Denying Women’s Speech or Why Women and Men Can’t Converse

FEMINIST RANT WARNING: Sqeamish or hysterical men shouldn’t read this.

Why is it that when a woman has an opinion on her blog, she is grilled about where she gets her knowledge as if she couldn’t have possibly come up with it on her own? Why do men demand to know the foundation for her reasoning when, in male discourse, it is always ASSUMED that men have a legitimate framework of the world of philosophy or opinion from which to work? Why can’t women choose their faith, their politics, or their opinions without having to justify themselves at every turn? Men’s right to know and their right to speak about what they know is always accepted prima facie. Women, however, cannot do so without proving they have the right to speak on certain topics. Even if that woman is as educated as a man, has written extensively as a man, has done academic peer-reviewed research like men, it doesn’t matter much, because she will always be called out about it and labeled the hysterical feminist who cries foul.

I’m so tired of men “challenging” the idea of women’s scholarship, of their holding women up to a different standard than they do other men, and of generally being “called out” over every tiny point of contention. Not only have I been accused of being baselessly feminist (meaning I have no right to call sexism where I see it), but it seems I cannot even hold an opinion without being challenged about my “credentials.” Witness the response from some guy on another blog when I dared to quote research by women authors on the existence of pre-patriarchal tribal leadership in ancient history.

I wrote:

My point is that women’s scholarship is labeled un-scholarly because men write history. Any new scholarship in that area, that threatens the prevailing idea of history is threatening to men’s scholarship, which is pretty much always accepted at face value, unless someone comes up with an absolutely resounding rebuttal. It all comes down to he said-she said. It’s similar to the literary canon which has been delegated by elite white males for centuries. You have yet to prove that Stone’s, Mor’s, or any other matrilineal focused scholar’s writing is unscholarly, yet I have to prove it is scholarly? Double standard anyone? I say that’s sexist bias without investigation to back it up.

He wrote:

MOI wrote: ‘It’s common practice to label women’s scholarship “unscholarly.”’

Hmmm… This sounds like something I’ve heard before… like maybe in evangelical circles.

I apologize in advance for my candor, but this simply is not true. I have been in feminist groups for a long time and not many of them would ever take the stance of the persecuted scholar. This mentality has actually hurt women’s studies more than anything.

Do you honestly believe what you wrote? I see in your profile that you yourself are an academic of sorts. I am unfamiliar with researching in the English department, but how many journals in archaeology, anthropology, psychology, religious studies, history, etc. have you read? I am not trying to call you out, but I read at least 30 articles a month for my research in various journals in varying disciplines that are related to religious studies and I simply find the basis of your criticism entirely false.

If you want a rebuttal to the entire book, I would write you book in return. If I was getting paid to do so, I would. Maybe someday I will, but disproving a book meant for the laymen that did not require any peer reviews is not exactly on the top of my to-do list.

“You have yet to prove that Stone’s, Mor’s, or any other matrilineal focused scholar’s writing is unscholarly, yet I have to prove it is scholarly?”

You make scholarship sound as if its this status one bestows upon another by the elite classes of society or the like (definitely male). No one needs to prove that their work is scholarly, it is or it isn’t, and it has nothing to do with their subject matter or their conclusion. Obviously you are skeptical of the academia of social science and humanities, but it is what we have, and it is based on the same principles of the scientific method.

The fact is, as I mentioned before, all evidence points to varying pantheisms of gods and spirits, male and female, with no overarching god or goddess ruling them all. One must completely dismiss the anthropological data from thousands of tribal groups and kingdoms in order to believe otherwise.

And again, if your fallback is simply to call me sexist, then there has to be something wrong. I could call you the same, but it doesn’t mean anything. You obviously want to agree with Stone or Mor for the same reasons Starhawk does, which confounds me. Even more important is that you seem to assume that I myself have something to gain, apart from the truth, in keeping the status quo of historical scholarship – that most tribes and kingdoms has nothing to do with each other, including their “religion”, and that many of them had egalitarian pantheons.

Notice how the attack on women’s scholarship automatically transmutes down to me and my scholarship. As an English major I’m used to being called “an academic of sorts” because snobbery against the humanities is a given in academia. Everyone knows that English majors are “light” on research!! NOT. They don’t just hand out degrees without the work required. I realize that not all academic work out there passes muster as far as research goes, but when you consistently question the work of women and yet do not require the same degree of proof from men, it’s sexist. Have you ever heard anyone tell a man with a Master’s Degree that he was an “academic of sorts?” Have you ever heard anyone challenge male history professors about their pet theories? Hardly.

But apparently, not only do I not have the “right credentials” to speak to a scholarly issue, I also do not have the right to call something sexist if I see it that way. And that’s how I see the reaction to books by women scholars. But this man’s comments merely prove my point. Obviously, this guy thinks I’m making up the issue of sexism is academia as if he’d never heard of it before. In other words, he’s never heard of it, so it’s not there! Are the writers at Alternet making up the persecution of women writers not only throughout history?:

The Washington Post recently published an article about the abusive and sometimes threatening comments that are becoming frighteningly common on blogs written by women. One of the key points made in the piece was the silencing effect that such harassment has. Women are less likely to write freely and openly if they feel uncomfortable or threatened.

Yet while the phenomena of blogging and comment sections is quite new, the harassment and silencing of women writers and of women who speak out has a long and damaging history.

Pinko Feminist Hellcat writes about the same phenomenon of jumping down the throats of women who challenge men with their sexism in the blogosphere. Is she making it up?:

There was a flamefest over at Alas, A Blog over women and civility, and how civility is used as a cudgel against women who dare take on civilly worded misogyny. Thanks to a lot of stuff on my plate, I didn’t have a chance to participate much.

As I read the posts in a long catch-up session, I swung from thinking, “Damn, that was harsh,” to “Yeah! That’s it!” Because the thing is, like the women who posted or not, like the way they did it or not, they’ve got a point. Any time we call men out on their behavior, they give us a hysterical reaction and high-pitched whines. One would think they were being sent off to the gulag or something. Object to someone calling you anti-sex? You oppressor! Have the gall to point out that men don’t have to deal with sexism? You manhater!

It seems perfectly okay for men to call us manhaters, dykes, frigid, witch-hunters, repressive, “victims”, and censors for having the gall to question the value of rape porn (you don’t even have to advocate censorship, just criticize it), ask why it is that women’s bodies are used as ornamentation for magazines as diverse as Vogue and Maxim, point out that the wage gap does exist, and say that being promiscuous doesn’t mean one deserves to be raped.

Call them on this, and suddenly it’s Pinochet’s Chile. I mean come on, enough already.

My points exactly. I call it sexism, pure and simple. Men are afforded every opportunity to voice their opinion, are given respect when answered or conversed with, but women are silenced, ridiculed, made fun of, and looked down upon as “weak” in mind and body. This kind of backlash is common and nothing has really changed. Don’t think it happens? Why would a female blogger feel it necessary to write this:

Take Back the Blog

Pretty damn appropriate that today is Take Back the Blog Day, with all of the crap going down in various places of the blogosphere. I’m certain that little, if anything, I say will mean much, so I’ve decided to keep it minimal and manifesto-style.

The threats, the hate, the abuse directed towards female bloggers (see see see see see) all involve one end. Female silence. There’s other misogynist undercurrents, of course, but in the end, that isn’t as important as getting women to not speak up.

Blogs are beautiful things. They’re soapboxes, they’re loudspeakers, they’re PLACES TO SPEAK UP. And when women decide to take the power that blogs give people to get their stories and their voices out to the public, hateful abusers, who want nothing less than silence from every women that does not say What She Should Be Saying™, will stop at nothing to silence those women.

So yes, take back the blog. No one should rest in the fight against these people who would silence women’s voices. There’s no excuse for fence-sitting here. As Amber so eloquently says, speaking up is a feminist virtue. It’s also a human virtue, and a right. Let us come together, all of us, and denounce the hate, denounce the violent threats and misogynist language, denounce the silencing of women that repeatedly plays itself out in the blogosphere. And we all need to keep talking. Solidarity will win the day, we just have to stay firm and steadfast.

We all say NO.

More on women and blogging feminism here, here, and here. So, what causes perfectly normal, educated women to give up on the Internet just like every other arena that they’ve dared to enter? Kevin Drum at The Washington Monthly offers an explanation. He wrote:

WOMEN AND BLOGGING….On a lazy Sunday several weeks ago I wrote about the dearth of women among the ranks of the most highly trafficked political bloggers. I suggested the reason was partly because high-traffic men don’t link much to women and partly because fewer women than men write political blogs in the first place. But why do fewer women blog about politics than men?

In my initial post I wrote this: “My guess…is that men are more comfortable with the food fight nature of opinion writing — both writing it and reading it….I imagine that the fundamental viciousness and self aggrandizement inherent in opinion writing turns off a lot of women.”

Two days later I added this: “Men are so routinely dismissive of women and so fundamentally dedicated to playground dominance games that many women decide they just don’t want to play.”

He continues to write about the response he got from women writers:

Gail Collins, who runs the New York Times editorial page, told Howard Kurtz, “There are probably fewer women, in the great cosmic scheme of things, who feel comfortable writing very straight opinion stuff, and they’re less comfortable hearing something on the news and batting something out.” Maureen Dowd described her first few months of column writing like this: “I was a bundle of frayed nerves….Men enjoy verbal dueling. As a woman…I wanted to be liked — not attacked.” Dahlia Lithwick agrees: “I know an awful lot of smart, accomplished women who avoid both the op-ed pages and the Crossfire-style ‘screaming shows’ because that is simply not the type of discourse they seek out or value.”

Linguist Deborah Tannen: “Many men find that their adrenaline gets going when someone challenges them, and it sharpens their minds: They think more clearly and get better ideas. But those who are not used to this mode of exploring ideas, including many women, react differently: They back off, feeling attacked, and they don’t do their best thinking under those circumstances.” Trish Wilson responded with tempered agreement: “I don’t like the combative nature of talk radio and TV talk shows. I don’t think it’s very productive, I don’t like being attacked.” And Ann Althouse adds this: “There may be a lot of men clamoring to speak first, easily finding a way to talk over the women who have just as much to say. It may take a little something more to unleash what women can say.”

Drum continues:

Second, even the women who agree that the argumentative nature of opinion writing is a problem brought up plenty of other issues too. Maureen Dowd thinks women who fight as hard as men are stereotyped as “castrating” instead of authoritative. Deborah Tannen thinks the real problem is that we accept the “attack-dog” definition of opinion writing in the first place, and Ann Althouse agrees. Trish Wilson may not like the confrontational nature of radio or TV, but doesn’t have a problem with it in print. Dahlia Lithwick reports that as an editor, she gets more op-ed submissions from men by “several orders of magnitude.” (This is an issue in talk radio too. Male callers outnumber female callers so heavily that call screeners have to work hard to get anything close to even representation.)

When we turn to the men, however, we mostly get either silence or stubborn denial. Manan Ahmed: “Huh?! There never should be a reason to link to anyone besides your appreciation for their content.” Jeff Jarvis: ” I’m white. I’m male. I blog. You got a problem with that? Tough.” The Deacon over at Power Line: “The notion that [successful] bloggers are making decisions about linking based on gender, or race for that matter, seems quite far-fetched.” Dave Winer mocks the whole idea that there’s any kind of problem in the first place.

Right. No problem at all. No wonder so many women got pissed off at what I thought was a fairly unexceptional post last month. If this is the crowd I’m part of, I don’t blame them.

Like Drum, I agree that until men get out of this aggressive attack mode of thinking and become reasonable in their approach, women will continue to be attacked for our opinions and forced to justify why we should be respected when respect should be a given in normal discourse. Yet, men still cry, “You’re playing the victim card!” Well, if it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it IS a duck. That’s not playing any card at all. That’s a fact.

So, I ask you, why do women have to constantly justify their ontological right to “be” and justify their forms of faith to male Christian bloggers? Why do women have to justify our academic and scholarly work to male “academics” and pseudo-academics or our right to participate in public discourse to all men in general? Why can’t we be allowed to blog our opinions like guy A over at that other blog or guy B who thinks he’s a scholar but isn’t? We can’t just be human beings with valid opinions. No, we have to PROVE that we have the right to those opinions AND prove that we have the right to voice them in public. But the criteria for proof keeps changing according to who demands it at any given moment. We are labeled hysterical women, or un-scholarly writers, or sinful and un-submissive wives, or hormonal women who can’t think logically or even worse. Where does anyone get their right to free speech on the Internet? Are there rigorous and secret rules out there that all men know, but women have to guess at and be hit over the head with? Does someone have to sanction us as speakers?

Listen, my blog and my comments in the blogosphere are written for the sole purpose of bringing injustice and sexism to the attention of whoever chooses to read it. I have as much right to write what I think about these issues as you have the right to NOT read about what I have to say. As a feminist and as a woman, I can speak directly to what I see as blatant sexism in academic, religious, and social circles. I’ve been on the receiving end of numerous sexist remarks, slanders, attempts at scholarly sabotage, co-optation of research, and various other ways men dream up to silence women in the public sphere. This, and the fact that I am a human being who has the right to speak out on any topic I choose, gives me a unique insight into something men will never, ever understand. Yet for some reason, every single time I speak, even about mundane topics, my right to speak is called into question. Why do I have to provide a long, laundry list of academic articles, journals, papers, or speaking engagements to my blog in a sort of paper cock fight in order to PROVE to men that I have the right to voice my opinion about OTHER WOMEN’S writings, let alone men’s writings, without being challenged?

Dale Spender wrote in her excellent book, Women of Ideas and What Men Have Done to Them:

Women are intellectually competent, and even the repudiating devices of patriarchy cannot always conceal this. But even where women’s intellectual competence is undeniable, men are still able to deny it, and take it away. Women who reveal their intellectual resources are often described as having ‘masculine minds,’ which is a clever device for acknowledging their contribution while at the same time it allows it to be dismissed, for a woman with a ‘masculine mind’ is unrepresentative of her sex, and the realm of the intellectual is still retained my men.

Even when we display our power to think in terms men have validated, to follow their arguments and reach their conclusions, we will rarely receive credit for it. Once again our existence can be dismissed even at the point at which we display it. For the consensus will invariably be that it was not reason that we used to arrive at our conclusions, but a much inferior, capricious and lucky process–intuition. Again, men retain their ownership of the mental world by this classification, and women’s intellectual competence is denied (25).

Frankly, from what I’ve seen and experienced on the Internet, I don’t hold much hope of this ever changing in my lifetime. But for now, I’m calling sexism where I see it. Period. You gotta’ problem with that?

5 thoughts on “Denying Women’s Speech or Why Women and Men Can’t Converse

  1. Oh, MOI, why are you so emotional about this stuff?
    Where is your spirit of submission today?
    Ha, Ha! (I know, you know, that I am just kidding. You do know that right?)

    Women submit in the Christian tradtions because they think they are doing God’s will. They arn’t. They are doing the will of misogynists from 2000 to 3000 years ago.

    Women in Islam wear the head covering or the Burka, because they think they are doing God’s will. They arn’t. They are doing the will of misogynists from 2000 to 3000 years ago.

    All, (and I do mean all), religion and religious books are man made and strive to keep the women in their place. We need a new religious book; Woman Made.

    The only hope for the world to break free of religious oppression is for women all over the world to finally start demanding to be free of these misogynistic ideas, and demand equality. The middle east is the worst example of this today.

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