But what I've written about has certainly changed over the years, and for giving me the big push feministward I can actually credit one person: Right Wing News' John Hawkins, in response to whom I wrote this. I'd be prouder of the fact that it's the top result for searches on the phrase "death of sexism" if I didn't cringe so much re-reading it.
I cringe because in that post I'm doing something I've seen too many right-wing women do: To borrow from (heaven help me) literature on codependency, I am trying to take care of another's feelings while setting a boundary. I'm trying to reassure Hawkins that this isn't some nasty radfem hollering at him--look how I try to establish conservative cred by digging at Clinton--at the same time that I'm trying to assert the right of women writers on the web to be evaluated on their writing, not their appearances.
A book on codependency, a book on treating yourself as an actor instead of a reactor, as a human being instead of a parasite, will tell you, if it is any good, that you can't simultaneously take care of, or assume responsibility for, someone else's feelings, at the same time that you're trying to set a boundary in your relationship with that person.
It isn't the job of the person saying "Here's where I draw the line" to say also, "I mean, if that's okay with you?" It isn't the job of the person saying "So far and no further" to lard that statement up with compassion and understanding and weaselly attempts to forestall an angry reaction from the other party. Sometimes a dab of the old lard of compassion can help make the boundary easier for the other person to accept; that isn't what I'm against. I'm against the idea that it is the responsibility and the obligation of the boundary-setter to do everything in her power to put the boundary-violator at ease.
I am against this because it is at heart manipulative; who are you to deny and soothe away another person's feelings? Are you that person's mother? Did that person ask for your nurturing? Isn't it very presumptuous of you to assume they require it?
But I am even more against it because it doesn't work. It doesn't work because, if the offender was initially willing to hear what you were saying, she will only resent your assumption that she would have been hostile to it. If the offender was initially unwilling to hear what you were saying it's even worse, for now she has a button of yours to push. That button is labeled GUILT.
And that is why any argument begun from "I'm not one of those nasty man-hating feminists, but . . ." is doomed to fail. In the case of my go-round with Hawkins, it went like this:
Me: "I'm not a nasty man-hating feminist--boo Clinton!--but I think you are dumb for telling women to use their attractiveness to get recognition for their work."
Hawkins and assorted commenters: "Ha! What a cranky, fat old lesbian!"
It's a reaction that shouldn't have surprised me, but it did.
I'm less easily surprised by this attitude from right-wing men these days, having had the scales ripped from my eyes on several occasions since then. So I can't claim surprise that Hawkins is up to his old tricks:
There's this attitude out there, a perception, that there's something wrong with beautiful women using their looks to draw readers. The idea is supposed to be that it's all about their brains, it's all about their writing, that it's cheap or improper for them to have guys checking out their web pages just to ogle them.
We all have different advantages and disadvantages. Some people started blogging earlier than others did. Some just plain old have more talent than others. Other people made a name for themselves in the mainstream media and benefitted from that when they came into the blogosphere. Some people are just great at social networking and get links that way. Then there are people who just, for whatever, get linked over and over again by other big bloggers. You can go on and on and on with this.
Long story short, we all have different strengths and weaknesses and life isn't fair. If you're a female blogger and one of your strengths is your looks, there's nothing wrong with trying to look sexy to entice guys over to your page. Nothing. At. All. If you've got it, flaunt it, and enjoy the increased traffic.
Hey, you know what's really bullcrap? Having women on your side of the aisle tell you for literally years that your attitude offends them and still having no better rebuttal to them than "Suck it up, ladies. Men like to ogle and it is our God-given right to. I think it's in the Constitution, even."
Hawkins is a dolt. This does not need to be reestablished, for crying out loud. We don't make schoolchildren prove repeatedly that three is less than five and we don't need to agonize over the formal logical proof that John Hawkins is no friend to women. The man's record speaks for itself, and the occasional crumbs of blog traffic he throws to a select handful of acquiescent women bloggers do not obscure it.
Beth of My Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy wrote about Hawkins' special brand of constipated bullcrap last week:
I don’t know why I bother with this shit. You know, I don’t plaster my fucking mugshot all over this blog because I don’t want the kind of readers that only come here for the fucking human decoration. I suppose if I were a whore, as apparently women are expected to be, I would use my face and body for a payoff. But I don’t. Maybe that’s acceptable in your world, but it isn’t in mine. Frankly, I find the constant objectification of women at RWN and a couple other blogs sleazy and creepy, not to mention out of place on what is supposedly a political site. Apparently you think women have so little to say of import that we SHOULD show some skin to boost our traffic–that no matter what we actually have to SAY, our looks trump (tramp) it.
And Beth's going to kill me for putting it this way, but I feel her pain here:
To tell y’all the truth, I’ve written this post in countless different ways over the last two and a half years, and each time I’ve deleted it. I don’t know why I did–I guess I just felt that I don’t need the headache. But now, I don’t even care. I know I’m going to take heat for this post, and it’s goddamned pathetic that I have to hear any crap about it. More than that, it’s EMBARRASSING. I’m tired of leftards saying conservatives are sexist pigs and keeping my mouth shut on the occasions that they’re right (which honestly isn’t often, but there are those who deserve the appellation). This time, the only way the aggravation (and really, the slap in the face) is going to subside is by NOT deleting this post.
Congratulations, Beth, you figured it out: Appeasement doesn't change anything.
Beth references something else from last week: Ann Althouse's catty criticisms of Jessica Valenti. Beth labels that the "Stupidest. Blogfight. Ever," and I can see why she might feel that way, but here's why I disagree with that assessment: Because it's the same thing Beth's upset about now. It is the same exact thing. It is the advancement of what many of us supposed was a long-dead idea: That women deserve to be judged first and foremost by their looks. This idea cannot be smacked down enough because I don't know if you've noticed, but it's making a resurgence. It wasn't Jessica's job to laugh it off and ignore it, anymore than it's Beth's job to delete her post because it is might offend a few douchebags or bring her further headache.
If there's one thing I've been dying to say to right-wing women it is this: You have rights, damnit. Assert them! I don't care what your positions on abortion or health care or foreign policy are; ASSERT YOUR RIGHTS. You are not obligated to temper or moderate your feelings about having those rights disrespected. Nor are you wrong to wonder that it keeps happening. It keeps happening not because men are inherently evil--as the strawfeminism argument likes to have it--but because fully accepting women's humanity requires men to surrender some privilege.
It is that privilege that says they need not post pictures, but you must; that says they are assumed rational until proven otherwise, but you are assumed emotional until proven rational; that says their preferences in reading material are the norm, but yours are merely specialized "women's issues."
Not all men will surrender these privileges willingly. I think an exchange I had with a lovely commenter named, of all things, Harvey Jerkwater, during Blog Against the Strawfeminist Week was illuminating in this regard. Harvey said,
To recognize yourself as being in a position of unfair superiority is hard. To grow up hearing that men have unfair advantages, that one's position in life is, in no small part, unearned, is a hard, hard pill to swallow. When you're told this sort of thing, it takes conscious effort not to be resentful.
I promptly told Harvey I didn't see why that should be my problem:
That makes every bit of sense, Harvey; thank you. I confess, though, that I usually see this as simply not my problem. I don't know a good "middle way" between telling a guy "tough shit, fella, that 'power' was never yours to begin with" and trying to be all kinds of placating: "There, there, I'm really sorry I stepped on your privilege."
And Harvey cheerfully agreed, bless him:
As far as it not being your problem, absolutely. Completely. It isn't. It's their damn problem.
The reason I commented was that I find when you're arguing with somebody, it helps if you know where they're coming from. When I debate politics, it helps to know how the other side sees itself, and why it believes what it does.
That makes it a lot easier to completely dismantle them in arguments. If you can show a doofus exactly how he's being a doofus in his own language, well...the look on the doofus's face as recognition dawns is f'n priceless.
Just another weapon in the arsenal, yo.
Harvey's right: It's another weapon in the arsenal. Right-wing women should not hesitate to use it against those who won't recognize their humanity. This is a hard thing for some conservative women to accept, though for the record, I don't think Beth's among them. I've never seen Beth flinch from accepting ugly facts. And the ugly fact is, men like John Hawkins are unlikely ever to surrender their sense of entitlement to women's bodies. That's the bad news.
The good news is that women on the right need feel no obligation to assume responsibility for the feelings of John Hawkins, or any others like him. It's out of your hands, Cotillionites. You've said something offends you and he's said he doesn't give a fuck. If any of you are still tying yourselves up in knots trying to understand and empathize and compromise then may I suggest a different hobby? One that might actually produce something tangible at the end of it?
Do not let John Hawkins set the agenda. This is a sort of Overton Window at work. You remember the Overton Window?
Step by step, ideas that were once radical or unthinkable -- homeschooling, tuition tax credits, and vouchers -- have moved into normal public discourse. Homeschooling is popular, tuition tax credits are sensible, and vouchers are acceptable. (On the latter, they've been soundly defeated in Michigan of late, but the point is that they are a part of normal public and political discourse.) The de facto illegality of homeschooling, by contrast, has gone the way of the dodo. The conscious decision to shift the Overton window is yielding its results.
Ideas that were once radical or unthinkable, like the idea that women should be judged in terms of their utility to men, have moved into the normal public discourse. It is the responsibility of those who want to move those ideas right back out to get in there and start tugging. And that's why I have mad respect for Beth, because Beth got in there.
My question to other right-wing women is, are you with her?