Wednesday, January 10, 2007

National Chauvinism Week

Did I miss the memo that declared this National Chauvinism Week?

First we had this graduate of the Larry Summers' school of thinly disguised chauvinism, telling us that Men and Women are Different and that some things are more suited to Men and others to Women (presumably any differences within Men and within Women on these dimensions - whatever they might be, since 'Shanky' is not kind enough to spell them out for us - are insignificant compared to this yawning gap between the quintessential Man and the stereotypical Woman) and that you can't be a Man unless you protect your women and carry their 80 kg suitcases up the stairs [1]. It follows from this 'argument' (though calling it that is a travesty) that Feminism is flawed because it keeps Men like Shanky from being Men, which, obviously, is what feminism has been trying to do. [2]

And now we have this Good Samaritan who wants women to stop wearing skimpy dresses, which, according to him, put their underwear on display. Not that he's saying this because he's offended or anything, oh no, he's only trying to protect the Dignity of "our Indian girls" and saving them from the Big Bad Influence of Western Culture. And lest you misconstrue what he's saying, he's not advocating that all women wear burqas (yet), it's okay with him if you wear "not-too-long tops (which some girls can carry off with class)" - isn't that kind of him? What a nice, upstanding, kind-hearted soul he is, doling out advice to women suggesting that they cut back on their individual freedoms in order to uphold his prejudices, and putting in the "little proper thinking" (which, he informs us, is all that is needed to make the right choice between the "right way n wrong way of doing things") so that they don't have to worry their pretty little innocent heads over it. He's even conscientious enough not to put pictures of these dignity compromising dresses on his blog! (Girls: deep breath, then all together say: "Our Hero"). Now if only he'd told them what they should wear so that their appearance can meet with his approval, which, presumably, is their only purpose.

Do the caves these people live in get cold in Winter or something? If this goes on, DesiPundit (who linked to both the posts) is going to have to create a separate section for insecure men threatened by female independence.


[1] Now that I think about it, he may have a point. The world would be a better place if Real Men like this [3] were restricted to hard physical labour leaving the rest of us to do things we're good at, like logic, or grammar.

[2] See also Gawker's response here

[3] I, of course, am not a Man. Not only can I not lift 80 kg suitcases, I'm also firmly of the opinion that anyone who packs an 80 kg suitcase deserves to have to carry it herself / himself.


neha vish said...

I use a wtf tag for all such links on my blog. :) So much more pithy.

I had a hard time not flinging link hate their way. I can only hope that I become more amused with such stands than annoyed.


Anonymous said...

the second post is pretty moronic, and the first one - insubstantial. i don't think his points about protectiveness and emancipation make any sense.
However, i am going to digress about something i feel strongly. and that is the your reference to Larry Summers' as being a thinly disguised chauvinist.
If someone empirically researches if there are any differences between men and women that lead to differing performance in the workplace, that means he/she is a chauvinist? Heaven forbid someone who actually manages to *prove* something to that effect.
The guy is an academic. He was speaking at an academic conference on gender inequality. He suggested three possible hypotheses (to account for the observation that there aren't too many top level female academics).
Since when did it become established *fact* that men and women are equal? Just because there's this large lynch mob that would *like* it to be that way? And this confusion between hypothesis and established fact in the mob is very real, its the one that led them to damn larry summers in the first place.

The whole hoopla about Summers had, in fact, more to do with internal political strife at Harvard than anything else.

While morons who want women to dress a certain way under the guise of being protective about them etc deserve to be taken apart, let's be charitable to the people who *actually* make sense (and by that i mean Summers, not your first blogger here).

Anonymous said...

Heh Heh beat me to it. You know there is a technical term in moral/political philosophy called naturalistic fallacy. That "women are physically weaker" (or not) is a statement whose truth-value science has to decide. Like all scientific proofs it will always be provisional subject to fresh evidences but it will always be a scientific statement. You just can't bring anything like chauvinism into it.

We have to remind ourselves that equality is not an empirical fact but a normative exercise. It is not something that IS but something that SHOULD BE. (that's where this naturalistic fallacy comes in).

This is not just true of gender, it is true of in general all inequalities and this is in fact the essence of liberalism.

I thought Summers was very unjustly criticised. The debate should have been about how to encourage more women to take up more hard sciences and reduce the non-natural impediments for them to do the same but then it got sidetracked into lazy name-calling.

Anonymous said...

Damn, I got here too late.
Larry Summers' speech was certainly not chauvinistic. He offered a highly plausible hypothesis for a very real disparity in the number of men and women in science and said that he "would like nothing better than to be proved wrong".
As for the two links on your blog; yes, the writers were rambling and did not have any real point to make, but one was simply suggesting that there are differences in the roles that most men and women play in life, and the other was bemoaning the prodigous amount of butt-crack that modern fashion exposes.
Neither blogger seemed to be out to oppress womankind with his narrow minded views and I'm not sure they deserve any collective scorn.

Tabula Rasa said...

damn, where's aishwarya?

Revealed said...

The first one is not insubstantial. Its barf-worthy.

'What's a man if he can't stand up for himself and for the women in his life?
What's a woman if she can't divine the secrets of the hearts of the men in her life without any words being spoken?'

What *is* that?????? Bah!

Second one is not even worthy of comment. Or a link!

*takes deep breath to prevent herself from suffocating on her own rage*

Falstaff said...

neha: Yes, that was pretty much what I tried to do with the first one, but then with the second one it just go too much.

heh heh / alok / TR: Three things

1. This isn't about Larry Summers. I use 'Larry Summers school' as a convenient short-hand to mean the idea that Men and Women are innately different and should simply resign themselves to those differences. Maybe that's not what Summers meant. It's certainly the way his speech was popularly interpreted. I'm perfectly willing to believe that LS is a fine upstanding guy who just has really bad PR / communication skills. The 'Larry Summers School' is not necessarily what Larry Summers actually said / believes but what people think he said / believes. If it makes you happier replace that one reference with "the idea that men and women are different in fundamental and unalterable ways and should simply acknowledge these differences live their lives accordingly rather than trying to change gender roles, which may have little or nothing to do with the real opinion of Larry Summers but is how he was popularly interpreted". See why just saying Larry Summers' school was easier?

2. I'm not suggesting that adult men and women are equal in all respects. (Neither, for that matter is feminism - otherwise they wouldn't have much to fight for, would they?). I'm simply suggesting (in line with what Alok says) that those differences may have as much, if not more, to do with socialisation than with any actual 'biological fact'. Obviously in the absence of a controlled experiment to the contrary, that's unprovable, but it's certainly the interpretation that, in the absence of any empirical evidence to the contrary, seems normatively preferable. I also remain personally unconvinced that minor differences on average attributes are in any way useful in making generalisations about entire populations - the within group vs. between group variance that I refer to in my post.

3. Whether or not Larry Summers' argument is chauvinistic, 'Shanky''s argument certainly is. He doesn't have three hypotheses. He's not suggesting that we take active steps to understand the causes for gender inequality and try to correct them (which, incidentally is what the feminism he opposes is about). He's not making a scientific statement. And his assumption that any Man must protect all the Women in his life is clearly a chauvinistic one.

Bottomline: You want to defend Larry Summers, be my guest. I don't disagree that public opinion got him wrong. I'm strongly opposed, however, to the public interpretation of his views, which are exactly what this blogger seems to espouse. Just don't let your sympathy for Summers spill over to this 'Shanky' character.

MT: Here's why they deserve scorn. The first one deserves scorn because he's not just "suggesting that there are differences in the roles that most men and women play in life", he's actively suggesting that those roles are the 'naturally' right ones, they should be legitimised, and efforts to change these roles (i.e. feminism) should be thwarted. If that isn't suppressing women I don't know what is.

The second guy deserves scorn because a) he's assuming that women's bodies are somehow shameful / embarrassing and need to be hidden away - otherwise what is their to bemoan b) he's making the classic patriarchal assumption that if a guy stares at a woman's butt-crack (your phrase, not mine) it's her dignity that's compromised and therefore her role to do something about it and c) he seems to believe that other people (women) should alter their personal choices in order to make him comfortable. Add to that the pathetic grammar, the inability to spell and the shoddy logic, and it seems like plenty of reason for scorn to me.

Also, well, it's been a slow day and I need something to rant about. If I only took out my scorn on people who truly deserve it, I would have to go months without making fun of anyone.

TR: Yes, one wonders.

revealed: Yes.

Actually, if a woman could divine the secrets of the men in her life without a word being spoken, you know what she would be? Rich.

Revealed said...

Not only rich, but a freaking godess. And to add insult to injury the dress sense guy! Is there any chance that he was actually writing a sarcastic spoof type post? On further consideration I feel that might be a viable alternative. I refuse to believe that men like that creature exist.

ggop said...

Off topic but I love the 80kg footnote. :-) I can't haul a 32kg suitcase without seriously compromising my back.

Anonymous said...

I was damn pissed especially by the second post and left an angry comment which was promptly deleted. The blogger seems to have his band of like-minded friends who have in fact, patted his back for writing 'contrarian' viewpoints.

We can try but trying to convince such people that their thinking is faulty is a mighty uphill task.

Cheshire Cat said...

Response follows reading. I read "Words are but crutches to paint the insipid hues...", and then I could not go on. I could not go on.

You are all such tolerant people.

Anonymous said...

those two posts. are simply not worth responding to.
bleddy waste of bandwith and carpal tunnel stress.

lol @ footnote 3. :)

confused said...


The reference to Larry Summers is damn unfair but I guess heh heh has already made that point.

Falstaff said...

Revealed: I doubt it. And frankly, given how not funny that post is, I'm not sure that wouldn't make it worse.

ggop: Same here. here's to travelling light.

patrix: Yes, I saw. Makes you despair, doesn't it.

cat: You know I never actually read that until you pointed it out to me just now? *Shudder*

girl from ipanema: see my response to MT. Let's just say I had time to waste.

confused: Sigh. See my response to heh heh. Where did all of you pick up the idea that every single word / phrase in a rant had to be carefully weighted to make sure it wasn't remotely unfair to any party or parties mentioned therein? Next you'll be telling me I shouldn't be making jokes about Cheney because he's really quite a sincere guy and didn't really mean to shoot his friend with a shotgun.

Abi said...

The two posts you are talking about are not worth talking about. So, I will talk about Larry Summers!

When I saw you copping out on the Summers school of thought, I realized you need better ammunition. Don't be cowed down by the Summers defenders!

You don't have to go just by how the popular press interpreted Larry Summers' speech. It's available online. Let me quote the relevant paragraph here:

"There are three broad hypotheses about the sources of the very substantial disparities that this conference's papers document and have been documented before with respect to the presence of women in high-end scientific professions. One is what I would call the-I'll explain each of these in a few moments and comment on how important I think they are-the first is what I call the high-powered job hypothesis. The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end, and the third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search. And in my own view, their importance probably ranks in exactly the order that I just described."

Read that last sentence and see for yourself if the 'popular interpretation' is justified.

Let me add just a couple of links to posts by Dr. Free-Ride and Sean Carroll. If you want more incendiary stuff, try Bitch Ph.D. and P.Z. Myers from Jan-March 2005.

confused said...


My apologies. I was just a little surprised that you compared these two gentleman to Larry Summers. And I would suggest that the article should be read in full, instead of quoting from it selectively. For example-

''Now that begs entirely the normative questions-which I'll get to a little later-of, is our society right to expect that level of effort from people who hold the most prominent jobs? Is our society right to have familial arrangements in which women are asked to make that choice and asked more to make that choice than men? Is our society right to ask of anybody to have a prominent job at this level of intensity, and I think those are all questions that I want to come back to''

I don't agree with everything Summers said but I find it funny that people have criticized him without examining all the issues he raised. If one's eyes are jaundiced enough to see everything in light of discrimination, I guess then that is quite natural.

Aparna said...

I'm also firmly of the opinion that anyone who packs an 80 kg suitcase deserves to have to carry it herself / himself.

I agree....wholeheartedly :)

About the two posts: I concur with you, Neha,girl from ipanema and Revealed here, couldn't have put it better.

Anonymous said...

i just read the blog linked at the start. i am so sick of half baked opinions, pseudo liberal-ness holding within it the most startlingly chauvinistic ideas and the assumption that feminism is somehow less of a discipline than history or sociology, and is therefore a free-for-all. i'm also heartily sick of this verbose, ungrammatical shanky person. someone go tell him he has strong mulish traits.

Falstaff said...

abi: I'm not copping out or being cowed down, I'm just not that interested in Larry Summers as an individual and don't want to get drawn into a protracted debate on whether he is a chauvinist or not.

I think the point is that I see the question of what he really meant as fairly irrelevant. Based on conversations I've had with people, as well as posts like the one I link to here (and one I'd linked to earlier - about not allowing women in the army), it's pretty clear to me that there are a bunch of people out there who believe that the advantaged position men occupy in society is a result of an innate superiority of men - a biological 'fact' that women should just learn to live with. And like it or not, Larry Summers is the poster boy for that point of view in the public perception. (I suspect part of that has to do with the fact that we've all encountered this argument so many times before that the minute we heard him saying something similar we automatically classified him as someone who believes this - pattern recognition is such a powerful thing). What has what he actually meant got to do with this? The world of ideas is a socially constructed one, so 'truth' is what we all believe it to be; and what a communication meant is arguably more usefully measured by what was received than what was sent. We have thousands of conversations everyday about Marxism, the vast majority of them between people who've never read Marx and don't understand him - we don't go around shouting 'But that's so unfair to Marx' - we accept the notion that Marxism is what contemporary thinkers have made of the writings of Marx. Similarly, the Larry Summers' brand of chauvinism is a set of opinions popularly associated with Summers. For the purposes of useful discussion whether he meant it or not makes no difference, as long as the invocation of that name creates a common understanding of the set of opinions in question (which it seems to me it does) that's all we need.

For the record, I do think that Summers is more maligned than he deserves to be. The popular perception does tend to ignore the context in which those statements were made and is a gross simplification of a more complex point of view (although of course, the head of the world's leading educational institution should be smart enough to realise that this was inevitable). The passage you quote certainly suggests chauvinist leanings, but the reason it makes him a chauvinist is not for suggesting that there might be innate differences between men and women but because of his entirely unsubstantiated view that innate differences are a bigger deal than social conditioning. Yet the popular view, as heh heh suggest, would be more that he's a chauvinist for suggesting the hypothesis that men and women may be innately different, which is unfair.

Overall, I remain unconvinced that Larry Summers is not a chauvinist, but I think it's hard to conclusively prove that from his speech and his argument, even if a chauvinist one, is more nuanced than the one he's usually associated with.

None of which changes the fact that the vast majority of popular claims about the 'natural' differences between men and women are poppycock and using them to guide interactions between the sexes is silly.

confused: I certainly wasn't comparing these two idiots to Summers. Forget chauvinism or lack of it, Summers is capable of developing an argument, these two couldn't argue their way out of a paper bag. And saying someone is a 'graduate of the Larry Summers' School' is by no means comparing them to Larry Summers, any more than saying someone is raising an existential question implies that his / her opinions and perspectives mirror Sartre's in every way.

If anything, I would say that you folks are so indignant about the misinterpretation of Larry Summers that you're reading that one throwaway quip with severely jaundiced eyes. There's an irony in there somewhere.

aparna: Thanks

heh?ok: For the record, I do think that feminism is more of a free-for-all than history or sociology, simply because from everything I've seen or read it seems pre-paradigmatic. That doesn't mean it's less of a discipline / not a useful line of inquiry, just newer and therefore subject to more churn. What pisses me off is the way this greater variety gets exploited by people like Shanky who find / imagine the most ridiculous opinions and pass them off as feminism. It's like taking one of the sillier physics theories floating about around the time of Newton and saying that physics doesn't make sense.

Revealed said...

@falstaff: the response to heh?ok was brilliant! Rah! Rah!
@cat: dang it! I didnt read the crutches bit either. Pah! If only I'd learnt to pay more attention to detail when I was in school.

Re: Larry Summers: That is *so* not the issue here. Totally missing the trees for the woods (or is it the other way around!)

Anonymous said...


By your reasoning of why the second guy deserves scorn

The second guy deserves scorn because a) he's assuming that women's bodies are somehow shameful / embarrassing and need to be hidden away - otherwise what is their to bemoan
By that metric, any thing you may find repulsive,is not kosher for blogging about. You cannot talk about movies, you cannot talk about boddy odors of the guy (or girl) sitting next to you on the train or as JAP once commented on the safari suit with sneaker clad IAS officer

and c) he seems to believe that other people (women) should alter their personal choices in order to make him comfortable. Add to that the pathetic grammar, the inability to spell and the shoddy logic, and it seems like plenty of reason for scorn to me.
Right, by which measure you cannot write about what any other person ever does out of free choice. Your comment about anything and everything can be construed as misplaced.

What if he had written the same thing about a guys butt-crack. Nobody would have even noticed. But the way the post is written, I think it is in the same vein. I dont get the feeling at all that he is even trying to get on a higher moral ground.

confused said...

''f anything, I would say that you folks are so indignant about the misinterpretation of Larry Summers that you're reading that one throwaway quip with severely jaundiced eyes. There's an irony in there somewhere''

:) I am not! Perhaps, I was a little more surprised than usual because it came from someone as sensible as you. All's good now.

Anonymous said...

From the original poster - "Feminism was born with the motive of female emancipation. But is that what it does?
Men and Women were created UNEQUAL. We have different domains, different abilities, different thinking and its a happy co-incidence that sometimes these overlap. Some things are more suited to Men and others more suited to Women.
Feminism, if it preaches that women should compete with men in all walks of life in a bid to prove their point and outsmart men, is itself flawed."

Doesn't it seem to you that what the guy imagines is feminism is as confused and off-the-cuff as your mention of Larry Summers? Clearly he is talking of something else altogether. I get the feeling you are reading too much into the posts and generating inferences that simply aren't there.

Yes I agree with you - the matter of the two posts could be symptomatic of all the chauvinistic ideas you mention. But then, they could be simply ideas that stretch so far and no further. It's a bit intolerant of you to make the leap and then condemn them on that basis.

People who aren't as involved you are, who base their opinions on feminism off general chitchat and the various confused articles that appear in the papers, aren't they likely to hold a view of feminism similar to what's on view here ? How different is it from your mention of Larry Summers ? Did you mean anything more than using it as crutch to classify a certain viewpoint ? You can accuse them of not bothering to find out what feminism means, but accusing them of being morons is plain rude.

Imho, people beating you up on that Larry Summers mention is akin to your response to the two posts.

Chauvinism is disgusting, dangerous and chauvinists should be shamed as much as anyone else with parochial, misogynistic, xenophobic views, but you and those tripping over themselves to vent their spleen at these posts aren't doing anyone a favour (including feminism) by reacting like this. Go over the posts again. Save it for the real deal. This isn't it.


Falstaff said...

revealed: Thanks

anonymous: Sigh. Okay, so I was rude and over the top and unduly harsh. It's a RANT. R A N T. It's not supposed to be polite or balanced. I"m making fun of them, I'm not providing a reasoned critique of what they're saying. Their arguments are too feeble to warrant that.

If you can find any trace of merit - intellectual, normative or literary - in either of the posts I make fun of, tell me about it. If you think my post is badly written or that I'm wrong in asserting that the points they're making are invalid, feel free to write your own scathing, satirical post pouring scorn over me. Better yet, get the two people I make fun of (incidentally, I never call them morons, though I don't think the term is inappropriate) to try writing scathing rebuttals of my post. I'd LOVE to see them try. Just stop wasting my time by leaving comments telling me that I'm not being reasonable when it should be obvious to the most thick-skulled reader that I wasn't trying to be. And for god's sake stop taking yourself, and me, so seriously.

n: The difference is, I wasn't writing a post about Larry Summers. There's a big difference between a one line quip and an entire supposedly serious post. Shanky isn't making an off-the-cuff joke about feminism - he's claiming to write a thought provoking critique of feminism. If I was trying to write a reasoned critique of Larry Summers I would have taken the trouble to read the man's speech.

Also what on earth makes you think my spleen is so limited that I need to save it for those who truly deserve it?

And explain this to me - how come my making fun of a couple of silly arguments and having fun doing it is a waste of time, but your defending arguments that you don't even claim to support is not? You and those tripping over themselves to insist on everyone being polite and reasonable aren't doing anyone (including feminism) a favour. Save your preaching for the times when I'm being unfair to posts that have genuine merit. This isn't it.

Anonymous said...

(warning: commentjack)

er... not to go overboard on the Larry Summers thing (not) but heh-heh and other LS supporters, do go back and read the speech. Read the "order of importance" Summers devotes to his so scientific three hypotheses. Socialization is the last explanation and some bullshit construct called "high-powered jobs" is the first. and what exactly is this high-powered jobs hypothesis? Oh, yeah, that married women you see they just somehow don't want to take up high-powered jobs and all that and married men do. Of course it couldn't have anything to do with the fact that the married men are married to.. guess what! women!! who do all the childcare and housework because you know that's still largely considered women's work and wait this isn't just socialization is it?

And umm. instead of pulling out that ridiculous "my daughters call their trucks daddy-trucks" example out of his ass, surely he could've skimmed through some, say meta-analysis or something on gender differences to quickly throw in at least some pretence at empirical analysis - or does he now believe that the plural of anecdotes is data?

Falstaff: such finessing! Loved the double negatives, old boy!! But you did write "the Larry Summers School of Thinly disguised chauvinism" you know. Maybe you could amend it to the "Larry Summers School of Perceived Thinly Disguised Chauvinism"?? Or even the "Larry Summers School of Misinterprered empirical analysis"? Or even "the Larry Summers School of I'm not sure if he's chauvinist but i don't have enough evidence to say one way of the other".


Anonymous said...

Falstaff, I made it clear that I am not defending their arguments. It was a critique of your response. Your point about the difference in usage of Larry Summers and feminism in the two posts is well taken.

Maybe I came across too preachy and serious. The feeling is mutual. I don't comment on blogs as a normal practice because they are mostly just opinions, and frankly everyone is entitled to theirs. This one was an exception because I have read more than a couple of your posts linked through DesiPundit, and this is the first one that I felt uneasy with.

But this is a rant and I better stop here.


Falstaff said...

n!: :-). Perhaps. Frankly, if I'd known everyone was going to go over this thing with a toothcomb I would just have left the phrase out. Or better yet, have got my lawyer to go over the text of the post to make sure nothing I said could be misinterpreted in any way.

n: Yes, I know. Which is why I was surprised to see you defending them.

And fair enough. Part of my frustration with the comments section is that too many people seem to be taking this post way too seriously. I wasn't planning to write the definitive statement on Larry Summers or serve as the valiant defender of feminism, I just came across a couple of really stupid articles on DP and decided to make fun of them.

Revealed said...

Does anyone else think its sad that inability to articulate and/or think clearly without prejudice/bias/chauvinism is accepted as an excuse for holding uninformed and ridiculous views on a subject? Especially a sensitive one?

Anonymous said...

falseshwar: of COURSE people are going to go off on your blog on all sorts of tangents, fine tooth combs, misinterpretations and what-have-you. isn't that the fun of putting in a post and leaving comments open - to see what direction people take it in?


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