The ‘heightened sensitivity’ blues

Pub date October 23, 2012


“No one can deny that there is presently a particular sensitivity around domestic violence issues, and this may have been a contributing factor in their decision in this instance. I want to emphasize that I respect this heightened sensitivity and I will not criticize those allies of mine that have chosen to withdraw support.”

– Oct. 17 press statement from District 5 candidate Julian Davis

This is not a Julian Davis hit piece. Just as much as any young progressive in this town, I know the guy. He’s not a bad guy.

He can be a boor. But to be fair, he’s only doing what he’s been taught to do in this era of the San Francisco City Hall progressive scene.

Lemme take it back to my first assignment covering politics for the Bay Guardian (indulge me.) I was a culture intern.

I was assigned to the Democratic County Central Committee election-night party at the Great American Music Hall. I had the early shift, because those hours of the evening are boring enough to entrust to an intern with little background knowledge of the San Francisco political scene. While I was there, gamely interviewing the only person I recognized from the newspapers (a man who I’ve been told ad nauseum is a leader of the San Francisco progressive movement), a shrill -– to appropriate a term usually coded for women and gays –- elderly, straight male blogger approached us and inquired loudly if I was the politician’s escort.

Now, I am pro-sex worker. But as a young woman who was performing an important task for the first time, when a dinosaur implies that you are at a stone-dull political happening to solicit sexual favors for money -– well I’m sorry, brothers and sisters, but I was there to interview people for a newspaper. I don’t think this man’s query, shouted as it was over the crowd, implied a high degree of sex-positivity.

The progressive leader seemed unfazed. Who knows, maybe it happens all the time. He briefly made introductions and ninja-moved into the social melée, leaving me with old blogger, who commenced interrogating me rudely, on camera, from a distance close enough that I could smell him. It wasn’t a superlative scent.

Perhaps Kay Vasilyeva felt similarly six years ago when she went to Bill Barnes, who was serving as campaign manager for Chris Daly, the San Francisco progressive deity at whose campaign event she says the most egregious incident with Davis took place.

Davis groped her, she told Barnes. He told her she could report the incident to the police, and when questioned about the incident by Fog City Journal last week, he said “my memories that are most clear about that campaign were the political side of what was going on, not about the interpersonal issues.”

I’ve told my election night story a couple times over the last week since it stands out clearly as the moment I knew, for sure, I would never get involved in San Francisco politics.

More than one of my friends told me I was asking for this humiliation, what with having identified myself as a Guardian reporter. I’ll admit, that perhaps I could have expected such diminutive behavior. The paper’s, like, “controversial.” All the same, I told those friends, as respectfully as possible, to fuck off.

In the wake of the Ross Mirkarimi and Julian Davis debacles, and in the wake of reaction to said debacles (decidedly the more catastrophic happenings, even compared with the acts themselves), many are realizing that the dominant face of SF progressivism is that of a self-absorbed, hierarchy-enforcing man.

Perhaps some are making the cognitive leap to wonder about why we’re not exactly overwhelmed with progressive females in elected office.

Could it be that through sloppily coded language like that used in Davis’s email, the Barnes response, and my election night incident, an environment is systematically being created that no intelligent young women would ever sanely choose to take part in?

Tell me I’m too soft for politics. Sure you’re right. Tell me it’s equal opportunity assholery. Probs. Tell me that’s just how it is.

I’ll tell you this: being progressive is about more than voting in favor of rent control and raising teacher’s wages. Being pro-choice is not the end of one’s involvement in women’s issues. You can have all the right politics on paper, but if you make those who are different from you feel like shit when you’re two cocktails into election night, take a seat, wrench your eyes from their tits, and let someone else take the lead, because you’re the reason why the progressive movement, the labor movement, et. al., are stale and worn.

Convince all the young women and other people who are not the face of power in this country that they have no place and they will find a different place, and your slate will be all the dumber for it.

Beware, boorish men, when you blame the current spate of sexual abuse unmaskings on “political climate” or “interpersonal issues.” Denigrate actual justice as a “trend” or “gossip” and you will most certainly find yourself fighting for something that you really, really don’t want — the increased infirmity of the movement you claim to hold so dear.

“Heightened sensitivity” getting you down? Hit up a pharmacy, I bet they have a cream for that.