gender, language, other topics, politics

Should Bill Clinton Apologize?

 

Apologies are some of the hardest speech acts, both intellectually and interactionally.

 

They are intellectually difficult because it’s often hard to know whether an apology is owed, to whom, and in what form; and interactionally hard because making an apology puts the maker in a one-down position to the person apologized to, and a full apology requires the apologizer to make, explicitly or tacitly, a number of self-destructive statements: I was wrong; I did harm to you; I need your forgiveness. So making an apology always entails a loss of power.

 

Hence apologies take many forms, direct and indirect, explicit or hinted at, depending on the seriousness of the misdeed and the power relationship between the parties. Continue reading

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gender, politics

Who’s a Feminist?

 

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Jessica Valenti discusses the reluctance of many feminists to support the nomination of Gina Haspel as Director of the CIA, and Fox’s choice of Suzanne Scott as the network’s chief executive. She examines the criticism by Republicans of those feminists, using the argument that feminism means supporting all women, any woman, no matter what else she may be or not be. Valenti gets it right – feminism does not mean, “I’m for the woman, any woman, right or wrong,” but rather, it supports anyone of any gender who supports equality. In that respect, Valenti notes, Haspel and Scott are not in any sense “feminist” icons.

 

But the Republican critique is even more noxious than Valenti shows. First, it’s just another example of the Republican determination to co-opt liberal values: now they’re declaring themselves the best feminists of all, the only feminists properly equipped to comment on the feminism of others. “Irony” hardly describes it: Republicans are precisely the people who have opposed every feminist position, at least since the 1960s: equal pay for equal work, Titles VII and IX of the Civil Rights Act (not to mention the Civil Rights Act as a whole), and – the cherry on the sundae – reproductive rights. This is the party itching to destroy Planned Parenthood, and thereby dooming millions of women to disease and death. Republican “feminists” adopt one of the principal oppressive roles of men: to claim ownership of the language, denying other women the right to make their own meanings. Continue reading

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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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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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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, other topics, politics

Thinking of 2020

 

It is remarkable how eager we are to glide over the 2018 midterms (which are crucially important) in order to speculate about the 2020 presidential campaign. Of course, the presidency is more important than any seat in congress. But what happens to congress in 2018 will not only be used by the pundits as an augury of 2020 (and thus create a presumption in favor of one candidate or the other) but will determine exactly how bad the years between 2018 and 2020 (or, heaven forfend, 2024) will be.

 

But even knowing this I find 2020 irresistible to contemplate. That is all the more true since Oprah Winfrey’s triumphant performance at the Golden Globes award ceremony on January 7. Continue reading

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gender, other topics, politics

2017

As is customary, I am using the approach of the new year as an excuse to look back at the old one and make some sort of sense of it.

 

It is entirely possible that, when historians of the future look back, they will declare unequivocally that the year 2017 was the most important year in human history, the year when everything, and everyone, changed – and on the whole, for the better.

 

Of course today it is too soon to make that pronouncement, but it suddenly makes sense – a very possible reality rather than a dream. We will know by then that 2017 was the year in which women became willing and able to trust, help, and like other women. From that visceral change sprang all the other changes. 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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