Remember when Dorothy slapped the Cowardly Lion and reduced him to sniveling tears and wiping his eyes with his tail tassel? Does anyone disagree this slap was justified? No doubt a spontaneous action, like a mother bear charging in to save her cubs, an action I’ve heard referred to by so many Moms over the years to explain what they’d do if their cubs were threatened. What has happened to that instinct demonstrated by the little Kansas girl in righteous defense of the defenseless against the uncouth, powerful and beastly? Is there some new rule in place forbidding such unpremeditated, face-to-face (or fist-to-face) actions against would-be predators?
No doubt, reading L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories to grandson Nico has influenced my thinking – never up to rocket science, or even close – to a too-simple level for the complex millennial world. However, alternatively, maybe there’s good reason Baum’s fairyland of Oz in which kindness and mutual aid matter absolutely, no exceptions, resolutely inclusive of differences and eccentricities has remained so popular over its 100 years of existence. That is, the attractiveness of this fairy world and its values of governance are not exclusive to childhood but are the basic conditions that make life good. Certainly these are the values I want Nico to be acquainted with, no matter how jaded, corrupt, ugly, mean and dangerous this world of late-stage capitalism’s he’s entered is!
So, whether influenced by Oz or no, when the political demise of Governor Cuomo was at last coming to seem inevitable, as Democratic noteworthies, one by one, chimed in to call for his resignation in a quite sickening display of “party unity,” my underlying discomfort with the whole debacle finally burst forth in a manner surprising to myself: I said to Orin, Why didn’t one of these women slap the f____r in the face?
The question is absurd, completely beneath consideration by any thinking, aware, responsible person. Coming from me it’s also hypocritical since I’d be the last woman to do so myself. Like the 11 women charging Cuomo with making them uncomfortable performing their jobs in his administration, I am more comfortable with passivity, with not rocking the boat. It’s not a behavior I’d recommend; among other things it leads to build up of resentments and bitterness, and the likelihood of resorting to passive aggression, the meanest of the mean. However, I have always admired the Dorothy’s.
Because it’s fairly safe to assume everybody admires the Dorothy’s, everybody loves the invocation of the fiercely protective mother instinct, I’ll use my fated statuslessness as a nobody from Utica to put forth ideas no one else will. To me, still, if just one of the maligned women had followed her honest instinct, let the delicious rage flow through her veins and delivered the resounding slap – or the punch or the kick – he so deserved, how refreshing it would have been for all of us! We could have been on the side of a spunky woman we instinctively liked, spared the dutiful lining up against the “perpetrator” who, we discover thanks to feeding frenzied news reporters, behaved badly not just once, but over and over, against one defenseless woman after another. Defenseless? Did I say that? They all still had arms did they not? And hands that can be made into fists if the spirit so moves? And everyone has instincts, even if, like smart women everywhere, she’s learned to suppress them in order to pass for acceptable in the world of ambitiously banal, humanly devolved “power people.”
I’m not saying for a moment there have not been courageous women who’ve risked a great deal in outing predatory men in the workplace. And I’m not suggesting the low-wage factory worker should slap her boss and risk the job she needs for her family to survive, and even her life in some cases. But what changes when yet another male official is brought down if the system that depends upon inequalities remains intact?
Moreover, these women charging Cuomo faced no life-or-death situation of the kind faced by minimum wage workers. This guy is not “Jack the Ripper” stalking women with a knife in his hand. He’s not even Harvey Weinstein. He’s not a Bill Clinton (not smooth enough), and he is certainly not pussy-grabbing Trump or date-drug distributing Bill Cosby. I maintain socking the governor right in the kisser there among all the Albany croneydom, sending tremors around the globe, would have been the appropriate response to his inappropriate touching and stupid innuendos. Even if the two were alone at the time of the offense, a slap – maybe some well-aimed spit! – would no doubt have served to give Andrew – who I do not read as a psychopath – pause instead of continuing in his merry, “dog”-like way.
Surely this could have been a life-changing moment when a woman discovers she has agency, natural ferocity, the capacity to stand up for her defenseless feminine self. She would know her strength subjectively, needing no confirmation except her own. She would be strengthened for making life decisions on the basis of her own heart, no longer a slave to the demands of the career. It would be an iconic moment as well, like Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee, but accomplishing a transformative meaning for herself, not for the world. Most important, a woman standing up for herself this way, proclaiming this to be a person-to-person matter between two “others” removes the conflict from media control and away from being a set piece in the partisan wars spectacle, in the making/breaking of political careers and the providing of more opportunities for lawyers to amass fortunes in litigation fees.
An honest furious slap from a woman, not an act of violent aggression but of defending her personal vulnerability, takes the matter out of business-as-usual in the corporate-based world that thrives on conflict, winning and losing, and into the realm of potential reconciliation/peacemaking between two “others;” that is, it becomes transformative. Like the slap that forced the lion to confess his cowardliness, his truest desire being to befriend others not to frighten them, the slap that defends the weak and vulnerable – beginning with oneself – is strength; it establishes the equality of will that makes peace-making and reconciliation possible. Surely, the gender divide has provided enough beak-wetting opportunities for the ones who make their fortunes on human weakness, on divisions and enmities. Their mean world that thrives on inequalities would be undone by individuals having the strength to act always and everywhere for the most vulnerable.
So why is the slap so out of the question? A guy like Cuomo, with the inconceivable power of his office that allows him to forget the “do unto others” rule he learned in Catholic school, even among the formal protocols and dressed-for success people, can follow his baser instincts and make gross passes at women unequal to him in power. Until he gets caught, no intrinsic set of values, or functioning conscience tells him uh-oh, better not. In some cases, maybe the gross pass even worked for him. In contrast, the woman rising to the top has been trained to, in situations of inequality, suppress instinct at all costs. Possibly from childhood, but certainly once entering professional life, if a girl wasn’t raised on the tough streets of working-class Brooklyn, AOC-like, she was conditioned to passivity, which makes it easier to adapt to putting up with a certain amount of shit from men in the careerist world.
Important to keep in mind is that women want to be in the world where they must suffer male backlash; they enjoy participating in it, getting paid for their work in it, showing their competency, competing in it, being actors in history, presumably no longer slaves. I mean, compared to the old pre-lib life, the ignominy of housewifery, the drudgery and the grind of that private suburban nightmare made tolerable by valium and the daily soaps, this professional life, with all its drawbacks, is worth every minute of it! Even if the young women of today are a couple of generations removed from the unhappiness that exploded in the feminist movement this comparison still holds. For what is a woman without her job and the identity/paycheck that comes with it? The nothingness of her woman’s being – the truth of her vulnerability – is still the bottom line.
So I’ll stand by my question while admitting my problem is, I want too much; I want women to change the world, not just make the Albany political world safe for women to reach the top in a corrupt, corporate-serving system. From a relentlessly transformation-seeking perspective, the women missed their chance for the brave, selfless act back when it was something between her and him, when, instinctively, she could have acted in defense of her own otherwise unprotected woman self. I know, I know, easy to say when you’re not in her shoes, how do I know I would have behaved differently, etc. But that’s not the point; we desperately need to change the conversation. To put it in more Ozzian terms, sometimes the intervention of a Glinda the Good is needed – a perspective that can take us imaginatively out of the one reality we know and place us in the better, fairer, more inclusive one!
The political world is simply the completion, the apex of the world of progress, apartness and contingency, of moving and spending and convenience, anti-nature as hell, we’ve chosen over the old-fashioned one of home, hearth and community, the world that was so stifling in particular to women. Consequently, the current political world we have holds together the reality of obscene inequality, biospheric degradation, and looming multi-level collapses we fear yet cannot fundamentally challenge in our own behaviors and choices. This world in which evil reigns could be undone as easily as an old fashioned potato sack when you pull the right string, if people only would align themselves truly radically with the world of mutuality and kindness they want, rather than the world of ambition, faux “choices,” “somebodiness,” and unlimited travel we’ve been given in exchange.
But still, everybody wants to be in the more glamorous, “real” world, including the bozos who took part in the January 6 Capitol riot. They wanted to see themselves trespassing in those iconic halls, “owning” them, transcending the unbearable frustration of being limited to their own nobody-dom. To our looming tragic end, we’re ignoring the “rule” that comes with birth: though each life is a new beginning, equally it’s connected, in an extremely limiting way, with the humans that conceived us and an interconnected interdependent whole that is not escapable. The rule works in our behalf, it makes possible being bodies and spirits both. It directs us to build our communities upon rules of kindness, forgiveness, honoring commitments, preserving the great web of relatedness, etc. Without that rule, the rule of war wins, only lawyers and the richest clients are happy.
Unlike the neoliberal condition in which human beings are expendable and by which we learn mistrust and divisiveness, the community we want, Oz-like, includes every man and woman. If we want to turn the world upside down, as it must be, we have to learn to deal with that, starting at the bottom, maybe with a deserved slap.