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, language, politics

Outing the Pervs

 

I wish I could feel triumphant at the Outing of the Pervs. But I fear the law of unintended consequences: the overturning of one important signifier of male prerogative will surely bring with it some backlash. And I notice that, although the scandal has been percolating for over a month, nothing really has changed, aside from the firing of a few of the more prominent offenders. Again, this is gratifying, but barely counts as even the tip of the iceberg.

 

On a recent PBS NewsHour, Rebecca Traister raised a relevant concern: since the offenders have been male, and attention along with sympathy naturally focuses on males, most of the media discussion of the problem of sexual harassment has focused on the perps, not their victims. This is unusual in crime stories: usually in a lurid case, media attention fixates on the victim, especially if female: her beauty, her virtue, her accomplishments. But discussions of sexual harassers focus on the men and their prominence, as well of course as their peculiar behaviors. So, Traister suggests, it may be only a short time before the objects of our attention become the objects of our sympathy – the poor guys, they couldn’t help it, it wasn’t so bad after all, was it, the women were asking for it… all the usuals. I hope not, but our society is not used to seeing males as blameworthy, and along with Traister I wonder how long we can keep it up. Our President is leading the way in his exculpation of Roy Moore: “He has denied everything.” (And since when does a “not guilty” plea equal a verdict of innocence?)

 

Trump’s evasions on Moore are more astonishing since, when asked about Weinstein, who has similarly denied engaging in nonconsensual sexual activity, Trump responded, “I’m not surprised,” which conversationally implicates, “He’s guilty.” Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

The Anomalous Society

In recent years, America has become an anomalous society, bereft of many of the social rules, explicit and especially implicit, that previously we lived by. That may sound good – liberating and innovative, free of the burdensome constraints that plagued our ancestors and slowed progress. But too much of a good thing is not always wonderful, and on occasion freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. The loss of our system of culturally based rules may even be responsible for part of the fix we are in.

 

The rules I am talking about here are not the explicit ones we recite to our children: Say Thank you. Put away your toys. Don’t make fun of other people. The rules I am talking about are the ones most adults used to figure out by themselves in the course of arriving at maturity, implicit assumptions about how to be human, how to be a person of gender, how to manage work, friendships, and intimacy, and many more. A great many of these are currently gone or contested. Continue reading

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gender, language, politics

Locker Room Banter 101

 

 

Last week, for reasons that remain unclear to me, Charlie Rose celebrated a Bannonfest: the Steve-‘n’-Charlie show ran from a brief teaser on his previous Friday show, to two segments of “60 Minutes” on Sunday, to the full hour of his Monday interview, to 15-20 minute segments over the remainder of that week. Though my appetite for Bannonalia barely achieves anorexia, I did catch the teaser, the “60 Minutes” gig, and a bit of the Monday interview, at which point nausea forced me into reruns of “Ancient Aliens” on the History Channel.

 

To be truthful, I don’t recall very much of the Bannonade (senescence has its rewards). Rose, and many of the media savants (along with Steve himself) apparently consider Bannon the Trump Administration’s ranking intellectual (not too much competition).

 

But one brief moment, I think from the Monday segment, sticks in my mind, not to say craw. Rose was questioning Bannon about Trump’s misogyny, and brought up the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape. Bannon smirked that it was “only locker-room banter.” “Locker-room banter?” said Charlie, and Bannon reiterated it. Rose thereupon dropped the topic, no doubt with a sigh of relief: His job was done, his duty to the ladies completed. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

Get Thee Behind Me, Donald! Or Don’t

  1. What does a woman running for president have to do to be likable?
  2. Not run for president.

 

And with that question answered, let us turn to the matter of the second presidential debate. What was going on? What did the media analysts opine was going on? What if anything does the answer to the first question have to do with the answer to the second?

 

Answer: Nothing.

 

Almost without exception, every media pundit has declared Trump’s recently revealed effusions “disgusting” and “unacceptable.” I agree with those assessments, but I don’t share their reasons for declaring Trump’s remarks “disgusting” and “unacceptable.” Well, yes, to an extent I agree: thinking of women as objects existing purely for the sexual gratification of men like Trump is as vile as it is antediluvian. But the media focus has been on the words themselves. Yet the words, here as elsewhere with Trump, are merely carriers of a gender message that carries far beyond Trump, and goes way outside the “locker room.” This is what the analysts cannot or will not face, for they, mostly males, are complicit in the game. Continue reading

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