Friday, June 16, 2017

When Women Speak. The Examples of Kamala Harris and Veronika Hubeny.

Did you know that Kamala Harris's rapid-fire prosecutor-like questioning of Jeff Sessions was evidence of hysteria?  Jason Miller thinks so, in any case, though of course he used to be one of Trump's henchmen, so references to women and their wandering wombs might play well to Trump's new base, the "Alt Right":

KIRSTEN POWERS: Can I just go back to something that Jason [Miller] said? How was Sen. [Kamala] Harris (D-CA) "hysterical?" I don't really understand that. I mean, she was asking some tough questions -- 
JASON MILLER: I believe this is the second hearing in a row with completely partisan screed. 
POWERS: But, how is that hysterical? 
MILLER: It was. From my perspective, my, I would say objective, perspective, I mean it was -- it didn't seem like there was any effort to try to get to a real question or get to the bottom of it. She was purely out there to shout down --

Whatever one might call Harris's style of questioning, hysterical it was not.  But Miller called it hysterical, because Harris is a woman.  If that connection can be made to stick, we are at the beginning of Harris's long road to Hillarization.

Certain adjectives have gendered connotations:  Though men can be called hysterical, that label comes much more easily to our minds when we want to apply some derogatory label to women.  "Hysterical," after all, comes from the Greek hystera, for the womb, and hysteria was originally viewed as a medical condition of women, caused by something wrong with their wombs.

I have no way of knowing if Jason Miller carefully picked that adjective, for political purposes, or if it just smoothly flowed out of his maw.  But a slightly different recent event about how sex affects the way we treat people is probably evidence of not overt sexism but of obliviousness*:

While watching a panel titled “Pondering the Imponderable: The Biggest Questions of Cosmology,” Marilee Talkington noticed that the moderator wasn’t giving physicist Veronika Hubeny, a professor at UC Davis and the only female on the panel, her fair share of speaking time.
So when the moderator, New Yorker contributor Jim Holt, finally asked Hubeny a question about her research in string theory and quantum gravity, then immediately began speaking over her to explain it himself, Talkington was furious.
Fed up with the continuous mansplaining, Talkington interrupted Holt by yelling loudly, “Let her speak, please!” The crowd applauded the request.

The moderator apologized, and Hubeny herself minimized the meaning of the incident.  And that's fine.  But it's still worth pointing out that this is something that happens quite a bit, and the way to reduce it is consciousness-raising:

Think about the reasons why ignoring certain people has traditionally been almost cost-free, why ignoring other people has traditionally been very costly, indeed, and how we have all absorbed those rules (though differently, depending on our own status) without even realizing that we have absorbed them, as if by osmosis.

Explicit (rather than implicit) rules also help in reducing any unconscious bias we might have:  Make sure that everyone gets the same amount of time in a debate, for example.

The problem of invisibility or inaudibility** doesn't apply to only women.  It can apply to any group who has traditionally not been powerful in a society, but the most accentuated form of the problem does crop up with women, perhaps, because women have been easier to ignore without negative consequences, and because a modest and relatively silent*** role is still one which fits better with the normative expectations of how women should behave.


*  This footnote was added a day later, because I forgot the Uber case.  One board member, David Bonderman, cracked a silly joke about women talking too much at a meeting which was all about changing Uber's culture, including it's sexism. Bonderman has since resigned from the board.

It's that obliviousness, again.  I can't think of a perfect parable to explain how it strikes me, but it's as if a board member of a charity funding wheelchairs to elderly people made one of those "Help!  I've fallen and can't get up!" -jokes.

**  And neither does the earlier example about gender-specific adjectives.  There are race-specific slurs and adjectives with negative connotations about gays and Lesbians and so on.

It's not that those adjectives can't be used about other groups, but when they are applied to the "target" group (such as when "hysterical" is applied to a woman), the adjective bears a double-load:  It has its direct meaning and then it brings with it all the stereotypes about that particular group.

Come to think of it, they have that double-load, at least in the case of gendered adjectives, even when applied to some other group.  A man called "hysterical" is also implicitly called a sissy.

***  This article explains how that works in the criticisms of Hillary Clinton's post-election speeches.   Funnily enough, this later article suggests that she should go quietly away.  Into the night.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

From My Archives: It Can't Happen Here.

One of the earliest blog posts I ever wrote is relevant for this era.  It's a review of Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here.  You figure out why someone seems to have been able to predict the rise of Donald Trump so many years ago.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Thirty-Nine States And Counting

That's the number of states in which some part of the electoral systems are known to have been hacked by Russians.  The real number could very well be higher.  Fun snippets:

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data.

The new details, buttressed by a classified National Security Agency document recently disclosed by the Intercept, show the scope of alleged hacking that federal investigators are scrutinizing as they look into whether Trump campaign officials may have colluded in the efforts. But they also paint a worrisome picture for future elections: The newest portrayal of potentially deep vulnerabilities in the U.S.’s patchwork of voting technologies comes less than a week after former FBI Director James Comey warned Congress that Moscow isn’t done meddling.

Bolds are mine.

Charlie Pierce has something to say about all this:

We are creeping ever closer to actual evidence that there was Russian ratfcking of the vote totals in the last election. Not long ago, people wouldn't even suggest that out loud. We were made vulnerable to something like this because of the interference by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, by the curious goings-on in Ohio in 2004, by a relentless campaign to convince the country of an imaginary epidemic of voter fraud, and by a decade of voter suppression by any means necessary.

What I want to add is this:  Let's go back to paper ballots and hand counting.  Let's have voting scheduled for two consequent days, such as Saturday and Sunday.  Let's make federal rules which stipulate equal access to voting equipment, compared to populations of voters, in all districts.  And if the voter ID requirements remain, let's make those voter IDs free and easy to get hold of for all people.

Finally, Pierce surmises that Obama decided to stay mum about all this before the election "so as not to undermine the public's confidence in the integrity of the elections". 

Perhaps.  But that's a bit like not telling someone about a possible (but not certain) cancer diagnosis so as not to make them upset and worried and afraid, even though it also leaves them in the dark about possible treatments.

We Are Not in Kansas Anymore. On Sam Brownback's Economic Experiment.

Sam Brownback, a Christianist fundamentalist and the governor of Kansas, has completed his tax-cut experiment, though not voluntarily:

The topic on the table: the governor’s 2012 tax plan, the most sweeping tax cut in state history. The governor called the cuts a “real live experiment” of the principle that slashing taxes and cutting government spending would spur economic growth that would power the state.
But over the last five fiscal years, that plan has failed to create enough jobs and businesses, leaving Kansas’ overall revenue — the money it spends on the mass of state services from fixing roads to schools to social services — down by some $3.6 billion.
The Republican-led Legislature, weary of severe budget shortfalls, handed Brownback a new tax plan aimed at reversing the state’s sinking fortunes by raising $1.2 billion more over two years. Income tax rates would go up, and 330,000 owners of “pass-through” businesses such as law firms and family farms would start paying taxes again.
The governor vetoed the plan. But on Tuesday, in a stunning rebuke, the Legislature overrode the veto, wiping away the centerpiece of Brownback’s conservative agenda.

These natural experiments using flawed macroeconomic models are painful for those who must be the subjects in them, but they are useful lessons for the rest of us.

This clip is added just because.  And so is the title of the post. 

Read more here:

Monday, June 12, 2017

Snippet posts 6/12/17: On love of Our Leader, anti-Sharia Marches and Russian Anti-Corruption Demonstrations

1.  Today's belly laugh:  First watch this video clip about Trump's cabinet meetings.  Then watch this spoof of it by Chuck Schumer (a Democrat, and the Senate Minority Leader) and his people.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

America Made Paulina Porizkova A Feminist

Paulina Porizkova, a Czech-born model, actor and author, has written a widely quoted opinion column in today's New York Times.  It's titled "America Made Me A Feminist."

(By David Sedleck√Ĺ - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Porizkova compares the role and treatment of women in Sweden, where she grew up, to that in France, where she began her super-model career, to that in the United States, where she now lives.  This is the core of her argument:

In the Czech Republic, the nicknames for women, whether sweet or bitter, fall into the animal category: little bug, kitten, old cow, swine. In Sweden, women are rulers of the universe. In France, women are dangerous objects to treasure and fear. For better or worse, in those countries, a woman knows her place.
But the American woman is told she can do anything and then is knocked down the moment she proves it. In adapting myself to my new country, my Swedish woman power began to wilt. I joined the women around me who were struggling to do it all and failing miserably. I now have no choice but to pull the word “feminist” out of the dusty drawer and polish it up.
All this is a good reminder that not all cultures treat women the same (if you needed such a reminder).  Indeed, there are far worse places to be a woman than those Porizkova has experienced.  The variation in how cultures understand the role and treatment of men is much, much less.

But also keep in mind this:  Paulina Porizkova has lived in at least four different  cultures, but because of the passing of the time it's different Paulinas who experienced the treatment of women in the Czech Republic, Sweden, France and the United States.  She was a small child in the Czech Republic, a child and a teenager in Sweden, a young woman in France, and a more mature woman now in the United States.

And keep in mind this:  Paulina Porizkova's experiences are her experiences.  The experiences of one individual, with certain demographic characteristics (whiteness, say) and great beauty.

Our stories are of course our own, and there's nothing wrong with Porizkova telling her own stories.  It's valuable and interesting.  On the other hand, someone less physically attractive might have found less grrrl power in Sweden and perhaps different reactions in France.  Or maybe not, but it's worth thinking about.

My point about the different experiences women have at different ages is an important one:  Sexism in those countries where strides have been made in legislation about gender equality tends to hit women at a later age than it does in countries where such strides have not yet happened.