A brisk wind comes coolly off the Atlantic tempering the record heat. Umbrellas and beach chairs litter the shore. Sunblock scents the breeze. Children shriek as blue waves rumble down the white sand. It’s summer on Cape Cod.
For over a decade we’ve camped out each July a quarter mile from this National Sea Shore heaven, a week or two of retreat from our increasingly complex lives. Our small children have aged into teens who dash in and out of the ocean with new and old friends. We’ve eased into an age where we avoid the sun a bit more, and no longer sleep directly on the hard ground.
“You don’t want to miss this one,” a friend we met here years ago, and now plan vacations with, comments as he hands me his trim new binoculars. “In the leopard bikini.”
Sheepishly I take the binoculars and enjoy the view with qualms; she’s young enough to be my daughter, no doubt.
Technology encroaches on our bucolic scene. Not only fancy binoculars; this is the first year I’ve had my smart phone along, so I can’t resist peaking at my collection of news apps. How much will Casey Anthony get paid to testify for the media pimps? Is there really a mystery about what killed Amy Winehouse? And, oh yes, what the hell are the men we sent to Washington doing?
Posturing, it appears. Like peacocks. Look at my amazing feathers. No, look at mine! Preening and blustering all to impress the girls, birds, voters. Just a bunch of middle aged men with binoculars, ogling voters from afar. Look at the votes on that constituency!
But do they care? Who should we go home with? Will they respect us if we put out? Should we respect them?
Casey Anthony was condemned long before her trial ended, probably before it started, when she didn’t conform to stereotypes of the good grieving mother. Nafissatou Diallo, following her rape accusation against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, became a whore when she no longer fit our vision of the subservient hotel maid. Madonna or whore. These are the roles we offer women. What about men? What about our leaders?
Obama and Boehner. We know these guys are mostly just posturing. They hope to mate together public frustration with budget gridlock and the coming 2012 elections to bring forth wins for their parties. It’s a poker game, a mating ritual; who will end up on top when the dust settles and the sun rises? Yet are these men the same? What differences do they offer as we contemplate whose pick-up lines to believe?
Let’s look at the language they use when they both addressed the nation on July 25th. Boehner is the tough guy, he’s all about “hard choices,” “not so fast” and “those days are over.” Obama, on the other hand, emphasizes “family” (6 times), and says “neither party is blameless” and he invites participation with lots of “let’s” and a final plea for voters to call their legislators. Who are these two guys who talk to us so differently, and what are their stories?
Linguist George Lakoff tells us to look at the language and determine the values behind them. Obama and Boehner’s speeches are pretty good examples of the political alternatives offered by the Republicans and Democrats from Lakoff’s perspective, Obama as the nurturing father and Boehner as the strict father. For Boehner the world is a scary place and people are not to be trusted; the best love is tough love. For Obama, most people are good and need to be encouraged. We can trust others and we should trust him.
It is a beautiful day. The blue sky meets the ocean waves as a thin gray line. The sun warms.
Which version of masculinity do we let seduce us today as they parade before us on this public sand? The tough guy or the nice guy? It is all symbol. Both these men are probably tough and kind, or at least well meaning. It’s the values of the people who write the details of the new budget, who spawn the devils in the details that most of us will never see, but many of us will feel, that really matter. Who do we trust with these details? Who do we trust to do the right thing in the dark moments of the night when our eyes are closed and we are most vulnerable?
We cut most women in the public spotlight little slack. Be sweet and kind or you’re a castrating b**** and whore. Look at Diallo and Anthony (and probably Winehouse, too). Women are constantly evaluated for their suitability as mates (to put it politely). If there is merit in this critique, why not turn this same harsh light on our public men. What kind of masculinity do you want to wake up next to in the morning? Boehner’s “I know what’s best for you” traditional patriarchy or Obama’s “let’s work this out together” new man gentle strength.
I certainly know my answer. We don’t live in a western or a scifi shoot ’em up. It’s not that easy any more, if it ever was. Our complex world calls for compromise and empathy, just like our 21st century relationships. There may be a thrill, or old fashioned comfort, in bedding down with the tough guy, but in the morning when the kids need breakfast and we both got to get off to work and there’s still a budget to sort out I know who the better partner would be.
Families loll on the beach. We are blessed with leisure for these few sacred days of summer bliss. I’m going to go out on the sandbar with my son’s boogie board and try not to make a fool of myself.
While we’re away, neighbors will feed our cats and fish, eat vegies from our garden, and bring in the mail. We couldn’t be here without a little help from our friends, without trust. I sure hope we can trust the men we sent to Washington to do the right thing while we’re away, too.