“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” The Wizard of Oz maintained his ruse for far too long. Eventually, he is revealed to be the fraud that he is by Toto, a scrappy little cairn terrier and Dorothy’s best friend.
A whole lot of us have been Totos over the past few decades. It used to be that we female-identified types could be tricked into thinking that we caused our own rapes and assaults, aka victim blaming. The rapists and assailants hid behind a curtain hung by society. The curtain is made of traditional rules about acceptable or not acceptable feminine appearance, behavior and activities. If a man raped a woman because she was wearing a short skirt, was drinking and was in a parking lot (think “Thelma and Louise” or “The Accused”), she was fair game and “asking for it.”
“Pay no attention to my pants around my ankles, my punch to her face, my hatred…” The rapist justifies his violence by cruelly deflecting responsibility for his actions. Sadly, the “she made me do it; it’s her fault” dodge is still in play. However, #MeToo brought the reality for women into the forefront more than anything I can think of in my decades of feminist activism. The rapist and rapist alone is responsible for rape; to argue otherwise is to infantilize men and uphold vicious misogyny.
Victim blaming also happens in families. In the 1980s, codependency started to receive a lot of attention. Authors and thinkers like Melodie Beattie and John Bradshaw illuminated the dysfunctional families that victimized truth tellers in the family. I know because I was one of those truth tellers, effectively being gaslit by my parents and sisters. “Pay no attention to mommy upset all the time, daddy mostly absent, sister being a fall-down drunk…” As the youngest, I often saw things that everyone else was in denial about. I was often told that I was too dramatic, blowing things out of proportion or outright lying.
It took years of attending Landmark and 12-Step programs, reading and therapy to sort out what was actually going on. I realized that in the family, as in so many other places, the best defense is a rigid offense: “No, you are not seeing what you’re seeing.” What small person can defend themselves and their position when it’s the tallest people in the house who are telling them that they’re crazy?
Now I’ve projected these “man behind the curtain” examples onto the climate crisis. For my own well-being, I am publicly declaring that no matter how many bottles and cans I recycle, how much I walk instead of drive, how many gallons of water I conserve, we are all affected by outdated, ineffective policies that generate waste and degrade our environment. Please don’t hear this like I’m going to stop doing the “little things”; I will continue doing them. That said, the actual problem here is greed and laissez-faire capitalism. I think there is an economic system that can work, but it hasn’t been invented yet. “Pay no attention to deregulation, chemical dumping, oil company pillaging, and on and on…” Hey, everyone! Cut back, do your part, pitch in… while the Wizard wraps himself in the curtain to cover up the constant assault. Hey, if the Earth didn’t want to be ravished, Mother Earth shouldn’t have worn so many tempting resources, right? It’s her fault!
The list I have of mind-boggling facts and follies is too long to list here. Don’t these CEOs and corporate board members of the uber-wealthy 1% have offspring and grandkids who can hold their feet to the fire? My parents’ generation of Republicans would be mortified if they knew the degree to which ex-Soviet era hackers and oligarchs work relentlessly to undermine the United States. Where are the stockholder demonstrations? Where’s the outrage? Where’s the disinvestment from oil, similar to the disinvestment movement we saw toward apartheid South Africa?
OK, here’s a fact for you: New, significant studies from credible sources show that “natural” gas inside homes causes air pollution at much higher rates than outside! Decades ago, marketing flacks got the word “natural” tacked onto indoor gas as a way to deflect consumer worries about possible side effects. “Pay no attention to how the oil and gas industry doesn’t care one whit about you and your family’s health…” In our home, the only action we can take right now is to get a more efficient vent hood to draw out the fumes. If we had buckets of disposable income, we’d switch to an induction range pronto. Yet lobbyists are still working to keep their shareholders “cooking with gas.”
Not a cheery commentary, is it? On the upside, I am comforted by the Ending Gender-Based Violence community, which I’ve been a member of for decades. They successfully re-contextualized attack victims to attack survivors. I hope we, victims of corporate and societal greed, can survive these coming decades. Please have your Totos pull back as many curtains as possible. Do it now.
Ellen Snortland has written commentary for decades. She also teaches creative writing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.