Walk #2: Fifteen (More) Years of Ridicule

Walk #2: Fifteen (More) Years of Ridicule – Home to Downtown and back ~6.8 miles

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015, ~1:00 PM – 4:20 PM, Long Beach, California, U.S.A.

The warmth of the Spring afternoon beckoned, but I had other things on my mind. With Le Tigre’sFYR” on repeat in my headphones, I traversed the walkways of Long Beach with eyes peeled for any sign of progress in the fight against the Patriarchy.

I took a bit of a different tack in documenting my second walk, choosing to follow the narrative of a song rather than the linear path my feet decided to take. It’s been over a year since I hit the pavement with this subject in my head, and the intervening months have only crystallized my thoughts on the matter.

Ok, first of all, if you aren’t familiar with the mind-blowing 2001 electroclash feminist polemic “FYR” by the band Le Tigre, do yourself a solid and check it out right now. Go ahead, I’ll wait. It’s less than three minutes long and the rest of this won’t make sense if you haven’t heard the song:

Read the lyrics too, if you didn’t catch all that:

“Ten short years of progressive change,
Fifty fucking years of calling us names.
Can we trade Title Nine for an end to hate crime?
R-U-four-eighty-six if we suck your fucking dick?
One step forward, five steps back,
One cool record in the year of rock-rap.
Yeah we got all the power getting stabbed in the shower,
And we got equal rights on ladies’ night.

Feminists we’re calling you!
Please report to the front desk!
Let’s name this phenomenon!
It’s too dumb to bring us down!
FYR! Fifty years of ridicule!
FYR! Take another picture!

Mrs. Doubtfire on Mothers’ Day,
On-the-job stalker for equal pay.
Toss us a few new AIDS drugs,
As national healthcare bites the dust.
While you were on vacation,
Black people didn’t get reparations.
You know these days no one’s exploited,
Sorry dude, can’t hear you with my head in the toilet.

Feminists we’re calling you!
Please report to the front desk!
Let’s name this phenomenon!
It’s too dumb to bring us down!
FYR! Fifty years of ridicule!
FYR! Take another picture!

You’ve really come a long way baby,
It’s you, not the world, that’s totally crazy.
’cuz we really rocked the fuckin’ vote,
With election fraud in poor zip codes.
Celebrate gay marriage in Vermont,
By enforcing those old sodomy laws.
One step forward, five steps back,
We tell the truth, they turn up the laugh track.

(I wonder whether we could be) Happy?

Feminists we’re calling you!
Please report to the front desk!
Let’s name this phenomenon!
It’s too dumb to bring us down!”

Right? I’m not here to review the song itself (the relentless synth-beat and the bass drone’s buzzing perfectly accentuate the righteous fury of Kathleen Hanna’s words). It’s a great song, but if it’s not your thing that’s fine, some people don’t like ice cream or kittens either. My purpose though, is to discuss the song’s lyrical content: Feminism (a.k.a.: the radical notion that women are people). Time to get political! I make no apologies (except for where I actually apologize below). I am a proud feminist, and I’m not here to convince you if you don’t already consider yourself one as well; if you need feminism man-splained to you, then you’re beyond my help. Also, I don’t own a ukulele.

This song was released exactly a decade-and-a-half ago today, but every time it comes on my random playlist, I hear another reference to another issue that’s still making news today. So I’ve decided to go through the lyrics, line by line, and compare the situation today to what it was back in 2001. For every issue, I’m grading it a “step forward” or a “step back”, to take a cue from Ms. Hanna. Have things gotten any better, or is it still, as the song says, “one step forward, five steps back”? Once I’ve gone through all the lyrics, I’ll count everything up and we’ll see if we’ve made any progress, or at least improved on that 1:5 ratio (20%). Just to be clear, I haven’t kept a tally during the writing process, so I’ll actually have no idea how many steps in which directions society has taken until the end. And no “zero steps” or anything like that. If we aren’t moving forward, we are moving backward.

One disclaimer: I don’t have any formal education in feminist theory. I’m not a student of the movement, however, I do try to stay informed and pay attention when my friends who have had that education speak on these matters. So if you are one of those people and you spot an error or omission, please let me know, as I claim no expertise on these topics. My references here are mostly from news/popular media rather than scholarly sources, but I did go to college across the street from Scripps, so that counts for something, right? And while primarily about feminist issues, the song does touch on other intersecting subjects (of which I’m just as ignorant). Besides, I wanted to see the results of this kind of examination, and Google couldn’t find me anyone else who had already written it, so here I am. And with my (half) white, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied, male privilege, I’m practically impossible to ignore! If you’re still reading this after I just told you I don’t know what I’m talking about, my point is proven.

As I walked down the street with my headphones in, I immediately remembered something I had heard about women using headphones to ignore street-harassment and other unwanted attention. Little did I know that in only a few months, some dude-bro douche-nozzle would offer instructions on how to penetrate this defense, to the delight of harassers everywhere. Thankfully, the internet came through with the appropriate level of mockery and outrage. Not that that stops these losers from posting shit like why they will never date a feminist. Again, I leave the rebuttals to the brilliance of the internet.

Let’s start at the beginning:

“Ten short years of progressive change,
Fifty fucking years of calling us names.”

Ms. Hanna wastes no time getting into it. The “fifty years of ridicule” alluded to here (and stated explicitly in the chorus) is a reference to the book The Dialectic of Sex by Shulamith Firestone. Published in 1970, this influential book describes the period dating back to women’s suffrage in 1920 as “fifty years of ridicule”. Ms. Hanna’s mention of ten progressive years likely refers to the second-wave feminism of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and sets up the 1:5 ratio she sings about later on.

But have things gotten better? Have we seen much progressive change since 2001, particularly regarding women’s issues? That’s what I hope to answer in detail below. One way to look at it from a wider angle is to examine who has held the political power in this country since then. Bush II vs. Obama? [step forward] Unless you want to criticize Obama from the left, if I have to explain to you why he’s an improvement over Dubya, you are going to have a real difficult time with the rest of this piece. Just sayin’. As for congress, that’s another matter. The right-wing of the Republican party has been quite successful in dominating the agenda, even though they are a minority within the minority party. We had just over four months of complete, filibuster-proof, Democratic control of the federal government in late 2009/early 2010 (which were some of the most productive months for progressive policy in recent history). But the rest of the time, congress has been gridlocked at best, and actively harmful at worst. [step back]

And the name-calling? The rise of Trump-ism is evidence enough that this is not getting any better. [step back] Sexist and degrading comments are the norm for our presidential candidate. A man who attacks women for their appearance, for feeding their children, and even for having a uterus, sets a clear example which his followers are all too eager to emulate. And that’s barely scratching the surface. The rank misogyny of the Trump campaign is beyond disgusting, and definitely represents a big fucking [step back].

As for Hillary Clinton, electing the first woman president would be a [step forward] regardless of how you feel about her as a politician. I’m not terribly excited to be voting for a centrist, hawkish, Wall Street, establishment candidate, but when the alternative includes a non-zero chance of global thermonuclear annihilation, then I’ll hold my nose and pull the lever for the one who won’t initiate the Rapture. Say what you will about Clinton, but even the most tinfoil-hatty of conspiracy theories don’t involve her accidentally extinguishing all life on the planet because someone sent a mean Tweet (Ok, so that probably isn’t actually true, but I refuse to delve too deep into the troll-caves of the alt-right to find out for sure. Who knows what Balrogs I might dig up?).

Score: two to three. Not off to such a great start, but it could have been worse.

“Can we trade Title Nine for an end to hate crime?”

Title IX, the 1972 federal law barring sex discrimination in education, has long been hailed for putting women on equal footing in areas like financial aid and student athletics. You would think that this wouldn’t be at all controversial, but you would be wrong. Conservatives are still looking to repeal Title IX, and I doubt they are offering much in trade. [step back]

The rape crisis on college campuses across the nation is still epidemic. [step back] Brock Turner walks free. [step back] Rape culture is pervasive. Not that any of these things are new, it’s just that social media has allowed us to finally hear about them and place each incident in proper context of the greater cultural climate. What is new is a presidential candidate of a major political party not only bragging about sexual assault on tape [step back], but also being accused of actually doing the things he claims were just “locker-room banter”. [step back] My brain needs a shower after writing that.

As for hate crime, congress did pass the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, adding (actual or perceived) gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability protections to existing federal hate crime statutes. [step forward] The rate of hate crimes themselves seems to have held steady during the time-frame we are looking at, but considering the overall decline in violent crime since the ‘90s, this is not really progress. [step back] Also, Isla Vista [step back], Charleston [step back] Lafayette [step back], Colorado Springs [step back], and Orlando [step back], to name a few.

I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify just what exactly a hate crime is and why they require separate laws, because I keep hearing bullshit like “all murders are hate crimes” or whatever. When you commit a crime against a person because of their identity as part of a group, you not only victimize the direct target of your crime, but you are victimizing the entire community of everyone who shares that identity. It is an act of terrorism in the most literal sense of spreading terror. That is the additional crime. It isn’t just the immediate victim who suffers: the whole community also has to live with that fear hanging over them and the constant threat of violence. That is a crime: an additional, specific crime, separate from the initial offense itself. [step back], just for forcing me to explain all that.

“R-U-four-eighty-six if we suck your fucking dick?”

RU-486, a.k.a. “The Abortion Pill”, had just been approved by the FDA the year before the song was released, after much contention. Anti-choice crusaders are still trying to fight it, of course. I already tallied the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic shooting above, but that warrants another mention here as part of a directed, violent, terroristic threat to intimidate women’s healthcare providers. [step back] Another, only slightly less disturbing trend has been the all-out assault on women’s reproductive rights on the legislative front. When Republican lawmakers haven’t been busy trying to defund Planned Parenthood, they’ve been unleashing a new wave of ridiculous restrictions known as TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers): 20-week bans [step back], religious exemptions [step back], requiring unnecessary hospital admitting privileges, [step back], and days long waiting-periods. [step back] Those are just a few of the tactics the right-wing religious extremists have been employing in recent years in their War on Women™. Access has gotten so bad that some women in Texas have even been crossing into Mexico to obtain abortion medication. All of these new laws have got anti-choicers salivating at the prospect of another Supreme Court case in today’s climate. [step back] However, with the death of Antonin Scalia [step forward] and the ensuing Republican intransigence, the court has been thrown into a 4-4 deadlock on these and other issues, and has been refusing to take up many of the cases sent to them by the lower courts. The result of this is that the lower court rulings stand as issued, creating a patchwork of different laws across the country. However, the court did actually manage to get their shit together long enough to rule 5-3 against one of Texas’ TRAP laws. [step forward]

That’s six steps back before I even mention the assassination of Dr. George Tiller. [step back]

“One step forward, five steps back,”

Well, we are at five to 21 right now, a 1:~4 ratio, which is a bit of an improvement. Let’s hope the rest of the lyrics fare better!

“One cool record in the year of rock-rap.”

Ha! Mercifully, the insipid rock-rap phenomenon seems to have run its course. The last time I heard Fred Durst’s name was when people were confusing him with (alleged) murderer and bathroom-confessor, Robert Durst. If people can’t remember his first name anymore, hopefully that means the memory of his terrible “music” will soon be wiped away as well. [step forward] And there’s been more than one cool record the past year for sure. Hell, it was from 2015, but Sleater-Kinney’s No Cities to Love counts as at least two all by itself in my book. [step forward] But, the good music is still rare compared to the oceans of garbage the industry is constantly pumping out. I can’t objectively say if things have gotten worse, but they certainly haven’t gotten better. [step back] And in what felt like the cruelest twist, Kathleen Hanna herself was diagnosed with Lyme disease, as revealed in the 2013 documentary, The Punk Singer. She had to put her music career on hold for a while, but thankfully, she has made a full recovery [step forward], and now she’s even getting Le Tigre back together to record their first new song in 12 years! [step forward] I can’t wait to hear it.

02-fingerprintsFingerprints Records on 4th Street, where you can thumb through boxes of LPs to find that “one cool record”.

“Yeah we got all the power getting stabbed in the shower,”

Psycho, naturally. The role and portrayal of women in media and culture has been a thing since, well, the advent of media and culture, presumably. It hasn’t helped that actual women have often been excluded from having a hand in those portrayals. While horror movie tropes have certainly brought a unique vision of misogyny to the big screen, no genre of Hollywood film is immune to this, as anyone who’s ever watched a movie can attest to. But are things improving? One quick proxy for determining gender-parity in a film is the Bechdel–Wallace Test (Do two women with names talk about something other than a man?). The statistics seem to show that the gains of the past have leveled off over the period we are looking at. No progress equals a [step back]. However, the Bechdel Test is not meant to give a rigorous and precise answer; just an easy first-approximation. There have certainly been a few bright spots, just in the last couple of years even. I’d consider Mad Max: Fury Road a success based solely on the reactions of the MRA douche-bags (more on these winners later), but it stands on its own merits quite well. [step forward] And of course Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, who inspired much praise and as many hilarious temper tantrums. [step forward] But things stopped being funny real quick. All of that was just prelude to the shit-storm of misogyny over the new Ghostbusters flick that flooded out from a million mother’s basements. Holtzmann is awesome [step forward], but all the disgusting hate and sexism is definitely a [step back]. And what the trolls did to Leslie Jones is fucking horrifying. [step back] Also troubling is that for every Furiosa, Rey, or Holtzmann, there seems to be an Anastasia from Fifty Shades of Grey (somehow managing to simultaneously glorify abusive relationships, and mis-inform the public about the BDSM community). [step back] Criticisms of Black Widow, Game of Thrones, and others have been riling up fans, but also starting conversations that might not have otherwise happened. I don’t know if there’s been any huge change with the overall portrayal of women for better or worse, but I do get the sense that the extremes have increased on both ends. But also the bullshit seems to be getting called out more often on larger platforms. [step forward] Of course, my action heroes growing up were Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley, and no one will ever be as bad-ass as them!

A few blocks away from Fingerprints stands the beautiful Art-Deco Long Beach Art Theater, with attached wine bar (left). Charlize Theron as Furiosa, ruining the childhoods of fragile man-babies since 2015 (right).

“And we got equal rights on ladies’ night.”

The concept of Ladies’ Night is, at best, an artifact of the gender wage-gap (more on that below), compensating for women’s lower income. At worst, it’s basically bar-code for “Drunk-Chicks-to-Take-Advantage-of Night”. That, and we still don’t have the actual Equal Rights Amendment ratified. [step back]

05-rollerderby-skatersThere was randomly a street blocked off for roller derby. This doesn’t actually have anything to do with the song directly, but it seemed somehow appropriate. And also, awesome. So here’s a picture of it.

“Feminists we’re calling you!
Please report to the front desk!
Let’s name this phenomenon!
It’s too dumb to bring us down!
FYR! Fifty years of ridicule!”

The chorus is a call to arms and activism. Like I said, I’m not deep into the movement politics myself, so I can’t really comment on any differences between now and then in terms of strategy, leadership, outreach, etc. And that’s kind of a topic that deserves a bit more academic rigor than my questionable Google-research skills can likely provide. So I’ll leave it to others to make those determinations. But giving a name to the thing you are fighting against is important. It’s like a rallying cry. Or the reverse of Newspeak. And yeah, “dumb” is a fitting descriptor of the bullshit that women suffer on a daily basis.

“FYR! Take another picture!”

Jon Stewart’s take on the Caitlyn Jenner coverage explains perfectly the media’s unyielding obsession with women’s appearances. This hasn’t gotten any better. [step back] And speaking of Ms. Jenner…

“Mrs. Doubtfire on Mothers’ Day,”

A movie I never saw, but it has been criticized for being anti-feminist and transphobic. But more relevant to today, Fox News has apparently been using an image of Mrs. Doubtfire on-screen when talking about trans issues. Stay classy, Fox News. [step back] However, TV shows like Orange is the New Black and Transparent have charted new territory with positive portrayals of transgender people in mainstream media, and the celebrity of Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner could hopefully help elevate awareness and normalize a much-maligned and oft-neglected minority group. [step forward] It is still a long road to trans equality, and as Ms. Cox pointed out, most people going through transition have considerably fewer resources, socially and financially, than she and Ms. Jenner have. Awareness and acceptance are just the first steps.

“On-the-job stalker for equal pay.”

This one has morphed into “online” stalker in the intervening years. Stalking and harassment of women on the internet are pervasive and unrelenting, and are quickly becoming the new normal. [step back] If you are a dude and have any doubts about this, go set up a fake woman’s profile on any dating site and see how that goes for you. Hell, it probably doesn’t even have to be a dating site; misogynist shit-bags lurk in all corners of the internet.

On the topic of equal pay, we did get the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, closing a statue-of-limitations loophole in existing anti-discrimination laws. [step forward] But the gender pay gap is still a problem. The exact size of this pay gap is a matter of debate, but even after you adjust the raw numbers for education, experience, career choice, number of children, etc., a gap still persists: a real and significant gap, explainable only as the result of bias. [step back] There is another bill in congress that could do more to address this, but it is (predictably) being blocked by congressional Republicans, ostensibly because they fear an increase in frivolous lawsuits, but mostly because they’re just dicks who hate women.

“Toss us a few new AIDS drugs,”

The current-style HIV/AIDS treatments of multi-drug cocktails started getting FDA approval in the late ‘90s. At the time the song was written, only three fixed-dose combinations were approved, but now there are upwards of a dozen. These drug cocktails and other advances in treatment have reduced the HIV mortality rate by over 80% from its peak. [step forward]

But it’s not all good news on this front. HIV infection rates for gay and bisexual men increased 6% between 2005 and 2014, while they fell by 19% for the general population. Yet more troubling, breaking the numbers down further shows that this increase falls largely on the young and racial minorities. [step back] The reasons for this I’m sure are manifold, but I’d wager that inadequate LGBTQ youth resources, sex education, and healthcare services deserve a large portion of the blame. It’s sad but not surprising that vulnerable populations always seem to be the ones who suffer greatest.

And how could forget about Pharma Bro? This is the fuck-head who raised the price of his company’s AIDS medication by 5,000%, from $13.50 a pill to $750, so he could buy another yacht or something. [step back] The drug, Daraprim, is used to treat Toxoplasmosis, a disease most commonly affecting those with compromised immune systems (such as AIDS patients). When he’s not fucking over sick people for an extra buck, he’s busy feuding on Twitter with the likes of Patton Oswalt, Captain America, or the Wu-Tang Clan. Thankfully, he was arrested in December for securities-fraud; unrelated to the drug price hike, but Karmic justice nonetheless.

06-the-centerNext door to the Art Theater is The Center, which provides free HIV testing, and has been offering resources and support for the local LGBTQ community since 1977.

“As national healthcare bites the dust.”

A reference to Hillary Clinton’s doomed 1993 health-care reform plan, this line underscores the feeling of futility felt by many after the rejection of Clinton’s proposal, even in light of the previously mentioned AIDS drugs. Thankfully, this was a mistake that history thought it prudent to correct (kind of) and we got Obamacare, or technically, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. While it’s far from perfect (Hello? Single-payer, anyone?), Obamacare is working. It has managed to insure over 20 million new people, [step forward] health care costs and insurance premiums have inflated at historically low rates, even accounting for the increases for 2017. [step forward] and all of the doomsday scenarios that Republicans were freaking out about failed to materialize. [step forward] Even the Supreme Court managed to not fuck it up either time it was brought before them. [step forward] Obamacare is not without its issues, but most of these are because the law didn’t go far enough and would be solved by additions like a Public Option. The war wages ever on, as insurance companies are fighting back in order to keep profiting off of the illnesses of their customers [step back], but at the end of the day, Obamacare has made affordable health coverage a real option for thousands of Americans for whom that was just a fantasy before the law passed.

This former neighborhood health clinic is now a Rite-Aid (left). And this former newspaper office is now an HMO office (right). Not that it’s anything more than a metaphor, but it seems a fitting one for our for-profit healthcare system.

You may have recognized a theme running here since the first line of the song. I mentioned those ~four short months of progressive change we had in Obama’s first term. You’ll notice that all of the legislation I’ve referenced here as a “step forward” was passed during that brief window of Democratic control. It’s not a co-incidence. Another theme that you will see continued throughout, is the paramount importance of the Supreme Court and the immense power they wield. This, above almost any other reason, is why voting in presidential elections is so imperative. More on voting in a bit.

“While you were on vacation,
Black people didn’t get reparations.”

And they’re still waiting on those reparations. [step back] From slavery, to share-cropping, to Jim Crow, to redlining, to mass-incarceration, to police brutality, and beyond, this country has been constantly fucking over black people from day one. And, save for the Civil War, we’ve never once tried to make up for it, not really. We back-tracked pretty quickly on that whole 40-acres and a mule thing. We pulled the teeth out of affirmative action. People always argue that racism is over, and that since slavery ended 150 years ago that there’s nothing more to do. Which is a lot like a hospital telling a stabbing victim that he doesn’t need medical attention because, hey, at least no one is stabbing him anymore, right? This Atlantic article by Ta-Nehisi Coates does a better job of explaining this issue than I ever could, so I’ll just leave it to him and put a big old [step back] label on this one.

I pass by this church every day on my way to work, as people in need line up to receive assistance. They are disproportionately people of color, and there are two ways that we typically explain this sort of thing: The first, racist way, is to start with the assumption that people’s poor lot in life is somehow their own fault, with the implied, but seldom spoken, conclusion that the minorities in question are inherently inferior. The second, non-racist and actually reasonable way, is to understand that history has an effect on the present day. And that things we like to think of as being in the distant past were really not that long ago.

But moving beyond the specifics of reparations and into race relations in general, a LOT has happened since 2001. I’ll begin with the positive: First black president. [step forward] Sorry, but I think that might be it for the good news. The trail of broken black and brown bodies is a long one:

Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, LaQuan McDonald, John Crawford III, Akai Gurley, Ezell Ford, Brendon Glenn, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Terence Crutcher, Keith Lamont Scott, Alfred Olango[step back] Ferguson, Baltimore, Charlotte, Baton Rouge, St. Paul, El Cajon, Charleston, Sanford, Tulsa, Staten Island, Oakland, Cleveland, Brooklyn, Chicago, Los Angeles… [step back]

Those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. I was originally going to give a “step back” for each of the above murder victims, but there were so many, and so many more I couldn’t put names to, I didn’t want to give un-due weight to just one line of the song. But the fact that I even had to do that is a [step back] itself. Though again, as with rape culture, this problem isn’t new, it’s just that technology allows us to see it more clearly. Rodney King was just the start. There’s a long history of violence against communities of color perpetrated by police and vigilantes, and of victims subsequently ignored or maligned by our media and justice system. The ubiquity of camera phones and the implementation of police body-cameras in some jurisdictions have given us glimpses at the iceberg under the surface. [step back] Trying really hard to look on the bright side, the one positive I can draw from this is the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter protest movement. They’ve done a great job bringing visibility to the problem and making it an issue, particularly in the presidential primary campaign. [step forward]

Violence against transgender women of color is especially egregious, including violence by police. The transgender community as a whole is no stranger to violence, as murders in 2015 were at historic levels, and this year is even worse. And looking at their faces, you can’t help but notice how many of the victims are black or brown. [step back]

I’ve read many articles on white privilege in recent years, and it seems that (white) people are finally starting to pay a bit of attention when shit gets called out. But the reaction often isn’t pretty, and it feels like the racists are getting less shy about proclaiming themselves. Enter Trump. Now the racists, both closeted and open, have a champion to get behind. [step back] One of his first encounters with fame (or rather infamy) was a racial housing discrimination lawsuit in 1973 in which he was sued for refusing to rent to black people. The man bends over backwards to cater to the white-supremacist vote: he’ll denounce unrepentant former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, while in the same breath stubbornly avoiding telling white-supremacists that he doesn’t want their votes. He’ll use coy language and dogwhistles that the alt-right understands to mean that he is with them. It’s possible he doesn’t actually share their white-supremacist beliefs and is just using them for votes, but morally, that is a distinction without a difference. He hired as his campaign chief executive, Stephen Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart “News”, a blatantly racist website. He and his surrogates have also been guests on the radio shows of people like Alex Jones (racist, birther, 9/11 truther, Sandy Hook truther, shitty person) and James Edwards (white-supremacist). [step back] And this is before even getting into his anti-immigrant, antiLatino, and anti-Muslim rhetoric. [step back]

“You know these days no one’s exploited,”

It’s annoying to keep hearing about how sexism and racism are supposedly things of the past. Unfortunately, that tired refrain hasn’t let up one bit since Ms. Hanna penned this line. [step back] The whole flap over Colin Kaepernick is just more evidence of how far we have yet to go. We as Americans hardly bat an eyelash when NFL players beat, rape, or murder women, or when former players are killing themselves because of injuries suffered on the field, but one guy doesn’t stand up for the jingoistic war-chant of the nation that kidnapped, enslaved, murdered, cheated, extorted, exploited, segregated, and oppressed his ancestors and people who look like he does as official policy, and still continues to treat their lives as if they don’t matter, and the country loses its collective shit. We like to crow on and on about how ours is the greatest country on Earth, but we fail to understand that winning the tallest-Leprechaun contest doesn’t excuse us from trying to fix our own flaws (or from even acknowledging we have flaws). And if we want to do right by the people who have sacrificed their lives in service of our country, we could start by not electing presidents who lie to start unjust wars. And if we don’t use the freedoms that they stood up to protect, what was their sacrifice even for? Freedom of speech, our first-fucking-amendment, is most needed when expressing not simply unpopular opinions, but opinions dangerous to the power structures of society. And thus, I contend that dissent is the highest form of patriotism for an American civilian. If we find Kaepernick’s methods offensive, regardless of what we think of his message, then he has still been successful. Because that was the point: we should feel offended, our hearts should fill with righteous anger when we see him refuse to stand. But I ask that we consider the proper focus of our anger, and the underlying cause of our offense – the thing that would drive a man so blessed with ability and riches to risk everything he’s worked for and commit the only act he knows will get us to look. If we don’t give a shit when the news reports on police brutality, if we pretend that racism is over so we don’t have to do the hard work of fixing it, if we ignore the respectful, peaceful protests, if we condemn, without any kind of introspection, the violent outbursts from communities with a bootheel grinding down on their necks, if nobody listens to the cries and the wails of many dead and countless survivors, if we haven’t cared until now with all the racist bullshit going on in the country, then we have the right to neither surprise nor outrage when someone with the means uses disrespect to get our attention. If we feel like we’ve been slapped in the face, it’s because we have, and we needed it because we were nodding off at the wheel. Now pay the fuck attention. [step back]

11-city-hall-homelessThe city’s homeless residents congregate in Lincoln Park as the brutalist City Hall building looms overhead. More forgotten victims of our “civilized” society.

“Sorry dude, can’t hear you with my head in the toilet.”

This is a clear reference to bulimia, and also serves as a general metaphor for how our society degrades women. But has the eating disorder epidemic gotten any better? The answer is a resounding no. [step back] Unrealistic and harmful beauty standards and trendy fads are still perpetuated by mass-media, but are now amplified in the echo chamber of social media. [step back] There have been a few ad campaigns, like those by Dove and H&M, that make an attempt at body-positivity. But while these advertisements are still just that, marketing for capitalist corporations, they at least reflect the belief in the popularity of body-positivity among the consumer base. It may not be sincere, but at least people are paying a little attention, maybe? I still can’t credit a “step forward” due to all the other crap out there, but perhaps a silver-lining. And with one of our major presidential candidates recently fat and slut-shaming a former Miss Universe in a 3 AM Twitter tirade, it’s hard to imagine this problem improving in the near-term. [step back]

Our problematic beauty standards are even uglier when you see the racism baked into them. Whiteness is the default. The societal ideals for everything from skin-tone, to hair, to facial features, to body type, and more are all based on a white (male) perspective. [step back] Racism can shape notions of beauty. Our courts have even ruled in favor of legal workplace discrimination against people wearing a natural hairstyle. [step back]

“Feminists we’re calling you!
Please report to the front desk!
Let’s name this phenomenon!
It’s too dumb to bring us down!
FYR! Fifty years of ridicule!
FYR! Take another picture!”

“You’ve really come a long way baby,
It’s you, not the world, that’s totally crazy.”

“Crazy” is still the default insult for dismissing women’s opinions, feelings, actions, existence… The word hysteria derives from the Greek for uterus. Or as Tina Fey put it “I have a suspicion that the definition of ‘crazy’ in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck anymore.” [step back] But hey, at least now the word for this, gas-lighting, has entered the pop-lexicon, which probably just means it’s happening so much that people started looking it up. [step back]. And now we have Trump attempting to gas-light the entire American public. [step back] These are not the droids you are looking for.

“’cuz we really rocked the fuckin’ vote,
With election fraud in poor zip codes.”

The 2000 Presidential Election was famously and fantastically fucked up by Florida, but hanging-chads aside, there were also reports of much more insidious activity going on, disenfranchising predominantly poor and minority voters. In the years since that stolen election, right-wing efforts to rig the vote have increased many fold. Onerous voter-ID requirements (essentially poll-taxes), [step back] illegal voter-roll purges, [step back] intimidation/scare tactics, [step back] misinformation, [step back], reduction of early voting hours, [step back], elimination of polling places [step back], and numerous other attempts to disenfranchise minority & progressive voters. [step back] Not to mention the fact that many of these restrictions were passed immediately following the Supreme Court’s decision to tear out the heart of the Voting Rights Act. [step back] And since the high-court has been deadlocked at 4-4, various lower-court decisions will end up determining the rules for the imminent election. Some of these rulings have been favorable to the franchise, such as in North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, and elsewhere [step forward], but others, like in Arizona, and a different Ohio law, not so much. [step back]

And then there’s gerrymandering. After the 2010 election, Republicans gained control of many state legislatures throughout the country. And since 2010 was a census year, the congressional districts for the House of Representatives were to be re-drawn to reflect current population statistics. Republicans took advantage of this by intentionally re-drawing the lines to benefit their own party. Yes, both parties do this, but have never before been this flagrant about it. There is supposed to be some kind of check against abusing this power, but in practice they usually get away with it. The results of this gerrymandering have been that for the last two congressional election cycles, more people in raw numbers voted for Democratic candidates, yet because of these electoral shenanigans, the Republicans still won a solid majority of seats in the House. Democrats would basically have to win by eight points nationally to make up for the structural disadvantages and take back the House, which is a huge margin. [step back] All of this also serves to increase people’s sense of futility in the system and leads to voter apathy and low turnout, benefitting Republicans.

But, if you are one of those people who is so sure your vote doesn’t matter that you’ll stay home on election day, well just think for a minute about why such an effort to prevent people from voting would even exist? If your vote was truly irrelevant, why are certain people spending a ton of money and energy to keep you out of the voting booth? It certainly isn’t everything, and arguably not even the most important thing. But voting matters. The enemy wouldn’t be so terrified of it if it didn’t.

“Celebrate gay marriage in Vermont,
By enforcing those old sodomy laws.”

In 2001, Vermont was the only state in the nation to allow same-sex civil unions, which had only been legalized two years prior. It wasn’t even actual marriage then. But on June 26th, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, essentially guaranteeing nationwide marriage equality. [step forward] Public support for marriage equality hovered around 35% in 2001; it polls upwards of 61% today. [step forward] Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is gone. [step forward] Homophobia even appears to be declining in some places. [step forward] However, federal anti-discrimination law still does not include LGBTQ individuals amongst the protected classes, leaving it up to the individual states. So naturally, half of them fuck it up and it’s still legal to fire someone for being gay in 28 states. [step back] Again, Democrats introduced a bill in congress to fix this, but the Republicans made sure it didn’t go anywhere. Assholes. And I know I already mentioned Orlando, but that tragedy and other hate crimes warrant another [step back].

Long Beach is home to a number of adorable little wedding chapels, which I’m sure received a lot of business when Proposition 8 was overturned. A great day for California, and indeed the nation.

Anti-sodomy laws were struck down as unconstitutional in the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. I’d guess that this lyric is actually referencing the Lawrence case before it made its way out of the lower-courts. How prescient of Ms. Hanna to pick up on its significance. Thanks to that case, it is no longer illegal for consenting adults to engage in sexual behavior anywhere in the country. Bring on the hot gay action! [step forward] It would appear that one of the diminishing number of people still interested in turning the clock back on this issue is the “Frothy Mixture” Mr. Rick Santorum himself. How’d that presidential run go for you? Nutsack.

14-harvey-milk-parkHarvey Milk Promenade Park! I guess no local activists were famous enough to name the park after? And it’s really less of a park and more of a tiny plaza between the sidewalk and the parking garage for Chuck E. Cheese’s. But still, Harvey Milk Park! There’s a nice little plaque here with a bit of Long Beach’s LGBTQ history too.

“One step forward, five steps back,”

I’m afraid to count them up at this point.

“We tell the truth, they turn up the laugh track.”

Women truth-speakers have been dismissed and diminished since Cassandra of Troy. Do people pay any more attention to women’s voices today than they did in 2001? I’m not sure how one would go about gathering the kinds of statistics it would take to determine that, but one thing I will say is when the Patriarchy feels threatened by something a woman says, it is no longer just laughed off. Today we get Gamergate, where a bunch of insecure douche-bags start harassing a woman video-game developer for made-up reasons, starting with slut-shaming and ending with her personal information being posted online (doxxing), and so many death and rape threats that she had to move out of her house. And they do this to any woman brave enough to stand up for the first. [step back] The ensuing controversy shone a light on a particularly vile corner of the internet known as Men’s Rights Activism (MRA). If that sounds stupid, that’s because it is. The entire concept that men’s rights need defending is laughable. In the few areas, such as custody battles or the draft, where the system actually “favors” women, these advantages are themselves artifacts of the Patriarchy that feminism is trying to undo. These MRAs are mad at the wrong people. [step back]

Let me put it this way: reverse-sexism is just like reverse-racism, both of which are just like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, in that they are all figments of your fucking imagination! Sure, anyone can be bigoted against anyone else for any reason, but capital-“S” Sexism and capital-“R” Racism can only come from positions of societal power. Shit only flows downhill. The dominant group can’t claim to be oppressed, it’s an absurd concept. It’s the difference between a white person being denied a mortgage loan because a black bank officer was a bigot, and millions of black people being denied mortgage loans because the housing regulations were specifically rigged to segregate cities, and to allow wealth to be extracted from black communities. That’s Racism with a capital-fucking-“R”, which has never happened to white people in this country and could not happen as long as white people hold all the money, all the power, and are the majority of voters. How could it, when the levers of power and most of the wealth in this country are controlled by white men? Segregation helps those with power and hurts those without it. You can’t make a ghetto out of the neighborhood with all the money. You see how quickly the logic breaks down here; power is not going to discriminate against itself. The same is true regarding reverse-sexism: it is a logically inconsistent concept, like saying your favorite color is a ham sandwich. It’s a sad thing that in this day and age, so many people, including a few women, still deny the need for feminism. Seriously depressing. [step back]

“(I wonder whether we could be) Happy?”

I know that’s a rhetorical question, but women still suffer from clinical depression at about twice the rate of men. Suicide attempts are higher as well. [step back] Side-note: actual completed suicides (I hate to use the word “successful” here), are higher amongst men however, primarily because men are more likely to use violent means, such as a gun, in the attempt. This is completely off-topic, but one thing that always annoys me about the gun-control debate is when people brush off the large percentage of gun-deaths that are suicides. It’s like someone’s life never mattered if they take it themselves, like it isn’t a tragedy, as if they somehow deserve less sympathy than murder or accident victims. None of them deserve to die and their lives are equally important. Women aren’t the only vulnerable group here either: LGBTQ youth are still more likely to attempt suicide than their peers, and veteran suicides have skyrocketed since the wars of Dubya and Cheney. [step back] The names and stories of these victims are tragic and heartbreakingly numerous.

“Feminists we’re calling you!”

Here we are: the final chorus. Take a breath. We’ve covered a lot of ground. Of course, this list of issues is not exhaustive; there’s only so much you can fit into a two-and-a-half-minute song. And not everyone has the emotional stamina for the kind of sustained outrage one would need to muster in order to tackle the comprehensive list of social justice problems (not that such a list even exists, but you get it).

“Please report to the front desk!”

Ok, I truly apologize, but every time I hear this line, I think of Pee-Wee.

“Let’s name this phenomenon!
It’s too dumb to bring us down!”

Fuck yeah! I’m ready to go burn down the Patriarchy, but first let’s tally up our totals…

I count 28 steps forward and 72 steps back (a 1:~2.6 ratio), which at 39% is still underwater, but definitely beats the hell out of the 20% Ms. Hanna described in 2001. So not progress exactly, but we’re losing ground at a slower rate than anticipated, I guess. The first-derivative of progress? Obviously, this is all arbitrary and unscientific, so these numbers don’t really mean anything. But it’s the process that matters, and if any of you learned even half as much about some of these issues as I did while writing this, then I consider it a successful endeavor. Now go listen to the song one more time, just because it kicks so much ass.

I returned home, tired and sweaty from the oppressive sun, yet invigorated by the aural inspiration provided my Ms. Hanna and her band-mates. I would continue my search for progress (or regress) along the boulevards of the internet instead of the physical ones of my city. If at the time I was amazed at the current relevancy of the song’s lyrics, the subsequent events since my walk have illuminated this timeliness even more. I don’t know what the future holds and there’s a lot of work left to be done, but hopefully, songs like “FYR can help rouse our revolutionary spirit, much needed in the battles ahead.

Until next time, long live the Vagenda of Manocide!

All photographs by Andrew Yamashita, 05/23/2015.
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