June 21, 2008

Is feminism about defending women from criticism?

I certainly don't think so. The notion that it's sexist to criticize women is itself sexist. Address the criticism. If it's unfair, say why it's unfair. But let's read this argument from Mary C. Curtis:
Michelle Obama has become an issue in the presidential campaign even though she isn't running for anything.
She's going around promoting her husband and is therefore an important political actor who is part of the debate and subject to criticism.
An educated, successful lawyer, devoted wife and caring mother has been labeled "angry" and unpatriotic and snidely referred to as Barack Obama's "baby mama."

Democrats, Republicans, independents, everyone should be offended.
Offended? I'll push back when the criticisms are bad, but not because a woman has been criticized. When a male politician has done something wrong, we don't moderate our attacks with obsequious celebration of his level of education, his professional success, and his purported adoration of his wife and kids. And even when the attack is unfounded, we aren't offended that there are attacks. We fight the attack.
And this black woman is wondering: Where are Obama's feminist defenders?
The author informs us of her race. Why? Does that give her special moral authority?
It's not as though they're out of practice. In 1992, Hillary Clinton was deemed too assertive and not first lady material. Similar, and worse, claims were made this year. But just as you didn't have to be for Clinton to decry the sexism in the coverage of her campaign, you don't have to be an Obama supporter to defend Michelle Obama against similar treatment.
I certainly agree that anyone who got righteous about Hillary Clinton and sexism must apply the same standard for Michelle Obama. If you want us to believe you were standing on principle, don't be a hypocrite.

But I'm not one of those people, so I'll say what I've always said. Women in politics are subject to attacks, as are male politicians, and they aren't going to succeed by arguing that the attacks are sexist. Get to the point and tell us why the attacks are wrong.
I've long been frustrated, as a black woman....
In case you forgot, the author is black.
[I]n America, there's seldom a cost for disrespecting black women.
Seldom... she didn't say never. The fact is, Americans feel much freer to disrespect white men — and this is not a disadvantage for white men. This is part of being viewed as strong and powerful. So be strong and powerful, quit whining, and fight.

71 comments:

knoxwhirled said...

It's interesting that you used the word whining... because I was going to say what ultimately bothers me about Michelle is that she's a whiner. She went to great schools and made shitloads of money, and then consistently complains about how hard life is and--unbelievably--her student loans.

Man up, Michelle... for lack of a better phrase.

Padre Steve said...

You make some good points. Good insight!

Ben (The Tiger) said...

It's when Hillary started to fight like a man that she won points in this last campaign.

PatCA said...

"Does that give her special moral authority?"

Yes, in the haute monde of the media, race and gender do give her special moral authority; in the world of ordinary mortals, not so much.

As far as retribution for insulting black women, ask Don Imus about that.

Beldar said...

I agree with the gist of your post, Prof. A. I would, however, offer a slightly different take on why Michelle Obama is a relevant issue.

Point 1: On all of the important issues that her husband would have to address as POTUS, Michelle Obama is neither uninterested nor disinterested. To the contrary, she has opinions, and she's capable of, and likely to, express them strongly.

Point 2: Michelle Obama has unique access to, and credibility with, the potential POTUS.

Even though her opinions and my own differ radically, I make Point 1 with nothing but praise. Some political spouses are indeed disinterested and uninterested, and if so, it only makes sense to take them out of the campaign spotlight.

UWS guy said...

Calling Michelle Obama's "baby momma" was over the line. Imus calling black women "ho's" was also over the line.

It's bad enough young-male-black-culture denegrates black women, everyone else doesn't have to laugh and spit on them as well.

Two totally separate issues IMO.

UWS guy said...

John Scalzi has a great post on the 'baby momma' kerfufle.

Fox News would like to take a moment to remind you that Obama is as black as Satans, festering, baby eating soul...

He summed it up pretty well, and pithy.

Paul Zrimsek said...

If the main line of defense for Obama's flip-flop on campaign finance is going to be "Hey, that's politics", this would be an especially suitable time for his supporters to man up regarding all those other things that are also politics.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Michelle calls Senator Obama 'her honey, her man, her baby's daddy' when introducing him.

UWS guy said...

Ruth ann, you'd do well to read my Scalzi link. Because it addresses that very issue.

George said...

Tough?

Consider securities lawyer, former boat person Hong Le Webb, wife of Sen. Jim Webb.

He calls her his "warrior queen."

UWS guy said...

"you know, when presidential candidates were respectably white – news organizations called potential First Ladies “wives.” But now that black folks are running, we can get all funky fresh with the lingo, yo. So it’s basically fine for Fox News to use “Baby Mama” for Michelle Obama, slang that implies a married 44-year-old Princeton-educated lawyer is, to use an Urban Dictionary definition of the term, “some chick you knocked up on accident during a fling who you can’t stand but you have to tolerate cuz she got your baby now.” Because the Obamas are black! And the blacks, they’re all relaxed about that shit, yo.

UWS guy said...

"herefore, Michelle Obama apocryphally using a piece of urban slang makes it perfectly okay for Fox News to use an entirely different piece of urban slang. And that’s why, you see, it won’t be a problem for Bill O’Reilly to refer to Barack Obama as “my nigga” on the next O’Reilly Factor.

UWS guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
UWS guy said...

So the problem is, prof. Althouse and Ruth-Ann don't know the difference (and why should you?) between Someone's baby's Daddy, and someone's "Baby Momma".

After 6 posts I finally make my point...I think...sorry for the chain-posts. :D

UWS guy said...

John Scalzi isn't a huffpo wingnut...I believe Instapundit links to him quite often (and reads his novels).

UWS guy said...

sci-fi novels (whoo hooo 6 posts in a row...)

I'm off to get more coffee WEEEEEE!!!

UWS guy said...

And like the interlocutors of Ann Althouse on the Libertarian cruise-line dinner party (the episode where she was accused of "crying" at the table). She didn't see the racism in her own speech/post and wonders why those black-folk just don't 'man-up' and take the punches.

rhhardin said...

What feminism is, however, is nagging, and that is what the cry of sexism is as well.

If you take what feminism thinks it is as what it is, you'll never understand anything, and in particular the reason that this happens and will always happen.

Women nag. They like nagging. They're comfortable nagging. Nagging is what they do when they've run out of stuff to do.

This is a sexist criticism and no non-sexist criticism will ever get to the crux of what's going on.

Women's interests differ from men's. Among women's interests is nagging.

You can criticize them as men -- you're not being logical -- but they're not interested in being logical. If you loved them, you'd do as they ask.

This is part of the grander theory of the sexes : women send men on quests to test or verify or be reminded of their willingness to die for them. The man is happy to be sent on quests, and, succeed or fail, the woman then shows the man she's satisfied with him.

This repeats until sooner or later, after years, one of them finally dies.

Nagging is cutting that arrangement off at the quest-sending. No satisfaction is shown. No man in particular is addressed. The woman just likes the feel of it.

The complainer here doesn't expect anything to happen. She's just nagging.

Something is wrong and you people have to change to fix it, is the message.

Feminism has been marching in place since the day it started. It likes marching.

My own counter-move would be just to claim that a proper sexism is good. It honors the way men and women are.

The complaint is more productive, I would say, if it's addressed to a particular man, and it honors his effort in honoring it as the wish of a princess.

David said...

"So be strong and powerful, quit whining, and fight."

Yessss! My daughters all absorbed this approach, to their great benefit. They let others do the whining. They do the work and collect its rewards.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dust Bunny Queen said...

"Is feminism about defending women from criticism?"

I don't think so either. Especially when the criticism is warranted and invited. Michelle Obama is a whiner with a victim mentality wrapped in a mink coat lifestyle. If Michelle or any other candidate's spouse remains in the background, doesn't put her/himself out in public and doesn't make inflammatory statements, then criticism would be unwarranted.

However, I do think it is entirely proper to try to understand the mentality and ideas of the spouse since they are the person closest to a potential President and the person who has possibly the most influence.

Unfortunately, the Democrats, Obama and Michelle are masters at playing the victim/race card. Any justifiable criticism of Obama is racist. Any justifiable criticism of Michelle is not only racist but sexist. Give me a break! Our elected officials should not be above scrutiny or criticism. They are not God's or dictators and we have the right to examine all of their positives AND negatives.

ricpic said...

She's angry and she's abrasive and she's too tall!

There isn't a womanly thing about her.

She doesn't have to "man up," she's there already.

UWS guy said...

George said: "He calls her his "warrior queen."

I look forward to the biopic news article interviewing Webb and how he met his wife titled:

"Jim and Lee Hong Webb and their marriage" subtitled "She love him long time.".

That wouldn't be crass because webb has already called her his warrior queen?

Ann Althouse said...

"So the problem is, prof. Althouse and Ruth-Ann don't know the difference (and why should you?) between Someone's baby's Daddy, and someone's "Baby Momma"."

Why are you including me in that? I didn't defend Fox News's idiotic subtitling.

Ann Althouse said...

uws guy said..."And like the interlocutors of Ann Althouse on the Libertarian cruise-line dinner party (the episode where she was accused of "crying" at the table)."

Fact: I left the table when a certain Reason Magazine guy yelled at me, and I actually did cry outside the restaurant, with one other person, who trying to make me feel better about it (and defend these people who had been going on and on about the importance of a restaurant owner's right to discriminate).

"She didn't see the racism in her own speech/post and wonders why those black-folk just don't 'man-up' and take the punches."

You're calling my post racist? That's stupid and evil of you. Yes, I understand the academic/left-wing notion that everything is racist, but that's just stupid.

Ann Althouse said...

Wouldn't it be great if there were politicians that you weren't allowed to criticize?

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I didn't defend Fox News's idiotic subtitling.


Nor did I.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Wouldn't it be great if there were politicians that you weren't allowed to criticize?

You mean like Kim Jong Il, Mao Tse Tung, Stalin or Hitler?

Yep. That's the kind of politician I look forward to having in the White House. No criticism of Obama...no siree. I ain't no racist.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
P. Rich said...

When your worldview is build on a foundation so flimsy it cannot stand any scrutiny whatsoever, why would you engage in debate? Better to stifle dissenting views by any means necessary and declare yourself righteous in the process. Welcome to radical feminism, race baiting, relativism, progressive-liberalism and the modern left. Heil, Pookie.

UWS guy said...

Ann said: "Offended? I'll push back when the criticisms are bad.

The woman's article you site is making the same point as badly as I am I'm afraid. I'm not doing a good job but here goes.

A black women works hard, goes to school, gets married, has beautiful children, yet still, like the girls on Imus' show, gets called a whore. That's why the author thinks, "[everyone] should be offended." But clearly you weren't, because the criticisms aren't bad.

"The author informs us of her race. Why? Does that give her special moral authority?

No, I think she's trying to point out the coded racism in the criticisms. You tell her to turn the racism into a strength and instead of whining she should fight.

"we aren't offended that there are attacks. We fight the attack.

I'm not sure how they fight the attack of being called niggers. Telling the media they aren't allowed to call Michelle Obama a Baby Momma; people will just say, "Quit whining! We call everyone a Baby Momma and by the way, your daughter's new hair style is soooo much better than that nappy headed look she had last week."

How exacly are white men disrespected? They're disrespected (which to you is a sign of strength) like Kerry or Edwards by having foofy haircuts and implying that they have more in common with homosexuals than "real men". Is that a sign of "strength" for white men to be called fags in all but name or is it a subtle attack that can't be countered that chips away at the image of a candidate?

UWS guy said...

Ruth Ann I'm sorry, but you linking to a clip of Obama introducing her husband (factually correct) as her "baby's daddy" was trying to imply that it was then ok for Fox News to put the headline "Baby's Momma".

Your link could be interpreted in no other way.

UWS guy said...

"That's stupid and evil of you"

I'd save the phrase "stupid and evil" for something like the Holocaust, but you are free to lower the bar on that threshold I suppose.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

UWS: I guess that's a fair connection, but I didn't read your linked article before I posted it.

My criticism of Michelle Obama in that little bit is that she casualized her remarks by using slang.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

"A black women works hard, goes to school, gets married, has beautiful children, yet still, like the girls on Imus' show, gets called a whore. That's why the author thinks, "[everyone] should be offended." But clearly you weren't, because the criticisms aren't bad."

A white woman works hard, goes to school, gets married,has beautiful children, goes to work in a male dominated occupation. Gets called a nagging, controlling, bitch when she shows strength, won't back down and acts basically the same as the rest of the guys in the job.

There are several courses of action. Man up, as knoxwhirled says, or go whining to everyone that it just isn't fair because she is being treated with sexism. Which is probably true. Booo freaking hooo. Get over it and get on.

UWS guy said...

Ruthann said: "My criticism of Michelle Obama in that little bit is that she casualized her remarks by using slang.

Before I read Scalzi's post I would have agreed with you.

Everyone remember the video of Pres. Bush giving Laura Bush a pat on the tush at a speech/dinner?

Does that then give Keith Olbermann the right to pinch her bottom too?

JohnJEnright said...

Well said, and well defended, A.A.

knoxwhirled said...

ricpic and rhhardin,

Would you please get your worthless asses outside and clean the gutters. And take the trash out while you're at it.

rhhardin said...

A black women works hard, goes to school, gets married, has beautiful children, yet still, like the girls on Imus' show, gets called a whore.

Gets whole body tattoos, plays tough-from-the-hood trash-talking rough guy basketball, and gets called a whore, in Imus's case.

Reflecting the new style in women's basketball.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Oh, please. Michelle Obama has gotten trashed worse than Cindy McCain, and for bs reasons. Every picture of her is an odd, freeze-frame distortion that makes her look like an angry, head snapping skeeza-bitch. When she doesn't look like that, doesn't talk that way, and doesn't use those kinds of gesticulations. No one deliberately distorts Cindy McCain's image and audio to make her seem like a trailer trash slut, even though she's a pill popping adulteress who done stole somebody's man. Trashing black women is not a sign of the strength of black women; assuming that black women aren't delicate and feminine enough to be respected in the way white women are is what this op-ed writer is complaining about. The attacks aren't criticisms with substance, they are racist, sexist slurs. There is nothing to respond to, because there is no intelligible content to them, other than hostility.

Joe said...

Oh please, back. Michelle Obama has gotten criticized more than Cindy McCain because she's put herself out and campaigned heavily for her husband. She's also said a multitude of idiotic things. Don't forget that early on, in just about every speech Michelle gave, she totally trashed her husband as a no good selfish son-of-a-bitch just like all men. She'd get huge rounds of applause from her mostly female audiences.

Since then, she has whined about how hard it is to be in the top 5% of wage earners and has repeatedly pretended not to be a privileged black women in America with more advantages than the vast majority of Americans, male, female, black, white, asian or whatever.

Lawgiver said...

coded racism in the criticisms.

The omnipresent CODED racism.

Gack...arghhh.....urrllll...pfhuuuummmmmp...

TMink said...

"Is feminism about defending women from criticism?"


Of course not. It is about blaming men.

Trey

Mortimer Brezny said...

Don't forget that early on, in just about every speech Michelle gave, she totally trashed her husband as a no good selfish son-of-a-bitch just like all men. She'd get huge rounds of applause from her mostly female audiences.

What the hell does that have to do with the double-standard? Cindy McCain makes shrill attacks. She's no Laura Bush. Yet no one calls her white trash. That's the argument. Your attacks on Obama's substancive views are fine, but they have nothing to do with criticism of Michelle Obama THAT IS RACIST. Oh, and criticizing a black woman for being privileged...hmmm....JUST BE GRATEFUL YOU'RE NOT IN AFRICA, YOU COON!!!

Pete the Streak said...

Gee, Mortimer. Nice language.

Ann Althouse said...

Mortimer Brezny said "Oh, please. Michelle Obama has gotten trashed worse than Cindy McCain, and for bs reasons. Every picture of her is an odd, freeze-frame distortion that makes her look like an angry, head snapping skeeza-bitch. When she doesn't look like that, doesn't talk that way, and doesn't use those kinds of gesticulations. No one deliberately distorts Cindy McCain's image..."

Oh, there's plenty of hate against Cindy McCain and has been for years. But your description of how people try to push buttons about Michelle Obama is very good. All I'm saying is that the response that she is above criticism is wrong and we need to respond to particular criticisms on the merits and not just complain about sexism and racism.

By the way, I really like Michelle Obama. I saw her here in Madison and thought she gave a truly great speech. I was astounded to see one line from it -- a line I hadn't even noticed -- extracted and used to trash her over and over again. I think she's great, and I also think she doesn't need special protection from old-fashioned grievance types.

Mortimer Brezny said...

All I'm saying is that the response that she is above criticism is wrong and we need to respond to particular criticisms on the merits and not just complain about sexism and racism.
...I also think she doesn't need special protection from old-fashioned grievance types.


Oh, those are fair points and I agree.

I only meant to argue that doesn't apply when the attacks are unintellectual visual references to racial stereotypes. It is notoriously hard to criticize the purposeful selection of distorted images (see the Valenti Breast Affair), because one can claim: (1) "Whuh? I don't see it?" and (2) "It's just a picture. All pictures are inherently distortions. Calm down." And one can claim this even when it is obviously intentional. For example, National Review cannot resist using this photo. The caption might as well be: "Oh, no, she dit-ent!"

Ann Althouse said...

Well, I definitely support criticizing photographs and the selection of photographs.

Kirby Olson said...

Many feminists used to argue that it was unfeminist to ever attack another feminist.

But now that every woman is a feminist (it's a fashion like dieting that doesn't seem to have any holdouts) I can hardly see how you can just do that, esp. since almost all women are linked to at least one man.

The whole feminist juggernaut is a colossal mess that needs to be torpedoed endlessly for women to receive ANY fairness.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Well, I definitely support criticizing photographs and the selection of photographs.

I thought you might!

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Feminism has become the presumption that there are no differences between men and women ... unless those differences portray women in a more favorable light than men.

rcocean said...

It looks like we're in for 4 years of "you're a racist" if anyone criticizes Obama or his wife.

UWS Guy, I suggest you copy the following:

"Althouse: you creepy racist, you're just a creepy racist, racist, racist, you racist. You lie about Obama, you liar, creepy liar."

This will save you a lot of work over the next 4 years.

UWS guy said...

Rcocean: I enjoy Prof. Althouse's blog and her writing too much to ever say that. Mortimer Brezny made the point better than I (as did Scalzi).

If Ann Althouse want's to be "brutally neutral" re: obama, the only way she'll know she's being unaligned is if partisans pick on her from all sides.

So far, mission accomplished :D If I wanted to read a party hack I'd read the comment sections of Huffpo and hotair.

Prof. Althouse knows I love her blog.

I voted for Bush 41 (2nd time as I was too young for the first election) and bush 43 twice.

Given solid arguments I may not vote democrat this year, the 'angry michelle obama' meme however is not going to win me over.

Revenant said...

I really don't care if Obama and his worshipers call me a racist. I'm not one; anyone who implies that I am is either a liar or a fool.

I think it will be amusing to see a President who whines about "unfair" criticism for four years, especially after eight years of Bush ignoring the insults hurled at him. Americans might elect a pussy, but they sure won't re-elect one.

Revenant said...

h, please. Michelle Obama has gotten trashed worse than Cindy McCain, and for bs reasons.

Only if her inability to keep her yap shut is a bs reason. Cindy McCain gets criticized less because she mostly stays out of the limelight. Michelle Obama is actively speaking for her husband's campaign and keeps making idiotic remarks.

former law student said...

Funnily enough, I don't remember either the media or the Democrats criticizing the Bush women the same way they've criticized Michelle Obama, even though acid-tongued Babs did not shrink from the cut and thrust:

Barbara Bush
QUOTATION: I can’t say it, but it rhymes with rich.
ATTRIBUTION: On her husband’s opponent, Democratic vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro; she later telephoned Ferraro to apologize for referring to her as a witch

Mortimer Brezny said...

Only if her inability to keep her yap shut is a bs reason.

Because black women should just shut up, unlike white women, who get to say whatever they want.

You're just mad because a black man destroyed the Hillarymonster!!!!!

Revenant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

Funnily enough, I don't remember either the media or the Democrats criticizing the Bush women

That's not too unusual, as you never remember anything bad anyone on the left has done until someone else points it out to you. For a few examples to refresh your memory, Google "Laura Bush Stepford Wife" or "Jenna Bush is a drunk".

Revenant said...

Because black women should just shut up, unlike white women, who get to say whatever they want.

Not at all! I think America will be better off if Michelle Obama never shuts up. After all, we'll be better off if her husband loses, and every time she gives a speech that gets more likely. The woman has the common sense of a domesticated turkey.

amba said...

"Baby mama" is the kind of sh*t that misses the target and sticks to the one throwing it. Likewise (on the other side of the fissure) the vile cartoon of Condi Rice mammying aluminum tubes. They expose the perpetrator and fall short of harming the target except in the minds of fellow troglodytes, who are where they are and will not be moved in any case.

It's like the Mohammed cartoons.

amba said...

Ruth Anne: you mean instead of saying "my baby's daddy" she should have said "the father of my children," like a New England WASP would have?

amba said...

A white woman works hard, goes to school, gets married,has beautiful children, goes to work in a male dominated occupation. Gets called a nagging, controlling, bitch when she shows strength, won't back down and acts basically the same as the rest of the guys in the job.

There are several courses of action. Man up, as knoxwhirled says, or go whining to everyone that it just isn't fair because she is being treated with sexism. Which is probably true. Booo freaking hooo. Get over it and get on.


DBQ: That kind of workplace "sexism" can be seen as a kind of initiatory hazing. If you get through it, for the most part you get acceptance and respect.

amba said...

Feminism has become the presumption that there are no differences between men and women ... unless those differences portray women in a more favorable light than men.

Too bad. It started out being the suggestion that the actual differences between men and women might not all be the traditional ones. But that has long since been drowned out from all sides.

(Women nag, men backseat drive. But even there, the second worst backseat driver I know is a woman. And I hate asking for directions. My big, strong, top-predator husband is always trying to get me to ask for them, because where I perceive that as unpleasant dependency, he perceives it as a power play -- getting other people to serve you.

A psychic once told me, "You were a boy many times in former lives." Oh, that explains it.)

amba said...

Speaking of "isms," this is from a comment thread at The Nation:

Happy we know you want your 72 year old on the throne but he's fallen and can't get up. "Where's MyCane"'s trying hard but he's got a younger warrior's boot on his chest.

dave in boca said...

Well, I definitely support criticizing photographs and the selection of photographs.

Then you minded when Ann Coulter & Laura Ingraham got deliberately distorted images of themselves on magazine covers a while back?

Didn't think so.

dave in boca said...

Well, I definitely support criticizing photographs and the selection of photographs.

Then you minded when Ann Coulter & Laura Ingraham got deliberately distorted images of themselves on magazine covers a while back?

Didn't think so.

UWS guy said...

What we truly, truly need is an Alien and Sedition to protect Obama and his family against racial slurs. Bush could have used one for all the warmonger crap he's getting as well.

If it was good enough for John Adams...

Revenant said...

Ruth Anne: you mean instead of saying "my baby's daddy" she should have said "the father of my children," like a New England WASP would have?

If you want to be treated like a Harvard-educated lawyer, talk like a Harvard-educated lawyer, not a high school dropout from the projects.

former law student said...

Google "Laura Bush Stepford Wife" or "Jenna Bush is a drunk".

Deleting references in blog comments, this is what I get for the first one:
News flash: Laura Bush is not your ordinary Stepford Wife
Mrs. Bush is no Stepford Wife
So they figure the former librarian who reads compulsively ... cannot really be a Stepford wife.
[Ellen Goodman] never liked Tina Brown's description of Laura Bush as Stepford wife.
She had shattered her Stepford-wife image
But in fact, Laura is no Stepford wife.


Apparently, there's more smack talked about Mother Teresa than Jenna Bush:

1 - 10 of 24 for "Jenna Bush is a drunk"