gender, language, other topics, politics

Who Makes Meaning?

 

A conversation (meaning any form of communication – private or public; written or spoken; physical or electronic) is properly constructed so as to transmit meaning between or among participants. It is often thought that a speaker is responsible for encoding meaning, and a hearer’s job is simply to understand what a speaker says. But it’s a more complicated relationship: it is the speaker’s responsibility to encode meanings in such a way that a hearer is likely to be able to understand them as the speaker intended; and it is the hearer’s responsibility to bring her experiences to bear so as to make sense of the communication: meaning is jointly constructed.

 

This is necessarily true because human beings are social animals. By working in this cooperative way, language (and other forms of interpersonal communication) both make the best use of our social capacities, and enhance them. Uncooperative communication does the opposite: it drives us apart.

 

In our current political (and specifically presidential) discourse, there are violations of those expectations and needs. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

The Logic of the Primary Process

 

Ruth Wodak has sent me a thoughtful, and disturbing, article from the Guardian. It makes perfect sense, suggesting what to say to the Sanders fans who are refusing to even consider voting for Clinton, and some of whom are declaring that they would actually prefer Trump. The writer’s arguments are thoroughly persuasive – to me.

 

It is disturbing on two grounds: first, that Democrats even have to worry about how to persuade presumably rational people to switch to Clinton rather than Trump (this would seem to be a no-brainer, so why isn’t it?). But more disturbing is the fear that the article’s rational arguments will be of little use in accomplishing that goal. The real reasons those voters find it easier to move from Sanders to Trump, rather than Sanders to Clinton, are not rational, and therefore logical arguments against them will fall on deaf ears. Continue reading

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language, other topics, politics

Cold Comforts, or None at All

 

It is comforting to think that Donald Trump is a nutcase who has given his mouth over to his egomania and just opens it up and lets whatever come out, without concern for the fact that he is destroying the Republican Party’s hopes for success in this year’s Presidential election, and perhaps forever. After all, he’s not a real Republican.

 

It is comforting to think that Bernie Sanders is a nutcase who has let egomania triumph over reason, refusing to get out of the race for the Democratic nomination and show some support for his rival, without concern for the fact that he is destroying the Democratic Party’s hopes for success in this year’s Presidential election, and perhaps forever. After all, he’s not a real Democrat.

 

Those are the comforting scenarios. But they might not reflect reality. Continue reading

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gender, language, politics

Listening to Her: Reprise

 

A couple of weeks ago, after undergoing a lot of criticism for her “unexciting” style, candidate Clinton made a public apology: she was not, she said, a “natural” politician like her husband. The critics have made much of this remark, but have failed to understand it correctly.

 

It is clear that the female Clinton does not sound like her male counterpart. She is not thrilling in the way he – like the very best “natural” politicians – can be. She appeals more to the mind than to the heart, which is not how many Americans like their politics. She is not “fun.”

 

But a more accurate perception of the problem may be that Clinton is not a “normal” politician, as of course she is not. The normal prototypical politician is still male, and at the presidential level, that is even truer. But the way we expect a “natural” politician to appeal to us is not at all coincidentally the way we expect a “normal” politician to do so. Continue reading

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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

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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

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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

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gender, language, politics

No Excuses, Please!

 

 

Since Deborah Tannen introduced the distinction a quarter-century ago (in You Just Don’t Understand), it has become a cultural platitude to say that men, unlike women, won’t ask for directions. But there is a less recognized way that the genders part company directionally: everyone finds it necessary to give women, but not men, directions — not physical directions, but instructions about how to behave. Apparently many still believe that women are interactionally incompetent, and so cannot be trusted to get anything right unless they are told exactly how to do absolutely everything.

 

If the women do what they are told and it turns out well, their instructors get the credit. If the women ignore the advice, then they get the blame if it turns out badly. If it turns out well, they are still criticized because it could have been better, if only they’d been good girls and listened. So once again, no matter what women do, they do it wrong. 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, politics

WHAT CLINTON NEEDS TO DO (AND NOT DO)

 

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” Walt Whitman.

 

I know I said in my last snort that Hillary Clinton can’t win, no matter what she does. But maybe there’s a way — a new way.

 

Her less than stellar performance in the most recent Democratic debate, along with her slippage in recent polls, raises a question: what is HRC doing that she shouldn’t be doing? And vice versa?  Continue reading

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