Monday, October 17, 2005

How cute! Matt has an opinion.

Matthew Yglesias has responded to my post on "Harriet," arguing: "Now of course it's one thing to say that many Miers detractors probably harbor some sexist sentiments (probably true) and another thing to say that Miers' detractors don't like her because they're sexists (almost certainly false -- as they say there are plenty of women judges they'd enthusiastically embrace)."

Apparently Matt, er, Yglesias sincerely believes that conservative critics would be fine with a different, more qualified female nominee. I agree that they claim that they would, and certainly think that they ought to feel the way they claim they feel, but by calling Miers "Harriet" they lose so much of their credibility that I'm going to have to out-liberal Yglesias here and say that all bets are off on how great a role sexism plays in their thought process. They would, at the very least, call a female nominee they deemed acceptable by her first name, too.

My take on first names in politics: Calling Hillary Clinton "Hillary" is like calling George W. Bush "Dubya" (neither "George" nor "Bush" would do)--when your parent. or spouse with whom you share a last name, has served as president of the United States, and you choose to enter the running, you can pretty much expect that you will be called something other than just your last name. As insulting as that may be, it's more than made up for by the fact that being the child or spouse of a former president is a bit of a boost, one could say, to those with political aspirations of their own. Outside these circumstances, male politicians go by first name when trying to show that they are men of the people--NYC mayors "Rudy" and "Mike" are more commonly known as Giuliani and Bloomberg, but going by a first name is in this case not unlike a politician's taking the subway to work or making an appearance at a dumpy neighborhood diner. With female politicians in general, the most obvious answer is that they get called by first names for the same reason they get complicated yet bland hair, makeup and clothing, for the same reason that the wife of a male politician is of more interest than the husband of a female one; in other words, women and men are different, sure, but society continues to treat the two sexes more differently than is, I believe, ideal. On the other hand, a female politico who embraces the use of her first name is trying to project a nurturing image, as though no matter what office she seeks, she's no more harmless than the head of an exurban PTA. In doing so, she is using her political savvy to her own advantage, exploiting sexist stereotypes, and could, perhaps, be worthy of praise.


Anonymous said...

Isn't "embrace" kind of a funny word to use in this context?

Jacob said...

[B]y calling Miers "Harriet" they lose so much of their credibility
Argh. As I said in a previous comment, you haven't shown this is the case at all.

Sullivan is not anti-Miers. He's reserving judgement and scolded the National Review for their stance on her.

Baker calls her "Miers". He called her Harriet because it was a pun on The Trouble With Harry! People like puns. Sometimes the pun involves her first name. Sometimes, the last name (Quag-Miers, Miers Remorse, etc.)

You haven't shown that the "problem" you're confronting even exists.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Maybe it wasn't the best pun to go with, given the desire to show that sexism has nothing to do with it.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Moreover, the pun gets dragged out well beyond the title. The repetition of "the trouble with Harriet" has a certain effect, no?

The Sanity Inspector said...

Reminds me of something Eric Hoffer said long ago: "Men and women are equal because they are not different anymore."

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Why not just uniformly call women by first names and men by last names? Otherwise, gender will soon become a thing of the past.

Jacob said...

Now that's just silly. There are plenty of puns/allusionative headlines that use the first names of male politicians (off the top of my head Curious George or Newtered). Are you saying that if you think of a funny pun that involves a politician you can only use it if it's for a dude?

And humour's in the eye of the beholder, Baker evidentially considered "The Trouble With Harriet" so funny that he used it many times.

The basic point is I've been reading a lot of the conservative blogs with the advent of the Miers nomination (Patterico, Prof Bainbridge, Confirmthem [sic], the NRO blogs etc). And they all a) use "Miers" or "Harriet Miers" and b) enthuse over female conservative judges like Owens, Brown or Jones. (I can only recall one person using "Harriet" and that was once by NRO's resident homophobe John Derbyshire).

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


It's all about context. The problem is not that she's a woman, but that she's a woman whose detractors are trying to prove their problem with her is something other than that she is a woman. I still don't think this was the pun for the occasion.

Moreover, the fact that Baker may have been endlessly amused by his own pun does not in any way defend it, let alone make it funny.

This last point I'll have to give you--I have not been reading a lot of conservative blogs, or liberal ones, for that matter, so I'll have to defer to those who have in terms of what's the norm on this issue.