Laurie Toby Edison

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Tough Women Make the News

Debbie says:

Laurie and I don’t usually get our blogging sources from mainstream politics, but this week I found myself watching two clips from TV news, both of which I think have resonances for Body Impolitic readers.

Rachel Jeantel was a key witness in the Trayvon Martin case. The video showing a widely-reported moment in her testimony is proprietary and can’t be embedded. It features her saying, quietly and without heat, “That’s real retarded, sir,” when the defense attorney asks her for the second time if Martin might have been lying to her when he told her where he was just before he ended the call, and minutes before he died.

Jeantel’s like is almost never seen on television. In the days since she testified, there has been a firestorm of anti-Jeantel tweets, blog posts and blog comments, exactly as to be expected, as well as a substantial outbreak of pro-Jeantel commentary. The marvelous Crunk Feminist Collective is collecting online thank-you notes for her. I was delighted to send one. Of course, Jeantel’s race and class work against her in the courtroom. She is being criticized for her looks (surprise!), her language (meaning that she sounds like who she is, Caribbean-American and Florida street), and her “attitude.” Commenters have called her “Precious,” referring to the character played by Gabourey Sidibe in the movie of that name. She does look somewhat like Sidibe, but the reference is often not complimentary.

I wanted to call her out here for courage–simply stepping into a courtroom is an act of valor for a young woman who lives in a completely different world–and for grace under pressure. And whatever comes of the case (I don’t have much hope that Zimmerman will lose), she stands as an image that so many young women need, in a world that does everything it can to make the Rachel Jeantel’s invisible. Being a figure of fun sucks, but in many ways it’s better than being disappeared.

***

Then there’s Tammy Duckworth.The Democratic U.S. Representative from Illinois made a lot of news when she won in November. She has a Purple Heart after losing both legs, and use of her right arm, in Iraq. She’s also a woman of color, and a native of Thailand.

In a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Duckworth finds herself with the opportunity to speak with Braulio Castillo, a man who injured his ankle as a teenager in a U.S. Military Preparatory School, went on to play football in college, and now runs a company which has relied on substantial investment from the U.S., because he qualifies as a disabled vet. In fact, his ankle disability is rated at 30% disability, while Duckworth’s arm (which she may still lose) is rated at 20% disability.

Watch how kind Duckworth is to him at the beginning, and how she transitions to her take-no-prisoners climax. Listen to how clear she is about her own disability and how it affects her every day. Even the notorious Darrell Issa, right-wing chair of the committee, calls it “time well spent” (after, of course, he calls Duckworth “the young lady”). Duckworth is being attacked for her treatment of Castillo in the right-wing blogosphere (where one position is that she’s right that folks like Castillo should not be getting government “handouts,” but she treated him unfairly nonetheless).

As long as strong women like these two speaking their minds in difficult situations make the news, we get to see and hear them, imprint their images on our minds, and judge for ourselves.

One Response to “Tough Women Make the News”

  1. Lynne Murray Says:

    —Damon Young (aka “The Champ”) posted a very touching meditation on Rachel Jeantel and why she faced the very things she feared most to try to get justice for her friend:

    “She said he was one of the few guys that never made fun of me, about the way I dressed, about the way I talked, about my hair, about my complexion, you know, about my weight.”

    http://verysmartbrothas.com/rachel-trayvon-and-the-saddest-thing-ive-ever-read/

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