”. The assignment was made for an online learning program. A surprising number of teachers have attempted to teach kids about slavery via role play, which is bound to be a bad idea.

The same issue came up in Wisconsin and Missouri, and not just in terms of teaching students about slavery in the United States, but also in history. For instance, students learning about the Code of Hammurabi and Ancient Mesopotamia were taught about the concept of “an eye for an eye”. Punishments for slaves were also discussed. A teacher in Long Island, New York was also disciplined for having students write something “funny” about pictures of slavery. And a student teacher in Tennessee was in hot water for asking fourth grade students to recite graphic, violent methods of controlling slaves. Those lessons made some students distinctly uncomfortable. From the New York Times:

Role-playing can be an effective pedagogical tool, but teachers have to be very careful that they are not reinforcing negative gender and racial attitudes, said April Peters-Hawkins, a former sixth-grade teacher who is now a professor of school leadership at the University of Houston College of Education.

“What we typically see is marginalized groups continuing to be marginalized,” she said. “Black kids being asked to play the roles of slaves, Jewish kids being asked to play the role of victims of the Holocaust and girls being asked to be subservient.”

I think some people felt this assignment would make some girls feel uncomfortable, so they brought up their concerns. Unfortunately, it then became international news and, I think, it got blown entirely out of proportion. And now, the narrative has become completely distorted from the facts.

It’s easy to react to inflammatory headlines without actually getting the facts. People are often eager to promote a progressive agenda, but are loathe to think first. On the surface, this assignment about chivalry seems like it would be offensive and wrong. It sounds like the teacher’s methods might wind up marginalizing girls. And no, it’s not a good thing to teach females that they are to be subservient to men, especially in the year 2021. But if you actually read about the intent of the assignment, it sounds a lot less offensive. Especially since participation was entirely voluntary.

I will grant that the chivalry assignment probably should be reconsidered, but not necessarily because it will damage or offend students. I think it should be reconsidered because of the court of public opinion, our culture of people who don’t want to read before they react, and people who claim to be open-minded but actually aren’t. Frankly, it’s very irritating to get lectured by people who can’t even be bothered to read before they comment. They’re usually people who feel like their (often uninformed) opinions are so very important to share, but don’t care about anyone else’s opinions. And you can’t have a discussion with them because they refuse to consider all sides of an issue. It’s like the thinking has already been done, and not by them, personally.

The teacher who made this assignment is described as “caring and well-liked”. I wouldn’t want to see a good teacher who is caring and well-liked canceled from her profession because of uninvolved people who are hell-bent on thinking the worst about her intentions. I hope she hasn’t been harassed, and I’m glad her name has been kept out of the media.

I know how much time, money, and training goes into making good teachers. I also know that a lot of them don’t get the respect and consideration they deserve. It’s a shame that some of them are punished for thinking outside of the box, even if the lesson ends up being a flop. I hope this teacher will continue to try to teach students the truth about so-called chivalry, even if this particular role playing method is now off limits.

Kinda reminds me of how people have been offended by this classic Randy Newman song… which isn’t actually about “short people”.

He doesn’t mean he doesn’t like people who are short like me…

Incidentally, I have some people on my friends list who are notoriously bad about reacting to headlines and not actually bothering to read. Yesterday, I shared the video that was in yesterday’s post about Gloriavale Christian Community. Two people left me sad reactions, even after I commented that it wasn’t a sad post. Seriously. Watch the video. It’s not a sad tale– it’s a triumphant tale about a STRONG woman who left a truly oppressive and sexist cult. But people are gonna react… and I say, if you’re going to form an opinion and make a public comment or reaction, isn’t it better to actually know what you are reacting to? I think it is.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: Doc, a horrifying story of a doctor who sexually abused his patients…

This review originally appeared on Epinions.com on September 11, 2011. I am reposting it as/is.

This review deals with the subject of rape.  If you are squeamish about such things, please skip this review.

I have a problem trusting doctors, especially gynecologists.  My issues stem from the very first pelvic exam I ever endured.  The woman who performed this very intimate procedure traumatized me by being way too rough and physically hurting me.  At the time, I was too inexperienced and shocked to say anything to the doctor about the violation, although I know she could tell that I was very upset.  She treated me with condescension and disrespect.  Consequently, to this day over sixteen years later, I still fear most doctors.  Perhaps for that reason, I should not have read Jack Olsen’s 1990 book, Doc: The Rape of the Town of Lovell.  As it turns out, my curiosity trumped my squeamishness and I did read the book, which I first heard about on Recovery from Mormonism, a Web site for former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Doc was of interest to members of exmormon.org because it’s about the crimes a trusted family doctor committed against some of the women of Lovell, Wyoming, a town heavily populated by Mormons.

Dr. John Story… trusted family doctor and rapist

For over twenty-five years, Dr. John Story practiced family medicine in Lovell, Wyoming.  Though he was a strange and egotistical man, he was a much loved and trusted practitioner.  A staunch Baptist, Dr. John Story knew the Bible and appeared to live by conservative Christian ideals.  He came to Lovell in 1958 because the town badly needed a doctor.  Many of Dr. Story’s patients were female members of the LDS church.  He delivered cradle to grave medical care for all of Lovell’s citizens and did everything from delivering babies to looking after elderly patients. 

Although Dr. Story appeared to be the very picture of propriety, he had a few quirks.  For one thing, he was biased against people of Mexican and German descent.  He held them in contempt, along with those who were indigent or received welfare.  For another thing, he took issue with Mormon doctrine, which he considered false.  He would banter with his LDS patients about religion and appeared to be tolerant of their differences, but deep down, Dr. Story hated Mormons.  Thirdly, Dr. Story seemed to be overly eager to give pelvic exams to certain patients, particularly those who fell into certain groups that he didn’t respect.  A woman might show up at his office, presenting with a sore throat.  She might have tonsilitis, but Dr. Story would somehow convince her that she was overdue for a pelvic exam.  And then he would deliver what seemed to be an overly thorough and painful exam with his penis instead of gynecological instruments.  Only she wouldn’t necessarily understand that she had just been raped by her trusted doctor.

Why did he do it?

On page 319 of Doc, investigators took stock of all of the women who had made claims that Dr. Story had raped them.  At that time, they had interviewed two dozen victims and had the names of several more.  Of the two dozen victims, four were Hispanic Catholics, one was a Lutheran of German heritage, and the rest were Mormons.  One of the investigators surmised that the numbers made sense if one remembers that rape is a crime of hatred, violence, and rage.  Rape is not about sex or passion. 

Dr. Story had openly disparaged Mexicans, whom he’d often referred to as “those people”.  He felt that Mormon doctrine was “satanic” and was enraged by what he considered their blasphemous beliefs.  And for some reason, he had always had a chip on his shoulder about Germans, referring to them as “those damn Germans!” to one of his nurses.

How did he get away with raping women for twenty-five years? 

It’s hard to believe that a woman who is not under the influence of drugs or alcohol could be raped, yet unsure of what happened.  Most women who have ever had sex with a man know what a penis feels like.  At the very least, a woman should be able to tell the difference between hard flesh and hard metal or plastic.  In order to understand how this might happen, one has to consider that Lovell, Wyoming is a very insular community that is home to many Mormons, a religious group that forbids premarital sex and masturbation.  Many of the women who accepted Dr. Story’s services had never been sexually active or had only been intimate with their husbands.  Quite a few of the women were apparently very unsophisticated about sexual matters.  They trusted their doctor implicitly; he had been faithfully serving the people of Lovell for so many years.  Many of the women were not entirely sure about what had actually happened; they only suspected they had been raped.  Moreover, Dr. Story typically delivered his exams without a nurse present. 

Dr. Story’s crimes against the women of Lovell came to an end when a small group of courageous LDS women finally decided to bring him to justice.  A couple of the women had even had children that they suspected might have been fathered by the family doctor.  But Dr. Story had many supporters in Lovell and the brave women who came forward to put a stop to Dr. Story’s abuse suffered backlash.  This case, which was finally tried in the mid 1980s, divided the tiny town like no other.

My thoughts 

I hesitated before I started reading this book, mainly because I find the whole topic of gynecology to be creepy and unsettling.  The idea that a family physician could be so brazenly violating so many women makes me very uncomfortable.  It was shocking and infuriating to read about some of the things Dr. Story did to his patients.  Nevertheless, as horrifying as this story was to me, it was also fascinating.  Dr. John Story is, in my mind, the very picture of a sociopath who believes he is above the law.  Even in prison, he demanded deference and held everybody to standards that he did not himself observe. 

The late Jack Olsen spins this complicated tale masterfully.  His words are engrossing and fascinating, as if they were written for a thriller instead of true crime.  There are no pictures in this book, but I had no trouble picturing the people involved.  Olsen assigns inflections to his dialogue, turning the subjects into characters.  His writing is very engaging; I could tell that he was heavily invested in doing this story justice.

Potential negatives

Doc is now out of print.  There are plenty of used copies available on Amazon.com.  This book might be somewhat offensive to members of the LDS church.  Olsen does not present the faith in the most flattering light.  I didn’t think he went out of his way to be disrespectful, but he does occasionally quote people who have negative opinions about Mormonism.  Doc is also a very complicated story that takes time and effort to read. 

Overall   

While I can’t say Doc makes me eager to get over my gyno-phobia, I do think it’s a fascinating story.  The subject matter is grotesque and distasteful, but it’s also amazing, mainly because Dr. John Story was able to get away with his crimes for so very long and so many people were willing to support him, even though he was accused of such ghastly crimes.  It’s often said the truth is stranger than fiction… when it comes to the story of the women of Lovell, Wyoming and Dr. John Story, I definitely have to agree.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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Military

Knuckle draggers…

Ever heard the term “knuckle dragger”? I never had until I met my husband, Bill. Apparently, it gets used a lot in the military, and for good reason.

A few days ago, I read about Florida state Representative Ted Yoho’s misogynistic comments toward New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Last week, Yoho, a Republican male, allegedly called Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat female, a “fucking bitch”. I didn’t get this news from CNN. I got it from a liberal friend of mine who used to live in Florida and is now an English professor at a small college. My friend has horses, and for years, Yoho was her veterinarian. He took care of her horses. She hadn’t seen this side of him when she knew him in his professional role as a veterinarian.

Now, here he is an elected official, tasked to work for the citizens who voted for him, as well as the ones who didn’t. And here he is, accosting another congressperson, calling her an extremely offensive, misogynistic name. Prior to calling her a fucking bitch, Yoho supposedly called her “disgusting”, “crazy”, and “dangerous”. The video below is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s commentary about the incident.

Like so many females, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been called these things before. Here she is, a congressperson, still being called a “fucking bitch” by a man.

I watched the above video and was very impressed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s very powerful speech. I think it’s a pity that we can’t vote for her for president in November. She is very articulate and brave. She said, “I do not need Representative Yoho to apologize to me. Clearly he does not want to. Clearly when given the opportunity he will not. And I will not stay up late at night waiting for an apology from a man who has no remorse over calling women & using abusive language towards women.” Amen to that. Shame on Yoho for being an abusive yahoo. And shame on people who admire him for this behavior.

Anyway… as I was reflecting on Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s speech, I ran across an article on the Military Times about one of the policies she is championing directed toward military recruitment. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told Vice.com that “It’s incredibly irresponsible for the Army and the Navy to be recruiting impressionable young people and children via live streaming platforms…” In other words, she doesn’t think military recruiters should be allowed to find recruits via esports or platforms such as “Twitch”. I’ll admit, I don’t know anything about Twitch, nor do I have a personal interest in this particular fight. My comments are toward the people reading the Military Times piece, which was also shared on Army Times, who decided to air their thoughts on Facebook. Behold, a small sampling:

I’m always kind of dismayed when I read hateful, sexist, and ignorant comments from veterans. I’m even more dismayed when veterans pull out that tired old “when did you serve?” bullshit. By that logic, the veterans should only be allowed to have an opinion about military issues and nothing else they have not personally experienced. Besides, there’s more than one way to serve one’s country. For instance, someone who has served in the Peace Corps has not only served the United States, but also another country. Someone who is an elected official or works for the government is also “serving” one’s country, as are people employed in helping professions. So I don’t know why so many military folks have this idea that one has to wear a uniform to serve. That’s bullshit of the lowest quality.

I was kind of tempted to leave a comment on this article, which went on for many more threads beyond the sampling I’ve posted here. But then I realized that if I did that, I’d be piled on by some real knuckle draggers… guys like that one dude who said Ms. Ocasio-Cortez should go back to bartending and giving blowjobs. I would bet money, too, that that guy probably never gets any blowjobs himself and is very bitter. It’s my experience that the men who have such anti-woman sentiments are guys who can’t get laid and are mad at the world about it.

As AOC pointed out in her very articulate and beautifully delivered speech, this kind of language usage not new. Most women have heard this kind of talk. Believe me, I’ve been called things like “bitch” and “cunt”, generally by men who really shouldn’t be talking in such terms. It always surprises me when I hear guys talk like this– particularly since so many of them espouse the so-called “family values” party, the Republicans. Don’t these men have mothers, wives, sisters, or daughters? Would they like it if someone called their female loved ones names like “fucking bitch” or “cunt”? Would they appreciate hearing that their female loved ones are only good for giving blow jobs and slinging drinks in a bar? As she so eloquently pointed out, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is someone’s daughter, too.

I think it’s a shame that there are so many “knuckle draggers” in the military… and elsewhere, like in the hallowed halls where laws are made. I wonder where it is that these folks learn these attitudes. Were they born this way, or did they fail to get any adequate home training? I wonder why their parents didn’t teach them to have basic respect for other people rather than dehumanizing them with disgusting language.

Oh, I know… they were angry… or they were annoyed, or frustrated by the woman… and she “had it coming” somehow. I’m sure that was what one revolting government service employee said regarding a discussion he had with me. This man is married and has two daughters, yet he had on his public Facebook page memes that read “Fuck me like you hate me”, and other charming sentiments. And yes, he called me and other women “cunt”. I’m ashamed for his wife, who willingly made daughters with this vile representative of the male species. I can only imagine what kinds of reprehensible things he says to them when no one else is listening.

Count me as extremely grateful that my husband’s parents made sure he knew better and raised their son to respect all people, including women. I only wish we could have had a child together. I know he would have cherished and protected him or her and served as a fine example of how someone should behave. Representative Yoho should be deeply ashamed of himself for verbally abusing Representative Ocasio-Cortez, especially since he used misogynistic insults. I can only guess that his parents didn’t raise him properly, and that he’s served as an equally poor example to his daughters. And the people– mostly men– on Army Times who air their shockingly ignorant and offensive opinions about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other strong women like her, should also hang their heads in shame, as should their families, who failed to raise them properly. Unfortunately, I think they’re too ignorant to see the errors of their ways.

Oliver Reed had a very cultured accent, but he too was a misogynistic asshole… Johnny Carson was definitely a pro.
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Trump

Unproductive discussions…

Sometimes, I just can’t help myself. When I see a really offensive post on Facebook written by some clueless man (and it’s almost always a man), I leave a response. It usually turns into an unproductive discussion that leads to nowhere. I bow out politely, and the man almost always has to post a parting shot, which I decline to read.

This happened to me yesterday, when my friend Andrew posted a Trump quote dating from 2011.

Hmmm…

Andrew lives in Texas and is a committed Christian. He has a few friends who are Trump supporters. One of his friends posted this comment.

One thing that is certain, if Trump didn’t act he would have been ridiculed by the Never Trumpers. Then if American lives were lost because nothing was done to prevent the 5 planned attacks Trump would have faced even more of a beating. You have to admit there is nothing that this president can do to get any positive feedback from the left. He could cure cancer, end all wars, and solve the worlds hunger issues forever and it wouldn’t change a thing. The Never Trumpers would still want him gone!! The facts are this political theatre we watch everyday is not controlled by the people who support evangelical Christian values. The media is controlled by big business monopolies who have back door dealings with our crooked politicians who play by a completely different set of rules than “we the people…” play by. They are inside traders in bed with foreign leaders and yes more back door dealings with oil, gas and tech companies,etc. They create crises after crisis as before they invented the crisis they invented the cure to rape and molest innocent, blind American people. Many of these people blindly support the perpetrators as they are blinded by the smooth talk and promise of a better life with things like so-called free college tuition or free health care. The insurance companies and big pharma are giving each other high fives as we blindly accept all the propaganda because we’re all to stupid to see we’re getting screwed!!

I frequently find myself frustrated by people who post this kind of stuff, painting the “Never Trumpers” with a broad brush. So I responded thusly…

Why do Trump supporters think I’m “blinded by smooth talk” simply because I don’t think an incompetent, narcissistic rapist should be living in the White House? It has nothing to do with his being “conservative”. He doesn’t care about anyone or anything but himself, and that is what makes him unsuitable.  

I don’t want free college tuition or free healthcare. I want someone in charge who is competent, decent, humane, and doesn’t hurt other people to gratify his wallet or his crotch. Is that too much to ask?

The man who posted the original comment didn’t respond to me until many hours later. I haven’t read his response, mainly because another guy chimed in and started an argument with me about Donald Trump. His tone put me off. It was very condescending and dismissive. He wanted to know who exactly Donald Trump has raped. So I provided him with an excellent article in The New Yorker, a well respected magazine that has been around for many years, detailing the case of just one of Trump’s victims, his first wife, Ivana.

Let me be frank. I’m not impressed with Ivana Trump. She later said that her own claims about being raped were “without merit”. However, the testimony from her divorce proceedings from Trump are pretty clear to me. He forced himself on her sexually in a fit of rage. It was confirmed by at least two of her friends. Her description of what happened certainly sounds like rape to me. If she didn’t want him prosecuted, I suppose that’s her business. But it obviously affected her enough that she spoke about it in a courtroom. I suspect that the story, both its introduction and its retraction, was mostly about money. Maybe if she was the only woman with such a story, I might be able to dismiss it as “without merit”. But she’s not the only one, is she?

Several months ago, I wrote a post wondering why Trump isn’t in prison. In that post, I included a video of a young woman named Katie J., who met Mr. Trump when she was 13 years old. Katie was, unfortunately, a young girl the same age and with features similar to Mr. Trump’s older daughter, Ivanka. Trump has, on more than one occasion, expressed his admiration for Ivanka’s looks. He’s even said that if she wasn’t his daughter, he’d be “dating her”. So Katie, who had met one of dead pervert Jeffrey Epstein’s “recruiters” in her quest to pursue modeling, wound up at an orgy hosted by Epstein. Trump was there, and according to Katie’s very credible account (IMHO, anyway), he “popped her cherry”. That was the expression the men involved wanted to use.

I’ve shared this before, but it bears repeating. This video was made in February 2016.

Now… start with the fact that Katie was only 13 years old. Legally, she was a child, and not able to consent to sex with Mr. Trump, even if it was something she genuinely wanted to do, which I am absolutely certain it wasn’t. Katie reported that the men told her she should grateful that she lost her virginity to Donald Trump instead of some pimply faced fourteen year old boy. When I think about what I was like at thirteen… hell, what it was like for me the first time I had sex as a fully grown woman with a lot of experiences under my belt… my heart breaks for Katie. She must have been terrified. It must have hurt like hell. I can’t begin to fathom how horrible it must have been for her, so I’m not going to try. I believe her story, though. I’d probably believe it even if Trump hadn’t, on more than one occasion, brazenly told everyone just who he is and what he thinks about women.

Andrew’s friend kept blowing me off and accusing me of reading fake news. He’s not impressed by The New Yorker. Katie and Ivana are just two women who have come forward, though. A whole lot of others have also been victimized by Trump’s criminal sexually predatory behavior. And Trump’s abysmal treatment of women is just one reason why I think he’s unsuitable to be the president, and why I keep writing about what an awful person he is. His obvious misogyny and narcissism alone should have disqualified him.

But there’s plenty of other stuff to write about… plenty of other reasons why Trump sucks as a human being, let alone a president. And no, I’m not against him because I embrace Bernie Sanders’ vision of what the United States should be. I’m not looking for free healthcare or free college, although I do think those two very necessary things should cost a whole lot less than they do in the United States. I simply want a leader who is rational, compassionate, humane, qualified, competent, and balanced. It’s not too much to ask. We don’t need an orange madman who tilts at windmills… or complains about them killing bald eagles.

I tried to explain this to Andrew’s friend, but he wouldn’t hear me. So I finally wrote this.

I’m really sorry you apparently have such a low opinion of women. I don’t think it’s productive to keep up this conversation. Good luck with your choices at the voting booth this year.

The guy came back with a response, which I chose not to read. I happened to catch the first couple of words, which were pretty obviously dismissive and sarcastic. And then the guy I originally responded to also tagged me in his comments, which I also chose not to read. I figured nothing useful would come of it. These men have made up their minds and aren’t interested in what a simple female like me thinks. They will be voting for Trump regardless of what he says or does. So it’s not productive to keep trying to talk to them. I won’t try anymore.

Andrew, to his credit, apologized to me privately for his friends’ comments. I don’t blame Andrew at all. I told him that I’m sure they have redeeming qualities to be friends of his. Andrew is a talented, intelligent, creative person who is an amazing writer and musician and I’m sure he’s a good judge of character. I have an idea of how he feels, too, because I also have loved ones and friends who refuse to see what’s in front of them and won’t listen to reason. It makes me sad. It would be one thing if these folks could just stop for a minute and even acknowledge why so many of us think Trump is a disaster without flatly dismissing us. But, I guess in fairness, I’m sort of guilty of the same thing. What can I say? I don’t like to give obvious misogynists the benefit of the doubt.

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movies

The film version of The Handmaid’s Tale…

Recently, I purchased some new content for Apple TV. I often do this during winters in Germany, because it’s cold, wet, and dark here, and that kind of weather makes me want to hibernate. I ran across the 1990 film version of The Handmaid’s Tale, starring the late Natasha Richardson, Robert Duvall, and Faye Dunaway, and though I had heard it wasn’t a great movie, I decided to buy it. Until very recently, the film version of Margaret Atwood’s very famous story was not readily available. I read in a 2015 article about the film posted on The Atlantic’s Web site that old copies of it were selling for as much as $100 on Amazon. In 2019, I can download it for ten bucks. Here’s a link to my review of the book.

I watched the movie version of The Handmaid’s Tale yesterday. I didn’t think it was as bad as some people had led me to believe it would be, although I think it really helped that I’d read the book and have been watching the Hulu series. Knowing the premise of the story helped clear up some confusion that was bound to occur if I’d simply watched director Volker Schlondorff’s film. The screenplay was written by the late British playwright, Harold Pinter, whose work I remember reading when I was majoring in English at Longwood College (now University). In those days, Pinter was still alive, and it had only been a few years since he’d worked on The Handmaid’s Tale. In 1986, when the film rights were initially purchased by producer David Wilson, Pinter was tapped to work with director Karel Reisz. The two had successfully worked together on The French Lieutenant’s Woman, an excellent film that starred Meryl Streep and was later nominated for five Academy Awards.

According to the 2015 article I linked, written by Sophie Gilbert, no one at any film studio wanted to make the movie about how America was conquered and turned into a police state called Gilead. Even though every cruelty perpetrated against women in Atwood’s book had been historically perpetrated against women somewhere in the world, in the 80s, people saw her work as far-fetched, fear mongering, paranoid, and overly feminist. Sigourney Weaver had originally been tapped to play Kate/Offred, the protagonist (who, aside from being called Offred, is unnamed in the book and called “June” in the TV show), but she had to drop out because she got pregnant. After that, it seemed that no actress wanted anything to do with the project, because they were afraid of being labeled or attached to such an overtly feminist work. The Handmaid’s Tale was seen as hostile, and it was too much about women. Women were not a popular topic in those days, even though I remember called Eating, another film about women from 1990 that was both intriguing and widely panned. As I recall, Eating also got horrible reviews. I did see it myself, and don’t remember liking it, although I might feel differently if I watched it today.

Because of the difficulty and delay in making the film, Karel Reisz had to drop out of the project. Then, there was trouble finding a new director, until Russian filmmaker Volker Schlondorff took on the task. Schlondorff was the man responsible for the Oscar winning film adaptation of The Tin Drum, a novel written by Gunter Grass. Evidently, Pinter and Schlondorff did not work as well together as Pinter and Reisz did.

Natasha Richardson, who was eventually cast as Kate/Offred, had complaints about the way the screenplay was written. She claimed Harold Pinter had something against narration and voice overs. In the book, the character, Offred, does a lot of narration, which explains a lot of what’s happening. Without the narration, viewers are forced to figure things out for themselves. If I hadn’t been familiar with the story, that would have been difficult. I might have had to watch the movie more than once to get everything. Harold Pinter supposedly didn’t want to claim his work on The Handmaid’s Tale and refused to allow it to be published, saying that it had been so altered and edited by other people that it was no longer really his work.

And then there’s the casting. Natasha Richardson, daughter of actress Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson, was cast as Offred. She was joined by Blanche Baker (who famously played Ginny Baker in Sixteen Candles) playing Ofwarren, Elizabeth McGovern (of Ordinary People) playing Moira, Faye Dunaway (Mommie Dearest) as Serena Joy, and Victoria Tennant (All of Me) as Aunt Lydia. Frankly, I was surprised Dunaway played Serena Joy. I thought she’d make a better Aunt Lydia. Certainly, she would have been more convincing and cruel than Victoria Tennant was. When I watched Ms. Dunaway playing Serena Joy, I kept thinking of Mommie Dearest. In fact, I ended up watching that movie next. Robert Duvall, who played Bull Meacham in The Great Santini, was convincing as Commander Fred. I noticed that the movie cast was overwhelmingly white. Unlike the television series, which has people of different races represented, the Gilead in the film version appears to be full of white people, which also makes it less believable.

A trailer for the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale…

So what did I think of the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale? I’m glad I watched it. It was interesting to see a 1990 era take on Atwood’s story, especially having seen the cable television series. However, I’m afraid that the film is a bit campy and strange, even though the message is very important and, done differently, would have served as a warning to us today. One thing I noticed about the film was the music was odd. The soundtrack reminded me of something I’d have heard in a cheesy 80s horror movie. Yes, the story is horrifying, but The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t supposed to be a horror story, at least not in the sense that most horror stories are. Ryuichi Sakamoto, the man in charge of the music, didn’t set up the grim, oppressive, depressing mood that I would have expected for this film.

Slut shaming… but Victoria Tennant as Aunt Lydia isn’t as convincing as Ann Dowd is. And I love to imagine Faye Dunaway in this role, although maybe she was too glamourous.

Toward the end of the movie, Fred takes Offred/Kate to a brothel, where she runs into her old friend, Moira. Moira has become a “Jezebel” and had had her hands mangled. She says, “We don’t need hands or feet for our work”. Curiously, as the high ranking men are cavorting with the prostitutes and “whores” in the brothels, Sakamoto uses the classic song, “Crazy”, sung by Patsy Cline. It doesn’t seem to fit with the mood… but it does add more camp to the story. In another scene, the wives are attending a birth as Janine (who keeps both eyes in the film) has a baby for her couple. There’s a band playing, and I would swear it’s the same music that was played in an episode of The Brady Bunch. That I was reminded of The Brady Bunch while watching a film that should have been scary and grim says something about the way the story was treated.

Skip to the 22 minute mark and you’ll hear what I mean.
After this scene, they play music that sounds like Warren’s audition piece on the accordion. It’s schmaltzy and kind of schlocky… not nearly dark and depressing enough.

I noticed, too, that the use of color in the film was very obvious and kind of silly. Anyone who has read The Handmaid’s Tale or watched the television show, knows that colors are very important. The handmaids wear red. The “Marthas” (women who are too old or are sterile) wear grey. The “wives” wear blue. But I like the way this is done in the television show better than the way it was done for the film. The costumes in the film are very garish and bright, and they have a dated look to them. Faye Dunaway’s blue dress, the same dress that all the wives wear, looks like something I might have bought at The Limited in 1988. It doesn’t age well, nor does it appear to be modest enough for the story. I am not convinced that Gilead– the new country formed after the coup that decimated America– is run by fundamentalist Christians. In fact, now that I think about it, the movie almost seems like a satirical treatment of Atwood’s book.

Kate and Moira meet up again as what sounds like the Fine Young Cannibals plays in the background. I remember that band… damn, I’m old.

But… I do remember 1990. That was the year I graduated from high school. Although I’m sure there were fundies in those days, we didn’t hear about them nearly as much as we do today. I remember that time as more hopeful and progressive. I never felt like I couldn’t or shouldn’t do whatever I wanted with my life. I don’t remember worrying about whether or not Roe v Wade would be overturned. I never heard any politician talking about trying to re-implant ectopic pregnancies. Although I do remember hearing horror stories about women trying to induce abortion by using coat hangers, I also remember being reassured that abortions were safe and available, and birth control was available and encouraged. And so, it makes sense that the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale was treated in such a farcical way. Back then, no one believed that the scenario presented in the film could one day be a realistic look at what life could one day be like. In fact, here are a few comments from film critics quoted in The Atlantic who panned the movie:

Roger Ebert said, “The movie seems equally angry that women have to have children at all, and that it is hard for them to have children now that men have mucked up the planet with their greedy schemes.”  (uh huh… that about sums it up, Mr. Ebert.)

Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers said, “[the ceremony is] about as erotic as a gynecological exam,” and the movie had “narrowed the focus to [Male Chauvinist Pigs] who like to put women in their place.”  (since when is rape supposed to be “erotic”, anyway?)

Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Glieberman said, “[the film’s version of the future] is so poisonous and mechanical that you have to wonder: Is this really what our society is threatening to turn into, or is Atwood just exorcising her own fear and loathing?” (um… yes, Mr. Glieberman, “that” is exactly what our society is threatening to turn into…)

As it turns out, Atwood’s 1985 vision of the world may be scarily astute, as conservative politicians and religious wingnuts do their best to take away women’s reproductive rights and our “president” does his best to quash any progress made toward equality and better living for everyone. It seems today like we had a lot more extreme religious nuts out there, coupled with militant atheists. Maybe it’s simply because the Internet is a thing now, and people are exposed to a lot more around information than we were in the blissfully ignorant days prior to the Internet. Back in 1990, I never imagined that a guy like Joel Osteen– a televangelist– or a woman like Paula White (whom I used to watch on TBN and laugh at)– would be esteemed and seen by so many people. And yet, here they are… Osteen is cavorting with rapper/born again Christian Kanye West, and Paula White is Donald Trump’s “spiritual adviser”. And they’re all about as sincere and Christlike as Damien. When I think of these people, I don’t think of real examples of Christians. I think of power and money hungry vermin who feed on the gullible and the stupid.

In Atwood’s book, the character Serena Joy is a former televangelist who rose to power and prestige, preaching for the world that women endure in The Handmaid’s Tale. In both the film and the television show, we see her character watching the way things were kind of wistfully. Things didn’t turn out the way she’d planned, and it wasn’t so good for her as a second class citizen with no real choices. But in the movie, that point isn’t made meaningful or poignant. Instead, it just seems bizarre and satirical. Mommie Dearest with blonde hair singing “Amazing Grace” in an appallingly spine tingling soprano that set my teeth on edge.

A couple of female reviewers had nicer things to say about the movie and Atwood’s tale of warning– again taken from Sophie Gilbert’s article about this film for The Atlantic:

The New York Times Janet Maslin wrote “As visions of a hellish, dehumanizing future go, this one could never be mistaken for a man’s. With its devilish attention to polite little touches, its abundant bitchiness … The Handmaid’s Tale is a shrewd if preposterous cautionary tale that strikes a wide range of resonant chords.” (yes, it sure is a cautionary tale, and the updated version would strike a lot more resonant chords…)

The Washington Post’s Rita Kempley wrote “surrogate motherhood run amok in a society dominated by iron-fisted pulpit thumpers turned fascist militarists,” even while acknowledging that “Schlondorff seems as uncomfortable in this feminist nightmare as a man in a lingerie department.” (perhaps this movie would have been better in a woman’s hands…)

I’m not inclined to be as generous about this movie as Maslin or Kempley are, although I do kind of understand why it came off as “uncomfortable” and “preposterous”. That’s because in the late 80s and early 90s, these ideas did seem “preposterous” to most of us. Most of us didn’t see 2019 coming– that so many women would be fighting to maintain their right to terminate a pregnancy without fearing a prison sentence, health complications, or having to plead their cases to politicians and men in charge of the medical system.

In 1990, I could not have conceived of Texan Marlise Munoz’s horrifying last weeks of “life”, spent brain dead, but on life support, because she happened to be pregnant when she collapsed in her home. Medical personnel, citing a Texas law requiring that lifesaving measures be maintained if a female patient was pregnant, kept that poor woman artificially alive weeks after she was declared brain dead. In Texas, brain death is considered “legal death”, and yet Marlise was kept in intensive care for many weeks while her family watched her rot. In the end, the baby she was carrying didn’t survive and was horribly deformed. I’ll bet the medical bills were a sight to behold, too. Isn’t it interesting that conservative politicians want to declare life when a heartbeat is detected in a developing embryo, but legally, death occurs when the brain stops functioning?

Anyway… I give the people who brought us the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale props for tackling that subject in 1990. They obviously tried. I just think that for most people back in 1990, the story was too weird and far-fetched to get a realistic treatment on film. Today, Atwood’s cautionary tale seems more like it could happen, so the television series seems more real and much scarier, although I will admit that season 3 gave me the impression that the show is about to “jump the shark”. I mean, seriously, it’s unrealistic that June/Offred on the show would still be living after all she’s done. But if they get rid of June, the show will probably tank. I expect she’s headed for underground in season 4, at least if the writers know what’s good for them.

I did take note of The Atlantic’s staff writer, Sophie Gilbert’s, closing statements in her 2015 look back at the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale. She wrote:

Since [1990], a number of Atwood’s imaginings (themselves ripped from American historyhave manifested in reality, prompting the question of what insight might be gained from a new, more faithful Handmaid’s Tale. Still, it’s equally possible that, even 25 years later, neither audiences nor the film industry is ready yet.

I guess back in 2015, we didn’t know that in 2017, we’d get a new, more faithful Handmaid’s Tale, and it would alternately thrill and scare the shit out of today’s audiences. I, for one, hope that this particular “fiction” tale stops being so true.

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