Is CPAC slutshaming the new thing?

As noted over the weekend, I had a pleasant experience at this year’s CPAC, which gave me the opportunity to listen to top presidential contenders shed light on the state of our country and catch up with old friends. Though some might argue that I shouldn’t use a political event as an occasion to meet up with friends, I’m glad to have shared the experience with people I care about.

According to several conservative bloggers, people like me should be set straight for having fun at the three-day conference. Keeping with the Valentine’s Day tone, Erick Erickson writes of his concerns with the way many young CPACers carry themselves during the annual GOP gathering:

“Being the good, intrepid blogger, I ran across the street to a CVS to buy a notepad, having left mine in my office back in Macon, GA. There in line were a half dozen young men, each with CPAC credentials around their necks and each buying condoms.”

"Animal House"

And what is the problem with protected sex? Better the men come prepared than use unsafe methods, impregnate women, or spread disease. Nevertheless, Erickson continues:

“That is part of life on the college circuit. Young men, regardless of political persuasion or ideology, are intent on having sex, being boys, getting drunk — doing what young men in college often do. All to often there are also a few young ladies willing to shame their parents if their parents only knew.”

Who cares if the “18 to 21 year old set” Erickson describes is going all the way? They’re adults, and if this bothers their parents, their families need a reality check. These aren’t kids here, but “emerging” grown-ups, as the New York Times puts it.

Erickson goes on to criticize the post-graduate men-children of CPAC for behaving as if they are still college boys and have an excuse to be irresponsible:

“[T]he twenty and thirty somethings who just can’t seem to grow up. It’s like they started out at CPAC this way in college and each year at their CPAC reunion descend back to their freshman year rush week…Unfortunately, too many treat CPAC like spring break. More than a few of the twenty and thirty somethings who go to CPAC seem to treat it like an extension of their college days doing their best to hook up before passing out. It’s not the majority to be sure, but it is a noticeable minority.”

Having witnessed a large number of young folks burn out before reaching age 30, I see nothing wrong with a three-day reunion with friends. It’s not as if they’re taking a 6-week trip to Cancun or quitting their jobs to booze it up in Prague. They take a few days off work to attend a political conference and be part of history. Sure they have fun in the process, but some of the monotonous, dry speeches warrant a little extra excitement and stimulation in the evenings.

Though I disagree with much of the article, which suggests future CPACs aren’t far from turning into giant fraternity parties, I applaud Erickson for noting the importance of maintaining chivalry:

“Eat, drink, smoke, be merry, but be chivalrous too. There really is, regardless of your age, no need to play the cad at CPAC to score points with conservative ladies…We should accept that duty as the opportunity to do what is right, not as license to behave like fools.”

I like Erickson and feel he articulates himself well in this piece, much more so than another blog post that likens CPACers to the cast of “Jersey Shore.” The writer, a female named Melissa, gripes about the apparel choice of CPAC ladies:

“Women will be future leaders, too, and I was dismayed to see how many of them either looked frumpish or like two-bit whores.”

First of all, what’s so wrong with dressing frumpy? Unless you’re superhuman, you should know that the east coast is freezing right now. It snowed in D.C. this weekend. It’s also February, one of the coldest months of the year. We’re entitled to some frumpiness. I thought I escaped the New York City fashion police during my CPAC trip, but I guess I can’t even avoid shallow style criticism in D.C., which I thought was considered “Hollywood for the ugly.” Too bad that’s no longer the case.

Really though, why label CPAC females as “whores”? When did it become acceptable for women to talk about each other like this? I’ve always found Tina Fey to be a bit overrated, but she’s spot on in “Mean Girls” when she tells her catty female students, “You have got to stop calling each other ‘whores’ and ‘sluts’…It just makes it okay for guys to call you ‘whores’ and ‘sluts’.” Let’s not send that kind of message into the world, Regina George.

Tina Fey

Here’s another unfair, mean-spirited swipe that I find offensive:

“[H]ave women so internalized feminist dogma that they see themselves in only two ways? Butch, men-lite wannabes or 3rd wave sluts who empower themselves by screwing every available horndog man?”

"Oh no you didn't!"

Again with the name-calling. Not cool. Her instructions for proper CPAC grooming, however, floor me:

“Skirts no more than three finger-widths above the knee. Why do I even have to write this? Well, because someone is allowing these girls out of the house with mini-skirts that reveal too much.”

Is this Catholic school?

The article becomes more and more malicious as you scroll down the page, and does nothing more than preach to women about why they’re failures and damaged goods:

“Young women, you degrade your own value by dressing and then acting the ho.

I cannot even tell you how many girls have told me that all they want is to get married and have babies. They do not seem to make the connection that a young man is not interested in getting married and making babies with a girl who is so easy as to have a one-night stand over a CPAC weekend (or any other weekend.)

You know what a guy thinks when you slut-it-up? He thinks: If she’ll do that with me, she’ll do that with anyone.”

It disappoints me to see women tear each other down over something as petty as clothing. Take it easy, ladies, no one showed up to CPAC naked. Of course, Melissa isn’t the only woman to blast fellow CPAC gals. Other female bloggers were quick to slutshame. LonelyConservative writes:

“In case any of you dear readers were wondering – no – I was not among the scantily clad ladies at CPAC. I’m a happily married woman, and even when I was single I always tried to dress in a way that would not embarrass myself or my parents. Here’s a passing thought that’s probably unrelated – when Red State ran the bloggers lounge I was granted access. If I were to dress up like a ho and post photos of myself prior to the next CPAC will I be allowed in?”

While I respect the authors of these blog posts, I resent the default labeling. So what if women want to reject the Hillary Clinton pantsuit look? Let’s not kid ourselves: Business attire is unflattering, uncomfortable, and dull, so I support the women who want to have some fun with their appearance. As long as they’re comfortable and not revealing any cleavage, I don’t see the issue with ditching the soul-crushing corporate look.

As earlier stated, I respect these bloggers and am sure that they intend to look out for today’s youth, but talking down to CPACers won’t make them listen to you. You can start connecting with them by refraining from hurling derogatory words their way and disparaging them for being young at heart.

This weekend, it boiled my blood when a former intern told me that an old man who identified himself as a Tea Party member pulled her out of a crowd to tell her she looked like trash. He said she did not know herself and that she needed more class. Then he had the audacity to claim that his daughter would never dress like my friend. For all he knows, his sweet high schooler was smoking opium at that very moment. I’ve seen plenty of blissfully ignorant parents hop on the “not my little girl” high horse until she gets into serious trouble. Besides, my intern looked fine. She was wearing a long black dress and tights. God forbid women break away from loose-fitting blouses, oversized slacks, and blazers. Could she have gone for a more professional look? Yes, but she was neither skimpy nor revealing, and it should be known that unsolicited remarks like that creepy man’s are inappropriate and could even be categorized as sexual harassment.

So, rather than slam CPAC women’s wardrobe or tell twenty-somethings to tone it down, take note of the hostility and unwarranted judgment in the above posts. It’s much more disturbing to watch women smear each other over clothing than to bump into a college girl whose skirt is above her knee. Let’s quit with the cyber attacks and instead present each other with constructive criticism.

Elephantitis/Elaphantiasis, Rear Window, male “Mean Girls”

I don’t really have elephantitis/elaphantiasis, but from the looks of one of my toes, you’d think otherwise (and probably run for the hills).

The other day, I tripped in my new sandals and managed to sprain my foot. I feel great but can’t walk, and my only regret is that I don’t have an awesome story about how I acquired this injury. This past month, I’ve damaged the same leg, which will probably fall off by the end of 2011. Several weeks ago, I tripped over my computer cord, dropped my laptop, and landed on my hallway rug with a thud. I had a knee rugburn for a while and explained over and over again to my goofy male friends that there was no scandalous story behind my ugly cut. I’m just clumsy :)

Anyway, my newest mishap has left me with a purple and blue foot. My roommate forbade me from leaving our apartment yesterday, so I’m feeling a lot like the cute old man in “Rear Window.”

The worst part of hurting oneself is not being able to partake in physical activity. I didn’t attend yoga yesterday for obvious reasons, and I won’t be jogging for a while. Hopefully I’ll be back to normal within a week. My mother, ever the worrier, wants me to see a doctor, but there are fewer people I’m more terrified of than doctors (except my buddy Crystal, who is going to be an optometrist!). I get so worked up I faint when visiting medical folks (or at least the eye doctor). Plus, hospital visits are always expensive and time consuming, so if I can heal on my own, I’ll do that.

I’d like to spend this Father’s Day by remembering some of the hilarious things my own dad said and did. I can only hope to be half as hardcore as he was!

During his days at Fordham University, my father drove taxis in New York City. He attended classes in the afternoon and took on his cabbie role by night. Though he never told me about most of the dangerous situations he encountered, he often talked about the time when someone threw a bloody human into the backseat of his car. The person was about to die, so my dad rushed him to the hospital. Soon after that, my dad left the cab business.

When I was a high school freshman, I carpooled with a young man named Johnny who held a two-year grudge against me. He was mad about something I’d said in seventh grade and simply could not move on from the past. He was a guy version of Regina George and his punk rock friends were his minions. They were the “Mean Girls” of the male community. The boys wore chains and dog collars in place of jewelry, substituted tight-fitting tank tops for “Social Distortion” t-shirts, and roamed the school stomping grounds in white Converse flats instead of stilettos. These guys were cattier gossips than the “Mean Girls” Plastics.

When the “Mean Girls” dudes told the entire ninth grade that they were planning to toilet paper my house, I begged the boys to leave my parents alone. The male Plastics didn’t listen, so I consulted my dad, who got back at Johnny one morning before school. My father placed a new roll of toilet paper that read, “DON’T DO IT” in the backseat of our SUV, right where Johnny would plop down.

“Oh, Johnny? Did you see my toilet paper back there?” asked my dad.

Johnny nodded and leaped out of the car, dashing off to tell his friends what had just happened. I assumed he’d complain about my father, but Johnny altered details of the story to his friends and said I’d been the one to put the TP in the backseat.

During recess, one of Johnny’s buddies approached me and said, “Just do you know, Johnny is incredibly angry at you right now for handing him that roll of toilet paper. He says you crossed the line. Forget TP, we’re going to graffiti your house. Just you wait.”

But they never did anything of the sort. I’d like to think my dad has something to do with that. Anyone with an ounce of sanity knows it’s best not to enrage a big redheaded Irish man.

At Stanford, he was texting me while this photo was being taken!

Ever the pacifist, my mom wasn’t as eager to get even with people as my dad. Even as a young kid, he had tons of disputes with people. In elementary school, he got into a fist fight with Dave Barry over politics. My dad was conservative and Dave was liberal, and sadly Dave won the brawl. Though I wasn’t alive for the altercation, I can imagine it would have been hilarious to witness. Who wouldn’t love to see two nerds duking it out?

Bullying scandals as of late

In light of all the recent harassment-induced suicides (Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown, and Phoebe Prince, to name a few), I’ve actually found myself in a state of uncertainty with regards to the issue of school bullying.

As someone who was constantly picked on from about 6th to 9th grade (sometimes at my own fault, I can admit, but more on those instances later), I’m angered that the media has only now begun taking the problem of bullies seriously.

Maybe technology really is to blame, as some would argue. It is now possible to be bullied 24/7. While I was in junior high, I at least had the refuge of my own home at the end of the day, where I could lock myself up with a book and not be taunted via text, email, or other social media memes.

By the time I hit 8th grade, the internet became popular among my classmates, and I did endure some cyber bullying (but, as I said earlier, I kind of provoked some of this. I gladly gave out my amateur website link and shared my AOL instant messenger username.) My schoolmates sent nasty emails and instant messages my way, so when it became unbearable, I created new accounts and was finally at peace.

But those were the days before Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter. I’d be naive to claim I had it just as hard as today’s teenagers.

A while ago, I finished reading Jodee Blanco’s memoir, Please Stop Laughing at Me, which chronicles her traumatic childhood bullying experiences. Blanco was beaten, hit, kicked, verbally assaulted, mocked, and insulted from 4th grade to her final year of high school. One of her most haunting memories includes being nearly choked to death with snowballs by a team of male student athletes.

Three weeks ago, I emailed Blanco’s personal account, and she actually sent me back a short but sweet response. Whether or not she read my email, it felt nice to tell someone about my own personal history with childhood harassers. Here’s what she said:

Hi Laura,

Thank you for your email and for sharing your own story with me. Your email truly touched my heart. If we had grown up together I know we would’ve been good friends.

With warmest regards,

Jodee

Blanco is on Twitter and her book is a New York Times Bestseller. She also gives speeches all over the country and considers herself an anti-bullying advocate. I’d love to meet her at some point. For the longest time, I didn’t believe that there existed another female who got bullied for so long and so many years.

But, as I wrote at the beginning of this post, I made some mistakes back in junior high. There were times when I think I kind of indulged in being the victim. I don’t live my life by this desire anymore, and it was just a temporary inexplicable want that I had during my rather awkward pre-teen years.

I never hoped to be harassed so much, and more often than not, all the teasing that came my way was unwarranted and out of hand.

At the end of the day, I was an easy target for being nice, calm, bone thin, inquisitive, and kind of socially uncomfortable. As Blanco notes in her book, young people are very perceptive, and they don’t always want to befriend independent thinkers.

Looking through the lens of my own personal history, I’m stumped by the suicides of poor Phoebe Prince and Asher Brown. As much as I feel for Prince, I also recognize that she suffered from depression, struggled with the divorce of her parents, had previously attempted suicide, and longed for her father, who was living in Ireland. I’m appalled by the actions of her harassers, but I can definitely see that they weren’t the only source of her turmoils. The bullies were, perhaps, what ultimately broke her spirits.

I’m sadder for Asher Brown, a 13-year-old Texan who shot himself in the aftermath of being teased for two years. It sounds like he just lost it. Junior high is arguably the worst time in one’s life. I just wish I could have had an intervention with Brown and Prince and said to them, “I swear to you, life will get easier. In fact, it will be fantastic. You can’t even imagine the amount of happiness you will one day experience. People mature and you will grow into yourselves. Just hang in there for a few more years.”

But, when bullied all the time, it’s rather hard to picture any glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. I can’t even begin to describe all the wonderful experiences I’ve had since the end of middle school, but at age 12, I had trouble believing that I had a bright future ahead.

Sometimes, you just have to pull through. It truly does upset me that I couldn’t have met with Prince and Brown and assured them that they’d eventually get away from their heinous bullies and useless school administrators. That is what devastates me the most. I’m sorry that these poor souls did not contain the inner strength to pull through against all odds. Eventually, their lives surely would have improved. Prince and Brown would have graduated from school and had the choice to start fresh somewhere else. This is precisely what I did, and even though it’s been nearly eight years since I was last bullied, I still often feel like strangers know about my past.

Every time I meet a new person or make a friend, I’m worried I’m going to get “found out,” but of course this will never happen. In truth, nobody cares that I was bullied. In fact, most people express shock when I explain that I was rejected by my entire junior high back in 2000. New friends and acquaintances say they can’t see why anyone would have harassed me, but they’re of course referring to the 2010 version of me, not the uncomfortable, 90 pound, pale, stringy-haired, 11 year old redhead that roamed around school with a broken rolling backpack.

For the longest time, I wanted to be home schooled, which was never an option. My family didn’t have the means to pay for individual education, and my parents also agreed that I needed to find a way to survive at school. Believe me, my mom and dad came to my defense all the time, often to my detriment. When the junior high principal was unwilling to take action against my harassers, my father took the liberty of emailing her boss. I’m convinced that the principal hated me as a result. To this day, I remember her telling one of my main bullies, “You’re an amazing dancer. My daughter says she wants to dance like you someday.” The favoritism was sickening.

So, because I didn’t have the resources to be homeschooled, I often begged my parents to send me to a school in a neighboring city. But even my siblings agreed that this would be running away. So, for about four years, I endured. Like Blanco, I was punched, kicked on the bus, cyberbullied, yelled at, among many other things. One group of people even threw apples at me, and some guy shot staples into my ear, if you can imagine it. All the people who caused me physical harm were males, and none of them were part of the “popular crowd,” if you will, so let’s get their social standing straight. These were wannabe punks, and they donned tight jeans, spiked clothing, Social Distortion t-shirts, and leather jackets. The people that actually hurt me were guys, aside from the girls who chucked fruit at me. We were all very young, but none of it was right.

Sure, there were times when I wanted to escape from it all, but I never considered suicide. I feel very lucky, and it’s my hope that all bullied kids will understand that there is life after middle and high school. I’m heartbroken that so many kids don’t think they can survive their school years. I want to tell every single one of them, “You absolutely can do it. Please don’t give up. Don’t quit on me.”