i read the news today, oh boy

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I’m sure you’ve heard that Ellen watched a recent Cowboys game while sitting next to George W. Bush in the luxury booth of team owner Jerry Jones. When she tried to explain away the laughs they enjoyed together by saying she’s kind to everyone, it drew a clear line between those who are tired of all the yelling (can’t we just get along?) and those who don’t mind a little lost civility when there’s so much to yell about.

Fissures on Twitter are so mundane that people are barely talking about this one anymore, but I’m still ruminating on it, both as a female in America and as a writer.

So let me start with this: kindness is a false flag here. (While kindness is definitely “on brand” for Ellen, I don’t think it requires us to set aside our other principles and play nice with everyone.) What this is actually about (as far as I’m concerned) is what “civil society” keeps asking of women: instead of telling men to not commit war crimes, for example, it instructs women to be polite even if they do.

Instead of challenging this, Ellen’s explanation doubles down on kindness, and in doing so, it perpetuates the expectation that women shall not rock the boat. You already know how it works: if we walk out, we’re rude; if we’re dismissive, we’re uppity bitches. At the same time, if we stay in our seats, we’re complicit in the aggression against us. (Cue the “asking for it” argument.) Ellen understands politics and celebrity and has both benefited from these and been battered by these. That’s why it’s so unfortunate that she chose a reductive argument for “staying” instead of a more nuanced one.

We’re up to our elbows in shit as citizens in this dysfunctional democracy/republic and could really benefit from deep, meaningful reflection and conversation. Oversimplified, kindness as a platform maintains the status quo. It allows those in power (and those abusing that power) to keep their power, and the only benefactors of Ellen’s kindness are those for whom the truth is uncomfortable.

To put it bluntly, one of the ways the patriarchy persists is because women have been trained not to make anyone uncomfortable. As a writer (and this is a writing blog, after all), everything hinges on this idea. The truth often discomforts, and it matters who gets to speak it.

In just the last couple of weeks, the following have made headlines: how much AOC spends on her hair, whether or not Elizabeth Warren dominated a marine in the bedroom and Kamala Harris getting mocked for her laughter. Women are expected to tend to our appearance. Just not too extravagantly. Women are expected to like sex. But not too much. Women are treated like children — expected to be seen not heard and certainly not to laugh too loudly at anything the president’s son doesn’t think is funny.

The expectation to be pleasing is a weapon.

“Thanks” to Ellen conjuring kindness, I’m reflecting on times that I have censored myself — both face to face and in my writing — to avoid making anyone uncomfortable. And that includes myself. Sometimes, it’s easier to be polite than to make waves. We’re habituated to it.

“Thanks” to Ellen, I have a better understanding of “the personal is political” and how, as writers, that plays out in our poems and essays. It’s not kindness to swallow our truths. It’s called participating in our own oppression. The truth can be scary… but *we* are not the ones who should be unnerved.

An update for you –> Or, more accurately, a related news story: Confronting Harvey Weinstein at a comedy club (10/29/2019)


  1. good good post, good good for you. so many “conversations” starting here. even went back, read your dalai lama post. small ouch listening, but you were right for you. two observations. DL, a quote I like for me, “be kind whenever possible” which means in common usage, I would have been kind but just not possible, the dog ate the paper, the wife ate the dog, now I’m pissed and it ain’t possible! DLs second line is, “it is always possible”. no excuses. no “vacations” away from being aware, from being conscious of our participations. how about that lady counting her pennies in the shopping line, the driver who “did you wrong”, etc? not so easy! but that is the measure of our personal honesty and commitment. AND TWO, since when is it a kindness to look the other way when someone behaves badly? allowing bad behavior is not kind. period.

    the older I get the more convinced I am of my own stupidity. so many mistakes including the ones still in my life. one teacher of mine said, “if we’re not happy with our lives (not meaning being an empty-headed idiot) then we’re not doing it right.” when my days/thoughts turn to doubts, unhappiness, I’m-not-getting-enough, I work to not take that as truth but just my own failing to see what is amazing here. (me talk too much perhaps)

    much as I admire your writing and art, I see you as a person growing her honesty. then think to myself, when I grow up I wanna be honest just like Carolee! (even if I’m on the wrong side of that formula) …

    1. wow, the dalai lama post! i had to go back to see when that was (2012 for the record, lol). & you’re right that kindness is always possible. but sometimes — as with this ellen thing — it protects people who don’t need it & hurts those who are already vulnerable.

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