Overt and covert misogyny

Melissa McEwan has a really interesting article on derogatory speech, specifically on MSNBC.  She criticises the way that individual words are focussed on: roughly, you can get away with almost anything as long as you don’t make assertions containing certain forbidden terms.  I’m a bit torn on this myself, because it’s much tougher to formulate easy to follow rules without focussing on specific terms.  And I worry about the chilling effect of unclear rules.  (Recall that perfectly legitimate, non-sexist criticisms of Sarah Palin were called sexist by her campaign.)

12 thoughts on “Overt and covert misogyny

  1. You know what I found most interesting about the article?

    That the author, after accusing Ed Schultz of covert misogyny, then went on to deride him as a whiny baby. (“sent to bed without dinner”)… With the end result that women who recognize sexism are mature, intelligent adults and men can’t possibly be.

    Infantilizing men is no less sexist. Just a thought.

  2. “The author, after accusing Ed Schultz of covert misogyny, then went on to deride him as a whiny baby. (“sent to bed without dinner”)… With the end result that women who recognize sexism are mature, intelligent adults and men can’t possibly be.”

    Having read the article, I’m not sure that McEwan’s implication was that *men* as a class are infantile (which would certainly be a somewhat essentialist, and therefore anti-feminist assertion to make!), or even that sexist ones like Schulz are. I thought she was trying to characterise MSNBC’s decision to impose a week’s unpaid leave on Schulz as a parentally- indulgent ‘slap on the wrist’ – a mild punishment inappropriate to what McEwan clearly perceives as a revealing slip/serious misjudgement.

  3. Read it again. There’s a definite air of disdain for men who make comments about women as part of a juvenile, frat-boy mindset. (nudge nudge wink wink don’t get caught) There’s no call for rational debate, and by the way, if Schulz *were* a grownup, in the writer’s view, why would the NBC “parents” need to step in?

    My original opinion stands. Covert sexism, indeed.

  4. At the point where a Kantian, rule-based approach fails, I think it’s appropriate to turn to more Aristotelean and Marxian approaches: the problem is that certain virtues of the right sort aren’t being cultivated, and the social structures that have the effect of discouraging those virtues. To borrow from McEwan, the important fact is that MSNBC is `a for-profit network operating in a country where many of its potential viewers want and expect to have their misogynist opinions validated’. Sexism is profitable. So how to make it *unprofitable*?

    Synaesthetik –

    Of course McEwan has an air of disdain for men who make sexist comments. They’re making sexist comments. I think the analogy to a child who’s acting irresponsibly, unethically, and inappropriately not only holds up, but is entirely legitimate. When children act in these ways, it’s entirely appropriate to regard their behavior with disdain and for parents to step in and correct and punish their behavior.

    As for the rest of your reading, your interpolation of the accusations of a `juvenile, frat-boy mindset’ are based on the single `sent to bed without dinner’ line. Considering the non-metaphorical language she uses, as far as I can see, throughout the entire rest of the piece, your reading seems to me to be rather a stretch, and is basically uncharitable.

    Finally, you seem to believe that all sexist acts are equally objectionable. But clearly not. Grant for the sake of argument that (a) McEwan did accuse Schultz et al. of having a juvenile, frat-boy mindset and (b) this was a sexist act. It seems to me that (a) is much less objectionable than any of the following, taken individually: using a sexist epithet, implicating that a prominent woman politician is a devil, talks too much, is a witch, prostitutes her daughter, or is a prostitute. At the very least, the combination of all of these is certainly much worse than (a), even granting (b). Certainly censure of the long-running sexist misbehavior of MSNBC’s pundits is much more important than censure McEwan for (a) and (b).

  5. I’m not replying to the post in question, although the article was interesting.

    Just thinking that if you authors here at this lovely blog yet haven’t seen this video yet (although I’m sure you have), you probably need to.

  6. As always, your arguments are flawless, Dan. With Synaesthetik’s comments, there’s often an unstated ought that can be read a number of ways, tho. I know her well, so I’ll stick my own neck out here.

    S, your point was that McEwan’s criticism of sexist comments with more sexism directed at men is just inviting more backlash. Much like saying “Quit f****ing swearing at me, and show some respect, ya wanker!!” Your objection wasn’t so much to the female on male sexism itself, but to the likely outcome of “fighting fire” with more of the same, right?

    Wile E. Coyote and “Don’t stand on the X”?

  7. Dan Hicks,

    “… you seem to believe that all sexist acts are equally objectionable.”

    I don’t see that in Synaesthetik’s comments. What’s your ground for that attribution? It’s not cool to attribute dumb beliefs to your interlocutors without pretty good grounds.

  8. rick –

    First, the complaint itself; why bother to make it if the offenses are more-or-less equally objectionable? Second, in the first comment, the particular sentence`Infantilizing men is no less sexist.’ Third, in the second comment, using the generic `covert sexism’, rather than a specific or comparative. Fourth, the absence of any qualification in the complaint that even hints otherwise, as best as I can tell.

    Of course, even jointly, these aren’t strictly sufficient. Thus my use of `seem’.

  9. Dan Hicks,

    1. (Why mention it) Because it’s an interesting point. Synaesthetik points out an interesting kind of covert sexism. Look, we all know that not all sexism is equally bad. This blog points out plenty of interesting sorts of sexism, worth commenting on, without anyone inferring that the poster thinks all sexism is equally bad.

    2. no-less-sexist ≠ no-less-bad.

    3. I don’t get that one.

    4. Note the important difference between not saying otherwise and saying not-otherwise. Inferring the second from the first is not wise.

  10. Boys! Once Synaesthetik gets off her gruelling overnight shift, she’ll speak for herself and tell us exactly what she means.

  11. I’m saying the author undermines her own own authority by practising exactly the same behaviour she’s criticizing in others.

  12. Yes, that’s what I thought, S. It’s easy to overlook the subtle differences between a rule utilitarian and a Kantian (referring to Dan’s comment#4). My first year prof tried to tell me there was no difference. HA! I was right. There is a difference. But that’s what happens when a guy whose area of expertise is frikkin Descartes tries to teach first year ethics!

    (Not you, Dan. I’m ranting about my first year prof. You know your stuff. Feel free to add as much or as little to this comment as you’d like.)

    A rule utilitarian embraces/follows codes of behaviour for the simple purpose of not wanting her/his world to function like the crew on Pirates of the Caribbean. A Kantian would also be adhering to the second form of the CI, but I’m pretty sure you’re aware of the points Dan made in the last paragraph of comment#4, Synaesthetik. It’s not so much a matter of “lying to the axe murderer is wrong”. You’re more about maximizing the good by not resorting to self defeating behaviours. Right, S?

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