My son asked me last night if there is still a role for feminism in the 21st century “with all the progress we’ve seen.” Of course! I told him. Steubenville, Ohio and New Delhi, India are surely proof enough. But there’s a subtler way in which women are silenced. I see it in the recent spate of articles about young women’s “annoying” speech patterns. I see it in the lack of female editorial voices on opinion pages (where men sometimes outnumber women by 10:1). I see it in the pairing of elderly men with barbie dolls on Fox news. And I see it, to be totally self-referential (a trait I have been taken to task for multiple times on my, um, extremely self-referential personal blog), in the frequent attacks on my ‘right’ to speak.
Let’s review: I know nothing and do no research, I have a “little” or “so-called” or “lame” job. I am not allowed to refer to myself as a “columnist” or a “contributor.” (This reflects chutzpah.) I don’t know my place in the pecking order. It was unspeakably “pathetic” for me to share links to my work — as all writers do – from Andrew Sullivan and other sites. People assume that I am not paid, naturally. Or they are furious to discover that I am paid. It’s apparently “bragging” and “self-promoting” to try to generate income for oneself through efforts to increase readership that could produce additional writing assignments. (Just yesterday this windbag was asked to be a “contributor” to the Boston NPR affiliate.) But that presumes I am actually working; my ‘work’ is often referred to in quotation marks. My credentials are suspect too. My education is mocked. I’m told that I have no claim to speak on certain topics – especially issues related to men’s regrettable behavior. I’m censoring other people’s voices, God forbid (about which, a lot more in a moment.)
And here’s the real kicker I’m “defensive.” This is the catch-all term for uppity women who want to stake out a claim. If we don’t like being put in our place, we are called ‘defensive.’ It’s unfalsifiable, which is the beauty of putting someone in her place, like asking: When did you stop beating your wife? There’s no answer that would satisfy.
I’m not talking about internet trolls, by the way. This feels different than the standard: “I hate you! No, I hate you!” discourse on the internet. As one supportive emailer put it to me: ‘The endless questioning of your credibility feels off. Do you think it’s partly sexism?” To be clear: I have no problem with disagreement on my content – none at all – but I do have a problem with people questioning my right to have a voice. I’ve spent 50 years learning to speak and I’n not planning to “STFU” any time soon, notwithstanding yesterday’s advice.
Over the last 24 hours, many hundreds of people have posted comments about my work at TIME.com. This is an open forum for anyone with a keyboard, and I’m delighted that people have a space to voice their reactions, even the negative and ugly ones. I’m old enough to remember back in the Jurassic era of print media the sense of powerlessness and asymmetry that characterized the reader-writer relationship. Only a handful of letters to the editor were published at best, and generally only those with stilted, calming prose. I still remember the first time one of my own letters was published. I felt a sense of validation that I, too, could have a say. It was posted at Salon.com — this must have been back in the ’90s, and I remember thinking: ‘Wow, this is a different world.’ So of course I understand the desire for a level playing field where speech is concerned.
Yet I am also taken to task for “censoring” people here at my blog, and that accusation (when there is an open forum at TIME.com for commentary on every one of my opinion columns, as there it at every site at which I’ve ever published work) strikes me as a Bridge Too Far. I’ve received hundreds of comments to this site, only a small fraction of which I’ve chosen to post below in the comments section. Why? well, here’s the response I’ve offered to one angry commenter who feels silenced:
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