Is Misogyny the left’s last bigotry?

We debated during the presidential primaries whether misogyny was the last public prejudice.  It seemed very unlikely, despite the press’s efforts.  Now the question arises again with regard to an aricle in the Nation.  And while we would be foolish, I think, to suppose the left does not have it’s own collection of biases, is hard to imagine the Nation published a racist version of the misogynistic post it has published.  Castrating women, yes; dangerous black men, no.

From the Nation:
First up, Robert Dreyfuss (stress mine):

So three or four of Obama’s advisers, all women, wanted war against Libya.

We’d like to think that women in power would somehow be less pro-war, but in the Obama administration at least it appears that the bellicosity is worst among Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power. All three are liberal interventionists, and all three seem to believe that when the United States exercises military force it has some profound, moral, life-saving character to it. Far from it. Unless President Obama’s better instincts manage to reign in his warrior women—and happily, there’s a chance of that—the United States could find itself engaged in open war in Libya, and soon. The troika pushed Obama into accepting the demands of neoconservatives, such as Joe Lieberman, John McCain and The Weekly Standard‘s Bill Kristol, along with various other liberal interventionists outside the administration, such as John Kerry. The (sic) rode roughshod over the realists in the administration.

Sexist tropes are like the smell of napalm in the morning.

And then Katha Pollitt:

It’s been a long time since anyone seriously maintained that women in power, simply by virtue of their gender, are reliably less warlike than men—how could they be, given that men set up and control the system through which those women must rise? But apparently Nation blogger Robert Dreyfuss has just noticed this fact. 
In a post entitled “Obama’s Women Advisers Pushed War Against Libya” (originally titled “Obama’s Women” tout court) he’s shocked-shocked-shocked that UN Ambassador Susan Rice, human-rights adviser Samantha Power and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were keen on intervening militarily in Libya. The piece is dotted with arch and sexist language—the advisers are a “troika,” a “trio” who “rode roughshod over the realists in the administration” (all men) and “pushed Obama to war.” Now it’s up to the henpecked president to “reign (sic) in his warrior women.” Interestingly, the same trope—ballbreaking women ganging up on a weak president—is all over the right-wing blogosphere.

Whatever you think of the action against Qaddafi—count me as extremely apprehensive—it might just be that someone, even a woman, could support it for a reason other than sheer viciousness.

23 thoughts on “Is Misogyny the left’s last bigotry?

  1. I was really surprised by the nature of this coverage, though I do wonder whether it originated from the mainstream left or if they were just parroting the largest media outfits. I don’t mean to convey skepticism here, I just don’t know where this silly coverage started.

    I was at least somewhat heartened to hear a number of commentators refuting this silliness on NPR last night. In addition to some of the sexist language used, the coverage is also short on the facts. Hillary Clinton was rather on the fence about the attacks toward the beginning. Sometimes a nice yarn trumps the need for accuracy.

  2. No. There’s also xenophobia, islamophobia, arabophobia and PEP – just to name a few other forms of bigotry which are alive and well on “the left” (I’m sure there’s more).

    Anyway. I’m not sure it’s prudent to label Robert Dreyfuss as “left” even though he works for Liberal magazines. He is the author of very conservative books, he has been a member of the ultra-right and antisemitic conspiracist Lyndon LaRouche-movement (labelled “a fascist movement whose pronouncements echo elements of Nazi ideology” by Political Research Associates among others).

    He certainly writes a lot against US foreign policies, and yes he did criticize the Bush-administration, but that does not make one “left”, though it may make one’s articles interesting for Liberal magazines (and conspiracists of all kinds).

  3. If you have any doubts about the misogyny of the left just recall the 1008 primary campaign. Remember the Hillary nutcrackers? The beat has been going on since the rise of the New Left during the 1960s when one leader declared that “The only position for women in the movement is prone.” And there’s still the view that first the central issues have to be dealt with–that is the issues that affect men–and then there will be time for “women’s issues.” And women are repremanded for making demands while the more important business of the revolution is being done, for being disruptive instead of waiting their turn.

    It’s the playground. Girls are allowed to play. But when the score is tight they’re expected to retire to the bench until things aren’t so crucial. Than they’re allowed to come back into the game.

  4. “[It] is hard to imagine the Nation published a racist version of the misogynistic post it has published. Castrating women, yes; dangerous black men, no.”

    An apt and illuminating comparison. Here I bask, in this publicly post-racial era proclaimed by others, prompted to entertain the thought that even black men, unlike women generally, are no longer subjected to…

  5. Anon ‘sr’ I did mean to talk about public bigotry, those that one lets show. Of course, keeping quiet about one’s racism may require more knowledge than one has, as Biden made clear.

    I don’t mean to suggest you tthought otherwise, but it seemed worth repeating to be clear.

  6. What’s sexists about the “troika” line? (A troika is a sort of Russian 3-horse carriage, as far as I know, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it applied to men, too, when they are seen as a group of 3.) I’m also not sure what’s particularly sexist about the “rode roughshod” bit. This isn’t to say that the whole piece is fine- I agree that it’s not- I’m just not sure why these bits of language are highlighted, as they seem to be terms that are not essentially gendered and are regularly applied to men, too. If the idea is that the three women in question are not a unified team, or that they didn’t “ride roughshod” over anyone but just convinced people, that’s certainly fine, and may well be true. But that would just make the language incorrect, not sexist. What am I missing about these particular terms?

  7. I think the militaristic nature of the language is what was being picked out as problematic, Matt. ‘Troika’, in particular, referred to Stalinist-era death commissions, if I’m not mistaken.

  8. Matt Drebek, I agree. To call an act “castrating,” for example, need imply no attitude at all to the gender of the person acting. But to use that as a metaphor for an woman’s asserting is to label her action as extreme and dangerous in a way that echoes a sexist cliche. The militaristic metaphors achieve much the same effect.

  9. To concur with other comments, I wouldn’t say it’s the last, but the degree to which sexism is overtly tolerated–or just not recognized as sexism–in leftist communities is disturbing.

    I wonder to what degree acceptance of evolutionary psychology plays into this, especially in terms of behavior or language that’s not even recognized as sexist or excused as “natural,” while women who point out the sexism are dismissed as ignorant of evolutionary findings. Many leftist men (and women), especially those with a presence on the internet, pride themselves on their knowledge of science in general and evolution in particular. Unfortunately, some uncritically accept anything they like that goes on under the label of “science,” even if it is done sloppily and contradicted by other scientific evidence, as is too often the case in evo psych. Not to say that things would be hunky-dory for women without studies “showing” they have a real knack for low-status, low-paying jobs, but they provide easy excuses that are legitimized by the word “science.”

    This sort of thing (“but evolution says you love babies and are no good at math!”) can make women feel unwelcome at a number of internet communities, especially atheist ones that really focus on science. (There’s also Robin Hanson’s somewhat ironically titled “Overcoming Bias,” though I wouldn’t call him a liberal.) One exception is Pharyngula. While you might not like PZ Myers’ tone, he’s dismantled a lot of bad evo psych, and the community is much more woman-friendly than on similar sites.

  10. “Anon ‘sr’ I did mean to talk about public bigotry, those that one lets show.”

    Indeed, I found the comparison itself–and its underlying assumptions–an example.

  11. People get away with transphobic & ableist public comments all the time.

    And I’ve had a long time suspicion that evo psyche is mostly useful for when you want to add credence to what you’ve already assumed to be true, given the fact that it has zero predictive power on its own.

  12. Gorgonzola, yes, there is a lot in the public manifestations of evolutionary psychology that fits in with misogyny. But I suspect the explanation for what we see here in, eg., the Nation, is just the persistence of bias and bigotry. They gave a strong psychological force, independently of intellectual fads. Or so I’d bet.

  13. I know that it can be illuminating to make comparisons with other forms of prejudice– different forms work in different ways, and what is taken for granted in the case of one kind of prejudice may seem shocking in the case of another. I also know that JJ’s intention was very much not to suggest that sexism is worse or more prevalent than racism.

    However, I worry that the comparisons between various -isms all to easily lends itself to misinterpretation as a claim that one -ism is worse than another. And this is so counterproductive that I’m wondering if we’re better off refraining from such comparisons. (This is a genuine wondering, not a rhetorical ploy.)

  14. jj – The words `castrating’, `ballbreaking’, and `henpecked’ don’t appear in Dreyfuss’ piece. Those are Pollitt’s interpolation.

    I agree with the other commentators who think other forms of personal prejudice are just as prevalent. Let me add, though, that (a) I don’t think personal prejudice and stereotypes are nearly as bad as institutional injustice, and (b) worrying about which groups suffer worse prejudice, stereotyping, and/or institutional injustice is often a massive distraction from working to rectify the problem.

  15. Let me clarify the post. It would be foolish to deny that leftists as a group have a set of class/race/abelist, etc, biases, but why are some and not others ok for the nation to display? That’s the main question.

    Dan, i think one has to be careful. If we don’t lessen some of the effects of personal prejudice, then the power and resources for institutional change are largely in the hands of the dominant prople. And they mess up.

    Dan, in 9, i distinguish between ‘castrating’ and the military terms actually used.

  16. Pseudo, a character thought it was a good thing. That’s very different. The character was not presented as having good judgment.

  17. Troika is not only a horse carriage. It is also a special Stalin era Soviet institution of “fast justice”. Troikas handled fast track criminal investigations, and had the power to choose any punishment up to an execution. There was no advocates at the trial, and the defendant was not present. The materials could be several complaints against the defendant, or, at times, simply a big list of people “scheduled” to be punished. The decision of a troika was not subject to appeals, so in case it decided to execute the defendant, the execution took place almost immediately.

    Just as an example, the imfamous murder of some 20 thousand Polish POW officers in 1940 (known as “Katyn massacre”) was most likely sanctioned by such a troika.

    But even for Stalin times, troikas were so over the board that they only existed for about 4 years (1935-1938) during the Great Purge in the USSR as a whole, and then were locally introduced during the “national operations” during the Second World War.

  18. to contemplate from which position to exercise misogyny from; or in what ways misogyny might actually be accomplished. the topic of misogyny only emanates from a deep Cultural Critique of woman, and the full contemplation of Woman’s relation to Community.


  19. “I also know that JJ’s intention was very much not to suggest that sexism is worse or more prevalent than racism.”

    The comparison doesn’t work without the notion that sex bias is worse or more prevalent or, as jj explicitly endorses, more public than race bias. A person who believes that sex bias, unlike race bias, is viewed as “ok for the nation to display” would have us take for granted her heightened ability to identify both. (This from a person who soon goes on, in an overwhelmingly non-black forum, to call attention to black men and rape.)

    I don’t know why one would be confident that the comparison holds. In the case of blacks in particular, I would be even less confident. I find resort to the trope–that even blacks have it better than Xs in this or that way–unfriendly and generally depressing. But that’s just me.

  20. Anon “sr” philosopher: I hope I kept some or most of my conjectures at the level of questions or hypotheses. You remind us that what is invisible/hidden for some groups or classes or ethnicities may be blatant for others.

    It is also the case, however, that it may well be worth calling attention to what, e.g., whites take themselves to show. And in fact this was my focus. It may well be that to many white racism is every bit as visible as the sexism. But it is still interesting and significant if we try to hide one and not the other.

    One worry might be that women are still taken to be complicit in the sexism, and so it isn’t in need od disguise.

  21. Let me just add that at the risk of sounding defensive I didn’t, I dearly hope, try to draw any conclusions about who was better off. Precisely what the significance of what one tries to hide and what one doesn’t is worth much more careful analysis than I have given. My own sense is that it is a good thing when the society censures some form of speech to the extent that people become wary of some expressions of bigotry. But why that is so is worth, ina forum like this, more discussion than declaration.

Comments are closed.