Yesterday I posted an almost awesome missive I received from Nicholas Ruiz III, Democratic candidate for Congress (FL-7) along with my reply thereto, in which I called to his attention some language he used that I found problematic:
We’re over-developed – what we need is conservation and sustainability. It’s an entirely different conversation, than the slash and burn, develop, pollute and expand, by the way, ‘did the market go up today?’ lunacy of the far more responsible Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Unlike the more responsible Democrats who like parties and jewelry – I like to read.
I pointed out to him that when one employs gendered, sexist tropes like this one to mock Democratic women as vapid, shallow and materialistic, one is perpetuating the unhelpful, stereotyped view that all women are vapid, shallow and materialistic. However unintentionally, I noted, language like this contributes to the already toxic culture that women have to navigate every single day. (As Loyal Readers™ here are well aware, there are an infinite number of ways to mock terrible Democrats, men and women alike, without resorting to gender stereotypes.) I asked him directly whether I could expect more from Nicholas Ruiz III.
I was happy to receive a prompt reply from Nick. And it was almost awesome, too.
On Saturday, March 30, 2013, Nicholas Ruiz III wrote:
Thank you for your thoughtful note. Yes! I am an ally. A stronger one, in or running for office, if you are progressive, you will not find. I’m sorry if I sounded insensitive. But I truly didn’t levy that criticism of Pelosi and Schultz because of their sex or gender. I meant the criticism in terms of what I perceive to be their preference for the trappings and pageantry of public office and fundraisers, over the nuts and bolts labor and authentic, heartfelt committment to the actualization of truly progressive socioeconomic policy in the U.S. I’ve been to the parties, met them both – and many others, male and female, that I perceive to be equally imbricated within such a misguided rendering of employment as a federal representative.
So, for me, the criticism applies to women and men, though I thought of Pelosi and Schultz instantly, only because of their representative leadership positions with the Democratic hiearchy. They set a bad example, but so do Steve Israel and Steny Hoyer, who I could have easily mentioned for the same reasons instead. And I should have, come to think of it!
Still, I do get your point. And from a purely didactic point view in the academic, theoretical and practical sense, I agree. So in the future – I will choose my examples far more carefully, than I already do – and I thank you immensely for your solidarity and example.
See? That was almost awesome, amirite? But unfortunately Nick misunderstood my point. It is not objectionable to point to two powerful and prominent congresswomen as examples of terrible Democrats and mock them for being terrible Democrats; it is objectionable to deploy a sexist quip in order to do so.
So I wrote back to my new friend to clarify what I thought I had stated clearly in the first place.
Thanks very much for your response. I think you misunderstand my concern. I understood your criticism of Pelosi and Shultz the way you intended it, and I agree with your assessment wholeheartedly. The issue is not that your examples were two women: they are Democratic politicians richly deserving of our scorn for prioritizing the trappings of power over the needs of the citizenry, among other things. As you point out, they are in leadership positions in the party and thus should be subject to the same heightened scrutiny as Steny Hoyer, Steve Israel, or indeed even Barack Obama. It is not sexist to use Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz as examples of terrible Democrats. They are. And if we are ever going to make any real progress on social or economic fronts, we will need to call them out on their intransigence at every opportunity.
The problem is that the gendered language you used results in splash damage to women who are not Nancy Pelosi or Debbie Wasserman Schultz. What I objected to specifically was your reference to these women’s preference for “parties and jewelry” (in contrast to yourself: “I like to read”). Your “jewelry” quip in particular could never be deployed against Steny Hoyer or Steve Israel, and the reason this is so is because it is a gendered insult, one that feeds directly into a nasty and persistent narrative about women being vapid, shallow and materialistic — in striking contrast to men, who are of course naturally smarter, deeper, more worldly thinkers whose motives are above reproach. (Insert eyeroll here.) There is no equivalent way to demean Hoyer and Israel as men, except, tellingly, to emasculate them by likening them to women (OMG the horror!). I’m sure you would agree that doing so would be both highly objectionable, and entirely irrelevant to your point.
I think it’s important to not get bogged down in semantics and miss the bigger picture. But we are all, every one of us, swimming in a stew of sexist messages to the point that we absorb and repeat them without thinking. I sincerely appreciate being called on it whenever I mess up and am less inclusive than I aspire to be (which I do), so that I can understand another’s perspective and try not to make the same mistake again (which unfortunately I also do). But I want to make clear that this is not about a “purely didactic point [of] view in the academic, theoretical and practical sense,” this is about women’s lived experience in the real world. Memes that reinforce the notion that women love shiny sparkly objects are not helpful in our fight for equality. At all.
I appreciate the discussion and the opportunity to clarify my thoughts further. I hope it’s been helpful, as that was my purpose for writing you. “Allies” in the Democratic party are a dime a dozen. Allies who are willing to listen and learn? Well, not so much.
With thanks and best regards,
Now if Nicholas Ruiz III were, in fact, awesome, what might one expect to hear in response? Perhaps something like this:
Ah, I see your point now. I didn’t realize how that phrase might come across with respect to women. I apologize for that, and I will try to be more thoughtful in the future. Thanks for taking to time to write to me and point it out, as I truly want to be an ally to women in their fight for equality.
With love and solidarity always,
If that had occurred, then the title of this post would be “Iris HEARTS Nicholas Ruiz III.” But as you may have guessed from the actual title of this post, that is…not what occurred.
On Sat, Mar 30, 2013 at 6:56 PM, Nicholas Ruiz III wrote:
Gendered language? In the very most pinky ring, Oscar Wlidean sense, please do say you’re not assuming that men do not wear jewelry or like shiny objects, or do not like dress attire, or ties and such, of the finest kind and variety, or cannot represent these things, materially, and otherwise – and that only women do; or pomposity and parties and everything else. Please, do say? Many men love and represent ‘jewelry.’ Alot. And many women do not like it, or represent it at all. And everything between. Essentializing words, as you have here, is shall we say, the most anti-Barthesian, anti-Butlerian, anti-Derridean and most importantly, anti-compassionate thing one could do.
This theoretical and ontological ground has been and continues to be well-oiled and vital. To posit what you do here – would be an error of the precise kind you attribute herein – and quite simply, fails to account for a body of work well-known and understood as queer theory.
But if we must essentialize, let me say this: its been said and I agree, that we perform our words and desires, one at a time, each and every day – and no performance is universal. And thank the gods and goddesses for that. I understand your critique of my performance. And that’s why it’s for me – not for you. Your performance, I equally understand, but for me does not perform ‘inclusiveness’ in the most socially-just sense, for this world of an essential us. But it belongs to you to use as you wish. So let’s disagree. :-)
Oh. No. He. Didn’t.
Really, Nick? This is what you’re going with: some men wear pinky rings and nice ties, therefore your comment about two women politicians preferring parties and jewelry cannot possibly be sexist and problematic for women? I see. So I guess in the context of writing about two African-American politicians, if you were to call them lazy, or say that they prefer eating watermelon and fried chicken to doing their jobs, and someone explained to you how that was problematic, she would now be reading your brilliant insights that some people in other ethnic groups are also lazy, and some of them eat watermelon and fried chicken too, and furthermore some African-Americans are most definitely not lazy and do not like watermelon or fried chicken — therefore, your comments cannot possibly be interpreted as racist. Also, you would tell her that positing that such comments are indeed racist is the most “anti-compassionate thing one could do,” and fails to “perform ‘inclusiveness’ in the most socially-just sense.” (Which sentiment, I must note, is so rich with irony it belongs in an irony museum.)
And of course you would explain all of this to her in the most pompous and condescending manner your impressive vocabulary will permit.
Well, here’s a little insight for you, one you apparently missed: demeaning and belittling aspersions are not, in fact, routinely cast upon men by referencing their affinity for silk neckwear or cufflink bling. I know! It’s true!
There’s a word for what you’re doing here, Nick: mansplaining. That’s what it’s called when a d00d deigns to ‘splain to an educated, bisexual, intelligent female activist living in New York’s West Village that she “quite simply, fails to account for a body of work well-known and understood as queer theory.”
So please, allow me to ladysplain right back at you. Words have meanings. Those meanings can change in different contexts, and less privileged people experience words and contexts differently than other, more privileged humans do. (This is not, by the way, even remotely the same thing as “essentializing” words.) Now here comes the important part, so I’m going to type verrrrrry slowwwly, just for you: you don’t get to decide how women should experience and react to language they find problematic and offensive, because you have never been on their side of gender oppression. And you really, really do not get to call yourself an ally, when someone tells you that “memes that reinforce the notion that women love shiny sparkly objects are not helpful in our fight for equality,” and you respond with a pile of patronizing, disingenuous denials. (Quoth Nick: “Yes! I am an ally. A stronger one, in or running for office, if you are progressive, you will not find.” Jeezus. Let us hope not.)
As I said in my previous email:
“Allies” in the Democratic party are a dime a dozen. Allies who are willing to listen and learn? Well, not so much.
So by all means then, let’s disagree.
You seem to think you know how to be a feminist ally, and I disagree.
You also seem to think you’re pretty awesome, and I…disagree.
The arrogance and blindness you exhibit is so painfully, boringly typical, I am quite confident that should you be elected to Congress you’ll fit right in with those establishment Democrats you so scorn.
I wish you well.
It is my sincere hope that this is the end of our correspondence. I am saddened — but hardly surprised — that yet another self-proclaimed liberal d00d who claims to be an ally to women thinks that he understands their lived reality better than they do — and when told otherwise, denies that lived reality, and ‘splains how things really are.
Fucking liberals are the worst. At least with conservatives women know exactly where we stand: demeaned, diminished and dismissed.
HAPPY ZOMBIE JEEZUS DAY EVERYONE!