November 12, 2016

Lines of Demarcation on Facebook

This election year was not exactly a banner year for women. In fact, it was a disgraceful year for women. And there was unfortunately plenty of misogyny to go around on all sides of the political and social spectrum. For my part, I spent the days leading up to this historic election by painting "antidotes" to the negative images of women assaulting my sensibilities from all sides: Hillary as the devil sporting fangs and horns, Melania Trump as a vixen.

For supporting Hillary Clinton, I got two hate emails and had negative images of my person pasted up on Facebook. Some suggested that I might be a witch.  One darker one was a faintly veiled threat of assault. But I was equally disheartened by some posts coming from the self-righteous left. The worst of these was what could be interpreted as a racist picture of Melania Trump as "unfit" for the white house. In this picture splice, there were three columns of "respectable" fully clad first ladies, Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, and Michelle Obama, followed by a picture of a naked Melania Trump inhabiting the last column. Interestingly, not only was Melania naked, but she was half the size of the other women. In this context, it was clear that the woman on the end was considered "not our kind." For my "liberal" friends, it was simply a juxtaposition of what they considered the emblems of decency followed, in contrast, by an evocation of a dark and sinister underworld of female exploitation and submission. I understand that. But for me, the unfortunate juxtaposition was also evocative of something else that might have escaped white middle class notice. The deliberate contrast of larger than life clothed American women with a half sized and naked foreign born Eastern European one resonated in unpleasant ways for me. It struck me as an emblem of American hegemony. It evoked the feeling that they were telling us, "We’re the status quo and you must go." It made walls that hitherto may have been conceptual or psychological suddenly palpable and very real. The woman in the last column was "the other". It is possible that I might not have fully grasped the implications were I not part Eastern European myself and, ironically, had a grandmother named "Melania."

In my last post I mentioned that the other Melania, my grandmother, came in to the country at a time when Eastern Europeans were considered non-white and even labeled as "unassimilable" (A word fallen so out of use by now that spell check claims it does not exist). The pressures of time and socio-political climate change over the course of the twentieth century saw Eastern Europe, Southern Europe and North Africa slowly, grudgingly, absorbed into the status quo of "white." Yet such assimilation may be tenuous at best, as evinced by the recent "barriers of acceptability" photo of the good ladies and the bad lady. The photo of the clothed good ladies juxtaposed with the naked bad lady brought that recognition to the fore on social media. Although I alluded to the photograph in my own posts I never really took the subject on in full until a more widely read writer and blogger, Shani Raine Gilchrist,  started complaining about it with a little more vim and vigor than I had. I saw that her complaints were amazingly not getting the traction that they should have but I hesitated to point that out, for my experiences with commenting on social matters on Facebook has been mixed indeed. I know first hand now from social media that identifying oneself as coming from one territory and commenting on those from another territory can effectively cause the trolls to come out of Facebook forest, pelt you with cyber-rocks, then stuff you in to a virtual cannon and fire you back to where you came from.

But I bit the bullet, as the saying goes, and made a pithy comment in the writer’s defense explaining how the nude photo of Melania was taken out of its original context for use in a demeaning way and then confessed to having a Melania in my own family. I am glad that I did because I noted a few exhalations of relief, some actual support, and little in the way of trolliness ( a convenient neologism on my part here).

The election year has been draining for us all, totally demoralizing for some of us. But if there is one positive that will come out of it all, it is this: For better or for worse the politics of the year have made very clear where the walls and other boundaries are, but this very visibility offers an opportunity to evaluate those boundaries, trespass them, and to know more clearly who you stand with and what you stand for.

The recent painting at the top of my post is an allegorical portrait of a woman I knew as a child in the 1960's. She was the first in her class, I believe, to attend medical school.

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