My recent disagreements with my step-daughter over issues such as #MeToo have left a distance between us. They have also opened a gulf between myself and the Democratic party. I desperately want to fix my relationship with the former. My relationship with the latter, however, isn’t really up to me.
The day after the presidential inauguration, my phone buzzed. The text, from my step-daughter, Megan, included one photo. She stood in the middle of the shot. The Capitol dome—resting on its foundation far, far behind her—hovered over her head. She struck a pose best described as “casually akimbo”: One hand in her coat pocket, one foot slightly forward of the other, her second hand proudly holding a hand-drawn placard (declaring that “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights”), and a pussy-cap wrapped over her ears. It’s not the vista which draws me in. Outside of the White House, those “distant dome” shots such as Megan’s are the most “touristy” of photo compositions. What deeply strikes me about that snapshot is Megan’s face.
She’s smiling in that photo, a youthful grin…certainly. No doubt part of her expression is the manifestation of her emotions simply because she was there. In one of the biggest national demonstrations of women’s rights—arguably since Suffrage and maybe greater than then—Megan had joined a sea of women, young and old, putting the world on notice that they’d had enough.
As palpable as was the “What?” which motivated Megan to sign on and travel with a host of college schoolmates on that late January Saturday, it was the “Where?” which I think touched her (and those of us who love her) even more. Megan wasn’t just protesting in one of the hundreds of satellite events taking place across the world, she was in Washington, D.C., the epicenter, the very city where Mr. Access Hollywood himself traipsed across the sacred velvet floors of power. And in that photograph, my step-daughter planted her feet within the sightline of the vaulted dome where the future of women in the United States of America had been debated, celebrated, validated, and too often castigated throughout history. Hers is a posture that makes me feel proud and old simultaneously.
I was looking forward to the conversations we would have following this day. Both a freshman and a Women’s Studies major at DePauw University, she would have to wade through two simultaneous, quadrennial blocks of time: the fits and starts of college on one hand, and the high drama of the Trump Administration on the other. I envisioned we would enjoy a stretch of time where she would show off her unfolding, growing, developing, and intelligent sense of self…an experience I would not only latch onto for the vicarious thrill of growing up again, but wholeheartedly seize for the chance to be a part of someone’s life in those critically formative years.
But Harvey Weinstein followed. Then Matt Lauer. And then Al Franken. And finally Aziz Anzari. As each new scandal splashed across our newsfeeds, a distance formed between us. At first we were dialed-in and on the same page: Weinstein and Lauer were cretins, not just despicable, slobbering, sexual Neanderthals but forms of life incompatible with the lowest levels of humanity. Franken’s debacle still leaves me internally divided. When that story broke, I was more than willing to cut him loose and shove him off to the misbegotten land of hypocritical misfits. Now, I’m more inclined to think of him as a product of political dirty fighting. But when we chatted about Anzari, Megan and I turned different directions.
How we disagreed is an easy guess. She saw the debate in more absolute terms, and I saw Anzari’s bad date as a case of really bad nonverbal communication between a naked man and an equally naked woman. In my mind intent was the key word in play. Anzari thought his experience with “Grace” was consensual. For Megan, the focus was the opposite. What Anzari meant to do mattered little. How it was interpreted mattered the most.
Obviously, the first thing I need to do is separate the root causes of my antagonism (the aforementioned ass-whipping) from my awful decision to take out my festering frustration on Megan. It’s wrong. It’s awful. I regret all of it.]
She spoke about Anzari’s behavior as “problematic.” And somewhere in the midst of our discussions the word “intersectional” popped up more than once. Both of those words now cause me to bristle more often than not. It’s a feeling not unlike the one I experienced a decade before when people spoke emptily about “staying the course” and “defending freedom” as automatic responses to any criticism of our colossally stupid decision to shift our focus from Afghanistan to Iraq. The political movement and ideology behind them are different. My eye-rolling reaction is the same.
But such a reaction isn’t fair to Megan, and to be fair to her, I have to acknowledge that most (an overwhelming majority, actually) of my antagonism toward her arguments has nothing to do with her…or even with the #MeToo Movement for that matter. At the heart of this for me is a several-months-long grudge I’m carrying as the result of an intellectual ass-whipping I suffered on social media. In the only post on this site to ever get the “404-special,” I raised a discussion about microaggressions. I’m not going to go into what happened or summarize what I wrote (I deleted it for a reason, after all). I will summarize the gist of the argument, however. It was this: I was wrong, and I was a bad person because I raised the issue.
I was naïve about the backlash I’d encounter. I thought that, if I established my position as a left-of-center writer, the discussion would be more nuanced rather than ideological. Not a chance.
So here I sit, a traditionally Democratic voter, trying to figure out where my place is at the table. I’ve known Megan since she was 12. She and I are long past declarations of love “as if we were blood.” That’s more than well-established. I want the awkwardness to end between us. I want to feel that synergy we used to feel when politics popped up at the dinner table. Obviously, the first thing I need to do is separate the root causes of my antagonism (the aforementioned ass-whipping) from my awful decision to take out my festering frustration on Megan. It’s wrong. It’s awful. I regret all of it.
But, weirdly enough, I’m also thankful for it, too. Because all of this has allowed me to answer the question everyone asked after the election: Why did people vote for Trump? Sure, for many Republicans the answer is that, in the end, they voted for the same side they always have. But others voted because, like me, they had been intellectually ass-kicked. They raised a question, or offered an observation, found themselves fending off accusations of racism, sexism, ageism, and whatever else, and took their pent-up hostility to the polls. Left tongue-tied, struggling to articulate their own frustrations, they went into the voting booth, punched Trump’s number, and waved a middle-finger for a little added measure.
I’m rooting for Megan’s cause. And I’m rooting for a better world where we are all included as participants in making the American Dream something more than a listless cliché. But I want to be part of that, too, and I want to reserve the right to say, “Now, wait a minute…” as often as the mood strikes me. If I’m not allowed that option…? If I wake up and see that the social-justice movement has become the Democratic equivalent of the GOP’s intolerant Tea-Party wing…? Well, ask Richard Lugar how that worked out.
Wheeler proudly teaches AP Language to some bright and lovably obnoxious kids in a small college town. He also contributes to the craft beer website Indiana on Tap and writes for ISU’s STATE Magazine. He started learning to play guitar last fall, but he remains terrible at it.