gender, language, other topics, politics

One or Two (Actually, Three) Things I Have Learned Since 11/8/2016

Now that the 2018 midterm elections are over, it is time to assess what American voters have learned since 2016. Here are three things that I have learned.

 

  1. Misogyny is stronger than most of us would like to think, or used to believe. It has shown up in many forms, from many people we might have thought to be beyond it. But the culture is no more post-misogynistic in 2018 than it was post-racial in 2012.

 

It was most obvious in Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald J. Trump, and was equally manifest in subsequent interpretations of the election’s outcome. We saw it in voters’ and pundits’ outrage at Clinton’s use of a private email server (particularly when contrasted with pundits’ and voters’ lack of response to the information, in a recent New York Times front page article, that the president has been using an insecure cell phone that is known to be under Russian and Chinese surveillance, and further that the president is aware of this fact and doesn’t care). In Clinton’s case, FBI chief James Comey expressed great indignation and public opinion swung strongly against Clinton: even usually rational sources condemned her use of the server as possibly “criminal,” or “treasonous,” despite no evidence that any emails Clinton had sent on that server had been compromised. My assumption is that, very rationally, the Secretary of State (who traveled extensively) found it easier to use the private server on her travels and thus do all aspects of her job more efficiently. But the cry persists to this day: “Lock her up!” Continue reading

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gender, language, politics

Judge Kavanaugh Cuts the Gordian Knot

 

In the process of conquering the world, Alexander the Great came to the town of Gordium. In that town was a piece of rope entangled in an intricate knot. Whoever unraveled the knot, according to legend, would rule the world. Many had tried, and all had failed. Nor had anyone ever ruled the world.

 

Alexander contemplated the knot and his options. He fiddled with the knot but got nowhere. Then he drew his sword, sliced the knot apart, and went on to rule the world.

 

This legend is usually told as a justification of a bravura style of leadership. Wannabe leaders try conventional solutions to problems and fail. The natural leader scorns those, thinks outside the envelope, and rightly rules.

 

In his second hearing, on September 27, Brett Kavanaugh demonstrated Alexandrian leadership style, with considerable success . But just as Alexander’s impetuousness (and drinking habits) led to his early death, it may yet transpire that the bravura style may not work in Judge Kavanaugh’s long-term interests. You might, as many have noted, see a hearing of this kind as a job interview. You could also see it as an audition, in which a candidate demonstrates his possession of the skills he would need to successfully perform the job for which he is applying. Then the employer has to ask: does this candidate’s behavior demonstrate what I am looking for? Continue reading

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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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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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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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