Republican Presidential candidate John Kasich’s town hall forum at Richmond gained a significant amount of attention due to a comment he had made toward an undergraduate student during his Q & A. Though a small moment during the town hall forum, Kayla Solsbak wrote an article addressing Kasich’s comment, focusing upon his disrespectful language -- requesting mutual respect -- if nothing more than as a voter interested in politics. Dylan McAuley, an undergraduate student and a member of the Young Republicans club that had helped bring Governor Kasich to campus, responded to Kayla’s with an opinion piece designed to denounce and silence her. Though the situation can be perceived as minor or as a “joke,” it was one that was significant for others. All those who have experienced similar situations of microaggression, whether it be due to their gender, sexuality, race, ability, or ethnicity, understand this form of marginalization. Dylan’s article can be read both as a response to Kayla and it can stand alone. It must be read with a less biased level of critical analysis than was used on Kayla’s original article.
Dylan’s response contained a clear denouncement of Kayla’s experience of the gendered microaggression. He attempted to reduce her article to a “delightful story” -- one that is “a fallacy, plain and simple.” Two paragraphs later, Dylan displayed his personal incredulity that Kayla had played “the sexism card,” disagreeing that there was any sexism involved because he himself hadn’t “the slightest idea as to how anything the Governor said could possibly be interpreted as sexist.” He proceeds to explain that “Republicans care about women” - not including Donald Trump, he adds - and so it is “libelous and inappropriate to call someone sexist”.
Subliminal or targeted sexism is a system of oppression created by the privileged and self-identified “Subject” class to subordinate and deter the “Other” oppressed class. This concept of “Subject” versus “Other” is central to Simone Beauvoir’s 1949 feminist scholarship, The Second Sex, and applies to 21st century America and the treatment of people of color (POC), women of color (WOC), White women, the disabled, the poor, and non-cis and non-heterosexual people, among others. Dylan’s denial of sexism and defense of Governor Kasich’s behavior both cyclically reestablishes White men as the “Subject” or privileged majority while simultaneously attempting to silence and eliminate the “Other” voice speaking out against an unjust and targeted experience.
As both the video and Dylan’s article demonstrate, Dylan echoed Kasich’s belief with his comments that Kayla’s behavior was “inappropriate” and overly emotional, perpetuating precisely the type of microaggression and greater sexist issue that Kayla originally addressed: women and emotionality contribute to their illegitimacy of opinion, a “natural opposite” to men, whose logic and stoicism are testaments to their legitimacy and spoken fact. The concept of phallogocentrism, as coined by contemporary philosopher Jacques Derrida, was demonstrated and reinforced by Kasich’s commentary and Dylan’s defense. Ad hominem, they both relegated Kayla’s experience, character, and article to a “story”, “fallacy” and joke.
Ironically, Dylan’s alleged sensitivity toward Kayla’s alleged over-emotionality and over-sensitivity directly contradicted his own call for an end to accommodating everyone’s sensitivities. He expressed his defensiveness toward her article and thus perhaps inappropriately tarnished the brand of the Young Republicans in our public forum. He then dismissed the purpose of the publication and the abilities of its staff by claiming that the Collegian’s “reputation” is “weakened” for having let Kayla retell her experience and opinions in the Opinion section. Dylan’s intent was to delegitimize and silence Kayla’s voice and her right to discuss her experience.
Outside of its attack on Kayla, Dylan’s piece perpetuates the idea that only certain people have the right to speak openly or have their voices heard. The concept of a “right public voice” versus a “wrong public voice” is nothing new, but one that is used as a continual attempt to diminish the experiences of minorities and women and to further homogenize the political world, a concept that revealed itself as a central point made in his final paragraph: “...there is something deeply wrong when there are people going out of their way to be offended. The most troubling, however, is the ability of those people to post their thoughts on a public forum… we are doing ourselves a disservice by allowing others to censor us and to make false reasons to be upset.”
Dylan claims to be writing his response as a stance for values, using examples of faith and patriotism to support his cause. Yet, what are the values Dylan portrays in his writing? Do his values involve supporting the right to free speech? Do his values reflect those of Republicans, whom he is claiming to be supporters of women while he proceeds to denounce a young woman’s right to articulate her experiences? Or does he reflect on his own learned values -- that only certain people have the right to be heard?
My main concern and purpose in writing to you is to draw your attention to a long overdue conversation that has begun about the nature of politics within and around equality and equity, POC, LGBTQ+, women and feminist friendly spaces. What implications do this exchange between these students have (and will it have) for future discourse without engaging in microaggressions and creating injustice?
Contact contributor Luriel Balaurea at firstname.lastname@example.org