I’m going to reprint a comment I left at another blog – but a bit of context is required first. Over at Prawfsblog, a post introducing a new blogger, who is female, was responded to by a male poster who wrote “New permaprof is easy on the eyes as well.” Ann Bartow responded by saying to the new blogger, “I was going to wish you good luck even before reading that bit of assholishness. Now I wish you good luck more emphatically still.”
This led Bart Motes (lots of “barts” in this discussion) to respond:
3. Do you not think that there is a valid point to be made that criticizing the misapplication of the male gaze, or lookism, or whatever, is a misapplication of valuable and rare resources? Or do you think that having some guy go “hubba-hubba” on a message board about the picture of a priviledged, powerful, indepedent member of society aka a law professor is really a more pressing issue than wage inequality, having control over one’s body, etc.?
Bart, I’ve commented on “the pettiness” charge at some length at my blog. But, briefly:
1) Your question assumes that Ann faces an either-or choice between discussing “pressing” issues and objecting to a sexist comment on this blog. In fact, Ann can do both, and does do both.
2) You’ve written more on this thread than Ann. Surely there are more pressing issues you could be discussing, by your standards. Why aren’t you holding yourself to the same standards you suggest Ann be held to?
I’d suggest it’s because the standard you suggest is in practice unreasonable, for either you or for Ann. A standard that says we can never engage any issues but the most pressing is simply too restrictive.
3) Your belief that sexist comments about professional women is not a pressing issue is dubious at best. You’re ignoring that sexism is systematic. Wage inequality and attacks on reproductive freedom don’t happen in contextless isolation; they happen in a context of a society in which women are consistently devalued.
Sexism directed against female law profs is bad in and of itself, and that alone is enough to justify Ann’s comment. But it’s also bad because such ordinary day-to-day sexism normalizes sexism, and makes the more “pressing” concerns you cited more difficult to overcome.
4. Do you think that when you get to the point where you are mau-mauing a guy who read Katha Pollitt’s column in the Nation from age 16, whose sister went to Smith, and who considers himself an equality feminist that you might be out on the fringes of mainstream political opinion? Just asking.
It’s refreshing to read an ad hom defense, rather than an ad hom attack. But even as a defense, ad hom is still a logical error; who you are is not logically relevant to if your arguments are bad or good. And whether or not Ann’s arguments are “mainstream political opinion” is not logically relevant, either; mainstream views can be mistaken.
That said, I’m glad you self-identify as a feminist (the more the better!). But with all due respect, a feminist self-identity shouldn’t rule out taking feminist criticism of oneself seriously.
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Further reading on this subject: Law and Letters has an extremely thoughtful and well-written post inspired by the discussion on PrawfsBlog. And Being Amber Rhea has a wonderfully angry post about “you’re not only smart, you’re hotttt!” style compliments – and also the “you’re stupid and ugly” counterpart.