Unconscious Sexism PotPourri


There’s plenty of evidence that whatever women say or do, it’s perceived differently (and more negatively) than when men say or do the very same things.

Here’s one example.  Last night, my friend Atrios put up a post wondering why Hillary Clinton’s people (in other words, her surrogates, in other words, that woman) are “so cranky.”  In spite of my query, Atrios didn’t provide a link or an example of what he was talking about — maybe we’re just all supposed to understand and agree about how cranky that woman is.  There was some speculation that maybe he was referring to this story about “a senior Clinton aide’s sharp take on Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT):  ‘tone it down’ or ‘fuck him.’  Reflecting on Clinton’s double-digit victory, the anonymous senior aide told Politico:  ‘We kicked ass tonight,’ adding, ‘I hope this convinces Bernie to tone it down. If not, fuck him.'”  Atrios’ other comments went to how it may actually be good for Clinton for Sanders to stay in the race, and I’ll concede that maybe  “or fuck him” could be taken to mean “or he should drop out of the race,” although I think it probably meant “or fuck him,” —as in, “or fuck him.”  If you think that’s cranky talk for campaign aides, you have SO not been involved in any campaigns.

To be honest, I’m not aware that, at least until this Tuesday, there’s been much of an outcry at all from Clinton’s supporters for Sanders to drop out.  Certainly, there’s been nothing like the outcry in 2008 from then-Senator Obama’s supporters who began early and often to demand that Clinton drop out.  Her staying in the race was costing him money, weakening him, preventing him from pivoting to the Republicans, and, whenever she criticized him, even indirectly, that was a HUGE problem, providing grist for the Republicans during the general election.  If she suggested that, who knew, anything could happen, that was portrayed (in what even President Obama has said was an unfair manner) as a racist wish for his assassination.  I seem to remember even my friend Atrios jumping on that bandwagon.  In the end, I think that most of even-the-loudest voices came around to the notion that it actually helped Obama for Clinton to stay in the race until the end.  And I and the other Clinton supporters I know have been quite careful to say, “Yes, –Senator Sanders has a right to stay in as long as he wants.”  I suspect that Sanders staying in the race may help Democrats on down-ticket races, if nothing else, because if his supporters stay home, those votes won’t happen.  Maybe there’s some huge groundswell I’ve missed, but, in fact, Clinton’s supporters seem to me to have been far less “cranky” about Sanders staying in the race than Obama’s supporters were about Clinton.

And, it’s odd, after the last few weeks, for anyone to call Clinton cranky.

Senator Sanders started out running an issues-based campaign, graciously even announcing at a debate that no one cared about Secretary Clinton’s emails (although that was shortly after she’d endured and risen victorious from an 11-hour Star Chamber about her emails).  But in the last few weeks, the Sanders campaign has turned distinctly cranky:  warning Clinton not to let her ambition tear apart the Democratic party (which is rich because, you know, Sanders has often run against Democrats), calling Clinton unqualified to be president (then retracting that, then saying that she just had bad judgment), calling her supporters (and, by extension, her) “Democratic whores,” (and then retracting that), protesting fundraisers where she was raising money for down-ticket races (and throwing one dollar bills at her — a classic way to call a woman a cheap whore), and bitching and moaning that all the rules that have been in place for months were somehow unfair to poor Bernie and were somehow Clinton’s fault — a position to which, to be fair, Atrios objected).

So when, after that, Clinton beats Sanders even on his own home block in Brooklyn and one of her senior aides defends her and says that Sanders needs to either tone down his attacks on her or fuck him, then it’s Clinton who’s cranky.  What is she supposed to do?  Ignore his attacks?  We saw how well ignoring the Swift Boat attacks worked for John Kerry.  This is classic damned-if-she-does-damned-if-she-doesn’t sexism.  If she (and her surrogates are an extension of her, here) won’t or can’t defend herself, then how will she defend America against the Islamic State or Putin?  How will she ever handle Donald Trump in the debates?  Is she scared to throw a punch?  Is she weak?  But if she does defend herself, she’s cranky.  What a bitch!  How dare she pick on that avuncular old man, St. Bernard of the Snows?

Look, I think Atrios is one of the most feminist men in the blogosphere.  But unconscious gender bias/sexism affects everyone in America — everyone — and certainly white men.  I’d really love it if Clinton’s campaign and presidency could lead to some examination of how that unconscious sexism affects how we perceive it when women, oh, say, defend themselves.

Here’s another example.  We all know about mansplaining.  A recent New York Times article discussed the “manologue”:

The manologue takes many forms, but is characterized by the proffering of words not asked for, of views not solicited[,] and of arguments unsought. It is underwritten by the doubtful assumption that the audience will naturally be interested, and that this interest will not flag. And that when it comes to speeches or commentary, longer is better.

The prevalence of the manologue is deeply rooted in the fact that men take, and are allocated, more time to talk in almost every professional setting. Women self-censor, edit, apologize for speaking. Men expound.

The really interesting finding, in terms of our topic — how women’s actions are perceived differently from the same actions by men — is this:

It is also clear that the more powerful men become, the more they speak. This would seem a natural correlation, but the same is not true for women. The reason for this, according to a Yale study, is because women worry about “negative consequences” — that is, a backlash — if they are more voluble. Troublingly, the study found that their fears were well founded, as both male and female listeners were quick to think these women were talking too much, too aggressively. In other words, men are rewarded for speaking, while women are punished.  (emphasis mine).

I’ve seen Clinton criticized for going on, and on, and on at debates.  Of course, the way that you win a debate is to dominate the conversation, getting in all of your points and preventing your opponent from getting in hir points.  But, due to unconscious sexism, women are punished for the very behaviors that win debates.  Again, this is damned-if-she-does-damned-if-she-doesn’t sexism.  If Hillary can’t dominate a debate with Sanders, how can she stand up to Trump or Putin?  But if she does, she’s a shrill old woman, droning on and on.

Here’s a final example.   The Harvard Business Review has an article that documents the fact that we unconsciously punish women, more than men, for making errors in judgement.  I’ve long been puzzled at the vehemence of the insistence that Hillary can’t be the liberal choice for president because “she voted for the war.”  (Insert requisite disclaimer that I was against the war and wish she’d voted against it.)  The same people who say this had little problem getting over the fact that John Kerry and John Edwards also “voted for the war,” and that Kerry and Edwards, like Clinton, later said they regretted that vote.  The same people had no trouble supporting Obama (“I’m not a member of the anti-war left.”) and they gladly voted for him in 2012, despite his continued drone strikes and other war mongering.  (And, of course, again, there’s the damned-if-she-does-damned-if-she-doesn’t sexism.  If Clinton hadn’t voted for the war, she’d be “too weak to be Commander in Chief.”  That’s not a criticism likely to have stuck to John Swift Boat Kerry, but he still voted for the war and was forgiven for that.) But Clinton, well SHE VOTED FOR THE WAR! and so can never be the Democratic nominee.  The recent HBR article offers an explanation:

Victoria Brescoll, a social psychologist at Yale School of Management who studies gender stereotypes, was curious how people evaluate women who make mistakes in traditionally male occupations. She and her colleagues gave participants a fictional news story about a police chief in a major city preparing for a big protest rally. Several hours in, the protest got out of hand and the chief dispatched squad cars. In one version of the story, the chief didn’t send enough officers, and twenty-five people were seriously injured.

Did it matter whether the police chief who made the bad call was male or female? It did. When a male police chief found himself with twenty-five injured civilians, his rating as an effective chief dropped by roughly 10 percent. When a female police chief made the same mistake, her ratings dropped by almost 30 percent. Participants reading the story also wanted to demote her, but their counterparts did not want to demote him. Both leaders made a risky decision that backfired, but it cost her more.

In another version of the story, the protest was successfully pacified when the chief sent in the squad cars. No one was injured and the protest didn’t escalate. In that version, participants gave both leaders high marks, which means a female leader wasn’t automatically seen as a poor fit — just when she experienced a perceived failure.

Brescoll and her team looked at two other traditionally male jobs with considerable power – the CEO of an engineering firm and the chief judge of a state supreme court. The pattern persisted. A decision that backfired led to harsher scrutiny for female leaders than for men.

Again, these anti-woman judgements are unconscious. I don’t believe that the people who made them said to themselves, “Let’s see.  I am a sexist and am against rights for women so I’ll make a choice that will show women being judged more harshly.”  It’s just what happens when you grow up soaking in Patriarchy.  But what you CAN do is to recognize that you live in this toxic stew and go back and reconsider your statements and judgments in light of that fact.

If you’re a man and you’re just sick and tired of hearing about how EVERY FUCKING THING involves sexism, I understand you.  I do.  You poor baby; here, put your feet up and let me get you a drink.  Can you, for just one moment, imagine how we women feel, living in it every minute of every day?  Can you, just for one moment, imagine how we feel, regularly gaslighted by a culture that tells us that we just need to “lean in,” but not too far; and that it’s our fault if we don’t succeed because we didn’t find that impossible fine line between being too aggressive and being aggressive enough; and that if only we hadn’t ever made any single mistake, even though when a man makes that mistake it shows daring and aggression and boldness, we’d certainly get ahead; and how even a woman who graduated from Wellesley and Yale Law School, was a partner in a major law firm, was First Lady, was a Senator, and was Secretary of State is “unqualified,” and how if we could only just not be so cranky . . . .

Yes.  I’m cranky.  I’m sixty years old and I’m more tired of this than you are.

GIF found here.

Words for Wednesday


The Rhododendrons
Theodora Goss

This morning I decided
to wear a purple dress so I would resemble
one of the rhododendrons.  Oh wind in the bushes,
I noticed you dancing with their purple blossoms.
I’m ready too, anytime
you want to start.

Picture found here.

Life is Old There; Older than the Trees


There’s a wildfire in Shenandoah, but we didn’t see it yesterday.  The Green Man and I drove up into the Blue Ridge Mountains to an experimental grove of American chestnut trees.  As we climbed, we went backwards in time; Spring becoming less and less pronounced than it is down here in our Shining City on a Swamp.

We saw wild mustard flowing like a river of sunlight and gold all along the highway.

We saw two turkey vultures circling high in the sky and then saw the deer carcass — victim of a traffic accident — that a large flock of them were cleaning.  That’s magic for me:  Isis’ birds, and Maat’s, and, here in the New World, representatives of Iac and Heresa Heri, who brought light to the world.  And seeing them always reminds me, indirectly, after I get over the goosebumps, of Robert Coffin’s poem, Crystal Moment:

      Once or twice this side of death
      Things can make one hold his breath.

From my boyhood I remember
A crystal moment of September.

A wooded island rang with sounds
Of church bells in the throats of hounds.

A buck leaped out and took the tide
With jewels flowing past each side.

With his head high like a tree
He swam within a yard of me.

I saw the golden drop of light
In his eyes turned dark with fright.

I saw the forest’s holiness
On him like a fierce caress.

Fear made him lovely past belief,
My heart was trembling like a leaf.

He leans towards the land and life
With need above him like a knife.

In his wake the hot hounds churned
They stretched their muzzles out and yearned.

They bayed no more, but swam and throbbed
Hunger drove them till they sobbed.

Pursued, pursuers reached the shore
And vanished. I saw nothing more.

So they passed, a pageant such
As only gods could witness much,

Life and death upon one tether
And running beautiful together.

In my memory, I always edit the first lines so they read (much better, I think):  “Once or twice, this side of Death,/Things can make you hold your breath.”  And the association is always how sad I feel for the deer and how glad I feel for the vultures, and how grateful I am to them for their work.

When we reached the grove, we wrapped a cloak of invisibility around us so that none of the workers, or joggers, or schoolchildren on field trips would see us entering the gated-off grove, would hear us invoke the Powers, and Spirits, and Beings of the place, would notice us pouring libations of American spirits.   This is just simple courtesy in my book; there’s no need to scare or confuse people.

Within the grove, we have one special grandmother tree and we went straight to her.  Whenever I approach her, I have to get through Grandmother Spider who seems to guard her and to challenge me:  “Do you really want to get close?  Do you come with a clean heart?”  We worked it out as we always do, Grandmother Spider and I, and I spent a long time just hugging our tree, sensing how she’d come through the Winter, delighting in her sun-fired-tiny-green leaves, held proudly up to the cloudless sky.  We joined hands, the Green Man, the tree, and the Witch, and made the deep connection we’ve come to expect.

And then we left, dropped our cloak, and found a tiny mountain diner to have lunch with sweet tea, biscuits, and collards.  We drove back down through Spring, past the river of wild mustard, past the turkey vultures still hard at work, into our Shining City on a Swamp.  This is the work of Witches and Druids.  Our work is to turn the Wheel and round and round the Wheel must turn.

Picture of a chestnut tree by the blogger; if you copy, please link back.

Monday at the Movies

Sunday Ballet Blogging

Spent the last three days learning about Orpheus and Eurydice from Delores Ashcroft Nowicki.  At least in Balanchine’s telling, Eurydice has SOME agency.

More Shiny Things



“Mom!  I’m home,” Hannah yelled through the screen door.  “Is there any more peanut butter?  LaCrosse practice was brutal and I’m starved.”

Melissa slipped the cameo into her pocket and headed inside to hear about Hannah’s day.  She really cherished this time with her teen-age daughter; they could chat while Melissa finished dinner.

“Here’s the last banana and some peanut butter, ” she told Hannah.  “Save some room for dinner.  How was school?”  She began to chop vegetables for the salad that would go with the bean soup.

“Ugh,” Hannah said.  “We had those state competency tests all day.  I’m wiped.  And I still have that Geography test to study for.  Here’s the newsletter they told us to bring home.  At practice, Oliva told me she’s going to the dance with Craig Hofstettler.  I can’t believe she likes him.  He’s such a bully.  Can I have some of those carrots?”

“Lissa!”  Harry yelled, walking through the front door.  “I need my softball uniform; there’s an extra practice tonight.  Can you find it for me; you washed it, didn’t you?”

“I thought you’d have dinner with us tonight,” Melissa said, wiping her hands on the back of her jeans and heading for the laundry room.

“Can’t, Babe,” Harry said, giving her a peck on the cheek and grabbing the uniform from her hands.  “You know playing on the company team is an obligation, not an option.  I’ll grab something after practice with the guys.  You two lovely ladies go on without me.  Hannah, help your mom with dinner.”

Later that evening, after the dishes were done and Hannah had finished her homework, Melissa sat at the kitchen table with a cup of tea.  She picked up the school newsletter and read:  Dear Parents, we want to let you know that next Friday will be Religious Education Day.  Various Faith Groups will be on campus to distribute literature and educate our students about values.  The Gideons will be distributing Bibles and First Baptist Church will hand out salvation leaflets.  The Church of Christ will provide snacks and some musical entertainment for our students.  In other news, the boys baseball team is heading for the tournament . . . .

“I should do something about this,” Melissa thought, “although what I could do without mortally embarrassing Hannah and hurting Harry’s chances for promotion in this small town is far from clear, but, honestly. . . .”

Melissa slumped down on the kitchen chair.  A sharp needle jabbed her hip.

/To be continued.

Picture found here.

Words for Wednesday