February 23, 2005

Estrogen Week: The "Man Smart/Women Smarter" Argument

Noticed something while following the comments at the Washington Monthly update today: A little post edit. Nothing wrong with that; sure, it's usual to call attention to an edit with an "UPDATE" label or similar notice, but I admit I don't always do that myself (especially if it's something minor, like finding a typo or misspelling that would eventually drive me mad).

This one, however, changed the meaning and sense of the post significantly. The original ending to the post read:

Hmmm, should I defend myself? Only to this extent: the reason I suggested that women are turned off by the "fundamental viciousness" of blogging and opinion writing is because many women have told me this (and have told me the same thing in non-blogging contexts as well).

But hey click the links and decide for yourself. My critics certainly make a spirited if anecdotal case for the proposition that women have no problem being as nasty as men.

I think the countering of anecdotal evidence--in this case, women bloggers' acknowledgement of their own existence--with, uh, anecdotal evidence ("many women have told me") has already been adequately covered elsewhere, notably in the comments. Let's skip that, and note the text added later (emphasized in bold):

Hmmm, should I defend myself? Only to this extent: the reason I suggested that women are turned off by the "fundamental viciousness" of blogging and opinion writing is because many women have told me this (and have told me the same thing in non-blogging contexts as well). Men are so routinely dismissive of women and so fundamentally dedicated to playground dominance games that many women decide they just don't want to play.

But hey click the links and decide for yourself. My critics certainly make a spirited if anecdotal case for the proposition that women have no problem being as nasty as men.

Reads at first almost conciliatory, doesn't it? "See? You really can blame the men! Just not me!" Men are so awful that women just opt out and "decide they just don't want to play."

I have two problems with that: One, it's really chickenshit to shift the blame over to those men who clearly don't have a problem with women as purveyors of opinion, which is just what the first part of Drum's statement does ("Men are so routinely dismissive of women . . . .").

Two, it's what I call the "Man Smart/Women Smarter" argument, because I never took women's studies in college and am thus stuck labeling stock arguments using calypso songs. I am starting to think maybe I was too hasty on the whole "feh, women's studies" thing back in the day. Anyway, for reference:

Let us put man and woman together
And see which one is smarter
Some say man, but I say no
The woman got the man like a puppet show

It ain't me, it's the people that say
The men are leadin' the women astray
But I say that the women today
Are smarter than man in every way
Well that's right, the women are smarter
That's right, the women are smarter

It goes on with that "that's right! The women are SMAR-ter!" line oh, about 23,527 more times if you're listening to the Grateful Dead version, which I don't recommend, and never mind how I ever got so lucky.

Beyond its helping me to continue my vocation of hating the Dead with scorching intensity, I don't really have a problem with the song itself. It just makes for a handy mental tag for myself when I run into the argument that women don't want to get in the game because, really, the game ain't that great and, gosh, we males are actually kinda dumb and immature for playing it in the first place, and . . . hey, you know what this actually proves, this whole lack of female political bloggers?

THAT'S RIGHT! THE WOMEN ARE . . . SMAR-TER!

And I'm so sorry if that's going through your head right now, but you see? Fits kind of nicely, doesn't it?

But this is that "special" kind of smarts that only women or minorities ever get credited with, and I mean "special" here as in "olympics." We're that special kind of smart that knows how to stay out of the clubhouse, because really, it's filthy in there and you could get splinters. We're that special kind of smart that chooses not to cheapen ourselves with rough discourse. We're that special kind of smart that elects not to say what's on our minds, because discretion is the better part of valor. We're that special kind of smart that decides against debating with others because it's so uncooperative and divisive, and after all, we as a sex are blessed with that special kind of smart that excels mostly at nurturing.

Don't get me wrong--I'm fine with nurturing and I'm fine with women having unique qualities. What I'm not fine with is being handed a list of those qualities by another human being like a set of product specifications and being labeled "nasty" when I don't measure up to them.

That's what this argument does: It throws women a bone; it's always phrased conciliatorily; and it always winds up with a pat on the head and a reminder that we really don't want what we say we want, and that we should be content with our "special" smarts. Or to use an example, rewrite Drum's closing words by substituting only a handful of them:

. . . the reason I suggested that women are turned off by the "fundamental viciousness" of political leadership is because many women have told me this (and have told me the same thing in non-political contexts as well). Men are so routinely dismissive of women and so fundamentally dedicated to playground dominance games that many women decide they just don't want to play.
And then consider what Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Golda Meir, Bella Abzug, Indira Gandhi, and Margaret Thatcher might have to say about that. Posted by Ilyka at February 23, 2005 09:28 AM in estrogen week
Comments

Just an idle speculation, based on personal experience, which I've never bothered to nail down and verify for the larger world. (Hey, we don't want no rigorous arguments during Estrogen Week.) Which is, the most sexist and dismissive men I've had to deal with have been those of the most azure "progressive" credentials. They are terribly solicitous of poor, oppressed females in the abstract, but somehow, due surely to socialization or the stunting presence of unenlightened, non-progressive males early in women's educational and professional lives, there are never any actual existing females whose work or views are worthy of their attention or respect.

On the other hand, I have worked with good ol' boy types, who, despite being superficially egregiously "sexist" - the "hostile workplace" pin-up calendars in their cubicles, the dumb jokes, the eyes that linger on your bod for impolitic long seconds - nonetheless have no problemo, when it comes to doing the job, of accepting women as "one of us", and respecting and deferring to one's skills and competence.

Just throwing out my fluffy inchoate musings here.

Posted by: Moira Breen at February 23, 2005 03:25 PM

Good reporting here. I wonder what caused him to change it. He also added posts from two additional bloggers in his round-up without noting it was an update.

Posted by: Roxanne at February 23, 2005 05:25 PM

I wonder what caused him to change it.

Fear of Morgan posting that 450-blog list in the comments again? Hey, your guess is as good as mine.

He also added posts from two additional bloggers in his round-up without noting it was an update.

Yes, and the last a supportive post from the ever-obtuse James Joyner, which I'll bet was in response to an email from him requesting it. James can't bear to be left out of a party, even one that has nothing to do with him.

Posted by: ilyka at February 23, 2005 11:20 PM

the most sexist and dismissive men I've had to deal with have been those of the most azure "progressive" credentials.

Me too, Moira, and if I don't sicken of the subject entirely I may get a whole other post out of that point alone.

They're like my liberal relatives who can't say enough nice things about minorities but then complain when the overall complexion of their own neighborhood darkens: "You know, this neighborhood is getting really . . . black."

Posted by: ilyka at February 23, 2005 11:24 PM

And speaking of "playground dominance games," any "Apprentice" watchers here? Anyone think it's only guys playing dominance games on that program?

Posted by: david foster at February 24, 2005 04:52 AM

Oh, THAT's what I forgot to do. Read Joyner's post. I got about three referrers from it.

Ilyka, be fair. Joyner's in the party because I invited him. After he invited himself to pronounce that Drum's opinion was good.

I love how Glenn Reynolds is steering clear of this whole mess. (I mean that seriously, not sarcastically.) He's just letting it play out.

For the record, I don't consider him one of the big boys who ignore women. I do think he has an unconscious sexism, but it's due to the fact that he's, well, male. Like linking to a female blogger's post on sex, but rarely to that bloggers posts on politics.

Did you see the mention in Howie Kurtz's column in the Post? Can you say, "Yet another condescending male who thinks he's not condescending?"

Well, I will.

My brother's graduation was canceled due to impending snow. I'll have posts up later today.

Posted by: Meryl Yourish at February 24, 2005 04:54 PM

I do think he has an unconscious sexism, but it's due to the fact that he's, well, male. Like linking to a female blogger's post on sex, but rarely to that bloggers posts on politics.

I really don't like lumping all men in the same boat like that; it's not sexist, to me, to dig attractive women, and yeah, men do. It is sexist when you'll pass up work well done for work poorly done, just because the author's "hot."

As for unconscious sexism, I'll just paraphrase what I said at Andrea's: I'd rather see that knife coming from the front than have it sneak up on me from the back.

Congratulations on the WaPo mention. Yeah, Kurtz was no better in his closing lines, but I still say good for you and Trish. People will make up their minds one way or the other, and I imagine at least a few of them won't agree with ol' Howie.

Posted by: ilyka at February 25, 2005 01:14 AM

And speaking of "playground dominance games," any "Apprentice" watchers here?

No. But pardon you for the attempted threadjacking.

Posted by: ilyka at February 25, 2005 01:15 AM

Oh come now Ilyka..."attempted threadjacking?" Do you not really see the relevance of the comment?

Posted by: david foster at February 26, 2005 02:39 PM