Oh, and John Kelly Is an Idiot

Of the several untrue things John Kelly said yesterday, I want to comment on this one:

“When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country,” he said. “Women were sacred and looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore, as we see from recent cases.”

If he’s referring to the Harvey Weinstein case, there’s something he apparently didn’t know. And it’s this: Back when Kelly was a kid growing up, sexual harassment was worse. It was more open. It was more accepted. It was completely legal. Women had absolutely no recourse but to put up with it.

I know what the world was like when John Kelly grew up, because he’s only a year older than I am. So I can speak with at least as much authority. Although assault was as taboo then as now, sexual harassment was the norm back in the day. A woman working with men had to put up with being perpetually objectified and belittled. It didn’t just go on behind closed doors. Men who didn’t participate would sit passively by while other men did, in full view.

Sexual harassment wasn’t even recognized as a “thing” until second wave feminism took it up as a cause, and even second wave feminism was a bit late about it.

Women did not even have a term with which to describe the experience of sexual harassment until 1976. This lack of a term made it difficult to discuss the subject, which prevented the development of a generalized, shared and social definition of the phenomenon. However the lack of a term should not be equated with the nonexistence of the event. In fact, silence is often a reflection of terrible pain and degradation. Like rape and domestic violence, it was a problem which male society swept under the rug, treating it as something simultaneously rare and shameful to the victim. Writing in an article originally published in 1979, Gloria Steinem noted that what now was called “sexual harassment” had just been called “life” only a few years earlier.

Labeling sexual harassment as being “just a part of life” effectively told women that this sort of thing was normal, even a compliment, and that it was their responsibility to cope with it and not complain. Therefore many women of the 1960’s and early 70’s believed that their feelings of shame and injury were evidence of something wrong with them rather than the behavior they endured. This effect only increased when people responded to women’s complaints by telling them, “you asked for it.” This told women that they must really want and enjoy those unwanted attentions, which increased their feelings of guilt and alienation.

But it was going on before the 1960s. The post World War II years saw widespread denigration of women, as Betty Friedan documented in The Feminine Mystique (1964). For example, in the 1950s and 1960s we were the primary butts of stand up comedy (women drivers! mothers in law! stupid housewives!). This was a form of cultural aggression aimed at an entire gender. Yeah, that’s how sacred we were.

I’ve probably told this one before, but as recently as the 1970s I remember the publisher I worked for was bringing out a book of jokes for after dinner speakers. Some of the jokes were blatantly sexist, such as about wife beating. Yes, wife beating was considered funny. I cut out those jokes. The author was furious and went over my head to my supervisor. However, the department head was also a woman, and the jokes stayed out.

So, it wasn’t until John Kelly was very much an adult that sexual harassment was identified as a bad thing, and it was identified as something that shouldn’t be happening in the workplace. However, it still happened. All the time. Just less blatantly.

And, of course, back in the day we were so “sacred” we couldn’t get credit cards in our own name, and any job with a decent wage attached to it could be found in the classifieds in a column headed “Jobs for White Men.” I remember that, too. If that was “sacred,” John Kelly can have it.

16 thoughts on “Oh, and John Kelly Is an Idiot

  1. I really really have to wonder if Kelly is saying what he is saying as a means of using irony to say the complete opposite. To stand in the defense of Trump by listing things that are or should be sacred is just bizarre.. I don’t know of a bigger offender for trampling on sacred values than Donald Trump.

  2. That’s obviously not the case anymore, as we see from recent cases.

    “I hit on her like a bitch”

  3. Anyone who agrees to work for t-RUMP proves to everyone that s/he has no honor.

    And on the issue of women, the General show very few degrees, if any, of separation between him and t-RUMP:
    The degenerate, and his hirling, the deGENERALate.

  4. 100% true, Barbara – I experienced it all as a young woman in the 60s. Every humiliating and unbelievable bit you’ve described. We were considered a little strange if we even mentioned it.

  5. It wasn’t post war. I was reading some old Perry Mason stories, many from the 1930s, and workplace harassment was just assumed to be there and be something just had to put up with or quit. It was just the background noise, like hearing a phone ring or a typewriter clattering. (Of course, since these were Perry Mason stories, sometimes push came to shove and the creep was murdered and his target found herself the prime suspect.)

    • “It wasn’t post war.” Sexual harassment has been with humans since we’ve been a species. But the cultural denigration of women became particularly acute and pernicious during the post World War II years. This has been well documented, and not just by Friedman. It may have been a backlash to Rosie the Riveter or some kind of collective resentment of women because they didn’t have to go to war, but it was a real thing, and this is the world John Kelly grew up in.

  6. The Leigh Kimmel article was painful enough to read without having to live the experience. It should be required reading.

  7. Swami, the article you linked brought the “Fascist Decalogue” to mind and Umberto Eco’s article on Ur-Fascism.

    I found the following in a review on a new book on Hitler:

    “in the end Germany decided to see Hitler just as he saw himself; the country matched his psychosis with its own. What is truly frightening, and monitory, in Ullrich’s book is not that a Hitler could exist, but that so many people seemed to be secretly waiting for him.”

  8. I tried to fit Kelly’s comments into the context of his address, which was an attack on a black congresswoman and her integrity. To some degree, Kelly was trying to justify what he was saying about a woman as something no one would have said in the 60s (and here I infer) because women deserved that imaginary status, which exists only in Kelly’s mnd, because women knew their place. I think this was the dog whistle message – that Wilson does not deserve respect presumably because she broke a social taboo – speaking ill of a white man who is politically ‘above’ her in the pecking order.

  9. Recent letter to the editor in the local rag (paraphrase):
    Looking at the number of rapes and sexual assaults on women in the military by fellow soldiers proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that all soldiers are not heroes, and this hero worship that began in the late 80s is totally misplaced.

    Of course, Faux Snooze is all over the Congresswoman for being uppity, and how DARE she listen in on the Resident’s diatribe (while, of course, he was in a room full of sycophants, including Mr. Kelly, who were listening in on his side).

    How do these people (the listeners), with their extraordinarily diminished mental capacities, remember to breathe.

  10. And to expand on Doug’s point, it sounds like what Kelly is really saying is that “sacred” means women knew their place and would never challenge a man, let alone a four star general or president. And that Wilson was not being “sacred” when she spoke out.

    But if we are to construe Kelly’s use of sacred in even an honest literal or figurative sense, how is his and Trump’s behavior honoring the sacredness of woman by attacking and slandering them instead of acknowledging their valid concerns? Which makes this even uglier because then the takeaway is that black women, Wilson, the widow, the family don’t deserve to be honored.

    No matter how you slice it, this is ugly as hell.

  11. Kelly needs to stop by the PX and secure himself a tube of anal lube. Trump’s going to be a hard master. Once you’ve been deflowered of your integrity.. your dignity is sure to follow.

  12. Offering succor to the families of service members killed in the line of duty is one of the most solemn exercises a president must undertake. It is a task requiring, above all, a sense of humility. “In the hope that it may be no intrusion upon the sacredness of your sorrow, I have ventured to address you this tribute to the memory of…your brave and early fallen child,” Abraham Lincoln wrote to the parents of a fallen Union soldier.

    Or else you can just say.. “Hey, he knew what he signed up for.” And if you really want to put some eloquence to your condolence, you can always say.. He probably never knew what hit him, judging by how badly he was messed up.

    * My apologies to anybody who finds my comment offensive. I don’t mean any disrespect to service members or the families of those service member. I am totally offended by the lack of empathy and common decency displayed by Donald Trump as Commander in Chief of our nation’s military. When Trump has to ask his chief of staff what to say to the widow of a fallen soldier, it kinda gives an indication that he lacks the proper compassion in all human interactions. And this is the guy who claims to have the best words. He also lacks the discernment to understand what Kelly conveyed to him in saying that he knew what he signed up for was a lazy way of communicating a bond between soldiers to express a deeply held sense of camaraderie and respect for one another. But Trump just mimicked Kelly’s words without even a clue in understanding where a phrase like that would be acceptable. Trump is just a big bag of shit who rather than just saying, my words were misplaced in an effort to convey my deepest sorrow, and I’m truly sorry for causing you any pain.
    But NOOO…”I didn’t say that, and I have proof”. Trump is a fucking bag of shit!

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