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, 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

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gender, language, politics

Sexing Up 2016

 

 

In the February 1 issue of The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza compares-and-contrasts Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in a story as enlightening as it is disturbing. One paragraph describes a Trump rally in Mississippi, noting some of the accouterments sported by Trump’s fan base:

 

Popular buttons and stickers included ones that say, “If she can’t please her husband, she can’t please the country,” “Bomb the hell out of ISIS,” “Up Yours Hillary,” and “Trump That Bitch.”

 

We know that Trump’s followers, like their idol, are a loutish lot; that we are engaged in a presidential election campaign; and that in election campaigns, tempers flare, etiquette goes by the boards, and opponents are demonized. From that perspective, the anti-Hillary slogans were hardly worthy of remark. But there was something about them that is different from the usual slams against opponents, and unlike the usual tenor of negative campaign rhetoric: the strikingly sexual nature of the attacks. Cruz may be “disgusting,” Bush “low energy,” and Cruz (gasp) “not nice.” But neither Trump nor anyone else has had anything to say about his male opponents’ sexual prowess or proclivities in bed. Since Clinton is not running for a position in which the victor is expected to perform sexually, why do candidates and voters opposed to Clinton choose to attack her in sexualized rhetoric? Certainly men, even male politicians, are sexual creatures. But politics is public, and sexuality – so we like to believe – is private. Usually prying into a candidate’s intimate life would be considered invasive and inappropriate. Why is the private allowed to invade the public only when a candidate is female? Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

The Donald Again

I thought I had conquered my Donald addiction, but alas! It was not so. After reading about his latest effusion on the front page of the December 30 New York Times, I could not help myself. So here goes.

 

There are many things to say about his most recent remarks, none of them what Ruth Marcus said in the Washington Post in his defense, a defense particularly shameful since she is both a woman and, purportedly at least, a liberal (she sometimes subs for Mark Shields on the PBS NewsHour). Here are several. Continue reading

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gender, language

Sexual Harassment: They Still Just Don’t Get It

 

You have probably heard about Berkeley’s current sex scandal: Geoffrey Marcy, prominent astronomer, has been forced to resign his tenured position after acknowledging repeated acts of sexual harassment against female students, staff, and colleagues. The harassments consisted of “groping, touching, and massaging” his victims under their clothing. Such behavior violates the University’s code of conduct, and the University claims to have a “zero tolerance” policy toward it. Continue reading

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gender, language, politics

Listening to Her

 

As the 2016 presidential campaign season begins in earnest, voters can confidently expect increasing amounts of attention from the pundits and other media inhabitants to candidates’ messages: how they introduce themselves personally to potential voters, and why they believe they should be victorious. This is just as it ought to be.

 

But there is one glaring exception to how it ought to be, a candidate who is listened to and understood not by what she is telling us – her positions and promises – but to how she is saying it. Continue reading

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