Here are three poems by a neglected (some would say deservedly so) Wisconsin born and raised American poet– Ella Wheeler Wilcox, whose late 19th and early 20th Century verse is full of rhyme and meter and “sentimental” Victorian optimism, the very thing the Modernists rebelled against. And yet many of her poems have a witty, whimsical forthrightness about them. Even the strident activism of her feminist and pacifist poems is not without a musical moral force that is bracing when compared to, say, Whitman’s paternal, prosy patriotism and Dickinson’s slanted inner obsessions. Let’s not disparage and discard what is best in Victorian verse.

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By Ella Wheeler Wilcox (text), photographer unknown, 1896, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A short autobiography of Wheeler Wilcox can be found here, courtesy of the Ella Wheeler Wilcox Society. And though the NY Times has recently been trying to make amends for failing to publish obituaries of many prominent women, here is the NY Times’s obituary for the “prolific versifier” dated Oct. 31, 1919.

 

How Like the Sea by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

How like the sea, the myriad-minded sea,
Is this large love of ours: so vast, so deep,
So full of myseries! it, too, can keep
Its secrets, like the ocean; and is free,
Free, as the boundless main. Now it may be
Calm like the brow of some sweet child asleep;
Again its seething billows surge and leap
And break in fulness of their ecstasy.

Each wave so like the wave which came before,
Yet never two the same! Imperative
And then persuasive as the cooing dove,
Encroaching ever on the yielding shore—
Ready to take; yet readier still to give—
How like the myriad-minded sea, is love.

 

Camouflage by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Camouflage is all the rage.
Ladies in their fight with age–
Soldiers in their fight with foes–
Demagogues who mask and pose
In the guise of statesmen–girls
Black of eyes with golden curls–
Politicians, votes in mind,
Smiling, affable and kind,
All use camouflage to-day.
As you go upon your way,
Walk with caution, move with care;
Camouflage is everywhere!

 

Disarmament by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

We have outgrown the helmet and cuirass,
The spear, the arrow, and the javelin.
These crude inventions of a cruder age,
When men killed men to show their love of God,
And he who slaughtered most was greatest king.
We have outgrown the need of war! Should men
Unite in this one thought, all war would end.
Disarm the world; and let all Nations meet
Like Men, not monsters, when disputes arise.
When crossed opinions tangle into snarls,
Let Courts untie them, and not armies cut.
When State discussions breed dissentions, let
Union and Arbitration supersede
The hell-created implements of War.
Disarm the world! and bid destructive thought
Slip like a serpent from the mortal mind
Down through the marshes of oblivion and soon
A race of gods shall rise!. Disarm! Disarm!

 

[poems obtained from poets.org and the Ella Wheeler Wilcox Society]

 

Christmas_Present_Leggings 2
Photo by AllenRaySmith (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Americans are today up in arms about legs. Specifically, whether or not it is appropriate for girls/women to wear tight-fitting “leggings” or yoga pants when flying on airplanes. Until now this has not been a major issue on the national scene because so far the Trump administration has not issued any travel bans against legging-wearing women, unless of course the woman is a Muslim from certain countries in which case it doesn’t matter what she wears. Fortunately, U.S. courts have banned the Trump bans for now. But maybe the ACLU will take up the case of the leggings ban.

This story goes like this: a female United Airlines gate agent would not allow two teenage girls to board a flight in Denver because the family of the girls were traveling with a United employee pass and wearing leggings under such conditions is forbidden. (What about men? My running pants are rather tight.) It does not appear as though the teens in question are United employees but according to the Washington Post the girls apparently were aware of the employee pass rule.

Airlines can prohibit any passengers from boarding who are not “properly clothed” for safety reasons, though except for the case of not wearing anything on one’s feet at all (which would make getting through the security line a little easier), it is not clear how improper clothing is defined. A third teen girl was able to place a skirt over her leggings and was then allowed to board.

On second thought, the ACLU won’t likely take this case because a corporation (a private entity) is within its rights to enforce a dress code, however arbitrary and sexist it may be. Shall we soon see no very short shorts on women in airports, no mini-skirts, no bare female legs at all? What about men in tank-tops? (Most private establishments require some sort of shirt and shoes.) Are bikinis for either gender taboo on an airplane? How does baring skin or wearing skin-tight pants on a flight compromise safety?

Perhaps United Airlines will eventually explain why employees traveling with a special pass cannot be as casually dressed as everyone else. Is it simply a matter of public relations? But how will anyone know who is an airline employee since formal uniforms are not required? Or perhaps I and we are spending too much time thinking about this issue. Personally, I am not offended by any girl or woman wearing leggings or yoga pants in any public setting. And if we wait awhile, the next fad in women’s wear may be long skirts which, for all I know, may be even more comfortable.

(Photo by U.S Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010. Photo taken at the State Department, in Washington, D.C.)

By John Kaufman

Though famed for its politically progressive tradition, Wisconsin does produce some notorious conservatives, colorful figures who draw the attention of the nation. Gov. Walker is a rather bland guy (bland but unintimidated by what he doesn’t understand) in comparison to, say, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, the cowboy hat-wearing “people’s sheriff” or, as National Review calls him, “the sheriff as rebel.” ( Clarke seems to me more akin to the Sheriff of Nottingham.) There is, or was, the infamous Sen. Joseph McCarthy for whom the term “McCarthyism” was coined.  Washington Post columnist George Will even dared to use McCarthy’s legacy to lambast the ongoing Wisconsin “John Doe” campaign finance investigation. And let’s not forget Wisconsin’s own John Birch Society, ever a vigilant and reliable source of political paranoia.

Lately, and more tamely, a Milwaukee County Board member, Supervisor Deanna Alexander, has caught the attention of the NY Times and the Journal Sentinel’s “watchdog” Dan Bice by referring to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as “Ovary” in a public tweet. This attempt at political sarcasm upset some of Alexander’s fellow County Board members, who felt it was an inappropriate metaphor.  You know, you shouldn’t use body parts to refer to public figures. But this seems to me a thin-skinned reaction. Alexander’s ovarian tweet was inappropriate not so much for nicknaming Hillary “Ovary” but for what Alexander claims Clinton is all about: running on being an ovarian person only.

Why Alexander, elected to public office for presumably more reasons than her gender, would want to reduce another woman attempting to be elected to public office to her sexual biology is hard to understand. Generally, when men verbally identify women as only their physical qualities, these men are accused, and rightly so, of being sexist. If Clinton were running on a platform of “I’m a woman, vote for me” there might be some truth in Alexander’s unusual label, but even then a woman, in totality, is far more than her reproductive tissues.

Even a brief look at Clinton’s early campaign material proves that Clinton is not making the case we should vote for her because she’s a person with ovaries. Her campaign so far seems focused on making Clinton out to be a progressive populist at heart, someone concerned about and willing to fight for improving the lives of ordinary Americans and, by the way, standing up to foreign threats. In fact, because she is a woman, I suspect there will be a good deal of having to prove how tough and masculine Hillary is, an ovarian person with enough “balls” (why are testicles a symbol for courage while ovaries are not?) to take on both Wall Street and terrorists. Given the general record of male presidents, especially when it comes to launching wars and drones, I would hope that Clinton, as a campaigner, will display a more feminine/motherly restraint when it comes to foreign policy. If having ovaries helped a leader choose nonviolent, compassionate policies, then there would be nothing wrong with voting for a woman because she is a woman, though, of course, we can think of all sorts of powerful women who have supported political violence and draconian economics in the past. But whether or not Clinton is a genuinely peaceable progressive, she so far is not playing up (as if she had to) her gender.

But this will likely be a Republican theme of the presidential campaign: Hillary Clinton, we will be told, is, as a politician, nothing but her gender, and the U.S. should not elect a female president only to elect a woman interested only in female issues. Instead of Hillary, we will be offered the Republican parade of misguided, mediocre men, except for former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, expected to launch her presidential campaign on May 4th, according to BostonHerald.com. This Fiorina quote is also via BostonHerald.com:

“Hillary Clinton desperately wants to run a campaign on being the first woman president. She desperately wants to run a campaign on the war on women. And I think Hillary Clinton should have to run her campaign on her own track record, or lack thereof.”

So Fiorina’s entrance into the race will make it a fair, woman-to-woman fight. Of course, Fiorina is far more lacking in political/governing experience than is Clinton, but corporate executives often have this sense that a nation can be governed as one runs a big business: ruthless power is all that is required. But CEO’s are appointed, not elected. And given that women remain a slight majority of Americans (roughly 5 million more women than men), running a campaign that highlights the real and ongoing political and cultural “war on women” is not a bad strategy.

Yes, Hillary Clinton has ovaries but that is not a good reason to vote for her, as she and her campaign are no doubt aware. But I do agree with Alexander’s tweet that Hillary should not be seeking to raise $2.5 billion to run a good campaign. The well-funded, overwrought, ovarian Republican campaign against her is probably all she needs to be elected.

P.S.For another perspective on the same topic, see this post by Pamela Hill Nettleton.

By Rumple Oxbridge (The Pacific’s purely imaginary in-house rhymer)

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Photo by FEMEN Women’s Movement (http://www.flickr.com/photos/femen/4516588146/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Breasting Men

To get it off their chests
some women bare their breasts.
But looking so arresting
can get them arrested
because it’s men they’re breasting.

[A verb form of breast means to oppose or fight against. Thus the final (and title) pun.]–JK

Mary Burke
By WisPolitics.com (Flickr: Mary Burke) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Though the real news was that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke had just been endorsed by the largest police union in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s online headline said, “Mary Burke stumbles when asked to define plagiarism”. As if the shock of the question caused her to lose her balance, thus betraying her pact with the devil. Or was the headline suggesting that Burke doesn’t know what plagiarism is? Or was the headline merely meant to make fun of her?

Local journalists, always eloquent and seldom prone to misplacing commas or modifiers, have apparently grown bored with watching various courts play Ping-Pong with genuine Republican improprieties, called “witch hunts” by the faithful. Objectivity  demands some juicy Democratic slip-up to tell readers about, so this charge of plagiarism concerning a Pennsylvania-based consultant became big news. Digging for signs of political witchcraft in Burke’s consultant-created jobs plan, the Journal Sentinel turned loose its conservative columnist and objective reporters to get to the bottom of a rather shallow story, finding it hard to accept Burke’s explanation that the consultant did the actual composing of the plan.

Christian Schneider, in a recent column, says “catastrophe struck” when “reports surfaced” that Mary Burke’s jobs plan was ghost-written by a computer-using ghost. (Boo!) Furthermore, Schneider equates personal, intentional plagiarism with the mistaken, careless sort and then writes as if Burke’s jobs plan was some kind of personally written research paper. We can blame Burke’s campaign for trusting a distant consultant to put together the candidate’s jobs plan (which is probably common), but we can’t blame Burke or her campaign for the exact wording of it.

The Journal Sentinel Editorial Board also weighed in on “Mary Burke’s cribbing problem”, another headline with inaccuracy/false implication problems. While blaming Burke’s campaign for sloppiness and passing the plan off as “her own thinking” (term paper, again), the editors do have the decency to point out the “faux outrage” of Republicans, most of whose political notions come out of a few think tanks paraphrasing the fortunately fictional work of Ayn Rand.

Being a feminist or, if you prefer, a gentleman, I get the feeling that Burke’s political opponents are trying to tar her as an untrustworthy oddball– an unmarried, snowboarding witch who is using her dark arts to come out of nowhere to threaten the political reign of the wholesome preacher’s son, Scott Walker. Somehow, the implication is, Burke must be cheating, for how else to explain her magical rise to political credibility?

But the explanation for Burke’s success so far is plain– while not a raging progressive (raging progressives do not become wealthy corporate executives), she is enlightened enough to understand that under libertarian government the rich tend to get richer and everyone else poorer, that women, children and minorities are given short shrift, and that nature is just a bank to be legally robbed. After four years of Wisconsin’s “tea party” experiment, the state is starting to get uneasy with the drift of things, especially in some rural parts of the state, where “factory farms” proliferate and poverty grows.

If enough women, minorities, disenchanted rural/middle class voters and college students get to the polls on Nov. 4th, Burke is in and Walker is out, which will put a stop to the signing of bad bills until such time that Wisconsin rediscovers its progressive gumption and passes some good ones. Otherwise, if Walker wins again, we endure our trials again, at least until he wanders off to play his part in a new work of libertarian fiction.

If you’re a woman, you should watch what you say (no tantrums, please) and feel free to take charge of your own libido, according to Republicans near and far.

Here in Wisconsin, Milwaukee Democratic Assemblywoman Christine Sinicki went to Facebook during Gov. Walker’s “state of the state” speech to voice her opinion: “This speech is so full of shit [or sh** as the Journal Sentinel recorded it, lest the sensibilities of some be offended]. Wish I could get up and walk out.”  Sinicki also wrote: “Bottom line…the rich get richer and the poor and middle class continue to get kicked in the butt.” Strong words, but hardly a  major breach of decorum in a democracy.

An alert JS reporter noted Sinicki’s Facebook expressive post and contacted her, seeking an explanation. Sinicki explained the obvious: “It just means that I don’t agree with his remarks at all.” Assembly Speaker Robin Voss (R-Rochester) was said to be “disappointed” with Sinicki’s online behavior and told the JS reporter that “voters sent her here to do a job, not throw a tantrum.”

Not to be pedantic, but nothing was thrown and a tantrum is a prolonged bout of uncontrollable emotional distress, a thing we associate with young children and professional athletes. I suppose because she swore, and likely because she is a she and a Democrat, Voss felt it necessary to scold Sinicki, not that she got a lot of vocal support from fellow Legislature Democrats Larson and Barca. Considering the little Gov. Walker has done for Milwaukee so far, I think it fair to say that Sinicki was doing her job–sticking up for Milwaukee.

Sinicki has since apologized for swearing, but “not for speaking the truth.” Mary Burke, Democratic candidate for governor, agreed that using the offending word was “inappropriate”, which is what you say when running for governor. It’s probably the first thing your consultant says: never swear or display anger in public. But is there a double standard when it comes to what men and women can do and say politically?

Well,  here’s what former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said in a speech today, according to The Washington Post:

“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it,” Huckabee said. “Let’s take that discussion all across America.”

Huckabee, who some think may be presidential material, seems to be trying to insult Democrats by insulting women. Women can control their libidos and their reproductive biology, Huckabee suggests, without insulting birth control provided by Democrats who want to hook women on the pill and get them dependent on the government for sex. Or something like that. Apparently women yearn to be free of government sex; what they really want, it seems, is libertarian sex, which is less costly than birth control but much more risky for women who prefer not to get pregnant. Huckabee is ready to discuss this point of view “all across America.”

Some of the discussion is likely to feature the women of America using inappropriate language, and for economic reasons beyond the issue of birth control. Is it any wonder that many women swear at, not by, the GOP?

Rights of Man title page
Rights of Man title page (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the latest issue of Harper’s Magazine, I came across an astounding statistic: only 8% of Americans believe that a child is better off if his or her father stays at home while the mother works. 51% of Americans are said to think a mother at home improves the lives of children. As a “stay-at-home dad”, I find this poor opinion of my fatherly prowess to be a shocking statement of American prejudice. It suggests that a large majority of Americans feel that women are better parents than men. It also implies that a man’s place is not at home. And yet in 2010, according to the U.S. Census, 20% of fathers were “the primary caregivers” of children under 5, which means that some stay-at-home dads likely believe their wives or girlfriends really ought to be the primary givers of care to children. Clearly it’s time for men to fight for the right to stay home, raise kids and feel good about it in the face of great pressure to go out and “be a man.”

The rights of men (not to be confused with The Rights of Man) have gotten a lot of interest lately, namely from men who feel slighted by the rights of women. There is something called the “men’s rights movement” which, as far as I can tell, exists to promote the right of men to be obnoxious, insulting and cruel to women who want only to assert their democratic rights. I have no sympathy with this men’s movement, for I see nothing wrong with helping to secure the true independence of women. And some men have never really given up the right to treat women poorly, anyway, so the “men’s rights movement” seems like just another exclusive club for men. I don’t want to demean or exclude women; in fact, I want to join them, to have the same right to stay home and be respected for it.

I realize that not all feminists may respect the women who choose to stay home with kids rather than work at “a job” or “pursue a career.” If 51% think it’s good for children to have a woman stay home to care for them, that still leaves a lot of other Americans who don’t think either parent hanging around has much of an effect on a child’s well-being. But women with well-paid significant others at least are seen as having a respectable choice–work or stay home–and no doubt many women agonize over making the decision. Of course, single parents of either gender generally have no choice but to work away from home.

A man, however, is apparently expected by the nation to be a person who goes forth by car or train or bike every morning to do battle with broken things or numbers or freshmen or criminals or, if he is a “Tea Party” Republican representative, he puts on a suit of impregnable denial to ward off logic and reason, which probably works better outside his own home. This male-as-commuter ideal may be partly why male farmers are in decline and lack general prestige; sure, they leave the house, but they don’t go very far and their work involves a lot of caregiving and getting dirty, much like being a stay-at-home dad.

So it is time for us professional fathers to band together, however half-heartedly, to assert our minority rights and defend our manhood. Almost the entire nation thinks we are wasting our time; we live in a nation where manhood is assumed to be the opposite of womanhood and housework (cleaning) and child rearing is still mostly women’s work. While the stress of breaking old gender roles is not something we victims of anti-father sentiment are willing (being men) to admit, help is available if we need it. And the loneliness of our noble cause, the failure of our wives or partners and working male friends to fully appreciate our marginalization, has forced some fathers to create their own patriarchal union, a National At-Home Dad Network sponsored by Huggies and other sympathetic corporate brands.

The point is we home-bound fathers, we farmers of children and dirty sheets, are beginning to find our voices: it is our unalienable right as American men not to put up with this discrimination. Besides, we are also fighting, indirectly, for the women who want to work at home as mothers. Yes, we stand proudly with our fellow stay-at-home moms and hope they will soon proudly stand with us.