Sexism at Time and the Times

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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67 Responses

  1. Burt Likko says:

    Isn’t “influencing” and “persuading” and “personalizing” and “collaborating” something that POLITICIANS do? Not necessarily women or men, but politicians? Maybe I sit from a position of male privilege here but it seems to me that these politicians are to be praised for helping break a negotiating impasse. They got the country’s work done the way the country wanted it done. The fact that the leaders of this effort were women may result a bit from some ladies-in-the-boys-club solidarity but I for one have little doubt that as politicians when they need to hold firm for that last 5% any one of them would. The praise, for discerning that in this case the initial 95% was more important, is not hugely gender specific in my view and despite the dissection of the reporting on this impromptu caucus, I’m just not seeing any relegation to the back benches going on here.Report

    • zic in reply to Burt Likko says:

      The fact that the leaders of this effort were women may result a bit from some ladies-in-the-boys-club solidarity

      I figure it’s because they had such tiny bathroom facilities, giving them plenty of time to form actual human connections to one another as they waited for an empty stall.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I should stress that I don’t object to praise. It’s disproportionate praise. In this case, it seems to be praise directed at six senators among a group 13 solely because of their gender.Report

    • Burt, I agree with much of your comment, but it seems to quickly change directions half way through.

      Your initial statement, isn’t this what politicians do, demonstrates exactly why the reporting was so sexist. It stopped seeing them as politicians and started seeing them as lady-politicians. The linked Jezebel article complements Vikram’s argument very well. The benevolent sexism is hiding right under the surface of the reports.Report

      • Look at it like this, then: what if no one had said a word about the fact that the leaders of a critical bloc of legislators who broke a government-crippling political impasse were women. Would that not be also sexism, a sexism not of condescending praise but rather one of ignorance, of disregarding the capabilities and achievement s of these politicians?

        How ought a non-sexist reporter to have approached the distinctive fact that the leaders of a critical bloc of legislators, who played a key role in saving our collective bacon, are all women, of whom there are a distinct minority in that body?Report

      • There’s a difference in mentioning it and making it the thrust of a story or headline… especially, as Vik notes, when the narrative isn’t quite true. Manufacturing a way to praise women for doing their job (or praising disproportionately) is condescending and sexist. Vik seems on quite solid ground here.Report

      • @burt-likko

        what if no one had said a word about the fact that the leaders of a critical bloc of legislators who broke a government-crippling political impasse were women. Would that not be also sexism, a sexism not of condescending praise but rather one of ignorance, of disregarding the capabilities and achievement s of these politicians?

        For me, one sign that we live in a very sexist (or racist, etc.) society is that the “ist” is so tied up with almost anything that could be said so that it can be construed as (sex/race)-ist. Now, I said “for me” because I’m not sure how useful this observation is, even if it’s true. It’s too circular to define anything. But it does strike me as the tragedy of the ism.

        Finally, there are better and worse ways to address the issue. Jonathan’s reminder that we needn’t make the fact of the senators’ being women the centerpoint of the story is a good start.

        Now, to contradict myself and to push back a little bit at the point made by @vikram-bath , I’ll say that one variable that might make such a story less sexist (and I didn’t read the story, just Vikram’s quotations and summation) would be if the senators acted as women, as part of the “woman caucus” or whatever in the Senate (I wasn’t aware that there were very many women in the Senate, but I don’t remember).Report

  2. “You can’t sell your audience on half of a sexist narrative and hope they will forget what you omit.”

    This. One hundred-friggin’-million times, this.Report

  3. zic says:

    When you praise women as being intrinsically better collaborators, you simultaneously reinforce the notion that men are better at spatial reasoning and making tough decisions.

    I’m still gnawing on this. While I agree with the overall gist of the post, this sentence bothers. Because I do not think collaboration/spatial reasoning are opposing traits, which feels implied by the comparison.Report

    • zic in reply to zic says:

      (and nice post, Vikram.)Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to zic says:

        Collaboration and spatial reasoning are not opposing traits. However, they are gendered stereotypes. I think it’s fair to say that people who tend to view women as intrinsically better collaborators will tend to also view them as not quite as good at spatial reasoning. It’s part of the gender essentialism narrative.

        I’m sure researchers have already studied this, but my guess is that if you ask people to what extent they agree with certain stereotypes about men and women immediately after reading articles like those, they would be more likely to endorse the stereotypes.

        (And thanks!)Report

      • zic in reply to zic says:


        In high school, I took a tests (USArmy, I believe) that measures skills, including spatial reasoning tests — little boxes flat, pick what they would look like folded. I scored in the top .1%. Being female and having extremely strong spatial-reasoning abilities, I get the stereotype. Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time working on public-works projects in the design phase, and have found the best way to help a group understand what I see is to explain it to a man, often in the form of asking questions that lead him to my vision, so that he owns that particular solution. Because I’ve found that if I just present it, it get’s ignored since, being a lady and all that, I obviously cannot have the ability to think of space in three dimensions.

        Which leads me to another discussion on this topic: how often women move things along by letting others (mostly men) take credit for their ideas. And that’s a large part of the cooperative thing.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to zic says:

        When you’re presenting a good idea, it’s always best not to get in the spotlight. Obscures the presentation. If someone else tries to claim credit for your wonderful idea, everyone significant already knows whose idea it was, anyway. Such credit-takers only look ridiculous.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to zic says:

      The other problem with praising “intrinsic” stuff is that it removes the individual’s effort and work to achieve their level of aptitude. SOme people say positive stereotypes are fine. But they aren’t. When we say that Usain Bolt dominates sprinting because he’s Jamaican and Jamaicans are just good at sprinting, we reject and ignore the hours of training, effort, and hard work he put into become dominant in sprinting.Report

    • Jonathan McLeod in reply to zic says:

      I don’t think Vik was saying they are opposites, just that they get lumped into the categories of things-that-women-do-well and things-that-men-do-well, respectively.Report

      • zic in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

        I think this is exactly why I pointed it out; it bends the writing down to the level it critiques.Report

      • Could you expand? I’m not quite getting the “bends the writing down to the level it critiques” analysis (which, I’m sure, is on me).Report

      • zic in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

        It’s just that the spatial reasoning pops out of nowhere as counterbalance. It doesn’t need to be there at all; if it’s going to take up residence, it would benefit from being qualified as a stereotype.

        Just a minor editing thing, really. I made me step out of the piece a bit to consider what it meant.Report

      • Perhaps a better counterbalance would be negotiating for your side to get what it wants. After all, that was precisely the “strength” that those who did not want to compromise were exhibiting.

        I’m unsure of whether to make that change to the original post though. My intended claim was a bit larger–that if you can’t just eat the icing off the sexism cake. The changed version would be the smaller claim that a strength in one situation becomes a weakness in another, which is true, but less than I intend to claim.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

        I agree, @vikram-bath .

        As I say to my children when they resist rules about hitting, “If you don’t think you should have to follow a rule about hitting, that means nobody would have to follow the rule about hitting, and everyone would be hitting everyone.”

        If we are permitting sexism, we are permitting it whole cloth.

        However, it also depends on how we define sexism. Divergent treatment because of gender/sex is not necessarily sexism. Offering women more stalls in their bathroom and men a combination of urinals and stalls is appropriately responding to the unique needs of each group. Where we draw that line is often a source of disagreement.Report

  4. BlaiseP says:

    They think no harm is done by heavily implying that all women are better communicators and collaborators. All women empathize better and are more ethical than men.

    ….. erm. That has been my experience. Thirty years and more of working with women and I conclude women are better collaborators. Am I somehow biassed in reaching this conclusion? Patronising or condescending?

    I’ve worked with (and for) women who were jerks. Many of them had to be. This is a society which calls a man being tough a leader and a woman who does the same a bitch. That’s what I’ve seen. Thirty years of it. This isn’t up for questions any more. If women are men’s equals, and that’s my belief, they are not the same, any more than any two men are the same. I’ve used women to bind teams together. Am I a sexist for observing that’s a useful feminine trait?Report

    • “Am I a sexist for observing that’s a useful feminine trait?”

      If you’re choosing a woman to do a job because she’s a woman (and thus has this innate “feminine trait”) and not because she, specifically, has the skills or traits to execute to do the job, then that’s a little sexist. Note that the quote you pull derides the idea that “all women empathize better than men”. I’m confident in saying that some men empathize better than some women.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Thirty years and more of working with women and I conclude women are better collaborators. Am I somehow biassed in reaching this conclusion? Patronising or condescending?

      Your observation may be true whether you are biased or not. Women are also much less likely to murder, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with admitting as much.

      But if you work with a team of five people who all collaborate well with one another, only two of whom are women, and then make a big point of how well it shows women collaborate and talk to the CEO about it, then that is sexist and condescending and ultimately counterproductive to long-term equality of opportunity even if it helps those two women here and now in some small way. And it would be all the worse if you were to get your views published in a national news outlet.

      I’ve worked with (and for) women who were jerks.

      Good! That means you reject gender essentialism. You know that not all women are the same! That’s a very good thing, and not at all evident in the articles I mentioned.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Now it’s down to semantics. Women are different than men in certain fundamental aspects. Doesn’t mean they are any less capable — in so saying, I can only speak to software — but there’s no denying women are wired up differently.

        Your point about show-off male-female teams is well taken. I’ve seen that, too. But in my part of the landscape, it’s me and my team, that’s it. I’ve taken on other people’s teams, too. In the course of my career, I’ve had many women on my team, often Indian women. I’ve taken several of them aside and conducted some guerilla assertiveness training. Given them an impossible task on paper, one they are told up front is impossible — and taught them how to Say No, effectively. Taught them not to allow themselves to be bullied into doing work for other coders. Taught them how to take some time off and deal with their families as the occasion arises.

        Such things don’t make good articles. Everyone’s different. Such principles can’t be applied in any general way. I size up the people on my teams, find what they’re good at and apply them in accordance with principles I learned in the US Army, where everyone’s taught to not only be good at something but to train others to be good at it, too. Do you know that women are statistically better shots than men? They’re less prone to jerking when they pull a trigger. They’re more composed in the firing pit. They make superb snipers because they’re more patient than men. Again, these are well-known elements of the female psyche. Doesn’t mean they apply to every woman but on a statistical basis, they’re known and understood.Report

      • Semantics matter. (Incidentally, I notice that to be a theme of my posts here. I might have to update my profile accordingly.)

        I don’t see anything wrong in what you are describing, either factually or in terms of how one ought to speak about such things. It might seem subtle, but there are big differences in writing about “many women on my team” and “all women on my team”. You can’t just assume the audience will know you meant to refer to group means rather than intrinsic properties because there are plenty of people out there who don’t know that there is a difference. The semantics is for them.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        There is also the question of how those trends came to be. Were woman just born better at collaborating? Is it hard wired into them? Or is it socialized? Some combination of the two?

        Most child development experts agree on their being some gender specific trends. They are not hard and fast absolutes, but strong enough to be noteworthy. The thing is, what might start as a subtle or perhaps slightly-more-than-subtle difference quickly becomes moreso because of a self-perpetuating feedback loop.

        For instance, boys tend to develop gross motor skills earlier than girls. As a result, they tend to seek out activities that engage gross motor skills. Their gross motor skills get stronger. At the same time, girls tend to develop fine motor skills earlier than boys. As a result, they tend to seek out activities that engage fine motor skills. Their fine motor skills get stronger.

        So now you’ve got a crew of boys who perhaps started with a slight advantage in gross motor skills huddling in the block area on a daily basis and getting ever-stronger with their gross motor skills. Their fine motor skills, perhaps slightly weaker to begin with, lag behind, as they remain unengaged.
        You’ve also got a crew of girls who perhaps started with a slight advantage in fine motor skills congregating at the drawing table on a daily basis and getting ever-stronger with their fine motor skills. Their gross motor skills, perhaps slightly weaker to begin with, lag behind, as they remain unengaged.
        So what started as a weak tendency becomes a much stronger reality.

        And this is before we look at socialization. Which in part responds to these trends adn in part reinforces them. Boys get trucks, girls get crayons. And maybe boys, intrinsically, tend to prefer trucks. And maybe girls, intrinsically, tend to prefer crayons. But not at the rate that the color-coded aisles in the toy stores would indicate. And these slight intrinsic preferences become obligations… become gender norms.

        You than extrapolate that out over 10, 20, 30, 40 years.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Semantics do matter because definitions matter. I find I can’t square up my definition of Gender Essentialism with yours, though now that you’ve made your point, I see how you’re bounding the definition.

        By my lights, it really doesn’t matter why women are different than men. I must live in the present, where, for reasons both good and evil, women do behave differently. Nature, nurture, genetics, neurons or nursery school where they were handed the Pink Toys and the Barbie Dolls, all completely irrelevant to my way of thinking. My girls liked Barbie Dolls. They had all of the boy’s toys to play with, some of the toys overlapped, some didn’t.

        Maybe it’s some sort of Gender Phenomenology. Women seem different. They behave differently. I don’t make women behave any specific way, beyond simple professionalism, that sort of thing. It might be an interesting intellectual exercise, to work out why some women enter software and others don’t. More women are entering the field and I think it’s a good thing, since — my working history with women says they’re better team players and I can safely put them out there in the user community and get better use cases and good analysis, where I’ve learned not to do that with some men. Maybe I’m just utilising some of society’s prejudices and stereotypes. But those women have learned to adapt to them. Works out to my benefit and theirs.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Upon reflection, I have a clearer rationale why I prefer to send women out into the Cubicle Farm to do the use cases and analysis. It just now occurred to me, the user community is largely women. The people who actually do the work, use these systems, deal with the consequences and ramifications, answer the phones when something screws up — at least half of them are women.

        When I do in search of an Alpha User, the user who sits in on all the design meetings, validates everything as it’s implemented, ultimately owns the system — looking back on the last five projects — the Alpha User has been a woman in four of them.Report

      • Kim in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        It’s all well and good to distinguish tendencies.
        So long as we evaluate folks based on who they are, and not their gender.
        (and, importantly, so long as we know a touch about the psychology behind
        “oh, so you’re not “type X””, as well).

        I’m not the world’s best communicator. Pretty bad at writing, actually.
        But I can talk most users through a usecase.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Of course it comes down to who people are but that’s not the point. Why have I evolved this strategy of primarily using women to do business analysis? I’d like to think I’m an enlightened kinda guy, cares for everyone on his teams equally, puts them in roles where they’ll thrive. It’s not as if men can’t do business analysis. Somewhere along the line, maybe it is cultural, I don’t know and truthfully I don’t give a damn why. But women get results out there in the Cubicle Farm where I’ve seen men fail. The only valid conclusion I can reach is to say men need to evolve some team player skills. Quit acting like they know so much more than the users. Learn some humility, maybe. Sick of what I’m seeing in young men these days. No manners. Yeah, I’m an old grump about this issue. Women are just now coming into their own in my craft and I can’t be more pleased to see these unkempt, arrogant pricks put in their place, at long last.Report

      • Kim in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I’d put it differently: sure, most men can be business analysts.
        But programming is self-selecting. Most guys who hate talking
        (are autistic, etc) will wind up in it (or engineering). they’re
        just better at it than most things.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Software has become a refuge for far too many antisocial people. As software advances, it’s less about some monolithic application and more about constellations of smaller, independent, better-behaved modules. Implementing such strategies, often as not from the outside in, requires better communications skills.

        One man in particular, remember him very well. Couldn’t bring him onsite. He annoyed pretty much everyone. Brilliant internals coder, though. Give him a Windows issue, he’d solve it for me. Really cared for him. My son admired him deeply. But he was such a pain. I’d have to sneak him into the lab, try to keep everyone significant away from him while he delivered a fresh batch of code.

        Can’t deal with people like that any more, professionally. I’ve known disagreeable women, but never truly antisocial women. Sure they exist somewhere in the world, prisons are probably full of them. I want well-rounded people. Too much depends on social skillz and coordinating with others. Want to be a jerk and still write software? Good luck, buddy. Go write Linux kernel code. I have no use for you.Report

  5. Kazzy says:

    Related to the quoted Jezebel piece, I offer this article:

    Money quote: “Try this [initiating conversations with girls using topics unrelated to make-up, hair, fashion, or other related topics] the next time you meet a little girl. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it. Ask her what she’s reading. What does she like and dislike, and why? There are no wrong answers. You’re just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain.”Report

  6. Michael Drew says:

    I’ve been highly skeptical of this whole meme. It seems to me that the shutdown/showdown ended at exactly the time it was always going to end, exactly when Boehner was always going to finally end it, on just about exactly the terms he was always going to be forced to accept to make it end without really serious damage being done. But within the tiny bit of space that those terms were possibly going to vary, it’s hardly a surprise that women Senators were involved in setting just where those ended up, since the Democrat-led Senate’s lead Democratic representative to inter-chamber budget negotiations is Patty friggin’ Murray. I don’t think this penultimate pizza party really ended up doing much of anything to move along a resolution or change its terms much at all, but perhaps I’m wrong about that.Report

    • It might have some effect, but it would be awesome if it did, so let’s all pretend that it did even if it probably didn’t.Report

    • If you’re right, @michael-drew , then Senator Murray and her colleagues did what they were always supposed to do. The faint praise by which these Senators are apparently damned through patronization is praise for doing their damn jobs at all. Well, someone had to start doing that.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I’m fine with some faint praise for taking a constructive approach that ultimately had little affect on the outcome, and I have no problem with criticizing the sexist assumptions that may be the basis for some of that praise. As I say, I’ve been skeptical of the meme all along, and the way I’ve seen it presented has generally suggested that this group was the way out of the crisis & if not for them, we’d have probably barreled through the zero hour. That, if the major (male) players had been allowed to resolve it as they might have without this group, the outcome would have been considerably different and less agreeable. I just think that’s false: the major (mostly male) players did in fact resolve it pretty much as they might have had this group never met.Report

  7. zic says:

    Back during the contraceptive controversy, Congressional hearings were held with several panels devoid of even a single woman to proffer knowledge on the topic to our Congress.Our Ladies in Congress protested by walking out. As I recall, many of the men joined their protest.

    How does that historical event compare/contrast with this one?

    As a woman, my reproductive organs are the #1 reason I visit my doctor regularly, and I have a problem with them being excluded from health-insurance coverage. I had a big problem with the lack of females on those panels; this was not representative government, it was paternal government.

    So sometimes it matters that members of Congress are female. Gender mattered when it comes to contraception.

    The shutdown harmed everyone in ways we’ll never full account for. The economic drag hasn’t been measured yet; the lost days of work, the millions of research mice killed, and on and on will never be fully tallied. This, as opposed to the Contraceptive Hearings, seems a matter above gender; and gendering it troublesome.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to zic says:

      @zic ,

      See my above comment about how we define sexism. The idea that any and all divergent treatment of different genders/sexes qualifies as sexism is overly simplistic. There are some things that are unique or essentially unique to the genders/sexes. Much of that is simply biology.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        well, yes, you can say that one person develops XYZ before another.
        … but, in a perfect world, we’d be training everyone equally. If that was done,
        do you really think that men would be better at gross motor skills, and women
        at fine motor skills?

        (btw, I’ve heard the “women are better at fine motor skills” replicated outside of childhood, but not the “men are better at gross motor skills”… does that trait persist?)Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        “Gross motor skills” is more often described in terms of strength and athleticism, which you certainly see people saying about me.

        Yes, ideally, the training would be equal. And I think the issue of self-selection demonstrates why “equality of opportunity” isn’t quite enough. I utilize a blend of approaches: some activities are “have to’s”… everyone has to do it. Some activities are free choices. I tend more towards the latter, but even there have a variety of tricks to get kids out of their comfort zone.Report

    • Murali in reply to zic says:

      I know this is off topic and I may be proving your point for you, but why should things that are sureties be insured? i.e. if I know that you are going to go for a gynaecological exam, the only way I can profit from selling you insurance that insures this is if I charge you more for it than I pay the doctors for it. i.e. you could have saved money by paying for it yourself.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to Murali says:

        I think the logic is that by insuring sureties, you will be more likely to actually use them, use them properly, and use legal versions of them than if you have to pay for it yourself.

        It would be more accurate to call them “prepaid” expenses rather than “insured” expenses.Report

      • Murali in reply to Murali says:

        Doesn’t this lead to overconsumption? We tend to eat more in a buffet than if we order a la carte.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Murali says:


        If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, two or three ounces of prevention is still more cost-effective than zero.Report

      • Murali in reply to Murali says:

        I think Bryan Caplan mentioned this when comparing different healthcare systems: the efficacy of preventative care is overrated. In Singapore, where people pay most of their non-catastrophic care through their Medisave or out of pocket, outcomes are comparable or in some cases even superior to the US on a lot of measures. Granted, Singaporeans notoriously consume less preventative care. But this seems to have a negligible impact on aggregate outcomes.Report

      • Kim in reply to Murali says:

        you are using a narrow view of preventative care.
        Walking and exercise, as well as a good diet,
        are significant ameliorators of genetic factors.Report

  8. Damon says:

    “people will protect you and tell you you’re pretty and cute and let you have some degree of Woman-Success ”

    I’ve never seen a member of Congress I could call pretty or cute–certainly not my reps! *shudders*Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Damon says:

      If someone actually said they were pretty and cute, you would have more than just some male Indian-American blogger pointing out the sexism. Since these stories doesn’t resemble the kinds of things people traditionally recognize to be sexist and appear in outlets that you wouldn’t expect to be sexist and are written by women, no one would even bother to think whether they could be sexist. It violates their expectations.

      Note that Obama got in trouble some time ago for calling Kamala Harris “by far, the best looking attorney general in the country.” This is normal sexism, so people completed the pattern in a Pavlovian manner and recognized it as sexist and patted themselves on the backs for being so alert to the phenomenon.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:


        Would you call it Sexism 2.0? Or do you not subscribe to categorizing such things in such ways?Report

      • zic in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I occasionally see Ted Cruz described as ‘handsome.’ But rarely are descriptions of powerful men based on their appearance or clothing.Report

      • I would endorse a new term if it were a new thing, but I think this is an old thing. Condescension is a good word, and benevolent sexism is too and both apply here.

        Obama was trying to be benevolent. He probably thought he was saying a good thing about her rather than undermining her credibility. But he was probably unaware that he could do both with the same thought. In his mind, sexists say Bad Things about women and good guys say Good Things. It’s a counterintuitive insight that saying Good Things can actually be bad.Report

      • ?! Ted Cruz? As far as comments on his appearance go, I’ve heard swipes about his lack of a chin, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard references to his being good looking. We do about Rubio, periodically.

        Rarely comments on male dress, though at least a part of that is because men in positions of power tend to dress the same. A blessing (simple!) and a curse (restricting!).

        But yeah, we do hear a whole lot more about the appearance of prominent women than of prominent men.Report

      • There was some discussion around Paul Ryan too. I think someone on Jezebel had a post about wanting to hate fish him.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Obama said a dumb thing. Never, ever compliment a woman on her looks in a professional setting. Doesn’t matter how good looking she is. Don’t do it. Compliments have sharp edges. They’re always misunderstood, no matter how carefully they’re phrased.

        That said, I have complimented women on achievements, especially in the context of going the extra mile to get something done. But that’s different. That’s in a conference room with everyone in attendance, saying “I’d like to acknowledge [person]’s pulling our collective bacon out of the fire by coming in this weekend and making sure the deployment went through successfully”Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I think the “how” matters… at least somewhat.

        During primary season, I remember watching one of the GOP debates and being struck by how attractive I thought Bachman was. Prior to that, I had only really read/heard soundbites from her; I don’t know that I’d seen a pic of her. Seeing her on television, I remember thinking, “Oh… she’s nice looking.” But that was about it. More a natural response. It didn’t factor into my analysis of her as a candidate and if you asked me to list words to describe her, “attractive” would be very far down on the list, if at all.

        So I don’t think it is wholly inappropriate to notice or acknowledge appearance; in fact, it is probably somewhat natural. But what is inappropriate, what is troubling, is when women are reduced to nothing more than their appearance, while men are allowed to have agency and intelligence and power and all that.

        Interestingly, one of my 8th graders just brought this up in class. “I noticed in my racing video games that the drivers are all men. The only women in the game wave flags. And they’re usually in bikinis.” If an 8th grader can figure that out, why can’t the rest of us?Report

      • Yeah, Paul Ryan did get some comments. Including at The League, actually. But it’s notably less common.

        With regard to Bachmann, I think it’s notable how disproportionately attractive female politicians are. Not universally, and male politicians are disproportionately attractive as well. But it seems to be much more of a benefit to female politicians. Or, I should say, not being attractive seems to be much more of a hindrance.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:


        I think you are onto something there. It is rare that I hear a criticism of Pelosi that doesn’t invoke her appearance, dress, and/or voice. And while some men get this treatment, it tends to be far more specific and far less insidious. Obama might get teased because of his ears or Bush for his accent. But Obama does sort of have big ears and Bush does have a strong regional accent. And few people actually consider that when evaluating either man. But Pelosi? I mean, she looks great for 73 and pretty run-of-the-mill in a broader context. So attacking her as an ugly old hag who can’t dress is just needless woman bashing. And I think it does actually impact her ability to be effective.

        Of course, to see this most clearly we need look no further than Fox News Anchors. All of the women are at least 8s or 9s. The men? They look like retired offensive linemen.Report

      • zic in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        @blaisep, nice.
        Never, ever compliment a woman on her looks in a professional setting. Doesn’t matter how good looking she is. Don’t do it. Compliments have sharp edges. They’re always misunderstood, no matter how carefully they’re phrased.
        That said, I have complimented women on achievements, especially in the context of going the extra mile to get something done. But that’s different. That’s in a conference room with everyone in attendance, saying “I’d like to acknowledge [person]‘s pulling our collective bacon out of the fire by coming in this weekend and making sure the deployment went through successfully”

        The fact is, it’s all to common to compliment men on skills and achievements and women on appearances. It’s like a cultural habit.

        And your saying so, laying out some common sense like you did, is pretty awesome. Thank you.Report

      • It is rare that I hear a criticism of Pelosi that doesn’t invoke her appearance, dress, and/or voice.

        This makes me sad, because she has truly said a number of quite horrible things in her time that would have been horrible even coming from a black box. (Sorry, I don’t have any quotes on hand, but that’s mostly because I stopped keeping track. It’s also possible that she tempered her words after she became speaker for the first time.Report

  9. j r says:

    This sort of thing highlights one of the main problems with what I term internet feminism. Everyone has got some complaint that they are happy to pile under the rubric of gender issues, which leads to treating all sorts of mundane complaints about being an imperfect human in an imperfect world as rallying cries to take to ramparts of the gender wars.

    So, some feminist says something like: “The patriarchy enforces misogyny by not taking women’s concerns seriously and by not taking women seriously. Whenever the media covers women politicians, it focuses on unserious issues like hair and wardrobe.”

    Then some journalist decides to take this claim seriously and makes a concerted effort to write about women in politics in a way that doesn’t reduce them to mere appearance and which also takes seriously the special concerns of being a woman in politics.

    And then, some other feminist reads that piece, finds it lacking, and says something like: “See. The patriarchy really does hate women, because every article that pretends to address women’s issues is really just a patronizing attempt to pat women on the back for the simplest of accomplishments.”

    Part of the problem is that you cannot instantaneously reach terminal velocity. Every movement towards someplace else begins with a first step and those steps are often awkward and faltering. And right now we have this bizarre internet echo chamber in which there is always someone waiting to pounce and criticize those steps. Complaining about gender (and complaining about lots of other things as well) has become a cottage industry.

    None of this, by the way, is to imply that things won’t get better. They absolutely will. My point is to only explain why I don’t take internet feminism seriously.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to j r says:

      I can’t disagree with the pattern.

      Then again, does the fact that you noticed and predicted the pattern ahead of time make it untrue? If someone doesn’t criticize this stuff, then why would it ever change?Report

      • j r in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        What makes it untrue is that it’s simply not true in any meaningful way. Claims of “the patriarchy” and “misogyny” are not falsifiable, which means that their truth is a function of how much you already buy into the narrative. And the problem with that is the gender wars invariably default to a big battle over whose narrative will dominate.

        Fighting over narratives is sometimes fun, but it’s not work. And work is what overcomes sexism (or racism or homophobia, etc.) So, while some women are blogging about “culture” (which seems to involve watching a lot of TV) or complaining that there aren’t enough women in tech, other women are doing the hard work of learning and performing in what were once male-dominated fields. I simply choose to put my support behind the latter and ignore the former.Report

      • zic in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        So, while some women are blogging about “culture” (which seems to involve watching a lot of TV) or complaining that there aren’t enough women in tech, other women are doing the hard work of learning and performing in what were once male-dominated fields.

        Which makes me wonder why we see so little reporting/blogging about men trying to break through in female-dominated fields. So little from stay-at-home dads, early-childhood educators, even nurses. One of the reasons this is a good blog is due to the presence of these men, and their willingness to share their experiences. I do not see them being attacked for being feminine, weak, intruding into female space, etc; I see them supported and encouraged.

        You could have left the bit about culture/tv out; needless jibe. Plenty of dudes do that too, including men who write here, and I don’t see much judgmental asshatery over that. It’s those little insults that give rise to your double standard; you say you’re all about gender equality, but those digs hint at misogyny.Report