Locating Our Place in History
Many mental health blogs focus on the holidays this time of year. The stress of getting together with relatives around the holidays has been covered before (and will be covered again) on this blog. However, this month I cannot help but want to tackle the issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault as it has been covered more and more in the news. A primer of the terms: Sexual harassment consists of bullying or coercive behavior of a sexual nature. Typically the person initiating the harassment has more power than the person being harassed, but this is not always the case; Sexual assault is the act of physically forcing someone against their will to engage in sexual touching of varying degrees. Now to understand why we’ve landed here in this moment in history in November 2017, we must take stock of the chapters that came before.
The behaviors have been around much longer than the terms. In fact, I would argue that these aren’t emergent behaviors that only came to be in civilized human history, but that’s another article for another day. Within the scope of what American History teaches us, we remember how common place sexual assault was for female slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries. Certainly free women experienced coercion by friends, relatives, and even spouses. In the early 20th centuries, women in the workplace endured harassment and assault from their coworkers and supervisors. The culture of the 1920s supported women by suggesting they quit their jobs if they couldn’t handle working in an environment where sexual harassment and assault was expected. Most women were afraid to speak out openly about the issues for fear of losing their job, their reputation, or the fear of how accusations might impact the lives of others around them. They knew, at the feeling level, their place in society. They knew the amount of power they had.
How Can Democracies Fail?
After listening to an episode of The Waking Up Podcast with Sam Harris, I felt compelled to share the important message that his guest Timothy Snyder was speaking on. Timothy Snyder is an American author, historian, and professor at Yale University whose latest book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century is becoming more and more relevant, especially if you’re an American. Snyder argues in his book, “We have to spread out our political imagination and have a broader sense of what’s possible. The danger is that we just go day by day and then every day seems normal, even if today is much worse than yesterday; We’re very good at getting used to today, and then tomorrow the same thing happens.” This article will give you a taste of what Snyder’s book is all about. Can our democracy’s constraints contain our President? And, what can we do to make sure those constraints *do* contain our President?
Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century. One advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.
Disclaimer – Psychotherapists tend to strongly recommend against publishing an article of this nature, due to the fact that it could impact the therapeutic relationship with current clients. Having already disclosed publicly on my professional blog where I stand on certain social and political issues, if a client reads this article and wishes to bring it up in our work together, that would be more than welcomed. The views expressed here transcend professional codes of ethics, and tap into a deeper moral and humanistic code of principles.
Through the Looking Glass
After taking a month and a half off from blogging, as much as I wanted to do a piece on the Transition to Parenthood, or on my continuing series of Retraining Your Brain for Improved Sleep, I have to address the 6’ 3”, 236 lbs elephant in the room. On Nov. 8, 2016, the people of our country spoke and elected Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. Yes. That happened. It’s the end of November and I am still digesting this news. As a political junkie, I’ve downloaded, watched, and listened to countless programs and interviews from many of the major networks, podcasters, and other cultural commentators; And yet, I am still digesting this.
On the eve of the election, I knew history would be made. Through all of the polls and talking heads, through all of the scandals and weekly WTF-moments, through behind-the-curtain conversations indicating that even Trump himself was not expecting to win, this election still had "un-bubbled" liberals earnestly being afraid that Trump would win. And they turned out to be right.
After a week where many in the country are left shaking their heads, wondering why we can't seem to do a better job healing our country's long standing racial divide, the question lately being asked in this political season is, "Which presidential candidate will do a better job on this issue, Clinton or Trump?" Frankly, the question is aimed in the wrong direction. One president has not, and can not make the difference needed on this issue. Change must come from the greater society writ large, regardless of who we elect. Let's look to the very beginning of our country's founding to unpack this.
How Our White Forefathers Saw Blacks in a Burgeoning American Democracy
The original sins of inequality and discrimination were written into our country's very founding document, the Constitution, which sanctioned the enslavement of Africans through the three fifths clause and the fugitive slave clause. A little under a century later, the majority of our society (still predominantly white, thus enjoying the claim to the country's dominant culture) would still subscribe to the belief that whites were superior to blacks. Lincoln, who reinterpreted the document's phrase, "All men are created equal", who "emancipated" the slaves, still didn't think blacks and whites deserved the same social and political rights.
As Pride Month comes to a close, I sit reflecting on the state of the movement. I reflect on my own relationship as a straight ally to the LGBT community, thinking on the progress that has been made as well as the honest look at where we’re at. The unsettled feeling is, of course, still with me as I acknowledge where our society is, in 2016.
Still with us, is the “Misunderstanding American”, those subscribing to a religious doctrine that defines what a homosexual is (or what you deserve for homosexual behavior), the “Silent Ally American”, those who intellectually understand and support equal civil rights, gender equality, and the LGBT movement, but do nothing to challenge homophobia, biphobia or transphobia, and of course, at our very worst, the “Radicalized Hate-filled American”, those willing to take extreme acts of pure hatred on lesbian, gay, bi, or trans people in order to ‘cleanse’ or ‘correct’ society.
Most, if not all of you know by now about the controversial House Bill 2, better know as the “Bathroom Bill” that passed in North Carolina in late March. The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act passed the state House 82-26 and the state Senate 32-0, as Senate Democrats walked out in an act of protest refusing to vote on the bill. Most, if not all of you have heard of the many responses across the country from celebrities and businesses large and small supporting or opposing the bill. For a list showing who is supporting or against the law The Charlotte Observer has an extensive breakdown.
Do you notice a pattern here? The companies, groups, and individuals who are against the bill overwhelmingly represent where the majority of the nation is at on this issue. Those who are in the supporting camp are typically more socially conservative and/or religiously affiliated. Full disclosure, I am against the bill, and I want to speak here to the individuals who are in support of HB2.
I understand that you want to protect the vulnerable people who might be victimized by individuals claiming to be a man or a woman, just to get access to a bathroom or locker room that doesn’t match the biologically assigned sex on their birth certificate. I understand that you feel that transgendered people may be confused, or are going through a phase, or perhaps suffered from childhood abuse that “made them this way”. I understand that you believe that this legislation does overall good for our society, and perhaps takes us one step closer to getting our culture “back on the right track”. I believe I understand your position on this matter. If I don't, or if I have missed a big piece of your argument, please let me know in the comments section. And, please take an open and honest moment to understand my position.
Every day on the news and in the media we are hearing about another shooting, another threat of attack, or politicians talking about terrorism and mass acts of violence. Unfortunately, some of these threats are real and because we are more connected with social media and smart phones we are inundated with news of violence today more than ever. Regardless of your political leanings or your stance on gun control legislation, many people are feeling more anxious today about going to the movies, going to school, or anywhere else where there is a crowd. I wanted to write this post to talk about this increase in anxiety and some steps that might help manage these feelings.
First, a little bit about my views on anxiety. I view it as something that impacts everyone at one point or another in their lifetime. Everyone has been worried about a test, a date, money, health, etc. For some, it is easier to talk yourself through the anxiety and for others it takes time or can even be debilitating. Therefore, whether you are a person who describes yourself as a worrier or not, we all have a basic understanding of what anxiety feels like. Hopefully we all want to support one another in times when those feelings are bigger than others. Especially because we are in campaign season some are trying to exploit this anxiety or fear for their own political advantage by using exaggerations and deceptiveness to increase these feelings.
This summer’s landmark Supreme Court 5–4 decision that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples (re: Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses) has been the largest victory to date for LGBTQ equality. And, there has been, as we all knew there would be, expected push back in certain pockets of the U.S. Front and center in the media, Rowan County Courthouse Clerk Kim Davis continues to keep the definition of marriage a lively debate. As I’m sure you know by now, Davis cited God’s Law as her reasoning for refusing to follow the U.S. Supreme Court order, “To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience.”
As of this morning Davis returns to work and removes her name and authority from the marriage licenses, in the hopes that the whole world will know where she stands. Her deputy clerks will continue to issue “unauthorized marriage licenses pursuant to a federal court order.” This apparent compromise suggests that Davis does not have to violate her beliefs, and that Rowan County Courthouse will be able to function properly under current federal law. By now you’ve also no doubt seen Planting Peace’s billboard illustrating one of many biblical definitions of marriage that have been culturally abandoned in the U.S. So how do religious and legal definitions of marriage play out in present day America?
Robin S. Smith is a psychotherapist practicing in Bethesda, MD. Robin started Your Couples Therapist Blog to provide useful articles on issues related to mental health as well as articles on local, national, and international news stories. Learn more about Robin on the About Page.