Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Disagreeing With Women

Megan McArdle has a piece up on the topic, which with good reason re-surfaces ever so often, of the abuse the female commentators (both on the internet and more generally) seem to come in for in particular.

On the other hand, it can be unpleasant to be a man on the Internet. I know from experience that liberal women tend to believe that they are getting vile abuse not just because they are women, but also because they are liberal women -- that the reason they get so much abuse is that conservative men are virulent sexists who oppose their bold truth-telling about sex and the patriarchy. Conservative women who have been savaged by liberal male pundits and their followers can attest that this is not true. They wonder if this isn’t something about liberal men not having any norms of civility about how to treat women. It’s a bipartisan vice.

My experience is that the torrent of abuse comes not from “conservatives” or “liberals” but from “people you are disagreeing with.” It tends to pop up when a pundit on the other side links you, or something you’ve written goes viral. There appears to be something particularly disagreeable to many men about a disagreeing woman. And for that matter, disagreeable to many women. I’ve had feminist women, for example, essentially say “You’re just saying that to get a boyfriend” when I differed with something they wrote.

Some of this, clearly, is related to the internet. People, for some reason, feel far more comfortable being verbally abusive online than they do in person, probably because being verbally abuse is in part a way of treating someone else as not-quite-a-person, and that's easier to do when you can't see the person standing in front of you. However, McArdle observes there seems to be a broader trend as well.

I wrote about this last year, when Democratic spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter briefly became the target of an Internet hatefest:

[People] get very uncomfortable when [women] contest men on skill: when they are arguing, in essence, "I'm smarter than you" or "I've thought this through better" or "My ideas are more compelling" or just "I'm in charge, and we're going to do it my way". It's not just that the women may be wrong -- 50% of the time, they probably are. There's a real anger that the women are daring to put themselves out there, to declaim in a space where they have no right to be.

Politics seems to me to be very definitely one of those arenas. When Stephanie Cutter does her job right, she wins the news cycle -- and the people who have lost take a double blow. They were beaten, and they were beaten by a woman. It's galling.

Which is why Rush Limbaugh garners outrage and fear, while Michelle Malkin garners a sort of hysterical contempt, incredulity mixed with horror mixed with "How dare that uppity [expletive deleted] state her stupid opinions!" And why the reaction to both Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin was somewhat out of proportion to their actual faults.

The general defense that gets mounted to this is “But I don’t denigrate women. I think these women are great!” followed by a list of women who agree with them politically.

But to go back to what I noted above, it is the combination of women and politics (or some other highly emotional topic) that triggers the abuse. A woman who is vociferously agreeing with you is not exactly violating the patriarchal dynamic, is she? The fact that women on your side do not trigger your atavistic instincts does not mean that there isn’t residual sexism lurking in your behavior. And before the guys go and get all defensive, let me be clear: I am not singling out guys. Women do it, too, including feminists, many of whom are nastier and more judgmental about women who disagree with them than they are about men who do, even as they are incredibly solidaristic with fellow feminists. I don’t think it’s hypocrisy; I don’t think they know they’re doing it.

What I’m saying is that I think all people are unfairly hard on women and minorities on the other side than they are on opponents who are men. I’m not calling on men to flagellate themselves for what a terrible burden white men are on the human race. I’m pointing out that we have an unconscious and unfair double standard. Sometimes it manifests itself in sheer crazy. More often it manifests in dismissing women on the grounds that they couldn’t possibly have anything to add to the conversation.

In my experience, what’s the first thing anyone says about a woman who disagrees with them on an issue? “She’s such an idiot.” I’ll be honest and say I’ve caught myself doing it. Yes, undoubtedly some of them are idiots. But it seems statistically unlikely that all the women on the other side are idiots, and your side happened to get all the good ones. Men get accused of a wide range of sins, from deliberate mendacity to wanting to maintain their privilege, but almost all of the women are foolish and should shut their mouths. Their hysterical mouths.

To see what I mean, consider this. I frequently see lists of “writers I like” or “bloggers I like” or what have you, and there’s usually a spot for “Folks on the other side who I enjoy.” Sometimes that’s a whole post or article of its own. These are staples of blogging.

And in the decade-plus I’ve been writing on the Internet, I have almost never seen a woman in those slots. Not never-never: I think I made Kevin Drum’s list once, and I am sure I am not the only one who has crossed the aisle in that way. But it’s really rare, either in proportion to the number of women writers, or the number of other women on these lists. Though it’s true that political writing and blogging trend heavily male, these lists usually do contain women -- just very rarely in that slot. I think the same holds true for minority writers, though I am less sure of that. And what are the odds of this happening by chance?
It strikes me that there's some sense of social hierarchy going on here. It's one thing to be opposed by someone who one subconsciously thinks of as an equal or superior opponent in terms of social status. But as soon as the opponent is identified as belonging to some group it's possible to look down on, it not only becomes possible to sneer at the opponent more easily, but necessary to do so less you be seen as being dominated by that sort of person.

1 comment:

bearing said...

The old saw goes that liberals think conservatives are heartless, and conservatives think liberals are brainless.

However, under established gender stereotypes, women are allowed to be brainless but not heartless.

So while conservatives wh adhere to the old saw can easily regard the liberal men and liberal women as equals in their brainlessness, liberals find themselves in a cognitive bind. They need a different stereotype crafted especially for women.

No surprise then that the default invective runs to accusations of sluttishness and/or a brainwashed submissiveness, a sort of gender-based Auntie Tom.

In the case where the conservative woman in question is a person of color, or identifies as a lesbian, or belongs to a sneered-at group, of course, her denigrators are freed up to resort to stereotypes based on some other feature of her identity -- and will do this even if the feature identity is one that is seen as positive within one's own political circles, such as being a working mother.