Thursday, August 17, 2006

Venom From A Blond, Leggy Snake

That's not me in the title, but Ezra Klein talking about a recent The New Republic article which defends Ann Coulter by using something that smells a little of a feminist argument. Ezra summarizes it like this:

Not to get too deep into the weeds on this, but I'm going to break with Duncan here and defend TNR's defense of Ann Coulter (which is, surely, the TNRiest article of all time). Coulter is less a political force nowadays than some sort of bizarre rorschach atop which we dump our worst impulses and greatest rages. I don't know a single person who believes she's anything less than a talk show vaudeville act, yet she remains prominent in the conversation. How her trolling retains its effectiveness is worth mining a bit, and it's to TNR's credit that, after publishing some killer takedowns of her last week, they're willing to let Elspeth Reed explore the other end.

Reed argues is that a certain fraction of what emerges when liberals face down Ann Coulter has a sexist tinge to it and that, as a woman who enjoys bare knuckle political debate, she thrills to Coulter's decidedly un-lady like willingness to tear apart her assailants. That the response to Coulter so often focuses on her looks also deserves some examination. It's not clear why the venom from a blond, leggy snake should be treated any different than the bile Hugh Hewitt spits out, yet rare is the soliloquy on how desperate the writer would have to become to hit the Hewitt. It's a fair point, and I'd extend it by wondering why liberals seem to have so few aggressive female flacks.

Shakespeare's Sister then answers Ezra's last question:

You want an aggressive liberal female flack? Just give me the microphone! (I sure could use the job.)

In all seriousness, there are still a lot of liberals who are generally uncomfortable with aggressive punditry, who prefer measured debate conducted in "inside voices," with which I am sympathetic; I'd prefer that, too. But it ignores the fact that our president and vice-president equate Democratic voters with terrorist-sympathizers and GOP senators like to compare gay relationships with bestiality, which is to say nothing of the diarrheic vitriol spewed by their party hacks in the media. We waved bye-bye to reasoned discourse awhile ago, because bullies can't be persuaded from bullying by dulcet tones.

Liberals who live in this fantasyland where civil discourse is still the norm seem particularly discomfited by aggressive women, as if the last bastion of decency has fallen when a Breasted One utters "the f-word," which is why I get emails inquiring why a smart girl like me feels the need to "curse," and why another blogger has been asked why he links to me, since I'm so potty-mouthed and aggressive. You've still, in some quarters, got to actually have balls to "have balls."

The lack of aggressive female flacks on the Left also certainly has something to do with the subjects about which female flacks are aggressive. Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin, for examples, are aggressive in their perpetuation of conservative ideals, including no small amount of anti-feminist rhetoric. Not only is a woman who aggressively refutes issues like gender equality and reproductive rights less threatening to retrofuck men than a woman who aggressively advocates them, but she also serves to deflect particular kinds of criticism, like charges of sexism. Male conservatives can then quote female operatives, using the sex of the original messenger as a buttress against similar complaints. (Malkin's ethnicity works to their benefit in a similar way when she leads the charge against Muslims.) One can't be sexist (or racist) when one is quoting a woman or a minority, after all. (Not true, of course, but that is the claim.) It is useful to conservatives to have a female face on their sexist positions—and, having turned the culture war into a lynchpin of their political strategy, they need the buffer of female representation more than ever.

I love this cutting-and-pasting from good and smart bloggers! See how much I've written already! But at this point I should probably try to chime in with something of my own. The snag is that Shakespeare's Sis in particular brings in so many fascinating topics that I don't know which one to address first.

Let's begin with Ezra's arguments and the initial article that provoked them. I agree that Coulter's looks and the shape of her genitals are the most common weapons in attacking her on the net, and that this would not be the case if Coulter was a man. She is called a cunt or a twat a lot, the implication being that a cunt or a twat is a bad thing. A side-effect of this is of course that all owners of cunts or twats are told that they have a bad thing between their legs.

But this is not some special burden that Coulter must bear all alone. Practically all women in politics get called cunts or twats or blowjob givers on a fairly regular basis in the cyberspace. Neither is the anger aimed at Coulter especially provoked by her being female; it has much more to do with her vicious comments and the fact that she indeed is an entertainer but an entertainer that causes real pain and trouble and then laughs at it. And I don't agree with Elspeth Reed's initial arguments in The New Republic that it is the slight shadow of truth in Coulter's arguments that makes liberals so angry at her. Coulter is not surrounded by the slightest shadow of truth, and my own anger at least is completely caused by her apparent lack of ethical responsibility for what she argues and the astonishing fact that her type of "entertainment" gets major billing in our so-called liberal media.

But it's an impotent anger I have (why not frigid anger? damn sexist language), and I have often been told that I shouldn't even write about the unimportance that goes under the name of Ann Coulter. So I don't, not really. I'm writing about the lack of aggressive female hacks from the left.

One reason for this lack (with the exception of Sis's offer) is that real hackiness requires an absence of conscience and the ability to shrug off all responsibility for ones actions. Isn't it odd that the right can do this so well and still remain the party of individual responsibility? As I've said before, when I get my consciencectomy done I'm going to be the worst nightmare of Ann Coulter. A blond snake with venom (not saying anything about the legs), spewing all over your television screen 24/7.

Shakespeare's Sister also has a point when she talks about the role of the Gals' Auxiliary to Wingnuttery. Pundits like Coulter and bloggers like Malkin are harnessed together with the ladies of the Concerned Women of America, never mind that this twinning is ludicrous. They all have the same task which is to tear apart anything not part of the radical right, but they have the specific task of attacking feminism. Aunt Tomasinas, some in drag, but all sharply focused on the job.

We ladies of the left seldom have enough money or time to be so sharply focused on fighting them back. We don't have sugar daddies like the Scaife Foundation. Sniff. We also don't say as outrageous things which makes us less amusing, or if we say outrageous things we anger the closeted misogynists on our side of the political aisle by talking about gender equality and being all about identity politics and not about The Really Important Questions. Yesss.

Then there is the civility question. The myth of the left is that it consists of either wimps who are good for nothing or best buddies of bin Laden who kill America by just saying something. Traditionally we have been seen as wimps, bleeding hearts, latte-drinking Birkenstock-wearing smelly hippies on welfare, and limousine liberals. Not to be trusted with the defense of the Fatherland. But the second myth is almost as popular: liberal as Islamofascists, and even in that case we can't be trusted with the defense of the Fatherland. So what kind of a female aggressive hack should the left support? Remember that recently the anger of the left has been determined to be "inexplicable". What better confirmation for that than a loony lefty goddess ranting on television, say?

It's a mess. On the one hand, overlong civility from our side contributed to the hell that we call the Bush regime by providing no real resistance. On the other hand, now that we have amended our ways the resistance is rewritten as the cause of the incivility that actually caused it.

My solution is just to plug on. The heck with the myths the radical right builds. The heck with aggressive liberal hack women. Just slither on.