Misogyny is Alive and Well … and in My Own Backyard

I live in East Greenwich and love my picturesque town, but in the past two years I’ve noticed an increase in hostility here, particularly toward women. It started in January 2017, the day of the Women’s March, when E.G. Town Council Vice President Sean Todd tweeted: “Definitely a guy who came up with the idea for the #womensmarch perfect way to get the wives outta the house.”  Uproar ensued, as swarms of angry women (and some men) descended upon the next Town Council meeting to voice their complaints and demand his resignation.

Of course that didn’t happen, but he did issue a strong apology.  Many in town thought the whole thing was ridiculous, as the old familiar “Can’t they just take a joke?” line got tossed around.  But wounds were raw, and some never forgot that their elected official mocked a deeply important day for women’s rights.  Since then, feelings of misogyny have been simmering. Recently, however, they’ve ramped up to a low boil and, like that frog who never knew what hit him before it was too late, we’re soon to be boiled over.

Earlier this month there was a debate between House District 30 candidates Justine Caldwell (D) and incumbent Anthony Giarrusso (R).  Caldwell is a self-defined “true blue” Democrat with progressive values. There’s a sentiment in this traditionally Republican town that she’s dangerous. She has wild ideas about universal healthcare and codifying Roe v. Wade. She wants to take everyone’s guns away because she’s very outspoken on gun safety legislation. She’s a “leftie” and a “libtard” and all the other adorable names progressives have been called as of late. Though it’s normal to agree to disagree on the issues, her opposition hit a new low when, while answering debate questions she was heckled and called a “bitch.” Mind you, this was done by women, not men, not middle-schoolers. Caldwell maintained her cool and didn’t respond. Neither did Giarrusso.


Then came the tweet-repeat, when Republican candidate for Town Council Charles Callanan unleashed a series of tweets during the Kavanaugh hearings.  His #ConfirmKavanaughNOW messages ranged from showing support for Kavanaugh (“Facts don’t care about your feelings”) to mocking the victim and her allegations (“Feinstein thinks Kavanaugh was discourteous to her. Funny how phony rape allegations will do that.”), to rounding out the bromance with this gem: “My new word for beer ‘Kavanaughs.’ When you need some justice, grab a couple of icy cold ‘Kavanaughs.’” Talk about tone-deaf.

My breaking point came this week, when a letter arrived in my mailbox, addressed to my mother-in-law, a registered Republican. It was sent with no return address and was unsigned. The font was childish and pink, and the letter purported to be written by a supporter of Caldwell. It cites the coming of the “pink wave” and went on to paint Caldwell as a femi-Nazi who believes all men are misogynists and all women are victims. It sounded like the stuff that comes from the mouth of Tomi Lahren when she’s decrying feminism on Fox News. It also denigrated Giarrusso, calling him a “sleazy Italian” (this Italian girl is ready to put a horse head in someone’s bed for that one!).

Both candidates came out swinging. Caldwell issued a written statement and a video, in which she denied knowledge of the letter, defended her stance on important issues, and acknowledged what we all know: The letter represents a mockery of feminism and no one in her sphere would be behind it. Giarrusso, on the other hand took the offensive, emailing his constituents a copy of the letter, condemning its contents as hateful and putting the blame squarely on Caldwell. He spoke to Tara Granahan of WPRO about the lack of civility in local politics here and painted himself as the victim.

We don’t know who wrote it. We do know that it was hurtful to both candidates: Giarrusso felt hurt because the letter besmirched his name and reputation. Caldwell felt hurt because it misrepresents her views as anti-male and hateful. But whose campaign actually felt the pain? Hint: The answer involves two X chromosomes.

It is absolutely clear to all thinking mammals that whoever wrote that letter did so to harm Caldwell. This is the second time an anonymous letter has been written and mailed against her (the first letter made allegations about Caldwell’s husband and disclosed essentially a warrant from an unpaid fine — hardly a blue dress or a meeting with Russians, but whatever).  Yet here we have the benefactor of this hatred crying victimhood.  Seriously? I’m sure he would reference the nasty things said about him in the letter so yes, to some extent he was victimized. But let’s be real: To think that this letter would actually harm his campaign is ludicrous; thinking she was behind it is even dumber. The only one truly harmed was Caldwell, who was painted as an extremist and someone to fear.  She hasn’t used the word “victim” because she can’t. She’s a woman and therefore everyone’s waiting for her to go to her safe space and cry so they can mock her and call her a snowflake. Because that’s where we are these days, and I’ve had enough.

Yes, I know there’s hateful rhetoric on both sides but (1) that doesn’t justify hate and (b) that’s not my point. My point is that it needs to end. My hope is that if Todd, Callanan, Giarruosso, or any of their supporters read this, it won’t deepen their hatred and mistrust of me, but that they’ll truly listen. Your words and actions (or lack of action) have enormous impact. There are women in this town who’ve been sexually assaulted; there are people for whom the Trump presidency is absolutely terrifying and marching peacefully is all they have.  There are feminists, both male and female, who are rightfully disgusted when female candidates are targeted in anonymous mailers and called a “bitch.”

Instead of mocking or ignoring these things, stand up for your women, and not just because we’re your daughters, wives and mothers. Do it because we’re human beings. We’ve been standing by our men for decades. Now it’s your turn. The future of our town depends on it.