I believe you may be the first person other that Kleinheider I’ve written an open letter to. But I feel compelled. In fact, I feel so compelled that I’ve even added a new category to Tiny Cat Pants–“Open Letters to Folks Who Need Them”–which means I’ll have to go back, dig out all the letters to Kleinheider and add them. Yes, I’m going to do extra work, just so that I can write an open letter to you. That’s how compelled I feel.
You may wonder what has compelled me to write you this note. It’s because I see you continuing to further this notion that history goes something like this–“These past 2,000 years of Western history have been a shining beacon of progress to the rest of the world apotheopized* by the arrival on the world stage of the United States, which, once it got on its feet, began doling out rights like they were candy.” And your reaction to said history seems to be “Why aren’t more folks grateful to us?”
Look, here you’re supporting such a notion: “Unless they have a 200+ year track record of expanding rights and unimaginable prosperity as well.”
And here’s the passage of yours that so flummoxed me I had to rest my head on my desk to recover:
Following ACK’s advice, which essentially amounts to nothing more than the acknowledgement of the fact that, whatever the flaws of Western civilization may be, advances for women in our sphere have far surpassed those in other parts of the world, would serve as a way to gain the ear of the sorts of people you need to get on your side to make further progress. What’s so hard about that?
I, being a fan of them both, might argue that sarcasm and petulance are the only ways to respond to such nonsense, but I see you’re not letting this go, and so I feel like I must try to reach you with reasoned discourse. I hope you realize what a hard thing I’m doing for you this is.
So, let’s try to address your points in a reasonable manner.
Please look closely at the above-quoted paragraph of yours. Can you not see how deeply ingrained in this paragraph is the belief that men constitute civilization? “Advances for women in our sphere” for instance. Roger, I know you and I believe that you think that sentence means “There’s a sphere of Western civilization (much like a team) made up of men and women and the women on our team (or in our sphere) have it better than the women on other teams. If the women want to have it even better, they just need to convince the whole team of that necessity and, because we’re on the progressive, rights-doling out side, we’ll do it.”
But what I’m asking is that you see how that sentence sounds from the perspective of someone who’s not convinced that “Our sphere” means “all of us” because she looks at that same 2,000 years of history and sees that, for the most part, “our sphere” means “the sphere of men.” Thus, when we have to gain the ear of the sorts of people we need on our side in order to make further progress, it seems like you’re saying we’ve got to beg men to grant us more rights.
Well, Roger, if we have to beg you to grant us the rights you already have, it kind of shows that y’all don’t think we inalienably have those rights, the same way that you do–that it’s still more of this ” white men are the standard of humanity to which all others must aspire but inevitably fall short” nonsense.
Can you see why, when the implicit assumption is that we’re still not quite human, that we still have to go around and beg for scraps of rights at the grand table that is American democracy, we’re not lining up to heap thanks upon you for the few things you toss our way?
Make real room for us at the table and we’ll be more than happy to be there.
But when we’re still struggling to get you guys to share power, to recognize us as human beings? It’s hard to feel grateful all the time.**
The other thing I think you don’t get is what Bridgett articulated when we were discussing Lindsey’s initial post, which is how much what you’re saying sounds like a threat–“Do you see how bad women have it in the rest of the world? If you ‘ladies’ don’t start showing a little gratitude for how things work around here, we could make things a whole lot worse for you.”
And my last point. You live in a city that is both central to the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Movement. You can go downtown and stand on legislative plaza, facing the river, and look to your left and see the place where women won the right to vote and look to your right and see the places where black people began to desegregate Nashville.
When you perpetuate a version of history that makes it seem as if all we had to do was wait around for white men to get around to handing us rights, that things are how they are because of some almost inevitable push of history and culmination of Enlightenment ideas about human kind, you negate the hard work, grave sacrifices, and brave decisions the people who fought for those rights had to make.
The things we have–the right to vote, the right to own property, to control our own finances, to marry who we want, etc.–those didn’t come because we waited patiently for 2,000 years of Western civilization to reach this inevitable point. Nothing about this moment is inevitable.
We’re here because the very people you want to be grateful struggled long and hard and at great personal sacrifice to get us here.
So, my question for you, Roger Abramson, is this: If you like this country so much, why aren’t you all the time kissing the butts of women and people of color who fought to make it this way?***
You know where to find me, should you need a woman to express your gratitude towards.
*Is that a word? I mean something like “culminated” but with a dash of “inevitable sacred destiny” mixed in.
**And again, gentlemen, what is it with you and your need to have your butts kissed, no matter how insincere? Wouldn’t you rather have sincere affection than insincere adoration? I just don’t get it.
***Oops. That may have been a little of that petulance and sarcasm you’re so not fond of.