Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nasty Post III

This is a part of a series on things that piss me off but which don't fall under any other suitable title in my internal filing systems, the kind of things which make my blood pressure rise momentarily but which are usually not worth taking a whole discussion thread into a different direction.

Right now I'm annoyed by a certain kind of quantity-and-quality blindness of so many commenters on political blogs. To give you an example (biased towards my own concerns, natch), consider this exchange that I have had many times:

First I say that many in the media treated Hillary Clinton with sexist arguments when she ran in the presidential primaries and I give examples of those arguments and their frequency. Second, I'm told that this is nothing new as conservatives used to write about John Edwards as the Breck boy and as the guy with the pricey haircuts. The conclusion to be drawn: There is no special sexism that Hillary Clinton was exposed to. All political candidates are called monsters and castrating bitches and so on, I guess.

There are two errors in that counterargument; one of quantity and one of quality. The former has to do with just the number of sexist references that female politicians (such as Hillary Clinton) are exposed to. They are many, many times more common than sexist references aimed at male politicians in the past, and to pretend that the quantitative difference doesn't exist leads to the wrong conclusion.

The latter error has to do with equating two very different types of sexist slurs. Men like John Edwards or Barack Obama (remember Obambi?) are accused of acting like girls by their opponents. Women like Hillary Clinton are also accused of acting like girls by their opponents (she cried! it worked!), but they are also accused of transcending all gender borders and of entering some sort of a world where they transform into monsters, Ice Queens and bitches from hell. The language in the latter case is much stronger, more primal and vicious and the basis for gender transgressions almost infinite. Men can be ridiculed by comparing them to women. Women can be ridiculed as women, too, but they can also be ridiculed by accusing them of being pseudo-men or of something subhuman altogether.

I recommend this little experiment: Google various combinations of 'ambition' and 'politician' and note the proportion of the hits you get which apply to female politicians. Then remember that there aren't that many female politicians to begin with. This was something I noticed said about both Hillary Clinton and to Sarah Palin: that they are driven by nothing but naked ambition. What are male politicians driven by, I wonder? Altruism and the desire to find enlightenment?

Even though my examples apply to one particular topic, the tendency to assume that an assertion about general tendencies can be defeated by one counterexample is more common than that. All such a counterexample proves (assuming it's a real one) is that the general tendency is not a total one.