This is not about the love of professionals nor a nasty perversive obsession. It is curious how synchronous life is, or is it that when an idea dawns on us, we are more attuned to its occurrences all around us?
Last Saturday my husband parked my older model but spotlessly clean and polished car at the train station while he took the Metrolink to his office, Downtown. The car has a lovely flecked silver metallic finish (that I picked because it sparkles daintily in certain light), but, given the punishing sunlight that has increased exponentially since we have lived here, the paint is peeling right off the the roof. This is not confined to an older car, nor to foreign makes or even metallic finishes, I see brand new cars peeling all over the Southland. It is a new and unfortunate development, over the past 15 years or so.
But, there are characteristics about this vehicle that should be considered against the backdrop of Santa Clarita. First of all, it is a Volvo. I have been buying Volvos since college, when I got my first one so I could drive it up and down the state to Ithaca in very inclement weather during the fall and winter school year. It was the perfect car for this, stick shift, 6 cylinders, don’t recall the engine size, thermostat able to handle frequent sub-zero temperatures and great visibility. Volvos are boxy, sturdy, safe, reliable, cars. To me, they are better than Mercedes and Corvettes and Monteros and Town & Countries. I have owned all of those vehicles in the past, myself. In fact, we still have a Mercedes and I love it for the luxury chariot that it is. But a Volvo is the perfect car for me. I do not see cars as an extension of my sexual character or socioeconomic aspirations, I just want them to be reliable and safe, period.
Where we live, however, a Volvo telegraphs things to people that may or may not be accurate, depending on how you view it: hippy, Europhile, radical, liberal, none of which apply to me or to Geoff. An aging Volvo suggests to them that we are not among the affluent. If we had an older Cadillac or Town Car, we would fit their notion of solid citizen, maybe fireman or sheriff. Every senior couple up and down my block with few exceptions either drives one of those or a BMW or Lexus. Whether late or earlier models, that is the accepted car of the well to do and conservative in this town. If you are part of the tiny middle class here in Valencia, you have a brand new pick-up with huge wheels parked outside your house. Geoffrey parks his modest Ford truck at the office and takes the train, which is pretty pricey. The reason for that is, our three-car garage is full of stuff and we have three cars parked in the driveway. The HOA does not allow us to have a fourth, even on the street. Everyone else takes a bus. The only people on the bus in LA county are the working poor, who get up at the crack of dawn to sit in punishing traffic and drag themselves home after dark, coming back.
An older Volvo, sitting at the train station, with peeling paint, creates a picture for our local protection force that made us more vulnerable to being cited. What for? The monthly tag was either removed or fell off the license plate –not the current registration tag, which was there on the right side of the plate, but the silver tag with the letters in caps, SEP, stuck to the left side of the license. Our registration is due for renewal every September. We, for whatever reason (which I will change next year, believe me), tend to get the car re-registered the last week of August. We literally registered the car on Thursday the 28th, and got this citation the previous Saturday, the 23rd of August — so we were still properly registered through the end of the month of September, even had we not re-registered in August. In fact, one has six months from the due date to register the car without its being considered overdue. But, the individual who was monitoring the Metrolink parking lot simply saw the tag from 2014, did not see the month tag (even though, despite its having been lost — apparently that very day — was still faintly visible on the backing that remained behind, had the officer looked closely). He didn’t bother, he did not give us the benefit of the doubt with four more months in 2014, he simply wrote up an expensive ticket. It is one way the city makes additional gotcha money.
The recording and analysis of a person’s psychological and behavioral characteristics, so as to assess or predict their capabilities in a certain sphere or to assist in identifying a particular subgroup of people.
Anyway, the car was over in the Metrolink lot in Newhall for only about three hours. When Geoffrey returned, he was fuming because we got a Santa Clarita parking citation. These citations can only be paid in Newport Beach, two hours in traffic to the south, only Monday through Friday, 9 am to 4 pm. We are now in a bureaucratic morass of trying to prove the car indeed was covered even though the tag “fell off” (hmmmm) and get the fine to Newport (don’t think that distant location for the payment center doesn’t signal something) within two weeks or face additional penalties. It will be a time consuming and costly process and one I really didn’t need when I have a lot going on.
But it came during a week that was rife with instances of this country’s love affair with profiling. Clearly, we have been bombarded with painful and deadly examples of racial profiling for so long now, I cannot remember when this string of instances even started. In fact, a number of social psychologists and criminologists, including attorneys who specialize in this issue, have indicated that our law enforcement is steeped in a culture that breeds, however inadvertently, profiling, discrimination and gender and racial paranoia. Not every single member of that profession, naturally and I am grateful for having the safety that a city like Santa Clarita affords — one of the safest towns in the world — exactly because our Sheriff’s department is so good at what they do; but dangerous and prejudicial profiling goes on in far too many towns all over this country.
As I have said before, it is easy for me to sit back and feel there is no problem, no longer any racial or ethnic tension in this country, or that there shouldn’t be, because my ethnicity, other than being Caucasian, does not invoke too many negative stereotypes. As I navigate around in my environment people just see an ordinary mid-forties female, nothing in my demeanor, physical characteristics, dress or behavior would likely raise any suspicions or lead to me being profiled. Right?
Uh, maybe not.
Just this week, Kirsten Gillibrand has been in the news talking about the chauvistic, sexually predatory, toxic environment on The Hill. As they discussed her revelations, women in the media chimed in with their own examples and anecdotes from their own experiences with this kind of gender profiling. I will bet there isn’t a woman reading this who hasn’t had a direct interaction with a man who has made assumptions about her, based on just looking at her. Some men give themselves permission to act on it, too. These advances are unwelcome. No, they are not flattering, they are intrusive and insulting and inappropriate. I am not talking about mildly harmless and mutually accepted flirting. One of the most telling accounts was that of Senator Patty Murray, getting into an elevator in with then Senator Strom Thurmond, 91 years old, and him turning to her and saying, something like “How are you doing, little lady” and then grabbing her breast. Gillibrand had her stomach grabbed by a male colleague in the Senate. WTH? Can you imagine if a woman publicly grabbed a part of a man’s anatomy and pronounced it to be too small or flabby? I personally think Senator Gillibrand should name names.
The act or process of extrapolating information about a person based on known traits or tendencies <consumerprofiling>; specifically : the act of suspecting or targeting a person on the basis of observed characteristics or behavior<racial profiling>
Similarly, we heard about Jennifer Aniston feeling she had to defend herself on a number of very personal issues because she has made choices that don’t fit some antiquated cultural profile of a woman, especially a young and attractive one. It is no one’s business why she or any other woman (or man for that matter) makes the choices they do and to probe and insist on an explanation is rude and indelicate.
Women seem to be fair game for all kinds of profiling. We grow up just assuming this is natural. I wrote somewhere here about faculty members in my department in graduate school outright making personal comments to me about my appearance. I was given the message that if I wanted to be taken seriously in the old boys network in my field, I had to “look” the part. Now, mind you, at the age of 22, I had shoulder-length dark brown hair, wore tailored suits with modest necklines, very little jewelry and sensible low heels or flats. I have always used only a small amount of makeup, sometimes only lipstick. What in the world were they talking about? As a woman, I had to be plain and homely in order to be a child psychologist? Really? There were a couple of attractive male graduate students in my group — were they told the same thing?
In fact, at that very campus, just this week, a student named Emma Sulkovich has come out and accused the University of ignoring a serial rapist who is on campus right this minute. Ms. Sulkovich who was a victim of this male student (along with several other women, who reported his assaults and were ignored by the administration at the school), is carrying around a dorm room mattress with her to all her classes, as a form of protest and outrage at this egregious dereliction of responsibility on the part of the school. What happened to in loco parentis?
A lot of this comes with a long history of patriarchy. There isn’t much we can do about the past. Women grow up dealing with this kind of profiling. We learn from a very early age that we need to be accepting, doing, fixing, accommodating, enduring, and multi-tasking without being forward or “uppity” or “bitchy”. In other words, we must do everything a man can do, plus all the things uniquely mastered by being female, but do it without letting anyone know. Oh, and we had better look very attractive (but not too attractive, mind you, or we would be ‘asking for it’ …) while we do it but not take offense when those secondary sexual characteristics draw lascivious attention and worse. After all, boys will be boys, right?
One of the biggest arguments I have ever had was with my Aunt Kate’s stepson, who is very slightly Creole, during the run up to the 2008 election. I openly said, despite all the admirable qualities of our current leader, I wanted Hillary Clinton to be the next POTUS. He was furious. How could I deny our first A-A an overdue honor like this? It all boiled down to the complete disenfranchisement that people of color feel in this country due to four hundred years of mistreatment at many different levels. My point to Morris was simply that women are more than 50 percent of the population and have been treated as unequal minorities all over the world, since time began. Aren’t we also overdue for a woman President? We can argue about whether there is a suitable Republican female candidate available, but clearly Hillary Clinton was and is ready. Why shouldn’t I identify with her and see her as someone who would understand and further my interests? In fact, she and I share many traits. I would love her to represent me, because we are so alike! How many women are in the House? The Senate? Percentage-wise? Why is that?
Human beings are prone to profiling and being profiled. We all do it. I fully admit, when I see a truck with wheels that start above my head, I make a number of immediate associations and assumptions — ones I will keep to myself. Last week, Geoffrey and I were at the bank. As we entered, Geoff held the door for a very small, hunched over, white haired lady, in thread-bare clothing, who looked worn and soft as she expressed her thanks for the courtesy. Afterward, as we were leaving the parking lot in Geoffrey’s older model Volvo (he is one of the few men I know who is indifferent to car makes and models — I bought him his Volvo for his birthday awhile back), we exited behind a huge, old, boat of a car. It was chipped, soiled, and some of the trim was held to the chassis with blue painter’s tape. I stretched up to see the driver — yup, it was our little old, rickety lady just as I suspected. I thought, we will be here waiting to get onto the street all morning. But! Granny tore out of the lot, raced to the light, turned ahead of us and then shot up the hill into our neighborhood and screamed around the corner onto the priciest street in Valencia.
When will we learn? Don’t ASSume.
Two articles caught my eye this week. Who do we picture as the CEO of a successful beer company?
Can’t we all just admit that we all do this?
Now, maybe the patrolman who cited my car simply did so because the SEP tag fell off. I could be paranoid, taking umbrage where none was meant, projecting, drawing to me slights and injuries simply because I am loaded for bear. This is something I need to work on. I am a born cynic (how’s that for a non-progressive trait?). I am frequently suspicious and defensive about being a female, educated, left of center, anti-cruelty, renegade in a world that misunderstands and underestimates all of that.
What we learn, can be unlearned. Whether we are local law enforcement or members of the almost all male Hill. Or just part of the good ole boy network that dominates academia and the sciences. Or ordinary people like me who go around unconsciously making these snap judgments all the time. We need to be deprogrammed. We have to fall out of love with profiling.
But first, we need to examine our hearts and actually see that we do it, too.
Images: wikimediacommons, thetruthaboutcars.com, shutterstock, onpointpress.net, sltrib.com,theepochtimes.com