May 14, 2015

"The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else. And you know, she's got a voice that she wants to get out there."

Sexist? Megan McArdle says it's risky to say "sexist" if it's not really bad, obvious sexism:
The great difficulty of sexism in this moment is that we're fighting subtle bias and knotty structural issues, not fellows who stride up to the podium to jauntily announce that women just don't have the brains for politics, the dear little things.

But there's a reason that I rarely dissect a statement in search of such subtle bias. It's because sexism is so serious we need to be careful when and where we level accusations.... To claim "sexism" too often just robs the word of its power.

So if we want to keep the norm that sexism is very bad, we need to think twice about when we pull out those accusations. Before you shoot, remember that you're not a movie hero with an unlimited supply of ammunition. You're the guy with a single six shooter crouching behind the bar. You have to make every shot count. Aim carefully. When in doubt, hold your fire.
First, that's a terrible analogy! Calling something "sexist" isn't anything like shooting one of your 6 bullets at a guy. Words actually are unlimited, and the guy who is hit by your words has unlimited words too, and the interchange of words can go on forever. The problem is the dilution of the meaning of words and the erosion of credibility.

I was going to say it's the problem of "crying wolf." But "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" is also a bad analogy. It's about a specific alarm that demands immediate action and a boy who outright lied when there was no cause for alarm at all (and as a consequence was not believed when the cause for that specific alarm was true). But sexism is not like a wolf. There's no continuum of wolfism. There is only a wolf or no wolf. Sexism is a continuum, and some people — perhaps including McArdle — might like to say that it would be best only to use the important word "sexism" to refer to the obvious things about which there will be consensus, like that jaunty announcement that women just don't have the brains for politics.

But McArdle knows that's not the sexism problem anymore: "we're fighting subtle bias and knotty structural issues." If that's what we need and want to talk about, why shouldn't we use the word "sexism" for that? Why set it aside so it will be useful for a purpose we don't have anymore? The only reason I see is that it's harder to convince people that you're right about subtle sexism (and, indeed, you could be wrong). But that's saying we shouldn't talk about non-obvious sexism. And if the subtle sexists of this world could be assured that subtle sexism won't be talked about anymore, they'd know how to ply their sexism. Subtly!

So the question is: Where on the continuum from no sexism to outright sexism do you want to draw the line? Really, the continuum needs 2 lines: 1. The point at which you believe there is sexism, and 2. The point at which you will make your belief known. I think McArdle's guy-with-a-6-shooter bad analogy is an argument for a wide gap between Line #1 and Line #2.

As for Barack's statement about "Elizabeth" and her "voice," that crosses the line where I believe there is sexism. Should I have refrained from saying that? Should I have refrained from saying that so my... voice... will come across as decently powerful when I encounter something more worthy of the accusation? Like in case that jaunty strider-up-to-the-podium blurts out something really crude? I say no, because the jaunty podium strider is a dumb jerk who won't get anywhere in America these days, and Barack Obama is the President of the United States and an educated, up-to-date, eloquent speaker. It's important to keep track of what he's saying, what's between the lines, and all the subtleties of his rhetoric!

68 comments:

SGT Ted said...

Criticizing a leftist woman is now "sexism", according to the progressive Social Justice crowd.

The same attempt to carve out an exemption from criticism is being made by the Hillary! campaign.

If Sarah Palin were the target, There'd be no accusation of "sexism".

rhhardin said...

Women don't have the brains for math or physics.

Sexism? True? Both?

Suppose it's because part of their brains keeps them from being interested enough to enjoy it.

What's the doctrine for nagging about this.

Perhaps it's a truer feminism.

Hagar said...

Not that good an example of "sexism."
Obama does not think much of anyone who differs with him regardless of sex. Come to think of it, he does not think much of those who agree with him either - also regardless of sex, or whatever.

tim maguire said...

Part of the problem with crying "sexism!" at subtle sexism is that it will inevitably be cried at pettier and pettier provocations, to the point where the accusation becomes a joke, loses its power. The feminist who cried "wolf!"

We're at that point.

Do you have evidence that Obama does not refer to male members of his party by their first names? I think he does. Do you have evidence that "voice" isn't just squishy feelings-speak? Because I think it is.

When you act like a claim that can't stand on its own can stand on its own, you look stupid. Your cause is undermined. Who gives a crap about cries of sexism or racism these days? These things are empty, dead of exhaustion through overuse.

rhhardin said...

You'd think there would be clever women with a quick quip that would destroy a plodding sexist.

McArdle is right that the cry of sexism is overused, but it can't be saved. It means female idiocy now, and that connotation can't be suppressed. It will arise regardless and strike back against the user's interest.

I'd stick with quips, if you can come up with them.

MayBee said...

Obama does not think much of anyone who differs with him regardless of sex.

Exactly, Hagar.

Obama also calls other heads of state by their first names. He referred to Marco Rubio as "your boy".

He just isn't a people person. He looks down on most of us.

traditionalguy said...

Horrors. Has somebody finally talked back to the Muslim patriarch holding un checked power in the White House? No one in recent political discourse has so selectively used woman after woman to do what they are told while presuming the women must bow to his Male Authority.

That's not sexism. That's just Hussein Obama openly getting away with doing everything destructive he can before his term ends.

The story is that Warren is not afraid of the jerk.

MayBee said...

I think anyone who has used the term "mansplain" should not go into long explanations about sexism.

Big Mike said...

As for Barack's statement about "Elizabeth" and her "voice," that crosses the line where I believe there is sexism.

@Althouse, I cannot believe this! You have me agreeing with Barack Obama on something! Elizabeth Warren may be right about the trade agreement (I suspect she is) but Barack Obama is also right, in that Elizabeth Warren is a politician just "like everybody else." If a woman doesn't want to be called a politician she should stay out of politics.

Coupe said...

Well, here I agree, because the revolver analogy doesn't contain piss-ant ism-words.

No, that thing has vulgar words, and these vulgar words cause people to die, or shoot back when missed.

My father had a 6-gun, and the first bullet was always called "you're full of shit."

It got worse at the second round. It didn't take three shots to kill me.

chillblaine said...

It's not sexist, but it is dimunitizing to call someone by their first name when they have a title. Maybe for sensitive women who always have their antennae out it is sexist. But using the word "voice" instead of "opinion" or some such, I don't even see it.

I'm ready for Hillary!

Xmas said...

Sexism may have a continuum, but the label "sexist" is a binary. There is no "mildly sexist" person. The person who says a mildly sexist thing is painted as a full-on misogynist who happened to let his mask slip a little. The mildly sexist comment is taken as another sign of the misogynist Patriarchy in action.

I'd debate, with you, about whether or not that comment crossed the line into sexism. I'd say the sometimes Obama the Professor slips out with a dose of pedagogic condescension. But, I'd not have that debate with any stranger, or with most of my leftist/liberal friends. It's just too small of a leap from discussing one person and one thing they said to an argument about Patriarchy and the special privileges of men in power and then onto my own "privilege" as a white male.

MayBee said...

Imagine if he'd told her to go back to drinking Slurpees and stop driving the car!*





*is it that hard to remember how diminishing Barack Obama is about other people? Only he is thoughtful!

Unknown said...

Somewhat ironic that in a post about subtle bias, you called Barack Obama "eloquent."

kcom said...

It' not sexism it's dickism. He's always been a dick. To both men and women.

Gabriel said...

@Ann:Calling something "sexist" isn't anything like shooting one of your 6 bullets at a guy. Words actually are unlimited, and the guy who is hit by your words has unlimited words too, and the interchange of words can go on forever. The problem is the dilution of the meaning of words and the erosion of credibility.

It's a great analogy. You can pull the trigger as many times as you want, but only six bullets' worth of meaning or effect are going to come out.

Even though it's not true that only your first six words have meaning, there might only six bullets' worth of effect. If your first word has full meaning, and each further word has only 5 / 6 of the effect of the previous word, then after infinite words you will have only had 6 units of effect.

It may not sound intuitive, that infinite things add to finite things, but that's math for you.

TosaGuy said...

Can't have microaggressions without macrosensitivity.

traditionalguy said...

Remember Obama thinks Warren is one of his women. He used her well deserved reputation to sponsor and create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Obama presumes that once he uses one of his women they always remain his.But he stiffed her and gave the good old boys at Goldman Sachs the veto over Warren as director of that Bureau. So she was fired and he has no more influence over the Senator from Massachusetts. His tone was a sneer at her because he has Known her.

TreeJoe said...

Sexism is when you treat one gender differently than another in a way that lessens one gender over the other.

When we examine words for sexism, the very first test is: Would those words be used to describe the other gender and achieve the same meaning?

So here we have a politician (obama) criticized by another politician of the same party (warren). Obama called her by her name and said she was being a politician and wanting to get her voice out there. This is also in the context of her being a potential presidential candidate.

If he had been criticized instead by, say, Martin O'Malley, could he have used the same phrasing to achieve the same goal, "The truth of the matter is that Martin is, you know, a politician like everybody else," "And you know, he's got a voice that he wants to get out there. And I understand that. And on most issues, he and I deeply agree. On this one, though, his arguments don't stand the test of fact and scrutiny."

To me, this words could be used equally to apply to Martin O'Malley or Elizabeth Warren. So they do not pass the most basic sexism test.

...

Beyond that, the calls that these words are sexist are themselves sexist. They are saying that a woman is being treated in an inferior manner simply because she's being treated equally - and harshly - when the woman is in a position of power and clashes with someone else in a position of power.

Calling Obama sexist here is to say that women are not equal nor capable of withstanding withering criticism when they reach positions of power. They are a protected class who need kid gloves.

This is the difference between fighting for Suffrage and fighting for equality today - equality now is often seen as denigrating, rather than a sign of success.

hawkeyedjb said...

"Sexism" is charged in order to avoid any substantive discussion on the merits of an issue. No different from a charge of "racism." It's made for the same purpose.

When the two weasel-charges collide, you'd better know what card is trump today.

pduggie said...

Durkheim's society of "saints" is operative here.

Who cares if Barack's a little bit subtly sexist? But we have to call him out on it to emphasize the deviance of small differences and pecadillos.

Richard Dolan said...

Such a waste of energy, obsessing over someone else's language, always on the look-out for a subtle race/gender/ethnic dig. What changes attitudes on such matters is not shrieky, in-your-face ad hominems -- really, that stuff has got to be as tiresome to write as it is to read -- but rather a vast accumulation of examples that contradict the (real or imagined) slurs based on race/gender/ethnicity.

Althouse has done more for feminism, and to combat sexist attitudes, by being a successful and prominent lawprof and blogger than anything she might say about the subtleties of someone else's rhetoric.

pduggie said...

Remember how awful it was that a governor wagged her finger in the presidents face?

If its wrong because the president is "above" her, maybe its right for the president to talk down to everyone else.

Brando said...

I don't see how anything Obama said regarding Warren was "sexist". Maybe my sexism-dar is off, but how is calling her by first name and curtly dismissing her concerns (and rightly dismissing them, considering how bogus they were) sexist?

Leftists are just now learning that when Obama doesn't care much for being opposed--they're getting a taste of what the Right has gotten for seven years. Only now, instead of the Right being racists and Obama reacting with typical "cool" to them, it is the Left being principled and Obama being rude and now sexist?

Sebastian said...

"an educated, up-to-date, eloquent speaker"

A subtle, non-sexist dig, right?

"Sexism is a continuum"

But, but, we all know it's a structure, and the structure's always on.

"Elizabeth"

Coming from Barry, it's not sexist: he sneers at everyone equally.

Michael K said...

"He just isn't a people person. He looks down on most of us."

Like Lenin, who he resembles in several ways, he doesn't like individuals. He only likes the mass of the proletariat.

Michael Fitzgerald said...

L'il Barry is a bitch. Is it sexist to say that? He's also a sophomric smartass, which is why when Warren said something he didn't like, he referred to her as Elizabeth. The most powerful man in the world has the maturity, sensibility and gravitas of a teenage mean girl.

Mike said...

Well, I do know that a lot of women find it demeaning to be addressed by their first name in formal situations. I personally would have seen "Senator Warren" instead of "Elizabeth". So I could agree with you, but ...

Obama does this all the time. He is condescending to everyone. He works hard to avoid it but it comes out frequently, especially when dealing with people he disagrees with. He has constantly slagged Republicans for playing to special interests or playing politics. Why is it suddenly news when he does it to his own party?

Out of curiosity: is Warren offended by this? Or is this people being offended on her behalf?

MayBee said...

This is really funny in light of Michelle Obama's commencement speech bemoaning all kinds of indignities she's had to endure.

Anonymous said...

My advice to women running for the presidency, and their handlers/supporters: do not play the sexist card, ever, at all. We the people will be depending on you to stand up to the Putins/Khameneis of this world (for us)and you had better be wearing big boy pants then. Stand up for yourself- this isn't the 3rd grade where you can tell on the boys that are mean to you.

Trashhauler said...


"Beyond that, the calls that these words are sexist are themselves sexist."

This.

Meade said...

If he had called her "Squaw Warren", he would've crossed a third line.

rhhardin said...


Lucy (Sandra Bullock): Harry Raskin, Richard Beck. Interesting prospects for my replacement. Let's see.

George (Hugh Grant): No, it's gotta be a woman.

Lucy: What a surprise. I suppose a certain bust size would help. Maybe some bathing-suit shots?

George: It will annoy Howard if it's a woman.

- Two Weeks Notice

Brando said...

"My advice to women running for the presidency, and their handlers/supporters: do not play the sexist card, ever, at all. We the people will be depending on you to stand up to the Putins/Khameneis of this world (for us)and you had better be wearing big boy pants then. Stand up for yourself- this isn't the 3rd grade where you can tell on the boys that are mean to you."

Absolutely--if you want to project an "alpha dog" image you can't be complaining that you're being treated unfair. Though I could see this tactic being used via surrogates.

Even a step removed--have your surrogates complain about sexism against another person entirely, and it puts people on their toes about sexism--and you, the candidate, can remain above the fray. I expect Hillary's team to use this.

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

Megan - that wolf left the barn a long time ago. No one takes a charge of "Sexism" seriously. We all know its either a joke or some lefty attacking a conservative. Same thing with racism. Of course, by "No one" I mean intelligent conservatives. There are still tons of Dummies who'd rather die than be called 'racist' or 'sexist'.

Todd said...

Barack Obama is the President of the United States and an educated, up-to-date, eloquent speaker.

LOL!

Good one Althouse, and people say you don't have a sense of humor!

Wait! Isn't "eloquent speaker" code or a dog-whistle or something? I seem to remember reading that some time ago...

damikesc said...

...because all of the lame claims of sexism has turned it into a joke. Ditto racism.

People are already aware "Criticism of female Democrat = sexism"

We're also aware criticism of a Republican woman doesn't have that same issue.

It's similar to "rape" on college campus. When I hear a girl got raped, I no longer picture actual penetration. I picture a guy dumping a girl and her getting mad.

Anonymous said...

My advice to a female presidential candidate who has been condescended to in an overtly sexist way: engage your tormentor in a substantive way. Win the war of words using your own words and original thoughts. Do not have your handlers play the sexist card, instead have them say that no one noticed anything sexist, and so what if they did.

Mike said...

Whenever a female politician faces sexism -- and a lot do -- I think of the example set by Thatcher (who received some pretty vicious sexism from the supposedly enlightened left wing). She ignored it and then proceeded to beat the holy heck out of them at the polls, in parliament and in the history books.

clint said...

It's not sexism -- it's just the usual condescending contempt President Obama uses when talking to people who disagree with him.

Remember the debates against McCain? McCain called Obama "Senator Obama", Obama called McCain "John".

Fabi said...

Offering advice to female candidates on how to deal with sexism is also, I'm sure, sexist.

tim in vermont said...

Fine, dissect his language all you want for hidden "sexism." Just don't expect people to take the charge seriously and attach the same connotations to the charge.

It's like there is now "rape" and "rape rape."

Marc Puckett said...

MayBee at 8:45, 'Obama also calls other heads of state by their first names. He referred to Marco Rubio as "your boy".'

Where does that expression-- 'your boy'-- come from? In my limited experience of it, it's used by East Coast corporate types to refer either to-- in what I gather is meant to be irony-- public figures they know I dislike/disapprove ('your boy Obama') or else it is used of public figures they know I do approve/like etc. I don't remember this being used in my childhood (60s) but perhaps in television/movies in the 90s? and not by people I'm acquainted with until perhaps a couple of years ago.

tim in vermont said...

For me, the treatment of Sarah Palin by the left has set the standard.

When those on the left come out with heartfelt apologies for that horrific episode, I will consider raising my standards.

But for Granny (My great grandfather wasn't actually an Indian but an Indian fighter of the worst sort, but I abused affirmative action anyway, but I can't help it because harming Indians, in this case by taking an affirmative action spot from them, is in my DNA, I make no apologies" Warren and Hillary "Ask me no questions and I will tell no lies" Clinton, expect endless mockery. Including comments on her witch-like cackle.

mccullough said...

The sexism is not referring to her by her first name but combining it with "her voice." The use of voice as a metonymy is pretty standard academic feminism. It's mostly used as a term of empowerment. Obama uses it mockingly with the out that it can also be interpreted neutrally as in a voice in the wilderness or voice above the crowd.

He basically takes a cliched term for feminist empowerment and uses it to disparage. It's subtle but well played.

Todd said...

tim in vermont said...

It's like there is now "rape" and "rape rape."

5/14/15, 11:07 AM


It is even worst than that though. Based on my latest copy of the liberal dictionary there are not only two definitions but the severity of the terms are ideologically adjusted "on the fly".

The most offensive version is the charge of "rape" against a conservative man. This is followed by a charge of "rape" against [just] a man. Next comes the charge of "rape rape" against an identified liberal/progressive, followed by the (basically ignorable) charge of rape against an identified liberal/progressive and bringing up the rear is the barely used charge of rape against a woman. FYI identifiable liberal/progressive women can not rape anyone, man or woman.

For many progressives the charge of rape against a conservative is considered the worst due to their layering of hypocrisy on top of the charge due to the general "family values" position of most conservatives whereas when liberals do it, it does not really count due to there support for women's rights (see OWS rape camps as an example). So, the term of "rape rape" is never used when discussing a conservative but even when used while discussing a liberal/progressive still carries less "evil" than when the singular word "rape" is used against a conservative man.

Our next session will discuss the "flavors" of the word "racist". Class dismissed and don't forget to turn in your theseus drafts on your way out!

David said...

Boo Fucking Hoo. The President was not reverential to Elizabeth. She's a politician, right?

I've love it if she would just issue a statement calling him "Barack" and then be done with it.

I don't think Warren is a fragile flower and it demeans her to act as though she is.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Electing Mrs. Clinton, er, Hillary, President will end endemic sexism and harmonize relations between the sexes just like electing Mr Obama, er, Barack President brought an end to racial strife in this nation.

Folks, we need to have a CONVERSATION, ok?
Forward, yes we can!

rhhardin said...

Nobody likes an unhappy person - sadism.

rhhardin said...

Nobody likes a drunk - alcoholism

rhhardin said...

Nobody likes pets - animalism

rhhardin said...

Nobody likes hair stylists - barbarism

rhhardin said...

Nobody likes twins - dualism

rhhardin said...

Nobody likes the police - heroism

rhhardin said...

Nobody likes newspapers - journalism

rhhardin said...

Nobody likes etiquette - mannerism

rhhardin said...

Nobody likes rioters - vandalism

rhhardin said...

Nodboy likes dirty jokes - vulgarism

Robt C said...

I can't believe this. Obama calls everybody I mean everybody by his or her first name. even the dead Ambassador Stevens didn't rate 'Ambassador Stevens'-- it was'Chris'. This is nothing new and it's not sexist. It's undignified and unpresidential, but not sexist.

Krumhorn said...

....the subtext:

Pocahontas over here has been shrill in her hysterical opposition to the trade bill. This kind of stridency hurts my ears. I just wish this harpy would go do a donkey and leave me in peace. Oh...and tell the bitch to bring me some pie!

- Krumhorn

averagejoe said...

What does Barbie Boxer have to say about this kerfuffle? Oops, I mean senator Boxer ma'am.

Real American said...

there may be degrees of sexism, but there also things which are NOT sexist at all, which should not be on the continuum of sexism any more than liberalism would be on a continuum of conservatism. They don't exist on the same continuum. In other words, a sexism continuum does not have on one end "no sexism" it has "the least amount of sexism". In other words, sexism cannot exist where it does not exist. The beginning of the scale is 1, not 0.

The President referring to Warren by her first name is informal and rude and not befitting of the office of the Presidency (just add it to the pile of evidence that exists supporting that proposition), but it is NOT sexist anymore than calling a male senator by his first name is sexist or racist or any other IST.

The crying wolf analogy is perfect because the point of the analogy is that crying wolf when there is no wolf lures people to ignore the same warnings when there IS a wolf.

Here, there is no sexism in Obama's comments and crying sexist when there is no sexism, just like crying rape when there is no rape, creates a situation where people willingly ignore real sexism (or real rape - thanks, Rolling Stone and Senator Gillibrand!)

Also, your belief or perception that something is sexist or racist, etc is not a proper standard to judge these things. Maybe you're offended, professor, but maybe you shouldn't be.

Frankly, I think the Warren nags are more pissed that Obama outed her as a politician more than anything else.

Christopher B said...

Marc Puckett said...
Where does that expression-- 'your boy'-- come from?


The way I've heard that expression used recently is short hand for the somewhat dated "fair haired boy" - a dismissive reference to a person who enjoys the favor and protection of some group.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Professor Althouse, but you're wrong and McArdle is right. Either "sexism" is a big deal, or (and that's the "exclusive or") it can be demonstrated with subtle behavior. People aren't going to accept a setup where tiny little crimes get you the death penalty. They're also not going to accept widespread imposition of the death penalty.

So the "six shooter" analogy is correct. Level the charge only in big cases, seldom. Or else have the change become meaningless.

You get at most one of those. Pick wisely. :-)

Unknown said...

I like that, Greg. Althouse, look at it this way. If we shot fifty thousand blacks a year, crime would probably plummet. But we can't do that. A few dozen, a few hundred a year max. You gotta pick and choose your PCPers and your fleeing felons with some selectivity.

Likewuse with the anti-cunt calumnies, otherwise after a while people are off with the "You poor dear" and on with the "Yeah, so? Were you good? Did you wiggle your ass for him or were you a dead fuck?"

Carl Pham said...

So the question is: Where on the continuum from no sexism to outright sexism do you want to draw the line?

When you're done with that one, Althouse, I have a physics homework question on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin with which I'd like your help.

Should be child's play for anyone who can define the state of "no sexism" in unmistakable purely objective terms any ordinary schmo can use around the water cooler.

averagejoe said...

"Your boy"- I thought that was a black thing, mimicked by the whites, particularly among the sporting types-

-Mayweather beat your boy pacquaio
-Your boy Brady's a cheater
-I was talking to your boy A-Rod