Alex Blaze

Why people think "misogynist/racist/etc." are just meaningless insults

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 28, 2010 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media

I'm interested in the way tribalism affects our own understanding of politics, and an interesting situation regarding that just brewed this week.

danchoimaddow.jpgThe Village Voice recently wrote a love letter to Dan Choi, portraying him as a sexy rogue who uses Grindr and swears a lot and just can't be held back. He's a maverick on a mission. If only the media still wrote profiles of John McCain like that.

Anyway, there's one quotation from Choi that's misogynist in the profile:

"Harry Reid is a pussy," Choi angrily said after the failed vote in the Senate last month, vowing to speak out about the Democratic leader, "and he'll be bleeding once a month."

Now, let's imagine that instead of Choi making that comment, it was Matt Barber of the Concerned Women for America who made that comment about Harry Reid saying something supportive of gay people. I know how my people, the LGBT bloggers, would react. We wouldn't have any trouble labeling that statement misogynist, and some of us would go even further, advocating a police investigation, because do we really know what Barber meant about Harry Reid bleeding? Those right-wingers, you never know when they're making violent threats.

But since Dan Choi is on our team, fighting for something we believe in, there will be no outrage. Here's Pam Spaulding's initial reaction:

That won't get him a job as a Beltway mouthpiece, lol.

That's not the Pam Spaulding I know. The Pam Spaulding I know built an internet career on finding offensive statements from obscure wingnuts and calling them out on her site. No one at the Blend gets the "they're just too authentic to be respectful to minorities and women" excuse, so why start now? (Personally, I'm unsure if she's referring to the misogyny in the statement or the mere fact that Choi insulted Reid.)

Here's her reaction after her readers, who are used to riding one wave of affected offense to the next without much time to breathe in between, responded to her "in the comments, my inbox, and on Twitter":

What do I think about the whole dustup? It's good to have the conversation about misogyny within the community and how it manifests itself. But if you read the entire Village Voice piece, which digs a lot deeper into Dan's foibles, his earnestness, and off-the-cuff manner, I was not surprised that a military guy would "go there" - it's part of the military culture, for good or ill and there it was in black and white. It actually didn't offend me as I read the article; it was contextually right in line with Dan's lack of inner politically correct censor at times.

I'm not going to defend a military culture that denigrates women as part of daily conversation (not to mention institutionalized slaps on the wrist for sexual assaults by men against their female service member colleagues). The Voice profile is enlightening precisely because our heroes are flawed, and all too human. The last time I checked, we all have the capacity to learn from mistakes; those in the public eye don't have the latitude to go private when they screw up. Dan did say something boneheaded. misguided - and he apologized.

By and large I agree. I'd quibble with her dismissing "politically correct" as if it's unimportant, as many people discuss the concept. But it's not at all unusual how someone who uses the GLAAD style guide regularly to critique people she does not know would turn around and say that not being "politically correct" is just a lovable foible when discussing someone she personally knows. That's a defining feature of American politics.

But that's just a quibble. People aren't inherently bad and apologies do mean something.

Either way, that passage above is still not the Pam Spaulding I know. Here's the Pam Spaulding I know, writing about a no-name politician who made a racist joke via email, just two weeks ago:

When will they ever learn? I'm not just talking about moronic Republican bigoted politicians like this Virginia Beach Republican chairman (remember NC State Rep. Larry "Fruit Loops" Brown?), but people who think that somehow your randy/racist/homophobic emails to your "friends" may lead to forwards to "friends of friends" and then eventually to the MSM?

But back to this brain-dead pol -- David Bartholomew, now the former chairman of Virginia Beach's Republican Party resigned after sending this out to friends:

This person, who's a Republican and is not on our team, is "brain-dead," "moronic," and "bigoted." His email is easily labeled "racist."

Dan Choi, who is on our team, well, when he makes a misogynist statement, he's just being all mavericky. At least he won't get a "job as a Beltway mouthpiece." He's not "brain-dead" or "bigoted," he's just a lovable rogue.

As Pam promises us, it gets better. That Republican pol apologized for that email, and a spokesperson told us he's not racist. I don't know him and I don't think I'll ever hear anything about him again, much less find out whether he's racist or "bigoted" or "brain-dead," but an apology sounds like a good place to start to me. But since he's not on our team, here's Pam's response:

Oh. My. F*cking. Dog. Is that not the most ridiculous excuse you've heard? OK, first, any disclaimer that starts off with "he's not a racist" should just go into the circular file pronto. But "getting familiar with the Internet" makes the guy look like a moron. Perhaps Bartholomew's "forward" and "send" buttons in his email client must be inordinately larger than the rest of the commands, and his hands uncontrollably moved to hit them on that one missive.

Here's part of Choi's apology on Twitter:

Go ahead: call me a 'misogynist.' I'm still pro-choice, pro-ERA. I also happen to think @HarryReid is a #DADT #FAIL.

Pam does not say that tweet "should just go into the circular file pronto," even though it's just the "I'm not a misogynist" excuse. Instead she sums up the whole affair: "misguided - and he apologized." Bartholomew apologized too, but he doesn't get credit. He's not anyone's friend, our people don't know him, and no one can write off his email as just being a "lack of inner politically correct censor at times." He's an enemy and is treated as such.

When it comes to these comments, for my part, I'm inclined to agree with Pam-on-Choi. People make mistakes and if they apologize and no one was physically hurt by their actions, then we can try to move on while acknowledging that racism/sexism/etc still exist, are still problems that need fighting against, and are feelings we ourselves are capable of. If we're not willing to accept apologies, then we aren't willing to accept progress.

I'm not, though, about to just ignore either man's statements based on the fact that he's a good person, that he's a rogue, that people who know him know he's just like that (as if being repeatedly misogynist/racist is better than it just being a one-off mistake). The fact that Choi was on Democracy Now arguing that "War is the force that gives us meaning" recently shows that he's someone I wouldn't agree with generally (even though I agree with him specifically that DADT should be repealed), but neither statement from him makes him a threat, someone who needs to be repeatedly called a "bigot," or someone to hate.

This is the way our world has been operating for some time, giving people a pass for the same behavior that leads to us calling for heads on platters. And then we wonder why people don't see us (politically aware LGBT people and liberals/leftists generally) as the objective "reality-based community," only concerned with progress and facts and truth and justice.

I'm not saying Dan Choi should get the full Matt Barber treatment. I'm saying that we should be more willing to give people we don't know the benefit of the doubt and less willing to ignore misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc., when it comes from people we do know, people we know to be good people. In the end, everyone has someone who thinks they're a good person. It's not an excuse.

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Choi's comment is an explicit declaration that he feels entitled to make viciously misogynist comments because he happens to support women's rights. That's not an apology of any sort.

Sorry if I was unclear, I was referring to his first Tweet when I mentioned his apology:

I appreciate your criticism; I apologize for using the slur, and resolve to educate others in any capacity I'm afforded in the future.

His second tweet on the topic is the one quoted above.

It is a clear double-standard, but I'm not surprised by Spaulding's treatment of Choi - she's been a big cheerleader for his actions and other self-described "activists."

I think Choi has exhibited some troubling behavior, including his threat to commit suicide by starvation, but these words are not just "boneheaded," they're painfully stupid. I'm not a fan of "stupid" activists.

WackoTheSane | October 28, 2010 8:29 PM

I read that article and that particular comment rang true to me. It reminded me of conversations I had among my fellow Company Grade Officers when discussing a Superior Officer who was not living up to the ideals that we held. It seemed perfectly natural and I was not offended by it in anyway.

I would like to hear what Female Officers think about that comment.

Military culture is different from Civilian culture. Wither that is right or not is another question. Dan was shaped by that culture. It makes him who he is and who I am. We both have made mistakes and will again.

There will always be a double standard for those whose views we support and those whom we oppose. The goal is recognize it when it happens not after the fact.

It sounds like this is a case after the fact.

But my guess is it causing Dan to think about his comment just as I am. That is always a good thing.

Thanks Alex for that.

I'm curious. How many times do you get to play the "mistake" card? I can't see how this is interpreted as a "mistake."

Choi's comments is offensive to ALL women. It wasn't a "mistake," it was simply informative. He said what he meant to say. That's troubling.

From another perspective, comparing women to Harry Reid is also offensive - and more stupid.

We have a real problem in our community if we keep apologizing for bad behavior. How many times do we need to see repetitive behavior and not get concerned? How much can you "explain away" with this "mistake" bullshit?

Finally, why save Choi? Why try to protect him? Honest objectivity should match our efforts for equality - we sould treat everyone equally. Why not with this incident? Do we have different accountability for our own? Why?

Alex, since you're so sure Daniel Choi's comment is misogynistic, I wonder if you could explain what he might have meant by it in the context in which it was made.

And to be frank, sir, with all the personal and political barbs you've included in your specious analysis, ostensibly based upon a single comment, I believe what you are doing should more correctly be termed "gay bashing." Shame, shame, shame on you!

More to the point, your reportage follows the lead of mainstream media: instead of events or issues it’s main concern is sniffing the butts of other journalists. Now it’s you who has been outed.

LOL. Yeah! My only problem with Dan Choi is that he's gay. You've figured me out!

More to the point, your reportage follows the lead of mainstream media: instead of events or issues it’s main concern is sniffing the butts of other journalists.

Whose journalistic butt is being sniffed with this piece? I think I disagreed with every single person I named.

Military culture being different from civilian culture is exactly the question. It's why we're having such a hard time getting DADT repealed.

A nation's military should not have a different value system than the nation it defends. If this is a democratic country that values the constitution at all, people need to start realizing we have a civilian run military. Civilian run. The military is not allowed to make it's own rules and do whatever it wants. And if it has been allowed to do that, it needs to be turned upside down and shaken.

The constitution does not grant the military any power. And unless we want to be looking at a coup sometime down the road, then I suggest this country put it's military in it's damn place. Beneath all the branches.

Servicemembers should be held to a higher standard, not given a free pass.

. . . and what about Choi's comment?

It was sexist. And people who defend this crap like it's just the way the military is are the reason the military is only 10-15% female.

However, Andrew, I know where you're going with this. It doesn't mean I wan't Choi kicked out of the movement. Dan Savage also sometimes says some pretty sexist things. But that does not make them misogynists. It makes them men who sometimes say misogynistic things because they don't stop and think.

And you turn just as much of a blind eye to sexism when you insist that religion is the only source of homophobia. Homophobia is in fact rooted in sexism, machoism and male dominance. Men who fear or hate homosexuality do so because they're afraid it makes a man like a woman. But all you want to do is rail against religion without ever fixing the sexism. And you know, it's a chicken and the egg scenario which came first, sexism or the patriarchal organized religion.

Dan Choi was a hair width away from calling Harry Reid a faggot. There is not much difference between calling a man a woman and calling a man a faggot. He was trying to be aggressive and pound his chest and the only way he knew how to do that was degrade him by calling him womanlike.

People always expect women to call out misogyny. Like it's our job. But the truth is I am willing to just let some things go in the interest of solidarity just like many women are.

Choi's body of work is troubling and clearly counterproductive. If we expect any favors from Harry Reid after November 2nd, perhaps Choi's comment will play a role. If our community simply explains it away - as Spaulding has, that's more troubling.

I guess it just depends on the quality of activist you want and what you believe our community deserves.

You really do get on a one way track with blinders on? I'm not joining you in your weird anti-GetEqual campaign. I find it extremely counterproductive as it would be a total waste of time and energy.

& ya know,this is pretty
IRONIC for all the lesbian service women,
& this is ugly, when the community is *so* possibly close to dadt being finally shitcanned.
(one way or the other)..........
so don't apologise.just don't DO it.

from NOW:
"As was correct, women's advocates jumped on Lt. Choi for using a misogynist slur. I found his response to be breathtakingly beautiful:
He not only apologized, he committed to "educate others in any capacity I'm afforded in the future."

In its purest form, this is exactly why feminists call out bad statements. Our role isn't to play gotcha, give ourselves a high-five and declare someone a Sexist Jerk for Life -- our role is to educate"

IMHO Lt. Choi has no credibility.

theflyingarab | October 29, 2010 1:17 AM

i co-sign what javier said. real apologies are good. they take character.

anyway, remember that time newt gringrich said that women shouldn't serve in the military because they "get infections?" they must show these guys some kind of weird, outdated "puberty and you" video from the 1950's at the academy, because clearly none of them have any idea what it is.

Calling someone a "pussy" can be argued to have a culturally distant relation with female genitalia and more toward implying weakness. It's a bullshit insult, but I wouldn't be as offended.

What really turned that poor choice of words into reprehensible crap is the "he'll be bleeding one a month". As if gay men needed more people confirming stereotypes about gay men hating women.

That jab about menstruation was viciously misogynistic, and Choi's response was pure privilege.

Pam's blog is on my daily blog feed - and I sometimes wonder why. The inconsistency in how she writes about different people is so blatant and apparent, I'm surprised you're the first one to call her on it, Alex.

Can we also request that when people apologize that they DO NOT apologize via twitter?

When I think of the process of real apologies I've given, they all take an amount of time for me to process what I've done wrong, whom I wronged, and how I can fix it.

I generally find apologies of 144 characters or less highly suspect.

What I find just as distasteful as the misogyny in his comments is the way Choi treats Harry Reid. I'm no Harry Reid fan, but Harry Reid endorsed the NEM (one of the few politicians to do so), met with Choi and other servicemembers for hours, and was very graceful when Choi interrupted his speech at Net Roots Nation.

Harry Reid maybe ineffectual, but I have no doubt that he is not an asshole- and Choi's comments just seem so out of line. If I was a politician and saw that, it would tell me to stay clear of Choi- that regardless of what you do - Choi is going to be ruthless.

We can disagree with each other, be disappointed by each other without going to such nasty and disparaging places.

I'll admit that while it's on the feed, I also have started skipping it lately. It's gone too far toward the Tea Party "I'll just make outrageous statements!" route for my taste. I've got a post half started about why I've stopped reading a lot of my favorite blogs lately. Maybe I should finish it.

I would imagine a clear danger for any blogger is taking the comments that people post as the direction of your overall readership.

Most of the time, the only people that post comments are those who feel highly passionate about an issue on either side - the vast majority who read a post don't feel passionately to respond to it.

It sometimes feels like when reading certain blogs, that the blogger is just feeding the most extreme because that is the only voice they are hearing in the comments section.

Like in the case of Spaulding if you disagree with her your comments are blocked.

We should embrace and facilitate disagreement because those exchanges can lead to a more effective effort. I get a lot of disagreement and I think it's very helpful.

I agree that most people who make comments are very passionate about the subject matter - even if they're anonymous.

Please finish that post! I'm curious to get your take.

Renee Thomas | October 29, 2010 10:53 AM


You were wrong and a horse's ass about it.

Grow up young man and realize where and for whom you stand . . . or stand down. It’s one or the other. You don’t get a pass for idiotic (and ultimately demeaning) chest-thumping to make a point best made in a more mature, articulate and effective fashion.

Moreover, falling back on a "two-cultures" excuse to justify what constitutes an appropriate level of civil discourse is troubling on a myriad of levels. Lastly, like him or not - think him ineffective or nor - Harry Reid is the Majority Leader of the United States Senate and deserves the respect that any holder of that office is entitled to.

You were insubordinate . . . own it.

Yes, the comment is misogyny and yes, the response to it displays a double-standard.

Sometimes we hold our tongues if it comes from allies in the name of not perpetuating division. Other times, we call it out, and generate a whole lot of bitterness all around.

I would tend to agree with you, except that the alternative isn't a whole lot better, sometimes.

After Choi's remark about Reid, it's very clear the "engagement" is off and I would suggest that Reid KEEP THE RING.

Alex, since you're so sure Daniel Choi's comment is misogynistic, I wonder if you could explain what he might have meant by it in the context in which it was made.

And to be frank, sir, with all the personal and political barbs you've included in your specious analysis, ostensibly based upon a single comment, I believe what you are doing should more correctly be termed "gay bashing." Shame, shame, shame on you!

Actually, I would really be surprised if you could honestly move this conversation forward, beyond the usual blaming-the-other game, and be willing to apply the same critique you've made of Choi to yourself.

More to the point, your reportage follows the lead of mainstream media: instead of events or issues it’s main concern is sniffing the butts of other journalists. Now it’s you who has been outed.