Following the Rules

On a recent morning, it dawned on me – at dawn – that the rules of political life are much like the rules of boxing: they are structured to favor specific people, but are applied as if they are neutral, perfect rules.

Boxing is governed by rules that favor upper body strength. The only legitimate targets are the body and the upper torso; hitting “below the belt” is strictly prohibited. Despite the fact that boxing is a sport, anyone who does not follow boxing rules in an actual fight outside the ring – such as a woman defending herself against a man or a boy defending himself against a bully – is considered a “cheater.”

Applying the rules of sport fighting like boxing to real life, we get a culture that accepts without question that women can’t protect themselves from men because men are “bigger.” But in a self defense situation, no one should be following “rules” that put them at a disadvantage.

The political rules don’t rely on physical strength and many of them are unofficial, but they’re biased in favor of a rich white male status quo. Money is fundamental – you can’t succeed in politics without it – but so are gender and race. Our image of a leader continues to be a white man. Someone who fits that image can be rude, loud, and even very, very stupid and still get elected. Women and people of color must always be polite and never shout, and they only get away with being stupid if they’re firmly allied with the white male power structure (see a couple of examples in the current cabinet).

We magnify this problem by demanding that women of all races and ethnicities be perfect, decrying them both when they stray from being ladylike and when they don’t seem to be sufficiently forceful. Similar strictures apply to men of color: they can never show anger, even when anger is the appropriate response.

Women can fight men. Body size makes a difference, but the difference it makes is in how you fight, not whether or not you can fight successfully. If you structure a fight to favor large men, they will win most of the fights, but that’s a function of the rules, not of fighting. The same can be said of politics.

Rich white men are only in charge because the rules favor them. They also continue to expand the rules to cement that power. The epidemic of campaigns that make it difficult to both register and vote are one example, while gerrymandering districts to dilute the effect of voters of color or young voters is another.

Those of us who are tired of having our society run by and for wealthy white men must defy the unwritten rules and change the written ones. Give women and people of color who run the same latitude that rich white men get. Sue to challenge voter suppression and gerrymandering. Run for office. Get people out to vote.

If we change the rules, we can change it all.



Following the Rules — 5 Comments

  1. I have completed reading Blanche Wiesen Cook’s three volume (3 very long books) biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. The parallels between the worlds in which she grew up — the Gilded Age / the Age of Horrors — the Depression, and then WWII and following — and our own Age of Horrors, are, well, horrifying. The sheer hatred of maybe even the majority of this nation for those who are poor, people of color, Jews, refugees, migrants, WOMEN, particularly women who dare to open their mouths, who earn money, who politically campaign, and campaign for CAUSES, for all those we hate — is horrifying. How many approved of Hitler and Mussolini, who learned their tactics from lynching and Jim Crow / apartheid — is equally terrifying. We sold supplies and armaments to Germany and Italy and Franco’s fascists throughout until actual declaration of war, but because of our “Neutrality Act” we refused to sell to Spain’s Republicans.

    As we can’t scream commie and red at everyone who isn’t a hater now, because, you know, Russia and Putin and the Philippines and white supremacists authoritarians are truly admirable, it’s still people of color and the poor we’ve got to demonize and socially progressive and reformist individual or group.

    We have more people in prison than China . . . and we’re sodomized every moment by the digital giants, and here we are.

    • I just read Her Own Hero by historian Wendy L. Rouse, which documents the way women in the early 20th Century studied boxing and jutitsu (my review is forthcoming in The Cascadia Subduction Zone. Just as with second wave feminism, there was a focus on self defense and physical fitness that accompanied the suffragist work. So I’m seeing the ties very clearly. I think there are a lot of patterns like that. We discover things, make some progress, and then lose a few steps. I’m tired of losing those steps.

  2. I’m writing a novel about this. If the political structure is set up and run for the benefit of white men of wealth, how can a woman operate? To make it more invidious the work is set in 1866.

    • She can either be a rebellious activist, a la many in the suffrage movement, or she pick a likely man and manipulate him. The 19th Century didn’t give women many choices, which is why I’d rather work with SF than historical fiction.

      Be interesting to see what you do with it.

      • Or, she could withdraw from regular society, a la Emily Dickinson, and forge her own path and identity away from the constraints of social expectation. Isolating, for sure, but she stayed true to her own vision, and the world is still fascinated and influenced by her.

        I can think of many other instances of women who manage to subvert the status quo in order to establish their own personhood; they may not necessarily break down the prevailing social structures—they may not even be known outside their own circles—but they do undermine them in intriguing ways.