All posts by Taylor Schmitt

Taylor Schmitt is junior at Pomona College majoring in economics and minoring in mathematics. The resident liberal Seattleite of the CI, Taylor spends his free time leveraging his high school baseball experience into an unfair advantage in the Pomona-Pitzer intramural softball league.

Dear Women, Please Stop Wearing Those Hideous High-Waisted Jean Shorts

Did you balk at the title? You probably did. Why is it any of my business to tell women what they shouldn’t wear? Sure, I’m not a huge fan of the new high-waisted shorts fad, but why should that matter? I assume most women don’t make their clothing choices based on what I think. However, when BuzzFeed publishes an article titled “Dear Men, Please Stop Wearing Cargo Shorts,” nobody bats an eye. The fact of the matter is that if BuzzFeed published an article with the same title as this one, people would get angry and there would be backlash.

Newsflash: just as women often make clothing choices independently of how they think men will perceive them, men often dress a certain way because they want to, not to impress the fashion police. Cargo shorts are comfy. They have enough pockets to carry everything you could possibly need. They’re like the lovechild of sweatpants and a purse, and they have the best traits of both. Perhaps I’m doing a disservice to women and gay men by hiding my gorgeous legs under a pair of cargos, but sometimes I just like to wear what I like.

We’ve been told for years about how the media objectifies women, using attractive women to sell everything from perfume to internet domain names. It is sexist, we are told, to use women’s bodies as a marketing tool. We are also told that advertisements set unhealthy and unrealistic beauty standards for women. But look more closely: that same perfume commercial features a muscular, strong-jawed, five-percent-body-fat man swimming around with the attractive woman. Ads for sports drinks often feature ridiculously athletic men doing ridiculously athletic things. These men are no less objectified than their female counterparts, and the standards of beauty they set no more realistic. We are told that we live in a society that objectifies women, and that is true. It is also true, however, that we objectify men. And while the objectification of women is decried loudly and frequently, nary a peep is heard with regard to the same treatment of men. See an attractive video game heroine in skimpy clothing? Sexism. An equally attractive shirtless video game hero? No problem.

Unfortunately, the double standard doesn’t stop at objectification. Men are often told they shouldn’t speak about “women’s issues,” such as abortion. Putting aside the obvious double standard that men seem to face this reaction only if they disagree with the woman with whom they are speaking, can you imagine if a woman were told by a man to butt out when speaking about issues relating to men? If a man told a woman to shut up about the Selective Service System, saying that her opinion doesn’t matter because the program doesn’t affect her, he would be called a sexist, or at the very least a jerk, but when a woman does the same thing there doesn’t seem to be any backlash.

When recounting the story of a woman who first drugged her husband and then cut off his penis and put it in the garbage disposal so that it couldn’t be reattached, Sharon Osbourne laughed and said she thought it was “quite fabulous.” Although Osbourne later issued an apology for her reaction, the backlash she faced was less than that faced by a European Space Agency scientist who wore a shirt with provocatively posed women on it. Though I’m not the supreme arbiter of morality, I think enjoying the thought of genital mutilation and torture is certainly worse than wearing an immature shirt, and yet it seems that the public disagrees with me. Apparently, the objectification of women is a far more serious issue than the fact that violence against men (especially by women) is often trivialized, dismissed, or even treated as a joke. If you doubt my claims, refer to one of several social experiments which show that while people are quick to intervene in situations of domestic violence against women by men, they ignore—or even laugh at—domestic violence against men by women. We’re told that domestic violence is a serious issue (as it is), and yet it seems it’s only treated as such when women are the victim. We are told that domestic violence is a women’s issue, despite the fact that women are just as likely to initiate and to commit domestic violence, and men are just as likely to be victims. The double standard in the treatment of men and women strikes again.

The media treats people poorly. It objectifies people and pokes fun at their misfortune. Are women treated poorly in the media? Of course. But at least when women are treated poorly, people care. The media treats men just as badly, if not more so, and almost nobody is angry about it. If you make a big stink over the objectification of women in the media and you aren’t equally outraged about men being treated the same way, or if you decry articles shaming women’s clothing choices as “sexist” or “patriarchal” while laughing at articles like the one on BuzzFeed mentioned above, you are no less sexist than those you denounce.



Image: Flickr

Black Lives Matter: A Downward Spiral

In early August, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders arrived in Seattle to speak at a rally celebrating the 80th birthday of Social Security. Sanders was barely able to begin before two women climbed on stage, threatening to “shut the event down.” One of the protestors—both of whom are associated with the Black Lives Matter movement—repeatedly screamed “let her [the other protester] on the mic,” as the senator himself slipped quietly into the background. The rally’s organizer then addressed the crowd saying he would try to be reasonable and let the protesters speak after Senator Sanders. This enraged the protesters, who started shaking the podium, shoving the organizer, and screaming—unaware of the irony—“we are being reasonable!” The organizer was unwilling to endure any more abuse and ceded control of the microphone. The two protesters proceeded to call the crowd “white supremacist liberal[s]” and the city of Seattle racist. If you haven’t seen the video, it is on YouTube. Those of you who have been around toddlers throwing a tantrum will find the behavior of the protestors eerily familiar.

When working as a part of a grassroots movement like Black Lives Matter, there are certain things you cannot do if you want to be successful. The first of these things is basing your movement on—or defending it with—misleading or fabricated information. The second is alienating people, particularly those who are most likely to support you. The first is actually a subset of the second, but is important enough with respect to Black Lives Matter that it deserves to be touched on separately.  

The poster child for Black Lives Matter’s present incarnation was Michael Brown. However, when all of the facts pertaining to the case came to light, it became obvious that the shooting of Michael Brown was in self-defense. The movement’s rallying cry—“Hands up, don’t shoot!”—turned out to be a completely inaccurate representation of what actually happened in Ferguson last summer.

To the leaders of the movement, however, these facts were irrelevant. As more and more alleged murders of black civilians by white police officers became headlines, it seemed like just a matter of time before mitigating circumstances bubbled to the surface as well—sometimes supporting claims of police brutality but calling into question racism as a motivating factor, such as the case of Freddie Gray, where 3 of the 6 officers indicted in the case were black. This cast doubt onto the narrative of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Those at the forefront of the movement also seem reluctant to mention that in the cases where the evidence actually supported police brutality—such as the cases of Walter Scott and Freddie Gray—the police were indicted on several serious charges, ranging from assault to manslaughter to murder. Instead, Black Lives Matter chooses to focus on the cases where the evidence is insufficient for indictment, touting them as evidence of the systematic murder of black people by white police officers.

Many people who were initially on the fence about Black Lives Matter were seriously turned against the movement after repeatedly seeing protestors claim one thing while the evidence showed the opposite. Though many in the movement seem to feel that the evidence doesn’t matter, the reality is that to most people who are undecided on the issue, it is of paramount importance. Black Lives Matter is turning its potential allies into its opposition by embellishing and sometimes blatantly fabricating its claims.

Bernie Sanders’ track record with regard to civil rights puts that of all the other candidates in the 2016 election—and, frankly, most of the protesters affiliated with Black Lives Matter—to shame. He was an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality. He was arrested for his participation in protests against segregated campus housing as a student at the University of Chicago, and participated in the 1963 March on Washington. Say whatever you want about Bernie Sanders, but it is difficult to argue that he is anything but a sincere and devoted champion of civil rights for African-Americans.

Had the two protesters chosen to approach the event’s organizers (or Senator Sanders himself) in a respectful manner, it is clear from the video that the organizers would have been willing to let them speak. The crowd would almost certainly have been receptive to their message. After all, the circle of people who attend a speech by Bernie Sanders and the circle of people who would support the Black Lives Matter overlap quite a bit. Instead, by choosing to rudely interrupt Senator Sanders, verbally (as well as physically) assault the organizer of the event, and accuse the crowd of being racist, the two “activists” managed only to anger those who could have been their allies, as evidenced by the angry response of the crowd.

Moreover, their actions served to even further alienate those who were on the fence about their movement. When people see two young activists harassing and interrupting a—let’s be honest—fairly feeble looking old man, particularly when that old man has been fighting for the rights of African-Americans since before those protesters were born, it does nothing to win them over to the Black Lives Matter movement. It was, in essence, the worst public relations stunt the group could have planned.

Despite the fact that the actions of protesters such as those who interrupted Senator Sanders seem to suggest that making friends and drawing people into their movement is of little concern, this is a poor strategy for a grassroots movement to use. If Black Lives Matter is to be successful, it needs to evolve from a niche group into a serious, mainstream movement, and it must do so soon. Movements that are viewed as fringe and do nothing to incorporate themselves into the mainstream tend to fizzle out (e.g. Occupy Wall Street) with few successes to hang their hat on.

Articles like this one may be dismissed as “tone-policing” (especially when coming from an openly white person like myself) by those within the Black Lives Matter movement. However, it is at Black Lives Matter’s own peril that they ignore what their detractors say. Protesters like the ones who interrupted Senator Sanders certainly have a right to free speech, but they seem to be under the mistaken impression that they also have a right to be listened to. You cannot force people to hear what you have to say; if what you have to say is worth hearing, people will choose to listen. If they do not, perhaps you need to be honest with yourself about why that is. Though it may feel cathartic to shut people down and meet resistance and even questioning with anger—a strategy that suggests you are unable to adequately address criticism of your movement—it will make enemies of those on the fence and cause those who might have been your allies to think twice, ultimately driving your movement into the ground.

Image Source: Seattle Met

How Campus Progressives Ruined Liberalism for the Rest of Us

I have some confessions to make: I am a liberal. I am pro-choice. I favor the legalization of gay marriage and marijuana. Given supreme authority, I would drastically cut our military budget and use the money to institute a single-payer healthcare system (certainly not something many of my colleagues at the Independent would agree with). I even voted for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, in the last presidential election. However, despite my overwhelmingly liberal political leanings, the progressive movement – particularly as I’ve seen it manifested on college campuses – has made me embarrassed to identify myself as a liberal.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that Fox News spends only 45 percent of its airtime on factual reporting, while it spends 55 percent of its airtime on opinion pieces and commentary. It was unsurprising that a news source frequently lampooned as opinion-driven and biased spends the majority of its time reporting opinion pieces. But why is Fox News considered such a horrible and untrustworthy network when the same study showed that the liberal MSNBC network spends a whopping 85 percent of its airtime on opinion segments and only 15 percent on factual reporting? If Fox’s penchant for focusing on opinion is worthy of criticism, doesn’t MSNBC’s more egregious example of the same sin merit even more? The contempt for Fox I hear coming from liberals coupled with a lack of criticism towards MSNBC suggests that many within the liberal movement don’t want factual journalism at all, but rather opinionated journalism with a liberal bent. In fact, though they would have you believe they merely support truth in journalism, many liberals openly disregard the truth – and criticize those who don’t – when it conflicts with their worldview.

The most recent example that comes to mind is the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. My fellow liberals decided from day one that Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Brown, was in the wrong. Before autopsy results were released, without reading the eyewitness testimony, and with no regard for forensic evidence, the left prejudged Wilson as guilty. Although I personally prefer to hear evidence before forming an opinion, I can understand why –especially in light of the slanted media reporting on the case – many people would leap to the conclusion that Wilson was guilty. What was appalling to me, however, was that when the evidence that was released proved far from sufficient to suggest Wilson’s guilt, the vast majority of the left was still calling for Wilson to be punished. Protests predicated on the assumption of Wilson’s guilt, like the march to Claremont City Hall, were held nationwide after a grand jury failed to indict Wilson, seemingly unconcerned with the fact that the evidence against him was inconclusive at best.

Campus liberals acted similarly in the case of Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student who has vowed to carry a mattress around campus with her until her alleged rapist leaves the school. Rallies in support of Sulkowicz were held at college campuses across the nation, including here in Claremont. Despite the fact that criminal charges were never filed and the man who ostensibly assaulted her was found not responsible by Columbia, supporters of Sulkowicz have continued to refer to him as her “rapist” and harass him on and off campus (have they never heard of the Scottsboro Boys?). The Columbia Spectator decided to print the name of the accused despite the fact that the university had not found him responsible for any wrongdoing (did the Spectator learn nothing from the media’s handling of the Duke Lacrosse case?). This uproar will affect the man for the remainder of his time at Columbia and will continue to follow him for the rest of his life. Because the alleged assault fit into campus liberals’ dominant narrative on sexual assault, the overwhelmingly liberal students of Columbia, the Claremont Colleges, and other elite institutions were eager to risk ruining a potentially innocent man’s life by naming him a rapist, even as new evidence emerges, all of which seems to support the alleged attacker’s innocence.

To question the guilt of Darren Wilson was to be a racist, and to question the veracity of Sulkowicz’s story was to be a sexist rape apologist. Doing either of these things would almost certainly get you branded as a conservative. As a liberal who did both of these things, I have been appalled by the irrational mob mentality displayed by my fellow liberal students at events like the Ferguson protest and the “Carry That Weight” march in support of Sulkowicz. I am struggling to come to terms with this new reality wherein sticking to an objective view of the facts is considered a conservative trait. The campus left’s complete unwillingness to adjust their opinions of these cases to fit with the facts shows a thought process completely devoid of reason. Facts are apolitical. To question prevailing liberal thought on Ferguson and Columbia because of the evidence (or lack thereof) is not a conservative position. It is a realistic one. To question prevailing liberal thought on Ferguson and Columbia is not to deny the existence of racism in law enforcement or sexual assault on college campuses, but to acknowledge that not every individual case fits those patterns.

Ferguson and Columbia are unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to college liberals privileging (if I may appropriate one of their favorite words) narrative over evidence: As it turns out, trigger warnings (well-intentioned though they may be) actually do more harm than good, and controlled exposure to trauma can lead to a quicker recovery from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder than complete avoidance. According to the founder of the Trauma Studies program at King’s College, London: “You cannot get a person to avoid triggers in their day-to-day lives. It would be impossible…Instead of encouraging a culture of avoidance, [the media] should be encouraging exposure…Most trauma survivors avoid situations that remind them of the experience. Avoidance means helplessness and helplessness means depression. That’s not good.”

Women do not make $0.77 for every dollar men earn for the same work. When controlling relevant variables such as profession and hours worked (seemingly obvious measures conspicuously missing from the original $0.77 study), the wage gap almost completely disappears. Childless women in their 20s actually make as much as 8 percent more than their male counterparts.

President Obama hesitates to refer to the Islamic State as an Islamic extremist group and makes an effort to downplay what are actually alarmingly high levels of sympathy for extremist movements in Muslim communities worldwide.

It is most likely untrue that 1 in 5 female college students is sexually assaulted. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number may be closer to 6 in 1000 . This data, collected over the course of 18 years and with a response rate of 74 percent, is much more reliable than the 1 in 5 study, which sourced its data only from two large schools, had a response rate of 43 percent, and did not even take into account whether or not the people being surveyed felt that they had been assaulted (a similar study found that 49 percent of women classified as having been raped did not think they had been, while only 47 percent did). The author of the 1 in 5 study himself said “We don’t think one in five is a nationally representative statistic.” The list goes on and on.

The fact that my fellow liberals seem so unconcerned with evidence makes it hard for me to sympathize with their cause. Although I may agree with them on many issues, the way in which we arrive at those conclusions differs drastically. I thoroughly believe that most of the liberals here at the Claremont Colleges do what they do with good intentions; as liberals we should help the disadvantaged and strive to create positive social and political change. However, what is stereotypically “liberal” is not always right, and what fits most cleanly into our belief systems is not always true. Unwillingness to listen to opinions differing from the mainstream and attempting to silence opposing viewpoints (including the destruction of print issues of the Independent around campus) is completely illiberal and is an insult to the campus Free Speech Movement that liberal students championed 50 years ago. Silencing minority viewpoints does not prove them wrong and says more about those doing the silencing than those being silenced.

The only rational way to approach divisive political issues is to base your opinions off of the facts that are available to you. Liberals and conservatives have always disagreed on how those facts are to be interpreted, and we should be glad for it. Neither conservatives nor liberals are correct 100 percent of the time. However, it seems lately that evidence has become a nonissue for many on the left.

Unless my fellow liberals learn to stop shoehorning every situation to fit the narrative they are trying to construct, the left of tomorrow will be made up of individuals who are unable to distinguish their beliefs from reality. Those of us who can make this distinction will not want to associate with the liberal movement any longer. Where will we go?

A Reality Check on the “Distortion of Islam”: A Rebuttal to The Student Life

The Student Life recently published an article, “On the Distortion of Islam and the Muslim World,” in which the author discourages the use of the name ISIS/ISIL since this “gang of fools is neither Islamic nor a state.” Not only does the author claim that Islam is not to blame for the atrocities committed in its name, but he goes on to state that ISIS/ISIL is not an Islamic group at all, an assertion which flies in the face of reality.

ISIS started as a splinter group of al-Qaeda, one of the most infamous Islamic extremist groups in the world. The stated goal of ISIS/ISIL is to establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate. The areas it controls are ruled under strict Sharia law, and it threatens the non-Muslims in those areas with death if they do not convert to Islam. Its flag features the seal of Muhammad, underneath the words “There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of God” written in Arabic. Strictly speaking, ISIS/ISIL is an Islamic group since it bases everything it does off of its interpretation of Islam and the Qur’an.

Yet, the author claims that because “hundreds of Imams, leaders in the Muslim faith, have disavowed them and pleaded that they not be linked with their religion,” ISIS/ISIL is not an Islamic group. The author fails to acknowledge, however, that there are hundreds of Imams who either support or are active members of ISIS/ISIL. But even if we ignore this fact, the author’s argument here still makes no sense. He states that we should “give the word of these Imams the respect we would give Pope Francis,” but allowing these Imams to claim ISIS/ISIL isn’t Muslim is akin to letting Pope Francis claim that Catholics didn’t instigate the Spanish Inquisition. We shouldn’t allow these Imams to disassociate Islam from its more radical factions any more than we should allow the Pope to separate Catholicism from the atrocities committed in its name in the past.

The author believes that referring to ISIS/ISIL as an Islamic group gives people a bad impression of the religion as a whole. This is a valid concern, but the way to prevent it is not to be disingenuous about the religious affiliation of the group, but rather to acknowledge it while being proactive in educating people so they know that the views of ISIS/ISIL are not representative of all of Islam.

Furthermore, the author goes on to claim that, despite the common view that Islam creates hostile environments for women, LGBTQ people, and non-Muslims, it is a more of problem of culture, rather than religion. However, the idea that you can separate Islam from the culture of many countries in the Middle East is simply absurd.

There are still 10 countries in which homosexual acts are punishable by death: Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates. And there are vast cultural differences between. For example, look at the differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and between Nigeria and Qatar. The major common thread between these nations is that they all have Muslim majorities. These are not all Arab cultures, as the author tries to claim. Admittedly, if you look at the list of countries in which homosexuality is a non-capital offense, there are a number of non-Muslim countries included, but Muslim countries are still overrepresented, as countries with a Muslim majority make up about one-fourth of the world as a whole, yet over forty percent of the countries in which homosexuality is illegal. Moreover, the fact that other cultures are intolerant of homosexuality does not preclude the idea that Islam itself contributes to homophobia. To claim that these backwards views are completely independent of Islam in countries in which Islam is the predominant cultural influence is naive at best and dishonest at worst.

The record of treatment of women in communities with Muslim majorities has not been much better, from the severe curtailing of women’s rights in Iran after the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini to the honor killings of the Egyptian women suspected of inappropriate relations with men. Although the men responsible were later arrested, the killing is not the only one of its kind and is indicative of a culture with a backwards and repressive view of women.

Finally, the author states that “culture, not religion, dictates these norms and gender roles, which will change, if they are meant to, at their own pace and in their own time.” This is, perhaps, the most disheartening sentence in the entire article. The phrase “if they are meant to” seems to suggest that these backwards practices don’t necessarily need to change, and that they shouldn’t be open to criticism from those outside of the cultures practicing them. The author seems unconcerned by the fact that these injustices are affecting real people and destroying real lives. I’m sure that the woman being stoned to death for riding in a car with a man who wasn’t her husband is comforted by the author’s reassurance that her country will join the 21st century in its own time. I’m sure the gay couple who is in jail for daring to kiss in public would much rather have cultural change come about organically in twenty years rather than see Islam questioned. We rightfully criticize Christianity’s contribution to homophobia in the United States, so why shouldn’t we criticize Islam for doing the same in the Middle East?

All of this is not to say that Islam can singlehandedly lead someone down the path of intolerance. The fact that most of these countries have poor, relatively uneducated populations, combined with a religion whose holy book does—to a certain extent—advocate intolerance, creates a perfect storm. Although it is not the sole contributor, Islam has played a part in creating the oppressive cultures which exist in much of the Middle East and North Africa. Islam is neither the first nor the only belief system to engender intolerance, but it is the one that is in the world’s spotlight at the moment, and it is not wrong to discuss or question it.

When the majority of Egyptians, Indonesians, Moroccans, Pakistanis, and Palestinians say that they support strict Sharia law, we need to acknowledge that Islamic fundamentalism is not only more common than we might care to admit, but it is also a significant factor in enforcing extreme social conservatism in a significant portion of the world. To suggest that we shouldn’t criticize and encourage the abandonment of these backwards and oppressive cultural practices, and instead should patiently wait for the people committing honor killings and putting gay people in jail to stop doing so in their own time, is insulting to every single person in a Muslim country who suffers as a direct result of the backwards social standards fostered by Islam.

Image Source: Wikipedia