Category Archives: Undead sexist cliches

Undead Sexist Cliche: She’s a Man in Drag

During one of the panels at Illogicon this month, one writer commented that when writing women, one thing to avoid is simply writing them as a man with boobs.

On the one hand, I agree with that. I have seen characters where I thought that was an apt description. On the other hand, “that character is really a man” and “she wants to be just like a man” are such old rules of gender policing I can’t but recoil from using them.

John C. Wright, for instance, considers any woman who does more than protect her family or support her man to be a man with boobs. On the other side of the political aisle, there were feminists in the 1970s who argued any female super-hero was automatically a man in drag: real women never resort to violence to solve problems.

In the real world, “feminists want to be men” is a staple of sexist criticism. The NYT’s Maureen Dowd, for example, remembers the start of second-wave feminism thus: “Women were once again imitating men and acting all independent: smoking, drinking, wanting to earn money and thinking they had the right to be sexual, this time protected by the pill. I didn’t fit in with the brazen new world of hard-charging feminists.” Decades earlier, one of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ characters (speaking in the 1930s) dismissed The Modern Woman as no different from men—smoking, drinking, sexually aggressive, at least by Burroughs’ standards (it’s a fictional character speaking but I’ve read too much Burroughs not to think it’s the author’s own view).

Dowd’s analysis (and ERB’s too, of course) is like a lot of her work detached from facts. Women, even stay-at-home housewives, smoked and drank, even in the oh-so-gendered 1950s. Women worked, too: maids, cooks, housekeepers, waitresses. Poor and working-class women have worked from necessity even when it was unfashionable for middle and upper-class women (though some of them worked too, even in the 1950s).

But beyond that, the idea that wanting your own income or wanting to enjoy sex are naturally male attributes is ridiculous, though both assumptions — women “naturally” want to stay home and be baby machines, and “naturally” want love, not sex — are still around (case in point). More generally, the line between “man with boobs” and “non-stereotypical female character” is blurry — I suspect it’s pretty much “I know it when I see it.” So I’m not sure how useful a measure it is in figuring out how to write believable women.

Society’s fondness for gendering particular attributes is always a problem in writing fiction. It forces us to debate whether princesses can be feminist, or kick-ass warriors can be girly. For some people, the girly stuff is stereotyping; for others it’s girly stuff because a lot of girls like it; for some, being girly makes it inferior. All of which makes it hard to think clearly about who we’re writing, or for a female character to be just a character, rather than a marker or a statement about What Women Want or Should Want.

Unfortunately, I doubt we’ll get to higher clarity any time soon.

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Assorted political links

Rush Limbaugh argues that blaming Planned Parenthood for last year’s terrorist attack is what the left should be doing. At the link, Digby explains why he’s wrong. I’ll add that the most prominent “America deserved it” critics were conservatives: Sen. James Inhofe, Pat Robertson and the late, loathsome Jerry Falwell.

•Yes, the CIA uses torture.

•Burundi cracks down on free speech.

•Ted Cruz insists Republican opposition to birth control doesn’t exist. It’s probably noteworthy the type of birth control he offers as proof is condoms rather than anything that women use. But of course if women make that decision themselves, that makes them slutty sluts in the eyes of many religious conservatives.

•Not only are all terrorists not Muslim, plenty of people who aren’t Muslim believe in violent insurgency — i.e., a good chunk of the American right.

•Yes, it does matter who becomes president.

•David Brooks insists Ted Cruz does not share the values of Christian conservatives. David Brooks is wrong.

•The United States doesn’t have the absolute world supremacy it did 25 years ago. But that’s okay—it’s more to do with the circumstances of the 1990s (collapse of Russia, China much less powerful or fincially successful than now) than some fundamental weakness.

•A medical report says cities are safer than the country. Homicide is less frequent in rural areas, but the rate of accidental death is a good deal higher.

•Tyler Cowan, internet authoritarian libertarian, argues that there’s a direct link between Americans having a lot of guns and Americans being willing to fight in the military and be the world’s policeman. So if you’re anti-gun and pro-intervention, therefore you’re logically contradictory. At the link (including the comments) much discussion why this doesn’t add up (countries can be interventionist without a gun culture; the Swiss aren’t interventionist but have lots of private gun ownership).

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Does the arc of the universe tend toward justice?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Bill Cosby has been arrested for sexual assault. On the other hand, that was a very long arc.

•Ethan Couch, the rich kid who killed four people while drunk driving (the affluenza case) has been busted violating probation. Though apparently the most he’s likely to get is 120 days.

•A 12-year-old boy gets shot by cops because they reacted to his toy pistol. They won’t be prosecuted but people in authority are very concerned that protesters and black activists not lose their tempers about it.

•Some members are outraged about NSA spying on Americans … well, as long as they’re the Americans in question.

•One Netflix documentary on a murder case has inspired protests about the conviction … on Yelp.

•In 2012, a SWAT team in Kansas burst into a residential home looking for drug dealers—because the father had bought hydroponics equipment at a garden store (the cops watched the store and marked people who did that). A judge has thrown the family’s case against the cops out on the grounds the police clearly didn’t do anything wrong.

•Health care providers routinely violate medical privacy laws without penalty. At the link, the government explains its priority is breaches affecting more than 500 people, not just one or two.

•On the other hand, an alleged scam artist targeting charities with office supply offers (for example sending unsolicited supplies, then harassing the mark for payment) has had its accounts frozen by the federal government.

•A musician has sued Spotify on the grounds streaming services (which pay shit to the artists they stream) don’t get the necessary licensing from songwriters. Billboard has more details.

•Tennessee has charged a woman with murder for attempting to abort her child. I guess as the right-wing slides ever more extreme, any pretense they care about the women in these cases is over.

•Right-wing casino millionaire Sheldon Adelson buys a paper and by a Complete Coincidence reporters start investigating the judge in a lawsuit against Adelson. One Connecticut reporter (the story wound up in a Connecticut paper) resigned over management’s shamelessly delivering what Adelson apparently wanted. More details about the tissue of lies and fictitious reporter Edward Clarkin at Think Progress


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Undead Sexist Cliches: Paul Ryan’s Beard proves women looooove big, strong, bossy men.

ryanPaul Ryan has grown a beard, which leads Nicole Russell at the Federalist to gush that he “exudes manliness.” Which is very, very, very important to conservatives, who must have manly men running for office, and in most other areas of life.

In 2003, after Bush made his “mission accomplished” speech on board the aircraft carrier, dressed in a flight suit, right-wingers exploded in orgasmic awe. W was the star quarterback, compared to which the Dems looked like whiny little nerds. He was the jet jockey and fighter pilot (he actually wasn’t—he was grounded 30 years earlier for blowing off his flight exam). The image of him so handsome and strong won the votes of every woman in America.

Back in 2008, right-wing whackjob Kim DuToit, in his infamouse essay about the “pussification of the western male,” mentions that manly, powerful men like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld can get the hottest women in the world (but don’t because they don’t screw around) because they’re strong, powerful men and women just peel off their panties for guys like that.

In 2012, Kevin Williamson of National Review focused the same gushing right-wing longing for manliness on Romney: Romney’s so handsome and strong he should get 100 percent of the female vote! He could walk into any college hookup spot and get laid a dozen times! And he has five sons where Obama has two daughters, so he radiates testosterone where Obama lactates!

Now it’s Paul Ryan who has embraced his manly manliness but growing a beard, making him a very manly Speaker of the House. Which is important because it’s manly and women want that. And the article shifts to a favorite Federalist theme, feminism has failed because it won’t acknowledge women crave alpha men who will dominate them in a kind but dominating way like women are evolutionarily wired to crave. Men who fail to be Real Men are just as bad as sexists, according to Russell.

In reality, of course (as I note at the link), some women like alpha men. Some women like beards. Some women like neither. Feminism has not turned all men into cringing, submissive wimps (which seems to be Russell’s definition of beta male in the article), but it has shaken some men out of the belief they’re innately supposed to run the world and all the women. Which is the last thing conservatives want, at least as concerns women wh0 are not them—as noted at the link, the Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway thinks women should be focused on their man, not landing a cool job, while smugly settling in as editor of the magazine (possibly Russell is also a special snowflake)

And I wonder how “Men who fail to embrace their masculinity are as bad as chauvinists who wield it like a weapon” makes sense. Because the latter are the ones who think women should stay home with the baby, think women shouldn’t be in charge, think some jobs/fields are just wrong for women. Not embracing masculinity, however Russell defines it (probably not the way I would), may be a problem for the guy, but at least he doesn’t impose his problem on other people. Like Ryan, who thinks it’s worse to place regulations on lightbulbs than to ban abortion.

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My new And column, the Japanese Internment and other issues

My New And column, on Ted Cruz’s claim that Christians never commit terrorism. And therefore Muslims, because of their innately terroristic personalities, deserve to be kept out, or profiled or locked up. In short, the massive surveillance-and-detention system Republicans have championed since 9/11 should be used on Others, never anyone Like Themselves.

My previous column discussed how much the paranoia over Islam resembles the fear of Japanese that led to the internment. And wouldn’t you know, Trump refuses to say whether he’d have authorized it. Now, while that could theoretically be humility—”maybe I’d have given into the irrational fear too”—not saying anything like “Well if I did I’d have been wrong, just like FDR” would seem a logical thing to put in there. But instead he babbles about how war requires “tough choices.”

Well, yes. Like not giving in to fear and paranoia and bigotry (rather than saying we’ll kill their families). Which Trump does, and he continues to pull the Republicans more racist-ward (“to the right” seems inadequate). Which may be shrewd politics—the more racist he is, the more the spotlight stays on him.

Just to clarify things, no Japanese-Americans were ever convicted of espionage. There’s no evidence the internment hindered whatever spy networks the Japanese government might have had in place (despite wartime movies such as Little Tokyo, USA and G-Men vs. the Black Dragon in which it was the trump card that sent their network of fifth columnists crashing down). It was, however, overwhelmingly based on racism (all Japanese are loyal to the Emperor, there’s no way to tell a good Japanese American from a disloyal one) and paranoia (the very fact no acts of sabotage were occurring just proves they’re waiting to do something really bad!).

•That doesn’t stop Eric Erickson from saying with pride that his family marked the Pearl Harbor anniversary by not eating Asian food (at the link, the author points out that would include Chinese, Korean, Thai …).

•Erik Loomis points out that Hawaii, our casus belliin WW II, wasn’t exactly American territory— we overthrew the Hawaiian government and occupied it.

•Echidne looks at Trump’s call to ban all Muslims. Roy Edroso looks at the right freaking out over San Bernadino which is Totally Different from that not-a-terrorist at Planned Parenthood. Echidne looks at how the media balance the killer being a housewife with her terrorism.

•The Mayor of St. Petersburg bars Trump from the city until they can determine if he’s a threat.

•In addition to hating Muslims, it looks like no abortions for rape victims is going to be the new norm.

•Echidne looks at sexism on the right.

•Dubious claims about why college is so expensive.

•As we face the high probability of Hilary Clinton becoming one of the candidates, there’s a growing school of “we’d be better off in the long run with Republicans” articles because that would teach everyone how bad Republican governance is and pave the way for the triumph of the lest. Like Scott Lemieux, I cry balderdash. And Democrats are just as likely to run to the right, as they’ve tried doing in the past (another school of finger-wagging you’ve-blown-it-now posts).

•An initiative to add grocery stores in food deserts hasn’t worked.

•Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, now dabbles in revenge porn. Reason looks at the limits on anti-revenge porn laws. And former revenge-porn kingpin Craig Brittain discovers how Totally Totally Unfair it is to be haunted by your past online.

•Republicans wring their hands a lot about how nobody takes us seriously when we talk tough. But it’s also a problem if nobody believes us when we say we’ll do nothing.

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A little thing that annoys me (and some links)

Back when I was in college in the 1970s, women not shaving their legs was still a kind of daring thing (let them get hairy? Not conform to established standards of social grooming?). And one which annoys antifeminists now and then, as “hairy-legged” is a perpetual put-down—as I’ve mentioned before, “feminists are ugly” is time-honored proof that they shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Not only has that cliché stuck around, in a way it’s gotten worse: now not shaving the groin is just as much something to laugh at. I first noticed this in a preview for Younger, a TV series in which a 40something woman poses as 23 to get past age discrimination; at one point she’s in a gym locker room with genuinely younger Hilary Duff and when Duff sees she’s unshaven down there, she’s horrified. Then when TYG and I caught Mockingjay Part 2 this weekend, a clip for another movie has one woman ceaselessly mocking her buddy for having pubic hair.

I knew beauty/grooming/fashion standards are arbitrary, but seriously? This is the hill they want to mock people on?

•A man uses the Lifelock credit-monitoring agency to track his ex-wife’s activity, by taking out an account in her name.

•Various Chrome extensions can track everything you do with Chrome. And Yahoo Mail has shut some mail users out of their accounts for using Adblock.

•Human Rights Watch says Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition in Yemen against rebels and 2,500 civilians have been killed. So let’s not sell them bombs.

•Digby compares the case of a black guy shot in Chicago with a drunken white guy who threatened cops and was talked down. As Slacktivist says (don’t have the link) it’s not that the white guy should have been shot, it’s that it gives the lie to We Had No Choice But To Shoot. Likewise we have an anti-Islamic activist whose threat to “confront” Muslims attracts little media attention. If he were Muslim and confronting Christians? At the link, Digby points out the Planned Parenthood shooter in Colorado has been described as an occasionally violent “gentle loner” which is not how the media characterize non-whites. Oh, and right-wingers want you to know the attack was definitely nothing to do with anti-abortion views or conservative politics.

•Whether or not Trump is technically fascist, he’s certainly dictatorial. And he’s encouraging and feeding on the general unease about Syrian refugees. Digby links to discussions of how protesters have been assaulted at Trump rallies, and Trump’s declaration that if we waterboard innocent people, they probably deserved it anyway.

•Walmart uses a defense contractor to spy on employees.

•No, the Paris attacks are not Edward Snowden’s fault.

•The democratic, freedom-loving spirit of America can never be broken!—except when you have judges legalizing gay marriage, that could be the tipping point! Quite aside from that dubious conclusion, as pointed out in the comments at the link, the writer blithely ignores things like slavery and Cromwell’s Puritan dictatorship that don’t fit the democracy-and-freedom narrative.

•I will give Ben Carson credit for calling the Colorado Planned Parenthood attack a hate crime. However he goes on to say that we have to dialog despite extremists on both sides who want to destroy each other … because yes, there have been all those pro-choice shootings of right-to-life leaders and the bombing attacks on crisis pregnancy centers—oh, wait, no there haven’t.

•According to a lawsuit filed by the city of LA, Wells Fargo used a variety of unethical practices to turn clients into fee-generating machines, for example opening unwanted added accounts, charging customers with account fees, then sending them to collection if the fees put the customer into the red.

•A travel-data analyst says airlines have improved their on-time arrival rate by exaggerating the time the flights take when the schedule is set. Airlines disagree.


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More Paris, more politics

Along with lying about how many whites are shot by blacks, Trump has also claimed that on 9/11 he saw thousands of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey, despite being in NYC at the time. Roy Edroso looks at the right’s continuing condemnation of the Syrian refugees, and its defense of Trump—just because Trump overestimated the number of Muslims hardly proves he’s a liar! After all, it’s just as much a lie to say Muslims are peaceful, so Clinton is as bad as Trump, QED!

•Ted Cruz says we can let Christian Syrians in because Christians don’t commit terrorism. That’s bullshit.

•We also have several white guys arrested for shooting at black protesters in Minneapolis.

•One water law for rich and poor alike, resulting in millionaires being able to keep five swimming pools during a drought while people who xeriscape and only flush toilets occasionally still get fined.

•Yesterday I linked to the story of an FBI informant who seduced an activist into a terrorist plot. That sort of thing happens in Britain, too.

•The Mayor of Roanoke, Va., said that shutting out Syrian refugees is a smart policy just like interning Japanese Americans. At the link, he insists his statement was very respectful and moderate and he had no idea that if he posted it online, lots of people outside Roanoke would hear about it.

•The New York subways object to running some positive Muslim ads, but they’re okay with decorating a car with Nazi imagery for Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle.

•A North Carolina historian rips into claims from Niall Ferguson about how Muslims living in Europe is the fall of Rome all over again.

•A blogger wonders why an obit would only mention the deceased’s male parent.

•Beware the security flaw on new Dell laptops.

•Justice Richard Posner points out that requiring abortion doctors have admitting privileges at hospitals in case something goes wrong ignores that abortion is safer than many procedures that don’t have this requirement. It’s almost like the law was trying to drive abortion doctors out of business …

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