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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Now We're Talking

Last Friday, I wrote a post about Judith Warner's latest Domestic Disturbances piece wherein Warner provocatively posits that there is a dangerous resentment toward affluent and educated women brewing in our contemporary society. Though her words sparked a storm of criticism among many readers, those same words struck something in me. I was moved to do something I am actually very bad at doing -- to write a thank you note. To be honest, the note wrote itself. I just sat there, rattled, impassioned, pounding the keyboard. And when I posted said note on the NYT and then later on here on ILI, I felt a familiar breed of nausea. Immediately, I worried that I had gone too far, said something it was not my place to say. That perhaps I should have just ingested Warner's words, mulled them over, and then moved on.

The temporary existential unease, the fleeting fire of regret, was well worth it. Within hours of posting my thoughts on the matter, I had a few comments from fellow bloggers who applauded me for saying something, for starting - or rather continuing - an important and necessary conversation. And then yesterday, these compatriots continued the discussion, each on her own blog.

Lindsey of A Design So Vast bemoans our inclination to judge others based on appearance, on external qualities. She writes, "It is impossible to know, from how someone looks on the surface, what is going on inside his or her heart. I have learned enough in my life to know that with absolute certainty." And she is on to something, isn't she? Because this is what affluence and education are - superficial, surface markers of an individual that often reflect poorly what is going on internally. Thankfully, Lindsey is another curious soul who refuses to remain quiet because of her arguably fortunate life. She states, "I will not be muzzled; I believe there is too much to be gained by telling our stories, whoever we are and whatever formal education we have."

Lindsey's classmate Mama of The Elmo Wallpaper highlights an interesting and overlooked feature of the Montana mom saga, namely that this woman was so overwhelmed that her judgment was possibly compromised. Being overwhelmed, stretched thin, drained are phenomena to which all of us mothers can surely relate, regardless of pedigree or paycheck. Mama makes a number of stellar points, her arguments rooted in her own experience as "one damn lucky woman" and concludes, "An education or a privileged background doesn't guarantee us anything, and everyone has a story to tell."

I want to thank these two women, these Cheerio Compatriots, whom I've never met in real life. Yes, because they linked to me. But more because they are keeping this conversation, this fundamentally important, albeit incendiary, conversation, going. Because they are telling their stories. Yesterday was a good day; I read their words, their ideas, and through the screen their conviction was pure and palpable. I felt a surge of old school academic adrenaline and nodded and said to myself, Now we're talking.

Let's not stop now.

1 comment:

  1. I missed the boat the other day on commenting, so I thought I'd make up for it here. I really enjoyed all of the posts regarding the Warner column: yours, Lindsey's, Mama's and of course, the column itself. My perspective though is a bit different than all of yours. I am well educated, affluent women, though not from the Ivy League. I am also a career NYC prosecutor that has often dealt with similar issues to the prosecutor in this case. As such, I do not see this situation as clearly indicating the Montana professor was made an example because she was an educated woman. I think it goes without saying that the Montana professor made a serious error in judgment to leave her young kids at the mall with two 12 year olds. I also think that there exists a clear bias against educated affluent women in this country as you all have expressed eloquently, that enjoys no reciprocity with affluent, educated men. But I also think that t, the fact that she was an educated person exacerbated her lapse, she clearly should have known better.
    My goal, and I would assert most prosecutors' goals, is to bring and resolve prosecutions justly. Once I make a decision that there is sufficient evidence to bring a case, in crafting a disposition, I consider all relevant factors. These include considering: the defendant's criminal history or lack thereof, the extent of the harm caused, their level of knowledge/participation in the crime (if there are codefendants,), the amount they benefit or profit from the crime, and finally how have I (my office) treated others similarly charged. Notwithstanding the prosecutor's unfortunate comments about wanting to punish the professor for having her "head in a book," it is unclear to me that the professor was truly treated differently because she was a female professor and not simply because she was an educated person. In fact, in my experience, a poor, uneducated woman could have been treated exactly the same by the police and the prosecutor. My feeling, not knowing all of the facts, of course, is that the prosecutor was reacting in that letter to her attorney's attempts to obtain a lesser plea than she would have given to a lower class criminal. It has often been my experience that white collar defendants expect leniency because of who they are in society (often they are “an important professional who gives to charity, active in religious activities etc”). In my view, those same traits they rely on to exonerate actually exacerbate their crimes. To me anyway, this story is as more about the differences in treatment for the affluent in our justice system than it is about the routine double standard for affluent, educated women.


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