Fake Out

newsboy-ned-parfett-announcing-the-sinking-of-the-titanic-english-schoolEvery so often, a word or a phrase insinuates itself into everyday speech. Like a parasite, it worms its way through our conversations, it hooks itself into our lexicon, camps out in  our slang until it’s legitimate enough to find itself plonk in the middle of Merriam-Webster. Sometimes they’re words we’ve been using forever and it’s just the way we use it that changes.

Like fake.

Until recently a fake, was some one or thing which was or assumed to be demonstrably false. Nails, tans, breasts. The guy who gives you a business card pretending to be a modeling scout to get into your knickers. Handbags sold in Chinatown, silk flowers in your Nana’s bathroom, gold watches that tarnish in the rain. Suddenly fake appears to be a word we use whenever any one or thing doesn’t fit within the frame of our personal or communal narrative.

Like fake news.

Fake news–that is news that has no basis in reality, no provable facts, no corroborated sources, is damaging enough. Tandem it with a global word of mouth tool like the internet, and well, forget Bob being your Uncle, Trump’s your President. Real Fake News is an oxymoron waiting to happen. More damaging is the way the phrase is bandied without merit, and with complete disregard for the–to borrow one of 45’s greatest hits–carnage– it’s doing.

One of the things we possess as human beings, in addition to opposable thumbs, is the ability to reason. When every click means more advertising revenue, when every comment means a bump in the social media stakes, news sources want you to read their stories. This is nothing new. Think of the newsboys in those cute caps selling papers by the headline. What is new is that readers are neglecting to use what we hide under those cute caps. Our brains.

news-boy-2

I got into a–let’s call it a debate–on FaceBook the other evening over whether or not an article was fake news. (This particular article was about a draft memo which toyed with the idea of using the National Guard to round up undocumented immigrants). The headline was sensationalized, all the better to get you to click on it, my dear. But the article, if you bothered to read it, made it abundantly clear that it was a draft memo which never crossed the president’s desk and was, according to the administration, never seriously considered. The article quoted sources, was written by a legitimate news source (i.e. not Brietbart or a Huffington Post ‘contributor’). It also made clear that reporters reached out for comments from the administration and the administration declined to do so. All of that information was within the body of the article.

But you had to actually read it. Which I did, but not before I had to get through the cries of fake news. In ALL CAPS.

Eh…

Contrast this with another article which detailed the Obama’s plans to have tax payers foot the bill for their vacations in perpetuity while they are in Kenya awaiting re-entry into the US. No sources, no evidence, no verifiable documentation.

One is demonstrably false, no sources, easily disproven (hell, social media was fairly exploding with pictures of President Obama wind surfing in the Caribbean with Richard Branson). The other states the existence of a legitimate memo which exists (or did exist) as a verifiable document, makes clear it was a draft, and leaves the reader to draw her own conclusions.

Sensationalized? Absolutely. Fake? Nope.

The danger of course is that we will start overusing the phrase ‘fake news’ the way we overused the word bully, until it means less and less, until people start to ignore it or roll their eyes. The danger is that it lessens the damage real fake news brings in its wake, the same way we lessened the pain of those suffering from bullying behavior by insisting that every toddler in the sandbox was a ‘bully’. We become immune to it, we stop caring about it, it becomes meaningless because it means less.

For all the talk of personal accountability, there seems to be little accountability when it comes to reading, and critically assessing the news. As always, we’re quick to throw out the blame. The media for their sensationalized headlines. Social media for providing a vehicle. Teenagers in Macedonia churning out false articles. Perhaps the blame should rest squarely on the quality of education or the laziness of the person reading–or not reading–the article, or the inability to verify information.

There is too much at stake to simply base our opinions and facts on headlines or tweets or soundbites edited for impact. Right now we’re so ready to believe the worst of each other that of course it’s comforting to see a headline and think, “See!! I knew it!” and leave it at that. If it fits our world view, we’re happy to bathe in our partisan outrage with nothing more than a bold face headline to back us up.

And every time the headline goes against what we like, it becomes fake.

news-boyWhen it’s really not.

If this were the Star Wars universe Yoda would be imploring you. Judiciously you must read.Wisely and widely.

Be like Yoda. You have opposable thumbs. Use them to turn the pages of a newspaper. You have a brain. Use it to think. You have the ability to reason and discern. Don’t cry “Wolf!” so much that no one believes you when the wolf is actually staring down your door with gleaming teeth bared.

All the better to eat you with, my dear.

For the Greater Good

fire-bucket-brigadeI’m a parent. I’m supposed to be teaching my kids, guiding them, yet I’m continually humbled by how much I learn from them whenever I stop to watch and listen.

Recently we took a trip to the local science museum–because science is real, and fun, and interesting, and because my kids always do better in museums with hands-on experiments about centrifugal force than they do in museums with hands-off paintings on the wall. Nevertheless. Toward the end of the day we made our way to a large space dominated by a Rube Goldberg structure with balls and pulleys, chutes and ladders. More than anything, it looked like a life-size version of the game Mousetrap we used to play as kids. The true purpose of the From København to Singapore exhibit, which involved push and pull cargo ships and lots of plastic balls, was lost on me. But just by watching, I learned a lesson.

The space was packed. There were parents on the sidelines, some, like me, continually checking their phone for news about the downfall of western civilization. Ok, maybe that was just me. But those very adult worries were swallowed up by what was going on in the room. What was going on in the room was this: a room full of about forty kids–all working together–in order to make things happen.

There was a hodgepodge of languages, Danish, English, Spanish, Russian. There were toddlers pulling little cargo boats and kids in their early teens loading them up every time they ‘docked’. There were boys unloading and girls shoving more balls into the chutes to start the process all over again. And yet somehow these kids, who’d never spoken to one another or met one another, all worked together to move those balls from the København side of the room to the Singapore side. They were all working together for the greater good.

Kids seem to get this idea naturally. Never mind that the greater good in this case was a hands-on experiences in a science museum. You put a bunch of kids together in a room and give them a task, and more times than not, they’re going to figure out how to make it work. They don’t give a rat’s ass about what the kid next to them looks like or what language they’re speaking or whether they’re a boy with long hair or a girl with overalls on. You give them a job, and they figure it out. They’re not concerned with the who, only with the how.

assembly-line

The larger message wasn’t lost on me.

There used to be a lot more working together for the greater good, for a common goal. Sure, there are always those actively seeking to undermine others, just as there is always going to be the one kid who crosses his arms and refuses to budge until he gets a turn with the cargo ship. But overall, there was a sense that to keep things working the way they’re supposed to, whether it’s an exhibit in a science museum or a country, there has to be push and pull, loading and unloading toward a common goal.

After 9/11, as a New Yorker, I witnessed the real life version of that science exhibit. A city coming together for the greater good. First responders weren’t going to leave someone buried under the rubble because of their religion or because they didn’t have documentation. Blood banks weren’t going to turn away donors because they spoke a foreign language. In a time of crisis, we reverted back to the same instincts I saw in those children. We worked together for the greater good.

Something’s changed. A lot of things have changed. There’s no one thing to put your finger on, no smoking gun, no one cause and effect. But it’s impossible to deny that at the moment, we seem to have two distinct groups, both convinced they are acting for the greater good. But instead of actually moving those balls from København to Singapore, they’re actively working against one another until all we’re left with is a giant mess of balls in the middle of the room going nowhere fast.

women-wwiiI’m sure there were kids there yesterday who were tired of loading balls who wanted to steer a toy cargo ship. But the whole thing would have come to a standstill without everyone working together. Those kids instinctively knew that. They knew they couldn’t do it on their own. They couldn’t do it with only the people who looked like them or spoke the same language. If they did, the balls would stay in their chutes, on their own side. Blue with blue, orange with orange and never the twain shall meet. Going nowhere fast.

I don’t have any answers. But I’m starting to think I should just ask a room full of kids what they think we should do with this giant mess of balls we seem to be standing in the midst of.

Nevertheless, She Persisted

scolds-bridleThis morning I opened my eyes to the news that the US Senate, invoking an obscure rule, shut down Senator Elizabeth Warren while she was reading a letter written by Coretta Scott King. And by shut down, I mean shut up. Along party lines, the Senate voted to officially take away her voice.

In a system meant for debate, while considering whether a nominated candidate was qualified to hold one of the highest posts in the country, a place in which she is among (supposed) equals, they took away her voice. They took the power of her dissent.

Using an arcane rule from a dusty handbook, they scolded her.

Yet another woman who spoke out was told to shut the hell up.

It was an ‘official’ way to attempt to humiliate a strong-minded woman who stood up to question the experience of a man. A rule which has been used a handful of times despite many instances of contention and debate.

There’s nothing new in this. Outspoken women have always been shut up in one way or another, it is only the means which have changed over the centuries. In medieval times, a common ‘scold’ was sentenced to a turn on the ducking-stool, where she was tied and dunked into cold water–often times repeatedly. Think of it as a precursor to waterboarding. Women who dabbled in midwifery and herbs were branded witches, and burned or hanged to the delight of the madding crowds. Women like Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote of equality, had their work overshadowed by the salacious details of their personal lives, in Wollstonecraft’s case, posthumously. Women who demanded the vote were bludgeoned with clubs, beaten, and arrested, force-fed.

The lesson? Outspoken women are dangerous. They must be cured, humiliated, silenced.scold

Delve into the history books. Women are there—-behind the curtains and in between the lines. Hidden figures. Precious few garner the bold-faced caption headings reserved for men.

That’s what happens when you shut women up.

They have been trying to silence women for centuries, and yet we keep rising up from the ashes of those witch pyres to continue the fight. Every obstacle, every form of torture, every death penalty, every stoning, every cutting, every restrictive law, every arcane Senate rule they have used against us, women have never given up. Women keep pushing forward.

Those ‘witches’? They’re responsible for women’s right to vote, to own and sell property, to have a bank account, to choose what to do with our bodies, to obtain birth control. Those witches? They’re responsible for exposing pay gaps and the prevalence of rape and domestic violence, for pushing for better health care and for family leave. Those witches are responsible for making sure your husband can’t rape you and get away with it.

Up until not that long ago, women were, quite literally, property. Like household goods and sacks of flour. So call women what you like, witches, bitches, demons, fem-i-nazis. Women have been bearing the weight of those labels for all of time. We carry them on our heads and our backs. And still we fight.

womens-marchElizabeth Warren. Hillary Clinton. Lucretia Mott. Coretta Scott King. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Cecile Richards, Tammi Duckworth, Elizabeth Stanton, Mary Wollstonecraft, Ruby Bridges, Virginia Wolf, Frida Khalo, Rosa Parks. The list goes on. They all have one thing in common, something that many of us who are born girls seem to be born knowing:

You can try to shut women up all you want, but you will never, ever shut us down.

 

13 Women Who Persisted

State of the Union

guys-skiingA few weeks ago I kissed my husband goodbye at the door.  He was on his way for a testosterone heavy weekend filled with skiing, beer, male bonding, and no doubt, copious fart jokes and lack of sex commiseration. For three days he could stop being Husband, Father, and the Holy Worker and just be one of the guys.

As I closed the door behind him, I realized, with a little surprise, I was happy.

Not happy because I could lounge around in leg-warmers and sweat pants all weekend (I do that anyway). Not happy because I could roll into the middle of the bed or watch a sappy movie with a bottle of wine and a bowl of chips.

Not even happy in a fine, if you really need to get away from us all, go ahead! way. It genuinely made me happy that he was going, without me, to do something which made him happy.

It sounds like a simple thing, right? Who wouldn’t be happy because their spouse was happy?

Er….

woman-with-suitcase

There were plenty of golf days and work trips where I was anything but happy. When the kids were young and we hoarded alone time the way my grandmother used to hoard tin foil, every minute spent away from the demands of the family was mentally calculated and tabulated. Time “off” was often given grudgingly and tinged with resentment. On one fateful occasion, as I pulled away from the curb with tires squealing to do the grocery shopping, my husband stood at the door, baby in his arms, shouting “This count as alone time!”

He was joking.

Mostly.

So, there were plenty of times when I was slightly less than happy when my spouse was off doing something that made him happy.

Does that make me a horrible, selfish person? Maybe. But probably it just makes me normal.

In any relationship it’s easy to get caught up in who does what, who slept later, who scrubbed the toilet last. Throw some kids into the batter and the ante gets upped. Who changed the last diaper, who’s slept less, who’s given up bladder control in exchange for propagating the species. Sometimes seeing your spouse or partner happy becomes an afterthought. And sometimes, if we’re being honest, you don’t want to see them happy at all, you want them to be as miserable as you feel after months of 2 am feedings.

Harsh. But true.

suitcase-manBut there I was, standing at the door, genuinely happy that my husband was happy at the idea of spending time away, not necessarily from us, but with others. A chance to let his husband/father guard relax. If he had hair, I can imagine it would have been let down. A long time ago we used to snigger at the idea of separate vacations. Who would want that, we thought. We were young(ish), in love, wrapped up in the idea of each other as well as physically around each other. But here we are. Solid in our marriage. Secure in the knowledge that our love and respect for one another are able to withstand physical distance–even if it includes fart jokes and jibes about infrequent sex.

I never thought to gauge the state of our union by a fondue heavy ski trip with the guys. I never thought watching him pull away form the curb, metaphorical tires screaming, would make me happy. Not for me, but for him.

I’d say the state of our union is pretty damn good.