Who I want for president

2 January 2012

Quoted originally from anonymous, photocopied broadside that was handed around during the 1992 primary season, and which was authored by Zoe Leonard, a member of Fierce Pussy, a lesbian feminist group with roots in Act Up:

I want a dyke for president. I want a person with aids for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn’t have a choice about getting leukemia. I want a president that had an abortion at sixteen and I want a candidate who isn’t the lesser of two evils and I want a president who lost their last lover to aids, who still sees that in their eyes every time they lay down to rest, who held their lover in their arms and knew they were dying. I want a president with no airconditioning, a president who has stood on line at the clinic, at the dmv, at the welfare office and has been unemployed and layed off and sexually harassed and gaybashed and deported. I want someone who has spent the night in the tombs and had a cross burned on their lawn and survived rape. I want someone who has been in love and been hurt, who respects sex, who has made mistakes and learned from them. I want a Black woman for president. I want someone with bad teeth and an attitude, someone who has eaten that nasty hospital food, someone who crossdresses and has done drugs and been in therapy. I want someone who has committed civil disobedience. And I want to know why this isn’t possible. I want to know why we started learning somewhere down the line that a president is always a clown: always a john and never a hooker. Always a boss and never a worker, always a liar, always a thief and never caught.

I’m often struck by how my own students have no idea about how desperate the AIDS crisis was 20 years ago in this country. They have no idea that people like me worried that having sex might kill you. But even if they’re too young to get that part of Leonard’s prose, they can’t help but feel the urgency and fury of the rest of it. I can hardly wait to show this to them — and it makes me want to create an assignment in which they write their own version. I want a new generation of angry students who articulate themselves with bitter clarity when they say aloud, “This is who I want for president.”

We are all bitches now

9 November 2011

Herman Cain’s campaign learned something when those reports of sexual harassment claims came out a couple of weeks ago: this is campaign contribution gold. He reportedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations immediately, and $2 million within the week. Message: accusations of sexual harassment made Cain more attractive to some donors.

So now you can buy six different versions of a t-shirt like this one, ranging from $17.70 to $29.60 from HermanCain2012shop.com, which donates some of its profit to the Cain campaign. (I mistook this site at first for an actual Herman Cain organization, but I’d forgotten that the Cain campaign isn’t organized enough to have scooped up all these URLs, nor to have produced a website as professional as this one.)

Here’s why I’m not going to laugh at this t-shirt, even if it was created to criticize Cain’s sexual politics, and even if Cain’s star is falling after the news that four women, not just one, have made claims of sexual harassment against him:

  1. A lot of things are funny about the Cain campaign, but not sexual harassment.
  2. Honestly, this t-shirt isn’t even that funny, beyond a mere heh-heh.
  3. For Cain opponents, this t-shirt still keeps Cain’s face front and center and compares/contrasts it with the President’s face.
  4. It’s easy to see Cain supporters wearing this as a fuck-you to opponents, and a fuck-you to women’s rights.
  5. “Grope” denotes playfulness — the very opposite of how sexual harassment feels to women at work.

And most of all, in declaring Cain to be a groper, the t-shirt begs viewers to consider whether that specific charge might be true — which then opens up the broader question of whether sexual harassment charges should be taken seriously — and in our anti-feminist moment, I don’t want a single additional reason to discredit a woman’s ability to achieve workplace equality. In other words, the t-shirt is too flippant, too easily appropriated by sexists, and not fucking funny enough.

Sounds bitchy, right? That’s because every time a woman questions men’s power these days, she lines herself up for being called a bitch. A rape charge against a powerful French politician by a black maid? She’s a bitch and a liar. A sexual harassment charge against a presidential candidate? She’s a bitch and a liar. A blogger who calls foul on such behavior? Don’t even get me started on the list of epithets against her, but Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown (whose motto is, “Kumbaya Motherf*cker Central,” which gives me great pleasure) explains in detail.

Y’see, we’re all bitches now, unless we comply. This isn’t about sex — it’s about power. The only way I can see to object is to be a bitch and keep calling out such naked claims to power. Thus my new motto: BE A BITCH — DON’T LET THEM MAKE YOU THEIR BITCH.