Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Jia Tolentino at Jezebel has thoughts about David Brooks' recent column which wonders why Hillary Clinton is so disliked. Brooks thinks she needs to become warmer, more appealing, to have hobbies. Tolentino points at the invisible elephant in the room: Misogyny, or at least very gendered expectations, might have something to do with the Public Drubbing of Hillary.
I've told you before how very hard it is to judge the role of sexism or misogyny in the treatment Hillary Clinton has received over the years. That's because the number of powerful women in American politics (or, indeed, on this globe) is so small that we can't really generalize anything from those samples.
But one mental experiment is worthwhile: Imagine that Hillary Clinton has an identical male twin (never mind the impossibility of that) whose career matches hers exactly. This Harry Clinton has committed all the same political "crimes" Hillary Clinton has. Would he have gotten the same press, provoked the same primal rage from so many, been subjected to equally elaborate right-wing slaughter parties?
I doubt that, though your mileage can vary. That's because people don't expect, say, Ted Cruz to show a softer side, to tell us about his hobbies (ohmygoddess, torturing little animals?*). And I, for one, do not want to learn anything about Donald Trump's hobbies.
It's quite feasible to see all the flaws in Clinton's political career, to frown on her hawkishness in foreign policy, to criticize her shifting statements about her basic values, to not want to vote for her, ever, and to still ask if that imaginary Harry would have been weighed on an equally sensitive scale of anger and disapproval and found equally wanting.
Harry wouldn't have to be likeable, and if he had to, he could just offer to have a beer with you. Hillary sharing a beer with you? That's inauthentic, and, besides, for some men sharing a beer with a woman has undertones of flirtation, for others it raises concerns about whether women should drink at all or what a beer-guzzling woman means.
My points are that a) the possible ways of signaling likeability are not the same for men and women in politics, b) we don't necessarily demand likeability from male politicians and c) the traditional expectation that women should be likeable can clash with how we define competency**. That last aspect can results in a Catch-22.
Harry wouldn't need a justification to run for the president of the United States. Nobody would ask him if he's simply blinded by his own selfish ambition, because ambition is an admired characteristic in men, not, even now, so much in women, unless it is siphoned into indirect ambition and avid support for the husband (think of Nancy Reagan looking at Ronald with admiring eyes) or for the children.
How does one begin to disentangle that knot of gendered expectations from Hillary's personal qualifications and character? Even using our imaginary friend, Harry Clinton, doesn't get us very far, because his prior life wouldn't have included being the spouse of a former president of the United States.*** It's an impossible job, that disentangling.
Still, I smell something in the political winds buffeting Hillary Clinton that is not entirely attributable to her own flaws of behavior or personality, an exaggerated reaction, one which our Harry would not have been subjected to.
Public Health Announcement (for my emotional health!):
This post is not about Clinton vs. Sanders and it is not about Clinton vs. Trump or Sanders vs. Trump or about what each of them stands for. It's about trying to measure sexism in American politics and the difficulties of using the Hillary Clinton case for that purpose.
* A joke.
** I would think these conflicting expectations are even trickier to satisfy if a politician is not only female but also black, because of the "angry black woman" stereotype.
*** Or if it had, we'd have to change the past to too large an extent to keep this mind experiment going. A gay Harry, the spouse of former president Bill Clinton, for instance, would change the imaginary past United States into a far more advanced country than it really was.
But would such a Harry be seen as abetting Bill's philandering in the 1990s? I doubt that.
Friday, May 20, 2016
Evan Osnos writes about the year of the political troll in a recent issue of New Yorker. He postulates that the trolls have finally come out of the keyboard closet:
The ur-troll himself, one Donald Trump, now trolls openly on the Republican platform. But the Democrats aren't blameless, either, given the recent events in Nevada where Roberta Lange, the Chairwoman of Nevada's Democratic Party, received many trolling phone calls and texts (including indirect death threats) from some enraged supporters of Senator Sanders.
Anna Merlan, writing for Jezebel, contacted three of those enraged Sanders supporters who had texted Ms. Lange. I find these quotes by the trolls in her piece fascinating:
Atlanta Man declined to give his name when I reached him. He sounded weary and embarrassed. He said he’d been getting phone calls all day.Atlanta Man called Ms. Lange a corrupt bitch and noted that someone will hurt her. To clarify what somebody might have taken as a threat. Mmm.
“Most of them are just hangups,” he said. “I’ve gotten threats on Twitter, too. But I don’t make a big deal out of that stuff. All I can say is that I’ve apologized to her and I’m sorry. I said one thing I guess that somebody took as a threat.”
Then there is Ethan, who saw menacing threats as a good way to represent the anger of the people and who also seems to think that Internet threats are exactly like a computer game:
“We know where you live, where you work, where you eat,” another text to Lange read. “Where your kids go to school/grandkids. We have everything on you. We are your neighbors, friends, family, etc.”
The person who sent that one is a 26-year-old named Ethan with a Wisconsin area code, although he assured me the number was fake (and, I assume, the name was as well).
“Do you know what the concept of Anonymous is?” he asked me, immediately.
I said that I did. Ethan explained he’d been undertaking an Anonymous-esque action, but also, that he was trying to play a threatening character deliberately, to send a message.
Ethan then explains that Ms. Lange is "very much a top person" and stands for the "establishment."
Ms. Lange works in a restaurant. Here she asks Senator Sanders to be more forceful in condemning the verbal violence she has suffered from some Sanders' supporters:
“I think he should acknowledge that there were death threats to me, that there [were] death threats to my husband, that there [were] death threats to my 5-year-old grandson, that they called my work and tried to ruin … like I said, this is my volunteer job being chair,” she said.
“I have a full-time job where single mothers and people trying to pay off their school loans work, and it hurt our business,” she said. “People were calling our business so much that they had to unplug the phone.
Bolds are mine.
The take-home lesson from those quotes is this: Some trolls don't see what they do as hurting real people, or argue that real people shouldn't have felt hurt.*
Some trolls judge their own pain and suffering (which can be very, very real) as a sufficient reason to lash out at individuals whom they don't even know, to spread the misery around.
Some trolls, perhaps pupa-stage ones, view the breathing, living people on the net as mere characters in computer games, and such characters can't feel pain or fear.
And some trolls create an imaginary powerful monster in their minds, where an individual is the establishment, with enormous scope to do evil. Then it is the troll's responsibility to attack that monster.**
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Have you ever had the experience of trying to explain an abstract concept* which you, deep inside your head, understand completely, but for which no particular set of words seems to be quite right? I don't mean a scientific concept or a political definition or anything which you received as words in the first place. I mean those nebulous concepts which are partly thoughts, partly emotions, yet taste utterly true to you.
I have that experience when I try to write about some new Echidne theory if the thoughts are still unripe. What readers receive is not what I intended to send. This can cause real misunderstanding and sometimes makes me discard the half-baked theory as half-baked when it perhaps should just go back in the oven.
It's a bit like trying to tell someone who has never eaten a strawberry how a strawberry tastes. You can compare it to banana or to kiwi fruit (the flavor is somewhere in-between those) or to, say, raspberries by adding that strawberries are more acid. But none of that is as efficient, or as true, as just offering the person a strawberry to taste.
We can't do that with our intellectual-cum-emotional truths.**
* That's not quite right. See? I don't even have words for what I'm trying to describe here! It's not a concept as much as a mixture of concepts, the attached emotions and something else. A bundle of possibilities?
** Including how it feels to be the target of repeated sexist and/or racist harassment or how it feels to be suddenly invisible and/or inaudible the way women often are at meetings or when dealing with, say, contractors. Or how it feels to be very poor or how it feels to live with disability and so on.
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
When the Democratic primary fights on the net began I decided not to follow them intimately (imagine candle light, red wine, soft music, and then people shaking their fists and yelling with saliva flying), because I get annoyed with advocacy (push the evidence that supports your opinion, cover up the evidence that doesn't) presented as analysis (look at all evidence, weigh it and then conclude). Even when it is "my people" who are doing the advocating.
I also felt that any Democrat, even, say, a suitcase with lots of little feet, would be better and safer for us than the kind of Republican whom the fundies and money-men would put up as the Republican candidate. It seemed rational to save my gun powder for the general election, right?
But all that conflicts with my inner stern dominatrix. She wants me to write down every sexist insult that is tossed around during these campaigns, because sexist insults don't insult just Hillary Clinton*, but all women. She has some very odd ideas about the reason I'm still on this earth.**
The problem with policing the sexist campaign crap is that there's only one female candidate left in the race. This means that anything I would write about sexism is automatically seen as advocacy for Hillary Clinton. And that means that those primary fights become very intimate indeed. As I'm a cowardly goddess, I have mostly avoided discussing those supporters of Bernie Sanders whom the Internet calls Bernie Bros.
This left me in a real bind when things got ugly in Nevada:
The public outpouring of anger began last weekend at the Nevada Democratic Party convention, where Sanders supporters who said Hillary Clinton's backers had subverted party rules shouted down pro-Clinton speakers and sent threatening messages to state party Chairwoman Roberta Lange after posting her phone number and address on social media.The bind is that I haven't followed the fights over party rules or the growing frustration of some Sanders supporters or even the way Sanders has reacted to that frustration.
But the point of this post isn't really about the disagreements or the frustration. It's about the way some of those frustrated people*** harass women, as opposed to men. The voicemail Roberta Lange received show some of those sex-linked messages:
You cowardless [sic] bitch, running off the stage! I hope people find you.All those messages do is express anger. But note that this expression of anger is linked to Lange's being female. There are specific words some of us use to rage at women, words we don't use to rage at men, at least not without changing their meaning to something different, such as being compared to the more despicable sex.
You fucking stupid bitch! What the hell are you doing? You’re a fucking corrupt bitch!
Fuck you, bitch!
You’re a cunt. Fuck you!
But are those kinds of words even worth analyzing? Why not just ignore them? After all, "sticks and stones may break my back but words will never hurt me," and Lange would probably have gotten nasty messages even if she had been a he.
I believe that the analysis is useful, for two reasons.
First, we don't have a comparable set of slur words, of the same severity, which would only apply to men. So expressing anger at women becomes sex-linked, expressing anger at men does not.
Second, and this is only my suspicion: It's possible that the anger behind the words "a bitch" or "a cunt" is very strong, stronger than it would be had Lange been a man committing the same perceived crimes. I base this suspicion on my belief that we expect women to be nicer than men. Thus, if a woman is seen as not acting nicely, a greater role violation has taken place, and that creates more rage.
* In theory sexism could have also been directed against Sanders but I haven't seen any.
** She is bloody annoying, I tell you. I wish she packed her bags and went to pester someone else.
*** All the examples I give here come from men, but it's possible that similar examples also came from women and weren't reported in the sources I consulted.
Monday, May 16, 2016
My sincere thanks to all who have sent me money. There's still time, and there's still need! Though don't if your own finances are stretched. The official fund-raising posts are now concluded.
Added later: The reference to fish in the title is about Douglas Adams' book:
Its title is the message left by the dolphins when they departed Planet Earth just before it was demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass.I have no idea why that seemed relevant for my blog post title. I'm not a dolphin.
1. The Gray Lady, i.e., New York Times has published the results of its own extensive survey (fifty interviews with wimminz and such!) about the private and public relationships between one Donald Trump, a not-self-made braggard and billionaire, and various female persons that have crossed his path through life.*
Some of those female persons he grabbed for a girlfriend or a wife, some of them he rated in the meat markets which we call beauty pageants, and some of them he promoted at work and supported in all sorts of feminist-y endeavors. But he always had a keen eye on the breasts and butts.
In a bizarre way the NYT article might be the seeds of the process which I see beginning: The Normalization Of Donald Trump.** That's because it paints a picture of the kind of an asshat that many women have met at school, in college or in the labor markets, and if those asshats are so common, well, why not have one as our president?
I've seen similar normalization take place in real life. Certain men (and more rarely, women) are allowed to act very badly, because "that's how they are and deep down they have a kind heart." Though it might take open heart surgery to establish anything about the kindness of their hearts, while some other individuals (say, Greek goddesses) are NOT allowed to behave like asshats even though they clearly have enormously large and kind hearts, carried on their sleeves.
Reince Priebus, one of the Republican bosses, is willing to hold the watering can over the tiny sprout of the plant that will be the normalization of Donald Trump. When he was asked if that NYT story about Trump and the ladies bothered him he answered:
“Well, you know, a lot of things bother me, Chris,” he replied, “and obviously I’m the wrong person to be asking that particular question.” When Wallace pointed out that he was the chairman of the party and this was the nominee, Priebus continued, “What I would say is we’ve been working on this primary for over a year, Chris, and I’ve got to tell you. I think that all these stories that come out — and they come out every couple weeks — people just don’t care.
“I don’t think Donald Trump — and his personal life — is something that people are looking at and saying, ‘Well, I’m surprised that he’s had girlfriends in the past.’ It’s not what people look at Donald Trump for, so I think the traditional playbook and analysis really don’t apply.”
Mmm. The sentence I bolded in the quote is exactly what I meant by that real-life normalization of asshats. The traditional playbook just doesn't apply to them, even though it will continue to apply to the rest of us.
2. I'm not going to help in this normalization process of Donald Trump. Remember that the man wants to rule the most powerful country in the world. Remember that roughly half of the people in that country, and in the rest of the world, are female persons.
Then ask yourself if those female persons (and, of course, the ones who love them!) will profit from having a leader who cannot tear his eyes or his mind off their breasts and butts. It's that mind part which really matters here, because those who are carrying out the normalization work are all about normalizing only his roving eyes.
Thus, we cannot take our eyes off the real question here: Is Donald Trump qualified to be the president of the United States which has lots of female persons?
A part of the answer can be found in the long NYT article. I give you two quotes which do matter for the Trump-and-the-ladies question:
Mr. Trump still holds up his parents as models, praising his stay-at-home mother for understanding and accommodating a husband who worked almost nonstop.
“My mother was always fine with it,” he said, recalling her “brilliant” management of the situation. “If something got interrupted because he was going to inspect a housing site or something, she would handle that so beautifully.”
“She was an ideal woman,” he said.
When Mr. Trump hired Ms. Res to oversee the construction of Trump Tower, he invited her to his apartment on Fifth Avenue and explained that he wanted her to be his “Donna Trump” on the project, she said. Few women had reached such stature in the industry.
He said: “I know you’re a woman in a man’s world. And while men tend to be better than women, a good woman is better than 10 good men.” … He thought he was really complimenting me.
Those quotes are weak tea, you might protest. But they tell us about two beliefs he has held in the past and may still hold today: That the ideal woman is one who is utterly subservient to her husband's needs, and that, in general, men tend to be better than women.
I get that Donald Trump is not unique in those beliefs. He might even represent a majority belief on a global level. I also get that this country has probably elected more sexist presidents in the past, only those men kept their mouths zipped about their beliefs.
Still, it might matter to us that this particular candidate is open about all that. How many women would the Trump administration appoint to positions of power? Would those women have to be single so that no husband is inconvenienced by their long working days? Would he openly discuss the breasts of foreign female leaders?
Even more importantly, the Trump those above beliefs describes would not try to promote legislation which would make it easier for women to both hold their jobs and care for their children. And we have already been told that he would appoint forced-birthers to the Supreme Court.
3. I'm trying to imagine how the more politically innocent "me" of twenty years ago would react to being told about the presidential race of 2016. Would that "me" jump off the ledge in despair? Or would she get a really good laugh over this surreal period of American politics? Hard to say.
And that applies to most of us, I guess, that feeling of not knowing whether to laugh or to cry.
*My analysis is about what we publicly know now and doesn't necessarily apply to any future revelations.
** There's an aspect to this normalization which is too big to be covered inside this post, and that is the attempt to re-normalize views of women as cupcakes, age-rated for spoilage, disposable and so on. I'm fairly sure that some Trump voters love exactly this aspect of Trump's utterances, because it supports them in their own work to re-normalize the lighter kind of misogyny and male entitlement.
Sunday, May 15, 2016
It's still that time of the year when I ask you, my erudite and perceptive readers (hi mom!), for money to cover the expenses of my blogging. I only pester you once a year, because I am kind and considerate. So if you can possibly afford it, send me your spare pennies in exchange for the thoughts I may have seeded in your mind. Not all of them are nasty.
And my heart-felt thanks to all who have contributed!
Thursday, May 12, 2016
Richard Stainthorp's wire sculpture (hat tip to Rabih Alameddine) makes the pain of very high heels visceral: Ouch!
High heels are almost compulsory in fashion photographs, even so high heels that nobody could run in them should a saber-tooth tiger attack. The reason is that they make women's legs look longer and tilt their butts to an inviting angle (for saber-tooth tigers?).
Many items of clothing which are intended to signal female gender hurt*. Think of girdles which American women wore until fairly recently, think of Victorian corsets, think of those high-heeled shoes, think of dresses as tight as fish skin or belts pulled so small that the stomach commits suicide. All those are intended to showcase female beauty.
From the other end, modesty clothes (to hide female beauty), long dresses, niqabs or face veils, abayas or long cloaks, hurt in a different way. Abayas are stifling in hot climates, their bagginess means that they can catch on things which can result in accidents, and burqas, say, make women likely to stumble because they restrict vision . Hearing is harder through several layers of fabric, too. And in the colonial America women's long dresses could catch fire in the kitchens.
What both the "revealing" and the "covering" female-coded clothing share is that they make it much harder for someone to be physically active. A woman or a girl cannot run in them, she cannot play soccer in them, she cannot climb a tree in them. Even knee-length dresses make that tree climbing impossible, if anyone can look up that dress.
Is it female passivity that these gender-coded clothes are intended to promote**?
Never mind. No laws currently require American women and girls to wear girdles or high-heeled shoes or abayas, and it can be fun to take a little bit of pain when dressing up for a wild party.
But not all women on this earth are in an equally free position when it comes to their clothing. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have laws which stipulate that all women inside their country's borders must wear the government's approved version of Islamic dress, including women who are not Muslims.
And then there's this recent British case:
A receptionist claims she was sent home from work at a corporate finance company after refusing to wear high heels.Thorp found out that nothing in the British laws stops firms from requiring that their female workers wear high heels***. I wonder if a British firm could demand that its male workers wear, say, codpieces? They don't seem to have the health risks that high heels do, after all. And I think they would look great!
Nicola Thorp, 27, from Hackney in east London, arrived on her first day at PwC in December in flat shoes but says she was told she had to wear shoes with a “2in to 4in heel”.
Thorp, who was employed as a temporary worker by PwC’s outsourced reception firm Portico, said she was laughed at when she said the demand was discriminatory and sent home without pay after refusing to go out and buy a pair of heels.
Please support this blog. It's the fund-raising week and I promise I won't spend the money on clothing.
* This tends not to be the case for clothing intended to show that someone is male, though men's business uniform (suit, tie, clunky dark shoes etc.) might be more restricting today than the equivalent women's business uniform (unless high heels are required).
That is an exception to the rule. In my opinion the reason is that the male business suit has not changed for roughly a century. When it was first created it was considerably more comfortable than female clothing of the era. But in the West women's clothes have changed a lot during those hundred years, while men's business suits have not.
** And if so, was it always the case? In the medieval era European women and men dressed more alike than they did for several centuries afterwards, with both sexes wearing tunic-type outfits. Women's tunics were longer than men's tunics, but close enough in style so that medieval wills sometimes leave clothing to individuals who are not the same sex as the person who made the will. I believe that it was the available technology and the great expense of cloth that caused this similarity. Gender was signaled by head-dresses and jewelry, not by most clothing.
It is only recently that the everyday clothing of the sexes has once again become pretty similar.
*** She launched a petition to change this.
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