Clue this dude in.

I often label myself as a feminist. I have a strong distaste for the patriarchy, and the gender roles today’s society has in place, and I hate all the myriad ways that those gender roles hurt men and women. I’d like to think I’m pretty savvy when it comes to gender issues, and that my approach to achieving egalitarianism is the most rational and achievable course of action — that being, recognizing privilege, owning up to it, and working to break it down and replace it with a better and more equal system.

So with my self-perceptions being what they are, am I wrong in thinking the use of the word “lady” at the end of a suggestion or angry comment has less to do with the gender of the recipient, and more to do with the lack of familiarity between them?

The specific example I’m talking about is where Greg Laden titled a blog post “Get a clue, lady” in reference to the sign debacle I covered Monday. In point of fact, Greg used the word “lady” in a potentially sexist manner twice — once in the title, once in the name of his sign picture, being “fuckedupwhitelady.jpg”. We won’t go over the specifics of what got him upset, as I think I’ve said my piece on Monday and would rather see the sign specifics discussed there. I lament that every bloody conversation about the sign has devolved in a hurry to a conversation about Greg’s word choice, so this is an attempt to separate the two.

Now, a number of people have taken him to task about how sexist both of those instances were. Ibis in particular has defended her having interpreted it like this:

“Don’t be so emotional, lady”
“Learn to drive, lady”
“Suck it up, lady”
“Get me a sandwich, woman”
“What’s wrong with you, woman?”
“Give me twenty push-ups, ladies” (said to boys to denigrate them)
“Quiet, ladies” (said to a group of men to make silence for an authority figure to speak)

Sounds to me just like
“Get a clue, lady”
and
“fuckedupwhitelady”

Not remotely sexist. Yeah, right.

I happen to see this as a compelling argument. But it’s not an argument about the word lady devoid of the context, not even when misapplied to the wrong gender, to shame men for being like women as though there was something wrong with that. The word lady itself does not appear to me to directly shame ladies for being ladies unless the thing they’re being shamed for in the other part of the sentence is somehow a slur against women — like that they can’t drive, or that they’re emotional, or that their place is in the kitchen. Women are not particularly known for being less clueful than men, no matter what certain slimepit denizens might try to say.

So the “get a clue, lady” when applied to a total stranger whose name you don’t know is equivalent to me to “get a clue, dude” applied to a total stranger you don’t know. Sure, “dude” has aspects of camaraderie when used one dude to another, but in the context of strangers, it’s the equivalent of calling them “hey Jack” or “hey buddy” or “hey asshole” (minus the derogatory context).

That said, it’s been explained to me that just by being on the male side of the privilege imbalance, any reference to the gender of the unprivileged is pretty much sexist by default — e.g. telling a woman that it looks like rain, per Becca’s comment, is mansplaining where a woman telling a man it looks like rain is perfectly acceptable. So referring to her gender while telling her that she’s sans clue, suggests that she’s sans clue because of her gender (though, again, I don’t know that that rises to the level of slur in context).

And I see lots of uses of the word lady in a neutral context. And a number in laudatory contexts — my nickname around the blogosphere for Stephanie Zvan has been “Our Lady of Perpetual Win” for about as long as I’ve known her. Ladies whom I love dearly, I actually call “dear lady” completely unironically. (Though my own speech patterns are peculiar — I also picked up “thank you kindly” despite it being terrible grammar.) If someone visits work and I have to get someone’s attention, I say that “there’s a lady waiting at reception”. Hell, the President’s wife is called the First Lady — bringing to mind the question, what would the President’s husband be called, since the only appropriate term I can think is “gentleman”?

So, knowing how much nuance I can “get” despite my own privileges, why have I got this one thing so desperately wrong? Why am I reading Greg as using the word “lady” as a pronoun for “unnamed protester” (though we know now that her name is Sarah Pond), and why should his stated intention to not slur women in general be completely ignored in this in order to keep vilifying him for his word choice in a moment of anger and frustration? And considering his given example of now-well-known dogwhistles of both racist and sexist varieties, why does “get a clue lady” rise to the level of slur against all ladies, rather than a criticism of this one lady?

Clue this dude in.

68 thoughts on “Clue this dude in.

  1. 52

    Giliel, people freak out when I referred to my as-yet-unborn child as “it”. At the time it was perfectly true, but people seem to feel that “it” is dehumanizing. I dunno, it worked for us.

  2. 53

    I think the term is a rhetorical device coined to refer exclusively to sexist arguments made against women by men

    That was not the understanding I got from the various feminist blogs where I first came across the term, which is that it’s the condescending way men tend to assume that no matter how simple or obvious some subject may be, the woman they are conversing with needs to hear it explained, possibly in excruciating detail. All because women have to be ignorant of all things mechanical, scientific or professional sports. Well, everything except sewing, cooking and babies, really.

    I watched my younger sister first pick up on the idea that she should pretend not to understand things when I knew she did. It annoyed me then that she was being dishonest. It annoyed me more when I figured out that she was just accepting/being forced into the patriarchy’s role that had been prepared for her.

  3. 54

    @53: Oh, I explained the term that way because I was trying to be as straightforward as possible and because Captain Mike apparently thinks that the term “mansplaining” was coined as a misandrist slur instead of a rhetorical device meant to show how many men still blithely assume that women need to have science, math, engineering, sports, economics, business and politics condescendingly explained to them in excruciating detail because they’re female. Now, many feminists put emphasis on “men” in this definition. I would prefer to exchange “men” for “people”. For example, I’m acquainted with several women in math and science who smugly assume that other women can’t hack math and science because they’re female; they also deride women in the liberal arts for their “feminine” intellectual interests. These women harbor the same sexism against women that men with similar attitudes do. I’d like for more people to be aware of the degree to which patriarchal attitudes are internalized by many members of our society, regardless of sex.

    These points notwithstanding, I disagree that the term “mansplaining” is used by people deciding to “to judge speech based not on its content, but on the contents of the speaker’s underpants”. I disfavor the term, but I understand what it really means. By definition, a rhetorical device is meant to persuade an audience to understand an issue from the author’s point of view. It isn’t an endorsement of bigotry. I think it’s fair to understand “mansplaining” this way because of the context in which it originated and is usually employed. And that’s all I was driving at.

    By the way, I’m tempted to blame postmodernism for this widespread failure of the blogosphere to understand important literary devices such as “tone”, “atmosphere” and “rhetorical device”, which are staples of standard English. I grew up reading 19th and early 20th century British, Canadian and American literature and taking English classes of the old school. With the exception of the Victorians’ penchant for oblique discussions of sex and violence, the focus there was on clear communication.

    Nowadays, the postmodernists confuse their audiences by refusing to explicitly define their terms and use standard English while the reactionaries respond by calling every attempt to develop a rational understanding of the different connotations of individual terms a disingenuous effort to justify bigotry. Bad, garbled writing and speech are a disgrace to any cause, while denying the existence of nuance in language is as nonsensical as denying that there’s such a thing as reading comprehension. It drives me nuts.

  4. 56

    Cyberlizard @46: I saw it, but I don’t specifically remember the “cupcake” reference. Was that the “hook” Kirk and those security goons used in the bar and later on the ship? Seems the most logical place for the phrase to have been.

    The impression I’m getting is that tone is everything. Tone is really hard to get exactly right on the internet in plaintext, though certainly not impossible. The fact that Greg used “fuckedup” in the image title doesn’t help the impression of his tone, nor the rest of his annoyance. But I still don’t see him using a particularly sexist remark, except in the sense that he’s addressing a woman. If he was trying to aim at class, but set off all your dogwhistles that he was aiming at gender, then that sucks. It means it’s that much more difficult to talk about someone having middle class privilege when being upset about the middle class coopting rather than merely joining a movement.

    I fully agree that a lot of word usage is completely screwed up by those damned postmodernists, Juniper. And I’d posit that slimy assholes have screwed up gendered words to the point where even referring to a person as a generic address with reference to class is now a sexist comment. Again, we need pronouns that are not gendered, that work in the heat of the moment to refer to someone being privileged, that are not tainted by all the slimepit uses.

    Given the word choices available to Greg, it seems “lady” was the best choice. That or leaving it off entirely, losing the nuance he was evidently going for with attacking her class. I’m sorry if my saying that means I’m still not “getting it”. If you folks (non-gendered plural!) think that makes me less respectable in any way, I am saddened by that fact, but I’ll try to make up for it by being great about everything else.

  5. 57

    All because women have to be ignorant of all things mechanical, scientific or professional sports. Well, everything except sewing, cooking and babies, really.

    Which is funny, because sewing, cooking and babies require quite some skills in mechanics and science (not so much profesional sports)

    mansplaining
    I’ll go back to the thing about communication and how men and women are raised to speak differently.
    The woman side is a lot of use of indirect speech and subtle clues. We’re not supposed to be demanding.
    The man side of this is talking in facts, even if they’re not.
    But we all know, you can’t argue facts.
    So what men often, and often subconsciously do is to present their opinion as a fact, thereby devaluing the woman, making her seem unreasonable and plain wrong.
    I’ll give you an example that recently got my husband into trouble (count him as one of the good but often clueless guys who’s perpetuation the subtle forms of sexism and privilege).
    We were shopping together (a rare occurence) and we’d agreed to make pasta-gratin for dinner. The supermarket had Italian macaroni on offer so I grabed a bag.
    He has no clue about cooking.
    He never ever made pasta-gratin (if you want the recipe, just say so).
    He was wondering why I bought a different type of pasta than usual.
    What he said was: “You (generic you, German has a different word for that, so no ambivalence possible) don’t make pasta-gratin with macaroni.”
    And then he wondered why I was angry.

    Jason
    Well, how about just: Get a clue!
    If the structure has a spot reserved for an insult, almost everything you put there becomes one.

  6. 58

    The example you gave of your husband using a non-specific generic “you” to expound upon something he didn’t actually know, Giliell, gives me the distinct impression that the “get a clue” sans pronoun would be equally offensive. Because it was directed at a woman. Please tell me that’s not how I should take this stuff.

  7. 59

    savage @48, your example of people using “feme” (that’s how I’d spell it, like meme) is grossly sexist — a contraction of “female” separate from the word itself is obviously intended as a new slur.

    On “mansplaining”, I agree with Juniper @54 that the word is a rhetorical device to describe a situation that’s mostly done by men to women. But if a woman can do it too, then is it such a good idea to call it “mansplaining” any more? Doesn’t that basically slur men as being the only gender that feels the need to overexplain things to people? I’ve had women explain things to me that I probably understand better than them (e.g., on calls with IT folk who express an understanding of networking that seems, honestly, like they’d just got out of school). And while it irritated me, I patiently waited through the explanation in hopes that some new knowledge might be imparted on me. Seems to me that I got “mansplained” then. Why’s it “man” at all? Is that really fair? Yes, yes, I know, we’re in a patriarchy, and men seem to think they know science and math and whatnot so much better than women, but shouldn’t we have a gender-neutral word for that too?

  8. JRB
    60

    The main problem is that in “Get a clue, lady”, the “lady” is in the position where you would put the insult. “Get a clue, asshole”.

    Sorry, while I think there have been some compelling arguments made, I’m not buying this one. While “Get a clue, asshole” is one way that phrase is used, I don’t think anyone would argue that it would be unusual to see “Get a clue, Greg” or “Get a clue, Thibuaelt” used instead.

    Unless you want to argue that a person’s proper name is being used as an insult in those cases, I don’t think you can make the case that just because an insult could be used as part of a construction that any noun used in the same place automatically becomes an insult.

  9. 61

    I’ve had women explain things to me that I probably understand better than them (e.g., on calls with IT folk who express an understanding of networking that seems, honestly, like they’d just got out of school). And while it irritated me, I patiently waited through the explanation in hopes that some new knowledge might be imparted on me. Seems to me that I got “mansplained” then.

    This sounds obnoxious. I’m sorry. However, were these women explaining networking principles that you already understood because you’re male? That is key. If they were treating you that way for a reason other than your sex, then this is rude because they didn’t bother to ask you what you already knew. It doesn’t fall into the “mansplaining” category.

    Mind, I’m not assuming that these women weren’t unnecessarily explaining IT to you because you’re male*. That’s because there are multiple possible motivations for subtle manifestations of bigotry, which makes them difficult to talk about. For example, one reason why I dislike working in my lab right now is because I dread using the confocal microscope. Recently, the technician in charge of the confocal microscope responded condescendingly to a question I didn’t want to ask him and was pressed to ask by other people. This is the same white male technician born in 1957 who couldn’t settle for sticking to business during the three days of the confocal microscopy safety training that I had to endure last semester. Instead, he made supercilious asides and insinuations the whole time. He assumed that I and the other female trainee present sucked at math because we’re biologists. He insinuated that I was nervous not because I’d never used a confocal microscope before but because I didn’t have any natural aptitude for its use. He incorrectly explained my own histological slides to me. Worst, he concluded by putting his hand on my arm without invitation, leaning into my face and smirking, “Sweetheart, biology is a lot harder than you think it is.”

    I almost responded to that with “Which one of us went to Berkeley, asshole?” I wish I had. But I didn’t. I did what I was trained to do in the white Republican military communities from which I hail and smiled placatingly like a good little girl instead. Consequently, I’m still so angry at that jerk that I no longer care who from my university reads this and tries to ruin my life because I wrote something impolitic about him online. Almost everyone else detests him anyway.

    Did the technician treat me this way because I’m female? Personally, I think he treated me this way without provocation for multiple reasons: 1) I’m female; 2) I’m half-black; 3) he’s jealous of my Rising Star of a brilliant PI and is taking it out on me; 4) he hates his job; 5) he wishes he had earned a PhD and started his own lab; 6) he wishes he had majored in physics or engineering instead of biology and doesn’t realize that this is his problem, not mine; 7) I’m not my PI’s male postdoc, who is suffering from Big Fish in a Little Pond Syndrome because this technician, my PI and a number of my labmates don’t understand that I’m a new grad student who doesn’t feel compelled either to kowtow to men or compete with anyone of either sex who has twelve years of molecular biology on me, for the same reason that I wouldn’t compete in an essay contest against one class of eighth graders and then ludicrously point to my victory as conclusive proof that I’m the greatest writer in the world and none of them will ever win the Pulitzer Prize and 8) I graduated from a top-tier college and he didn’t. That he was rude to me for multiple reasons, however, would not prevent me from calling his treatment of me “mansplaining” if I used that word in the first place. Would he have called me “sweetheart” and put his hand on my arm if I were male? I doubt it!

    Why’s it “man” at all? Is that really fair? Yes, yes, I know, we’re in a patriarchy, and men seem to think they know science and math and whatnot so much better than women, but shouldn’t we have a gender-neutral word for that too?

    Short answer: No, it’s not fair. Yes, we should use a gender-neutral word.

    Long answer: No, it’s not fair. Yes, we should use a gender-neutral word whenever we can. However, as in all cases, we shouldn’t forget the objective of the argument in which “mansplaining” is used. Women with backgrounds similar to mine, for example, have had numerous painful experiences in which people, mostly men, and often our own fathers, assumed that our pink ladybrains couldn’t handle math, science, engineering, politics, sports, business and economics and “explained” those subjects accordingly.

    Moreover, a lot of us suppressed our deep anger over this phenomenon until adulthood because we were taught not to argue. When we write or speak about sexism against women, we’d like to compel our audience to genuinely try to understand our perspective. Many rhetorical devices can be employed in service of that objective. Different individuals have different styles. Organic, unaffected styles are the most effective.

    *Every red-blooded American covered with flag-shaped lapel pins and sporting red, white and blue underwear such as myself knows you Canadians live in a pinko-commie-fascist-European-Islamoatheist-Hitler-Robespierrian sissy-tundra where women wear the pants and the government forces you to pay 85% of your income in taxes so it can buy condoms, abortions and arugula for illegal immigrants and Occupy Wall Street activists. I’m not in the least bit surprised that Canadian women dare to talk to men that way in such a land. I feel sorry for you Canadians.

  10. 62

    I’m sorry.

    No! I’m Canadian, don’t say that, you’ll set off a chain reaction of I’m Sorry’s! I mean, I’m sorry but it’ll just happen without any prior war–OH SHIT.

    Worst, he concluded by putting his hand on my arm without invitation, leaning into my face and smirking, “Sweetheart, biology is a lot harder than you think it is.”

    On the very off chance I ever do a Sam Beckett impersonation and start Quantum Leaping into people’s lives to right wrongs, there’s a very good chance I’d pop this guy in the face, no matter WHAT Al and Ziggy say.

    If you’re not the only one being damaged by this guy, I think his issues run deeper than mere bigotry, though that’s definitely a factor. I don’t doubt he does this to men, women, blacks, whites, and probably inanimate objects if he thinks he can deflate their egos sufficiently to inflate his own. He’s a bully who’s failed in his own lifetime and needs to think better of himself by making everyone else think worse about themselves. It highlights the fact that we need a word for this kind of assholery that’s gender-neutral, though. To be modified after the fact, with an appropriate adjective, to indicate that he’s also a sexist fuck.

    I propose “douchesplain.”

    Before anyone says “douche is inherently gendered”, a) any orifice can be douched, b) it’s a largely useless product, mostly created by men, marketed mostly to women, under false pretenses, and c) very likely damages the users needlessly out of some enculturated and grossly damaging ideas about what’s clean and what isn’t.

    Anyway, your guy was a sexist douchesplainer. My IT lady was an egotistical douchesplainer (which is a far less grievous crime, but annoying as fuck nonetheless). I doubt she did it because she thought as a man I’m less network-savvy, but rather because she thought she knew it all, having just graduated, and that I (having admitted I’m autodidact in all things, including computers) must not know anything about my field. Never mind that it’s been my field for over a decade.

    How’s that for organic, unaffected style?

    Every red-blooded American covered with flag-shaped lapel pins and sporting red, white and blue underwear such as myself knows you Canadians live in a pinko-commie-fascist-European-Islamoatheist-Hitler-Robespierrian sissy-tundra where women wear the pants and the government forces you to pay 85% of your income in taxes so it can buy condoms, abortions and arugula for illegal immigrants and Occupy Wall Street activists. I’m not in the least bit surprised that Canadian women dare to talk to men that way in such a land. I feel sorry for you Canadians.

    I am squinting so hard at you right now. I hope you can feel it over the internet.

  11. 63

    Jason @56
    I said I was done posting. I lied, I have to answer this.

    Greg’s using her class as a slur IS a problem. The middle class is a big, blurry group that people move in and out of, even, I dare say, hippies. It’s members vary widely in income, security, power and whatever else you want to define as privilege. More women wind up at the lower end. Why? Largely because we raise children, take care of old people and do a lot of the unpaid and underpaid labor that keeps families and community groups going. And for some reason people who evince no interest in seeing that our labor is valued are very keen on telling us how to do it, right down to the colors of our children’s hats . So if a middle class man starts lecturing a middle class woman about her privileges, there is a good chance he is doing this as the, in fact, more privileged party.

    Then there is the fact that people move in and out of the middle class, at least if you define it by income. When I worked as baker, I did not have a computer, a car, or money to donate, things that make it so comfortable and easy to be talking with you lovely people, considering going to your conventions and so on. Now I do. I can get into the conversation but, horrors, now I am also middle class and if I say the wrong thing, I may be called “fucked up white lady” and so forth and assigned responsibility for ‘making’ this world we are all in. You see the problem?

    I don’t think this is an issue of ‘tone’ so much as it is of thinking out carefully what you want to say. In aid of which, I will now offer what I dub The Holy Hand Grenade Rule:

    Before thou lobbest thy Holy Hand Grenade, check thou thy target area, lest thou sprayeth shrapnel upon bystanders and they do fall upon thee crying, “Foul Fiend.”

    In other words, define the thing you want to criticize narrowly. Is it language, intention, person, subgroup or group entire? If you absolutely must attack a group you belong to, don’t exempt yourself, and make sure you’re willing to abide by whatever critique or prescription you’re offering. If Greg had said, “Durn us middle class white people, when will we learn not to talk like this? I am going to the next demonstration and my sign is going to say… (what Stephanie said http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2011/10/16/just-a-punk-hippy-freak/),” would anyone have jumped on him?

  12. 65

    Here’s my take, FWIW: people nowadays call a woman “lady” when addressing a woman who is — or seems to act like she is — in a position of some superiority, such as a boss, a client, or someone else of higher social, economic or other rank, or (as in the case of Greg’s insulting usage in the other post), a woman who seems to think she’s smart and allegedly needs to be taken down a peg, and given a dose of common sense, by a more practical-minded man. i.e., “Lady, I been driving this cab for ten years, and I’m telling you, this is the quickest route there is to your destination.” Or “Lady, it’s the lunch rush — we can’t do special orders. This ain’t the Ritz!” It’s not always disrespectful, though it can be. And it’s not “sexist” in itself, it’s just an acknowledgement that the person you’re talking to is female. (Who wants to be addressed as “person [none of whose attributes I wish to acknowledge]?”)

    OTOH, calling someone “woman” is normally used to demean a woman by saying she’s acting outside of her proper place as a woman. i.e., “Just keep the food coming, woman, and leave the soldiering to us.” It’s used to talk down to a woman who is either trying to muck around in “men’s work,” or not doing “women’s work” satisfactorily. Calling someone “woman” in conversation is definitely sexist and demeaning, at least most of the time.

  13. 66

    7 Greg Laden

    They come from ERV. I will not use any of the words that come to mind when I think that.

    Other than Becca, perhaps. She’s just a …. oh, never mind.

    Haha! Way to discretely and non-blameably insult a woman, Laden.

    Let me guess: cunt? Uppity bitch? Gal with ideas above her station?

    Do tell, Laden.

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