The Joy of Women’s History Month and the Men Ruining it for Us

As a writer and high school English teacher, it comes as no surprise that I love irony. And this year’s Women’s History Month has not disappointed.

Imagine… after 245 years we finally elected a female Vice President of a country created under the auspices of all “men” being created equal by a man who owned other men and women. Well, if that isn’t a reason to celebrate extra this March…  But heaven forbid we try to enjoy the pride and pageantry of the one month out of an entire year where we acknowledge and bask in women’s amazing contributions to our world without men inserting themselves into it as seamlessly as they do a mansplanation at the office and stealing our thunder.

And by men, of course, I’m specifically referring to a sexually harassing cartoon skunk and another gross and ubiquitous character, the angry white male shooter who, this time around, decided to gun down six women in an Atlanta massage parlor because he couldn’t control his deviant sexual urges. How fucking biblical!

But first, let’s unpack the Pepe Le Pew scandal. Many years before the modern so-called “cancel culture” tried to hold accountable this horny, innocent little skunk for grabbing and kissing a cat that had zero interest in him, comedian Dave Chappelle, known for all kinds of offensive, pejorative jokes, observed when he watched the cartoon with his young nephew, that Pepe was actually a “fucking rapist.” The rest of Chappelle’s joke suggested that the cartoon was teaching his nephew that “sometimes you just gotta take the pussy.” By our standards today, Pepe goes at it at about the second-degree sexual assault level. And, as expected, every anti-progressive has crawled out from under their rocks to express their outrage that poor Mr. Le Pew is the latest misunderstood male under attack.

Rather than decrying libs as getting too crazy going after cartoon characters, what we should be doing is using this as a teachable moment. It’s a perfect opportunity to reinforce the idea to young boys and girls that, despite what the cartoon character is doing….or the future Supreme Court justice at his frat house kegger for that matter, you can’t just take what you want from another person, whether it’s a kiss or her pussy, without their consent. And to compare this “innocent” cartoon to Cardi B’s recent hyper-sexual, anti-family performance at the Grammys is completely off target given that however raunchy her performance was, it was consensual. In fact, that response is so typically, predictably misogynistic in that it links a woman’s sexuality and self-expression to what’s usually considered the next obvious step: she gets raped for it.

Ah, the perfect segue into the next misogynistic sexual deviant to ruin this year’s Women’s History Month for us, the disturbed twenty-one-year-old with a freshly purchased gun. This chap decided to murder six Asian women in a massage parlor this week because of his alleged sex addiction, targeting that place and those women as a “temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.” Even if these killings weren’t racially motivated, as the assailant claims, we should all be just as outraged if they were motivated by the victims’ genders.

Not surprising this occurred in the bible-thumping south. After all, doesn’t the “good book” suggest that women are wanton, lustful creatures who’ll drive a man to sin and sexual deviance as quick and easy as they can make him a sandwich afterward? Ugh. Nothing disgusts me more than that time-honored tradition of blaming women for men’s aggression, violence, and warped, unchecked privilege.  

 When is it going to change? Certainly not any time soon as long as we still have so many people who downplay, defend, and dismiss seemingly innocent images of non-consensual sex in our culture in the name of nostalgia and tradition. Ah, the good old “skunks will be skunks” shake-off of the victimization of females, whether they’re real-life women or cartoon cats. Using the phrase “cancel culture” every time we’re faced with another uncomfortable part of our collective cultural past is just a convenient way to avoid facing one of the many inconvenient truths in our history.

We should never erase or destroy or “cancel” anything in our history, and that is not what holding people and institutions accountable for their actions is all about. But we should be able to talk about things and change them when they no longer serve the ideals involved in making our world a better place.

As a great woman in American history, Maya Angelou, once said: “When we know better, we do better.” In 2021, we do know better. We should at least try to start doing better in honor of all the great women, mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends who had to carry those burdens silently before we all got woke.

Happy Women’s History Month!

The October 8th Ruling: Ghoulishness Even Scarier than Halloween 🕸☠

As the leaves perform their leafy magic, and the October 1st tax increases loom here in the Constitution State, I’m commiserating with those eager to flee Connecticut because of high taxes and seemingly endless budget deficits. Another of Connecticut’s nicknames, the “tax you to death,” is no doubt well-earned.

However, unlike most of my compatriots who dream of or are actually planning a move to a more financially stable state, I know I won’t be leaving any time soon, for one, because I’ve already adapted to the $.10 plastic bag tax, never having been a fan of seeing them flap in the wind from bare tree branches in winter. But the reality is I can’t leave, not if I want to continue having the audacity to live as an out lesbian and be a public school teacher.

Currently, in nearly thirty states in this “free” country of ours, I can be fired from my job for living openly as a lesbian. All it would take is a complaint or two from parents, and suddenly, my livelihood is in jeopardy because, in certain parts of the US, I’m viewed as unfit to educate children. My lifestyle is immoral, and according to some serious right-wing extremism, I may be secretly pushing my gay agenda on impressionable youngsters—as if we could win free timeshare points for every kid we recruit. I wish. 

On the Weekends We be Extra!

Now this may sound like the plot of an old black and white movie about rampant bigotry in the pre-Civil Rights South, but it isn’t. This is 2019. And while, it’s long been illegal to fire African-Americans from their jobs simply because they’re black, it is still legal to dismiss members of the LGBTQ community if an employer feels that our lifestyles conflict with their religious sensibilities. This is because the LGBTQ community is not specifically listed as a protected minority in the Civil Rights Act pertaining to job discrimination.

Atticus Finch, where are you?

But on October 8, 2019, our Supreme Court will issue a highly consequential ruling that will either change that or solidify it. And frankly, I’m terrified of the possibility of it being solidified, as it is a ruling that will likely stand for the rest of my life. (click link below for article)

What that means is I’m stuck here in Connecticut, the tax-you-to-death-state because it’s one of only about twenty that have legislated equal rights for its LGBTQ citizens in all aspects of our lives. In essence, the ridiculously high taxes most residents here view as an unjust burden, I view as “protection money” so to speak, like one would pay to mobsters or prison gangs—money that I shouldn’t have to part with, but if I want the dignity to live and work safely and in true freedom, money I must pay.

So to anyone who still thinks presidents and politicians have no say in Americans’ civil rights, let me remind you once again that they do. Had Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell not obstructed President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, I wouldn’t be quite so riddled with anxiety right now awaiting my fate as it now rests in a majority of justices whose ideological beliefs mirror the conservative anti-LGBTQ values that continue to oppress us. 

I have to admit that it requires more mental energy than I care to expend to process living in a country where my access to equal protection under the law has to be voted on every few years. The angst is worse than trying to choose the quickest checkout lane in a grocery store during the busiest time of day. But at least if I pick the wrong lane, the worst thing that can happen is my rotisserie chicken won’t be as warm as I’m hoping when I get it home.

Get it while it’s hot!

If the Supreme Court chooses the wrong lane on this issue, I won’t ever bring home a warm rotisserie chicken again. As I count down to their decision on October 8th, I can’t help contemplating how I will feel should they rule in favor of discrimination instead of equality. How shitty will it be if I’m condemned to live the rest of my life in a state I may not choose to because in over half of all the other states, I’ll still be regarded as a second-class citizen?

So from now until October 8th, while you’re getting all curmudgeony that your trip to Shop-Rite now costs you $.30 more, be glad you’re not standing with me in the express lane to inequity. And if you decide that you’re fed up paying all these taxes and want to evacuate the state like a refugee of an economic disaster, be glad your main concern won’t be finding a state where something as insignificant as who you love can cost you your career.

Jean Copeland is a high school English teacher and award-winning lesfic novelist from Connecticut.

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Enter Sandmann: A Teachable Moment About What We’re Teaching Boys

If you’re like me, you’re thoroughly sick of seeing the sweet, pubescent face of Nicholas Sandmann as he stoically exercises his “right” to encroach on the personal space of Vietnam vet and Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, and smirk in his face.

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You’re probably also emotionally spent from indignation over this Catholic boy’s brazen display of disrespect for his elders, especially one who served our country during a war, and that it seems his parents didn’t teach him the virtue of humility. But what’s been overshadowed by this MAGA-hat(e) incident is the actual reason why Sandmann and his classmates were in Washington DC: to protest abortion rights. This begs the question of all religion-based high schools: What lessons are they really teaching our impressionable adolescent males?

I find it disturbing, in a Handmaid’s Tale kind of way, that schools like Covington Catholic are teaching teenage boys that they have the right, even the responsibility, to tell grown women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies and their own futures. And that this particular school sponsored a field trip so that the boys, our future leaders, can practice applying the theory of this “right” in a real-life setting.

I can’t help but wonder does the imparting of knowledge like this lay the groundwork for these teenage boys to grow up believing that they inherently have some level of power or authority of over women? That perhaps if they can influence something as critical as a woman’s choice about her reproductive health, they may also have the right to arbitrate other important things like when a woman is choosing to have to sex with them versus when she just needs a little coaxing? Is that the lesson men like Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, and Brett Kavanaugh somehow learned in their formative years that paved the way for adult behaviors like the sexual assaults they’ve been credibly accused of?

We teach boys not to cry because it shows weakness; we teach them in grammar school not to hit girls because they are weaker than they are; we teach them that aggression in sports brings victory and in life brings the spoils of success. But what are the specific examples we, as a society, are setting to ingrain in them the belief that women are thinking, feeling, intelligent beings who are their equals? Aside from Gillette’s flaccid attempt to shame men out of their lifelong inclinations toward toxic masculinity in an ad for their products, what values are we really instilling in our boys? While everyone has the right to his or her opinion on abortion, the question of whether or not someone has the right to intimidate or force a woman out of choosing one is a matter of law. And that answer, in most places in the US, is an unequivocal no.

While we’re talking to our boys about respecting their elders and not pulling little Sally’s hair in homeroom, let’s make sure we’re also teaching them the difference between having an opinion about women and respecting women’s legal and human rights.

Inside the Closet I Briefly Shared with Beatrice Darby

novel coverMy debut novel, The Revelation of Beatrice Darby, was never intended to be semi-autobiographical. Naturally, I envisioned my title character as the quintessential literary heroine beleaguered by unrequited love and the societal restrictions of her era. But as with most stories, the characters writers create become organic. At times, it seemed that this magnificent, imaginary young woman was telling me her story, and I was merely typing it. My inner teenager must’ve recognized herself in Beatrice and realized she could finally explore her locked-away feelings from the safe distance of time, maturity, and a whole lot of life experience. Like Beatrice, I had a secret fascination with a much older, inaccessible woman, my high school business teacher. I was anxiously, embarrassingly, crazy in love with her much the way Beatrice feels about Abby Gill. And like Abby, my teacher was enchanting. I fell under a tantalizing spell of authority, charm, and forbidden sex appeal that rendered me a jubilant, stammering mess around her.

In my essay, “Girl Crush: The Perils of Being Hot for Teacher in the 80s,” published online by T/Our Magazine,

I revisit this secret place in my adolescence, and how it felt juggling bare-handed the flaming balls of friendship, fitting in, and a desperate fear of exposure. Although America’s criteria for what was socially acceptable in Beatrice’s adolescence in the 1950s differed sharply from mine in the 1980s, the one thing that hadn’t evolved was the overall sentiment toward homosexuality. Yes, the consequences of coming out in the 80s weren’t quite as severe—I never feared being chased through the woods like Frankenstein by a mob of torch-wielding townies—but coming out as a lesbian in the 1980s was essentially tantamount to social suicide.

While I had succeeded in passing as a “normal” high school girl, that success came at a price: two subsequent decades of chronic panic disorder. It also damaged my self-worth, leaving me grasping for self-acceptance until I was nearly forty years old and in the process of clearing out mental debris from the end of a long-term relationship.

I flatter myself to think the character of Beatrice Darby is a version of me. In a small way, I’ve found redemption in her, a heroine to be admired for her uncompromising will to fashion her life from her own custom-designed mold rather than a cookie cutter used a thousand times before. I hope readers will enjoy rooting for her as she perseveres through every fretful, awkward, unbearable situation throughout her journey. I root for her because she’s flawed yet triumphant, and no matter how hard she stumbles or falls, she always manages to pull herself up by her sensible shoe straps. ♥