gender, language, other topics, politics

Should Bill Clinton Apologize?

 

Apologies are some of the hardest speech acts, both intellectually and interactionally.

 

They are intellectually difficult because it’s often hard to know whether an apology is owed, to whom, and in what form; and interactionally hard because making an apology puts the maker in a one-down position to the person apologized to, and a full apology requires the apologizer to make, explicitly or tacitly, a number of self-destructive statements: I was wrong; I did harm to you; I need your forgiveness. So making an apology always entails a loss of power.

 

Hence apologies take many forms, direct and indirect, explicit or hinted at, depending on the seriousness of the misdeed and the power relationship between the parties. Continue reading

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gender, politics

Who’s a Feminist?

 

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Jessica Valenti discusses the reluctance of many feminists to support the nomination of Gina Haspel as Director of the CIA, and Fox’s choice of Suzanne Scott as the network’s chief executive. She examines the criticism by Republicans of those feminists, using the argument that feminism means supporting all women, any woman, no matter what else she may be or not be. Valenti gets it right – feminism does not mean, “I’m for the woman, any woman, right or wrong,” but rather, it supports anyone of any gender who supports equality. In that respect, Valenti notes, Haspel and Scott are not in any sense “feminist” icons.

 

But the Republican critique is even more noxious than Valenti shows. First, it’s just another example of the Republican determination to co-opt liberal values: now they’re declaring themselves the best feminists of all, the only feminists properly equipped to comment on the feminism of others. “Irony” hardly describes it: Republicans are precisely the people who have opposed every feminist position, at least since the 1960s: equal pay for equal work, Titles VII and IX of the Civil Rights Act (not to mention the Civil Rights Act as a whole), and – the cherry on the sundae – reproductive rights. This is the party itching to destroy Planned Parenthood, and thereby dooming millions of women to disease and death. Republican “feminists” adopt one of the principal oppressive roles of men: to claim ownership of the language, denying other women the right to make their own meanings. Continue reading

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gender, language, politics

WHO’S OUR FRIEND?

You may not want to hear this, but it’s true. DONALD TRUMP IS WOMAN’S BEST FRIEND. It’s not that he intends to be, or that he deliberately behaves so as to benefit women – anything but! But as most of us have learned, actions may have unforeseen consequences.

 

What I mean is that by his election and prior and subsequent utterances and actions, Donald Trump has benefited women more than anyone else in history. That’s horrible to contemplate, but true.

 

I place in evidence a series of events starting very soon after the 2016 election and directly proceeding out of it. Each one is dependent on the election as well as prior members of the series. We can represent the major events in that series as follows:

 

Trump’s election (November 2016) –> the Women’s Marches (January 2017 and 2018) –> #MeToo (October 2017) –>  the Cosby verdict (April 2018).

 

Each of the events following from Trump’s election drew upon what had come before it. With each of them, women achieved a goal or goals that previously had seemed unattainable, and the achievement of each goal moved us forward politically and personally in very significant ways. Continue reading

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language, other topics

A Tale of Two Scoundrels

Our topic today is useful and instructive: how to be (and how not to be) a successful con artist. I am drawing inspiration from an article in the New York Times’s business section, which compares and contrasts the treatment of the two examples, Elizabeth Holmes and Martin Shkreli. Both, it turns out, are scammers, but their legal treatment has been very different. Continue reading

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gender, language, politics

Yum, a Fly!

Your riddle for today:

 

What is at once the most contemptible, loathsome, and yet invisible creature on earth?

 

The nine-headed hydra? No.

A “hardened Democrat”? No again.

 

Give up? The answer is, as it has always been … an old woman.

 

For many people, women are tolerable (in certain functions) as long as they are young and nubile. Old men are distinguished and accomplished. As Cassius says, in Julius Caesar, to the other conspirators, discussing who should be invited to take part in their conspiracy:

 

But what of Cicero? Shall we sound him?

I think he will stand very strong with us.

 

Another conspirator chimes in:

 

O let us have him, for his silver hairs

Will purchase us a good opinion.
But a woman’s silver hairs will purchase nothing, which is one reason why so many women in prominent roles in politics, entertainment, and the news media, go blond. Blond good, gray bad. Continue reading

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language, other topics, politics

Don Dare Call It Treason

 

“Can we call that treason?” Mr. Trump said of the stone-faced reaction of Democrats to his speech. “Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”

 

“Even on positive news, really positive news like that, they were like death and un-American,” he said, repeating, “Un-American. Somebody said treasonous. I mean, yeah, I guess, why not.”

 

The above comments were made by President Trump on February 5, referring to Democrats who didn’t give him standing O’s at his State of the Union address.

His minders evidently found his remarks less than scintillating. By the next day all the usual White House commentators were calling the comments “joking” or “tongue in cheek,” as if by establishing that interpretation they were dispelling any reason for anxiety.

 

There are several questions to ask about these remarks: Continue reading

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language, other topics, politics

Alas, Poor Adjective!

Pity the poor adjective. It gets no respect. And yet, it does essential work.

 

Its troubles start with its etymology. A “verb” is literally a “word” (Latin verbum). So it takes for itself the whole provenance of language. We think of verbs as the stuff that makes language go – they do or act. Hence Dr. Phil warns his guests: “I’m going to put some verbs in my sentences,” i.e., “Beware! Life-changing talk is about to happen (after these commercials, of course)!” Attention must be paid to the verb.

 

Verbs are masculine, because they do things, and that is masculine. Italian has a proverb: Words are feminine, deeds masculine. The saying expresses double contempt: for the do-nothing word and for femininity. At least a verb, despite the proverb, does something, so its purely linguistic status is not totally contemptible.

 

Nouns come second: they are names (Latin nomen). So while they are not considered the all-important doers of language, at least they identify who or what, is doing what to whom. Nouns and verbs together are often thought of as the underpinnings of language; all else is frippery, feminine adornment. That naturally would include the adjective. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

What Do Women Want? REVOLUTION!

 

 

You say you want a revolution?

Well, you know

We all want to change the world….

 

But when you talk about destruction

Don’t you know

That you can count me out….

 

                        The Beatles (1968)

 

#MeToo and its allies are running into the inevitable and fully anticipated backlash. The commentary lately has been turning critical. Some of the critiques seem unduly harsh, others more reasonable. But the reasonable and the destructive invoke many of the same arguments. Continue reading

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gender, other topics, politics

Thinking of 2020

 

It is remarkable how eager we are to glide over the 2018 midterms (which are crucially important) in order to speculate about the 2020 presidential campaign. Of course, the presidency is more important than any seat in congress. But what happens to congress in 2018 will not only be used by the pundits as an augury of 2020 (and thus create a presumption in favor of one candidate or the other) but will determine exactly how bad the years between 2018 and 2020 (or, heaven forfend, 2024) will be.

 

But even knowing this I find 2020 irresistible to contemplate. That is all the more true since Oprah Winfrey’s triumphant performance at the Golden Globes award ceremony on January 7. Continue reading

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gender, other topics, politics

2017

As is customary, I am using the approach of the new year as an excuse to look back at the old one and make some sort of sense of it.

 

It is entirely possible that, when historians of the future look back, they will declare unequivocally that the year 2017 was the most important year in human history, the year when everything, and everyone, changed – and on the whole, for the better.

 

Of course today it is too soon to make that pronouncement, but it suddenly makes sense – a very possible reality rather than a dream. We will know by then that 2017 was the year in which women became willing and able to trust, help, and like other women. From that visceral change sprang all the other changes. Continue reading

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