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In 2006 then Senator John Kerry made a comment that was insulting to our military. While addressing students at Pasadena City College, he stated, “You study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.” (Hillary Clinton Joins Criticism) I was so upset by the underlying, negative assumptions Kerry’s statement made about those who serve in the military, that I quickly came home and removed my “Kerry 2004” bumper sticker from my car. Those who know me, know that this is no small gesture for a woman who still has her “OBAMA 2008” sticker proudly displayed on her station wagon.

Lately, however, it seems politicians have learned nothing from Kerry’s “botched joke.” Just last week, while trying to justify the cruel budget cuts suggested by the White House, politicians were throwing insulting assumptions all over the place. The budget director explained, “When you start looking at places that we reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs? The answer was no. We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.” (Single Mothers Shouldn’t Have to Pay) The National Endowment for the Arts was also included in that assumption.

I am here to take offense at that assumption. I was a single mother for the first five years of my son’s life. During that time, although cash was quite limited for us, we visited art museums, I enrolled my son in arts programs. Both of my children are artists. They’ve taken music lessons and sculpting. My son took VLACS Economics, so that he could take Advanced Art and still graduate high school on time. Both my son and daughter intend to go to film school. I am a poet and a writer. I’m writing this now and I wrote a poem this morning.

Art is an integral part of our lives and just because we were poor for a while didn’t mean that we forgot about the importance of art to the human experience.

Today, the National Endowment for the Arts is more important than ever. Six giant corporations are the gate keepers for publishing most of our music, films and literature. They also control what and who gets promoted. The current climate in the United States is not one where someone who is an artist can easily make a livable wage doing such. The NEA offers grants and programs that allow artists to flourish. They offer schools  the opportunity to pay artists to bring their experience into schools. They help to fund educational programs like Poetry Out Loud.

I don’t know of any mother, single or otherwise, who wants her children to grow up in a culture that doesn’t value art and artists. I am offended that any politician would suggest such a thing. I vote for my tax dollars to go to artists and to PBS and to Meals on Wheels, before a single dime of it builds a bomb. No matter what those who currently hold power may tell me to be scared of, I am much more afraid of living in a world that doesn’t value art and artists than I am of the terrorists they constantly tell me to fear.

And, while we’re on the topic of insulting and down right ignorant assumptions, what parent, single mom or coal-miner,  hasn’t relied on Big Bird? As my students often say, “When you assume, it makes an ass out of you and me.” Maybe we should have an artist design a bumper sticker with that phrase on it.

 

 

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In 1991 my husband, Doug,was enrolled as a Plant Science and Conservation major at the University of Maine in Orono. He walked into the first day of his Soils and Vegetation class that fall a little early. A few other male students had also arrived. When the professor, an older male, walked in he looked around the classroom noting that none of the female students on his roster had arrived yet and declared, “Oh good! No sluts here yet.”

Doug didn’t speak up at first, but sat in horror as each young woman entered the room, notebook and pen in hand, and ready to learn. When the class ended, he immediately went to the Dean of Life Science and Agriculture to report the incident. The Dean informed him that since the professor was close to retirement, they would take no action against him.  I would like to think that today, twenty-five years later, we have made enough progress that the school would do something when a young man steps forward as an ally to the young women with whom he is sharing an education, but I’m not so sure.

This fall my daughter, my niece, and many of my female students will start college in the United States where each of them will statistically have a  1 in 4 chance of being the victim of sexual assault while a student there.

When Donald Trump refers to his recently leaked remarks about women as “just words” or  simple locker-room talk and when others defend him and claim that all men talk like that, they are doing damage to more than the orange tyrant’s campaign. Words spoken from the podium have power not only over how young women view themselves, but  over how young men view them as well.

The other day in my high school English class, Hillary’s Mirrors ad started before a Youtube clip that I was about to show to my students. As the commercial played a few boys in the class said things like, “Yah, Trump’s the man.” As I tried to pause the commercial, I failed to address the incident in a meaningful, teachable moment sort of way; these days, the political realm is so contentious, teachers are afraid to discuss the election. I now realize, however, that not only did I let down every young woman in that room, I also let down those young Trump supporters as well.

When I return to school this week, I will address not only what happened in class, but the ways in which words like those spoken by Trump are harmful to our world and have long reaching effects on the ways that women and men view themselves and each other. They must understand that actions such as domestic violence and rape can result from such contempt. The Representation Project

We need to teach young men to not only respect women, but to stand up for them when they can. Each time a man nods and smiles or laughs at disparaging comments about women without speaking out against them, he’s condoning them.

Where I teach, our feminist club is advised by a cis-gender, straight, male teacher. What a wonderful modeling of allyship for the girls and boys we educate. As much as some are claiming it, it is false that all men talk like that. Some do. Others listen to it. And some speak out against it and work with us to make things better for the women of this world.

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