Here you go:

CultureSpeak: “Slut”

March 12th, 2012

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Cultural context: Apparently it’s the label given graduate students testifying before Congress in favor of insurance coverage of contraceptives. At least the label Rush Limbaugh gives them…

LIMBAUGH: What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke [sic], who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.

She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps.

The johns, that’s right. We would be the johns — no! We’re not the johns. Well — yeah, that’s right. Pimp’s not the right word.

OK, so, she’s not a slut. She’s round-heeled. I take it back.

You’ve probably read about these comments and been tempted to discount them as more ravings from another obviously polarizing ultra-conservative media figure. I was tempted.

I was tempted to discount them as ravings — the kind we tend to become desensitized to. The kind we assume folks view as ridiculous hyperbole, or just plain ridiculous. It’s easy to gloss past something that is so overtly aimed at fire-starting. Or something that is so obviously a misconstruing of context. Or so incredibly minimizing of larger issues.

I was tempted to discount Mr. Limbaugh’s characterizations as so blatantly prejudicial to gender and family concerns that they are surely to be viewed as ignorant by the larger audience — so outlandish that they are easily found laughable by average Americans. I could numb my brain to the obvious implications or questions those comments raise because surely they aren’t taken seriously. Questions like…

1. Is there nothing commendable about a graduate student who is willing to stand before Congress to share her beliefs?
2. In 2012 America, is there no way for “conservatives” to find a fraction of respect for that?
3. Has the process of public discourse become so mind-numbing that we must resort to the use of euphemisms and outright vulgarity to grab the next news cycle?
4. Are all women who use contraceptives promiscuous?
5. Is there no room in the conservative mindset for a woman who might responsibly use contraceptives in planning her family?
6. Is it really ok in our society for a public figure to go on live radio and call a woman he doesn’t know a “slut?”
7. Does conservative thinking really mean jumping on the bandwagon of whatever mindless banter is spouted in a fruitless attempt at humor at another person’s expense?

Surely the answers to these questions are obvious. Surely Mr. Limbaugh’s comments which raised them are indeed reasonably discounted as preposterous. After all, American companies who pledged their advertising dollars on this radio forum are now retreating. Surely any reasonable person would discount these statements.

Yes, I’ve been tempted. To discount them. But I simply can’t. Because I’m reading that Rush Limbaugh’s listener numbers are just the same, maybe higher since his offensive tirade. Why are you, America?

I’m reading no reports that Clear Channel will be denouncing his actions with a cancellation. I’m reading painfully middle-of-the-road comments from candidates vying for conservative votes — because we wouldn’t want to offend conservative America by denouncing someone who calls women sluts on syndicated radio. Where are you, America?

I’m reading disrespectful name-calling from all kinds of self-proclaimed conservative pundits — no, not name-calling of Mr. Limbaugh, but jump-on-the-bandwagon comments about Sandra Fluke. Oh so witty. Filled with nice, big words and just the right amount of conservative jargon. But still calling a woman a “slut” for stating her beliefs about birth control and the need for women’s healthcare. Who are you, America?

Yes, I’ve been tempted to roll my eyes and deem this another one of those tirades. I’ve been tempted to file them in the “consider the source” category and move on. To discount them. But, I simply can’t. Because I sometimes think conservatively. And I don’t want this man speaking for me.

Wake up, America. Be careful where you lend your ears. It just might be where you find yourself living.

© Haley Montgomery

The Pull of Legend

November 7th, 2011

On Saturday I read this article about Penn State Athletics. It gave me that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. If you haven’t seen much about the story, I’ll just let you read it for yourself. And I predict you will get that sick feeling too.

I read the article while I was watching the Mississippi State homecoming football game on television with my boys. You see, I have boys. Two of them. And they’re just learning about football and what a college is and which team is the Bulldogs. The article made me spontaneously hug and kiss them, which they have sort of come to expect from their Mommy. So, it was no big deal for them. For me, it kept me awake that night.

Most of my kids’ enjoyment of football games consists of spotting “Bully,” the Mississippi State mascot somewhere in the televised coverage. Admittedly, the homecoming game didn’t have the same audience appeal as the Thomas the Tank Engine story they had concocted and were playing out on the living room floor. Still, we were watching football. And somewhere between the television ad spots proclaiming how college football in the South is part of the year-long cultural fabric and Emmitt Smith selling his favorite tailgating products, I saw the Penn State story.

I couldn’t help but think about what I can only assume is the incredible pull of legend. As college football legends go, I suppose Joe Paterno’s Penn State program is as legendary as they come. It’s a legend you want to follow — to appreciate, to see win. It’s a legend you’d like to see untarnished.

Was that the motivation behind the complete lack of human-ness displayed in this story by so many grown men? Were they thinking of their own individual jobs? The bad publicity? The loss of sponsorship and conference dollars from television broadcasts? From my couch, I imagine that it was all of the above.

For the first eyewitness to this horrific situation, I can imagine some combination of shock and fear prevailed. I would hope that for athletic staff and university administration, the first thoughts WEREN’T the horrific experience of a football program. But, as the story played out through the sequence of events described, it appears that is the exact horrific experience that was at the forefront of their minds.

Something is amiss in legend-making. In legend-keeping. Shock and fear are certainly relevant emotions. But, what else happened while a witness mulled over his next actions? What else happened while the powers-that-be slowly formulated a crisis-management strategy. On that night, a young boy was left at the mercy of what appearances and indictment language tell us is a sexual predator. A young boy was left with no defense against unspeakable acts. And statistics tell us that for victims they ARE unspeakable. The shame and fear and long-term emotional effects of such experiences are difficult to express and therefore, very often go unexpressed. And let’s not forget that silence is one of the most powerful weapons a predator uses to protect himself and allow his pattern of abuse to continue. Yes, the acts were unspeakable.

Sadly, for the grown men in this situation, the events were apparently unspeakable as well — at least outside of the closed doors of a college football legend. What kept me up on Saturday night: The questions. What else happened? What further humiliation was the boy (a boy like mine) subjected to by such a key figure in this football legend? What was the look in his eyes? How did he get home? Did he have a home? Was he subjected to other meetings with this predator? Did he have someone who could help his young mind and soul cope with this life-changing experience? Wouldn’t he be about college-age by now?

On Sunday I read an article about the indictment of Jerry Sandusky. Apparently the language from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office specified that Coach Joe Paterno acted appropriately and was absolved of any wrong-doing. It indicated he would likely testify for the prosecution in the case. I was happy to read that caveat to the story. I, like many others, enjoy the mystique of Saturday afternoons in Autumn. I admire winners. I want to see a storied figure maintain his legacy. The legend of Penn State football can remain somewhat intact.

Good. But, what of the boy?

© Haley Montgomery

Green Flamingos, Nelson Mandela and Courage

August 2nd, 2010

Over the last few months I’ve noticed green flamingos around Starkville. They started popping up unexpectedly on bridge railings, electric boxes and the like, your typical vandal fare. But, they were some pretty well-designed vandal fare. These repetitive stenciled green fowl were nicely composed and sufficiently funky — something a designer would enjoy. And, it ticked me off.

It ticked me off so much that I was poised to launch one of my infrequent, but soul-cleansing rant posts complete with a few of the following points:

1. Kids these days.
2. Great. My tax dollars are going to have to clean that up.
3. That whole underground starving artist thing may seem glamorous, but it’s, well, NOT.
4. Get a job!
5. It may look like art, but it’s actually a misdemeanor.
6. Your talent is a gift. Make it count.

Yep, I’ll admit I was ready to unload, but that’s not the essay I’m writing. An overloaded schedule (and maybe some poor time management skills) stepped in and allowed those uncensored thoughts some time to germinate. Although I may still feel the same way on many of the points, they’ve also reminded me of the need for a shift in thinking.

“Your playing small doesn’t save the world.”

It’s from a quote by Nelson Mandela. It’s been floating around in my brain since I read it in a transcript of a commencement address several years ago. I can’t escape it. And, before I knew it, my impetuous rant turned into a post about courage. It’s been a while since I’ve written about the pursuit of my 2010 theme word. Perhaps I’ve been too immersed in exercising some courage in a few areas of late (where exercising equals being tossed into the deep end and hoping your swimsuit top doesn’t fly off.) I suppose that the laboratory takes priority over the lecture series in life lessons just as it often does in the traditional classroom.

I read in last week’s Starkville paper that the green flamingo vandals have turned themselves into the police department. They are exactly who I imagined they were — a couple of art students at the university making their mark on the world, literally. They are offering restitution and performing clean-up duties in hopes their records can escape with only minor blemishes. I’m sure their parents are hoping the same, and that their dollars spent on higher education will not go to waste. End of story.

Only not.

I’m sure there are more personal elements to the situation, to which, as a mother, I would likely be sympathetic. As an artist, I’m sure even more sympathetic. As a person, quite challenged with the realization that talent deserves courage. The broader quote from Mr. Mandela says this…

“Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, ‘who am I to be brilliant gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small doesn’t save the world.”

This from a man who has seen and lived at the pinnacle of authority and power as well as the despair of imprisonment, a man who HAS changed many aspects of the world around him. My first reaction to green flamingos was to say… Your talent is being misplaced. Your education is a privilege many in the world aren’t offered. The opportunity to learn in the arts is one many in the world don’t experience — or at the least they experience it with makeshift tools and eagerly devote themselves to the instruction knowing it may be their only hope to rise from desperate living situations. The superfluous materials of stencils and spray paint are luxuries many in the world can’t afford because they need rice or flour. While my first notion was to remind those young students of these facts, my more in-depth realization is to remind myself. To challenge myself against laziness. To challenge myself against cynicism and pessimism. To challenge myself against pity and compaint. To challenge myself into embracing big gifts.

I’m talented, as each person is in unique ways. And those talents aren’t entitlements or rights. They are gifts. Remarkable gifts. It’s so typical to diminish them. To be shaken by others who diminish them. To deny them. To apologize for them. To waste them. To shirk them. To make them seem small. To use them as if they WERE small.

“Your playing small doesn’t save the world.”

Even if the only world I’m saving is the one where I sit every day, I’m realizing that whatever talents I bring to bear on that world require courage. The world where I sit deserves a courageous talent, one that is used wisely and generously, without fear and without apology. To make those gifts count in whatever tiny sphere I apply them is my privilege. My responsibility.

© Haley Montgomery

BP, Leftovers & Jesus: A Dialogue

June 3rd, 2010

I think I’ve mentioned my instigator friend, #17. He’s actually an old friend (don’t take that personally, #17) who claims to be a recent and avid EyeJunkie convert. I call him an instigator because he sometimes sends me links or questions or book recommendations to stir the Junkie pot a little, prompting me to express myself on various issues or ideas, and perhaps inspiring me to some essay eloquence. Right.

It happened this morning. Again.

Like many across our country (and indeed our planet), I’ve been watching news of the oil “spill” in the Gulf of Mexico over the past six weeks. The story is of particular interest to those, who like me, live in Mississippi and other Gulf states. But, the implications environmentally and economically are so much more far-reaching.  Anyone who is awake is certainly convinced of that. Right? When I heard of the proposed “top kill” option to stem the flow of oil into the Gulf, my first thought was, “This whole process is an exercise in experimentation with 210,000 gallons of oil gushing daily.” It’s a frightening concept to realize you are reaching the limit of your own capacity to redeem a situation.

Enter #17.

This morning he called my attention to an article from the New York Times about the affect the “spill” is having on Louisiana shrimpers and fishermen. The implications of this disaster on their way of life and livelihood are unmistakeable, including the  larger questions of whether shrimp from the Gulf will ever be safe to eat. The plot thickens on the impact of the explosion at Deepwater Horizon. #17 wondered aloud in cyberspace why the disaster is still being called a “spill” rather than a “crime scene.” Good question. But a crime against what? Against whom?  Then, of course, #17 took the probe one step further.

“WWJD?”

For the unindoctrinated, that means “What would Jesus do?” Yep. Once an instigator, always an instigator. The ensuing dialogue in pursuit of an answer to that question made me think. It made me sad. It made me wonder. It made me ask more questions. With #17’s permission, I thought I’d share it here with little editing…

Junkie: And what’s YOUR take on what Jesus would do?

#17: Maybe He would cry. Why don’t YOU lead me to water on this?

Junkie: I don’t know about leading to water, but random thoughts…

I do think God is grieved by it. I believe a few facts about God that color the situation.

I think God made this earth. I think He designed it to be a living and continual testament to Himself and His existence. I also think He made it to sustain itself in many ways, but also to need a caretaker. The first few chapters of the Bible indicate that God designated man to be that caretaker. I think God designated man as the culmination of His creation — therefore not equivalent to nature, but more important than nature. In many ways, He designed the “system” or nature to serve man. That’s not necessarily a popular opinion with environmental groups.

In those first few chapters of Genesis, there is the account of man in the garden of Eden. Some see it as figurative, some as a recount of history. To me, the concepts are the same regardless. In that story, it was God who killed the first animals to provide clothing for man after his “fall.” The environment was used to serve the needs of man.

So, there’s a fine line with this situation. I think it’s ok for man to explore, ok to tap and use the resources we have available on this planet. However, God entreated man to be the caretaker. So there is an inherent responsibility of stewardship. I think that’s where we fall short. I think that’s where greed takes over. I think that’s where we show our lack of restraint. That lack of restraint and balance is what so often leads us into disaster.

But, above all, I believe God is compassionate. He gave souls to men, not to plants or animals. In this situation, I think he still sees the people as more important than the damage. I’m also aware that the two aren’t easily separated.

What would Jesus do?
I don’t know. I think He would have men act with compassion. I think He would want us all to take responsibility for our own actions, to own them. I think He would want sincerity in motives and actions. I think He wants the extra mile, the giving of the shirt as well as the coat, the recognition of what is priceless. I think He wants this mess cleaned up.

I like the idea of the Gumbo parties. [Gumbo for the Gulf is the benefit brain child of Environment Michigan.] Go out and buy shrimp. Eat it and give. But, is a halt to all drilling the answer? I don’t know.

I know that for many counties in Mississippi and Louisiana, the best job opportunities for feeding families are found in offshore drilling (and ironically in fishing or aquaculture). With the limited educational opportunities and historic poverty, those jobs are essential in many ways. In Mississippi, forestry is one of the largest industries (if not the largest) — another target of the environmental lobby. The current crisis is in need of funds and so are the shrimpers and other fishermen. But what about long term? What economic development can be produced to replace the jobs lost with a halt to all drilling?

And, the reality is that most goods are delivered by freight across this country. A reduction in the amount of available oil (regardless of its source) means double or triple prices on basic needs. I can’t afford that again.

There are many positions here. And not many easy answers. For me, I think the best answer lies in balance and restraint. For regulations and limits to be real. For incentives for alternative fuel to be real and enticing. For disincentives to breeching the limits to be real and detrimental.

#17: I agree completely.

I appreciate the narrative about the scripture. I also see nature as something in service to man. So did the Romans. So did the American Indians. Have you read Wendell Berry? On Stewardship? [more instigation]

I also believe in moderation and compassion. I believe in restraint and delicacy. That’s why I re-read books, why I wear my clothes out, why I have ridden a bike for so long. Its why I took the bus in Cincinnati. Its why I took the train home in Mississippi. That’s why I buy $25 of gas at a time, why I eat leftovers and pack a lunch. Its why I put new lenses in old frames and why I’m careful about how often I wash clothes.

I also believe Jesus would be grieving. And so do many others at a distance from this crisis. We feel helpless.

Junkie: Everyone feels helpless. And, we ARE in many ways.

Presumably the best and brightest minds from the private and public sectors are applying solutions to this problem to no avail. That’s not an easy thing for man to accept. And, it’s not an easy thing to look in the mirror as a race or a people after having created such a far-reaching dilemma. It’s not easy to admit that we had no foresight, or at least inadequate foresight. It’s like the realization after Hiroshima — what have we done? What genie is now out of the bottle?

Bringing it back to the real people, I think what bothers me the most is the rush to embrace agendas. It’s human nature and politics, but it’s taking our eyes off the ball. Party lines, Obama bashing, big oil bashing. The rhetoric has a place, but it is in the back seat. I was disappointed most, I think, to see the immediate adversarial relationship established by the EPA representatives upon their arrival two weeks after the explosion. In reading the tenor of the press conferences since, it put BP in an immediate defensive position. Of course, they’re going to be the fall guy. They are going to be the culprit. That’s obvious. But, that was a mistake in crisis management. To establish advocacy and an environment of cooperation fosters the best ideas. It squelches the need for secrecy and hedging. I think that approach was politically motivated, and it offended me as a citizen of a state that is likely to be affected directly by this disaster for decades. And, to see a Congressman holding up a glass filled with dark liquid that could just as easily have been 3-day old coffee was just ridiculous posturing.

You know, I’m seeing articles where the concept of “risk management” and its viability are coming into question. The assumption is that BP (or any of the oil companies) may have imagined this scenario in some brainstorming session somewhere in the past, but it was likely not even addressed because the possibility was so remote. Now, the remotest possibility has created a situation where a hazmat suit is required to walk in the Louisiana marshes that feed the lowest elements on the food chain — for wildlife and humans. “Managing” risk is an exercise in choosing, in setting priorities. Unfortunately, the priorities provided by probability (and certainly by financial gain) are being shown NOT to match up with the potential consequences. The horror is that just as we can’t conceive of an appropriate solution to this problem we’ve caused, we also can’t conceive of the true impact. For all our smarts, our brains simply aren’t big enough to accurately predict that.

Dialogue is important. Sadly, it’s not always the product of this small world we live in. It’s not always the norm for friends living 17 states apart or issues entrenched an ocean apart. But, I think maybe that dialogue is our greatest hope for solutions.

From there OUR dialogue moved into less weightier topics and pleasantries, punctuated by something like…

Junkie: What were you thinking getting me started with both Jesus AND British Petroleum at the same time?

#17: A *smirk* I could read loud and clear across 17 states.

© Haley Montgomery

6th Day of Thanksgiving: The Power of the Pen

November 20th, 2009

Little Drummer Boy had his annual Thanksgiving program today complete with Pilgrim costumes, Native American headdresses, a tee pee and an alarming number of lyrics about chopping turkeys. Quiver was tied up with work, so it was just me and my favorite 4-year-old for lunch consisting of… turkey sandwiches. I must have heard “I love you, Mommy” 637 times and enjoyed it every time. I’m realizing that I say “I love you” to my gifts pretty often–with every available breath, actually. Now, I’m starting to get it back at me. Granted, sometimes it’s translated as “don’t spank me, Mommy,” but more often than not it signifies a grand old time.

All the Pilgrims and Indians today got me thinking. What’s a 12 Days of Thanksgiving without a little history? And, courtesy of the Starkville Public Library and LDB’s penchant for wanting to read the same book over and over (and over) again, I’ve learned a new little bit of history this year about the power of the pen.

A woman named Sarah Hale is credited with being the catalyst for the creation of a designated national day of Thanksgiving–the one we celebrate now on the fourth Thursday of November. We checked out a book from the library about her called Thank You Sarah, The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson. It has great illustrations and a fun account of this unusual woman.

Sarah Hale was a writer and activist long before women even had the right to vote. She was a teacher, a poet, a songwriter (does Mary Had a Little Lamb ring a bell?) and a mom. She was also the editor of an influential women’s magazine–one of the first of its kind. She used that forum to lobby for any number of issues close to her heart. One of those issues was a national day of Thanksgiving. She first lobbied for the idea by challenging states to set aside a day. She succeeded, but every state had a different day. She felt there was value in creating a common day set aside for all Americans to give thanks. So, she began writing again–both columns in her magazine and letters and more letters. All in all, she spent 38 years writing letters and articles about Thanksgiving, including letters to five different presidents.

Finally, in 1863, when the country was in the midst of the bloody Civil War, she found someone who agreed that a national day of Thanksgiving could be a positive force in the American culture. On October 3rd of that year, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the first Thanksgiving proclamation.

What can I learn from history?

1. Sarah’s pen was indeed a powerful tool. And today, the pen is easier to wield than ever before with countless opportunities for “citizen media”– vehicles like blogs, social networking sites, email correspondence, and yes, the U.S. Postal Service still runs 6 days per week.

2. Sarah didn’t give up until her message was embraced–even after 38 years. It wasn’t enough for it to be heard. She was persistent until she convinced that one person who could make a difference.

3. The results had lasting power–so much so that a century and a half later President Barack Obama will make a Thanksgiving proclamation on Thursday, November 26th.

People with conviction can have a powerful impact if they choose to use their voices. Whatever I have to say, I better make it count.

© Haley Montgomery

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    Thank you for seven years of encouragement and sharing this story. You can find Haley's current essays and design work at smallpondgraphics.com

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