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

Standard
gender, language, politics

Nice and Tough

An article on the first page of the News section of the January 17 New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton’s advisers regret that she did not go negative sooner and harder against Bernie Sanders. I beg to differ.

 

The problem, as so often, is that the Clinton team has a great deal of experience in previous presidential campaigns. At first glance that may look self-contradictory: isn’t it a good thing to have lots of prior experience in practically anything, but especially high-level politics? Well, yes, it usually is, but not in cases, like the 2016 campaign, in which the similarities with past campaigns are very likely illusory because of the one big difference, gender, that makes everything different.

Continue reading

Standard
gender, language, other topics, politics

A Sampling of Snortlets

 

 

Here are a few items for your delectation:

 

  1. Beware of machines!

 

Barbara McMahon, a reporter for the London Times, writes to ask my opinion of “a new app that encourages women to stop writing the words SORRY and JUST in their emails. “

 

My response:

 

Well. Where to begin?

 

First of all: it seems as if it’s not enough that, over many millennia, men have been telling women how (and especially how not to) talk, and so have women. Now there’s an app — which means that now MACHINES can tell women how to (and how not to) talk. Clearly this is progress.

 

There seems to me to be so much wrong with this whole idea that I hardly know where to begin. But for starters:

 

How come nobody has an app for telling men how to talk or not to talk? Because they wouldn’t be interested, that’s why. But you can always embarrass or guilt a woman, and this app is just the latest way to embarrass women about how they talk.

 

I know that the developers of the app would say, in all sincerity, that they were trying to help women by telling us how to talk, and since language is what makes us human, how to be more human or at least better humans — just as people, male and female, have always been wanting to improve women by telling us how (not) to dress, walk, smile, think, be sexy, be intelligent, and so on and so on…. But these helpful hints never make anyone a better speaker (or anything else): their effect is to make women less articulate (etc.) because they suppress our spontaneity and make us embarrassed about whatever we do. We are damned if we do (too weak) and damned if we don’t (too strong).

 

In short, telling women how to talk is about discouraging women from using their voices. That is about the last thing we need.

 

Moreover: It is folly to think that any word (including “sorry” and “just”)  has one and only one meaning or function. That is the assumption made by those who would tell women never to use those words, or any words. Whether a word is rightly or wrongly used is a function of the context (linguistic, psychological, social) in which it is used. There are times when “just” or “sorry” is inappropriate; there are times when it is le mot juste (or just). Only the speaker in the discourse knows which it is in that discourse. One size fits all is not a sophisticated way to understand language.

 

 

 

And more moreover: Using words like these (pragmatic particles/discourse markers/ hedges) is very often the very best thing a speaker can do. These words (there are a great many) have, among their wide range of use, the ability to soften what a speaker is saying so as to make it easier for a hearer to hear, understand, and respond to — a way to make difficult utterances more comfortable and make everyone feel better and get along better. This is what members of a social species like ours most need to know how to do, and it is something women are more likely to do well than men. One way women do it well is to employ these words, denigrated as “weak” or “empty.” But they are not. They are the best things we’ve got, and the fact that so many people (and machines) are delighted to dump on them and their users illustrates the extent of misogyny and the damage it does.

Continue reading

Standard
gender, language, other topics, politics

Really Disgusting!

Donald Trump is a man with an interesting mind – perhaps too interesting for someone who wants to be president.

 

Consider his problems with the girlie stuff: for instance, the examples discussed in an op-ed column by Frank Bruni in the December 23 New York Times. In it Bruni notes several cases of the Donald’s extraordinary squeamishness about what we might term bodily products, in one case Marco Rubio’s sweat, but in many more, and with greater revulsion, women’s various secretions. The column was occasioned by Trump’s effusions at a meeting in which Trump went off at length on Hillary Clinton’s taking a bathroom break during Saturday’s Democratic debate (in which Trump himself played no role, of course). You can savor the Trump discours in this clip.

 

As Bruni notes, Trump’s “fastidiousness” is nothing new. He has repeatedly found it necessary to comment, always irrelevantly and always with “disgust” and loathing, on women’s bodily fluids. Everyone remembers (how could anyone forget?) his effusion against Megyn Kelly after she had the temerity to question him about his misogyny: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” This coment was both bizarre and ingenious: bizarre because there was no blood coming out of her eyes, figuratively (whatever the figure might mean), nor as far as the eye could see, out of her wherever, which was perfectly clothed; and because this is just not the sort of statement one hopes for from someone who might just possibly in the near future become our President. But it was crazy like a fox, designed to direct the hearer away from any intellectual response, toward a purely emotional response to the imaginary specter of flowing menstrual blood – the worst kind. Continue reading

Standard
gender, language, politics

Clinton’s Email “Scandal”

William Langston has forwarded to me this column by Ruth Marcus from the Washington Post. In it Marcus offers reasonably intelligent and well-meant advice to Hillary Clinton about what she should have done, and should do, about Clinton’s burgeoning email problems. I have a few issues with the column, and some thoughts about what the “scandal” may really be about – something neither Marcus nor any of the other zillion commentators appears to have given any thought. Continue reading

Standard
gender, politics

How to Vote Liberal

 

The latest argument against voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries is that, compared to Bernie Sanders, she just isn’t liberal enough. Pundits claim that the Democratic Party in recent years has shifted as far to the left as the Republicans have to the right. Therefore Democratic voters are dissatisfied with the “inevitable” Clinton: she’s just too centrist to be inevitable. Continue reading

Standard