Feminist Philosophers

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Misogyny Mishap: Update March 9, 2008

Filed under: bias,critical thinking,fallacy,language,politics,race,sex,Uncategorized — annejjacobson @ 9:18 pm

We remarked on Charlette Allen’s mysogynistic indulgence, and the remarkable fact that the  WaPo printed it, here.  Thanks to a comment on that post by Roger, we can call your attention to a reply, which the WaPo has printed here.  And since it’s by Katha Pollitt, you know it is good! The article’s title and subtitle:

Dumb and Dumber: An Essay and Its Editors
The question is not why Charlotte Allen wrote her silly piece — it’s why The Post published it.

A sample just in case the author’s name isn’t enough to send you straight there:

The upshot: we ladies should focus on what we’re really good at — interior decoration and taking care of men and children.

Oh, gag me with a spoon. Sure, girly culture can be silly — but what does that prove? It’s not as though men spend their evenings leafing through the plays of Moliere. Susie whips up doggy treats, Mike surfs porn sites; she curls up with the Friday Night Knitting Club, he watches football. Or maybe the two of them watch “Grey’s Anatomy” together — surprise, surprise, about half the show’s audience is male. If you go by cultural preferences, actually, you could just as well claim that women are obviously smarter than men — look around you at the museum, the theater, the opera house, the ballet, the concert hall. Women read more than men, too, especially fiction, which men tend to avoid. (A story about things that didn’t happen? How does that work?) Women even read fiction by men and about men, further evidence of their imaginative powers — while men, if they do pick up a novel, make sure it’s estrogen-free. Who’s really the dim bulb, the woman who doesn’t see the beauty of “Grand Theft Auto,” or the man who thinks Tom Clancy is a great writer?

And now for an important qualification: In a passage copied below, Katha Pollitt endorses a view close to a problematic one of Gloria Steinem’s; namely, that sexism in the USA is worse than racism. We’ve discussed this claim before; it should be rejected. It does seem to me true that the WaPo would not write a comparably demeaning article about Blacks or Asians, but that does not show that, as KP puts it, sexism is the last acceptable prejudice. There are too many ways in which racism is also treated as acceptable, and arguably more than sexism is. So how do we capture what lies behind the fact that respectable newspapers and journalists are printing and uttering offensively mysogynistic pieces, while the awful racism directed toward Obama does not seem to make the op-ed pages yet? Women are the last joke?

Readers are invited to share their answers/observations.

From KP:

A far more important question is this: Why did The Post publish this nonsense? I can’t imagine a great newspaper airing comparable trash talk about any other group. “Asians Really Do Just Copy.” “No Wonder Africa’s Such a Mess: It’s Full of Black People!” Misogyny is the last acceptable prejudice, and nowhere more so than in our nation’s clueless and overwhelmingly white-male-controlled media.

 

4 Responses to “Misogyny Mishap: Update”

  1. Jender Says:

    I’m totally in agreement with you, JJ, and with your puzzlement. My suspicion is that certain differences between racism and sexism– e.g. the acceptability of saying that women and men are biologically different (in a way that affects psychological abilities, etc.) versus the lesser acceptability of saying that about blacks and whites– plays into this. But I’m not sure how. It does seem right that racist *jokes* are less likely to appear on the Op-Ed pages of respectable newspapers than sexist jokes. But I suspect racism more generally is just as likely to appear as sexism. I’m not sure why there would be this difference about jokes. And maybe we’re completely wrong about that. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I reader now wrote in to tell us about a load of racist jokes at the NYT, or somesuch.

  2. jj Says:

    One reason why I’d like to find a label for the phenomenon, if it is real, is that we could distinguish it more clearly from the idea that somehow racism is less acceptable than sexism, which seems a pernacious thesis.

    And of course in the less reputable parts of the media, the racism is certainly there in jokes. Limbaugh had a revolting song about Obama, as I remember. Honestly, sometimes it is hard to believe what one hears.

  3. Dan Lowe Says:

    Where was your discussion of how extensive sexism is in the U.S. compared to racism? (Or is it a question of the extent to which either is acceptable.) Either way, I’d be interested to read it.

    If I might make a minor assertion anyway, I think that the realm of the humorous is indeed where sexism and racism are ‘acceptable’ (and thus revealed as still being very much a part of a given speaker/organization’s thinking). Look at products in the last few years like The Chappelle Show or Mind of Mencia: on one hand, Chappelle was praised for being a cultural spokesman (something he reportedly denied saying he didn’t want to claim that much responsibility), while on the other, Mencia, in one of his televised acts predating his show on Comedy Central, spent the last few minutes of his performance denoting the potential message of racial comedy. It’s easier to talk about these things through joking about them, he said, but we need to then actually be able to talk about them.

    Now, I’m not a frequent viewer of his show by any means, and though he seems to still be outspoken when it comes to making cultural commentary, his (formerly) apparent intentions, and the attitude of how the show was actually produced seem like they’ve gone in opposite directions. Rather than racial comedy being a first means of opening up a dialogue about where our stereotypes and attitudes actually come from and what they affect, it seems to be an excuse to be racist and avoid ramifications and consequential discussion. ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! It’s just comedy. Save your discussion for your inner-city English classes, or your Freshman orientation sessions. We’re just having some laughs.’

    As for sexism, though, it would seem that the same justification is present, but without any of the denotation. No one thinks that the purpose of sexist humor is to ‘instigate a useful discussion’ — not the feminists who know there’s already a discussion going on that’s being brushed aside, nor the neo-misogynists who just wanted to have a laugh (and who are the ones brushing it aside in the first place). Yet the humor is still there, and, being humor, is thus still ‘okay.’ Whether sexism or racism is any more extensive than the other, the lack of a denotationiary dialogue as requisite to allowing sexist humor would seem to indicate, at the very least, that sexist humor is more acceptable than racist humor. And, again, if the degree to which either form of discrimination is present in humor is a useful measure of how either remains a part of our thinking, then I think Pollitt/Steinem’s point may not be entirely without merit. At least insofar as potential backlash against sexism would seem to be less severe than the backlash against an equivalent amounts of racism.

    But, obviously, it’s one thing to crack down on racism in humor — something that affects people’s lives in only subtle and consequential ways — while allowing, as you mentioned, other, more blatant and damaging forms of racism to go unchecked. All in all, neither form of prejudice should be labeled as ‘less frequent’ simply because such a label would most certainly lead us to claim progress, where adequate progress (as if there is such a thing) has not truly occurred, and then neglect it further.

  4. Emily Says:

    Does it serve any purpose to argue which is “worse”? Suppose it does, if the point is to argue which should get the lion’s share of someone’s energy. They are both awful, but sexism is based upon SEX and we have a situation where the male demand for it exceeds the female supply, hence the control aspects of sexism. Therefore, sexism is more “intractable”.

    which could render it “worse”.

    Plus, I see educated liberal men react with horror at the occurance of racism, but appear nonplussed at the occurance of comparative types of sexism. Watching the men justify porn and prostitution right after they decried racism… well it makes me sick.

    But they understand the harm of racism far better then they understand the harm of sexism, so getting them to be strongly opposed to racism is an excellent stepping stone to comparing sexism (which they don’t care about) to racism (which they do) kills two birds with one stone. Win-win!


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