Mark Manson, a blogger and NY Times best-selling author writes, "Pain in all its forms is our body's most effective means of spurring action." There has been a lot of pain in my world lately. The grief of discovering too late that was no farm legacy to leave to my daughters. The agony of watching yet another school shooting while our politicians sit idly by and do nothing to ensure the safety our children. And most recently, the visceral anger I feel after discovering that administrators in the Macomb School District appear to have blatantly violated the law and the trust of students, parents, and community members.
As I write this, I realize that the pain I feel is not really mine, but rather a collective pain for our children. The choices that lead to the decisions made or not made by those in charge are based on values held by individuals and institutions.
Favoring some over others is the way it has always been done in this country. Men matter more than women, and white people matter more than everyone else. I imagine that many of you are listening to this and saying that is just not true. But the fact of the matter is, it is easier to deny an ugly truth than to face it head on and get to work on changing values that are the foundation of our current reality.
Let’s consider the case of the $10 million lawsuit being brought against the Macomb 185 school district. As reported by Tri States Public Radio, “The lawsuit states that the female students reported the incidents [of sexual harassment and assault] to Principal John Rumley and Assistant Principal Ed Fulkerson. It accuses both administrators of failing to investigate, make arrangements to prevent future harassment, or enforce a civil order of protection.”
The alleged failure to protect the female students reflects a value long held in our society called misogyny. Kate Manne, a philosopher at Cornell University writes, misogyny isn’t so much about men hating or being hostile toward women, “Rather, it's primarily about controlling, policing, punishing, and exiling the ‘bad’ women who challenge male dominance.”
On February 26 I attended the monthly school board meeting for the Macomb public schools. Several individuals addressed the board regarding the lawsuit, their concerns about the actions of the administrators, and the safety of their children at school. Following protocol, board members, with the exception of Jim LaPrad who thanked the community for their insights, did not respond to the concerns.
It wasn’t until the end of the meeting that Superintendent Twomey deviated from this standard procedure to “correct” some of the misconceptions voiced by community members on social media. While jabbing his finger in the air, he stated that the comments posted on social media were inflammatory and could be considered defamation of character. He was responding to a plethora of observations made by women who refuse to allow their voices and opinions to be silenced by men.
His response is a classic example of a ‘who does she think she is challenging my judgement” response. Then in a standard, bait and switch move, he quickly deflected from the subject matter at hand – the alleged failure of administrators to protect our children – to focus on the good works the teachers in the school district.
The overwhelming majority of our teachers and administrators are very good at what they do and do go above and beyond their job description to make sure our children are clothed and fed and are able to learn. But that is not the matter at hand. What is at hand is that male administrators in charge dismissed the safety of two female students because they challenged the patriarchal order of the world.
Kate Manne further writes, “…we [as a society] contribute[d] to the silence surrounding sexual assault and harassment …[when]we only believe the victims we want to…[more alarmingly] we do believe them, but just don’t care sufficiently to change our attitudes or actions toward the perpetrator on this basis.”
I cannot imagine how painful it has been for the two young women and their mothers to come forward with this lawsuit. Many of us would be paralyzed in pain. It is completely understandable to want to ignore or numb the pain, since pain in any form is never pleasant. However, if there is one thing that I have learned from my years of practicing yoga and running, it is that there is a lot to be learned from “sitting with that pain” and learning how to move in spite of it.
I applaud the young women and their mothers for moving through their pain and using it actively. Because win or lose they have done something and your community is behind you.
As Albus Dumbledore once said, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
And you ladies, are some good people.
Heather McIlvaine-Newsad is a Professor of Anthropology at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.