Rick Santorum May Be Our Friend

I am, by birth, a political junkie and, I suspect that once the dust clears and the Republicans have settled on their candidate I will begin to pay closer attention to what the candidates are saying. That said, it is not possible to ignore some of the more glaringly obvious nitwiticisms that have been spoken during this nominating season. 

After Rick Santorum made a decent showing recently, I commented to friends on Facebook that I’d like to know who is voting for Rick because, “They scare me.” They scare me because of the brand of reality that they appear to ascribe to. The sheer volume of nonsense that Rick Santorum spouts led me, yet again, to wonder whether he really believes what he is saying or if this is political pandering of the highest order and worst sort. It is incomprehensible for me to believe that in our “modern age” someone could still hold such outdated, outmoded and archaic ideas. Period. No need to qualify in what areas; he’s outdated, outmoded and archaic in almost everything.

Last week, my parenting article received a fair amount of commentary from the P-Mag readership. Many of the comments brought tears to my eyes and, I found, almost heartbreaking to read. Rather than saddening me into inaction however, the comments are spurring me on to try to find ways to bring greater awareness to issues of post-divorce parenting and, more fundamentally, gender roles. I am firmly of the opinion that gender roles, and the patriarchal foundation on which they are built, often lay at the base of many of the issues that arise in our relationships, especially male-female.

One comment particularly struck a chord with me. On issues relating to relationships, parenting and especially the care for children post-divorce I can be a raving banshee but, in saner moments, I am a lot more empathetic and moderate in my views than I may appear. Here, though, is an excerpt from one of the comments by @Jessie:

[“¦], most men are still stuck in the old idea that man’s only purpose in life is to work and provide. That whole dynamic as a social requirement (beyond what individual families choose to do) is as old as the idea that women should only worry about finding an appropriate mate who can let them stay barefoot and pregnant, along with knowing something about cooking and knitting. The problem is that the messages take longer to change, so we will see at least another generation of it before post-modern family ideals begin to really express themselves as a majority condition in the public sphere.

This is it, isn’t it? As I mentally began drafting this week’s article it struck me that the on going popularity that Santorum seems to enjoy may be attributable to the fact that he seems to be channelling the same patriarchal, socially conformist position that so many men, knowingly or unknowingly, follow and subscribe to.

Despite how objectionable we may find Santorum, I would argue his comments reflect a way of thinking that is more pervasive and ingrained than we 21st century men and women would like to acknowledge. His comments may reflect a worldview that is more in harmony with the silent thoughts and beliefs of many people in our age of political correctness. Years ago, when “PC” first started becoming popular, and no, I am not referring to the personal computer, I remember thinking that the term itself, “political correctness,” was such a crock. Why did we need to be politically correct? What was wrong with good old-fashioned truth and honesty? In the years since, the idea of political correctness and the myriad of sins that have been hidden behind the term are slowly coming to light.

We in the West understandably view events through the prism of our own beliefs and worldview. Correspondingly, we also expect our public figures to reflect our thoughts and beliefs back to us. While we are willing and open to people having different opinions and views – First Amendment rights and all that – truth is, we want and expect those views to fit within pre-defined boundaries based on what we deem acceptable.

I have been following from the periphery the press that Santorum has been receiving and each headline has made me shake my head in wonder that such inane nonsense can be spouted and on some level accepted. I have also seen the comments here in P-Mag and chuckle as readers and writers rail against Santorum and his positions. Upon closer examination though, if allowed, the thought will take root that Santorum may be reflecting back to us cultural beliefs and moral norms that exist in other parts of the world, in which case, Rick’s views may not be as detached from reality as we want to believe.

Let us not forget, countries in the Middle East are often cited for being repressive and oppressive towards the rights of the women in their populations. In Egypt, virginity checks were performed on female protesters during last year’s Arab Spring and it is posited that the checks were carried out as retaliation for them taking to the streets to protest. There are still countries where women are not allowed to go out without the permission or in the company of a male family member. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive, and in protest women have, under threat of imprisonment, driven cars in their attempt to lift the oppression that they live under. Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkul Karman has declared Yemen the worst place on earth to be a human, when asked to address it being the worst place to be a woman due to its restrictive religious traditions. Within this context, Santorum is progressive.

Am I suggesting Santorum should move to the Middle East? Well, not quite (at least not yet). It has reminded me though of the power that serves as the cornerstone of our democracy, the beliefs we hold dear and the values we struggle to uphold, namely, our right to voice our opinions and make our voices heard. In this, we may yet hold in our hands the very tools we need to actively work against the outmoded, out-dated, patriarchal ways of thinking that are festering in our own communities and being broadcast in our newspapers and on the nightly news.

And of course, Rick is not alone. Unless you are living far out where the buffalo roam you will have heard about the ruckus that Rush Limbaugh caused recently when he called out a Georgetown University graduate student for advocating for birth control coverage. Rush referred to the student as a “slut” and a “prostitute” and then went so far as to suggest that she videotape herself having sex so that the public, as her “pimp,” could watch since, as he suggested, we the taxpayers would be subsidising her sex life and, as such, had a right to a return on our investment.

There is so much wrong in that thinking that it leaves one breathless and unable to determine where to begin. That said, I remember a lesson my mother taught me, namely: “Out of the issues of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Meaning, what one feels deeply in one’s heart is usually what is given voice and spoken. In this way, Rush may not have been trying to shock his readers or even make a point but, quite possibly speaking his honest truth from his perspective on how a lady or a woman should comport herself. And, correspondingly, I suspect Santorum may come from a similar – albeit disconcerting – place.

The more I listen and think about what he says, the less convinced I am that Rick’s beliefs and values stem from misogyny but rather from outmoded, patriarchal ways of thinking that fly in the face of how women today can choose and are choosing to live their lives. Further, we need to remember that the unconscious messages we receive over the course of our lives can have a much more profound effect on our thinking and behaviour than we realise. His position, for example, on welfare mothers and the need for them to name their “baby daddies” appears punitive in the extreme but, if you look more closely at what is probably at the heart of his belief system, namely, reducing out of wedlock births, increasing two-parent families and getting men to become responsible for the families that they create; then you realise that he is trying to achieve what I suspect a majority of people agree with although through very archaic and draconian means.

So, what do we do? We love him to death. No, seriously, the most effective weapon we have in our arsenal against such views is a dedicated, concerted effort to change the mindset that is driving these thoughts and views. As enjoyable as it may be to denigrate the thinking on the right, the fact remains that calling them out of touch yahoos, no matter how much fun it may be, won’t get us anywhere. We also need to focus less on the actual words spoken and seek to understand what is driving the rhetoric so we can get to the heart of what needs to be changed. I still contend that I am not 100% sure that these candidates really believe the stuff that they spout on the campaign trail however, if they do, then we need to shed light on the inherent and ingrained prejudices that are underpinning their carefully crafted political positions and work towards eradicating them from the root.

The fact that Rush Limbaugh remains on the air and Rick Santorum is still in the race indicates that they are communicating heart to heart with many others and, changing them is where we need to focus our efforts. Rick Santorum is providing us – as hard as it is to listen to – with yet another opportunity to honestly and earnestly look at the patriarchal and often draconian ways that our society functions whether it is in our relationships men to women, blacks to white, gay to straight, rich to poor, or educated to uneducated, etc.

7 thoughts on “Rick Santorum May Be Our Friend”

  1. Just two small points –

    1) It’s not just that Tawakkol Karman has said that Yemen is the worst country in the world for women, it’s been empirically proven by a bunch of statistics and NGOs. See here for more: http://persephonemagazine.com/2012/01/international-womens-issues-the-worst-country-in-the-world-for-women/ and frankly, compared to how women are treated in Yemen and other oppressive places, it’s insulting to their struggle to compare the current state of US politics with that.

    2) Your username – are you Roma?

  2. This is a great, really thought-provoking piece. But I do have to disagree with you on this statement:

    We also need to focus less on the actual words spoken and seek to understand what is driving the rhetoric so we can get to the heart of what needs to be changed.

    Speech matters. Rhetoric matters. Words are the only way we have to convey ideas in the public sphere, and words make a difference. They shape how we think about issues and in which political contexts we situate them. Take a word like ‘socialism’, which in America means something totally different than it means in Europe. That’s why it’s worth getting mad at people like Limbaugh. Does it matter what he thinks? Of course not – he’s just a stupid blowhard with a national platform. But that platform means that when he calls women sluts and prostitutes, he’s perpetuating a narrative in which women who want to enjoy normal sex lives can be condemned in those terms. He’s reinforcing the idea just by repeating it.

    I absolutely agree with you that these ideas reflect deep-seated and largely unspoken narratives about gender roles and the ‘ideal type’ of family – ‘unconscious messages’, as you say. But these unconscious messages come from somewhere: they come from the language that we use and the way we convey ideas to one another. Think even about the difference between the terms ‘pro-life’ and ‘anti-choice’. Fundamentally they refer to the same movement, but they have vastly different connotations. When we allow people like Santorum and Rush to use whatever language they like, when we don’t challenge words like ‘slut’ or even ‘pro-life’, all we’re doing is allowing those outmoded ways of thinking to be reinforced and perpetuated.

    1. I agree with you on the whole “we need to call them on their terminology” thing. I adamantly use “anti-choice” to refer to what others call “pro-life”, partly because many people who are on that side of the debate both favor the death penalty and are against providing programs that support children and their families once born. Under those circumstances, one is evidently not “pro-life” and I refuse to refer to them as such.

  3. I think you make a lot of good points, especially in pointing out that people like Rick Santorum wouldn’t be succeeding unless a lot of people believed it, and this reflects the beliefs in culture. It is absolutely true that this is part of the reason why we still need feminism, why we still need civil rights advocates, why we still need LGBT movements. The idea that we are somehow past sexism, past racism, etc. is baloney.

    I’m going to have to respectfully argue with you on a few points.

    1) I think part of the reason why Santorum has been successful is dismally low turnout in a lot of states. For instance, he won my state, Missouri. BUT, voter turnout was only 8%. I’m suspecting that a lot of Republican-leaning folks are also not too pleased with the candidates presented. I suspect that most of the messages we hear from these candidates roots in the fact that the Republican party has been careening further and further right.

    2) I’m somewhat questioning of this statement:

    The more I listen and think about what he says, the less convinced I am that Rick’s beliefs and values stem from misogyny but rather from outmoded, patriarchal ways of thinking that fly in the face of how women today can choose and are choosing to live their lives.

    For one, Santorum doesn’t seem to regard women as people, which I would argue is misogyny at its finest (or worst). But I’m somewhat perplexed by the distinction you’re making here as a whole. What does it mean to separate misogyny from patriarchal ways of thinking? Are you saying that you have to be acting out of overt hatred of women to be acting misogynistically?

    This confuses me, I think, in large part because patriarchal modes seem to go hand in hand with “hating” women in some manner. Maybe you’re referring to the distinction between saying someone is misogynistic and saying an act is misogynistic?

    3. I’m also a little concerned about the bit where you say Santorum looks positively progressive in comparison to other places. It’s not necessarily that I want to argue that you’re wrong. It’s just, from an outside perspective of a country, cultural practices like this can look far far worse than they look from an inside perspective. As an outsider, we might also focus on different practices as being the terrible ones, whereas the people from the area might fixate on other issues.

    I do understand that, with regard to a global perspective, a lot of women in the Euro-American world have it really damn good. That’s a sad statement, but relatively speaking, it is true. But probably not all the women from even the countries you name would think their situation is worse than a woman in, say, the US.

    I think most of my concern is that you mention a couple countries from the Middle East, but I feel like there isn’t enough differentiation between talking about a couple countries and “The Muslim world.”

     

    Nonetheless, I think you do make an important point: we can’t necessarily just dismiss these people as “out of touch.”

    I wonder if part of all this phenomena is, often those who speak for bigoted things the loudest are, in fact, the most bigoted.

    Now if only we could get more people speaking against these folks.

    1. Cosign everything you just wrote. I can’t believe that restricting women to certain behaviors and spheres of action comes from anything but seeing women as ‘not-men’ and therefore less. That, whether acknowledged or not, is absolutely hateful and misogynistic.

  4. It is difficult – nigh on impossible, really – for me to hold such a thoughtful and compassionate viewpoint as you do on this issue, musinggypsy. I commend you for it, because I am incapable of it – my rage at what I see happening in the political discourse in my country more or less precludes me from having wholly calm and rational thoughts about it. The farthest I can go is this: Yes, I am glad people like Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are the forerunners for the GOP presidential pick, because neither of them will win, and we will have Obama for another four years. I do not think Obama is perfect, and I have been just as angry at some of his actions as I have the GOP’s, but all told, I sleep better at night knowing that Obama is in office.

    I’ve mentioned this in another post a few weeks ago, but someone once told me that an outdated idea always screams the loudest right before it is quashed forever. It is the death throes of a bigoted idea in the process of finally being laid to rest. I cling to this hope. I want children someday, and while I would welcome either a boy or a girl, I cannot imagine trying to raise a daughter to be a fierce, intelligent woman when all of the outward signs around her will tell her that she is less than. The cacophony has not been this loud in some time, and I cannot believe that the ghosts our society thought had been laid to rest (i.e., should women have control over their own bodies) are again being brought to the forefront and argued over by some of the most powerful people in the world. I am baffled and terrified of the implications of those ideas.

  5. Wonderful piece again, @musinggypsy.  I had a similar discussion on a facebook wall with regard to Texas’ discriminatory voter ID bill.  One of the commenters used the ol’ “not in MY country” argument. You’re absolutely correct as you discuss how we expect our little individual worlds to reflect what we think to be true of them, and when they are not we think that the only acceptable explanation is that someone is intentionally seeking to disrupt our own world.  I reminded her that it is “our” country and we should legislate according to the common denominator, and advocate for those who struggle.

    And yes, theoretically politics reflect the majority idea.  So our job is to change our world right here in our own lives.  We become involved in our communities, however we define them, and never tire in our efforts to make more people like the Dalai Lama’s Facebook page.  His message today:

    Although violence and the use of force may appear powerful and decisive, their benefits are short-lived. Violence can never bring a lasting and long term resolution to any problem, because it is unpredictable and for every problem it seems to solve, others are created. On the other hand, truth remains constant and will ultimately prevail.

     

Leave a Reply