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)