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May 27, 2011

False Equivalency Litmus Test of the Week
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 08:42 AM * 93 comments

Talk radio host uses offensive personal invective against a political opponent.

Said talk radio host is then called on the carpet by his broadcaster and his base. He issues a genuine apology for his words and is suspended for a week.

Guess the political affiliation.

Comments on False Equivalency Litmus Test of the Week:
#1 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 10:14 AM:

Ed ought to be ashamed of himself. There are so many devastating, to-the-point, and utterly true descriptors he could have used, instead.

#2 ::: CLP ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 10:51 AM:

I agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates: it's nice to hear an actual, unequivocal apology, rather than another of these non-apology apologies that have become popular lately.

I am glad (and proud!) that liberals were willing to call out one of our own.

#3 ::: liam_668 ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 12:59 PM:

I feel exactly the opposite. Photographic evidence shows that Laura Ingraham is perfectly happy sleeping with another woman's husband. Her own descriptions of those with whom she disagrees have been far worse, and the actions she condones against those people should have called for her firing or resignation years ago. She is a hate-monger and a bully. Bullies do not respond well to appeals to their better natures. They are not sporting, they do not care for the better angels of a situation, and the longer you let them bully you, the longer and more vilely they will bully you. I'm sorry that Mr. Schultz was so clumsy in his statement, even if factual, but the longer liberals wait, the more likely we will be remembered as the 21st century equivalent of Neville Chamberlain.

#4 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 01:04 PM:

Ingraham may be reprehensible, but until "slut" is a word applied to similarly reprehensible men, the apology is appropriate.

#5 ::: MichaelC ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 01:09 PM:

In my opinion, the only winning move in the argumentum ad hominem war is not to play the game. And anyone who disagrees with me is a wanker. ☺

#6 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 01:14 PM:

I don't think the word 'slut' should be used, ever, by anyone, except perhaps as a reclaiming self-description by people for whom the preferred term is 'sexually generous'. Outside the gay community,* it's also a sexist term, which puts the user in the wrong automatically, no matter what the behavior of the target, and especially when the target is a woman.

I think it was right for him to apologize, especially if it was a real apology (I haven't read it, but I'm willing to take abi's word that it was).

The reason the right-wing pundits never apologize is that it's part of their ideology that they're never in the wrong, that any behavior in which they choose to engage is by definition OK (see also IARIYAR), and anyone who objects to anything they say is trying to violate their First Amendment rights, or some such nonsense. This gives them an advantage over people with consciences, scruples, and the morals of, at minimum, a feral cat in heat.

This is why we are us and not them. So I must disagree, liam_668.

*INside the gay community it can mean anything from 'person who gets the men I'd like to be sleeping with' (hostile) to 'close friend who just beat me at tennis/scrabble/bingo' (friendly, even complimentary). I don't use it that way, but then I, while gay, am only very arguably part of "the gay community."

#7 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 01:14 PM:

@ liam_668: Calling any woman a slut is beyond the pale, whatever the personal behavior of said woman. If Ed Schultz had called her "a right-wing bully" for her aggressivity, or said she was "sleazy" or a "hypocrite" for sleeping with another woman's husband, I doubt we would be having that conversation. Like Nangleator said, it's not like we lack accurate and effective words to express our disgust and contempt!

#8 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 01:31 PM:

Aren't insulting epithets meant to be insulting? If you actually want to insult someone, doesn't it make sense to call them something that's, you know, really rude?

Or are we in a space now where you have to be polite even when you're being offensive?

[NDLR: yes, slut is a really rude word, when not used in Xopher's senses. That's my point.]

#9 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 01:41 PM:

alex, the problem is that sexist terminology is insulting to people other than the target. If a man who slept with another man's wife could be called a slut, the term would be less sexist and therefore less intrinsically offensive.

He should have called her a jackhole, which is a) a term you can say on TV, b) insulting, c) probably confusing, which adds to the insulting quality, and d) not sexist or in any way intrinsically offensive.

#10 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 01:45 PM:

alex @8:

Have you thought about why slut is such an insulting word? What kind of behavior causes a woman to be called a slut? How is that different than the behavior that, in certain contexts, is lauded in men?

Is the difference between the genders tied up in the word healthy? On whom do the negative consequences of that difference fall? Is a world where such a difference exists better than one where it didn't?

Useful parallax here.

#11 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 01:45 PM:

Or are we in a space now where you have to be polite even when you're being offensive?

Being able to issue insults politely has always been a survival skill in hardcore politics, and even society in general. This goes back at least to the ancient Greeks (and, I suspect, back to ancient Mesopotamia). That's where all those "insult poems" came from, that we still have from ancient Greece and Rome (also ancient China and Japan).

The Republicans are desperately trying to convince people that the Democrats are no more legitimate or principled than they are; letting our spokespeople go down to their level just plays into their hands.

#12 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 01:49 PM:

Xopher #6:

In high school, I recall realizing that the definition of "slut" as applied by guys to girls was "a girl who is alleged to sleep with other guys, but won't sleep with me." It suddenly made the colloquial use of the word make sense.

#13 ::: liam_668 ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 02:00 PM:

David, if the Republicans were playing by any rules other than gutter/dirty, you'd be right. The right does not care about anything other than gaining and using power. Paul Ryan made a point yesterday; he said that the Republican Party would not back off of its stance on taxes for the rich as a matter of religion. That was the first word he used. The Right will cheerfully kill everyone, including themselves, to prove their dogma correct, while the rest of us argue over naughty words, describing the actions of a nasty woman who has demonstrated her actions on film, while advising violence be done to her opponents.

And you wonder why we're running out of air and water, that Halliburton wants to sell to us at a profit.

#14 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 02:01 PM:

Alex @8: One can be insulting without descending to use of vulgarities (see Oscar Wilde).

Schultz should have called her an adulteress, which is accurate, and is politically correct, and still says something about the character of the woman in question.

Frankly, I wouldn't trust Ingraham with responsiblity for a puppy, much less another human being -- it's a damn shame we can't economically wipe Clear Channel and its' minions from the face of the earth.

#15 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 02:04 PM:

David #11:

Yeah, the best insults are the ones that are delivered in perfectly polite language, and that require a certain amount of thought to unravel and realizing how cutting they really are.

Mr Wickham's blessed with such happy manners, as may ensure his making friends. Whether he is capable of retaining them, is less certain.

#16 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 02:12 PM:

liam_668 @3:

If the problem is with whom Ingraham sleeps, then the correct term is "adulteress". That wouldn't have the same kind of collateral damage on women whose sexual choices aren't on society's approved list.

More relevantly, her sexual behavior is not the basis of his complaint. Her hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty are. So it would be more appropriate to focus on those, wouldn't it?

She is a hate-monger and a bully. Bullies do not respond well to appeals to their better natures. They are not sporting, they do not care for the better angels of a situation, and the longer you let them bully you, the longer and more vilely they will bully you.

Two reactions here. First off, if we go there, and make our emotional houses there, then we may "win", but it'll be as hollow as our victory over Bin Laden; note how we're not getting back the things we gave up in reaction to him. Once we're using sexuality against women and using whatever insults come to hand to damage our opponents at all costs how much longer before we go the rest of the way toward becoming what we despise? Then, what's the point?

And second, we are not actually trying to convert, convince, or even interest Ingraham. Schultz' apology may have addressed her, but it's aimed at the wide swathe of Americans who are tired and disgusted with the way that politicians and pundits of both sides hurl filth at each other.

The lesson is: both parties are not the same. A plague on only one of their houses, please.

#17 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 02:22 PM:

liam_668 @13:

You know what? Let me be more blunt. When Schultz used the word slut, he is words weren't just aimed at Ingraham. They were aimed at me, and my friends, and my mother and my daughter.

I have a right to say that I do not approve of slut-shaming and the damage that we are doing to women with it. I am entitled to tell him to clean up his act. I am doing him a favor in acknowledging his apology; it's actually no more than my right to have the people who advocate for my side of the spectrum treat me and people like me with respect.

Telling women to stfu about the use of the word slut is throwing us under the bus.

So go on. Tell me to my face that I don't matter.

#18 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 02:30 PM:

If I'm not mistaken, most of the commentariat here doesn't disagree with insulting Ingraham; they (we) disagree with using the term "slut" to do it. Because one doesn't, as a rule, call a man a slut*--to the extent that you hear things like "He's a total man-whore", because of course a whore is by default female.

It's bad form to attack one's enemies in such a way as to damage one's allies. Calling a woman one doesn't like a slut does that, not because of any sympathy for the particular target but because there are plenty of women who would like to go through their lives without anyone trying to police their sex, and once you have an "acceptable" target for that kind of thing, the range of acceptable just gets wider.

No one's saying Ingraham shouldn't be attacked. It's just that Schultz should have picked another method.

*: Well, I do, and some of my friends do, but we're not at all typical of how most people use the word. In society as a whole it's a very gendered insult indeed.

#19 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 02:36 PM:

I do think that liberals should use more forceful and blunt language. Artfully-phrased insults make US happy, but the average moron holding a sign that says "KEEP THE GOVERNMENT'S HANDS OFF MY MEDICARE" isn't going to notice them at all. And you can't win elections without the votes of the stupid, who are the majority, at least in the Clearchannel/Fox world we live in.

I just think we can do that without "throwing women under the bus," as abi put it.

#20 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 03:38 PM:

Xopher @ #19--Simple language that uses familar tropes is great for this: "Laura Ingraham, who is always ready to throw stones at other people, whether she has good grounds for it or not, has been living in a great big glass house herself, since she's been--" ending up with "Now, while I'm not going to fling any stones myself, I do think it would be nice if she either lived up to the same standards she requires of the rest of us, or else quit trying to pretend she's better than other people."

Not fancy, uses an old proverb, is not hypocritical about one's own possible misconduct, and hugs a dearly-held Middle American concept--"being nice"--like a teddy bear. It calls her a hypocrite without using the fancy word. Pushes a big button for a lot of people: "She's no better than the rest of us, but she sure likes to act as if she is". Also, it does this in language my aunts and mother and sisters can use in their Sunday-school classes without fear, or that my nephews' wives can use with their mothers' activity groups without shocking the more conservative of their friends.

And no sluts, which is good for all the reasons pointed out above. Laura Ingraham is not a blemish on the American body politic because of who she sleeps with (ahe may be a menace in her own social circle because of this, but that's different). She's a blemish because she is ready and willing to spout nasty, hate-filled, divise rhetoric at length at her masters' bidding, without consideration of fairness, truth, or decency*.

*Cue the ghost of Joseph Welch.

#21 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 03:48 PM:

liam_668 #13: The right does not care about anything other than gaining and using power.

But we do, and so do the people we want on our side. Look at Abi's reaction, and IreneD's, and CarrieS's, and the men who are chiming in. Pay attention to that -- and quit digging.

No, the Republicans aren't just trying to gain power for the moment -- they're trying to corrupt the political process, and our very society. Their goal is that nobody can stand up for the oppressed, that no leader dare place ideals over immediate benefit, that civility, honor, integrity, shall forevermore be denounced as mere weakness in the face of power. And if you kneel before that altar... they've beaten you already.

#22 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 04:46 PM:

If you act like a bad guy, you are a bad guy.

#23 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 05:09 PM:

albatross@15: Yeah, the best insults are the ones that are delivered in perfectly polite language, and that require a certain amount of thought to unravel and realizing how cutting they really are.

Those are the best literary insults. I'm not sure the most effective political ones work the same way. I think one of the Republicans' enduring advantages over the Democrats is their ability to make charges of elitism against the latter stick. Being ironic in anything beyond the Alanis Morissette sense can play into that.

I don't think the Republicans would use a word like 'slut', either (though I realise saying that may result in the posting of 18376452 counterexamples, TIA). They seem to have codes and dogwhistles and stuff, and are mostly quite disciplined about steering clear of things which are that non-PC (while complaining about the PC hegemony in the Mainstream Media, of course).

#24 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 06:41 PM:

"She's the sort of woman you should warn your son against. And his best friend."

#25 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 07:11 PM:

Adrian Smith #23: But as noted above, there were plenty of ways available to slam Ingraham for both sides of the aisle, without any "friendly fire". With the Repubs, there generally are, because they're still trying to bamboozle the genuine conservatives, not to mention the "undecideds" who just want the nastiness to go away.

#26 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 07:24 PM:

I think Schultz (who I listen to on the radio now and then) was correct in apologizing and in taking a week to cool off.

What ticks me off:

If Rush Limbaugh said something like this, his fans would crow and approve and blow off complaints. ("You don't understand! He's just fooling around!")

And the same people, listening to reports of Schultz's gaffe, will become indignant and take it as a sign of the general moral sloth of Them.

I take solace in the fact that the ratings of bozos like Limbaugh and Beck are way down.

#27 ::: Liz Ditz ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 08:26 PM:

Am I the only one that thought of the SNL skits (Point-Counterpoint parodies) between Dan Ackroyd & Jane Curtin that had Dan saying, again and again,

"Jane, you ignorant slut,....."

[I am not excusing what Shultz said. It's just what popped into my mind upon reading, not hearing the radio clip]

#28 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 08:41 PM:

And never underestimate the power of "Don't you think she looks tired?"

#29 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 09:01 PM:

Very well done!

#30 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 09:12 PM:

alex @ 8: "Aren't insulting epithets meant to be insulting?"

And language is meant to reflect reality--if your insult cannot be both truthful and insulting, then you really ought to rethink what you're saying.

#31 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 09:20 PM:

(a) - Schultz was definitely in the wrong in his choice of epitaph -- "right-wing hypocrite" and "continually lying hate-filled talk-show host" would have been much better
(b)- His apology was leagues above what you would have gotten from pretty much anybody on the right-wing side
(c) - Jim's original point, however, is dead-on -- it's only the progressive press that actually gets called on the carpet for such things (if it had been lush or beck or saint Laura the refrain would have been "you people are too sensitive" or "you can't take it -- if you can't handle it you shouldn't be in the game")

"Left-wing bias in media" indeed. And saint Laura's claim that she "didn't know Schultz had a radio show" is lame even as satire.

I've had the misfortune, when I was working someplace that was more than an hour's drive from home, to be in areas where there *was* no radio reception of aught but the likes of Lush & Laura, and she *does* continually lie, and she certainly *sounds* like she is filled with hate.

#32 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 09:23 PM:

The core difference, I think, is between those who make an effort to be conscious of their behavior, and conscious of the impact it has on themselves and others (especially those one is trying to convince) versus the "win at any cost and be damned the consequences," cutting-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face, scorched-earth approach.

I certainly know which kind of person I want to be, and it certainly ain't the latter. Even if they win.

Which, in the long run, I don't think they will.

#33 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 09:35 PM:

Sorry -- I meant "Abi's original point" --

mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa

#34 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2011, 11:09 PM:

@Liam_668 and @Alex

As others have said, the problem was not insulting Laura but doing so in a way that insults others. Slut generally applies to women who like having sex especially a lot of sex, especially with lots of people. None of those are things that women should be insulted for (or men either, but men are seldom insulted for those things).

Two analogies: 1) imagine you are dealing with an arrogant right wind African-American. So you call him "uppity". That is a classic racist insult, and you have not only insulted the right-winger, but every African-American in the U.S. That is not just morally wrong, it is counter-productive. 2) Imagine instead of calling the African-American "uppity" you just go ahead and used the N-word. Even worse, even more morally wrong even more counterproductive.

There are no limits to how insulting I will be when it is appropriate. I will roll in the gutter as an alternative to being left for dead there. But I will make damn sure I'm only insulting the person I intend to insult, and not a bunch of others as well. Including bystanders in the vituperation is wrong morally and stupid tactically.

#35 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 12:32 AM:

Craig R. - I think you mean "epithet", not "epitaph."

#36 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 12:39 AM:

albatross @15: Yeah, the best insults are the ones that are delivered in perfectly polite language, and that require a certain amount of thought to unravel and realizing how cutting they really are.

A friend told me this story recently, and I regret I don't recall some of the details (such as names), but:

Demonstrators marching outside of the office of a Canadian official claimed the official mooned them. This became a small media scandal.

Asked about it, the official said he didn't know what they were talking about. There had been no one else in his office who might have done such a thing, and he hadn't seen anything.

In response, the lead demonstrator said he must have been mistaken, and that the official had put his face out the window.

#37 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 02:45 AM:

Note: I intended "right wing" rather than "right wind" but "right wind" will do.

#38 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 02:58 AM:

The idea that "slut" would be less offensive if it were an accusation also leveled at men has it, to my eyes, ass-backwards. Amanda Marcotte said this better than I could:

...a "slut" is a woman who is immoral because she enjoys sex too much or has many partners. And "sluts" do not exist, because there is nothing wrong with women liking sex or liking sex with lots of people.

#39 ::: Chris Lawson ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 06:05 AM:

I'm glad to see some others already piping up -- to me the major problem with the word slut is not that the insult is usually reserved for women, but that it implies the woman is a bad person for enjoying sexual activities. It doesn't even apply exclusively to adulterers (and why did everyone insist on gendering that noun?). It is not unheard of for a woman to be called a slut just for talking to men.

Also, there are male-equivalent insults to slut: cad, rake, philanderer (I always thought this should be philgynerer, but what do I know?), womaniser, pants man, playboy, lothario, lecher...ah, cripes, you can look up the thesaurus yourself. And while some of these terms are not necessarily considered insults, some certainly are (no man wants to be called a lech).

The existence of a female-specific insult is in itself of no more consequence than the weird and rules of gender in French. What matters is the attitude that comes with it -- and slut as an insult directed against a woman only makes sense in a culture where women's sexual desire is considered icky and immoral.

#40 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 08:07 AM:

Chris@39: no man wants to be called a lech

A lech is thinking about it but generally not having much success, the way I've always heard it used. Never heard of a pants man before.

and slut as an insult directed against a woman only makes sense in a culture where women's sexual desire is considered icky and immoral.

More "in need of being controlled", I think. Historically, the fact that maternity was 100% certain and paternity less so probably constituted a selective advantage which men went to some lengths to counter via social engineering, ie slut-shaming. To expect the social attitudes surrounding this to turn on a dime with the widespread availability of DNA testing is a bit naive, IMO. You have to wait for the generation who grew up before it to die off.

OTOH, could all be some evpsych just-so story.

#41 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 10:03 AM:

I definitely get the problem with going around calling people "slut" or any number of other nasty names tied to still-extant stupid/evil belief systems.

But the bigger problem with calling someone a slut, to my mind at least, is that it's part of the kind of stupid political dialog that substitutes nastiness and point-scoring for actually talking about anything that matters. If I hear someone calling his political opponents sluts, fags, n----rs, etc., I'm going to rather quickly guess that, first, he's playing a game of trying to get people mad rather than trying to inform, and second, that he probably doesn't actually have anything interesting to say.

Speaking only for myself, I'll continue to read or listen to someone who's offensive, if they seem like they have some information or insight to share, but not someone who is simply trying to stir up some controversy or get people worked up so they'll call in. Life's too short to read or listen to people whose only claim on your attention is that they can get your blood pressure to rise 30 points. Throwing around intentionally offensive names is a good way of signaling that you don't have much to say, and that your only way of keeping your audience is to get them p-ssed off.

A slightly higher class version of this defines most 24 hour news--there's always a scandal or nine days' wonder that's the recurring discussion point, and the whole reason to bring it up is to get people upset and worked up and self-righteous, because otherwise, the 24 hour station usually has nothing more to say than "the news is about the same as it was last hour, go read a book or something." And to the extent possible, I avoid that kind of TV news, since again, I don't think they have much information for me.

#42 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 10:16 AM:

A. J. Luxton (# 35)

In re "epithet", not "epitaph."

You are quite correct. Since I certainly do not wish the person's untimely demise (and I will not speculate on when a "timely" demise might be), "epithet" would be the proper term -- on the other hoof, "continually lying hate-filled hypocrite" would also be an accurate epitaph, for expression after she has shuffled off the mortal coil.

#43 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 12:38 PM:

Chris Lawson @ 39... the weird and rules of gender in French

What weird and rules of gender in French?

#44 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 03:02 PM:

Chris Lawson @39: no man wants to be called a lech

Except maybe in Poland. (Pronounced differently, though.)

#45 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 06:22 PM:

Chris Lawson @ 39: "to me the major problem with the word slut is not that the insult is usually reserved for women, but that it implies the woman is a bad person for enjoying sexual activities."

"...What matters is the attitude that comes with it -- and slut as an insult directed against a woman only makes sense in a culture where women's sexual desire is considered icky and immoral."

It's not like those are really separable: the insult gains its force from the cultural assumption, and the cultural assumption is bolstered by the insult's prevalence. The one does not exist separate from the other. As such, challenging the insult is a way of challenging the cultural assumption. (Speaking of which: have people heard of Slutwalk?

albatross @ 41: "But the bigger problem with calling someone a slut, to my mind at least, is that it's part of the kind of stupid political dialog that substitutes nastiness and point-scoring for actually talking about anything that matters."

While strongly agreeing with your point, I hesitate at the word "bigger." Perhaps "a separate but also important" problem instead?

#46 ::: Mea ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 07:42 PM:

Re: #24 Dave Bell "She's the sort of woman you should warn your son against. And his best friend."

Hell yes.

[wanders away to look at the Dr. Who thread linked at #28. Comes back...]


Why underline that "that sort" is a woman? ("that sort of woman" has slightly different connotations than "that sort of person")

Why only warn the son?

Although the best friend is gender-unspecified.

I'd rather say "She's the sort of person you warn your sons and daughters against."

#47 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2011, 11:52 PM:

#28 - You know, that Doctor Who quote always bothered me. And I can't entirely rationalize why. Rationally, it should be an effective way to take down a male or female politician. But I was always uncomfortable with it as, as a woman, watching it used by a man against a woman in a position of power.

Sexist society brings poisoned context to everything.

#46: Why underline that "that sort" is a woman? ("that sort of woman" has slightly different connotations than "that sort of person")

This yes very much so. I'm also uncomfortable when someone says of an unpleasant person, "I can't stand that woman." As with gendered insult terms like "bitch," I feel the statement gives inappropriate weight to the fact that she's a woman. Isn't her bad behavior enough to complain about? Why tie it into her gender? Is it because certain bad behaviors are coded as female, but when performed by males, are coded as neutral or even admirable?

See also people who like to use the n----- word and then say they only use it against black people who behave badly. Well, why use an ethnic slur to call out ethnically neutral bad behavior?

I am becoming fond of the term "jackwagon." I think it's even more confusing than "jackhole" but delivers the same satisfying punch. About the only positive thing I learned from that Geico commercial (you know the one: "Would a drill sergeant make a terrible psychologist?").


albatross @41 - But the bigger problem with calling someone a slut, to my mind at least, is that it's part of the kind of stupid political dialog that substitutes nastiness and point-scoring for actually talking about anything that matters.

Wow, does this statement of yours rub me the wrong way. You know there's a prevalent pattern of sweeping sexism under the rug in favor of "looking at the bigger picture," right? To me, casual sexism in politics is a huge problem, and it may be a subset of the way nastiness is substituted for content-rich discussion, but it is not a smaller problem.

#48 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 06:49 AM:

Mea @46

I'm not sure I had any reason other than habit for picking the gendered phrasing.

On reflection, I'll stand by it, because the bad behaviour is still a male/female relationship, and I'm not sure it would be right to unleash a plague of gay cooties. If you went non-specific about the gender I think you risk a confusion about what the problem is.

It isn't optimal. But it does need to be something that grabs at the reader, and i think the gender-neutral phrasing would also get in the way of that.

#49 ::: Cynthia W. ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 09:04 AM:

Huh. And my response is that making it broader is a more sweeping condemnation. So my inclination would be "She's the sort of person you should warn your son against...and your daughter...and their friends...and possibly their pets.)

#50 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 09:50 AM:

Nicole (47): I'm also uncomfortable when someone says of an unpleasant person, "I can't stand that woman."...I feel the statement gives inappropriate weight to the fact that she's a woman..

I equally use "I can't stand that man." For me, the 'man'/'woman' is strictly an identifier. Asking this purely in a spirit of curiosity: Would one bother you and the other wouldn't? Would my use of 'woman' in that context bother you if you'd previously heard me use 'man'?

#51 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 03:49 PM:

I think a large part of the historical context of "slut"-slinging is bound up with views of venereal disease. There's a great book, No Magic Bullet, about the development of those views through the 19th and early 20th centuries (iirc; it's been a while since I read it).

Before the germ theory was accepted, VD was often thought to be an inherent miasma that all prostitutes (assumed to be female) had as part of their "nymphomaniac" nature. This was superficially supported by VD often being relatively asymptomatic in women, compared to men with the same degree of real infection. At the same time, there was relatively little stigma attached to the prostitutes' male clients and their tendency to bring VD home to their wives, although some early feminists did try to raise awareness about that issue.

There were some rather bloodcurdling WWI-era posters warning soldiers of the consequences of VD by demonizing the women who might be vectors, rather than by telling them to use condoms.

#52 ::: Nick Brooke ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 04:13 PM:

Nicole @47: Maybe it's a British thing: over here, we all recognise that that was the beginning of the end for Tony Blair, so we miss the inherent sexism and latch onto the inherent truth instead.

#53 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 04:36 PM:

Nick Brooke @52: I thought "Don't you think she looks tired?" was supposed to have been a whispering campaign against Margaret Thatcher.

#54 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2011, 04:47 PM:

Nicole, #47: I'm with you about the Dr. Who bit, precisely because I don't think it would be an effective way to neutralize a male politician. Men are allowed to be imperfect -- to get tired, to look haggard. It means they're strong and can keep fighting the good fight even under adverse circumstances. Women not only have to fight the good fight, they have to look as though they just came from the spa the whole time, or they're perceived as weak and incompetent.

Also agreeing re sweeping sexism under the rug in favor of "the bigger picture". Remember Don Imus and his "nappy-headed hos"? Everybody got all incensed about the racial insult, but almost no mention was made of the fact that he had also called those very talented women WHORES. Take one for the team, girls.

Cynthia, #49: *snork* Very apt!

#55 ::: David Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2011, 11:07 PM:

Would it have been wrong for him to have called her a right-wing slut? In other words, to have indicated she was pandering a right-wing agenda.

#56 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 12:16 AM:

#55 David:

He did call her a "right-wing slut." That was the quote. So you have your answer already.

#57 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 12:30 AM:

I'm confused.

I don't mean to adopt a denialist position, that the term has never been sexist, but where I live, and in the social circles I move, it's now a perfectly meaningful [and very rude] insult for a man to be called a slut. It means exactly the same thing it means when you call a woman a slut: somebody who enjoys promiscuous sex mainly as a tool to get social advantage over others and not really out of any sex-positive operational theory. I'm genuinely surprised to learn that I'm in some kind of weird subculture that I hadn't noticed existed before.

I'm not sure I believe it, but the fluorosphere is generally pretty reliable, so I'm confused. Really? People still get confused when you use "slut" to insult a man the same way you would insult a woman? They really don't manage to interpolate the sentiment? Whoa. Okay. #WhatILearnedToday

#58 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 12:40 AM:

@54, etc: I agree that "Don't you think she looks tired?" has some baggage. A little bit of a reminder of "Mother's Little Helper", a little bit of "You're bad at math" vs "Women are bad at math", and a little bit of "women have to not only be as competent as men, but LOOK good all the time while doing it."

None of the bits of baggage, individually, are that big, but they do add up.

#59 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 04:01 AM:

j h woodyatt, #57: In most American cultures, when you call a woman a slut, it means one thing only: that she has more sex than YOU think she should, or in ways that YOU disapprove of. (Generic "you".) It doesn't even carry the "to get social advantage" connotation, which would indicate that there might be circumstances under which you wouldn't call a sexually active woman a slut. Certainly I've never heard it used any other way anywhere that I've lived, except by a few small subcultures that were specifically trying to reclaim the term.

That's also the understood background for the term "slut-shaming" as applied to rape victims. As in, "If she hadn't been doing something that only a slut would do, she wouldn't have been raped." The "something" can be anything from wearing a pretty dress to chatting with a guy to being out alone after dark, or whatever -- the important thing is to make sure she and everyone else knows that she's a slut.

#60 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 09:14 AM:

Another consequence of the pejorative and gendered use of "slut": I recall watching a video on differences in attitudes toward sex between high school students in different cultures. One of the questions was, "do you carry a condom?"

One of the American students interviewed said, "If a girl carried a condom, I'd think she was a slut." And the attitude carries over to the guys, too: bringing one on a date is an insult to the girl. (In other words, it's still not about his sexuality.)

The results of this on STD and pregnancy rates are left as an exercise to the student.

(Dutch students of both genders pretty much universally opened their wallets and pulled out condoms when asked. Which is not to say that things aren't complicated here. But they're differently complicated.)

#61 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 10:51 AM:

j h woodyat: in my daughter's high school, slut is used only for girls. boys who have "too much" sex are not "players" but rather "manwhores" or "mansluts". I believe this is a limited application of the terms because this is a small high school but it's interesting to me to see that in this group, at least, it is possible to be male and to be looked down on for having "too much" sex.

Though there does seem to be a subordinate condition applied--almost all the time, when any of these terms are being used, they are referring to people who had careless/stupid sex, not necessarily people who had a quantity of sex. People who did not use protection, for instance, or who got drunk first, or hooked up with someone he/she just met.

That said, it's difficult for me to parent a teenage girl through this minefield. She is very unhappy/angry with friends who are having sex because almost all of them are having unprotected sex. I have to say that I'm not thrilled with this myself. I try to not use the word slut when talking about her friends, but I do express to my daughter that this is behavior which will likely not stand them in good stead later in life (or even tomorrow).

At the same time, I don't want her to think that just because she is a girl, she shouldn't have sex, or enjoy sex, or have sex with as many people as she wants to. Because she is a teenager, I don't think she's ready for sex (and neither does she, at the moment). I want her to have a healthy sex/sexual life, and I want her to be as safe as possible while doing so.

But when my kid says, So-and-so is a slut, it's hard to stop and have a discussion about the word slut. Because the conversation at hand is more about who is doing what with whom, and is it as dumb as it looks from outside.

Conversations about sex in general are tough no matter what. We watched an episode of The Good Wife over the weekend, which in part concerned a website devoted to helping married people have "safe" affairs/one-night stands. And I found myself explaining some of the reasons why people have affairs, that not everyone thinks it's wrong to have sex outside of your marriage, and other delicate matters. Gad, these are the conversations no one can prepare you for (and the ones my own parents never had with me).

#62 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 02:27 PM:

Lee @ 59 and Melissa @ 61, I guess I need to struggle some more with how much living in a minor outlying cultural island leaves me feeling alienated from the mass culture of my native country. I did not realize that this usage was such a highly localized shift. Now that I think about it, I don't think I've noticed its usage in the mass-market culture, but I don't pay as much attention to that as I used to. Chalk this up to the filter bubble then.

#63 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 02:50 PM:

j h woodyatt, it does sound (to me) as if your "cultural bubble" has better standards of usage than the mainstream.

#64 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 03:44 PM:

Abi @60 & Melissa Singer @61, putting your two reports together, I gather that, in some US teen subcultures today, a girl is called a slut if she carries a condom, and in others, she's called a slut if she doesn't carry one.

#65 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 03:52 PM:

Avram, while that seems true from the data presented, I would speculate that there are some teen subcultures where BOTH things are true.

#66 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 04:01 PM:

Women, sex, and culture: can't win for the losing.

(Sorry for the pessimism. Caught a respected colleague chest-staring in the middle of an otherwise interesting and useful conversation last week. Thought it through aloud on Twitter, and had a former colleague pull a false equivalency on me, "trying to lighten up a situation that both men and women have to learn to live with"...then asking me why I was "so mad".)

#67 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 04:14 PM:

Marilyn Frye analogized the oppression of women to a bird cage: if you confine your examination to any specific wire, you can't really see how it confines the bird; it's only by examining the whole that you see that all those wires make a cage.

Society is full of people (right-wing pundits, among others) who continually confine their viewpoint to the single-wire view; and ignore, discount or ridicule any other view. This serves their agenda, lying sacks of toxic waste that they are.

#68 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 01:22 AM:

Abi @66

Wouldn't it be lovely if we lived in a world where that really was only as offensive as if you'd caught him watching a puppy out the window? Then men and women and puppy-owners could all lighten up together and just learn to live with it.

#69 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 03:41 AM:

Devin, I'm trying to be as gentle about this as I can, but you just told a woman that she needs to accept that she has the equivalent of two puppies strapped to her chest and that people will want to stare at them. That the problem here is that she perceived it as rude, or that it is socially constructed as rude, not that it is rude. Did you catch that "false equivalency" she mentioned above, from the guy just trying to "lighten things up"? In this conversation, that's you.

Breasts are not puppies. Staring at them instead of looking a woman in the eye when you're talking to her is a sign of disrespect, of treating her like an aesthetic object rather than as an equal. It's not oversensitivity to be angry when it happens, it's an accurate perception of reality.

#71 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 04:53 AM:

Heresiarch @69

I'm sorry, I obviously ain't communicating as well as I need to be. "Wouldn't it be lovely if" was meant as something between wistful and sarcastic.

Where you draw a line between "perceived or socially constructed as rude" and "is rude," I would instead say that there's no such thing as an intrinsically rude action, but that there are arbitrarily rude actions (like using the wrong fork) and actions that are rude because they harm or insult another (like cutting in line). In this case there are very solid (socially-constructed) reasons why a woman looking at my arms instead of my face is different from a man looking at her chest. Those reasons come about because of sexism. If there wasn't sexism, if we lived in a perfect world, if women weren't routinely objectified, then in fact looking at a woman's chest would be only as rude as any other temporary lapse of attention.*

But there is, and we don't, and they are, and as a consequence it is different. And rude. (I tried to imply this bit, in my original post, but it seems I should have been explicit)

I don't know. To me, "it would be nice if we lived in a world where that wasn't a shitty thing to do" is a usefully sympathetic thing to say, and I say it to myself sometimes, and I've had others say it to me once or twice and appreciated it. But this ain't the first time I've been seriously misunderstood either, so maybe it's a sentiment that only makes sense to certain people, or one that I'm not very good at expressing clearly.

So: Anyone else who read me like Heresiarch did, my bad. Abi, if you read it like that, extra-sorry. I was kinda hoping to keep that foot, y'know, on the ground, but there it is in my mouth instead.

*For instance, I don't find it especially rude if someone looks at my chest, unless they are ogling me to the exclusion of being able to continue the conversation. That's easy for me, because I get to live in a culture that regularly and frequently tells me that my words are worth more than my appearance. I'd like it if everyone got to feel that way.

#72 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 07:40 AM:

Devin #71: Actually, you've missed the third and most relevant category: Inappropriate expression of bodily functions, or instincts, where the particularly restrained functions differ by society. Even we crude Westerners frown on public elimination, but, for example, blowing your nose in public, is a major faux pax in Japan. Similarly, failure to control your temper is rude in many cultures (if it's not simply a sign of weakness), and so is leching over nearby people.

I'm not sure what things would look like if you can both sex-positivity and real egalitarianism -- perhaps "if you wanna stare at my chest/ass/whatever, then you don't get to complain about signing off on a chump's deal while you were distracted."

#73 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 10:50 AM:

heresiarch, #70: That would be hysterical if it weren't so accurate. Also, this take on the problem from a different angle.

#74 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 10:51 AM:

Melissa @61, I don't envy you, because I can agree it's VERY hard to separate the word "slut" from a discussion of behavior in what you're describing.

I had it a little easier; my kid, at age eleven, used the word to describe Ashlee Simpson. I said, "Hang on a minute. You shouldn't call her that. 'Slut' is a word that people use when they don't approve of a woman's sexual choices, and I think that her sexual choices are her own business."

Then I kind of spoiled the moral high ground by saying, "On the other hand, everything I've seen of her in interviews suggests she's dumb as TOAST. So if you don't like her, you could say THAT."

In your case, you DO disapprove of the described sexual choices, and for what sounds like good reason, so that angle isn't going to work.

When I was a teenager, I noticed that 'slut' was an irregular noun, much like the irregular verbs we see here all the time. It went like this:

I am a sexually independent and adventurous young woman
You are doing things that make me worried about your health and happiness
She is a slut.

Maybe pointing this irregularity out to your daughter would help discourage the use of the word?

#75 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 04:01 PM:

Rikibeth@74: I suspect I would be less than approving even if the kids were using barrier protection, because I just don't like the idea that people their age are having sex. But I freely acknowledge--even to my daughter--that I am a prude (and I was a late starter when it came to sex). I have also talked about why I don't think teen sex is a good idea; my reasons may all come down to "you're too young" but that's not how I put it. Instead, I talk about taking responsibility and being responsible, about the complications of relationships with and without sex, about how most relationships formed in the teen years are temporary and to some extent superficial, even given the vastness of communication via social media, about hormones and impulses and developing brains. And about distractions from things like school and other responsibilities.

Not all at once, of course--these conversations tend to dribble out over long periods of time and loop back repeatedly to cover the same or similar ground.

We also talk about how women are much more likely than men to be negatively judged on whether or not they are having sex and how much sex they are having or are seen to be having (not the same thing).

I remain grateful for my daughter's small high school which is remarkably clique-free and does not have a large or visible sex-competition component. I think it would be a lot harder to talk about this stuff if "everyone" was having sex instead of just a handful of girls, and if they weren't all being really dumb about it (unprotected sex in the stairwell of a local high school; drunken, unprotected sex with someone she met for the first time 2 hours earlier; unprotected sex with someone 4 years older).

(I have noticed that I am only hearing about straight girls. dd's lesbian friends are apparently not sexually active or don't talk about it and the boys do not share these things with female friends.)

We have also discussed the question of "do you have sex in your parents' home or not?" and seem to have come down on the side of "yes, because that's better/safer than in a car or outdoors somewhere." Which just makes me go aaaaaaaaah, emotionally, though intellectually, that's the right position to take.

I like the irregular noun construction and will tuck that into my hindbrain for later use.

I tell people all the time that parenting young children may be more physically demanding, but parenting teens ties your mind and heart up in knots on a regular basis.

#76 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 05:13 PM:

Melissa Singer @75... Another thing (which you may have pointed out to your daughter):

Boys talk -- just as much as the girls do. AFAICT I was the only girl in my high school to figure this out, and decided that none of the potential partners were worth the risk. Flirt with, yes; dance with, yes; but anything else? No way.

#77 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 06:41 PM:

Melissa @75: I am, in some ways, your opposite, having started (with birth control planned ahead) somewhat before I was sixteen, so I hold very little moral high ground on the "you're too young" approach. Consequences and responsibility, THAT I can discuss with decent authority.

As a matter of fact, my early experiences have brought me to a WILDLY unpopular conclusion, and one that I haven't dared yet to discuss with my teen (fortunately, the circumstances warranting it have yet to obtain).

You see, there seems (at least to my perception) to be a strong cultural presumption that, even if you don't believe that Sex Only Belongs In Marriage, that it should be reserved for "committed relationships." And that teens are generally too young for committed relationships because, OMG, they might have SEX, but if they ARE going to be having sex, the presence of a committed relationship makes it less objectionable.

Well, as a teen, I had sex both within committed relationships and outside them (outside tending towards friends I wasn't dating). And, in retrospect, the sex I had OUTSIDE relationships consisted of delightful interludes that I remember fondly. The sex I had inside relationships varied in quality - but those relationships? THEY WERE TRAIN WRECKS. As you might expect from a novice at such things. But BECAUSE I was thinking of them as "committed," I did some truly dumb-ass things that I might not have if I'd acknowledged them as temporary.

Therefore, I believe that while teenagers may or may not be too young for sexual activity (varies by teenager and by circumstances), they are almost always too young for Committed Relationships, and should NOT be encouraged to view early relationships as "committed" just because they include or hope to include sexual activity.

The reason I haven't had to decide if I'm brave enough to say this to my teen (who is WELL educated on health and safety issues and plagues the health teacher at school for leaving stuff like dental dams out) is that so far no relationship has lasted more than a few months.

As I said. Wildly unpopular opinion, and not one I expect people to share. Merely reflective of my experience.

#78 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 07:36 PM:

Devin @ 71: It seems as if we're on very similar, if not quite exactly the same, pages. I'm not entirely happy with treating sexually evaluating the anatomy of one's interlocutor when discussing other matters as rude only because of the larger structure of sexism (I see it as adding force to an inherently dismissive act), but close enough.

Rikibeth @ 77: "Therefore, I believe that [teenagers] should NOT be encouraged to view early relationships as "committed" just because they include or hope to include sexual activity.

May this be written on the moon with lasers. I have seen (and heard personal recounts of how) many of my friends convince themselves they're In Love with the guy they're with so that having sex doesn't count as slutty, and then cling to the relationship long after it's turned to an awful, soul-destroying ruin because after all, it's Love! Princess-Bride style!

#79 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 08:00 PM:

Rikibeth, #77: That's an interesting insight! I don't think it's a bad idea either, to have your early sexual experience(s) with someone you trust as a friend but not necessarily in the context of a Relationship. Both sex and Relationships take practice, and trying to work thru the beginner mistakes of both simultaneously is naturally going to be more difficult than handling them separately.

Of course, I have no children of either gender with whom to discuss these things, so my opinion is worth the electrons it's written in...

#80 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 08:52 PM:

Rikibeth: I am actually with you on the committed relationship thing and have discussed it with my teen. Components of those conversations have included:

1) When you first start flirting with or even dating someone, it's okay to flirt with or date someone else.

2) If and when you decide to be exclusive, you should both agree to exclusivity.

3) Exclusivity is not necessary; it is okay to date more than one person at a time--as long as the people you are dating know that you are not seeing them exclusively.

4) Dating more than one person at a time, or dating one person and flirting with another person, does not make you a bad person. It is okay to do that. It is human to do that. It is likely that you will like/be attracted to more than one person at the same time. There's nothing wrong with that.

5) It is likely that whatever relationship you have will be fleeting. You've been dating for several years and so far, no relationship has lasted more than 4 months. That's okay, in fact, it's perfectly normal given that most of you are still figuring out what you like and don't like in a relationship or in a person you are dating, or in yourself. You're not the same person you were a few months ago, after all; what you want changes every minute.


btw, I don't consider that I hold any kind of moral high ground because I had sex on the late side. I went to an all-female school from 7th-12th and was a total geek-girl, which back in the 70s meant that I did no dating. I also don't think that teen sex is automatically bad or guarantees a bad outcome. But I do think that a lot of teen sex is high-risk, emotionally (for the reasons you talk about) as well as physically. Like you, I also believe that no-strings sex or sex outside of a relationship is okay if you and your partner are clear that that's what it is, without additional expectations.

I hope that I haven't said anything that is insulting or shaming to anyone who has had sex as a teen. It was not my intention. Many, if not most, of my friends started having sex much earlier than I did, and that's their business as far as I'm concerned.

And I should also add that if my daughter winds up having sex while she's still in high school, I'm not going to throw her out of the house or anything like that.

#81 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 10:19 PM:

Rikibeth #77: Yes! Experimentation leads to mastery -- in this case, not just of mere mechanics, but of managing the emotional aspects of sex, which are not the same as those of "relationships". Consider just the too-common confusion between afterglow and "true love"....

I will add that there are reasons that argument is "taboo" (in most circles), and they're not very nice ones. Besides the whole "slut-shaming" thing, American society in particular is afraid of its children, and is also seriously screwed up about sex. The social gestalt is terrified by the prospect of teenagers managing their own sexuality. Why, they might even have sex lives outside the control of adults, with no "punishment" by STD or pregnancy, no excuse to dismiss them as ignorant or irresponsible, and no way to redefine them as victims of peer or adult "predators". (Naturally, the last recourse is to condemn the teens themselves as "predators" or "sluts" according to gender.)

#82 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 11:41 PM:

Melissa, no insult taken!

I was a geek girl too, and this might have meant no dating for me in the 1980s, except for one lucky factor: my best friend was not only a fan but a SECOND-GENERATION fan, and already knew about conventions. Thanks to her, I attended my first con, Boskone XXI, on the weekend of my 14th birthday, and thus met a large group of boys in my age range to whom I wasn't The Nerd, but OMG A GIRL WHO'S READ THIS STUFF TOO, and it was every bit as magical as Cinderella's transformation, including the ball - bless Boskone for having a Regency dance. Pure magic.

Had I not had that bit of luck, I might never have dated until college either, as I certainly never dated outside of fandom.

In the same nostalgic vein, much as I adored ElfQuest back then, I'd hesitate before handing it to a similarly impressionable teen now. That soulmate stuff? Don't get me STARTED!

#83 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 08:37 AM:

Rikibeth: I'm a second generation fan in the sense of "my parents read SF," not in the con-going sense. I'm a bit jealous of your experience . . . .

I went to my first Star Trek con when I was 14 and to Phil Seuling's Creation comic-book conventions starting at around the same age. Comic-cons were basically big dealers' rooms back then, and girls were mostly treated marginally. There was a persistnet assumption that all we read were romance comics and Archie, both of which were, at the time, looked down on by "real" comics fans, who read the capes-and-tights stuff. I was a capes-and-tights fan, but in the early-and-mid-70s, I was definitely an outlier in the comics community.

Paralysing shyness, coupled with social dysfunction due to (undiagnosed) Asperger's, kept me isolated at Trek-cons--and I also usually attended those with one or more girlfriends and we formed a sort of impenetrable social knot to which no boy could be admitted.

After high school, I dropped out of the convention scene for a couple of years, and when I went back, I was working in publishing, which colored the whole con-going experience. And the minute someone I was talking to found out I worked in editorial, well, conversations tended to be irrevocably altered by that knowledge. (the other problem was one being discussed elsewhere on ML: men tended to look at my breasts rather than my face)

So cons were not a big dating pool for me, alas.

#84 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 12:00 PM:

Melissa: I remember Creation cons! They were still large dealers' rooms, but by the 1980s they had acquired a certain amount of media focus, not exclusively comics, and that was a lot more neophyte-friendly. One - or was it a Starlog con? IIRC they were related - even had a masquerade. Squeeing over a boy's insanely detailed Ghostbusters replica costume was an easy way to start a conversation.

For some reason, the knot of girlfriends I attended cons with (for, you see, my best friend had OTHER friends) wasn't boy-proof in the way you describe yours. Maybe because we acknowledged that we were boy- hunting and split up with designated meeting times. The irregular noun structure dates from those days - and "you" was anyone in-group, "she" was reserved for outsiders.

I started my con-going experience fairly socially awkward, but the great advantage I had was that I was NOT shy, and I was pretty cute, which got me a lot of slack for my awkwardness until I learned my way out of it.

#85 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 01:00 PM:

Ten years makes a huge difference, as does the not-shyness!

Some of my girlfriends would not, as it turned out, have been boy-hunting anyway, though no one came out until college.

Phil Seuling and my father (also a comics fan) were fraternity brothers. If Phil was around registration when I got there, I got into Creation free. (He was also the only adult other than my weird uncle to call my father by a nickname.)

#86 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 09:06 PM:

From "Birdcage" (the American movie, I don't recall if the French version had similar lines), as best I can remember:

"'You look tired' means "you look old". 'You look rested' means 'you've had work done'."

This was a conversation between two gay men, but it applies even more so to women.

This, combined with the way our culture views signs of aging much more harshly in women than in men, contributes to my discomfort at hearing "don't you think she looks tired?" used to cast doubt on the abilities of a strong woman character.

#87 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 12:38 AM:

this is so resonant in my life. Holy crap!

My first year of college I want to U. Miami (Coral Gables, FLA). The only redeeming feature of the year was that the school had an active science fiction club and they did two promoter-assisted STar Trek Conventions during the school year. My one huge deficit in memory that I really regret is that I am really bad with names and can't recall anyone who was with the club there.

I transferred back home to the University of Kansas, which at the time did not have a Science Fiction Club. I spent my first semester figuring out what one had to do to start a club, got a sponsor (John Kessel) and made it so.

My One and Only, Jim, showed up at the first meeting. I was that Girl Who Was NVER going to get married, and I met my waterloo at that meeting. Still married to him, too. Since 1978.

Fandom is a wonderful place. You can make of it what you can.

#88 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 01:22 PM:

Lori Coulson: Re boys talking. The hard thing about that (for the boys) is those which don't talk (or wouldn't) tend to get left out too.

Which means some of the better possibilities for social experimenting are lost to everyone. Which is why the attitudes are so pernicious. (obs: the sexism hurts everyone).

#89 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 01:48 AM:

Jeremy Leader @ 86:

My impression was that the audience was *supposed* to feel uncomfortable about that: it struck me as fitting with a general piece of character arc in which Tennant's Dr. Who is portrayed as having power go to his head.

I realise that this shouldn't be taken as settling the issue of whether it was ok for the author(s) to use that trope. But I still think it's different.(Even if it's not ok, its a different thing which is not ok.)

#90 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 04:43 AM:

My teen experiences were a long time ago, and in another country...

I wouldn't call myself ignorant, but what I didn't know, when I think back, scares me. And one of the sources floating around was illicit copies of porn magazines, which are inevitably misleading.

#91 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 05:05 AM:

praisegod barebones @89

I'm a little wary of explaining everything in Doctor Who as story arc, but some things RTD said do imply that he had the corruption of power in mind from the start.

And that makes the phrase something of a double-edged comment. It's a pointer to Margaret Thatcher, and it seems Harriet Jones is dangerous, but it does feed into the Doctor's development as a character.

Then again, I don't think RTD writes well in that unconstrained setting. He made a few poor choices, early on, such as making the Doctor the last of the Time Lords, and then had to do major retconning. Steven Moffat seems to be a bit more careful, though er-obbgvat gur havirefr was a pretty big retcon.

#92 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 10:48 AM:

Dave Bell, #91: some things RTD said do imply that he had the corruption of power in mind from the start.

The thing that annoyed me about this was that Davies never went anywhere with the idea--the Doctor's behavior rarely had any real consequences. Davies was constantly setting up character arcs that were never resolved.

He made a few poor choices, early on, such as making the Doctor the last of the Time Lords, and then had to do major retconning.

Interestingly, Davies isn't the first person to do this: the novels that continued Doctor Who during its 15-year TV hiatus also eventually destroyed Gallifrey, and one of the proposals for bringing the series back as a movie during the 1990s was actually called Last of the Time Lords.

I think this is something in the general cultural zeitgeist--for some reason, we want our heroes to be Special, to be Chosen Ones. In my less charitable moments I suspect this idea also has something to do with the fact that, since the 1990s, Doctor Who has been written mostly by people who grew up as fans. (Sort of as if Gene Roddenberry had staffed Star Trek: The Next Generation with people recruited from a Star Trek convention.) I think the writers don't like the idea that there might be people with the power and authority to tell their childhood hero what to do.

#93 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 04:59 PM:

Lori Coulson @76 and Terry Karney @88: it's also worth keeping in mind that in addition to talking, some boys lie. Some do so maliciously, probably many more do so to avoid feeling left out.

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