Fiestas de Cuenca

Traditionally, every town and city in Ecuador organizes an annual festival as a showcase of the city’s arts, activities, music, and special features.   The “Fiestas de Cuenca” turned out to be a three days-long event, during which the city was transformed into a series of performance stages, artisanal markets, food stalls, and general flea markets.  At night the city’s central square became a huge concert venue.  Local restaurants and businesses took the opportunity to set up special events.  Massive parades rolled through the historic “El Centro” of Cuenca with participation by nearly every community, university, organization, and neighborhood, who each rolled out dance teams and lavishly-decorated floats.

What surprised me most was the scale of the fiesta.  The city’s municipal government set up what seemed like endless tents and stalls at most of the city’s several plazas and yet more stalls lining the central city’s riverside promenade.  Music stages were set up at every plaza and in the city’s central square.  It was hard to fathom that the municipal government of Cuenca could dig into its treasuries to fund and set up such  infrastructure, and electronic equipment for the sole purpose of “cultural activities”.  Or perhaps, I had a lot to learn about the emphases and priorities of the Ecuadorian people. It seemed like an extravaganza that seemed out of step with the fiscal situation of the city.

(There are many areas of civic life in Cuenca that beg fiscal investment and which would bring much-needed advantages to the city and its public health and well-being; and if I were king, I would perhaps begin with efforts such as the following:

  • initiatives to reduce the black exhaust from the city’s bus transport companies that lead to horrible air pollution and impact public health or
  • initiatives to cut back the horrendous prevalence of dog poop all over town
  • programs to reduce polluted urban runoff into the river or
  • programs to restore some semblance of aquatic life in the river which currently looks like a glorified wastewater ditch
  • programs to improve the abominable level of public recycling)

Hand-in-hand with the buzz of the city dressed up to showcase its music, food, traditions, and arts was the nuisance factor of the traffic.  Vehicular traffic was blocked seemingly at every turn, buses were rerouted, and, when combined with large influxes of crowds who traveled in from other cities like Guayaquil, led to interminable waiting in long lines of traffic.  It was always faster to walk than to drive anywhere in the city.

The food tents offered selections of Peruvian ceviche, Venezuelan arepas, and Thai noodles in addition to the traditional Ecuadorian “Chancho”–a whole roasted pig dressed with sides of potatoes, corn and a piquant salsa made of “tomato de arbol”, an Andean fruit.  Arts and crafts from juried competition were exhibited at stalls at exclusive central points in the city, including artisans from Uruguay, Peru, and Argentina.  At the big city parade that took over the center of town, volunteers from my local bailoterapia class were dancing down the street behind massive floats organized by the local indigenous communities.  Local purveyors of gourmet, small-batch crafted jellies, honey, pickles and cheeses offered interesting tastes at their stalls.  Shamans had set up tents alongside vendors of underwear and clothes to cleanse people of their evil energy.  Along the grand staircases that led down from “El Centro” to the river, troupes from indigenous communities from both Ecuador and neighboring countries performed lively dances in colorful costumes. Later at night, rock bands from the local scene took over the stage.


At night, I went down to the central square to meet up with some friends and to enjoy the party atmosphere at the main stages.  The music stage offered up some very formulaic and uninspiring commercial-variety Latin American music by local musicians.  The crowds surged all around in an incredibly jovial and relaxed manner.  I was reminded by my friends to keep a tight hold of my cell phone and money in the midst of the milling groups.  Nobody was aggressive and everybody was in an upbeat mood.  As is customary, babies and toddlers were carried around midnight, very awake, by their very young looking parents.

Impressed on the one hand and dumb-founded by the extent of the festivities on the other hand, I consulted by Ecuadorian friend–a teacher in the local school system–about what seemed to me extravagant expenditure on cultural celebrations in Cuenca.  She chuckled and reminded me of the “bread and circus” adage…that corrupt governments who do little to reduce the desperation of poor people and offer few investments in education, social and public infrastructure to improve their daily lives, are especially keen to keep the masses distracted by  entertainment, or else they might have an angry social upheaval on their hands.  The tactic of spending large amounts to keep the people dazzled, dancing, and perhaps a little drunk and slow, is a cost-effective and foolproof one to maintain a smoke-screen over corruption, and to keep resentment and anger at government at bay.

There’s also a sinister shadow cast by Spanish colonialism that explains this profound cultural emphasis on parties and fiestas.  In Latin American history, many Spanish colonists deliberately paid their enslaved indigenous workers off in alcohol.  This not only dulled their pain, it dulled other senses as well.  Alcohol took the edge off anger, softened feelings of resentment, and made people immobile in their desperate circumstances.  It served the rulers’ purposes to keep a population sleep-walking and functional only to the point of their labor services.  Although that dire image of violent servitude has been obscured and corroded into largely forgotten history, it also gives a certain atavistic sense to the emphasis and expenditure on parties and festivals in Ecuadorian culture today.

As it turns out, the Fiestas of Cuenca were also the precursor to an entire season of partying and fiestas around the Christmas season.  I was going to have to learn much more of this culture of celebrations.

 

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Zuni Dancers Revere Their Ancestors at Chimney Rock

When I travel through the southwestern United States, I can palpably feel the enduring cultural footprint of America’s native people.  The aura seems to emanate from the high-desert geology of bare landforms: rocks, canyons, and mountains, that stand exactly as they have stood for millenia.  This landscape has not been domesticated and industrialized.  In contrast, the Midwest’s prairies were transformed into mono-cropped agricultural fields, and the Appalachian mountains of the east were first stripped of their dense forests by large-scale logging, then scarred and exploded to extract the coal seams underground.  Here, in the high deserts of southern Colorado and northern Arizona, the landscape has not been reshaped to fit the economy and currency of modernity.

If you pay attention, the southwestern landscape is redolent with a deeper, quieter history.  It pierces through the dominant narratives (and more prominent tourism) around European colonization that centers on the relics of gold exploration, cowboys, homesteaders, and railroads. It shifts your sense of time and belonging.

Chimney Rock, an archaeological site of a small hamlet located on a high mesa in the San Juan National Forest, is one of those quiet signals in this landscape, dating back a thousand years (approximately 1025–1075 AD).  Archaeologists refer to this time as the “Pueblo II period,” when similar hamlets and settlements thrived throughout the southwestern United States.  Together they are associated with the Chacoan culture, so named for the large population center and cultural source at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. (It is a contemporary of other large native cultures of north America, such as the Mississippian and the Fremont.)

Chimney Rock is significant because of prominent rock outcrops along a ridge. These rock features framed the rising of the moon and the setting of the sun at certain times of the year, and were astronomically significant.  Also here, a large gathering place or “kiva” with stone boundaries was discovered on a high spot with commanding views of the surroundings.  Archaeologists postulate this was the equivalent of a theater or “town square” where communal ceremonies and pilgrimage festivals were held.  People gathered here for dances and rituals.

The two rock formations can be seen framed by the trees at Chimney Rock National Monument.

The two protruding rock formations of Chimney Rock National Monument are said to frame the rising of the moon and the setting of the sun at certain points in the year

 

View of southern Colorado

A rainbow across the southwestern Colorado landscape as seen from atop a mesa and the site of the thousand year old Chacoan culture hamlet called Chimney Rock.

Agriculture had become a mainstay of the Chacoan culture by the time people inhabited Chimney Rock.  A thousand years ago, communities here were already cultivating and storing corn, vegetables, and grains.  Their farming expertise was dependent on their understanding of weather.  They observed weather cycles, contemplated the night sky to establish astrological patterns, and connected their own survival with greater, mysterious or spiritual forces of nature that sustained them with life-giving water and sources of food.  Communities developed ceremonial gatherings and rituals around farming.  They also harvested timber and hunted game animals such as elk and deer.  Trade and communal networks helped small communities to survive in this landscape.  Archaeologists have established communication lines and trajectories between the Chimney Rock hamlet, other communities, and the center of Chaco Culture in New Mexico.

When I look around at the Colorado plateau, I feel humility and respect for ancestors who survived this landscape using only their ingenuity, skills, social intelligence, and spiritual convictions.  This landscape that provided everything that sustained their lives and nurtured their culture.  It moves me to be at the very site where a thousand years ago people sang, danced, squabbled, cooked, and walked.

It was an unexpected treat for me to be at Chimney Rock simultaneously with a group of Zuni dancers who had traveled here to celebrate a gathering with ritual dances.  Many modern Puebloans such as the Zuni and Acoma tribes believe their ancestors lived at Chimney Rock.  Zunis who have lived in northern New Mexico for 3,000 to 4,000 years continuously, resisting Spanish colonists and proselytizers, signed a treaty with the fledgling United States in 1848 to establish their autonomous regions and treaty lands.

As the dancers prepared their costumes around the reconstructed stone walls that their ancestors once built atop this mesa, Chimney Rock seemed to come alive with the spirit of cultural continuity.

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As they danced, their movements, rhythms, and language seemed emblematic of the symbiotic relationship between the culture and the land.  Their song and dance seemed to reflect the natural environment: the animals, plants, hills, trees, and rocks spoke to their identity based deeply in this land and continuously over centuries.

Some dancers imitated the animals: deer, eagle, buffalo.  These animals provided symbols of their shared heritage in this land as well as sources of survival by providing food and clothing.  Other dancers focused on the agriculture of corn and celebrated the mud pottery that the Zunis have produced for hundreds of years. Their costumes and decorative jewelry reflected their cultural innovations.  The women, led by Ms. Xyla Johnson, did a tremendous job of balancing clay pots on their head while executing intricate steps with their feet, covered in bindings of leather and shoes.

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The dancers were aided by little Jasmine, who at seven was ready to step in and dance just as soon as she could balance the pot on her head.

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Ms. Xyla Johnson was particularly striking against the Colorado skies which were pregnant with clouds that day threatening to unleash a summer monsoon on us.

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Perhaps the most inspiring thing I saw was the children’s participation in the dance ceremonies.  As the children were donning constumes and being trained in the dance steps, they also began to feel the imaginative associations and meanings of the dance.  As they sang the old songs, they learned to feel their ancestral linguistic and spiritual ties to this place. The power in the costumes and rituals is the power of their cultural heritage and their identity and history.

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The entire gathering was a powerful testament to the continuity of the Zuni culture with this land.  I felt spellbound by the power of their expression in song and dance in this ancestral settlement.  I am one of many waves of immigrants on this continent.  I love this land and I feel I belong here.  The experience of this gathering at the ancestor’s “kiva” reminds me we owe an immense debt of gratitude and reverence to the original cultures.  They have so much to teach us about attention to the secrets and quiet stories of this land and about their historical perspective on how to really belong here.

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The day did end with a thunderstorm.  I caught a quick picture before I dashed back to the car.

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Posted in Anthropological, Cultural Commentary, Ethnicity, Indigenous, People, Photography, Social Documentary | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Swimming With The Masters

It was towards closing when I sauntered in.
An athletic man cheerily yelled “I’m getting out!”
opening up half a lane
as he athletically hoisted himself up on the pool’s edge.
I had forgotten the Masters were swimming.

The cold water baptism every time I plunge in
is familiar and shocking
so I don’t dally
in sliding down my side of the lane
setting up my four-strokes and breath rhythm.

I swim to slough off the weight of the world,
more meditative than competitive
But today my aquatic escape is a roiling sea
of two-legged leviathans lapping the blue field
with two-stroke arm engines.

When I pull down my left stroke
a man’s long arm comes hacking at me,
then just slices the buoy divider’s other side,
shifting a pocket of water in the heft of his torso
and sucking me slightly into his wake.

I tilt to the other side, pulling my right stroke
into the center of my body,
and a pair of feet flash by in front of me,
leaving only tell-tale silver bubbles
in the slipstream.

Back and forth, these cutters churn past me,
efficiently somersaulting two feet in advance of the wall
and bouncing back, as I hang on the lip for a rest.
When my ear tilts out of the water,
the water-ploughing roars like a rainstorm on a tin roof.

I can’t quite keep my zone or rhythm
in the tackle of these burly bodies
stirring up turbulent swells
that crash into my mouth
opened for breath.

My soft body in a swimsuit at the edge of its elastic limits,
sagging from fibers thinned by chlorine,
threads a wiggly line through
this blitz of big men
chasing speed.

But beneath the chaotic waves and
muscular pool froth,
I am not just a middle-aged woman
incongruous in a tackle of broad-backs
In the water, we are folded together in another physics

Where I am a careening krill among writhing sharks,
an impossibly tangled bundle of sea kelp
rolling in the surf,
a gossamer jellyfish
bobbing in the eddies of lumbering giants

Sheathed together in a watery dream,
we are wordlessly slicing the silk
in distinct trajectories side by side,
creatures gliding and shooting through
the silent mysteries of a Neptunian world.

 

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Cuenca’s Pissing Men and Modest Women

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Originally posted on Ansu's Eye:
You won’t find this in the tourist literature on Cuenca, but men in this city are constantly whipping out their private parts to piss on walls, on the concrete curbs of busy El Centro streets,…

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Ocean’s Edge

The ocean’s edge is the best place to end one’s day.  I walked along the shore yesterday observing the grand sunset on the horizon.  In between the sun and me, a vast, muscular, watery world.

The beach will remind you that you are only equal to other creatures big and small: the dolphins and whales in the depths, and the peckish shore birds digging for sand crabs in the surf.  It’s humbling to contemplate how they can endure whilst you would perish if you were naked and vulnerable in this watery universe.

Each wave that comes in is different: its arc and swell, its fizzle and spread on the shifting sands. The infinitely different waves draw me into the planet’s mysterious force fields.  I tread obliviously while on terra firma–concrete, busy roads.  But here, the swell, break, and ebb reminds me that I am here on nature’s terms, not the other way around.

Low tide in the evenings pulls back the water.  I can walk where the sand is packed flat along the wider littoral berth.  The still translucent moon pulls at this fluid, moving body that interconnects all places on the planet.  How the moon forces a reaction from so far outside the planet’s atmosphere is tremendous. I feel it every month myself, every cycle of 28 days.  The unfathomable mystery of this universe in which we, having evolved out of tiny particles, so self-righteously commandeer and destroy moves me to silence.  Out of the nagging worries of jobs, injustices, slights, and patriarchy’s contortions, we are only particles, like sand.

As airplanes and helicopters roar overhead drowning out the sound of the waves, and as massive container ships steadily move along the horizon, our too anthropomorphic world still seems to diminish in the contemplation of the mighty ocean.

The dramatic sunset deepens the orange light and makes the sky fiery.  Then, as the sun ball inches its way down into the ocean, a pink afterglow lights the world up with magic.  We are particle beings, human beings, genetically tuned to the rhythms of the day.  We are drawn magnetically, all of us on the seashore collectively, in awe, to the spectacle in the sky.  We can’t help but be touched by the light.  We are connected to the dome of the sky above this unknowable, muscular ocean.

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Sturm und Drang: Kavanaugh’s Cover-up

After a testimony that came off in parts as raging, self-pitying, and verbally combative, Mr. Kavanaugh’s walked into a trap of his own making. In it, he was obviously using distraction and falsehoods to attempt to gloss over his character history.

Media commentators sensed they were seeing the “real” side of Kavanaugh…one that had been artfully neutered during the initial Senate Judicial hearings in his strident and aggressive manner.  Put on the defensive, he ranted, hyper-ventilated, raged, and put on a theatrical display. “HOW DARE YOU DO THIS TO BRETT KAVANAUGH?” rang out a headline in the Washington Post, parodying the indignation he felt in having to defend his reputation, after a lifetime of affluent, white male privilege and access.

His alcohol denials were discomfiting.  He tried to sound normal by saying “I like beer,” but the persistent assertion sounded unprofessional to the point of making observers feel uncomfortable…as if they were watching a habitual drinker jokingly gloss over his alcohol-fueled bad behavior.  In response to the mild-mannered Senator Amy Klobuchar who had caveated her line of questioning by noting that she was familiar with alcohol abuse because her father was an alcoholic, Kavanaugh sounded ominously combative.  After sneering and deflecting her question on excessive drinking, he snapped at her, “Have you?”.  It was a classic emotional manipulation move by a man who wouldn’t stand to be questioned: deflect the direct question and turn it around.  Make himself the aggressor by asking the questions himself rather than being answerable.

Sadly, in the moment, the collective cultural reflex in the room was to acquiesce to Kavanaugh’s raging behavior: far too many of us have normalized the angry man, seeing a man who lashes out as assertive. “Their expressions of ire serve as a signal of their strength and power” notes writer Rebecca Traister in the New York Times.  The tone of violence he set in the room was quickly picked up by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who, even more harshly, raged against unfairness of these proceedings in hyperbolic and threatening tones.  The unspoken code in the room was that Kavanaugh’s jousting and petulant snapping would stymie the Democratic Senators who were trying to make a valient effort, with normal decorum, of questioning a candidate about his questionable character background for a lifetime post on the nation’s highest court.  Violent Male Rage 1, Senators Following Protocol 0.

The contrast could not have been more striking with the atmosphere in the room earlier in the day.  Dr. Blasey Ford won acclaim for inspiring a universal impression of credibility for her testimony on her own sexual assault at the hands of then 17 year old Kavanaugh. By the time she stated, in response to Senator Dick Durbin’s brilliant question, that she knew with 100 percent certitude that it was Kavanaugh who assaulted her, nobody in the room could challenge it. When Senator Feinstein pressed her on the memory of the assault, she drew on her physiological understanding of human memory that the recall of the details of the assault and the location are seared into the hippocampus unlike the antecedent details that drift away.  Her steady ability to switch between the personal, emotional recount of the attack and the dispassionate analysis of how her memory worked, was downright impressive.  She was a true professional, measured, reasoned, and thoughtful. Afterwards, no Republican Senator would dare diminish her presence and her powerful testimony.  Regardless, they were going to ramrod this Supreme Court nomination through.

Kavanaugh’s tactic coming into the hearing was likely, to try and match her mix of emotion, composure, and intelligent reason. But when Kavanaugh asserted under questioning that he didn’t watch her testimony, it told me something right away.  He said he was preparing his own testimony.  If you were convinced of your innocence, why wouldn’t you listen to what she was saying, to better counter it?

In a study of contrasts, Kavanaugh couldn’t seem to get past blustering and sniveling (literally sobbing, sniffing, drinking water).  He acted like he was tripping up on his own self-pity.  Bellowing and howling in parts, he seemed intent on making us suffer his outrage at having to defend himself from (now three different) sexual assault allegations.  Nancy Pelosi noted later that if a woman had behaved as he did, she would have been definitively dismissed from consideration for a seat on the Supreme Court as “hysterical”.

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When he blamed this hearing on a left-wing conspiracy seeking revenge for the Clintons (as if the sexual assault allegations he faces were irrelevant), he revealed his hand as partisan rather than reasoned.  Kavanaugh protested loudly, “I am innocent!” then pursed his lips and would not respond affirmatively to Senator Durbin who asked him pointedly whether, irrespective of the Senate Judicial Committee’s actions, he personally felt that an independent FBI investigation would, once and for all, clear his name.

In these emotionally stressful moments, it was strikingly obvious that Dr. Blasey Ford displayed a more judge-like temperament than Mr. Kavanaugh.

What if Mr. Kavanaugh had shown up with a contrasting demeanor, I wondered.  His claims of innocence might have better stood up to scrutiny if, using sober, measured tones, he announced that although he felt sympathy for the sexual assault victim, he had to exonerate himself of this crime.  If he truly had nothing to hide, the proper response to Senator Durbin would have been, “I have nothing to hide, and I believe an investigation would find nothing to pin me to the crime.  So, irrespective of the Senate Judicial Committee’s procedures and independently, I would be willing to subject my own background to any new investigation because I am confident that my own story would check out.  I feel that stories about me by friends and acquaintances from high school would check out as well.”

Under circumstances where two credible but conflicting claims are competing to stand for the truth, he did not demonstrate his preference for a rational, independent adjudication process.  I could have better acknowledged his integrity as a serious judge if had.  If only he could have demonstrated half the professional acumen of Dr. Blasey Ford during her testimony.

If he had said, “I don’t fear you looking yet again into my background even after these new allegations have come forward,” the message he would convey is, “I am confident that there are no dark secrets to reveal.”  But to bulwark against an independent investigation seems suspect for a judge, and seems more par for the course for a political operative.

If he had said about beer, “Yes, I do like it” and left it at that, he wouldn’t have created the distinct impression that he rather drank a lot, and then lied repeatedly that he was ever stumbling drunk.  Pointedly asked the socially-accepted code words in his highschool yearbook profile (about sexually shaming a classmate, using sexual games as marks of fraternity and alcohol-fueled debauchery, and underage drinking), he lied with breathtaking recklessness.  A simple example was his insistence that the legal age for alcohol consumption was 18 when it was actually 21 in Maryland at the time he was drinking beer around the ages of 17-18.  To deflect from the Democratic Senator’s questions, Kavanaugh instead spouted bombastic stories about what a good student and athlete he was.  This did not create an impression of clarity, nor a commitment to clearing up his name in the sexual assault.

The whole show smacked of deflection.  It was as if he feared the clarity and integrity of an independent investigation.  Instead of confidence, I sensed fear.  I sensed he wasn’t sure what might be dug up, and would rather have his lifetime of privilege continue in the cliques and codes of privileged circles.  He didn’t show adherence to a methodical approach to background investigation. Would he undergo a polygraph as Blasey Ford did? Although as a professional judge, he advocates others using it for employment background checks, he wanted to be exempt in his own particular instance.

The calendar he kept as a teen, from 35 years ago was supposed to demonstrate he was not in Washington DC during weekends.  Yet there was indeed a weekend party in Washington DC with the same characters identified by Dr. Blasey Ford that seemed to also fit her recollection of timeline.  If it isn’t a ludicrous proposition anyway, that scribbled entries in a teen boy’s calendar would in any way prove his exemplary behavior, this calendar was a rather universal laughing stock that perhaps only Kavanaugh was blind to.

Kavanaugh’s defensiveness stemmed from fear.  His sturm and drang seemed to be an effort to run interference, put out static noise to cover the real signal — whether he was guilty of sexual assault.  He remains covered in a cloud of suspicion.  The social and emotional intelligence of the public at large will not give him the pass that he has grown used to receiving.  He isn’t coddled anymore in a private high school, elite college, and social circles of privilege.

Now people tend to wonder if, as Dr. Blasey Ford expertly described about human memory, Kavanaugh in a drunken state, doesn’t recall that moment of callous and cruel teen domination of a young girl that traumatized her.  He might also have forgotten his abuse of a young woman at college that is a separate, second allegation.  (The third allegation also fits in a pattern of drunken sexual assault.)  Millions witnessed Kavanaugh’s mean display of anger in the Senate and wonder how his sustained outbursts might be correlated with sexual aggression and domination behavior. (Indeed a large body of psychological research does draw such inferences, and media outlets have published reports on it referencing Kavanaugh.)

If he was innocent, he might have displayed the conviction in calm, assured, measured ways.  Without sturm and drang in the Senate process, he might have strived to bring the utmost clarity to his background to prove it.  But that’s exactly what he didn’t do.

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Supreme Court Standoff and Social Truth-telling About a “Respectable Family Man”

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s revelation to the Senate Judicial Committee that she was sexually assaulted back in the 1980s by the current Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, hits many American women like myself with a weary sense of deja-vu and hindsight.  It’s been nearly three decades since Anita Hill raised similar concerns about another Supreme Court nominee’s sexual impropriety and unwanted advances, and only a year after the #MeToo movement routed out the “open secret” that power dynamics in a male-privileging world have led to the sexual abuse of women at every level of society.

Blasey Ford’s allegation says that a drunken Kavanaugh demonstrated sexual dominance, violence, and lack of self-restraint.  Why is this relevant to the Supreme Court nomination process?  Because as women, our social and emotional intelligence–and our life experiences–tell us that such behavior is rooted in a certain kind of underlying attitude that diminishes us as human beings.

Many women are apprehensive that Kavanaugh will use his decades-long practice in dissimulating and obfuscating legal language to cloak this underlying attitude in a sophisticated veneer. As a Supreme Court judge, he can render decisions that negatively impact American women’s lives for generations.  At risk is the decision to make access to abortion illegal, an issue of the right of adult women to determine their own reproductive choices.

Since Blasey Ford’s account went public, an animated and often anguished conversation in our virtual, national town-square has largely bolstered the credibility of the allegations.  Many voices, significantly including every one of the Democratic Senators on the Judicial Committee, are raising objections about men who are accused of sexual assault, as Kavanaugh is, being placed in positions of such enormous consequence to public life and especially to the female half of society.

The stories told about this accused Supreme Court nominee don’t however, fall strictly along gender lines.  Political affiliation is an organizing principle of belief structures around which Americans identify themselves; giving people a way to filter their social lives as well as a sense of tribal belonging…and a sense of moral righteousness.  American women remain divided today largely along political lines (Republican versus Democrat) about the veracity of Blasey Ford’s account and its bearing on the nomination process.

Yet during this flashpoint of collective social reckoning, I fear that we are being forced to watch an all-too familiar trainwreck.  In it, the bombastic and indignant male-narrative train plows through and bulldozes deep, felt truths expressed by women.  Power still decides what truths count, and what truths can be shoved aside.

For Kavanaugh to prevail, all he needs to do is categorically deny the allegations, and keep repeating the line.  The Republican Senators will make a show of presenting Kavanaugh as the victim enduring a misguided, long-ago teenage girls’ memory that doesn’t rise to the level of a serious allegation. They will diminish the assault as not even full rape–just horseplay by a teen boy, and delegitimize the female accuser.  A few consecutive news cycles of powerful men making indignant complaints about a politically motivated “distraction” show might usually enough to sink a female victim’s inconvenient story.

Just as Anita Hill was, Blasey Ford is a highly-credible witness.  A university professor with a Ph.D, known for her exacting statistical methods in the field of psychology, her approach demonstrates the very opposite of hyperbole and unfounded claims.  Indeed, there are scant few, including the Republican men on the Senate Judicial Committee who seek to push forward this nomination as speedily as possible, willing to pointblank counter Blasey Ford as a liar.

Didn’t the #Metoo movement show that purportedly successful and respectable family men can simultaneously have a dark side and compromising back stories?  Will the Republicans on the Judicial Committee be able to bully their way past these problematic allegations to secure this nominee’s Supreme Court seat?  And should they prevail, what next? What will be the fall out today of diminishing this thoughtful scholar’s allegations?

At least one reasonable voice thinks there is a problem with the ramrodding the Kavanaugh nomination through. Evan Siegried, a conservative Republican columnist, wrote almost immediately that questions about Kavanaugh’s character resulting from the sexual assault allegations are already damaging the nomination process and indeed the institutional integrity of the Supreme Court itself.  He recommends that Kavanaugh withdraw his candidacy because the legitimacy of the Supreme Court and the greater good of the nation is more important than one man.  Without even dealing with the sexual assault allegations, David Brock, another conservative media commentator, says that Kavanaugh’s candidacy is flawed because he was groomed as a partisan political operative and would not be an impartial judge.

The Long Arc of Civil Rights

The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s might be comparable to this moment in American life where women’s civil rights and continuing unequal power are at stake.  Notwithstanding the movement’s iconic face of leadership in Dr. Martin Luther King, the breakthroughs that began to transform American social norms in the 1960s occurred because conversations on human rights, justice, and economic inequality  snowballed on multiple fronts.  A collective truth telling gained foothold in individual’s minds and hearts, and in the shared reality of their social lives.

Similarly, Blasey Ford’s allegations occur in a context in which the momentum of social truth telling has been building to legitimize women’s words and give weight to their voices.  That is why the testimony she offered about the Supreme Court nominee rings true to millions.

The Civil Rights movement has also shown us that change occurs in fits and starts.  Uncomfortable social realities of racism continue to affect American civic life.  Today, the #BlackLivesMatter movement draws attention to police violence disproportionately affecting the African American community, and seeks the same goals of color-blind equality and respect of the 1960s civil rights movement.

This corollary is perhaps why, no matter the outcome of Kavanaugh’s nomination, the context and significance of Blasey Ford’s protest voice is relevant.  Below, I examine the important snowballing backstories that have taken root in our social intelligence about women’s victimization.

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The Supreme Court in Washington DC

#MeToo | The Catholic Church | #WhyIDidn’tReport | Anita Hill | A Witness | Doesn’t Fit Other False Rape Accusations | A Toxic Teen Male Culture | The Polygraph Test | Birds of a Feather: Kavanaugh’s Mentor Kozinski | Wait There Are Others | Witchhunt or Due Methodical Investigation | Social Truth Telling and the Future

#MeToo

The #MeToo movement’s conversations brought us to an almost convulsive socio-cultural awakening about the pervasive, casual and covert abuses of male power over women for sex. As a result of #Metoo, we began to be explicit in naming patriarchal social and economic structures and unequal male-female power dynamics as the source of toxic, skewed relationships.  The #Metoo movement made quiet crimes public, shattering the secrecy surrounding male sexual abuse and infractions.  The personal became political.  The truth of women’s suffering was made spoken aloud, again and again, until it changed our collective social reality.

The fact that so many accomplices (of both genders) aided and abetted abusers’ schemes and generally covered-up abused women’s experiences, revealed unspoken power structures that allowed men to get away with improprieties and crimes.  Patriarchy’s privilege was seamlessly woven into our collective socio-cultural DNA. It emboldened men in a culture of impunity.  Now more explicit language about male behavioral improprieties pervades our social interactions.  Allegations of sexual misconduct and impropriety are more common in almost every domain and workplace.

Against this backdrop of our shifting socio-cultural norms about girls’ and women’s lives, Blasey Ford’s allegations resonate with people as truthful.

The Catholic Church

Revelations about sexual abuse in the Catholic church (and the appalling numbers of victims) appear to corroborate the #MeToo movement.  Male authority represented in the church’s exclusively male-dominated leadership at every level, became stained by immorality and indecency because there is no worse crime, by any social measure, than the abuse of defenseless, weaker children by those purporting to lead society on ethical and moral issues.

#WhyIDidn’tReport

As large numbers of children abused by church leaders have offered up accounts that are accepted as valid decades after the actual incidents, Blasey Ford is subjected to a greasy double-standard about limits of memory and statutes.

Male Republican senators on the Senate Judicial Committee use obfuscation tactics to delegitimize her account, such as suggesting that with the passage of time, her memory might be fuzzy and therefore could not be accurate, or that her allegations are purely politically motivated.  Ironically, they are careful to not deny that her story could be real (ironically, because the optics of denying an abused woman are now, thanks to #Metoo, unwise for politically ambitious vote-seekers.)

The President, himself an alleged sexual abuser, was one of those who tweeted out that Ford should simply have gone to the FBI or her parents as a 15-year old girl to report this crime immediately when it happened.  (He is accustomed to using this line to refute his own accusers, many of whom came forward only decades later, because they saw no use in reporting the assaults back when they happened, because it was just “socially accepted” as male behavior.)

In response, a number of prominent figures came forward with personal testimony to defend Ford’s decision to address sexual assault trauma in her own time.  Charles M. Blow the New York Times writer noted that Blasey Ford’s account is consistent with his own story as a survivor of sexual assault—that the antecedent memories and the context of the incident are not what matters, but that the emotional reality of the incident is vivid and indelible, playing out repeatedly in the personal story of the victim.  The Los Angeles Times published experts’ testimony on reasons why sexual abuse survivors go through specific psychological dramas in which reporting their assault as a crime is not an immediate reaction. 

Ronald Reagan’s daughter defended Blasey Ford’s in a Washington Post opinion piece, based on her own experience of sexual assault and specifically raising the specter of the exceptional courage that it takes for a woman to speak out against a patriarchal system of power.  A contemporary of Ford’s at a nearby girls’ school in Bethesda Maryland, Deborah Copaken, got even more personal in a confessional feature in The Atlantic that also called out the contemporary culture of male sexual impropriety at the elite private school Kavanaugh attended, Georgetown Prep, at the time of his attack on Ford.  The common understanding was that boys from his school were notorious as sexual predators.  “Any girl who was in high school in Potomac during that era knew, through the whisper network, not to go to a Georgetown Prep party alone,” she remembers.

The avalanche of personal confessions in social media using #WhyIDidn’tReport remind us again, that in the context of patriarchal social structures where male narratives and experiences are privileged, victims survive as the powerless do, by silencing ourselves, by coping, by quietly sharing solidarity, rather than speaking out in public arenas where we will be diminished and disbelieved.

Blasey Ford is again vindicated in the collective social intelligence.

Anita Hill

Professor Anita Hill like many women, endured the uncomfortable reality that bringing sexual harassment or abuse to light means being revictimized, when she testified against the nomination of Clarence Thomas in 1991.  In retrospect, the tactics used by Senators to shut down Anita Hill were chilling, ranging from some flatly denying her words that she felt sexually harassed, to others suggesting that she in fact sought her abuser’s sexual attention and was reacting negatively by accusing him of harassment because he didn’t give her sexual attention.  Other senators felt at liberty to impugn her character and to suggest her ‘confusion’ and ‘delusions’ because of her “sexual fantasies”.  In the campaign to malign and diminish Anita Hill, the legal team at the Bush White House looked for ways to use a disorder called “erotomania,” in which sufferers believe things that hadn’t happened against her.  Ultimately even after an FBI investigation, Thomas was confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.

Years after Anita Hill’s testimony, anyone who reflects on the painful inquisition where she was grilled by an all-male Senate judiciary committee who were not experts in handling sexual harassment, would have to acknowledge in honesty that no woman would confront this horrible theater simply to vacuously make false claims against Clarence Thomas’ character.  Nobody would risk the cover of a safe, professional life to be publicly dragged through boorish and demeaning character attacks.  She had nothing to gain from coming forward with false allegations and she made no money.  Why would anyone lie to, in effect, invite character assassination and psychological trauma?

Hill’s reasons for coming forward to reveal character flaws that made a Supreme Court nominee unfit for an office where he could influence the fate of millions of women, were as heroic as Blasey Ford’s are today.  We get why Blasey Ford was reluctant to face the anguish and debilitating mental stress of speaking uncomfortable truths against a judge when the stakes are so high.  As unfortunately expected, violent male forces are unleashing assaults on Ford’s life through death threats and doxing (invasions of privacy).  She has retreated, with her daughters, into hiding to save her own life.

A Witness

Most people aren’t able to produce a witness of their abuse. Blasey Ford cites Mark Judge was in the room and participated in the assault.  The fact that Mark Judge has written and published a book about teenage drunken debauchery called “Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk,” does not help Kavanaugh’s case.  After describing an environment rife with alcohol abuse and misbehavior, Judge also inserts a character specifically named “Bart O’Kavanaugh” (remarkably close to the Supreme Court nominee’s name) who was involved in stupid behavior and excessive drinking.  Judge’s silence and denial of any knowledge of the drunken assault doesn’t quite pass a sniff test.  In late-breaking information, as I write, his ex-girlfriend Ms. Rasor has spoken publicly about Judge’s private confessions to her, of participating in the group rape of a drunken schoolgirl.

Doesn’t Fit Other False Rape Accusations

Experts have assessed that Blasey Ford’s story doesn’t fit the pattern of false rape accusations.  There is nothing lurid or outrageously violent about it.  Hers is a story of male domination that is unfortunately remarkably common in the experience of many teenage girls.  A lie doesn’t sound like an incident during which she was severely traumatized but was able to walk away.

A Toxic Teen Male Culture

Blasey Ford’s account of teen sexual assault is being corroborated by other graduates of the school she attended.  A thousand alumni from Blasey Ford’s school in Potomac Maryland, Holton Arms, have written to Congress in support of her testimony because many of them have either heard about, witnessed, or survived similar cases of sexual assault.

Ironically, Kavanaugh serves as his own character witness regarding the toxic male culture and sexual improprieties at Georgetown Prep, an all-boys school for affluent and socially well-connected families.  In a video-recorded speech making the rounds on social media, Kavanaugh refers himself to the shroud of secrecy over the party culture at his school (while also damning the school’s leadership which, he notes, encourages the secrecy), saying “What happens at Georgetown, stays at Georgetown.”  This tongue-in-cheek comment seems to be an inside joke and a way to gloss over bad behavior and damage inflicted on others.

On the other hand, there are panels of women willing to testify on television in support of sexual improprieties by teen males. They imply that Kavanaugh’s behavior in jumping on a 15-year old girl, pinning her down, and ripping off her clothes was normal.  “Who doesn’t indulge in this kind of behavior?” they claim as a way of diminishing Blasey Ford’s account.  It’s not rape, it’s horseplay.

When women serve as character witnesses to normalize toxic masculinity and diminish this type of sexual assault against an unwilling and powerless teen girl, I just can’t even.

Ford took a Polygraph Test…and Passed

Blasey Ford convincingly passed a polygraph test about the veracity of her account (even if a polygraph is virtually useless as a legal test).  On the other hand, Kavanaugh has not been subjected to a polygraph test as a part of the nomination process, nor I imagine, would he willingly take one.

Birds of a Feather: Kavanaugh’s Mentor Kozinski Is Accused of Sexual Misconduct

During the nomination process, Kavanaugh denied that he had any knowledge of misconduct by his mentor Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Kavanaugh was one of Kozinski’s star clerks, after which Kozinski helped him find a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, that boosted Kavanaugh’s profile resulting in a subsequent appointment as federal judge.

Alex Kozinski had a notorious reputation for too much interest in young women, and 15 women came forward in 2017 to say that Kozinski had harassed them physically or verbally over the course of his career.  He was known to have stored dozens of compromising sexually explicit photographs on his computer.  Rather than face their allegations about sexual misconduct, the judge retired.  Kavanaugh’s purported blindness to his mentor’s alleged sexually inappropriate behavior strikes people–who have encountered Kozinksi themselves–as willfully disingenuous.  They find it difficult to believe Kavanaugh’s claims that he didn’t hear about any impropriety by Kozinski.  Laura Gomez, UCLA law professor, writes that the dots she connects between the culture of Kavanaugh’s high school culture, “his socialization into the legal profession by a ribald mentor” and his blindness to the mentor’s missteps, cast doubts on his attitudes and judgements about women’s protections and rights.

Wait There Are Others

Another woman Deborah Ramirez, Kavanaugh’s contemporary at Yale University has come forth with allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct towards her, and a third woman is about to go public with allegations that Kavanaugh and Mark Judge his friend participated in drunken group rapes of teen girls, whom they were responsible for intoxicating.  Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for women#3, appears to threaten Kavanaugh, by tweeting that “What happened in Georgetown Prep does not stay in Georgetown Prep.

On the flip side, a line up of female clerks are willing to testify about Kavanaugh’s great mentorship, and a host of women signed a letter attesting to Kavanaugh’s decency from his time in high school.

Still by most gut checks, it doesn’t seem far fetched to see contradictory impulses rolled into the same person.  Although we all may have complex or dark sides would anyone want a Supreme Court judge to have a side so dark that they are accused of violent sexual assault and sexual impropriety?

Witchhunt or Due Methodical Investigation

If anyone in the Judicial Committee claimed that women corroborate Blasey Ford’s words because of their internal personal lie detectors based on life experience, they would be ridiculed.  This is not a witch hunt based on your gut would be the swift counter.  This is the rational process of rational law.

There’s galling irony in that.  First because the Republican Senators are not actually pressing for a formal FBI investigation into the incidents. Second, because the witch hunt was a term to describe the arbitrary process that men in the middle ages used to accuse women, simply on the basis that they had uncomfortable feelings about them.  Men could trump up charges against such women they didn’t like, say for challenging male bastions of power usually related to the church, by  knowing herbs to ease women’s childbirth pain or heal wounds more effectively than the power of prayer could, then have them put to death by drowning or burning.  Why? Because some man simply had a gut dislike of them.

Although our guts may sense Ford’s truth, a witch hunt is hardly what women are advocating. Rather, as Anita Hill asserts in her NY Times editorial, all Americans would be served by a due process of independent third party assessments of these allegations.  The testimony should not be a “she said” against a wall of old white men who want to push forward a Supreme Court judge with political sympathies that align with their own.  Firmly, she notes, “Our interest in the integrity of the Supreme Court and in eliminating sexual misconduct, especially in our public institutions, are entirely compatible.”

Social Truth Telling and the Future

This story on Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination in light of Blasey Ford’s allegations against him of sexual assault continues to be in flux.  With other women coming forward to speak out against him, the Senate Judicial Committee will have to deal with the optics of, not just one but several, women casting doubt on Kavanaugh’s character.

This standoff also reveals that despite recent, emotionally-charged social truth-telling about the abuses of male power, our socio-cultural DNA has an inertia that continues to privilege male voices, and contort our public life in a manner that perpetuates male power.

Women are punished for men’s bad behavior and then punished again because of male power structures within which their testimony is heard, weighed, and filtered.  Even in the context of #Metoo, women are rendered more invisible.  Tellingly, men who were recently removed under sexual misconduct scandals during #Metoo such as Louis C.K, Matt Lauer, and Aziz Azari, are slowly trickling back to positions of power after a short “time out”.

Yet I feel there is another way in which truth telling is playing out in our societies.  It is in the conversations of young people today in civics classes as well as informally, about the nomination process. The conversations casts a spotlight on teen behavior, and the nature of male-female power dynamics and healthy relationships. This is the generation that will speak more explicitly about the politics of power, sexual assault, and its impact on the personal lives of women.  I can’t help feeling that their awareness and frankness about this conversation, will turn into the flood of social consciousness that will influence and force a different kind of dynamic in the future.

If we are lucky, today’s young people may live to see a Supreme Court composed of nine women–just to equalize the time that the Court has been composed of men exclusively.

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