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Why Buy The Cock When You Can Get the Wake-up Call For Free? The Sequel

[ 0 ] March 7, 2007 |

A brilliant post by Belle Waring (but I repeat myself) about the crude reductionism and misogynist (and, for that matter, misandrist) double standards of Laura Sessions Stepp and her even more reactionary admirers. This is as good a summary as you can find:

It always goes back to two points: a strong belief that men are slavering idiots ruled by the tyrannical and capricious whims of their cocks, and a deep conviction women don’t like having sex. The first point is something which, as many have pointed out, is a much bleaker condemnation of men than anything you are likely to get from an actual feminist…The second point, that women don’t like sex, is an undercurrent in every discussion of this type. Not even an undercurrent: a foundation stone for the whole creaky apparatus.

I’ve discussed this before with respect to Leon Kass, who takes this well beyond the point of self-parody, but this is exactly correct: unless you assume that women don’t really like sex, but use it strictly as a tool to get material things from men who are apparently assumed to have no interest in female companionship and the solace of long-term relationships otherwise, the whole argument fails. Which, given that these arguments are in fact transparently false, is kind of a problem. And even if one assumes that in these particular social conditions men, on average, have a greater interest in casual sex (which is far less than is necessary if you’re going to argue that casual sex is bad for women), as Belle says there’s no reason whatsoever to assume that this is a natural condition. We don’t know how women would act in conditions of gender equality because nothing remotely like this exists. “What would a world look like in which women who had sex whenever and with whomever they want were never called sluts? Never judged by strangers and friends? What would it be like if girls were never told that they had to be gatekeepers for their bodies, defenders of castle walls that are always under assault by men wanting sex? Not to put too fine a point on it, what would the world be like if there wasn’t the pervasive threat of sexual violence?” All excellent questions, and ones that Stepp and Douthat would prefer remain unasked.

A couple of additional points. First, staunch feminist Ann Althouse, seemingly untroubled by Stepp’s egregious double standards and profoundly reactionary conceptions of gender and sexuality, claims that Stepp “irks some critics who don’t want to hear that casual sex may hurt a young woman’s heart.” The first problem is discussed above: maybe, just maybe, some of thus hurt is caused by the fact that women who engage in casual hook-ups are often stigmatized in ways that men aren’t. But, in addition, of course casual hookups can “hurt someone’s heart.” You know what else can hurt a young woman’s heart? Marriage. Long-term relationships. Not getting laid at all. You know can also experience emotional trauma from all of these things? Men. Nobody’s saying that freedom and equality means a world free from pain. Freedom and equality means being free to make good and bad choices, to experiment is ways that will sometimes go well and sometimes not. I don’t think most people think that casual hookups are unproblematic; rather, I think that they judge that in many cases it’s preferable to celibacy or committing to a life-long committed relationship when you’re 20. This strikes me as a quite reasonable thing to believe.

The second thing I don’t understand about this argument is the strange either/or assumptions it makes about people’s romantic and sexual lives. Stepp seems to think that people can choose love or uncommitted sexuality, hookups or Serious Relationships. But there’s no reason whatsoever that people–even women!–can’t do both of these things. Really, people want different things at different stages of life. Once you get beyond crackpot assumptions about female sexuality being some sort of scarce resource that must be dispensed only with the greatest gravity, it’s really not hard to understand this.

…UPDATE: Based on comments, I think it’s worth repeating Stepp’s metaphor: “Your body is your property. . . . Think about the first home you hope to own. You wouldn’t want someone to throw a rock through the front window, would you?” In other words, she’s not talking about individual cases of women being pressured into sex (and, as Lesley says in comments, it’s not as if shaming women somehow causes this pressure to vanish, and as zuzu says it’s not as if they’re aren’t countervailing pressures), but she’s making an a priori assumption that casual sex is something men want, women are the gatekeepers of, and are inherently damaging themselves by consenting to. I’m sorry, but no productive discussion is going to proceed from these assumptions.

Reader Feedback: Alito and Abortion Edition

[ 0 ] March 7, 2007 |

Commenter (and blogger) Bean raises some interesting points with respect to this post. I’ll respond to each point separately:

First, while I agree that the current iteration of abortion law is important because it can ensure that poor women have access to abortion, it hasn’t done that. Because of the Hyde Amendment, many poor women do not have access to this important right. Further, there are abortion providers in only 13% of U.S. counties and it is often poor women who cannot take 1 or 2 days off from work to procure the abortion they desire (sometimes more in states with waiting periods). They can’t afford the time off and can’t afford childcare for the children they already have. So while I agree with you on the meta point, I think it’s at best a half-empty promise right now.

It is certainly true that, particularly in light of Harris v. McRae (which upheld the Hyde Amendment), the regime created by Roe has been suboptimal in terms of creating abortion access. It is also true that virtually all of the regulations upheld under Casey affect poor women more than rich women (which is one reason that a loosely interpreted “undue burden” standard could be used to effectively used to deny access to abortion. On the other hand, despite all this, Roe really has made a difference in abortion access for poor women compared to 1973. Private clinics can 1)advertise and 2)offer sliding scales, and this does provide significant (although far, far from ideal) access to poor women that they wouldn’t have without the “negative” right. The crucial question is the whether the Court will do something to stop states from harassing and shutting down abortion clinics. In its current form, obviously it won’t, so a lot depends on getting as few bad laws (and precedents) as possible in the meantime.

Another thing to add is that the problem geographic disparities in access is, on some level, one that law is limited in its capacity to solve (although it would be nice if it didn’t make things worse.) And I should also take this opportunity to recommend Melody Rose’s book.

Second, I’m not nearly as optimistic as you are about Alito. I think you may be right about Roberts, but given Alito’s previous abortion jurisprudence, I am not so sure he would vote to uphold Casey. I don’t think he’s as conservative (little c) as one might hope. Maybe you have some more insight into his stance that I am missing and that you can share? Either way, Roberts has talked a big game about this so it would be interesting as a test for him.

I’ve discussed my views about what Alito is likely to do here and here (as well as in discussions of his nomination passim.) I agree with Bean that Alito would, if it came to that, provide a fifth vote to overturn Roe and Casey, although I doubt he would author an opinion urging it as Scalia has done. He will certainly vote to uphold every abortion regulation that comes to the Court. Perhaps more importantly, I don’t think simply stripping all protections from the “undue burden” standard is an optimistic scenario — quite the opposite. If the Court is going to stop protecting reproductive freedom it would be better if it is done openly, preferably with Scalia writing the lead opinion denouncing the Court for having previously signed on to the “baby-killing agenda.” That Roberts–like Rehnquist–may be savvy enough to understand this is my fear, not my hope.

The McCain Paradox

[ 0 ] March 6, 2007 |

Yglesias notes that Maverick McStraightTalk “has the misfortune of being both the most conservative candidate in the race and the one most hated by conservatives.” It’s quite strange, and is one of the ways in wish the Bush personality cult will hurt the GOP going forward. It seems to me that Ramesh Ponnuru is being completely rational. For someone who cares about policy rather than sticking it to liberals, has strong cultural conservative commitments (especially on abortion, where whatever his bizarre liberal glee club would prefer to think McCain’s pro-criminalization record is as staunch as can be), and for whom fiscal conservatism is about something other than upper-class tax cuts (that will be temporary because of huge deficits), McCain is a perfectly respectable conservative, and certainly infinitely preferable to Giuliani or Romney. But he fought with Bush and made occasional gestures against Republican orthodoxy during the aftermath of the ’00 primaries, so he has no chance this year.

Another interesting thing about the electoral dynamic Matthew describes is that if Rudy or Romney get the nomination a good Democratic candidate should be able to make overturning Roethe least popular “cultural” issue the Republicans have–an albatross around the neck of the Republican candidate in the general election. Someone like Bush who was trusted by cultural reactionaries could get away with babbling about “a culture of life” and Taney Court decisions they probably don’t understand. But any of the big 3 will have to keep saying how much they hate Roe, which means that unless the Democrat is inept that should be another issue fought on friendly Democratic terrain in ’08.

After Roe?

[ 0 ] March 6, 2007 |

Jessie Hill has an interesting three-part series about potentially overturning Roe at PrawfsBlawg. [HT: Volokh Conspiracy.] The long version of what I have to say on the issue can be found in my article last summer in TAP here and my reply to Benjamin Wittes-type “letting Roe go will be good for reproductive freedom” arguments here. To give the short version:

  • The starting point for any discussion for the consequences of changing abortion law, I think, has to be the law on the ground, not the law in the books. The pre-Roe status quo ante was not that no women could get abortions, but because of arbitrary enforcement patterns affluent women had access to safe abortions and other women did not. What is at stake in abortion rights is whether poor women will have access to safe abortions.
  • I think Hill is correct that Roe is safe for now–there are still 5 votes on the record for affirming it. Even if Republicans get another appointment to replace Stevens or Ginsburg, my guess is that Alito and (especially) Roberts would prefer not to formally overturn Roe, at least right away, but would rather simply empty Casey‘s “undue burden” standard of any content. However, in some ways this is the wrong question to ask, since for advocates of reproductive freedom this is the worst of all worlds–it would be much better if Roe were directly overturned than if states were allowed to create the pre-Roe status quo ante through the back door. Keeping Roe as (to use Rehnquist’s phrase against his approach) a Potemkin precedent while removing any bite the “undue burden” standard has gets most of the policy benefit while denying the Democratic Party the political benefits of overruling Roe.
  • The question of what would happen to laws still on the books is an interesting one. I can’t believe that there would be any problems at all if there was a trigger passed by the legislature, and it’s also hard to believe that a Court that would overturn Roe would prevent states from enforcing laws on the books (particularly since getting into questions of application would raise many difficult questions for advocates of criminalized abortion.)
    It’s also important not to focus too much on the precise wording of statutes or exactly how exceptions are worded; these distinctions have very little effect in practice. Whether the statute is an outright ban or delegates the decision to panels of doctors, the effect tends to be abortion-on-demand for well-connected affluent women and severely restricted access for women who aren’t either way.

[Cross-posted at TAPPED.]

Guest Bloggers!

[ 0 ] March 5, 2007 |

Since two members of the L, G & M consortium will be in Las Vegas for the Western Political Science Association conference, this week we are pleased to announce (as you can see below) that the estimable LizardBreath of Unfogged will be making a return appearance. In addition, Thers of Whiskey Fire (and some more obscure outlets) will be favoring us with the highest levels of civiliosity. Welcome them both!

"When You Read Dowd, You’re Riding With Coulter."

[ 0 ] March 5, 2007 |

Somerby notes that Maureen Dowd that when it comes to obsessing about allegedly feminine Democrats, is essentially Coulter without the outright slurs:

But then, why should pundits criticize Coulter when she describes Dem males as big “f*ggots?” It’s very similar to the gender-based “analysis” their dauphine, the Comptesse Maureen Dowd, has long offered. In Dowd’s work, John Edwards is routinely “the Breck Girl”(five times so far—and counting), and Gore is “so feminized that he’s practically lactating.” Indeed, two days before we voted in November 2000, Dowd devoted her entire column, for the sixth time, to an imaginary conversation between Gore and his bald spot. “I feel pretty,” her headline said (pretending to quote Gore’s inner thoughts).That was the image this idiot wanted you carrying off to the voting booth with you! Such is the state of Maureen Dowd’s broken soul. And such is the state of her cohort.

And now, in the spirit of fair play and brotherhood, she is extending this type of “analysis” to Barack Obama. In the past few weeks, she has described Obama as “legally blonde” (in her headline); as “Scarlett O’Hara” (in her next column); as a “Dreamboy,” as “Obambi,” and now, in her latest absurd piece, as a “schoolboy” (text below). Do you get the feeling that Dowd may have a few race-and-gender issues floating around in her inane, tortured mind? But this sort of thing is nothing new for the comptesse. Indeed, such imagery almost defines the work of this loathsome, inane Antoinette.

Quite right. Dowd reminds me of Glenn Reynolds engaging with Andrew Sullivan:

The Ole Perfesser calls Andrew Sullivan an “excitable” “emoter-in-chief” who should write “a bit less about gay marriage.” To his credit, the Perfesser did not just up and call him a faggot, but when you have such command of schoolyard code, you don’t have to get crude.

And the difference between Dowd and Coulter, of course, is that the former is much more damaging to both Democrats and the nation’s political discourse.

A Movie So Crass, And Awkwardly Cast, Even I Could Be the Star

[ 0 ] March 5, 2007 |

Wow, late winter is just a bad time for movies. You’d think this would be the most execrable:

This teen comedy centers on a high schooler who gets more than he bargained for after his constant lying leads to popularity.

That God somebody finally filmed that plot idea–what took them so long? Maybe they’ll cast a prominent model with slightly-larger-than-fashionable glasses as the ugly girl who’s Really Right For Him In the End too.

And yet, it’s not even close to the worst-looking studio movie released in the last few weeks. The auteur of National Lampoon’s Van Wilder directing a–well, I can’t call it a “comedy”–about middle-aged bikers staring Tim Allen? At least it produced Tony Scott’s review. (“The main thing about these guys — the main source of the movie’s fumbling attempts at humor — is that they’re not gay. Really. Seriously. No way. They may worry about people thinking that they’re gay, and they may do things that might make people think that they’re gay — dance, touch one another, take off their clothes, express emotion — but they’re absolutely 100 percent not gay. No no no no no no. No sir, I mean, no ma’am. That’s what makes it funny, see.”)

OK, that’s getting close to the frozen limit of unwatchability. But hold on…coming down the stretch there’s some vaguely Da Vinci Codeish and very pretentious-looking thriller. Starring Jim Carrey. And directed by Joel Schumacher. We have a winner!

Oh, and I think it’s obvious that democracy can never work.

How Dare You Show My The Effects of My Policies!

[ 0 ] March 5, 2007 |

I’ve been looking forward to this since Friday: “Something I didn’t photograph, but wished I did: Nation magazine writer Max Blumenthal queued up to get a book signed by Michelle Malkin. When he reached her, however, he didn’t produce a book. He produced this photo and asked her to sign it. According to Blumenthal, Malkin got so angry she left the table; video that can prove or disprove this telling should be posted on Monday.” And, sure enough, the video’s here. For some reason, Malkin is almost as ashamed as pictures of the race-based concentration camps she wrote an entire book defending as some Young Republicans are of their Confederate flag lapels (“What’s wrong with the Confederacy?”). There are many more classic comments within; I particularly enjoyed David Horowitz–David Horowitz!–claim that The Left is driven by “anger and resentment.” Great work by Blumenthal.

A Man Stares Into The Abyss

[ 0 ] March 4, 2007 |

It must be said that I, too, saw The Left yesterday–it was truly chilling. I can assure you that even when he was right it was motivated by 100% pure America hatred and expressed in a manner shockingly lacking in civiliosity and integritude.

I would mention my enjoyable meeting with Intertubes Dark Lord and rank Leprechaun Extremist D*ncan Bl*ck, but I fear the mere invocation of his name may bring Josh Trevino to our comments section, and we’re running a family website here.

..They’ve gotten Matt too. Bastards! I always knew The Left was objectively pro-Michael Bay.

You May Be A Complacent Fake-Liberal If…

[ 0 ] March 3, 2007 |

There’s not much to say about this; I agree that it “comes across like something written by a teenage D-List “Youstabee” during the peak glory of the Summer of War.” Particularly instructive is–especially with respect to foreign policy–how much of what defines an “extremist” is based on virtually unfalsifiable attributions of motivations rather than on specific policy preferences (you know the routine–”OK, you were right about the Iraq War, but you’re saying that because you hate America, so it doesn’t count!”), as well as the inevitable dismissal or arguments made in an insufficiently “civil” manner–these are the favored strategies for those would would prefer not to engage with substantive criticism on the merits. And to the extent that there is specific content, the people it applies to have virtually no influence in American politics, which makes arguing against them not terribly productive. To get something constructive out of this, perhaps we can create a more specific typology: the characteristics you’re likely to have if you’re the kind of respectable pundit who can be the token “liberal” at prominent national publications and Sunday talk shows:

  • During the run-up to an exceptionally disastrous war when prescient anti-war voices are scarcer in the mainstream media than people of color at a Nader rally, you can never get around to using your prominent media outlets to clearly disagree with the war, you do find time to suggest that you agree with the war, and yet years after the fact when the war is both an abject disaster and highly unpopular you suddenly start patting yourself on the back for having courageously opposed the war all along.
  • Even as you nominally opposed the war after it became easy to do so, you can somehow never find anybody else who opposes it in the right way–”it’s easy to assume that they are rooting for an American failure,” you claim, never naming any names or giving any quotes–and maintain that another Freidman is somehow always required for people to be Serious.
  • You claim that people who oppose the Bush administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program are as “out of the mainstream” as people who think that Terri Schiavo was three days away from walking out of the hospital, despite easily available public opinion data that shows the opposite.
  • You make the transparently illogical assertion that the increasing insecurity of the contemporary job market makes the privitization of Social Security more desirable. (I guess this kind of reactionary and unpopular position isn’t outside the mainstream–and certainly not comparable to the Schiavo wingnuts–but is “speaking truth to power” or something.)
  • You claim, based on inferences gleaned from George Bush’s alleged “authenticity,” that the result of Bush’s election would be “‘a quiet, patient, and persistent bipartisanship,’ with no big tax cuts or Supreme Court ideologues” and suggest that “Bush could easily retain Lawrence Summers at Treasury and Richard Holbrooke at the United Nations.”
  • You dismiss fundamental economic issues that might matter to people not in your highly elevated income bracket as “jobs, health-care, and blah-blah-blah.”

Nobody could hit every one of these, could they?

Ezra: ” Who is Joe Klein arguing against here? Even a left-wing strawman would find this recitation of his positions a smidge reductive. And to say that “it would be wildly stupid for me to get into a pissing match by naming names” is basically irresponsible. Either Joe Klein is arguing against real human beings with a role in the national dialogue or he is not, but until he names some names, the context of the conversation suggests he’s talking about the left wing blogosphere — he’s simply retaining plausible deniability around his insinuation.”

Master Class

[ 0 ] March 2, 2007 |

This probably should be djw’s job as his biggest fan on this weblog, but Jackmormon notes that there will be a major Abbas Kiarostami retrospective at MoMA this month. However, while she points out that “NYU turned down his offer of a master-class,” she leaves out the most important part of the story: happily, by turning down those West Village gangsters Kiarostami ended up at New York’s finest institution of higher learning instead:

This March, Hunter College film and media students will have the rare opportunity to learn filmmaking under the mentorship of the acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, who will hold a nine day film production master class in the Department of Film & Media Studies. Mr. Kiarostami’s visit to Hunter is being underwritten by The Rifkind Foundation.

Kiarostami has developed and led master classes for film students around the world and Hunter College is the first college in the United States to host the filmmaker. His master class at Hunter College coincides with a retrospective of his films and photography at the Museum of Modern Art and P.S.1.


Feminism and Ex Ante Housework Standards

[ 0 ] March 2, 2007 |

Matt interprets data adduced by Jessica and finds more evidence for my assertion that the typical arrangement of housework in households occupied by heterosexual couples reflects unjust gender balances combined with actually different ex ante standards of cleanliness/tidiness (which are related to said equalities, of course, but a feminist analysis doesn’t require any specific ex ante level of domestic work beyond what is necessary for sanitation, cooking, childrearing, etc.) With all due respect to the great Marcotte and Waring I continue to disagree with the implied solution of creating equality within domestic work norms that are an unholy marriage of 1)patriarchy, 2)the related assumption of one partner devoted full-time to domestic work, and 3)general cultural assumptions that unstructured leisure time is somehow immoral, and instead think that it makes more sense to try to achieve equality within a more rational allocation of priorities that doesn’t take 50s-bourgeois standards of tedious domestic busywork as a given. An additional advantage of my idea is that I think gender equality will be much more viable if the total work is reduced. To once again borrow from Jacob Levy the idea that “[t]he only non-sexist equilibrium is for both partners to converge on the preferences that got inculcated in women by societies that had one partner be a full-time housekeeper, sometimes with additional paid help” is plainly erroneous, and assuming such standards on average puts women in an exceptionally weak bargaining position in which gross inequalities are inevitable. The underlying differences don’t justify the inequality, but I think they do make clear that trying to equalize at an anachronistically high level of domestic work is a bad feminist strategy.