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ACOSA Update

Greetings from the Chair 5.22.24
By Cheryl Hyde
Posted: 2024-05-22T14:10:00Z

Greetings! I hope all is well with everyone. 'Tis the season of proms, commencement ceremonies, and alumni reunions, which means a lot of parading, dressing in odd outfits, and observing weird traditions. Celebrations, along with numerous protests, abound.

One element of graduation that often receives attention is the graduation speaker. Graduation speakers cover myriad topics and try to offer a range of advice. A high-ranking military officer once stated that the most important daily task was to make one’s bed as it shows discipline and order. A comedian told a graduating class that he was a terrible choice for speaker because he basically could offer no wisdom. Many speeches are filled with lofty platitudes such as “aim high,” “reach for the stars,” or “pursue your dreams.” Forty-five years ago, I was sitting at my own graduation listening to Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman. I don’t remember what she said, though I vaguely recall she was amusing; I was too busy trying to pop the cork on the champagne bottles that a bunch of us had snuck in under our robes.

This year’s standout graduate speaker apparently is Harrison Butker, kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs. In a commencement speech to the graduates of Benedictine College, he asserted that women’s true vocation is that of homemaker and that men needed to be unapologetically masculine. Further, he claimed that women had been duped by the “diabolical” lie that they could be successful in having careers outside the home. He railed against woke culture, LGBTQA+ rights, and abortion – all of which are responsible for current societal disorder and decline. In short, he gave voice to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. He’s also a top contender for the Mansplaining Hall of Fame.

Reaction was predictably swift and divided. He was widely condemned for his failure to understand that most families need two incomes to survive, not to mention that motherhood was not attainable (let alone a preference) for all women. Rightwing commentators quickly asserted that such criticism proved the existence of the left’s “cancel culture.” Others lauded this endorsement of traditional gender roles and praised his bravery. Sales of his KC team shirt skyrocketed.

So, I thought I’d weigh in, not because I particularly care about what Mr. Butker thinks (he’s made other such speeches), but because the responses raised issues for me. First, the main response to this speech was pointing out the privilege he and his wife have (true) that allows her the opportunity to not work. She is “working,” however. She’s just not paid a wage, but such unpaid labor keeps a lot of families and communities functioning. Second, the argument that women must work to keep their families afloat had an undercurrent that we would prefer not to. Some of this commentary also had an ahistorical feel to it. This dual career scenario is a modern issue. Women, at least low income, and especially women of color, have always been working. They had little to no choice and often suffered horrific conditions in order to support their families. Also having no choice are single moms (I realize that Mr. Butker might find this hard to believe, but not all of us want or need a husband). The dual wage family is an issue now, in part, because the earnings of middle-class women are necessary to offset the dismal job market and wage stagnation. Finally, many of us actually fine fulfillment in our work.

I do think Butker is correct about us being duped with diabolical lies. But we differ on the content of those messages. We have been fed a steady stream of “America is the best” content since pre-school. We have been told that if we get an education that the world is ours. We have been told that if we work hard and apply ourselves that we can achieve great social and economic success. What we’ve gotten is debt, crazy work hours, and stress-related health issues. The “American Dream” is the diabolical lie.

I believe that in a healthy society, members would have basic needs sufficiently met so that they could pursue their dreams and aspirations. Perhaps that is to be a stay-at-home mother. Or father. Perhaps that’s the individual who wants to balance work and family. Perhaps it’s someone who wants a job but not children. The disorder that Butker and others on the right are so concerned about isn’t because of upended gender roles (which have never applied to all women or men). It’s because we have a society that doesn’t provide the needed support for parents, for workers, for families – in whatever shape or formation they choose.

In solidarity,

Cheryl (