My Role as the Thing That is Judged

I love this piece by Rebecca Traister so much. This part, especially, hit me in the gut:

But at its heart, it was a story about how women are assessed: by disciplinary committees, police departments, their friends, the public, and by the people they identify as their assailants. It was about how female availability and consent and intoxication are appraised based on how women look, dance, dress, and act, even when those appraisals are at odds with medical evidence, eyewitness accounts, inconsistent stories from accused parties, and certainly with the woman’s own interpretation of her experience or intentions.

This comfort with group assessment of femininity in turn reminds me of the ease with which women’s choices regarding their bodies, futures, health, sex, and family life are up for public evaluation. Women are labeled as good or bad, as moral or immoral, by major religions and “closely held corporations,” whose rights to allow those estimations to dictate their corporate obligations are upheld over the rights of the women themselves by high courts.

More and more, I can’t escape the feeling that I am public property, that I am always up for assessment, that power in our society is granted to the people who sit in judgement and, while some people’s “natural” role is that of judge, a whole lot of other people have figured out that they can make a way in this world by working themselves into positions where they prove their ability to judge, and thus given some power.

Don’t get me wrong. I think discernment is an appropriate skill to develop. Discernment can save a person a lot of heartache. But sitting in judgment, as a mode of entertaining oneself? That concerns me.

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One Thing I Hadn’t Anticipated

The research for the Nashville book is, in parts, soul-crushingly sad. I stumbled across a mention of Isaac Franklin, Adelicia Acklen’s first husband, in a book and I mean, I’m not even to him yet. I’m still back in 1792. But I’m trying to make sure that my portrayal of black life in Nashville is as fully informed as I can make it.

And Franklin. Jesus Christ. No wonder every black person who heard of him hated him.

I don’t know. You start to get a feeling that the whole story of the gentility of the antebellum South was not only a PR move, but an attempt to tell Southern white people a story about their fathers you could live with and still sit at Sunday dinners with them. The Civil War functions as a way to have a devastating break without having to have it with the people who deserve it. Otherwise, you’d have to look at your grandfather and ask, “How could you do this?” and your father and ask “How could you have wanted to do this?” and then you’d have to vomit on them, burn the family house down, and leave, never to return.

Isaac Franklin was a well-respected man. Not in spite of the fact that he invited his friends out to his auctions so that they could all joke around about raping the women they were about to buy, about raping the women they knew were the daughters of their colleagues, as if that were part of the thrill of it, but because he did those things. Because he had so much power that he could openly state that he was going to let these men rape the daughters you sold into slavery and you, because of your complicity in the system–because of the sale in the first place–laughed along. That’s an evil with tendrils.