An Unsettling and Sexist 1941 Postcard

Today is the 99th anniversary of the Grand Canyon becoming a national park, so I was searching for some fun vintage GT postcards to commemorate the occasion. There are tons.

But my image quest also turned up this disturbing postcard depicting a U.S. soldier abusing his power and using a violent tool to harass a woman. Shit like this informed generations of American men, teaching them such behavior was A-OK in the U.S.A.

[Via Tattered and Lost Ephemera.]

The Original Definition of “Harass” Is Most Apt

1. Harassment. We all know the word. Or, I hope we all know the word — just as I hope we all have a general sense of its meaning, something along the lines of Merriam-Webster’s definition of the verb “harass,” “to create an unpleasant or hostile situation…especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct.” But this common conception is in fact the second, newer interpretation of the word; it’s original definition is both more and less specific and altogether appropriate in today’s context.

Briefly used in the 1610s as “to lay waste,” mainstream usage of “harass” shifted in the 1620s, veering toward “to vex by repeated attacks,” a definition derived from the 16th century French verb harasser, or “to tire out.” Though the specific origin of the French harasser remains hazy, the Online Etymology Dictionary suggests it comes from a mélange of harer, an Old French term for “to provoke or set a dog on,” and the equally Old French harier, as in “to draw [out] or drag [on].” In this light, “harassment” is tenacious and corrosive, pernicious and erosive. Defined by MW as “exhaust or fatigue,” harassment in this light is by definition perpetual and ongoing, a fact to which many women can attest.

Though the term “sexual harassment” didn’t arise until the early 1970s, the pairing of those two words couldn’t be more fitting. Women since time immemorial have been cat called and harangued, pinched and poked, raped and molested, and generally treated like objects by predatory men.* They have been tormented by repeated, caustic incidents like those we’re reading about on the daily. Thankfully, we’re seeing a backlash against such virulent behavior. All the repetitive and successive intrusions meant to erode women’s wherewithal have prepared them for this watershed moment we’re experiencing today. Now it’s time for men like Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Roy Moore, Donald Trump, Louis C.K., Mark Halperin, Charlie Rose et al. to be vexed themselves.

(*I know it’s not only women who face harassment — Terry Crews and Tony Goldwyn have come forward with their own stories of being manhandled and verbally harassed, and half-a-dozen men have already accused Kevin Spacey of harassing and/or assaulting them — but women are harassed more often and openly than men.)

(For more Fun with Words, click HERE.)

Melvil Dewey, Open Access Hero (and Pig)

Melvil Dewey’s not the most heroic of names, but what he did and why he did it make the legendary librarian a true champion of free speech and shareable information.

Inventor of the eponymous Dewey Decimel System, Dewey’s road to fame began during his gig as librarian at his alma mater, Amherst College, in 1876, when the educator was 25-years-old. Frustrated by prevailing modes of organization — primarily book acquisition date and height, accessed solely by trained professionals and intellectual bigwigs — Dewey disrupted the status quo by creating a revolutionary system that not only categorized books by subject and sub-subject, making locating a book a breeze, but that also opened access for millions of readers. No longer were in-the-know insiders the only ones who could find a book. Now everyone who knew the numbers 1-10 could look up a book’s code and track it down in the stacks.

Originally isolated only to Amherst, Dewey’s system spread to other universities, public libraries and, eventually, world, and today it remains the globe’s prevailing method for organizing books, known far and wide not as the Dewey Decimel System, but as the Universal Decimal Classification. While that is indeed an accurate name, capturing the system’s global reach as well as its purpose —  openness —  it seemed to me that the name Dewey deserves commemoration, because without him, accessing knowledge and text would still be highly restricted.

Note I used the word “seemed,” because I learned while researching this piece that Dewey was also quite the male pig: in addition to making unwanted sexual advances on at least four women, he allegedly asked female librarians their bust size during interviews, an allegation he denied, though he did readily admit to asking them for headshots before hiring them, because, in his words, “You cannot polish a pumpkin.” Gross.

I guess Colin Jost really was right when he said on SNL‘s most recent Weekend Update, “Everyone you’ve ever heard of is a sex monster.”