I Was A Teenage Sexist Chicken

This post is not about Sexism or Feminism, it is about my experience in talking about them.

I have had several conversations lately about how people engage in debate over sex / gender / body (SGB) identity issues.  I am launching a blog that supports dialogue on those issues and in the communities that they create.  As I frame the terms of the conversations and the goals of the site, I have begun to articulate my view on the structure of dialogue itself.

(Cross-posted at The National Gadfly)

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Ain't I A Person?

So I was reading the discussion about the Rick Warren benediction pick and also an article about the Christian Reconstructionist ideals of gender and these bits jumped out at me:

Vision Forum's product line includes the Beautiful Girlhood Collection, which, "aspires, by the grace of God, to the rebuilding of a culture of virtuous womanhood. In a world that frowns on femininity, that minimizes motherhood, and that belittles the beauty of being a true woman of God, we dare to believe that the biblical vision for girlhood is a glorious vision."

- Frederick Clarkson writing about the Christian Reconstructionist vision of proper gender roles.


"I'm opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I'm opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage."

- Pastor Rick Warren, 2008

Both reminded me of a quote that largely defines feminism and gender issues for me:

... That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman? ...

- Sojourner Truth, 1851

It was not that long ago when the blogosphere and much of the political establishment was ablaze with talk of how wrong and divisive it was to claim that certain groups of the citizenry were "real" Americans. If the class of all people who are American citizens contains a smaller subset defined as real Americans, the people outside that subset are ... wrong? anti-? inauthentic? fallen? rejected? cast out? disowned? excommunicated? imaginary? fake? What? What, we all wanted to know, (though of course we already knew,) did they mean by that?

Right wing religionists have a very particular view of what constitutes a real person, but more precisely, a real man or woman. From those definitions, ones that all of us more or less understand, follow the views of what constitutes a real relationship.

A "real" man is in control, of something at least. He is not given to womanly displays of emotion, which implies being governed by logic, but actually means giving oneself over to jealousy, easily bruised pride, a will to dominate, and disgust towards those who would live otherwise. It begets a constant need to defend one's prerogatives in a role-based hierarchy that assigns people value based on their fulfillment of certain parts in a nonstop morality play existence.

A "real" woman is delicate, dammit! She understands herself to be the rightful property of a man, an adornment and accessory for his life, and her emotions don't matter at all so long as every conversation ends in, "Yes, dear." She is structurally, perpetually, a child. Albeit a child that it's all right to have sex with and employ as an unpaid domestic. Think about this every time one of the wingnuts compares a consensual, adult relationship between two men or two women to pedophilia and consider yourself encouraged to grimace disapprovingly at said wingnut.

These definitions of "real" manhood and womanhood take subsets of men and women as being exclusively worthy and leave everyone else out in the cold. The types of relationships that these real men and women are supposed to have are then taken as the definitive "real" relationship.

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Writing about politics does not make me a man

At Talk Left I saw a reference to the Gender Analyzer, which uses artificial intelligence to "determine if a homepage is written by a man or a woman." You enter the address, and in an instant it scans the text, giving you a prediction. When I checked my blog home, Bleeding Heartland, I got this:

We think http://www.bleedingheartland.com is written by a man (79%).

How about the home page of frequent MyDD diarist canadian gal?

We think http://kickinitwithcg.blogspot.com/ is written by a man (88%).

The computer program hedged its bets with Iowa blogger Lynda Waddington's Essential Estrogen:

We guess http://www.essentialestrogen.com/ is written by a man (59%), however it's quite gender neutral.

I admit I assumed Digby was a man for years, but that was mainly because of the illustration of a man shouting on the front page of Hullaballoo. Without scanning images, the Gender Analyzer makes the same false assumption:

We think http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/ is written by a man (74%).

Hilzoy's place, Obsidian Wings, yields a similar result:

We think http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_ wings/ is written by a man (84%).

In fact, I've been unable to find any political blog by a woman that the analyzer can recognize as such:

We think http://iddybudjournal.blogspot.com/ is written by a man (81%).
We think http://www.feministing.com/ is written by a man (60%).

We have strong indicators that http://leftylane.blogspot.com/ is written by a man (91%).

BlogHer does register as being written by a woman, probably because of the posts about shopping, food and fashion.

Bleeding Heartland commenter ragbrai08 looked up the details and assumptions underlying the Gender Analyzer. You can find the pdf link to the paper "Effects of Age and Gender on Blogging"at the bottom of her comment.

The analyzer mostly ignores the content of blog posts, except for certain key words. Computer programming and gaming words, along with some words relating to politics and the economy, are tagged as "male." Female words include "shopping,""cute,""pink,""freaked," and "husband." The analyzer also looks at elements such as sentence structure ("male bloggers use more articles and prepositions") and the number of hyperlinks (male bloggers use more).

So, just about any blog with a bunch of hyperlinks and political words will be deemed a man's blog by the Gender Analyzer. I have to agree with ragbrai08's assessment:

The only thing this algorithm is telling you is that the political blogosphere is dominated by male authors.

It would be interesting for some researcher to study a large sample of political blogs only, to see if politically-oriented male and female bloggers write differently or use hyperlinks differently. I suspect that a content analysis of political blogs would reveal a lot of overlap but also significant differences in the subjects covered by men and women.

Please share any relevant thoughts and opinions in the comments.

Speaking of gender issues, if you missed this in Natasha Chart's linkfest yesterday, go read about life as a female reporter.

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Wife Swap Conservatism

While on vacation out East, I got the chance to pick up and read Walter Benn Michaels' 2006 book The Trouble With Diversity.  Might as well spoil the suspense and start by saying Benn Michaels didn't convince me when he argues (like Michaels Lind and Tomasky) that left-wing "identity politics" around race and gender stand in the way of a serious left-wing class politics.  The book reminded me at various points of Catherine MacKinnon's argument (in Towards a Feminist Theory of the State) that feminists and Marxists view each other with suspicion because each party could undo one kind of oppression while leaving the other oppression intact.  It's often not clear to whom Benn Michaels, an English professor, is addressing his argument.  He offers criticisms (often clever, always articulate) of some academic arguments about identity, but he doesn't engage with many pivotal ones - like the literature on intersectional (rather than additive) approaches to identity, considering how identities mediate each other - how being identified as a poor Black woman has different social and economics meanings than just being poor plus being Black plus being a woman.  He calls Omi and Winant's Racial Formation in the United States"certainly the most influential academic text on the social construction of race," but cites only two sentences from it.

If the argument is directed at political practitioners, we're left wondering how he actually pictures the left gaining power and effectiveness by throwing race and gender overboard.  In a telling line criticizing the focus on sexism at Wal-Mart as a distraction from exploitation there, Benn Michaels asserts that "Laws against discrimination by gender are what you go for when you've given up on - or turned against - the idea of a strong labor movement." Tell that to all the folks in the labor movement and labor-allied groups who've worked to support the Dukes lawsuit and the fight against Wal-Mart's sexism as part of a broad-based critique of a company that helpfully illustrates the connections between conservatism's threat to gender equality, economic justice, environmental sustainability, and other values progressives and most Americans hold dear.  Benn Michaels' approach, which denies that rich people can be victims of oppression or that poor people can be oppressed by more than only poverty, would render the left unable to fully understand, let alone seriously engage, with what Betty Dukes and millions of women like her are facing (see also Whitewashing Race).  As badly as Benn Michaels may wish for a revived labor movement, in advocating a disregard for identity politics he's echoing the disconnection from progressive social movements which contributed the labor movement's decline in the first place.  Those blinders regarding oppressions besides class mirror the blindness to class of too many in, for example, the pro-choice movement - blindness of which Benn Michaels would be rightly critical.

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Republicans voting for a woman?

With all the hullabaloo about white democrats willingness to vote for a black man, I am waiting for the hundreds of articles written about republicans willingness to vote for a women.  The party that despises the word "tolerance" and the party's major constituent, white men from the south.  Are they really happy with this pick? Does this really fire up the party's base?

In my opinion, i would imagine the group of republicans unwilling to vote for a woman is greater than any democrat unwilling to vote for a black man PLUS any disillusioned Hillary voters who voted for hillary only because she is a woman.

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