Monday, May 20, 2013

Accidental Sexists, Latent Misogynists


This is going to be very unscientific. But you know what? That's what essays are. Unscientific "tries" (from the French essai) at getting across an idea, or at finding the answer to some question.  I will try my best. I have been thinking about this since I have had some life-altering, feminism-rallying experiences with men who think they are the shit, and that women should be the recipients of their shit.

Accidental Sexists and Latent Misogynists, as I'll call them, are two different things.

The first, as indicated by the accidental nature of the sexisms committed, is a forgivable dude (not trying to give anyone shit) who is trying to be nice and ends up being condescending instead. He usually knows it immediately, or sometimes after you point it out and he stammers awkwardly, and then he tries to fix it (clumsily).  This dude (and sometimes dudette) is not a social plague or anything of the sort.  He is just a manifestation of how the modern man is coming to terms with feminism, and sometimes he is even an indicator of how men are valiantly stepping up to the feminist front lines next to their woman peers. He just doesn't know what to say when he gets there.

Accidental Sexist, we forgive you.  We even thank you.  You may accidentally tell us something like "I have respect for ALL women!" and then we'll cringe imperceptibly, but we know deep down, even if you're sometimes confused, that if the Women's Studies department was doling out "This is what a feminist looks like" stickers, you'd slap one on your flat chest.

The Latent Misogynist, on the other hand, is a fucking menace.  He disguises himself (consciously or not) as what he thinks a mildly feminist man looks like.  Or rather, how he thinks a mildly feminist man sounds (because he wouldn't be caught dead wearing that sticker).  This is a predatory beast who gains unmerited rapport with women every day, and who most easily tricks his unsuspecting women friends (and girlfriends) of all ages into thinking he's on their side.  What's the trick? He spouts things that sound, on the surface, like the woman-positive rhetoric we've all been waiting to hear. But underneath those crafty lines is the almost inaudible low rumble of testosterone, murmuring all the while:

"You need me to say these things to make them true. I create the world with my words. I say things, and then they are so. You can't do that, but I can."

You can have your feminism. But know that it is sanctioned by HIM.

That is very sinister, yes.  That is the extreme version. There is another low rumble, less sinister, but very hard to put into words.  It sounds like this:  rumblerumblerumblegrumblegrowlrumble.  Let's see, the best I can describe this is like so:

"I like women. I want to have sex with them.

I happen to like women with brains though. And that makes me a special kinda guy.  Since I don't just care about tits, that means I respect women right?

In fact, if they're smart and funny, I don't really mind if they're not that good looking.  That makes me a real stand-up guy, huh?

Women should like me a lot for having this very modern and woman-supportive philosophy.  This means I'll get to have sex with even more women! Shit I hadn't thought of that!

I'd better keep this up, even if I sometimes don't really believe the bit about it being okay if she's not that good-looking.

I understand women.  I respect all of them.  I never want to hurt a woman."

NOTE: Before I explicate these manly lines, let me add a disclaimer.  There has been a lot of ugly anti-feminist rhetoric on the internets these days, and I don't just mean from men.  I mean from feminists themselves!  Some of them defend men against any accusation of sexism no matter how blatant (and some men defend themselves by lashing out) whenever some HuffPo gal, etc, writes a new "Sexism still exists!" piece in the columns.  Well, before you go calling me a sexist, I will flatly deny it.  The Latent Misogynist I describe here is not intended to represent all men, most men, or even a lot of men.  It is a very particular kind of guy, who probably comes from all walks of life.

Furthermore, in my 32 years I have had some very ugly experiences with some prime specimens of Latent Misogynists.  My own experience is something I can essai about (denying women traction in arguments because they tend to write from experience is yet another ugly internet trend).  These guys exist, and they are shitty shitbags, just as women who hate men are shitty too.  Anyway it is only THEM, the Latent Misogynists, who I am talking about when I reduce their mental activity to that of a grapefruit. Not all men.  Not at all. Many men are awesome, and many, many more are average respectable folk.  Same goes for women.  There you go.

I am sick of the comments on articles about sexism, the ones where sexist men and their woman-apologists say things like "I am totally offended by this. YOU are what's wrong with feminism," when the authors of said articles have made it excruciatingly clear that they are speaking about a minority of despicable men. Well, sirs and madams, if you are offended by me or anyone else kicking THIS guy (the Latent Misogynist) in the crotch, then you must identify with him pretty closely, ergo... you are also deserving of a good crotch-kicking.

Manly thoughts explication time!  There are three things lurking in the Latent Misogynist's thought bubble:

Sex on a man's terms

How to pass as a woman-appreciative kind of guy (consciously feigning it or not)

Things that men were raised to believe and that they might have heard said respectfully to their mothers 30 years ago, so they actually believe these things are still good things to say to women.

NO! A thousand times no.

SEX

The Latent Misogynist thinks of his outwardly "considerate" expressions of desire towards women as doing them a favor. The line about a woman's smarts increasing his ugliness-tolerance is right out of a former friend's dumb filthy mouth. Oh you're not so cute. Well you're smart, so I'll help you out! You can still get with all o'this, baby!  

Okay, I'll stick to what this guy really said and not just my imaginings of what happens in the heads of idiots:  Tina Fey was this guy's example of a smart funny girl he likes a lot but who is "actually kinda dumpy." Can you believe that shit?  Tina Fey is good looking.  Hotter than he who called her dumpy, that's for sure.

One more Tina Fey thingy -- people often tell me I look like her, especially in my glasses.  So this guy who was trying to work his idiot magic on me did so by telling me a woman who I look like is "actually kinda dumpy." Awesome!

As for the bit of not caring about tits and therefore being respectable, well that quickly falls apart when the misogynist supplies another body part to take the place of the tits.  Now, it would not be misogynistic at all, or even sexist, to say "I am a brains guy" or "I'm a humor guy."  Every person has particular things they like in the personalities of others, both friends and potential mates.  But when the guy's claimed preference is "Brains and humor even if you're not hot," then the implication is... he'd really rather you were quite smokingly hot because, oh wait, he's really an ass guy.  But does he still get points for not being a tits guy?  No?  Shit!

In short, in order to praise woman, one of the first tactics the Latent Misogynist's toolbox is objectification.  First objectify, and then praise the object. Much easier than actually understanding another human being, right? So while claiming to "love women," he can only start with his most basic urges.

LIVING WITH WOMEN

Let's move away from the base desires to the general appreciation of women (shudder), which he claims to have in abundance.  The Latent Misogynist talks as if he has taken a Gen Ed course in Women Appreciation, taught by a man.  (They could call it WOAP 101.)  When you see "appreciation" in a course title, it is a course for non-majors.   So in an appreciation course you never learn the real essence of a thing. You learn some surfacey language with which to talk about it and analyze it and maybe identify different types of it. You can, after the course, hopefully pretend to have good taste in that thing at the next party you attend ("I like brains blah blah blah").  Or you can just learn to live with it. (My best friend once took an art appreciation course and the textbook was titled Living with Art.  As if it's a disease or a nuisance!  Perhaps Living with Women will be next in the Living with... series.)

The Latent Misogynist listens to the vocabulary of women-friendly folk and picks up some phrases, tests them out on easy marks, and the ones that work become staples in his less than abundant copia of "I love women" rhetoric.  His remarks on women's progress rarely congeal out of the abstract "It's great when a woman does X," "Now THERE'S a woman" sort of comments.

He does not take a course in actual feminism, self-taught or not.  That's too much of a commitment.  The Latent Misogynist can pretend appreciation among average women. But if he tried to pretend feminism, he would never pass.

IT WORKED ON MAMA!

Some things the LM says are things that sounded really great fifty years ago. But he is the worst kind of benevolent sexist.*

*I hesitated to use that term here -- the Accidental Sexist described at the beginning of this post is closer to the definition of benevolent sexist.  But when the sexism really is accidental and well meaning, I can't get that angry. I do forgive the Accidental Sexist, even though I know it holds women back that benevolent sexism of any kind slips by quite often. But the intent is what I get hung up on.

The Latent Misogynist has no good intent when he says things like "I hate to hurt a woman."

Do I need to parse that one? Ugh...

SUM SCIENCE

To leave you with some science (however soft), here is a perfect definition of benevolent sexism from Glick and Fiske's 1996 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

"We define benevolent sexism as a set of interrelated attitudes toward women that are sexist in terms of viewing women stereotypically and in restricted roles but that are subjectively positive in feeling tone (for the perceiver) and also tend to elicit behaviors typically categorized as prosocial (e.g., helping) or intimacy-seeking (e.g., self-disclosure)."

and...

"We do not consider benevolent sexism a good thing, for despite the positive feelings it may indicate for the perceiver, its underpinnings lie in traditional stereotyping and masculine dominance (e.g., the man as the provider and woman as his dependent), and its consequences are often damaging. Benevolent sexism is not necessarily experienced as benevolent by the recipient."

These excerpts were cited in this Scientific American blog post on sexism, which now boasts examples of the hideous article comments I've been alluding to.

Now to go back to my distinction between Accidental Sexists and Latent Misogynists, I believe that some benevolent sexism is expressed in a non-threatening and well-meaning way. But it is the Latent Misogynist who USES benevolent sexism for "intimacy-seeking," restricting a woman, and making her dependent.

Unlike "benevolent" slip-ups, microaggressions (subtle communications meant to put women and minorities in their place) are never perpetrated on accident.  Look at these two sub-types of microaggressions (from Wiki):

Microinvalidation: Characterized by communications that exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of a person. [This is like every "WHERE'S YOUR DATA YOU CAN'T WRITE FROM EXPERIENCE BECAUSE YOU DON'T HAVE ANY!" comment on sexism articles by young women.]

Microrape: Characterized by predatory non-physical prurient communications with the intent to penetrate the victim's emotional security on the basis of heteronormative impositions. [PUKE!  This is like every word that comes out of the Latent Misogynist's (or latent homophobe's) mouth within the vicinity of his target or prey. Predatory is the key term there, I think.]

MORE TO COME

I have been collecting articles on sexism.  Well, actually I've been collecting the comments.  Sexism in all its forms (hostile or benevolent, intentional or not) is worse today than I ever remember it, in the streets, in the workplace, in relationships, and online.  I can't get my students riled about sexism, while rape culture flourishes at colleges and on Facebook pages. I know this is a sociological and cultural issue, but the way we absorb the sexism all around us also makes it a psychological issue.  A personality issue.  And that's what's been boiling in my brain lately.  Maybe an Accidental Sexist who is so close to being feminists could rethink some things and join the cause.  And maybe a Latent Misogynist or two can wake up from their delusions and go see a fucking shrink.  (I'm convinced that the level of utterly confused and damaging sexism I've described here is part and parcel of neurosis.) So I had to get this out, and hopefully I will soon pull together an article on this burgeoning collection of sexist internet comments.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

How to Sing a Hymn


Two things happened today. Well, if you're into minutiae then 162 things happened today. But in short, I went to a Mormon church service (seeking curiosities), and I went to the laundromat (seeking clean socks).

Instead of spending my wash cycle time walking out for a sweet tea or gazing numbly at the socks rolling around in the drum, I thought about the musical directions in the Mormon hymn book I sang from this morning. I've seen plain English directions in hymn books before, at my grandma's church.  The book at her church gives directions like "joyfully" or "slowly," sometimes casting commentary on the meaning but not much. In the Mormon book, however, all the musical directions are commentary on the essence of the song, and how the singer should feel about it.

While this may be a good way to indicate what kind of voice we should sing in, and maybe an indicator of how we should interpret the song, it doesn't help us understand what the tempo should be, or how the notes should be read. Isn't the main aim of directions like andante and allegro to give an idea of the tempo and the rhythm of the song?  Okay maybe it's silly to expect everyone to learn Italian words, but even rock sheet music has helpful (rather than emotional and confusing) plain-English directions, like "moderate rock" or "a little faster" or "ballad."

Yet now that I rethink it, ballads and shuffles, and whatever else might be included in the directions in my Jethro Tull songbook, are examples of a vocabulary shared by rock musicians (although the musician who transcribed Anderson's flute solos uses presto and allegro too).  Maybe the vocabulary of hymnals has to match the shared vocabulary of church?  So, there must not be any better way to describe how to sing a hymn, than with words like these:

Actual examples from the Mormon hymn book

With reverence

Prayerfully

With conviction

Fervently

Solemnly

Thoughtfully

These are so funny, because they attempt to be so specific and end up being so vague.  Prayerfully?  WTF, Mormons? Much can be said about musical directions as a means of shutting down a faithful one's (or a musician's) personal interpretation of a song, but there is just as much to be said about these lamentable word choices.  So then, still at the laundromat, I got to thinking, why don't they just take it all the way, and get all religulous with the hymnal commands?

Possible Mormon (or any evangelical church) Hymn Directions

With the Spurit

Shamefully

Guiltily

With clean thoughts

Zealously ( ♩ = 116 )

As if you are about to explode ( ♩ = 162 )

Like it's your Baptism-day!

Like the devil's got you by the balls

Piercingly

In tongues


And still at the laundromat, I thought, Why not have the alternate atheist/agnostic/apostate version?

Apostate Hymnal Directions

With frustration ( ♩ = 42)

Without grace

Facetiously

Ironically

With agony

With apathy ( ♩ = whatever )

Out of the side of your mouth

With goat voice 

That should do it. Have you seen any strange, confusing, or plain silly musical directions? Can you add any to my alternate lists?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

There is only one Yeats.



Is has been quite some time since I posted anything "instructional."  But I used to do it quite often. I posted a guide to the literature subject GRE.  I described how to dovetail a philosophy major or minor with your English degree.  I posted on how to talk about the Middle Ages, and how to use the word "modern" in all its definitions.  Why I don't do that anymore is something of a mystery.  I've been at this "Student of English" business for years now, so I usually know what I'm talking about.  Maybe that's just the trouble. (And I explored this a couple months ago -- it seems the more you know what you're talking about, the harder it is to write essay-style pieces.)

Well, dash it all, tonight I'm going to instruct.

It may seem silly to instruct on something like this, but I think there may be a need. It's come up in conversations with smart undergrads, and it's come up twice in grad classrooms filled with smart people. And so I've seen that there are many who don't know that:

There is only one Yeats. 

By that I do not mean "O what a literary genius Yeats is!  There can never be another!"  While I do think that Yeats is pretty irreplaceable, the point here is how to talk about Yeats. And other people named Yeats.  Or Yates. Or any authors who share a last name.

There is only one Eliot.  There is only one Shelley. There is only one Woolf. (And I will argue that there is only one Austen.)

When readerly types talk about authors, they often throw around last names.  Whether this is for the sake of brevity or because it makes you sound professional in a graduate classroom, is variable.  It is, in fact, professional and eloquent sounding, and it would certainly be a mouthful to say "William Makepeace Thackeray" mid-conversational stream.  But when introducing an author into a conversation, it's only acceptable to do so by last name if everyone there will know who you're talking about.  So anyone who is not counted among the "greats" has to be introduced by full name, just like when you write a paper MLA style. (You can't refer to some unknown critic with "Cooper argues..." on the first page of your paper and more than you can say "Smith has quite a way with metaphors!" in a conversation at a party. Because...Who the hell are these people?) 

Contemporary writers should probably all be introduced by full name, because individual taste still determines what we read when it comes to stuff that hasn't yet been sorted out by the critics.  If there are two new spewers of novels with sad titles and soft-focus covers, and both writers are named Smith, who can yet say which Smith is the only Smith?  (For the sake of all that is right and good in the world, hopefully neither.)

But Coleridge, Thackeray, Keats, Byron, Milton, Spencer, etc, etc, should never be called by full name.  That would just be silly.  What other Milton is there?

That question leads us to where it gets tricky.  I list a few of the Romantics above, but I left out Shelley.  Because there is another Shelley.  How do we decide which one gets the privilege of being the only Shelley? 

Before you start weighing the options, the decision has probably already been made for you, by the same forces that shape the canon.  Which one is a white male Anglophone?  Which one is the parent or husband? (In the case of a child or wife using the same name even though the head of the household is famous.) Who's work is more influential? (Already partly determined by the existing canon, which is of course already influenced by gender, race, language, and so on.)  I won't get into a discussion of canon here (because it's here), but it does bother me a little bit that the same canon criteria that long kept women and minorities from being heard are similar to the criteria for deciding who takes the honor of being "the one." 

All that aside, Yates is no Yeats.  Sometimes an author just completely outshines another, both in works and in historical significance.  So even if you study Yates, even if your dissertation is on Yates, and you talk about his work with your colleagues and committee all the time only having to use a last name because they all know -- STILL, when you introduce yourself to someone who doesn't know you're knee-deep in Yates, unless you are at the Super-Secret Society of Richard Yates Conference, you'll have to call him Richard Yates.  Or they'll think you mean Yeats.

Percy Bysshe Shelley is the only Shelley, so we can stop using his silly names now.  His wife is Mary Shelley.  Always Mary.

T. S. Eliot is the only Eliot.  This one is tricky -- George Eliot is just as important as T.S., in my book.  But that's not her real name.  Besides the obvious canonical ding for being a woman writer, the fact that Eliot is her pen name makes it weird to call her that and only that, as if it's a last name.  So T.S. wins.

Woolf is the only Woolf.  Although, people frequently use her full name.*  We have a tendency to do this with women, while men who are of the same authorial caliber are rarely called by their full names. Tom Wolfe is not Wolfe.  He's Tom Wolfe.  Only Woolf is Woolf.  This is a case where a woman writer triumphs, because her work is so historically important, partly because it's the work of a woman about being a woman.

*I admit to sometimes even calling her by her first name.  But as a believer in some kind of Écriture féminine, using a woman's first name brings me closer to her. Somehow it seems appropriate. But even though I talk about "Virginia" often, we should not be required to call women by their full names just because they're women.  In fact, in the above list of "last name only" men there are two I'd never heard of before I read Woolf.  Her last name was part of my vocabulary before Thackeray's or Lamb's. She actually introduced me to them.

Jane Austen, I would argue, is the only Austen.  Since Austen sounds exactly like Austin, there are any number of writers liable to be confused with her as the centuries wear on.  But why do we always call her "Jane Austen"?  Again, I understand the affectionate use of a first name by a person who feels a close affinity with a writer.  But as well known as Janey is these days, I think "Austen" should suffice. 

As for who is the only Brontë... I think we are stuck with both Emily and Charlotte. (And if you plan to talk about the third sister who no one reads, her name is Anne and you'll have to be specific about it.)

So when you want to talk about authors, make sure you're clear, and that you sound like the reader you are.  Don't introduce obscure folk by last name only.  Don't trip over the full names of the greats who we already know by last name or even nickname. And if the dude you want to talk about shares a name with another writer, remember the "only one Yeats" rule. 

I took that line from a professor at NIU.  We were in a library smart-classroom and a student said she wanted help finding some bit of information on Yates.  The prof started looking up Yeats, and she had to clarify, "No, I'm sorry, uh, Richard Yates."  He was flabbergasted!  And then he lectured us severely that there is indeed only one Yeats.

Just yesterday a Romanticist classmate mentioned Shelley as we sat down to our final Old English class.  A guy behind her started to say "She is..." but the young Romanticist immediately cut him off.  "SHE?"  Then he sputtered out something incoherent and was like "OH! That Shelley."  Yes, we all know there is a She-Shelley.  And there's nothing wrong with She-Shelley.  But Shelley is a he.  So the whole thing was awkward with the girl thinking the guy hopeless and the guy thinking her a know-it-all, and various minds around the classroom thinking things like "OF COURSE IT'S SHELLEY!" or "Shit, should I have known that's what she meant by Shelley? I'm an idiot!" or "Ugh why are we having this conversation..."  Luckily we made fun of Shelley for falling off his boat, had a lively discussion about drownings, and set things right again in time to translate together the saddest poem in the Old English corpus.