Wednesday, August 12, 2009
My mixed feelings on a famous high school classmate
Co-blogger Smalls and I went to the same high school. We've been friends since then -- well, once she decided that me being an arrogant, slacker asshole who basically got away with murder (and sleeping) in our honors biology class wasn't a total deal breaker. We went to a private all-girls high school in Arizona that rejects a higher percentage of its applicants than a lot of colleges (it also makes you submit a photo with your application, and all sorts of other weird things). Public education in AZ is pretty bad in a lot of places, so lots of people try to get their kids into this school. For the academics, the sports, the discipline, all of it. Some kids were sent their by parents who were really stretching their budget to give their kids a leg-up in college applications, some kids were on scholarships and some kids were filthy rich.
Our high school class, class of 2003, was something of a juggernaut. By our junior and senior years, the school was pretty over crowded. See, they let in the same number of freshmen each year, but typically, many are gone by senior year. Not us. At our commencement, the nun in charge of discipline, among other things, gave us this ringing endorsement: "Class of 2003. Congratulations. They didn't flunk out, they didn't drop out and we didn't kick 'em out." In a school where girls drop like flies, for reasons ranging from rebellion to nervous breakdown to inadequate grades, this was significant. Our school basically either made people or broke them. And though I highly resented it at the time, that school did a decent job preparing me for the world, considering it was so insular.
Class of 2003 has continued on to be successful too. Me and co-blogger are doing well, by our own standards, and our friends are doing kick ass things, too. Our class has ivy-league scholars and athletes, people who worked full time all the way through college, at great schools all across the country. Filmmakers, published writers, studio artists, philanthropists, athletes, etc. etc. We're rocking out, basically. Not to brag, except that i just did.
Only one of my high school classmates has achieved any real national notoriety. It's fairly clear that she has achieved said notoriety because of who her father is, rather than her individual achievements, but hey, she IS quite famous these days. We'll call her "Shmeghan ShmcCain."
You might have read some of Shmeghan's work, since she is a blogger (oh, I mean blogette), but it's more likely that you've seen/heard her on various television talk shows and other venues, or perhaps you've read rather vicious attacks on her. The subjects of these attacks have ranged from her words to her weight to her privilege as Shmon ShmcCain's daughter, to her age, to basically anything that the general awful misogyny and dismissal aimed at nearly all female public figures can find to latch on to. Suffice it to say that the arguments people have against her RARELY fall into the first category I listed: disagreement with her words.
This is where my feelings get truly mixed. See, i don't think she's particularly brilliant. She never stood out in our high school class full of really bright girls. I disagree with nearly 100% of her actual political positions. For these reasons, I'm not overly interested in what she has to say on most political issues. What interests me a great deal is the WAY she is dismissed. I do not believe that if it were one of the very brilliant girls that I knew in high school who got the lime light that she would be treated any better.
This hypothetical brilliant girl would still be called too fat, too young, undeserving, too stupid, etc. etc. And so, I find myself vociferously defending a person who I've interacted with personally and didn't find very compelling. But I have to defend her, right? I can't just ignore her, as I would your average not-that-compelling middle aged white dude. Because from an identity politics standpoint, she and I have a great deal in common (except, you know, I'm a big homo). She has a great deal in common with all of my brilliant, funny, exceptional female friends and peers -- to differing degrees. And when one of us can be dismissed in this decidedly bullshit manner, we all can.
Here's the part where I'll give young SchmcCain some considerable credit. She has not shut up. I'm glad she hasn't. And on a few issues, I think she has even done a very good job; most particularly, I think she has responded appropriately when people attempt to silence her. When she basically told people to suck it, who called her fat: perfection. Suck it, people. For the record, she's not fat. If fat were seen as value neutral, no one would be calling her fat, because she's decidedly average sized. They're calling her fat to get her to shut up and feel shitty about herself. It's an aspersion that can be cast on any woman, to great effect, regardless of her size. They say it because it's powerful.
If she were fat, she should still tell them to suck it, and she should be shamelessly fat. Because these status-quo-loving-assholes, you know, there are lots of people who they want to categorically exclude from having a voice. They'll use everything in their arsenals ("nah nah, you're fat!" "you're a bitch!" "ur dumb," "you're just a little girl" and on and on) to try to shut people up. So we have to hear their worst and then say "suck it, assholes." And to them, she and I are in the exact same category. So it's in both my personal self interest and an imperative in my code of ethics that I keep standing up for her right to be heard. I will. Even when we disagree.