Sexism always sucks, even when dissing the Coultergeist

There’s always some low-level antagonism towards Ann Coulter going on amongst the socially progressive bloggers, and fair enough too. The woman is a hateful bigot who deliberately stirs up anger and fear towards anyone not fitting into her conservative WASPangelical worldview (I really wouldn’t trust her not to believe that Catholic Marian veneration is actually Satanic, although as long as the American Right needs conservative Catholic votes she’ll never say it).

But I could really do without the inevitable handful of oh-so-helpful lefty men, self-professed allies of feminists, who inevitably come up with some sexist and transphobic slur: “Mann Coulter” the drag-queen etc.

Slurs against Coulter-wannabe Michelle Malkin based on her Filipina heritage, as well as alleging that she is her husband’s puppet, are sexist insults as well. Malkin’s journalistic career was all her own work while her husband was off working for thinktanks: sure they probably discuss topics together and toss ideas around, but she owns her own words, every spiteful one.

Calling a woman whose opinions you despise names based on her appearance is good old-fashioned misogyny. It doesn’t matter if she is a rancid warmongering boil on the buttocks of humanity: distilling it down to appearance is sexism, plain and simple.

Professedly pro-feminist men shouldn’t wonder that feminists might be suspicious of their commitment to anti-sexist ideals when they can still make jokes about drag-queens if the odious opponent is tall and muscular like Coulter,
or love-you-long-time jokes about Malkin,
fat jokes about Amanda Vanstone,
or even “hey, of course I’ll vote the Dems, Natasha‘s hot”.

Every remark like that trivialises every one of these women, and not just these women but all women, assessing them in terms of hot-or-not instead of by their principles and contributions. Diminishing women’s achievements with a fuckability rating – useful women are irresistible sirens, alarming women are repellent hags – is one of the patriarchal status quo’s oldest tricks. It’s a cheap shot.

Women used to buy into it, shaming other women in terms of whether men found them fuckable or not. The Malkins and Coulters still do, and certainly the American Right does:

Republican WomenDemocrat Women

Ms. Miss Ann “I am emboldened by my looks to say things Republican men wouldn’t” Coulter should be concerned about that poster set. If she, through no fault of her own, should develop some metabolic imbalance that resulted in her stacking on 10kg or so, she would find that suddenly Republican men wouldn’t want her on TV any more, and who reads books written by people who aren’t on TV?

See? Cheap shots, playing around with unflattering stereotypes and fuckability ratings, are really, really easy and really, really pointless. By all means be insulting if a woman’s principles consist of shoring up the corporatocracy and her contributions reek of greed and arrogance. Call them on it as vividly, pungently and profanely as you like. They are, after all, arseholes (a fabulous ungendered disparagement).

It’s fine that in general we don’t find people whose opinions we detest in any way physically attractive: that’s natural. Just cut out the fucking sexist fuckability ratings, OK?

UPDATE: the topic of leftist sexism as shown by misogynistic insults against Coulter has exploded in the wake of her infamous “faggot” abuse hurled at Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (the abuse received cheers and applause). Much to see at the following blogs:

Pam Spaulding at Pandagon
Twisty Faster at I Blame the Patriarchy (which generated a flamewar continued here)
Piny at Feministe (aka the Thread That Would Not Die which started being about fat-jokes on Sadly, No! directed at Dafyd ab Hugh and morphed into a Coulter-faggot thread after that story broke – 681 comments so far).

There’s plenty more out there as well, for those that care to look.

Categories: culture wars, gender & feminism, Politics, Sociology

Tags: , ,

24 replies

  1. Reading the LP thread I thought the same thing.

    I wish people held their principles more consistently.

    Sexist comments are wrong whether their directed at J. Gillard or A. Coulter. It makes no difference.

    Sometimes my friends on the left make me sad.

  2. Like a lot of bad habits, such slips come from falling down on the deeper self-examination front. There’s a lot of warm-fuzzy and/or rebellious progressives who haven’t really looked deeply into their own privileges and how that plays into their prejudices.
    I’m continually finding points of prejudice and privileged worldview in myself that I hadn’t realised were there and that I need to move beyond, but up until about 5 years ago I thought my attitudes pretty bloody fine and dandy as they were.
    My calling the 2 commentors on the Coulter-sexism killed the thread somewhat, which was a shame because I love the condemnation threads, but nonetheless hopefully productive in the longer term.
    Thanks for dropping by, Martin.

  3. I agree entirely with your post. Women are still defined in terms of their sex appeal, and the paradigm of women = sex still runs through all aspects of popular culture.
    Tigtog, I’m very cranky with you though! (not really). I actually make a living out of challenging and hopefully eliminating misogyny. Additionally, my highly read blog (3 visits weekly) often features posts about women’s issues. My latest is about the vile suicide girls, who happen to be a favourite of one LP poster (Kim). Do you challenge her about her support of teen porn?
    Anyway, I promise never to comment about mAnn Coulter’s looks ever again 🙂

  4. Tigtig,
    you know i worship your brilliant mind, and i fully understand what you are saying, but may i respectfully mention that in the same post where the Ann Coulter’s looks were brought into the discussion, several other women commentators were referred to more positively merely because of their looks.
    I am also frightfully guilty of it myself, finding it hard to think of Russ Hinze without thinking of a giant toad, for example. I know this should not have any bearing on my evaluation of his legacy, but his weight and gait would seem inextricably bundled together with his whole persona.
    Its an issue fraught with ambiguity, methinks.

  5. Alex, I know you’re a feminist ally, and that makes the original remarks more frustrating.
    Thanks for the promise to not do it again.
    As to the Suicide Girls, I’ve mostly ignored the phenomenon I’m afraid, kinda believing the sex-pos hype. Just in the last few weeks I’ve read some very negative reports.
    You make a fair point about challenging SG on LP, although it’s been a while since Kim posted any SG stuff as I remember, but I may well have missed something.

  6. 🙂

    Off to Rainbow Beach now for the weekend!

  7. sublime, I’d totally missed the import of those comments about other women because I didn’t follow the links. I kept away mostly from that thread mostly, confining myself to responding to Andy and Alex when they replied to my challenge. [link to LP thread] After all, it was supposed to be a light-hearted fun thread!
    I agree there’s a lot of ambiguity, and people’s appearance is after all how we remember them from one time to the next, but hopefully downright transphobic misogyny can be dropped at least.

  8. Ona completely different note, did you see the spate of o/s research this week about the effects of the sexualisation/sexualised advertising aimed towards young girls?

  9. Yup. I said so much about the sexualised advertising stuff here that I don’t think I’ve got much to add, although I could best be summed as as ambivalent (you’ve got me stuck on the word): Duh, APA, of course it’s emotionally harmful on one hand, and on the other hand – bloody hell yet another standard for mothers to be held up to regarding toys/clothes for daughters.
    I’ll do another links roundup this weekend, and include some of the best stuff I’ve read about it.

  10. Alex, I don’t think that you and tigtog are talking about the same thing. There is some debate over whether sg is sex positive, but I don’t think that you do justice to any debate by dismissing it as “teen porn”. That carries the insinuation that the women on the site are underage or something, which is not the case. I agree with tigtog that it’s important not to fall back into bad habits of objectifying women’s appearance when you disagree with their politics, but I’m afraid I think that’s a different kettle of fish from debates over how women should regard erotica and porn. I see sg as falling in the former category, but I don’t want to debate that on this thread, coz I don’t think it’s relevant. I just wanted to say that I think you’re drawing a long bow. And also to say that I don’t think tigtog was being inconsistent by not criticising me for liking sg!

  11. Thanks, Kim. Feminism/erotica/porn is a very emotionally charged issue, and while I’m fascinated by the arguments about autonomy vs exploitation this thread isn’t the best place for it: unconscious sexism has little to do with erotica/porn, which is all-too-conscious sexual objectification.
    To me, unthinking sexism against “unfriendlies” is more disturbing because it’s so pervasive on the left, and generally so unexamined.

  12. Just found this thread thanks to Weekend Missing Link.
    Agree fully, especially re Senator Vanstone. Whatever you think of her politics, to fight your way up the foetid vipers’ nest of the SA Liberal Party shows, at the very least, a great deal of political skill.
    We should do reactionary right-wing women the courtesy of criticising and attacking their politics, not their appearance.

  13. Very interesting article in Mother Jones about Hillary Rodham Clinton, and how the nation (and the world) are so polarised by her in ways that ultimately come down to critics from both right and left attacking not her public policies but her looks and her private life.
    The right call her ugly and the left call her pandering to a stereotype of excessively feminine grooming standards instead of being true to herself like she used to be.
    Both right and many on the left see her as degrading herself by staying with Bill: neither are willing to accept her explanation of a personal choice grounded in love for her husband. The Right think her love is a lie, the Left think her love shouldn’t have outweighed some sort of standing up for betrayed women (yes, I know that’s especially incoherent, but the sentiment exists).
    The Nation’s Katha Pollitt wrote, “If people keep making sexist attacks on Hillary Rodham Clinton, I may just have to vote for her.”
    Hillary’s become a piece of litmus paper.

  14. Thanks for this link — what a brilliant bit of analysis, and of writing.

  15. It is, isn’t it? The thing is, I’ve always totally understood Hillary choosing to stay with Bill, even if she’s as outraged and heartbroken about the philandering as she could be.
    Bill “gets” Hill. They have an immense intellectual and emotional rapport. I’m sure she values that much more than simple sexual fidelity. Who else is she possibly going to find that rapport with? Why should she choose to forego that rapport just to make some sort of statement for the benefit of others?
    On a more prurient note, it wouldn’t surprise me if they have an “understanding” about dalliances. Lots of couples do, and it doesn’t always go just the man’s way.

  16. Seems to me that the people who appear the most barkingly filled with hate about her are those who wouldn’t know emotional — much less intellectual — rapport if it jumped up and bit them on the arse.
    I don’t have any kind of problem (or even any kind of opinion) about what she chooses to do in the marriage; this seems to me to be nobody else’s business, and very much the kind of extreme irrational projection and scapegoating that went on with the Helen Garner affair, when people for reasons of their own seemed to think that Garner, who had in fact never met or heard of them, had committed some shocking betrayal of some (in fact) completely imaginary personal contract with them.
    Besides, I am surrounded in my social life by ghastly examples of error where certain women, upon discovering the philandering of their husbands, immediately and violently smashed the marriage and have thereby unintentionally wrecked their own lives: they are now at home being single mums on a limited income, locked in vicious, ugly battles about money and access/custody. The one exception is a friend who sat down and rationally decided that on the whole she wanted to stay married to her straying husband, whom she loves (and with whom, incidentally, her intellectual rapport is quite remarkable), and managed to tough out the affair and the subsequent negotiations about getting back together. Guess which of these women is the happy one.

  17. The Coultergeist has attempted to fan the flames of outrage on the left yet again, by referring to John Edwards as a “faggot”. Obviously a calculated publicity ploy, wonder what her new book will be called?
    Malkin, who would love to tip her into the swamp and take her Hate Queen crown, is coldly unimpressed.[link] Of course, Malkin tries to downplay the roar of applause Coulter’s comments got by describing the response as “a smattering of laughter”.
    Actual video of Coulter and the applause at Crooks and Liars [link]

  18. I’ve just submitted this article to digg.
    I did it because of this smug digg post from reactionary right-wing US site Little Green Footballs, who criticised the same sort of mistakes that tigtog does, but draw the conclusion that “All lefties are hypocrites”.
    Wanted to demonstrate that there are progressive people capable of rising above those sort of mistakes.

  19. Thanks David. I’ve never done the Digg thing. Do you use it a great deal?

  20. I’ve only just got into it recently, tigtog. The idea is that it distills the ‘wisdom of crowds’, but I tend to find it’s more like the prejudices of mobs that win out.
    However, if a story makes it to the front page you can get _serious_ traffic – tens of thousands of visits in a day – so it’s hard to ignore that sort of potential. Unfortunately it’s considered bad form to submit your own stories, which I think sucks but is all part of the game, I guess.
    There’s a beginners’ guide here, if you want to find out more.
    I also have fun baiting 9-11 conspiracists there 🙂

  21. Came here from the LGF site too, its nice to see that there is at least one thoughtful post on the subject, even though I had to look half-way around the world to find it.
    One of the problems we have hit is the introduction of Political Correctness into what used to be called Edgy Comedy. Just take a listen to any comedy album (not TV, which was heavily censored) produced back in the 60s or before and guess how long it would stay on the shelves today. Presently there are certain things you can call a Republican and be perfectly safe: Bigot, Homophobe, Sexist, Racist, etc”¦ Heck, for the modern Liberal comedian, I’ve just described their act. But should you dare touch on any one of the rapidly growing class of “Protected Words” when used to describe a Democrat”¦
    Coulter, Limbaugh and a few others on the Right are doing what the Shock Jocks like Stern are doing, only with a lot less vulgarity, and a lot more useful information. They use controversy to make a point, sometimes holding a mirror up to current events and making us think what it would look like if the tables were turned. I downloaded and watched her whole bit in front of CPAC and I thought she was fairly entertaining, although I would only give her a 7 for her performance. (Newt gets a 9.5)

  22. George, thanks for commenting. I started to respond, but you packed so much in your three paras that it got too long for a comments thread, so I’ve made a separate post.
    Suffice to say, I’ve linked to many other thoughtful posts at high-traffic US lefty blogs about misogynistic anti-Coulterism, including posts which generated several long flamewars involving defensive lefty men who think Coulter’s hatefulness gives them a free pass to be misogynistic arseholes.
    Apart from agreeing on misogyny against Coulter being Teh Suck, we agree on almost nothing else! Kewl, and I examine that in the post as well. [link]

  23. On the Hill~Bill affair, I hope you don’t think this is tasteless, but I don’t recall anyone questioning Jacqueline Kennedy’s choice to remain loyal to JFK, despite his marital peregrinations. I suggest it was because people felt it was nobody’s business but hers. I would be inclined to respect Hilary Clinton’s choice in the same way. If it works for them it’s not for us to judge. Just one parting comment though: don’t underestimate the political mileage in sympathy for the ‘wounded party’.

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