February 10, 2008

Trying to have the conversation

In the light of the David Schuster incident, I had hope that men and women of good will would be able, finally, to sit down and have an open conversation about the enduring and deeply internalized sexism within our society.

What has been particularly frustrating for me, is that when I try to have any kind of discussion with men about sexism in our culture, I honestly feel like I'm speaking a foreign language to them. No matter how I try to get them to try to understand where I am coming from, what my life experience has been, most men, if not all, just don't get it. Worse, they don't appear to want to understand. And I am speaking of men who are my friends and closer, solid progressives every all.

A defensive wall goes up and I cannot seem to get them to at least acknowledge that my experience and point of view may be valid, or that I may have some legitimate concerns, or to admit that though they may not understand, they are willing to at least listen. Alas, no, because if I even bring it up, somehow I get the feeling that they think I am holding them personally responsible for the misogyny I see, and that I expect them to "fix" it. I hold neither position, but gawd-amighty, I sure would like to be able to at least have the conversation without being told that (a) I'm being too sensitive (b) I'm taking it too personally (c) I'm seeing things that aren't there.

On a related note, Nicholas Kristof looks at the challenges faced by ambitious women running for, or holding, political office in our democratic age.

When Women Rule (NYT)

In one common experiment, the “Goldberg paradigm,” people are asked to evaluate a particular article or speech, supposedly by a man. Others are asked to evaluate the identical presentation, but from a woman. Typically, in countries all over the world, the very same words are rated higher coming from a man.

In particular, one lesson from this research is that promoting their own successes is a helpful strategy for ambitious men. But experiments have demonstrated that when women highlight their accomplishments, that’s a turn-off. And women seem even more offended by self-promoting females than men are.

This creates a huge challenge for ambitious women in politics or business: If they’re self-effacing, people find them unimpressive, but if they talk up their accomplishments, they come across as pushy braggarts.

The broader conundrum is that for women, but not for men, there is a tradeoff in qualities associated with top leadership. A woman can be perceived as competent or as likable, but not both.


Mike said...

Good discussion.

Clearly, no utopia yet! (If that's
even possible in the human circumstance.)

Perhaps the way to look at this type of thing is to focus on a person by person liberation.
Which, imo, in the end involves
a liberation from all binding forms of self-identification (and a realization of That which all beings are).

I definitely couldn't understand
Shuster's underlying point, that it was unseemly of Chelsea to be courting superdelegates. Why would it be inappropriate for her to do so, and aok for the rest of us to lobby them? (Which obviously many of us plan to do.)

texex said...

CLS, I've thought your remarks over the last few days and there are two points I'd like to make.

The first is that to classify all men as anti-women knuckledraggers and to assume that posture prior to engaging in the "kinds of discussions with men in our culture" takes the same blanket discriminatory mode you wish to dispose of. I really bristel when this happens for I have been, and will continue to be, supportive of women taking their destiny to the very highest levels.

Yes, a wall does go up because men, as a group, should not all be painted with such a broad brush because of the actions of a few. So it's extremely hard for us that don't share the views of the very small minority of knuckledraggers, and, have actively supported women's rights (and equality for all groups for that matter) to not react with this wall.

Second, I personally found Shuster's remarks offensive but not patently degrading to women for young boys and men are "pimped" as well and have been since ancient times. What I saw in his remarks was that Chelsea wanted to actively campaign for her Mom but Mom still wants her daughter protected in the sanctity of the media-free, criticism-free bubble of her youth. I think it's great to see her out there working for what she believes in but she is going to take some heat for it when she behaves like she did in LV the morning of the caucus. The Clintons can no longer have it both ways.

I think the heat is good for Chelsea for she has to learn to take it and grow from it. This is how strong women are developed and learn to stand on their own. But to cry sexism! sexism! at every instant of criticism undermines a cause I strongly believe in.

carissa said...


I certainly didn't say any where in my post that I thought all men were, as you put it, "anti-woman knuckledraggers." The fact that you think I meant that actually serves to make my point: That men, as a rule, get defensive whenever a woman speaks out on something she perceives as sexism. This is not to say that I think men are unsympathetic, but that often, and I even put my beloved in this category, just don't have the eyes to see the world as women do. Just as I can sympathize with African Americans, and having grown up in Hawaii, have actually experienced racism directed toward me, cannot really ever understand the AA experience. But, I would not say to someone who felt that something was racist that I felt they were calling all white people red-necked racists.

I hope you understand my point.