gender, language, other topics, politics

Depth Charge

I know I have dealt with this topic before, but it keeps turning up, unresolved and unresolvable, in new guises, so I keep worrying it (and vice versa) like a problem tooth. It is our inability to distinguish between root causes and superficial symptoms, so that we think we are resolving the former when in fact we are just scratching around at the latter: putting a band aid on a cancer.

 

Too many problems that we try to resolve at a superficial level are about some form of deep societal malaise – things we really wish would go away, things we really hate to look at – so it’s not surprising that we don’t have the moral stamina to get down to the nitty-gritty and figure out how to change ourselves and our minds in significant ways.

 

Two such problems, involving the ancient triangulation of language, gender, and power– how we use language to hide the depth and breadth of power differences between the genders — have been in the news a lot. I’ve talked about one before, sexual harassment in universities and other prestigious institutions. The other is the topic of an interesting article in the May 8 New York Times Magazine. By Emily Bazelon, it asks what we should do about prostitution: continue to keep it criminalized, or decriminalize it? Continue reading

Standard
other topics, politics

The “Intolerant” University

 

I am usually a fan of Nicholas Kristof’s op-eds in the New York Times. But as a recovering academic, I must take issue with his latest.

 

As its title suggests, the op-ed argues that academia is, despite its vaunted tolerance, intolerant – of conservatives. At first glance, Kristof appears to have the facts on his side. Especially in the humanities and social sciences, faculty members skew strongly liberal: only 2% of English professors identify as Republicans; 18% of social scientists claim to be Marxists. Most of the faculty members of every linguistics department I know are liberal. According to Kristof, faculty members express in surveys a preference for liberal colleagues. Most despised of all are evangelical Christians: according to another survey, this one conducted by an evangelical Christian sociologist, “59% of anthropologists and 53% of English professors would be less likely to hire someone they found out was an evangelical.”

 

Well, that sounds pretty intolerant, making academics look deeply hypocritical – demanding openness of others but creating for themselves closed societies of similar thinkers. Kristof goes on to suggest that, since “universities should be a hubbub of the full range of political perspectives” (because a necessary part of education is exposure to a spectrum of ideas), academia is the very worst place for such intolerance to exist. How embarrassing! Continue reading

Standard
gender, language, other topics, politics

Going Negative

 

The media savants love numbers – it makes their work look like science. Among their favorites, often repeated, are the “negatives” of the leading presidential candidates. Commentators love to point out that this year, the two front-runners score higher negatives than their equivalents at any time in the past. For Trump, the stats are: positive 24%, negative 57%, for a total score of -33; for Clinton, positive 31%, negative 52%, overall -21.

 

Because the stats are reported side by side, it is easy to get the impression that the negative scores for the two candidates mean the same thing and were in response to the same kinds of behavior. Curiously, the media analysts never address that question – the negs simply are what they are: they show how unlikeable Trump and Clinton are, period.

 

But the two negativities are in fact very different in origin and meaning, and should be differently understood. Continue reading

Standard
gender, language, other topics, politics

Trump vs. Trump: Logician vs. Politician

(I realize that this topic has been discussed ad nauseam by just about everyone, e.g. NYT op-eds 4/2, one by Gail Collins and one by Katha Pollitt, both excellent, but since I wrote it I thought I’d send it anyway.)

Pity the poor Donald. He just can’t win for losing.

 

He has been criticized repeatedly by the media and the pundits for not making sense. And there does seem to be something to that.

 

But then he makes a set of statements that are as rigorously logical as a paper by Bertrand Russell. And still…and still…he gets attacked from every side. People just won’t treat him nicely. Continue reading

Standard
gender, other topics, politics

Keeping Women Out

 

A very interesting, if depressing, article appeared in the New York Times’s “Sunday Review” on March 6. In it A. Hope Jahren, a professor of geobiology, offered one answer to the question, “Why are there too few women in science?”

 

The problem doesn’t stop with science. An article, “Emoji Feminism,” by Amy Butcher, in the “Sunday Review” on March 13, notes that:

 

In most professions, women make less than men, but in academia this pay gap is compounded by the fact that women tend to spend more uncompensated time advising students while also being subjected to student evaluations that studies show are consistently biased against them. Female academics are promoted at much slower rates, and fewer still choose to stay in the field as a result, and even fewer, then, are even present when the time for tenure comes. Perhaps it’s no surprise that men hold three-quarters of full professorships within the United States.

 

The problem is arguably worse in the physical sciences (the STEM fields) because they are especially prestigious, so women lose more if they are kept out of those fields. But the reasons why fewer women than men hold tenured positions in all academic fields are similar. In the humanities as well as the social sciences, there is a curious downward spiral: in most of these fields, the number of women admitted to Ph.D. programs is at least equal to that of men, and often greater; but women fail to get their degrees, or drop out early in their careers, at disturbing rates. Something is keeping smart women from using their intelligence. Continue reading

Standard
gender, language, other topics, politics

Pro-Life “Feminism”

 

Check out the photo on the front page of today’s (3/3) New York Times, above the article about the arguments before the Supreme Court concerning Texas’s law restricting the operation of abortion clinics. What caught my attention was the signage. A sign in back said “Life Counts,” with a beguiling picture of what looks to me like a full-term infant, certainly closer to a full-term infant than a zygote, which the so-called pro-life contingent protects with equal fervor. I read intentional deceptiveness in the sign: the full-term infant’s picture is purposely deceptive, with the emotional response that a full-term baby evokes although anti-abortion groups are necessarily much more concerned with protecting non-emotion-evoking zygotes than adorable full-term babies. Worse, the picture covertly makes the accusation, “Abortion providers murder babies” – a canard as guilt-inducing as it is knowingly false. And because this untruth is expressed pictorially, it is hard to controvert it verbally. For a group that claims to hold the moral high ground, this multiple violation of the commandment against bearing false witness ought to be problematic, but apparently is not.

 

But the sign borne by the woman in front is even more troublesome: “I AM A PRO-LIFE FEMINIST.” Can you be a pro-life feminist? What do you have to be, and believe, to be a “feminist,” who can answer that question, and why? Continue reading

Standard
gender, language, other topics, politics

The Truth About Youth

 

It used to be possible (and maybe it still is) to get an apron with the legend, “Kissin wears out. Cookin don’t.” I want to propose a modernization: “Excitement wears out. Pragmatism don’t.”

 

Both of these useful slogans arise out of the experience that comes of age, that is, wisdom. The young are all for kissin and excitement, and believe that if they can achieve them, they will have them forever. Older people know better, having discovered that what works is what is conducive to a pleasurable life; the purely fun stuff can be interspersed, but is not the point of the exercise.

 

This thought occurred to me as I was reading an article in the Sunday New York Times’ “Week in Review” by Jill Filipovic, “Hillary’s Office Politics.” In it Filipovic defends the young women supporting Bernie Sanders. Her point is that these women reject Clinton not because Clinton reminds them of their tedious old mothers, but rather because they have not lived long enough to come up against serious sexism and misogyny. Their youthful sexiness gets them past many obstacles, and others they have just not yet encountered. When they have been out in the workplace and the world for a while, and are no longer able to trade cuteness for goods and services, they will understand (says the author) what the Clinton candidacy is about. Hence older women favor Clinton. Continue reading

Standard
gender, language, other topics, politics

Who’s Gotta Narrative?

 

One of the reasons repeatedly offered for Hillary Clinton’s loss to Barack Obama for the 2008 Democratic nomination, was this: Obama had a compelling “narrative,” which Clinton lacked. This explanation had the virtue of allowing us to believe that America didn’t have a problem with sexism or misogyny, just as Obama’s victory proved that we were now “post-racial.” The explanation felt good, but didn’t answer, or even address, a few relevant questions:

 

  • What is a “narrative”?
  • Do presidents have to have one?
  • Since when?

 

And now eight years later, the pundits are trying to explain Clinton’s rhetorical difficulties in the unexpected battle with Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination. Their task is exacerbated by their determination to avoid any explanation using words like “sexism” or “misogyny,” since America is a non-sexist and non-misogynist society. That makes it hard, but they’re trying. Continue reading

Standard
gender, language, other topics, politics

Who Should Go To Hell

 

 

There are a few more things to say about the Albright contretemps. The first is about that old topic, women making apologies. When is it apropos to do so, and when not?

 

Sometimes it’s OK to apologize, such as when an utterance in the form of an apology serves to get past awkward points in a conversation. Sometimes it isn’t. Two times it isn’t have occurred recently and very publicly, and not surprisingly, both apologies or quasi-apologies were from women, first Gloria Steinem and now, in the New York Times, Madeleine Albright. Both, needless to say, are apologizing for their bad behavior earlier this week in defending Hillary Clinton. Continue reading

Standard
gender, language, other topics, politics

Oof!

 

That is exactly how I am feeling – not so much because of the New Hampshire Democratic results themselves (which were what might have been expected), but because of the interesting responses to them from the media and other savants.

 

I feel as if I have been punched hard in the solar plexus, and I am not happy.

 

I feel that way because of many responses to both Clinton’s loss, Clinton herself, and a couple of remarks made by her female supporters and surrogates, responses that, in a rational universe, would make no sense at all. Actually, even in the universe we currently inhabit, they make no sense at all. Unless.

 

Unless what? Unless they are coping (none too well) with the threatened advent of powerful women. Continue reading

Standard