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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gender, language, other topics, politics

Get Thee Behind Me, Donald! Or Don’t

  1. What does a woman running for president have to do to be likable?
  2. Not run for president.

 

And with that question answered, let us turn to the matter of the second presidential debate. What was going on? What did the media analysts opine was going on? What if anything does the answer to the first question have to do with the answer to the second?

 

Answer: Nothing.

 

Almost without exception, every media pundit has declared Trump’s recently revealed effusions “disgusting” and “unacceptable.” I agree with those assessments, but I don’t share their reasons for declaring Trump’s remarks “disgusting” and “unacceptable.” Well, yes, to an extent I agree: thinking of women as objects existing purely for the sexual gratification of men like Trump is as vile as it is antediluvian. But the media focus has been on the words themselves. Yet the words, here as elsewhere with Trump, are merely carriers of a gender message that carries far beyond Trump, and goes way outside the “locker room.” This is what the analysts cannot or will not face, for they, mostly males, are complicit in the game. Continue reading

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gender, language, politics

How to Watch the Debates

 

 

It is useful to see the presidential debates as, above all, auditions for a role, and to see the debaters as actively auditioning for a desired role, and the other participants (moderator, commentators, and audience) as using debate performance to determine the performers’ suitability for the role they seek. Debating, like any other human communicative activity, has its rules and expectations, violations of which can and should be judged as evidence of a candidate’s suitability for the job. If you can’t manage to obey the relatively simple rules of the debate structure for a mere 90-odd minutes, there is reason to doubt whether you are ready or able to play the much harder role for which you are auditioning, for a whole four years. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

PRESTO CHANGE-O

 

 

The pundits have spoken, and spoken, and spoken: 2016 is an “unconventional” election: it is about “change” vs. the “status quo.” One candidate is the “change,” agent, and the other the representative of the “status quo.”

 

Thus far, I am in agreement.

 

But when they sort out which candidate is which, we part company. For the analysts, Trump is the “change” candidate, Clinton the “status quo.” But that’s backwards and upside down. If we correctly interpret “change” and “status quo,” Trump stands for the former, Clinton the latter. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

MAKING ME SICK

 

 

Look at the front page of today’s (September 13) New York Times. On the upper right, you will find two articles about Clinton’s health problems. On the inner pages where these articles are continued are three additional articles on the same topic.

 

Ordinarily, the placement of the first two articles, and the fact that there are five in all, might be occasioned by, say, the start of World War III or an authenticated Elvis sighting. But no: all are about one presidential candidate’s not especially serious health problem. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

Health Matters – and Other Matters

 

  1. The D’s DID

 

Donald J. Trump and his current favorite sidekick, the redoubtable Rudy Giuliani, have morphed into experts on Hillary Clinton’s mental and physical health. How fortunate we are that one of our presidential candidates and his new BFF have so much medical expertise! Clinton, they tell us, doesn’t have the “physical or mental stamina” to fight ISIS, and therefore is unsuitable for the presidency.

 

As usual contemplating the Donald’s effusions, I find myself at a loss – so much nonsense, so little time! But a few things that stand out. Continue reading

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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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