Straight White Guy Does Some Man-splaining

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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38 Responses

  1. Kazzy says:

    “So much of what she writes about is the role of women in popular culture. How is this female character being portrayed; how is that one? What will their degree of allowed sexuality say to other women? What will the way they’re drawn, or shot, or dressed, or scripted say to young girls who might look up to them? It never stops with Alyssa. With the state of our pop culture this says more about her dedication and pop culture’s failing than anything else, but still… it never stops. What must it be like to have to deconstruct everything, all the time, to get a sense of where society thinks you as a person currently stand? What must it mean for parents of daughters, to constantly wade through all of that because you want them to have better opportunities to be themselves than generations before were allowed? It seems like it must be exhausting; reading too much of Alyssa in one sitting makes me sad, even when she is not.”

    In reflecting on my privilege (and I, like you, am an ubermensch of American privilege), I sometimes try to simulate this process that PoC’s/women/gays/ethnic and religious minorities/etc. go through on a near minite-to-minute basis. Not only do I likely fall remarkably short in even achieving a reasonable approximation, but I can barely manage what I do come up with… It is physically, emotionally, and mentally draining. If folks like us had any idea what folks not like us go through… Shhhhiiiiiiiit.Report

    • Fnord in reply to Pyre says:

      When I first heard about that, my thoughts were along the lines of:

      OK, yeah, assuming that all girls care about lipstick, etc is kinda sexist. But let’s be real here, we live in a society where girls are socialized to care about lipstick and guys are socialized to care about cars. And with that in mind, if your goal is to get more women involved in STEM, I don’t think it’s out of line to highlight the science that goes into making lipstick, which is just as real as the science that goes into making cars.

      Then, well, I actually watched the video.Report

  2. Patrick Cahalan says:

    > It never occurs to me that I can’t do or become
    > whatever I want to do or become based on anything
    > but my comparative knowledge and skill level.

    It’s all about the networking, iff’n you ask me. Minor nitpick in an otherwise great piece, since guyfolk have the advantage in networking, as well… as most of the decision-makers are still guyfolk.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:


      I think what Tod was getting at is that he never has to think, “Will my maleness/whiteness/straightness/etc hold me back or be held against me?” It is a really disconcerting feeling to have. As a male in early childhood, right or wrong, I know there are things I can’t or shan’t do. (There are also ridiculous and unfair ways it works to my advantage, mind you.)Report

  3. Fnord says:

    Wurtzel has the core of a worthwhile idea, here. Shame that she takes it and runs in exactly the wrong direction.

    She’s right that society, by default, treats women as caretakers. As she observes, in a two parent, one income household, the one income usually belongs to the father, and that’s hardly where the presumption ends. And she’s right that women suffer for it. I don’t think anyone who’s aware of how women in this culture are treated would deny any of that.

    Wurtzel’s solution, though is where she goes wrong. She supposes that the solution is for women to push harder into the workplace. Nevermind that, as is frequently noted, some women prefer raising their children full time. Nevermind what the implicit concession that childcare is a low-status task does for the still disproportionately female professional caretakers, and indeed the children themselves.

    And it’s also where I must disagree with you, Mr. Kelly. Because men aren’t free to do whatever they want to do, either. Where a social force pressures women out of the workforce and into childcare, it pushes men out of their homes and into being breadwinners. When we note that some women would prefer to raise their children full-time, we should note the same is true for some men.

    I don’t mean this as a whine; acceptance of stay-at-home fathers is improving, just as workforce conditions for women are improving. But I don’t think it can be honestly denied, any more than the pressures towards childcare on women can be denied. And I can’t imagine that society will stop treating women as default caretakers until society stops treating men as default breadwinners. Sexist cultural norms don’t exist in isolation.

    Thus, criticizing women’s life choices is exactly backwards. If you want fairness and equality, don’t try to add create a new stigma. Fight the stigmas that already exist. If you want wives to be free to work, help husbands feel free to take care of their kids.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Fnord says:

      Yeah. we should all be willing to fight just as hard for guys to be able to take care of kids, as for women to be able to be the breadwinner.Report

      • Fnord in reply to Kimmi says:

        It’s not like they’re separate things. It’s one sexist stereotype of how a family is “supposed” to operate. Fighting that is a win-win.Report

    • James K in reply to Fnord says:

      This is a very good point Fnord. Sexism imposes social burdens on men as well as women (even if women get the worse of it on balance), and the two are interrelated. Women end up as care givers because men have to take quite a status hit in order to do the job.Report

  4. A Teacher says:

    Okay, I’m a bit of a numbers nerd so maybe some leaguers can help me out with this and your post reminded me of it.

    The common quote is that women make $0.75 for every $1.00 a man makes. I see that stat and I scratch my head and wonder where they got it, and what variables it controls for.

    For example, until recently, women would take two months for maternity leave, men might take a day or two. Women may have gaps in their employment history while they stayed home to raise a child to preschool age, for men that is not so common. So just there, it would imply that if you looked at two 40 year old employees, with the same education in the same job at the same performance standards, one simply has more time on task by virtue of not having had time off. Now, having spent 2 hours tonight with a teething 5 month old I assure you I’m not suggesting that child rearing is “Vacation”. Far from. But as an employer, staying home with a child is not making product for the company.

    I hope I’m not misunderstood here; I’m a numbers nerd but I also get my dander up when people misuse statistics or imply causation where all they have is correlation. It’s a quirk.

    So, can anyone point me at one or two solid statistical surveys of this that do hold up well so I can sleep tonight?Report

      • A Teacher in reply to M.A. says:

        That is for multiple reasons. There’s testimony in there that shows exactly what I get my dander up. It cites the 75 cents on the dollar by looking at “what men make” and “what women make” and adding it all up, which isn’t good statistical analysis.

        There is some evidence that when you do put in controls there are problems and disparities and that is useful. It’s easier to put out there and not have it dismissed out of hand as poorly construed statistical falicies. I like having useable, reliable data. : )Report

        • M.A. in reply to A Teacher says:

          A Teacher,

          What I find interesting is that they do the analysis you asked for. They control for the intervening variables that are often used to explain the difference and still find a gap.

          Page 69:
          In our report, Behind the Pay Gap, AAUW found that just one year after college graduation, women earn only 80 percent of what their male counterparts earn. Even women who make the same choices as men in terms of major and occupation earn less than their male counterparts. Ten years after graduation, women fall further behind, earning only 69 percent of what men earn. After controlling for factors known to affect earnings, a portion of these pay gaps remains unexplained and is likely due to discrimination.Report

          • Kimmi in reply to M.A. says:

            another portion is due to socialization. women, by nature or nurture, are less inclined to battle for a pay raise (esp. when first hired).

            Guys’ll leave if they aren’t being paid enough… why else do 3rd world factories employ women and not men, all things equal?Report

          • Will Truman in reply to M.A. says:

            Even looking at one-year-out, there are still confounding variables. Women are more likely to go into lower-paying fields more generally. When they go into the same fields, the numbers change.

            Of course, as Fnord points out, these decisions aren’t made in a vacuum.

            As the member of a household with a female breadwinner, the question of pay-equality is not of insignificant importance to me. I believe pretty strongly that discrimination does exist. Unfortunately, I think a lot of it exists in intangible ways that are extremely difficult to nail down statistically, and rather hard to prove.Report

            • Kimmi in reply to Will Truman says:

              we’ve got tons of data from the third world on how far you can push someone before they …do unpleasant things to companies.

              One can extrapolate.Report

            • Tod Kelly in reply to Will Truman says:

              I wasn’t actually referring to large statistical trends, but my experience of working with women at an executive level. Politics aside, I think it’s generally assumed – by men as well as women – at a certain high level of executive authority that a woman simply doesn’t earn as much as a man, because competing firms are less likely to pay them as much to come work for them as they would an equally qualified man. (At that level it’s not an issue of a set salary for a position, it’s what you are able to negotiate on a case by case basis.)

              It’s one of those things everyone seems to agree is there, agree is less than perfect, but just kind of shrugs their shoulders and says, “it’s the market, what are ya gonna do?”Report

    • James Hanley in reply to A Teacher says:


      I don’t know if I can lay my hands on it now, but I read something a while back about the types of jobs that women tend to go into vs. types of jobs that men go into. This won’t do it justice, but essentially women are selectively attracted to low-pay jobs (say, like child) care with greater frequency than men, while men are more selectively attracted to high-paying/high-risk jobs (jobs with a risk premium built into the pay).

      That doesn’t explain all the differential, of course, but it’s one of the factors. (And in that situation the male is not necessarily better off; along with the higher pay comes a higher risk of death or disablement).

      It’s also good to keep in mind that while it’s not yet universal, a increasing number of companies pay men and women the same amount for the same jobs. So to the extent the gap still exists it’s explained less by different pay for same work than by differences between career choices.Report

      • Fnord in reply to James Hanley says:

        And, I would ask, why do those differences in career choices exist? It may mean that simple equal pay laws are a bad idea. But it doesn’t mean we simply stop investigating.

        Why is it that men more than women take high-pay, high-risk jobs?Report

        • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Fnord says:

          Besides the obvious explanation that young men think they’re invincible?Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

            This has something to do with it. Males tend to have a greater tendency toward risk taking in general. That’s only a statistical tendency, of course, and says nothing about particular males or females. When I was a bike messener I realized that probably 90% of messengers were male, although there was no discrimination in hiring. Fewer females applied, and fewer stuck it out more than a few days. The ones who did were just like the guys who did, ranging from average to really good. But there were a really small number of them. And it’s a very dangerous job (not a great risk premium, though; the supply of wanna-be gravy dogs will be endless, as long as young men are filled with testosterone and a reluctance to work inside an office).Report

            • A Teacher in reply to James Hanley says:

              And that’s the fundamental problem with aggregate data. You really have to ~work~ to be sure that you’re comparing apples to apples. What I dislike about the “Women make X compared to a man’s Y” is that it is SO easily dismissed as false because of all of these intervening factors. What we really need is more work done to control variables, drill down to do true comparisons where the only factors at hand are gender. But the more specific you get, the less data you have and thus the bigger the error.

              Job selection is one of the bigger challenges, though it does beg the question as to why it is we pay “women’s fields” less then more male dominated ones? Is there still some form of discrimination at work even there?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to A Teacher says:

                There probably is still some discrimination at work. I’m not remotely pollyanaish enough to think there’s not. But lots of it can be readily explained by labor supply.

                And an underlying question there is how much of the differential in selection of careers is driven by innate differences (statistically) between the genders, and how much is driven by enculteration? I’m pretty sure it’s a mix, but I’ve read a fair amount on the subject and the only thing I’m absolutely sure of is that we don’t (yet, at least) have any real clue, or even any really good way to try to study that question.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

                and then you can point out the real statistical differences between fields that hetero and homosexual males choose…Report

  5. Herb says:

    “It never stops with Alyssa. ”

    Man…….hit the nail on the head with this one and it’s comforting to know that I am not alone in my impressions. So many times I’ve read Alyssa’s blog and came away with a “Huh, never thought of it that way before” moment….which is a good thing….but just as often, I come away dismayed at all the gender sorting.

    In a recent post on female action heroes, she wrote:

    “[M]ore thoughtful movies about what femininity brings to the table in fraught situations would make for more interesting storytelling, and more nuanced role models.”

    And while I took her point, I also couldn’t escape the impression that “what femininity brings to the table” in this case is better personified in Irina Spalko than Willie Scott, which seems like a terribly narrow view.Report

  6. Rufus F. says:

    (re: Rosenberg) I wish more people read more books and knew about more things aside from what’s currently on tv and the internet. I’m perfectly happy that they know about those things, of course, but it would make idle chatter a lot less boring if they knew about other things too.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Rufus F. says:


      Such as…?Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Well… ya know, different cultures, this culture outside of mass media, how to write and play music, how to do any number of things, human psychology, the state of literature, why people do the strange things they do, what’s up with Marge’s new hairstyle. It’s weird- I went to a university where, for about a year, everyone I met at parties wanted to talk about William Faulkner. Now, I go to parties and people want to talk about video games or television shows that I haven’t seen. It’s okay, but I start to wonder if that’s all people have going on now. With the pundits who write about that crap in a pseudo-intellectual way, it’s hard not to think that they got the job because they went to an ivy league school to get a degree that led them to writing about teevee shows on a blog.Report

  7. BlaiseP says:

    For a few months, I helped close down a dot-com startup. There was some good code in there they’d basically written for one client, who was buying it outright. The rationale for that LLC was gone: they were doing the right thing shutting it down.

    I would spend some time after work at a bar named Uncle Remus under the Chicago El tracks. One of the guys, an Albanian, wanted to go with me. It’s frequented almost exclusively by black people. So he sits down, very nervous, obviously never been around people of colour. And starts talking about race. Everyone’s eyes roll to heaven.

    I said “There will come a day, won’t be today and likely not tomorrow, but there will come a day when a man can sit down for a cold frosty beer and his skin tone won’t be a topic of conversation.”

    The old woman who ran the bar laughed and applauded.

    When someone’s gender stops being a topic of conversation, that will be a good day, too. What’s the big deal anyway?

    The prophet Tiresias whom the gods turned into a woman for some trespass, the stories vary. He seems to have adjusted to his life as a woman, becomes a famous temple courtesan, has a daughter named Manto, also a prophetess. After some years, he’s turned back into a man, with the exception of his breasts. He appears in many Greek tragedies, in Odyssey and famously in Eliot’s Waste Land.

    An argument arises: which is better, to be a man or a woman. Tiresias is summoned, having been both. Tiresias said anything a man can do a woman can do, with the exception of giving birth. We shouldn’t be reduced to deconstructing our roles as men or women or white or black or gay or what have you. Obama talks about his mother taking him to see Black Orpheus:

    I decided that I’d seen enough, and turned to my mother to see if she might be ready to go. But her face, lit by the blue glow of the screen, was set in a wistful gaze. At that moment, I felt as if I were being given a window into her heart, the unreflective heart of her youth. I suddenly realized that the depiction of childlike blacks I was now seeing on the screen, the reverse image of Conrad’s dark savages, was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii all those years before, a reflection of the simple fantasies that had been forbidden to a white middle-class girl from Kansas, the promise of another life: warm, sensual, exotic, different.

    The emotions between the races could never be pure; even love was tarnished by the desire to find in the other some element that was missing in ourselves. Whether we sought out our demons or salvation, the other race would always remain just that: menacing, alien, and apart.

    My mother was that girl with the movie of beautiful black people in her head, flattered by my father’s attention, confused and alone, trying to break out of the grip of her own parents’ lives.

    –Barack Obama, Dreams of my Father pp 92-94

    For all our heartfelt good wishes for people who aren’t Straight White Men, everyone’s still stuck with their alternate identities, mostly because they’ve accepted them. And it’s absurd, most of it. These identities were foisted off on us, we were told who we were and we accepted all this dumbassery as Gospel Truth, from the bigots and Elizabeth Wurzel alike — but I repeat myself. We can end this charade in our own lives when we refuse to be defined by anyone else.Report

    • Will H. in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I had some thoughts along the same lines.
      To say it tactfully, overly aggressive concern for the state and comparison of another is a disturbance in the sense of self.
      Sans tact, that comes down to: You’ll never be where you are by looking at a roadmap. (So I did choose a somewhat tactful alternative from among the many; I’ll make up for it next time…)
      Or, as Gibran wrote:
      The fear of thirst while the well is full is the thirst that cannot be quenched.

      Which is to say, that no matter how equivalent some out-group might come to be, there will always be those disaffected sorts looking to the average toward the end of identity disturbances.

      Will people one day be satisfied?
      With themselves? With others?
      I wouldn’t bank on it.

      Reminds me of this for some reason.Report

  8. tempo dulu says:

    Men and women are different. Get over it.Report