Home > Isn't It Ironic?, Ludicrous Language, Moron Management, Those Humorless Feminists, What They're Saying, Why Aren't You Reading This? > When Women Get Together Outside The Kitchen, It Must Be To Plot Against Men

When Women Get Together Outside The Kitchen, It Must Be To Plot Against Men

I love Ursula K. le Guin’s the Earthsea series, and recently finished reading the final novel, The Other Wind. Those who are familiar with the Earthsea books will know that among other topics, le Guin explores traditional gender roles, their change, and men’s disparagement of women’s power. Towards the end of The Other Wind, one of the characters, Tenar, observes

How men feared women! she thought, walking among the late-flowering roses. Not as individuals, but women when they talked together, worked together, spoke up for one another – then men saw plots, cabals, constraints, traps being laid.

Sooooo true. Let’s discuss.


Disclaimer: throughout the following, “men” may be understood to refer to “men who fear women”, not “all men”.
I’ve seen this time and again throughout my career in science. One woman alone doesn’t cause too much discomfort for the men around her. They feel confident of their ability to keep her in her place. But let a couple of women get together and uh-oh! I wrote about this, along with my co-author Cynthia Burack, in Telling Stories About Engineering: Group Dynamics and Resistance to Diversity :

The unconscious group culture of engineering and its social residues can be difficult for women and minority males to negotiate without the ability to appeal to segregated spaces and the interpretive possibilities they hold. Unfortunately, when minority group members get together even in informal ways, they are likely to be labeled by in-group members as “self-segregating” and to arouse suspicion as to their motives. This happens in a myriad of ways, both small and large, creating a form of “death by a thousand paper cuts” (Knight Higher Education Collaborative, 2001:2).* Examples are not far to seek:

  • Women are standing in public spaces (hallways, campus sidewalks) engaging in conversation with other women faculty or administrators. Men who know the women conversationalists comment as they pass by: “Say, no self-segregating here!” “What are you three up to?” “What are you two plotting now?” Groups of two or three men engineers gathered in public spaces for conversation are unlikely to be assailed by similar comments from either men or women.

Similarly, I recall once attending an engineering administrative staff retreat. There was only one other woman besides me at the retreat, and we were quite friendly with each other. All morning long we had been in small work groups, the two of us usually in different groups. At lunch time, we chose to sit together to chat. Around us, a sea of white males were all sitting together. Yet one of these white males felt compelled to call out in a loud voice to the two of us, “Hey, no self-segregating!” Sigh.
Women may gather together in the kitchen to talk and work without threatening men, because of course women’s work is of little consequence (a constant refrain throughout le Guin’s Earthsea cycle is “weak as women’s magic”) and anyway, they’re in there to make food for men. But outside the kitchen, there are only a limited number of reasons why women would be getting together to do anything.

  1. Catfight. Two women fighting with each other, generally over a man or access to a man. You know, of the Krystle & Alexis variety, which teh menz are always hoping will devolve into
  2. Lesbian sex. And by lesbian sex, we don’t mean an actual sexual relationship between two lesbians, we mean two women, who may or may not be lesbians, performing various sex acts on display for the purpose of giving visual erotic pleasure to men. And if women aren’t fighting over a man or stylistically kissing and feeling up each other in front of a man, they must be
  3. Plotting against a man or men in general. They want to manipulate him, they want to defame him, they want to emasculate all men. Whatever it is, you can be sure they are Up To No Good.

What all of these modes of interaction have in common is that men are the focus and center of women’s thoughts and actions. And women’s interests and desires for themselves are nonexistent or irrelevant. There is no conception of two women interacting with each other as colleagues, to exchange ideas, argue concepts, work out disagreements, in a discussion of issues of common concern that do not have men at the center. You know, women as independent, autonomous actors – human beings.
A recent example of the plot paranoia can be found in this long, rambling comment by Greg Laden (bonus points for referencing an imaginary catfight):

…it eventually became clear to Laden that there was a clique, “Teh Clique” he shall henceforth call it, consisting of the dynamic duo DrugMonkey and Physiprof, as well as Janet and Zuska and one guesses a couple of others. Much later, when Isis joined scienceblogs.com, she apparently tried to join this clique, was rebuffed briefly by Zuska, and then they made up and apparently Teh Clique let The Goddess in.

In this case it is difficult to tell how much of the clique fantasy is related to Mr. Laden’s demonstrated sexism, and how much due to his personal persecution complex. On a functional level, it operates the same way, however: if women, or their allies, converse with one another or act together in anyway in which men are not at the center, and especially to oppose sexism, then they must be part of a clique driven by personal pique hell-bent on destroying someone.
I understand that Mr. Laden is under the impression that he is a tireless advocate for gender and racial equity, and for GLBT rights. Why, some of his best friends are women! And yet he so consistently gives offense, and just as consistently remains tone deaf as to the nature and effect of that offense. Here’s an example from a post wherein he imagines he is talking sensitively about race:

It is an almost pure white crowd, including a couple of whitish Asian people. There was not a single darkly complected person in the room.

I am not exactly sure what a “whitish Asian” person is. I am pretty sure that it is not a good idea for white people to go around pronouncing upon whether or not a roomful of people is diverse enough based upon the skin color or those present. Frankly, I am really not sure what the hell he thought he was getting at.
Later on the same post he will also explain to you about “real diversity” vs. “sham diversity”. If you go to Harvard and you are from Nigeria, you cannot contribute to “real diversity”. Perhaps this is something like Obama not being black enough, who knows.
There is also that incident wherein Mr. Laden appears to be calling for Isis and commenter Becca to engage in lesbian sex (of the sort listed above).
See here:

Becca …. Now, what do you think would happen to me if I suggested that, say, you and Isis got on You Tube and ….
Oh never mind.

I am sure that he would claim “Becca started it” as his excuse. “I wasn’t doing nothing wrong, I was just jokin’ around like everyone else was! What, can’t you take a joke?” No matter what Becca said, there is no excuse for Mr. Laden’s tasteless remark. Certainly not from the mouth of someone who claims, over and over, to be an advocate for gender equity and GLBT rights.
Let’s play devil’s advocate; suppose Becca said something completely inappropriate, provocative, full of innuendo, and potentially offensive, in the context of a discussion on a post about gender equity. What response might we expect of a Harvard-educated, self-styled equity advocate and college employee to a graduate student in this instance? Right back atcha, and up the stakes? Or might we expect some sort of corrective response? Or, at the very least, to ignore it and say nothing? You make the call.
Through the years, I have had encounters with many, many folks over diversity issues. Over time, you start to realize that they fall into a couple of repeating categories. I am used to Unrepentant Open Misogynist, Nice Guy, Indifferent and Clueless Administrator, Politically Expedient Ladder-Climbing Administrator Who Is On Your Side Right Now, Subtle Underground Misogynist, Ignorant Jerk Who Wants You To Make Him A Better Man, Advocates for Equity-Sans-Change, and the rare Dude Who Totally Gets It. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before this mish-mash, the Unrepentant Dude Who Totally is a Clueless Sexist/Racist Who (Thinks He) Gets It (Better Than Anyone). It just takes your breath away.
(Perhaps we can explore the other types in some later posts, if you are interested.)
*(The) Knight Higher Education Collaborative (September 2001). Gender Intelligence. Policy Perspectives, 10(2), 1-9.

  1. February 20, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    I’m quite a bit older than the average ScienceBlogger; I’m also a man and I sympathize with your views, Zuska — but my first reaction is “C’mon! Can’t you kids just get along!”
    I admit that Greg Laden sometimes posts unwisely. He also posts prolifically and that just goes with the territory. I cut him a bit of slack and I enjoy most of his posts; after all, some of them are about science! I just slide right on by when Greg posts adversarially and others respond — such internecine feudings aren’t worth my attention.
    I also enjoy reading posts by the women who write for this aggregation site. Janet Stemwedel is one of my blog favorites. Who else writes so well of inspired dialogs with her kids?
    Anyway, I like your blog, Zuska, and I hate to see your attention given to such disputes.

  2. Interrobang
    February 20, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Unfortunately for you, Larry, it’s not up to you to decide what Zuska posts about, and you’re rather trivialising her annoyance about such things by suggesting that her time might be spent better elsewhere. I don’t think you get to be the judge of that…
    How can anyone read this blog and not have gotten that already?

  3. Mecha
    February 20, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    I’ve been dealing with someone elsewhere who exhibits a lot of very similar problems. Well, except for being pretty much a clear purposeful misogynist, as opposed to Greg, who seems… very into using sexist insults and ideas casually while claiming to be an ally (which is not all that rare, unfortunately.)
    In reading the entire recent mix, I have to say I will not deny a certain frustration with being sometimes taken badly, especially in feminist or other minority spaces, where your mistakes often come from ignorance you can’t quite see (hello sociology.) But that’s when you have to grab hold of yourself and look deep and look far and let go of defensiveness and take your lumps. That’s what makes you an invested ally, in my opinion.
    One fine example of words being taken exactly as they should be taken, which is to say as sexist insults, is treating feminists like Cliques/The Borg. It’s so very classic, and is a clear first step towards minimizing them for their groupthink, and their blindness, and their ‘unity over rightness’ and their pettiness against your Real Issues and Real Insight. At the SAME time, Greg (as many others do, see Feminism 101) mocks that various feminists dare argue and hints at deep-seated tensions and issues and irrationalities (ding ding ding! Stereotype!) which in most normal people would cause a break in his ‘Borg’ metaphor, but apparently not when you have the sexist stereotypes of Catfight AND Clique to fall back on. If Greg were a better ally, he wouldn’t need to appeal to stereotypes, or appeal to the shadowy conspiracy, to disagree. He would, most likely… well… you know… apologize and attempt to expand his understanding.
    Dismissiveness is such a hard thing to shake. It doesn’t come easy.
    As always these are not new thoughts. Just my momentary spin on them.
    -Mecha

  4. Mecha
    February 20, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    In addition, since Greg also doesn’t get it (in reading his oblique response to Stephanie’s The Ironies post), let me also note that his usage of ‘mean girls in high school’ as referring to Isis fits PERFECTLY into the standard, stereotypical, and OFFENSIVE ‘girls are cliqueish and mean and stupid’ line that he likes to keep using.
    And similarly in that, his usage of ‘I called Isis a mean high school girl, and she interpreted it as a cheerleader mean girl, so clearly she’s misinterpreting me and wrong!’ when the standard stereotype, as society understands it, of ‘mean high school girls’ involves popularity, cheerleading, cliquishness, etc, is either disingenuous or incredibly lacking in examination.
    Perhaps these two examples will help make the point.
    -Mecha

  5. February 20, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    Come on, Interrobang! Did I say I wanted to exert some sort of control on what Zuska posts? She can post whatever she wants; I just think it is a waste to get involved in doctrinal disputes with other ScienceBloggers. Too many web forums become consumed with pointless dispute. Look at Pharyngula. Let’s talk about science!

  6. Mecha
    February 20, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    Larry, it sounds as if you are attempting to say that teaching people that treating groups of women as ‘cabals’ and ‘conspiracies’ and ‘cliques’ (when men are not) is not important. Or that trying to convince someone to stop insulting women in a sexist manner is not important. That is… pretty dismissive, isn’t it?
    If that is not the case, what do you, in your opinion, think is ‘not important’ about this post? What should Zuska not focus on?
    -Mecha

  7. February 20, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    As a white woman who “means well”, I have said dumb and offensive things (with regards to race, gender, and other issues) in the past, and it seems like every time I think I understand things a bit better, I mess up again. Therefore, I understand the reaction of commenters like Larry (and the others who I imagine are coming soon) that we should give people the benefit of the doubt. In fact, I think it’s nice to give people the benefit of the doubt. However, one can’t give someone the benefit of the doubt if there is essentially no doubt about their poor intentions and inability to recognize their mistakes.
    It’s important not to belittle people who say they feel offended (I hope I have not done this, and I am sure I haven’t to the extent that Greg has). One can disagree that certain comments were racist/sexist without invalidating the perceptions of others. This is a skill which seems to have escaped Greg.

  8. D. C. Sessions
    February 20, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    his usage of ‘mean girls in high school’ as referring to Isis fits PERFECTLY into the standard, stereotypical, and OFFENSIVE ‘girls are cliqueish and mean and stupid’ line that he likes to keep using.

    I’m trying to understand the correct protocol here. Does this mean that there are no cliques? Or perhaps that there are cliques but that they are exclusively the domain of men? Or that there are cliques that contain women but that it’s inappropriate to mention them? Maybe it’s only inappropriate for men to mention them?
    Please advise.

  9. February 20, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    I’m sorry if I came off as dismissive, Mech; that wasn’t my intent. Take into consideration that I live in a small Missouri town where abuse of women is rampant, and there’s not much I can do about it. Squabbles amongst academic folks on sexism issues can seem rather trivial from my point of view. Around here it just ain’t talk! I could tell some stories… but I come here for intelligent talk!
    Greg with any luck will learn to control his tongue (or keyboard) and stop posting offensively sexist material. If he doesn’t, comments on blogs such as this might eventually bring him around.

  10. Becca
    February 20, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    “Let’s play devil’s advocate; suppose Becca said something completely inappropriate, provocative, full of innuendo, and potentially offensive, in the context of a discussion on a post about gender equity. “
    Wait, doesn’t ‘playing devil’s advocate’ generally mean adopting a dramatic position, which may or may not be applicable, for the sake of argument?
    That implies there is a shadow of a doubt I was being anything but completely inappropriate, provocative, full of innuendo and pontentially offensive!
    I’ll have to try harder.
    Seriously, there are at least two ways in which I can see my post being offensive that I regret:
    1) it implies a total lack of taste on the part of Blake Stacey, which I have no evidence for whatsoever (if Blake was offended, I hope he will accept an apology)
    2)it might sound like I’m trying to insult Greg Laden by calling him gay. Which would be an indisputably boneheaded insult (particularly coming from me). I hadn’t actually though explictly about this until you called it ‘potentially offensive’.
    Anyway. Zuska, are you implying that DM and PP are honorary women (at least in Greggie’s mind)?
    Or does ‘cliqueish’ as a derogatory phrase have an undercurrent of gender sterotyping?
    Or do you think Greggie feels more left out by the group he has identified because he expects a group containing women to accept him more than he would that group were all male?
    Because the fact is, Greggie isn’t objecting to anything like self-segregation based on gender. Greggie may or may not have identified a loosely-connected group of relatively (relative to him, that is) like-minded individuals who may or may not be more likely to judge him based on their vague alliances with each other, and his tendancy to offend some of them.
    I point this out because, truthfully, at the begining of this I felt myself thinking about who had said what and feeling my opinions being shaped by who I was predisposed to view as an ally.

  11. D. C. Sessions
    February 20, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    I point this out because, truthfully, at the begining of this I felt myself thinking about who had said what and feeling my opinions being shaped by who I was predisposed to view as an ally.

    Of course we all do this to varying degrees and with varying degrees of self-awareness. It’d be a pretty lousy world if we weren’t able to influence each other, after all, and it’s probably best that influence is a strong function of social proximity.
    I mean, do you want to be more influenced by your allies or your opponents? (Dumb rhetorical question.)

  12. February 20, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    Greg gets himself in this kind of trouble all the time. This is because he happens to combine an intentionally provocative and (inadvertently?) unclear writing style that seems to frequently lead to “misunderstanding” with an inability to admit that he is wrong.
    Why on earth he decided that it was a good idea to wade into a heated discussion among women concerning how to be inclusive and dismissively tell them they were “doing it wrong” is beyond me. I mean, that shit is like Check Your Privilege 101. The relatively privileged don’t tell the less-privileged how to address issues of privilege.

  13. D. C. Sessions
    February 20, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    This is because he happens to combine an intentionally provocative and (inadvertently?) unclear writing style that seems to frequently lead to “misunderstanding” with an inability to admit that he is wrong.

    We’re fortunate that he’s the only one with those problems.

  14. Hope
    February 21, 2009 at 1:48 am

    If that is not the case, what do you, in your opinion, think is ‘not important’ about this post? What should Zuska not focus on?
    To answer your question, Mecha: I don’t need Zuska (or Greg, Isis, Stephanie, or Janet–did I miss anyone?) to tell me how to read or interpret posts by other bloggers. I have my own mind, thank you very much.
    But don’t let me interrupt, because clearly there hasn’t been enough attention devoted to this topic already.

  15. Joel
    February 21, 2009 at 9:00 am

    @Larry Ayers | February 20, 2009 5:59 PM
    Seems to me, in this post Larry you both claimed not to want to control what Zuska posts, then told her what to post. You might consider just skipping material you’re not interested in and consider trivial.

  16. February 21, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Seems to me, in this post Larry you both claimed not to want to control what Zuska posts, then told her what to post. You might consider just skipping material you’re not interested in and consider trivial.

    Why you slamming on Larry? He’s just trying to help out the little ladies, giving them some friendly advice.

  17. February 21, 2009 at 10:42 am

    I didn’t tell anyone “what to post”, and Physioprof, now you’re being intentionally provocative by putting the words “little ladies” in my mouth. Sheesh! I made what I thought was an innocent comment and end up in a modest flame-war. Sorry if I offended anyone! That wasn’t my intent. I’m going back to Tetrapod Zoology to read more about kiwis…

  18. February 21, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Oh, goody! Its pick a fight day! Can anyone play? Am I actually required to have a “fear of women”? At my age, the only fear that remains is a luke warm fear of my own conscience.
    Wait! No, I think there is a PBS science special on the social implications of surly tree moss. I can’t miss that!

  19. jc
    February 21, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    #17: I’m going back to Tetrapod Zoology to read more about kiwis…
    Please do, Larry. We don’t need your gems.
    Zuska, the rundown on your categories would be fantastically awesome. You’ll need a “But I don’t fit into any of those” category and a corresponding study guide! Prizes. Yes, for sure.

  20. D. C. Sessions
    February 21, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    I’m going back to Tetrapod Zoology to read more about kiwis…

    Mission accomplished.

  21. lurker who's seen much of these here intertubez
    February 21, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    When a website of any type gets too many threads on the topic of “Why other people here suck” it becomes a less interesting place. Every site of every type is susceptible to its own version of this. Some of the guilty parties inevitably accuse their critics of some sort of political offense (e.g. displaying their privilege on a site like this, or not caring about [insert appropriate issue or ideology] on other sites). Other guilty parties inevitably engage in concern trolling (“Oh, you’re just alienating people from your cause.”).
    The truth, however, is quite simple, and it has nothing to do with politics, privilege, ideology, the cause, concern, alienation, or whatever else: When a site gets too many threads on “Why other people here suck” it gets boring.
    This isn’t just aimed at Zuska, it’s aimed at all of the relevant parties in recent disputes (e.g. Greg and others).
    Back to lurking.

  22. SeenitonSalon
    February 21, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    For your reading pleasure, I’m going to quote a perfect comment I read on Salon about the “misunderstanding” over the chimp/Obama/ed cartoon controversy and the Post’s attitude towards it. You can draw your own connections to this discussion and Laden’s consistent attitude.
    “An apology is good, but . . .
    This has become the standard mode of “apology” for those that say/write things that they should be aware are highly insulting: “We’re sorry if you were dumb enough/hypersensitive enough to take our innocent comment the wrong way.”
    Nowhere is there a sense of accountability for the action to begin with. This is particularly troubling in the case of an editorial cartoon, which takes time to conceive and produce, and then must be vetted several times by editorial staff before ever reaching print. An awkward or flippant off the cuff remark is one thing; a highly premeditated message is something else.
    I do not suggest that the cartoonist or the editors intended to be racist. I can’t speak to their motivation or state of mind. But anyone with a modicum of cultural intelligence knows about the simian/African American meme that’s run an ugly course through American history. Either the cartoonist and editors knew about this and decided to ignore it, or they are stupendously inept and unaware of the culture of which they are a part.
    In either case, a sincere apology would say something along the lines of, “While we never intended the cartoon to imply a racist message, we certainly should have been aware of the connotations the image would carry, and we take responsibility for our failure to do so. For this, we sincerely apologize.”
    Instead, we get the standard, “We’re sorry about the mistake *you* made in interpreting the cartoon, not our negligence and ignorance in creating a message that was obviously going to be incredibly hurtful. Oh, and Al Sharpton is a jerk.”
    I thought being accountable for one’s actions and mistakes was a quality that conservatives justly celebrated. But it seems that, in the case of the Post at least, this is only true for other people.
    — treming930

  23. SeenitonSalon
    February 21, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Oh, and a prediction: Laden will be compelled to post on his blog something that references Zuska’s post, with a title like “Greg is a big asshole” or similar, which is his usual way of flippantly trying to trivialize something he’s done rather than face the idea that other people might have a legitimate beef with what he says.

  24. February 22, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Ursula LeGuin is teh roXXor! It’s been over ten years since I read the Earthsea books. I totally totally *heart* her!
    You hit the nail right on the head with this post Zuska. The dynamic you speak of is one of many different dynamics where it is one thing if women do it and completely another if men do (I refer to another such dynamic in the next paragraph). Your last paragraph on the different kinds of men needs to be printed out and framed on the wall by every guy who wants to be an ally to women so that they have an easy reference to keep checking if they fall into any of the categories.
    I have been watching this whole Greg Laden debacle from the sidelines (having the privilege as a male to choose to do so, I realize). Stephanie’s “poke in the eye” post was the weirdest twist in the whole thing (As an aside, I would’ve probably notched that up to another common stereotype of women being their own worst enemies, were it not for a discussion with my wife a few years back in which she soundly disabused me of that stereotype by showing me how men disagree vehemently all the time too without being branded liabilities to the common cause). Before that, I had just read Stephanie’s comments at Dr.Isis’ blog, and did not know about her history with Dr.Free-ride. But I found it especially infuriating that Dr.Stemwedel was being
    blamed for trying to be above the fray. I mean, normally men who are not at the receiving end have the luxury of being above the fray. When a woman who is in the trenches tries to be above the fray, it is something especially commendable. Instead, she was being blamed for trying to have it both ways. Moreover, Dr.Stemwedel had always tried to generalize and philosophize. I felt like she was being blamed for being true to her own personality.
    I wonder how much more of a discussion Greg Laden would’ve merited beyond the sound dismissal were it not for Stephanie shoring up his credibility. I have seen this dynamic a couple of times on forums. First you have the often thoughtful person with the occassional Mr.Hyde persona coming out every full moon. Normally people in the forum quickly learn to ignore these outbursts. Except in the cases where a close friend who is also considered a thoughtful person in the forum tries to talk at length about there being a valid point within the outbursts. And that the others are being cliquish in dismissing the loose cannon. When I read Stephanie’s post and Greg’s comments there, my first thought was “Holy shit! The complicated contortions one goes through if they are too proud/arrogant to tender a simple apology.”
    But on the positive side, Stephanie’s post did lay out the entire history. I was wondering what the outing discussion was, and got the backstory. In fact, Stephanie did a self-goal by linking to that post in which physioprof apologizes for calling all surgeons jerks. Before I read that link and the comments there, I was beginning to give Stephanie the benefit of the doubt that maybe she did have a valid point against Dr.Stemwedel. But that link was like an eye-opener. It was pretty clear that no matter what Dr.Stemwedel did, Stephanie would find a way to see it in a bad light and find fault with it.
    The other interesting thing I found thanks to Stephanie laying out the detailed history was Greg’s not-pology to Samia for using the n-word. I had missed that skirmish completely. But I’m again left wondering: how difficult is it really to say sorry? It just boggles the mind.

  25. February 22, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Ursula LeGuin is teh roXXor! It’s been over ten years since I read the Earthsea books. I totally totally *heart* her!
    You hit the nail right on the head with this post Zuska. The dynamic you speak of is one of many different dynamics where it is one thing if women do it and completely another if men do (I refer to another such dynamic in the next paragraph). Your last paragraph on the different kinds of men needs to be printed out and framed on the wall by every guy who wants to be an ally to women so that they have an easy reference to keep checking if they fall into any of the categories.
    I have been watching this whole Greg Laden debacle from the sidelines (having the privilege as a male to choose to do so, I realize). Stephanie’s “poke in the eye” post was the weirdest twist in the whole thing (As an aside, I would’ve probably notched that up to another common stereotype of women being their own worst enemies, were it not for a discussion with my wife a few years back in which she soundly disabused me of that stereotype by showing me how men disagree vehemently all the time too without being branded liabilities to the common cause). Before that, I had just read Stephanie’s comments at Dr.Isis’ blog, and did not know about her history with Dr.Free-ride. But I found it especially infuriating that Dr.Stemwedel was being
    blamed for trying to be above the fray. I mean, normally men who are not at the receiving end have the luxury of being above the fray. When a woman who is in the trenches tries to be above the fray, it is something especially commendable. Instead, she was being blamed for trying to have it both ways. Moreover, Dr.Stemwedel had always tried to generalize and philosophize. I felt like she was being blamed for being true to her own personality.
    I wonder how much more of a discussion Greg Laden would’ve merited beyond the sound dismissal were it not for Stephanie shoring up his credibility. I have seen this dynamic a couple of times on forums. First you have the often thoughtful person with the occassional Mr.Hyde persona coming out every full moon. Normally people in the forum quickly learn to ignore these outbursts. Except in the cases where a close friend who is also considered a thoughtful person in the forum tries to talk at length about there being a valid point within the outbursts. And that the others are being cliquish in dismissing the loose cannon. When I read Stephanie’s post and Greg’s comments there, my first thought was “Holy shit! The complicated contortions one goes through if they are too proud/arrogant to tender a simple apology.”
    But on the positive side, Stephanie’s post did lay out the entire history. I was wondering what the outing discussion was, and got the backstory. In fact, Stephanie did a self-goal by linking to that post in which physioprof apologizes for calling all surgeons jerks. Before I read that link and the comments there, I was beginning to give Stephanie the benefit of the doubt that maybe she did have a valid point against Dr.Stemwedel. But that link was like an eye-opener. It was pretty clear that no matter what Dr.Stemwedel did, Stephanie would find a way to see it in a bad light and find fault with it.
    The other interesting thing I found thanks to Stephanie laying out the detailed history was Greg’s not-pology to Samia for using the n-word. I had missed that skirmish completely. But I’m again left wondering: how difficult is it really to say sorry? It just boggles the mind.

  26. SKM
    February 22, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    The truth, however, is quite simple, and it has nothing to do with politics, privilege, ideology, the cause, concern, alienation, or whatever else: When a site gets too many threads on “Why other people here suck” it gets boring.–lurker @#21
    This is an urge to over-simplify. One can hold the opinion that internecine struggles get boring and recognize that this particular struggle has everything to do with privilege.
    There are a number of comments here from people very eager to assure us that this matter is so very trivial and has noting to do with the Real Problems that exist elsewhere and are more worthy of attention. It’s been my experience that such comments are a good sign that the discussion in question is very important indeed.

  27. SKM
    February 22, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    @ Larry Ayers:

    Take into consideration that I live in a small Missouri town where abuse of women is rampant, and there’s not much I can do about it. Squabbles amongst academic folks on sexism issues can seem rather trivial from my point of view. Around here it just ain’t talk!

    Regardless of intent, this is a version of the well-worn “women elsewhere have it worse, so what are you whining about?” silencing tactic. Feminists hear it all the time, and people here who pointed that out to Larry Ayers were simply standing up for the importance of the discussion, not trying to run Larry off (as D.C. Sessions implies in #20, “mission accomplished”).
    It’s not about picking on Larry Ayers; it’s about recognizing that incidences of prejudice don’t happen in a vacuum–the abuse of women in small Missouri towns is actually connected to the attitudes about women that Zuska enumerates in this post.

  28. February 22, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Hey, I’m back! Thanks, SKM, for a reasoned response to this contentious comment thread.
    Being a male I nonetheless try to be sensitive to feminist issues. I have several female friends and I try to help them out when I can.
    As an example, a former co-worker of mine at a local gas station just called me on the phone. She’s on the financial edge, a single mother with two adolescent daughters. She was faced with a 20-hour shift and pleaded with me to take her place for the final 8 hours this evening, from 4:00 until midnight. I agreed to do it; I have no romantic relationship with this woman but I sympathize with her plight.
    So why am I taking the time to post this? Well, Comrade PhysioProf has been hanging out at my blog today, taking potshots at me and being generally disagreaable; I thought I should stop by this thread as an alternative to the nearly-irresistable temptation to engage the prof in Blog Comment Battle. Life’s too short!
    I probably should have stayed away…

  29. SKM
    February 22, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Hmmmm….This thread has not really been all that contentious, Larry Ayers. And again, regardless of intent, your thanking me for my “reasoned response to this contentious thread” implies that the responses of Mecha, Interrobang, Becca, Arvind, and others were unreasonable. That’s another of those Top 100 hits that feminists and allies have to hear a lot–that finding a reasonable feminist is so rare we deserve a special pat on the head from the Arbiters of Reasonableness.
    And speaking of pats on the head, it was kind what you did for your friend–that’s the sort of things friends do for one another. Not sure why you think it’s some remarkable evidence of your pro-feminist cred that you would do this even without getting sex in return (“I have no romantic relationship with this woman but I sympathize with her plight”). It’s just being a decent human being.

  30. February 22, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Well, SKM, this thread is more contentious than what I’m used to over at my relatively placid blog.
    And I try my best to be a decent human being — but sometimes these blog exchanges just yank my chain. I’m only human, after all!

  31. CCPhysicist
    February 22, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    My urge to oversimplify is to point out something that might not be obvious to you: Men are terribly insecure. Despite the actual power ratio, they actually ARE afraid of that “cabal” of female faculty or students.

  32. February 22, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    Larry, your blog is placid because it’s lame and no one reads it. I mean, all you do is copy and paste shit from other people’s blogs. This is why your blog is teh suXXorz.

  33. La
    February 23, 2009 at 3:26 am

    Aw, Isis, that was mean! I do have a regular coterie of readers, and I do post original content. Perhaps because I don’t have a shoe fixation I don’t come up to your stringent standards…

  34. Mecha
    February 25, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    DC Sessions, your reply to me was intensely disingenuous. For the spectators, however, I will clarify.
    What I said was:
    his usage of ‘mean girls in high school’ as referring to Isis fits PERFECTLY into the standard, stereotypical, and OFFENSIVE ‘girls are cliqueish and mean and stupid’ line that he likes to keep using.
    What I said it in RESPONSE to, as I told you, is Greg’s response to Stephanie’s post, where he acted as if ‘There’s no way Isis could get to ‘cheerleader’ from ‘Isis is that mean girl from high school!’ isn’t she stupid/incorrect/hilarious haw haw haw.’
    That is exactly what he was invoking, regardless of intention, as most people who have gone to an American high school, or been exposed to significant American pop culture, are aware of.
    Furthermore, Greg likes to hammer this ‘Oppressive (Girl) Clique’ angle over and over and over on Zuska, Isis, Everyone Else Who Dislikes Him. There’s a lot of insult angles in that, in addition to the above.
    For instance, Zuska’s post above talked about how people treated any sort of congregation of women as anti-science/logic/reason, and anti-men. A strong thing to hit someone with in a science environment. One could also look at how ‘ostracisers are evil’ is one of the standard Geek experiences/fallacies, and consider that Greg is trying to paint the people who he doesn’t agree with as evil ostracisers who are just trying to keep out a nice friendly guy who never did nothin’ to them and their oversensitivity. And that gets to the best angle of the insult. By switching from ‘You’re too sensitive’ to ‘You’re just a clique’, it’s a dismissive technique that isn’t on the immediately obvious bingo card. More people know ‘You’re too sensitive’ is a purely dismissive tactic. You’re just a clique… well, there are cliques, and we sure all do hate those cliques. Assumptions like that, and how they are used against women who criticize (like by, say, Greg!) and how they are problematic seems to me to be the reason Zuska wrote this post. Trying to bring to light how the ‘Feminism as Borg’ and ‘Women as Self Segregating’ and ‘Conspiracy Coven’ ideas are all intertwined and deserve examination for what they often function as.
    Your response, DC, was a lot like, after I point out using ‘bitch’ to refer to a woman as a casual insult is dehumanizing and stereotypical, ‘But there are female dogs, so can’t we use the word bitch? And sometimes, people are bitches, you know what I’m saying?’ Completely missing the point, and very likely to be nothing but a jerk move. One would indeed note that you started going into ‘What’s the correct protocol?’ There is no ‘correct protocol’. Clique is a word. Referring to a group of female writers you disagree with as a clique, for the purpose of insulting and denigrating them, while also using the idea of ‘mean girls from high school’ to further denigrate? Fairly clearly keys off of sexist ideas. (Oh, also, the mean girl from high school? Never intelligent. I’m sure that was neeeever part of the insult.)
    This is all related to Zuska’s main post, and how this idea of ‘women as cliquish mean girls out to get everyone who’s not in the clique’ is being reflected in Greg’s supposedly allied speech. Allies generally use non -ist language and ideas when they can. And apologize when they screw it up.
    -Mecha

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