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Oh, Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?

Feb
21
2005

One of the more depressing problems that American feminists have always faced is the sad reality that, as British novelist A.S. Byatt once said, there are always women ready to join forces with the other side.
Byatt – who is a woman — didn’t mean that in pop-culture Venus/Mars which is, sadly and maddeningly, what feminist principles have been reduced to in American culture. No, Byatt – a keen observer of the similarities between the real and the formulaic in life and in fiction — is saying that there will always be women happy to support the status quo and to accept the small gains given them in the name of peaceful, gradual protest. Because, at heart, they really aren’t interested in change, only in negotiated settlements. They got theirs. The rest of us are on our own.


I was reminded of this when I read Sally Quinn’s piece in The Washington Post on Harvard President Lawrence Summers. Professor Higgins – er, sorry, I mean President Summers released the transcript of his little talk on gender inequality last week and his pal Sally stepped right up to bat clean-up.
Nice of her. But not exactly unexpected. See, when the conservatives say that the Liberal media elite closes ranks to defend its own and, in doing so, corrupts its intellectual traditions and its professional ethos, they are right. When it came time to undo Howard Dean, Mrs. Mike Nichols was called in to ask Dean’s wife about her name. Now that Summers is under attack, Mrs. Ben Bradlee (he’s a Harvard man, dontcha know) is doing the honors.
See, Professor Higgins – so sorry, I don’t know why I keep confusing the two – qualified his most egregious comments with the phrase “to provoke” his audience. Which means he doesn’t really believe women are innately inferior to men in the hard sciences. He was just saying that. To be provocative. So we could have a healthy debate. And his friend Sally thinks that’s just fine.
Okay. I get it. He was just joking. It wasn’t serious. After all, big old Larry , he don’t know nothin’ ’bout teaching no co-eds. He means well. He’s just clumsy. And he wants the best for you girls, he really does.
Please.
I recently read another “joke” along these lines. It was about me. Cory Johnson, a former Silicon Valley reporter, off to be a hedge-fund manager, was praising the work of another on-line colleague (I’m not going to bother naming because it will only drive traffic to his site and I’m plenty pissed about the whole thing). “You’re the man Chris Nolan could have been,” Johnson is quoted as saying, proving with one stupid sexist remark that he is more than qualified for the enlightened confines of Wall Street.
Yup. That other writer and his site is going to be the man I could have been. But I’m no man.
What’s really being said here is flatly insulting: Were I a man, I’d be better at my job. That this remark precedes a brief description of my career that makes it sound like I’ve spent the past five years getting my nails done and traveling the world and have just recently applied myself to stand alone journalism having turned down an opportunity to work with my on-line colleague.
In an attempt to ameliorate his mistake the website writer has added a back-handed apology which isn’t any better or different from the apology Larry Summers has offered. Johnson, he’s written in an up date “meant ‘the man’ in the colloquial sense of becoming an authority, not in the gender sense.”
Right. The colloquial sense. That’s casual usage that implies an understanding of the cultural references with which the phrase is imbued. Here’s what that means: Men have authority by virtue of the gender. Women aren’t authorities, of course. And in the eyes of these two men, they never will be. As we all know there are innate differences.
We’re back where we started, aren’t we? Only I’m not joining the other side. Neither should you, sister.
SIDEPOINT: Sally Quinn may have signed up with the Harvard boys but out here on the West Coast, Susan Estrich is taking on yet another product of Harvard University, Mr. Michael Kinsley, editor of the LATimes op-ed page.
Writing in the DCExaminer – sister pub to our own SFExaminer – Estrich is taking Kinsley to task for not having more women pundits on the LATimes OpEd page. Why Estrich is limiting herself to the LATimes is beyond me. But it’s a start.

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