Category Archives: Undead sexist cliches

How did I miss this?

Back in 2018, novelist and nonfiction writer Daphne Merkin wrote in the New York Times about how #metoo and the fight against harassment are bad. Of course she’s not defending bad people like Matt Lauer or Harvey Weinstein, but in lots of other cases — Garrison Keillor, Al Franken — “the accusations are scattered, anonymous or, as far as the public knows, very vague and unspecific, has been troubling.”

The accusations against Franken and Keillor weren’t anonymous or vague (MPR detailed the Keillor allegations a couple of weeks later). It’s a large jump from Merkin not knowing the details or names to assuming this must have been a smear campaign (as Vox points out, Keillor and other alleged harassers got more due process than most fired employees). Merkin claims lots of women she knows suffer “social intimidation” — they don’t agree with some of the firings but they don’t want to face criticism for saying so publicly. Why, then, does Merkin find it strange that women accusing powerful men don’t want their names given to the public?

As proof this has “gone too far” she cites a couple of twentysomething feminists who wanted the Metropolitan Museum of Art to take down a painting of a tween girl that they deemed offensive. That’s a slight exaggeration: their petition said they’d be satisfied if the exhibit simply put the painting in context (the artist had a rep for an unhealthy interest in teen girls). I have no opinion on the debate but I do think Merkin’s distorting it.

I wrote about her piece in the harassment chapter of Undead Sexual Clichés but glancing over her op-ed this past week I saw a line I’d somehow missed before: “Stripping sex of eros isn’t the solution. Nor is calling out individual offenders, one by one. We need a broader and more thoroughgoing overhaul, one that begins with the way we bring up our sons and daughters.”

Merkin literally said she doesn’t think we should act against individual harassers (excepting, presumably, alpha predators like Weinstein and Lauer). Instead we have to wait until what, we have transformed society? Raised an entire generation that respects the other gender? And in the meantime women (and the occasional male victim) should just suck it up?

Don’t get me wrong, changing the culture is important, but in the short term we do need to punish individual offenders one by one. It reduces their chance to harass (assuming they’re not simply rehired). It sends a message that discourages other predators, which can change the culture. And because in many cases, it’s the just thing to do. Merkin’s approach is the equivalent of shrugging and muttering “thoughts and prayers” over the latest mass shooting. It’s appalling.

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A racial reckoning that isn’t happening?

That’s Simon Balto’s take on the past year or so: “It strikes me that we are now living in an era defined not so much by ‘racial reckoning’ but more so by the desperate, gasping grasps at reclaiming white innocence from the perils of such a reckoning. Do not teach us or our children honestly about our past or our present, the opponents of racial justice demand. Do not question our allegiance to an openly white supremacist political leader. Do not impugn the institutions that uphold white supremacy and do violence to those not like us. But most of all, they ask that we absolve them of their sins for having made all those demands.”

Paul Campos similarly suggests that for too many white people, “making a white person feel bad about being white is the very worst form of racism there is — in fact it’s pretty much the only real form of racism that still exists — and that we must stop that from happening by any means necessary.” He focuses on one example: a white veteran’s Memorial Day speech discusses blacks helping bury the Union dead after the war, and the event organizers cut the audio for that part of the speech.

Similarly, a historian in Sherman Texas wanted to put up a marker to a black man lynched there in 1930. The all-white historical marker commission is refusing to act on it, even though it meets all the rules. One of them invokes the same arguments we hear today, that maybe the black guy they killed was no angel.

And black right-wing radio host Jesse Lee Peterson is assuring whites who watch OAN that the racial massacre in Tulsa wasn’t a massacre at all — “They have written it to be something that is more dramatic so they can make white people look racist, make them look mean, as though they hate all Black people”

None of this is new. As Slacktivist details, Billy Graham’s father-in-law Nelson Bell was committed to segregation. And he insisted ministers and churches that got involved in fighting Jim Crow were selling out their spiritual mission to meddle in politics — whereas his insistence segregation remain unchanged wasn’t political at all.

I have a similar feeling to Balto’s about misogyny. Despite the impact of #metoo, is anything really changing? Is it really riskier for a man to sexually harass his coworker? To paraphrase James Baldwin (quoted in Balto’s piece), male dominance has destroyed and is destroying hundreds of thousands of lives. People “do not know and do not want to know it.” Easier to believe in a just world where women aren’t routinely cat-called or harassed. Where they don’t routinely get death threats online. As H.P. Lovecraft said, the most merciful thing in the world is the inability to correlate facts to get the big picture, because the big picture is horrifying. Blocking it out makes it easier to sleep at night. And so women, like black Americans and other minority groups, wind up fighting the same shit all over again.

When I was a tween I thought the sixties had resolved all that racism stuff and the 1970s were going to fix gender issues the same way. I wish I’d been right. And assuming Republicans do not destroy democracy and establish a theocratic banana republic, I think we’ll get there some day. But nowhere near soon enough.


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Undead Sexist Links, because I can’t seem to blog about anything longer this week

A school board decides local high school girls show too much skin in their yearbook photos — so they digitally edit them without consent.

Here’s a horror story: A teenage girl forced into sex work tries to rob her pimp so she can get away. He gets killed (not by her) and Ohio convicts her of murder despite state protections for trafficked teens. I don’t know what the problem was — misogyny? Racism (she’s black)?

Brigid Hughes was a successful editor at the Paris Review following iconic editor George Plimpton. A few years ago, a writer discovered Hughes (pushed out for a “young Turk”) wasn’t listed on the masthead, leaving an unbroken chain of male editors.

Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson told a rape victim not to report it. He’s told abuse victims to suck it up and just pray their husband stops abusing her. Turns out he’s also (allegedly) a common thief.

Being anti-abortion, Fred Clark says, is a symbolic stance — a way people signal to themselves that “I am virtuous and moral and good.” Which many of them aren’t because they don’t give a crap about pregnant women: “Even the most staunchly antiabortion advocate has to acknowledge that the act of pregnancy requires two participants: the developing embryo and the person carrying it. So how has the conversation become so lopsided? How did the emotional and physical lives of women get so shut out of the narrative?”

I’m sure one reason is that white males, a minority group in the U.S., are still a majority in the halls of power.

Here’s a nasty new approach: Texas’ new antiabortion statute empowers anyone to sue abortion providers or people who help the woman get her abortion.

It’s great to be getting rid of masks, but it ends a year when men couldn’t tell women “Smile!”

The Duggar “quiverfull” family has a history of molestation and now child porn. Unlike the writer of the article, I’m nowhere as surprised that a conservative Christian family is messed up in those ways.

I’ve written about how rape apologists excuse sexual assault if the victim is drunk. In Minnesota, that’s the law: if she chooses to drink, then rape after she’s passed out is not a crime.

A Kansas prosecutor refused to take up a student’s rape case. Using a state law, the victim convened her own grand jury.

Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary molested a child, spent three months in prison for it and got a presidential pardon (Jimmy Carter, if you were wondering).

Sexism and racism at Virginia Military Institute.

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Undead Sexist Cliches: Better a child marry her rapist than get an abortion

Anthony Bouchard, who’s running for Liz Cheney’s Wyoming House seat, admits he’s a statutory rapist. When he was 18, he had sex with a 14 year old, got her pregnant, and married her in Florida when she was 15 (Sunshine State law allowed it back then when there was a pregnancy involved). That’s a felony in both Florida and Wyoming. They divorced three years later, and she killed herself a couple of years after that (which I can’t directly blame on Bouchard, though I do wonder what trauma might have developed in her situation).

Unsurprisingly, Bouchard’s going with the Trump playbook and insisting he did absolutely nothing wrong: it was a Romeo and Juliet situation, people are trying to smear him with something that happened 20 years ago: “They’ll stop at nothing, man, when you get in the lead and when you’re somebody that can’t be controlled, you’re somebody who works for the people. They’ll come after you. That’s why good people don’t run for office.” Using Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s standard for judging old incidents — was it wrong at the time? Has the person apologized? Have their views changed? — Bouchard fails all three prongs. Statutory rape was wrong at the time, he’s not apologizing and he clearly doesn’t think he did anything wrong.

Judging by the way Republicans adored Roy Moore, who harassed and hit on teens when he was in his forties, I doubt this will hurt Bouchard. Right-wing hack Brent Bozell has already declared that yeah, it might have been wrong, but God’s pleased they didn’t abort the baby! Republicans can get behind a virtue-signalling sleazeball way more than they can support a moral liberal.

Plenty of forced birthers think a girl marrying her rapist is preferable to abortion or the supposed shame of being damaged goods (Republican Tom Smith said having his daughter pregnant without marriage would be no different than rape). Some of them are fond of marrying girls when they’re young enough to control. Which may be why some conservatives, such as James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal thinks shotgun weddings were a better solution to single motherhood than birth control. Given Taranto also thinks (as noted at the link) we’d be better off if employers could discriminate against women — if they didn’t have careers, they’d have to get married to support themselves, right — I suspect his concern is more a distaste for women’s independence than anything else.

It’s basic patriarchal thinking: men are entitled to control “their” wives and daughters. A powerful man — Moore, Trump — is entitled to boss around any woman he can dominate. It’s also the authoritarian thinking that you do not question your leaders, ever. Whether that will be enough to put Bouchard over the top, I don’t know, but I can’t image being a statutory rapist will hurt him.


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The myth that Republicans don’t care about abortion

It’s not a good week for abortion rights. The Supreme Court has agreed to take a case involving a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi. As detailed at the link, the concern is the court won’t openly nullify Roe v. Wade but it will give the go-ahead for states to ban abortions even before the fetus is viable (Brett “teenage rapist” Kavanaugh has no qualms ignoring precedent to get the right-wing-results he wants).

Texas just made a law that abortion’s illegal after six weeks, no exception for rape or incest. It’s also taking the radical step of not enforcing the law itself but instead empowering anyone who wants to sue the abortion provider, or anyone who helps the woman get the abortion. This seems batshit but thanks to Republicans pushing forced-birth judges into the judiciary at every opportunity, who knows if it won’t survive legal scrutiny?

Despite which I’ve already seen chatter on line that this isn’t that bad. Republicans don’t really want to ban abortion; it’s just one of their many tools for turning out the vote. Telling the suckers that if you vote for them, they’ll stop abortion has worked great to build support on the religious right; if they banned abortion, they lose a bargaining chip. I heard the same after the various extreme bills passed a couple of years ago.

Now certainly a lot of right-to-lifers are hypocrites. They have no problems rationalizing that their abortion (or their daughter’s, or their girlfriend’s) is totally justified and completely unlike all the sluts they met in the doctor’s office. And it’s true that conservatives in the 1970s didn’t at all think the fetus had full human rights. But no, the opposition to abortion (even when hypocritical) is not posturing. Abortion wasn’t what inspired the religious right to organize but a whole generation or two have grown up to believe it’s the moral equivalent of the Holocaust. That includes a lot of people in elected office and wearing judge’s robes.

Even if it was all a cynical posturing game, how would a permanent national ban on abortion hurt them? They’ve been running on “Democrats will take your guns” for decades even though nobody’s even trying to confiscate guns from legal owners. “Keep voting Republican or the Dems will abort your babies!” would work just as well.

And it’s not like they’re going to stop with abortion. Many conservatives hate birth control because the only birth control women should use is chastity; given a choice between more abortions and letting teens use birth control, they opt for more abortions. A few Republicans claim you don’t have to abort ectopic pregnancies (this is a lie) which makes me wonder if that’ll be the new frontier eventually. James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal and Ross Douthat have expressed nostalgia for the days of shotgun weddings — wasn’t that a better solution than stopping women from getting pregnant in the first place?

There’s lots and lots for the party of misogyny to whip up voters about.

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Biblical womanhood and other undead sexist matters

Working on Undead Sexist Cliches, one thing I keep running across is the deep misogyny of the religious right. We have John Piper, who insists even if you’re dating Black Widow, in a danger situation, you do the fighting…but if the husband slaps his wife around, she has to suck it up. In the male supremacist world of complementarian theology, a man who fails in his duty to care for his wife is less of a problem than a woman who defies her man by not letting him assault her.

THE MAKING OF BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr describes the Southern Baptist author’s realization that complementarianism — the belief women and men have separate spheres and neither should intrude on the other — wasn’t what Piper and similar preachers said. They claimed that by steering Christianity away from the fallen world of “egalitarian” feminist thinking, they were keeping it pure and apart from the world. In reality, their embrace of rigid gender roles simply embraced secular male supremacy and made it Christian (as noted at the link above, separate spheres wasn’t seen as Biblically mandated until women’s liberation was established in the 1970s).

Barr argues that Piper, Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson and others of their ilk get there by ignoring the long history of Christian women preaching and witnessing; mistranslating the Bible to eliminate women’s roles (e.g., women deacons referenced in the New Testament get downgraded because they’re inconsistent with women’s roles) and reinterpreting the Pauline epistles. Barr argues that by Roman standards, what stands out is not Paul saying women must obey their husbands but a)setting responsibilities on husbands and b)addressing his directives to both of them, instead of telling the husband as secular thinkers of the time would have.

This focuses much more on theological issues than my own writing and thinking, but I still rate it excellent.

Now, some links:

The pandemic has hurt women’s careers as they struggle to both work and care for kids stuck at home. Unsurprisingly, conservatives are spinning this as women happily choosing family over career. We’ve been through this before.

A North Carolina bill would raise the age for marriage in this state from 14 to 18. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger is blocking its passage.

The “birthing people” controversy.

Stacey Abrams writes romances. Tucker Carlson thinks this is hysterical.

““It doesn’t matter who you are, what your life is, your situation, who you surround yourself with, how strong you are, how smart you are. You can always be taken advantage of. ” — singer Billie Ellish on abusive relationships.

Teargas can mess up menstruation.


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Undead Sexist of the Day: Warren Farrell

Lots of people have said something hideously sexist. Some people have built careers out of it. Case in point, Warren Farrell.

Back in the 1970s, Farrell was, I’ve read, an active male feminist. For whatever reason, that changed. He’s now a men’s rights activist, rape apologist and generally odious, at least to someone of my political bent. I first encountered his work in the 1990s, in The Myth of Male Power. Here he argues that husbands are way worse off than wives because men are often drones at the bottom of the hierarchy in their workplace; women, by contrast, are 100 percent in charge at home

Except they’re not. If the man earns the money, that gives him a greater say in decisions. Much more so than a wife can exercise over her husband’s career. And far from being an exalted position, being a stay-at-home wife/monther is damn hard work. The husband’s work day may stop when he gets home; Mom may be working (dinner, putting the kids to bed) long into the night.

And even if a man is top dog at work, in reality his sexy secretary controls him.

Farrell also claimed that as many as 100 percent of rape accusations could be false [corrected in response to comment]. Women lie, for example because, the guy dumped the woman and she wanted revenge. Um, no (see here for relevant discussion) And besides, lots of things are just as traumatic for men as rape is for women. Getting fired is equally traumatic (I’ve been fired. I’ve known women who were raped. Not. The. Same.). Getting cockteased is equally traumatic (wrong again).

It’s no surprise his more recent writing (which I encountered working on Undead Sexist Cliches) thinks that “date fraud” or “date rejection” — a couple go on a date when the woman’s already decided not to have sex is a)a Bad Thing and b)very traumatic.

He’s also argued that no means yes: if a woman says no to sex but she’s French kissing her date, isn’t that a sign she wants it? Maybe she’s hoping her date will just keep going and seduce her, like in romance novels. Because if chicks read romance novels, they must want the same in relationships, right (spoiler: no). Heck, according to Farrell, even if she sues a man for sexual harassment, what she really wants is for him to not give up, just like romance novel heroes!

Besides, it’s sex, so she has to be enjoying it, right? “A man being sued after a woman has more sex than intended is like Lay’s being sued after someone has more potato chips than intended. In brief, date rape can be a crime, a misunderstanding, or buyer’s remorse.” Pinning someone down and forcing them to eat potato chips would have a coercive quality to it — but that’s clearly not the simile Farrell’s going for here.

If Farrell was ever sincerely a feminist, he went way, way to the dark side.


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Undead Sexist Cliche: Statistics prove men are better at everything

One of the topics I tackle in the Undead Sexist Cliches book is statistics, and how they supposedly explain men getting the best jobs and the top positions in everything.

Male and female performance statistics overlap quite a lot. The average woman and man scored on pretty much any skill are going to be closer to each other than the best and worst man (or woman) are. When you graph the stats, however, the male bell curve spreads out much further than the female: the very best and the very worst are both men.

This, according to a number of articles I’ve read over the years, is why men rule, girls drool. Okay, not drool, but obviously if the very best in (for example), STEM fields are always men, it’s no surprise women don’t get the plum jobs. What woman in physics can match up with Einstein, Bohr, Oppenheimer? No discrimination at all, no sirree bob.

There are a number of problems with this argument. First off, the assumption that because the very best people in the field are men, therefore the men applying for a job must be better than the women. This does not follow: Einstein was a genius but that doesn’t mean every man who applies must be closer to Einstein than the female applicants are. Most people are going to fall into that big average bulge at the center of the Bell curve. That’s the nature of averages. And given that men occupy the bottom of the skill distribution too, wouldn’t it make just as much sense to assume that the average woman has a good chance to be better than the male applicants? Indeed, one study found women who apply for STEM jobs tend to be above average, possibly because only an exceptional woman thinks she has a shot.

About 15 years ago, Larry Summers made a speech on why women were underrepresented in STEM: in his opinion, they just weren’t as good. Several right-wing pundits, such as John Leo and Walter Williams, cheered him and insisted his argument should end any talk of sexism or bias affecting women’s chances. But that’s a load of codswallop. I’ve read lots of stories of women winning traditionally male jobs and the response is rarely “Wow, you must be way better than the average woman. I’m impressed to have you on my team!” It’s more likely “affirmative action” or “tokenism” or “who did she blow to get that job?” One bank back in Florida, for instance, discovered the president had promoted a woman he was having an affair with; they promptly demoted every woman he’d promoted.

And if all else fails, there’s the old “Why is that bitch taking a man’s job?”

So no, statistics do not prove we live in a post-sexism world.


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Turning a blind eye to sexual harassment (and other undead sexist links)

While I’m not actively researching for Undead Sexist Cliches any more, I did wind up reading The Bad Apple Theory in Sexual Harassment Law by Anna Lawton (downloadable here) and I’ll probably incorporate some of her thoughts into the sexual harassment chapter. The paper argues that to avoid liability for sexual harassers in their workforce, companies only have to a)have a No Sexual Harassment policy and b)have a reporting system. Doesn’t matter whether they enforce the policy or do anything to prevent harassment; there’s no other obligation on them until a worker reports (this was a 2005 paper so that may have changed, of course). It’s okay to make the reporting system unusable: one company required workers report within a week of the incident (at which point the victim may be debating whether it’s really bad enough to make an issue of it), then penalized a worker who took longer. The courts were okay with the retaliation — that’s just an internal business management decision, right?

The whole piece was worth reading, reminding me of Marti Noxon’s discussion of how employers need to be conscious of how the office environment can nourish harassment if they don’t act to prevent it.

An incel pepper-sprayed and assaulted people with little consequence, but he’s now in trouble from making bomb threats.

Speaking of incels, here’s one claiming if you’re attractive enough to attract rapists, you’re privileged so shut up. As I’ve blogged about before, looks are not a factor in rape.

David Futrelle looks at violent men who are convinced their desire for women is something women do to them.

More on Matt Gaetz’ alleged statutory rape case.

First came women’s liberation. Then some conservative Christians became convinced complementarianism — women and men must exist in separate spheres — was a Biblical imperative. Now it’s considered an integral element of the faith.

Will this be the abortion case that gets to the Supreme Court? Oh, and U.S. forced-birth groups are all in on Republican election-stealing plans.

Should misogynistic violence be a hate crime?

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Undead Sexist Cliche: Men have to compete for mates, women just sit on their butts

The purpose of many Undead Sexist Cliches is to explain that male dominance isn’t in any way shape or form the result of sexism. It’s just that women want to make babies, not careers. Or that statistics prove the best in any field are men, therefore it’s logical to assume that male job candidates are the superior ones (it isn’t. I’ll come back to this cliche at some point). Or our genes haven’t advanced since the Paleolithic Age so we’re stuck with the same gender dynamics as our prehistoric ancestors (here’s an example of that kind of reasoning).

Marlene Zuk calls this a paleofantasy, speculations about Stone Age life when we know absolutely nothing about how our ancestors mated. Stephen Jay Gould has labeled similar tales Just So Stories, made up fantasies about how the world we see is perfectly natural. One such example is the idea men dominate because they’re more competitive. Why are they more competitive? Because evolution made them that way. Men won mates by aggressively competing to outperform other men and thereby impress women. Women had no need to compete: they could simply sit passively and wait for a superior male to offer them some mammoth meat.

Dr. Roy Baumeister, for instance, argues that “men much more than the women had to stand out and fight their way to the top, had to dominate some hierarchy.” Mating favored superior men willing to take great risks for great gains, so natural selection made competitiveness “more deeply rooted in the male than in the female psyche.” Pundit John Tierney has similarly claimed that “women don’t get as big a reproductive payoff by reaching the top.” Scientist RD Alexander similarly concluded from his research that women’s best reproductive strategy is to play it safe while men need “a higher risk, higher stakes adventure” (Cordelia Fine points out the flaws in this in her Testosterone Rex).

This argument is full of holes. If women played it safe, they wouldn’t have babies: it’s a high-risk endeavor that was frequently fatal in the centuries before modern medicine (and the U.S. is still number one in maternal mortality). Risk-taking isn’t the only path for men to attract mates: agriculture is low-risk compared to hunting or war, but farmers marry and produce children. There’s also the problem that unless the risk-taking gene is entirely sex-linked, daughters would inherit it too, just like sons would inherit mom’s Play It Safe chromosomes.

Another problem is that where most Just So Stories explain the world around us, this cliche imagines a world that’s nothing like reality. Women aren’t at all passive about finding love; they’re as active and aggressive in mate selection as men. It’s not as obvious because for much of my life social codes dictated that men make the first move. Women had to compete subtly, using ploys to get the man to ask her out, or “put themselves out there” where suitable guys could potentially spot them. They compete by looking good for men; just as men can use looks, wealth and status to impress a potential mate, women can use clothes, makeup and money to serve the same purpose.

Unlike a lot of species, both men and women make active mate selection. This shouldn’t be surprising because passivity in relationships is a bad strategy. Sitting and waiting doesn’t work if nobody shows up; accepting the first marriage/date offer you get may not work out well. Bad marriages can have lifelong negative consequences; actively hunting for a good partner makes good sense. As TYG says, if men weren’t selective, wouldn’t that make them the inferior sex? Who do we respect more, the college that takes only the top students or the l0w-ranked school that will admit anyone?


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