Chris Christie, Gibson Dunn and Slut-Shaming

According to Rachel Maddow, what Randy Mastro and the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher were doing for client Chris Christie was slut-shaming:

The report released by the law firm Thursday established no clear motive for the lane closures, but did include seemingly gratuitous references to a “personal relationship” between Bill Stepien and Bridget Anne Kelly which Stepien allegedly ended, leaving Kelly feeling “emotional.”

The theories are flying fast and furious as to why Gibson Dunn would stuff a report prepared at taxpayer expense with such salacious fiddle-faddle. One theory is that it’s about distracting public attention away from the soap opera of a politician who fell from grace — who like Icarus, flew too near the sun, or like Mama Leone, simply ate too much manicotti. It’s about refocusing attention on a different kind of soap opera — one starring Bridget and Bill, with Bridget cast as the “bad girl” who gets jilted then gets even by (wait for it)… commissioning a traffic realignment study. This leap in logic will be explored later; what’s important is that the Hollywood remake will feature the two lovebirds holding hands under the George Washington Bridge, watching the cars pile up. “Is it wrong that I’m smiling?” Bridget will ask dreamily. “Not as long as you love me,” Bill will reply coyly.

Another theory is that Gibson Dunn included gratuitous personal info to cover their own sorry legal asses, to make it look like they’d actually done some investigating (rather than mere whitewashing) to earn their million bucks. The sad truth is that they didn’t interview David Samson, or David Wildstein, or Bill Baroni, or most of the central figures in Bridgegate, nor was anyone under oath. The lawyers might have spent the whole time playing pinochle! (Since they also didn’t interview Kelly or Stepien, one wonders whose wisdom got tapped on their love life. The hotel bellboy’s? How much did they have to slip him before he started telling the right story?)

The first thing these guys forgot is that if Christie still has national political ambitions, he shouldn’t be contributing more matériel to the Republican War on Women. If he were half a man (and halfway chivalrous), he would have protected Bridget Anne Kelly rather than (figuratively) dumping her body in the Hudson.

Even if we accept the farfetched notion that she acted on her own initiative, he gave her that initiative — encouraging his staff to play hardball with every concession they could choose to dole out or withhold. We control the vertical, we control the horizontal, we control the bridge lanes… Kelly was no renegade, but Christie’s loyal looey till he dumped her. As her lawyer Michael Critchley said on Friday, she “was deeply devoted and committed to her job at the Office of the Governor. She worked tirelessly to pursue the goals of the Office during her tenure.” Translation: she was only carrying out Christie’s policies of political retribution, which included maintaining plausible deniability.

Just when we got used to Christie calling her a liar, he has to up the ante by implying that she’s a slut as well. If Virginia’s Bob McDonnell is known as “Governor Ultrasound,” maybe New Jersey’s Chris Christie should be called “Governor Slut-Shamer.”

The second thing these guys forgot is that purported “sluts” are like putty in the hands of Aunt Irma. When she comes to visit, they might easily kill the dog and boil him for stew, or detonate nuclear weapons because they’re feeling fat. Closing down the busiest bridge in the world wouldn’t be no thang. Yet Team Christie failed to capitalize on this essential sexist meme!

How might they have done so? Well, consider the dramatis personae who helped bolster Bill Baroni’s fake cover story that the lane closures were part of a “traffic study.” Those upstanding citizens Paul Nunziato — head of the Port Authority police union — and State Senator Kevin O’Toole were quite happy to play along. It’s easy to picture one of these moral giants hypothetically leaking a story to the press that they just happened to lunch with Bridget Kelly on August 12. When she opened her handbag to answer a cell call, the contents spilled out — including tampons and birth control. Given that Team Christie plays so dirty, I really wouldn’t put this past them.

In a changing society, the term “slut” is turning out to be quite the portmanteau word — now sometimes applied to men. I wonder if Chris Christie qualifies as a “political slut” for allegedly trying to shake down so many politicians of both genders in order to consolidate his own power and influence, and fatten the coffers of crony David Samson’s law firm (not to mention his own political brag book). Tsk, tsk! Such slutty behavior from a public official makes Anthony Weiner’s selfies seem modest by comparison. The mental image conjured up by Bridgegate is that of a larger-than-life Christie sitting astride the George Washington Bridge wearing a toga and emperor’s crown, doling out concessions to supporters of his unholy reign.

Political onanism knows no bounds, so perhaps it’s not surprising that Republican State Senator Kevin O’Toole — who helped with the cover-up — is also on the investigating committee. This reminds me of a Firesign Theatre routine from Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers:

“But gee, Dad — I still don’t see how you can be my defense lawyer and the People’s Prosecutor all at the same time.” “Easy, son. This way I can personally see that you’re persecuted to the full extent of the laws.”

Another question inadvertently raised by the Gibson Dunn report is: Can bullies be boring? May we yawn?

The report claims that a picture of Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer yawning at a public meeting proves she didn’t feel threatened by the Christie clan’s alleged shakedown. According to Zimmer, the main approach took place in a supermarket parking lot, and involved a quid pro quo whereby the hard-hit city of Hoboken would only get Sandy relief funds if Zimmer agreed to play ball with a private real estate deal which stood to benefit David Samson’s law firm Wolff & Samson, and their client The Rockefeller Group.

Political power junkies like Christie & Co. can be extremely boring, especially in their day-to-day machinations. No one’s claiming that Christie uses piano wire or that people feel physically threatened by him (unless they’re holding the last doughnut in the box). Bureaucratic expressions of power can be unbelievably boring, even if one is on the receiving end. I would hardly blame Dawn Zimmer for yawning and smiling her way through a meeting. That doesn’t mean she didn’t feel financially intimidated on behalf of the city she represents. So yes, political bullies like Chris Christie can be boring. It can be hard to stay awake at meetings where political operatives and real estate interests are running their sh*t. The three-day PowerPoint presentation subs for piano wire in Christieland. (“Cardinal Fang, fetch… THE SLIDE PROJECTOR!”)

A tale of two alibis

Last time I checked, Christie was still claiming that for all he knows (being the innocent lamb), the lane closures really were part of a traffic study. But the story concocted by his lawyers is that Bridget Kelly was having some sort of hissy fit after being dumped by Bill Stepien (if that really happened), and that’s why she took it upon herself to initiate… What? A traffic realignment study? Is that what jilted lovers do? Hell hath no dull statistics like a woman scorned! Even low-level criminals can do a better job of syncing their alibis than Christie and his minders. (Forensic analysis also reveals that on August 13 Kelly was having a bad hair day.)

If I give Messers Gibson, Dunn, et al. MRCVS the benefit of the doubt, I need to work out how David Wildstein fits into the new canvas they’ve sketched. Oh, I see! He was probably Bridget’s dresser, attiring her in elegant outfits he hoped would arouse desire in Burglar Bill. Being a sensitive and empathic soul, Wildstein was probably attuned to Bridget’s every emotional need, and she must’ve kept him informed of romantic developments. So when she e-mailed him “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” he was completely simpatico and understood this to be a requirement of Courtly Love (never politics). After ordering the lane closures, Wildstein probably returned to the mundane task of brushing and combing Bridget’s Madonna wig.

What of Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, the woman who Mayor Dawn Zimmer claims approached her in a parking lot and delivered a message on behalf of Chris Christie that Zimmer had to play ball with a private real estate deal for Hoboken to get hurricane relief funds? Suppose, as the investigation (the real one) by federal prosecutors continues, Guadagno were to admit to making the threat on Christie’s behalf? Would Guadagno’s love life suddenly become fair game for Christie’s lawyers? Would she be subjected to the same slut-shaming campaign as Bridget Anne Kelly?

Christie has long portrayed himself as a guy who’s in control, micromanages everything, fights corruption and takes responsibility. It’s time we insisted: To thine own selfie be true. Christie should man up and resign instead of deep sixing his lieutenants or dredging up their love lives. Resigning would show some self-respect, respect for voters, and respect for the political process. Slut-shaming, on the other hand, reveals Chris Christie for what he has become: a bully and miscogynist, not a candidate women voters can stomach.

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NOTES

More on Aunt Irma courtesy The IT Crowd:

 

The Daily Beast refers to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher as a “white shoe” law firm. Maybe after this incident, they should more properly be labeled a “brown shoe” law firm. They certainly seem to have stepped in sh*t.

Also, Extry! Extry! David Samson’s resignation thrown out with Friday trash. Powerful Christie crony finally exits Port Authority. Now just one stinking, rotten tomato left in fridge…

Spiritual Feminism

I had posted a series on cyberharassment including potent quotes from women bloggers, activists, and feminist law professors. Careful readers may have noticed that some people referred only to women’s rights, while others referred to the rights of women and racial minorities. Hardly any referenced the rights of religious or spiritual minorities. Why is this? It seems unfortunate. After all, most cyberharassers are equal opportunity harassers, employing roughly the same tactics whether going after women, racial minorities, or religious/spiritual minorities.

There can be various reasons for the omission. Perhaps the political taxonomy is such that feminists identify themselves primarily with the left, don’t see religion as relevant to their lives, or harbor persistent stereotypes of religion which arise from their dealings with right-wing Christian groups who oppose freedom of choice for women. In Recognising Religious Women as Feminist Subjects, Louisa Acciari writes:

“The position of white Western feminists regarding religious women, and more specifically Muslim women, is increasingly contested. In Western discourses, religious women are considered either too oppressed to speak for themselves or too dominated to express a real ‘free choice.’ By locking them in this subjugated position, feminist theory denies religious women agency and capacity to be part of the feminist movement. Though not religious myself, the exclusion of religious women — or of any woman — from feminist theory and practice seems very problematic to me. I find it crucial to rethink common assumptions about religion, secularity and feminism, and to question how part of the feminist movement has become so intolerant of the religious ‘other.'” [References omitted.]

American and European feminists may tend to see themselves as both “modern” and “Western,” while viewing religion as “primitive” and “patriarchal.” The feminist movement is predominantly secular, and may therefore fall victim to familiar secular disdain for the religious or spiritual. The balkanization of movements of liberation may imply that religious minorities had best fend for themselves.

Feminism tends to include both liberating concepts as well as normative values suggesting limits on behavior. If feminism is part of the larger category of (predominantly) left-wing politics, its normative values may include self-reliance rather than reliance on any God or spiritual authority. To expand the liberating concepts of feminism to include and even embrace religion and spirituality seems relatively easy. It may be more difficult to question normative values which place feminism and religion in altogether different bins.

Put more simply: in some feminist circles, religion is dreadfully unfashionable. To the extent that mainstream feminism has developed its own social codes, overt expressions of religious faith may be somewhat taboo. What’s paradoxical here is that this seems to deny women support for making any choices other than politically correct ones. While my own politics are liberal left, I define left-wing politics in terms of personal freedom. I want the freedom to choose whatever brings me wisdom and happiness. If I can’t pray, you can keep your revolution! But of course, the subtler point is that left-wing politics shouldn’t be about conforming to an agenda or social code. It should celebrate choice in all areas of life. True diversity includes not only political, ethnic and gender diversity, but spiritual diversity as well. No one should be forced to choose between religion and feminism. Feminism could ideally expand to include a variety of religious and spiritual choices, not just Neopagan ones.

To understand how this is possible, we need a mind which is free from preconceptions and is able to embrace paradox, e.g. the paradox that a person could be fiercely independent in their political thinking and yet also submissive (dangerous word!) to the will of God. It’s easy to find articles which laud Muslim women for increased political activism, but hard to find articles which address the latter paradox.

Scratch beneath the surface of left-leaning articles on religious women and feminism and you may see signs of condescension, e.g.: Despite being horribly oppressed and deluded, these women are nonetheless taking their first nascent steps toward something resembling feminism. They may not be welcome at the finest New York cocktail parties, but we should at least tip our urban sombreros to their efforts.

To my mind, that’s not a good way to view things. One should rather consider that spiritual feminists may be tuned in to a whole different reality. They may be politically aware and spiritually aware, and may have found their own personal pathway through the contradictions by working hard, persistently asking tough questions, and daring to believe that their own spiritual experiences are real.

If you believe in an inclusive and equalitarian society, then don’t exclude or grudgingly accept spiritual feminists–embrace them!

Earlier I stated (perhaps somewhat enigmatically) that to expand the liberating concepts of feminism to include and even embrace religion and spirituality seems relatively easy. I see three immediate pathways to this.

The first is to recognize that what many feminists are struggling for is a world governed by compassion and empathy. These qualities are in short supply in the material world, but are found in abundant measure in the spiritual world. To discover that the spiritual world is brimming with the qualities needed to achieve feminist ideals is to recognize the spiritual world as a valuable feminist resource.

The second pathway entails sweeping away stereotypes. One of the features of feminism is a personal search for what is true, apart from limited attitudes inherited from the past. Feminists often go on their own type of vision quest to discover who they are as individuals, beyond phenotypes acquired from family life, educational institutions, fashion mags, and even political tracts. Whenever the question Who am I? is asked deeply and with persistence, it leads naturally to the spiritual realm. The deep realization that I am a spiritual being, and I am an integral being is a feminist realization, or at least a realization not hostile to feminism.

The third pathway — related to the other two — is to recognize that the spiritual realm itself is already equalitarian. There the feminine principle is not relegated to second-class status, but is extremely powerful, active, dynamic, and in no way inferior to the masculine. To discover that the spiritual realm — far from being a hostile, male-dominated region — is in fact a kind of feminist paradise, is to again affirm its value as a resource and model.

If one defines feminism as a predominantly secular, intellectual, and political movement, then this may leave little room for personal discoveries of a spiritual nature — or such discoveries may be cordoned off from feminism and relegated to the private self, seen as unfit for polite conversation. But if one views feminism as a process of personal liberation and discovery with no preset limits, then to become spiritually aware and spiritually empowered no longer seems like an irrelevant preoccupation, but rather a central puzzle piece in the whole question of identity. The realization I am a spiritual being, and I am an integral being implies a holistic approach to feminism which does not exclude or cordon off the spiritual.

To embrace spiritual feminism, one is (in a sense) forced to challenge the pervasive view that modernity equals secularism equals individualism equals intellectualism equals rejection of religion. This may ultimately reduce to a conflict between the mind and the heart.

The message of spiritual liberation is more easily discovered in the heart than in the mind. In the personal struggle for liberation, to listen to one’s own heart in a mind-obsessed society is itself a radical act!

The various heart-based spiritual movements which people often join are nonconformist in relation to the secular/intellectual mainstream. So even if you’re not religious, consider that women (and men) who define themselves as explicitly spiritual and participate in minority religions have rights worth defending. Don’t limit discussion of cyberharassment to women and racial minorities. Please also include religious/spiritual minorities, since they too are targets of such harassment, and are often at a particular disadvantage to defend themselves.