Althouse | category: Megan McArdle



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

When did you first become sensitized to the mocking of women?

I wonder, this morning, as I scan the comments on yesterday's post, "Whatever you think of [Dylan] Mulvaney’s transition, or her rather cloying girlishness... [s]he traffics not in anger or cruelty, but in whimsy and joy."*

Here's what I'm seeing (boldface added):

Sebastian: "Exuberant mockery of women, subversion of common sense, and in-your-face-take-that-deplorables-middle-fingerism....

Michelle Dulak Thomson: "[A]ll I can say is that he doesn't traffic in 'whimsy and joy.' He is a sick individual who mercilessly mocks women. Which is evidently OK these days...."

The Vault Dweller: "I don't think Dylan is setting out to mock women or ridicule women in general." And Quaestor came back with: "Is blackface acceptable if it's not intended as mockery?"

RoseAnne: "Is Mulvaney mocking women? Absolutely. Is Mulvaney doing it out of hatred of women? I don't know. Mulvaney may simply be taking advantage of the opportunity that is making so much money and not thinking very hard about HOW the money is being made...."

Bender: "LARPer Mulvaney traffics in womanface minstrel-show mockery. Which is nothing but malice."

Is this a special-purpose sensitivity to the mocking of women? Is the outrage of a piece with anxiety about the transgender movement or do these commenters also object when male standup comedians mock women and when comic actresses embody female stereotypes? 

Women represent a huge comic target. We are, perhaps, the biggest comic topic. We are mocked all the time. Do you want a new rule making women sacrosanct? Do you want to be the one stamping your foot and saying — in all seriousness — the punchline of one of the oldest jokes that mock women


* My post title is a quote from Megan McArdle's WaPo column "For conservatives, Dylan Mulvaney should be a role model." And I'm only noticing now that my use of brackets — in "[s]he traffics not in anger or cruelty" — might give the impression that McArdle used the masculine pronoun "he." No, McArdle had a capital "S" on "she," and my elision combined 2 sentences, so I needed a lower-case "S." I'll add a note about this to the original post. Here I am following a routine editing practice — using brackets where I need to change something in a quote — and I'm unwittingly exposing McArdle/myself to criticism about pronoun choice!

"Whatever you think of [Dylan] Mulvaney’s transition, or her rather cloying girlishness... [s]he traffics not in anger or cruelty, but in whimsy and joy."

"Where Matt Walsh offers enemies, Dylan Mulvaney aspires to exuberance. She suggests the possibility of making yourself, and the world, into something better, while [Matt] Walsh promises, at best, only the dour satisfaction of being right about how terrible everything is. It isn’t surprising that the kids are choosing Mulvaney over that. But Walsh is right, his followers cry. Even if he were, it wouldn’t justify his tactics. In the court of public opinion, truth is not necessarily a sufficient defense."

Also: "Conservatives... understand that bullying has cost progressivism a lot of support among moderates, including on issues surrounding transgenderism, where successful efforts to stifle public discussion of basic questions — such as 'What Is a Woman'? — have led to resentment and backlash rather than consensus...."

ADDED: I've got a new post based on some of the comments in this post. Writing that new post, I noticed my use of brackets in the post title above — "[s]he traffics not in anger or cruelty" — makes it seem as though McArdle might have used the masculine pronoun "he." No, she had "She," and I needed to switch to a lower-case "S." I just deploying brackets in the conventional way editors do when cutting down a quote. Nothing substantive.

200 journalists and writers release an open letter to the NYT to raise "serious concerns about editorial bias in the newspaper’s reporting on transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people.”

Hell Gate reports.
The open letter, whose signees include regular contributors to the Times and prominent writers and journalists like Ed Yong, Lucy Sante, Roxane Gay, and Rebecca Solnit, comes at a time when far-right extremist groups and their analogues in state legislatures are ramping up their attacks on trans young people....
In recent years and months, the Times has decided to play an outsized role in laundering anti-trans narratives and seeding the discourse with those narratives, publishing tens of thousands of handwringing words on trans youth—reporting that is now approvingly cited and lauded, as the letter writers note, by those who seek to ban and criminalize gender-affirming care.
Hell Gate has an interview with Jo Livingstone, "an award-winning critic and writer who helped organize the open letter."

Here's the open letter. I'll highlight what I think are important parts:
The newspaper’s editorial guidelines demand that reporters “preserve a professional detachment, free of any whiff of bias” when cultivating their sources, remaining “sensitive that personal relationships with news sources can erode into favoritism, in fact or appearance.” Yet the Times has in recent years treated gender diversity with an eerily familiar mix of pseudoscience and euphemistic, charged language, while publishing reporting on trans children that omits relevant information about its sources.

For example, Emily Bazelon’s article “The Battle Over Gender Therapy” uncritically used the term “patient zero” to refer to a trans child seeking gender⁠-⁠affirming care, a phrase that vilifies transness as a disease to be feared.

Are persons seeking "gender⁠-⁠affirming care" not "patients"? If they are not suffering from a condition to be feared, then why is treatment provided? Why are they not told they are fine as they are?

We discussed the Bazelon article on this blog, here

Back to the open letter:

Bazelon quoted multiple expert sources who have since expressed regret over their work’s misrepresentation. Another source, Grace Lidinksy⁠-⁠Smith, was identified as an individual person speaking about a personal choice to detransition, rather than the President of GCCAN, an activist organization that pushes junk science and partners with explicitly anti⁠-⁠trans hate groups.

In a similar case, Katie Baker’s recent feature “When Students Change Gender Identity and Parents Don’t Know” misframed the battle over children’s right to safely transition.

I blogged that story here.

Back to the open letter: 

The piece fails to make clear that court cases brought by parents who want schools to out their trans children are part of a legal strategy pursued by anti-trans hate groups. These groups have identified trans people as an “existential threat to society” and seek to replace the American public education system with Christian homeschooling, key context Baker did not provide to Times readers.

The natural destination of poor editorial judgment is the court of law.

I had a lot of trouble understanding that last sentence. I doubt if you would understand it without reading what comes next, but let me translate. The idea is that the NYT articles have been cited in court cases dealing with legislation about children seeking transgender treatments.

Last year, Arkansas’ attorney general filed an amicus brief in defense of Alabama’s Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, which would make it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, for any medical provider to administer certain gender⁠-⁠affirming medical care to a minor (including puberty blockers) that diverges from their sex assigned at birth. The brief cited three different New York Times articles to justify its support of the law: Bazelon’s “The Battle Over Gender Therapy,” Azeen Ghorayshi’s “Doctors Debate Whether Trans Teens Need Therapy Before Hormones,” and Ross Douthat’s “How to Make Sense of the New L.G.B.T.Q. Culture War.” As recently as February 8th, 2023, attorney David Begley’s invited testimony to the Nebraska state legislature in support of a similar bill approvingly cited the Times’ reporting and relied on its reputation as the “paper of record” to justify criminalizing gender⁠-⁠affirming care....

David Begley! 

As thinkers, we are disappointed to see the New York Times follow the lead of far-right hate groups in presenting gender diversity as a new controversy warranting new, punitive legislation.

I think the NYT is showing leadership and not allowing itself to be led around by the doctrinaire left.

Puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy, and gender⁠-⁠affirming surgeries have been standard forms of care for cis and trans people alike for decades....

Please cite the science. Is there some idea that medical treatments, once they've gone on for a while, must be correct and above question? Obviously not.

In that view, read this: "What the world can learn from a lobotomy surgeon’s horrible mistake." That's in the Washington Post, published yesterday, written by Megan McArdle.

Back to the open letter:

You no doubt recall a time in more recent history when it was ordinary to speak of homosexuality as a disease at the American family dinner table—a norm fostered in part by the New York Times’ track record of demonizing queers through the ostensible reporting of science.

In 1963, the New York Times published a front⁠-⁠page story with the title “Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern,” which stated that homosexuals saw their own sexuality as “an inborn, incurable disease”—one that scientists, the Times announced, now thought could be “cured.”

And, now, we're in a time when doctors are providing treatments for transgender persons. What is the lesson here?  

The word “gay” started making its way into the paper. Then, in 1975, the Times published an article by Clifford Jahr about a queer cruise (the kind on a boat) featuring a “sadomasochistic fashion show.” On the urging of his shocked mother, Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger sent down the order: Stop covering these people. The Times style guide was updated to include the following dictum, which stood until 1987: “Do not use gay as a synonym for homosexual unless it appears in the formal, capitalized name of an organization or in quoted matter.”

New York Times managing editor and executive editor A. M. Rosenthal neglected to put AIDS on the front page until 1983, by which time the virus had already killed 500 New Yorkers. He withheld planned promotions from colleagues he learned on the grapevine were gay. Many of his employees feared being outed. William F. Buckley published his op-ed arguing that people with HIV/AIDS should all be forcibly tattooed in the Times. Obituaries in the Times ascribed death from HIV/AIDS to “undisclosed causes” or a “rare disorder,” and left the partners of the deceased out entirely from its record of their lives. This era of hateful rhetoric also saw the rise of the term “patient zero,” used to falsely accuse an HIV/AIDS patient of deliberately infecting others. This is the same rhetoric that transphobic policymakers recently reintroduced to the American lawmaking apparatus by quoting Emily Bazelon’s Times article.

Yes, there is some bad history there. The NYT should be on guard not to make more mistakes — either similar mistakes or new mistakes overreacting to its famous old mistakes. 

Some of us are trans, non⁠-⁠binary, or gender nonconforming, and we resent the fact that our work, but not our person, is good enough for the paper of record.

What does it mean to say the NYT rejects your "person"?  

Some of us are cis, and we have seen those we love discover and fight for their true selves, often swimming upstream against currents of bigotry and pseudoscience fomented by the kind of coverage we here protest.

I do not see where they have pointed out "bigotry and pseudoscience." Perhaps they mean that the Times articles were not "bigotry and pseudoscience," but they "fomented" "bigotry and pseudoscience" in others.

All of us daresay our stance is unremarkable, even common, and certainly not deserving of the Times’ intense scrutiny. A tiny percentage of the population is trans, and an even smaller percentage of those people face the type of conflict the Times is so intent on magnifying. There is no rapt reporting on the thousands of parents who simply love and support their children, or on the hardworking professionals at the New York Times enduring a workplace made hostile by bias—a period of forbearance that ends today.

The "period of forbearance... ends today."  That made me want to go back to the Hell Gate interview to see what, specifically, this end of forbearance would look like.

The interviewer asks: "Are y'all asking the people who signed on to, for example, agree to not contribute to the Times until there is a response? Is there anything concrete like that being planned?"

Livingstone responds that there was no agreement to do anything other than to sign the letter. She adds that "there will be more letters and more kinds of venues for nonprofits and institutions to sign on" and says, "We made a gathering space that people have just come to us, ready to support."

She concludes: 

And I am proud of and grateful for everybody who is taking a risk on their future engagement by this employer, to stand with us. So when I think about all of that bravery, I feel okay, and can take a nap.

"Last week, in a conversation with colleague Gail Collins, [Bret] Stephens argued that a couple with a combined income of $400,000 a year doesn’t necessarily have a lifestyle we’d describe as 'rich.'"

"'They’re scrimping to send their kids to college, driving a Camry, if they have a car at all, and wondering why eggs have gotten so damned expensive.' 'Granted,' said Collins, which was the most fascinating part of this exchange.... How have liberals gotten so comfortable with the idea that $400,000 a year — more than what 98 percent of the population makes — is really just a middle-class income?..."
Compared with the old establishment that survived on inherited wealth and social position, they are insecure, and many worry that their offspring will be downwardly mobile, which leads them to spend virtually all of their outsize disposable incomes on preparing the children to become star performers in the next round of competition.... 
What self-respecting mammals don’t want their kids to have it at least as good as they did? At the median household income, that’s even a semi-plausible demand, because here all government needs to provide is median-grade public goods.... If you would be satisfied knowing that your child had a secure but unremarkable life managing a Walmart in some exurb, the government could probably guarantee that.... 

But — as McArdle sees it — if you worked hard enough to get to $400,000 a year, you expected something bigger for yourself and then you'll probably want the same — and more — for your children, and — overspending for them — you're stuck with an ordinary life for yourself. The Camry. The eggs.

Is that really the explanation for the Collins/Stephens agreement? I don't know. But if it is, there are some good solutions for young people looking on and thinking I don't want that to happen to me:

1. Don't have children.

2. Don't get the idea that you're special and you need to win in economic terms. If you sort of win — within the range that you're likely to win — you'll still have an ordinary life, and it will be much more work and much more disappointing. So come to terms with your mediocrity early. If you do this, it's easier to....

3. Live somewhere cheap (and close to nature).

4. Do some sort of work that you can enjoy and feel good about. 

5. Go ahead and have children. If you're doing ##2-4, you can skip the non-having of children. Make life about love, not boosting these random new humans to the next higher rung above some other couple's random new humans.

"People moved to coastal cities because that’s where the good jobs were.... This went on so long that the appeal of central cities..."

"... came to seem almost a law of nature, effortless and eternal. Unfortunately, the pandemic broke the virtuous cycle.... I suspect cities have fallen prey to the same delusion as those people who carefully pack up their laptops while the plane fills with smoke: They are looking around at other people, most of whom seem to be acting pretty normally.... Yes, crime might have risen, and residents might be darkly muttering about moving to the suburbs. But when haven’t city-dwellers threatened to move to the suburbs if the mayor didn’t fix their pet problems right away?... It would be understandable for mayors to look at all the people who have stayed and thought, 'Well, that’s not so bad.'"

Writes Megan McArdle in "Mayors are missing a window to address the remote-work revolution" (WaPo).

"[I]n 1960, more than 9 in 10 Americans accounted for in the census were White — and of the remainder, the overwhelming majority were Black..."

"In 1960, schools could have given underrepresented minorities a boost, allowed some minorities such as Asian Americans to be overrepresented, while retaining a representative White majority. But today, Harvard University’s own internal research has suggested that Asian Americans would make up 43 percent of an admitted class if only academics were considered. Allowing Asian numbers to grow in accordance with their academic overperformance, while keeping affirmative action in place, would presumably have left the White majority substantially underrepresented. That might be morally justified on various grounds, but it is politically untenable.... America can ask some members of the White majority to step aside in favor of underrepresented minorities with lower grades and test scores. And in the name of procedural fairness, America can ask disappointed White applicants to suck it up when they were outcompeted for university places by overperforming minority groups. But America cannot ask both those things at once — not when the numbers get so big and the stakes so high."

Writes Megan McArdle in "Why the architecture of affirmative action was always destined to collapse" (WaPo).

"Can the women’s movement be as effective without the word ‘women’?"

Asks Megan McArdle (at WaPo). 

Ironically and amazingly, McArdle goes about trying to answer this question without using the word "transgender" — or even "gender"! It is out of deference to transgender men (and transgender women) that we're seeing this avoidance of the word "woman." But McArdle is doing her own form of avoidance in this critique of avoidance.

Let's see how she does it:

Historically, the “women’s movement” was mobilized around what sociologists call a “thick” identity. Womanhood influenced almost every aspect of your life, from the biology of menstruation and childbirth, to how you dressed and acted, to your social roles....

But if you're a transgender woman, you don't have the menstruation and childbirth component, and if you're a transgender man, you don't dress and act and perform social roles in a manner that expresses womanhood. So in the transgender-focused view of the world, the "thickness" becomes series of thinner layers.

To speak of being a woman was to speak of all those things at once, and many more I haven’t mentioned.

And the transgender-focused position regards that sort of speech as unkind — microaggression.

Though, of course, many women missed one or more of those core experiences, all had gone through enough of them to forge a powerful common bond, which translated into some pretty powerful political impacts....

Yes, so there is a political reason to keep this huge group together, to be able to appeal to them as a group. Yet a political cost will be paid, sacrificing the hard-pushed progress on transgender awareness. McArdle is demonstrating how it looks after the sacrifice. She's not even admitting she's doing it. She's just showing what it looks like after it's done.

The relative thickness of female identity explains [all the money spent on breast cancer research].... But breasts belonged to women, and women were already organized to fight for their interests. 

Now, however, the women’s movement seems to be unbraiding that identity. What used to be called “women’s health” is now for “individuals with a cervix,” media outlets (including this one) write about the threat to Roe and “pregnant individuals,” up-to-date midwives talk of “birthing people” and “chestfeeding,” and “women’s swimming” can now cover both those born with male bodies who identify as women and those born with female bodies who identify as men....

Ah! Look at all the words she wrote to avoid saying "transgender": "those born with male bodies who identify as women and those born with female bodies who identify as men." Instead of talking about transgender people as an important political group, she portrays them as a force that has broken up the solidity of the mega-group called "women," to the detriment of women.

Now, I should say, I think she's right! There are so many women, and we want our strong political representation. We disagree amongst ourselves, but all politicians must deal with us. We shouldn't give up our political power, especially when there are woman-specific interests at the very center of the present-day debate. Transgender women don't worry that they can get pregnant and don't deal with unwanted pregnancy. Transgender men may face these matters, but those interests are better served by a strong fight in the name of women, not by endless micro-inclusions that weigh down speech.

[A]ny political coalition must augment its dedicated core with a much larger number of weaker adherents. That’s why thick identities such as “woman” are so valuable....

"Male puberty makes you taller, confers greater muscle and bone mass, larger heart and lung capacity relative to your size, and more hemoglobin...."

"Most people will never have what it takes to compete at the elite levels of high school, college or professional sports. That’s not an argument for kicking the genetically blessed out of the league so that those of us who are slower and weaker can experience the thrill of victory. One might add that it is particularly not an argument for kicking out people who face as many other disadvantages in their lives as trans athletes do. But if you like that answer, you should probably ask whether women’s sports should exist at all. After all, we didn’t create separate leagues to reinforce the special feminine identity of female athletes; if anything, women’s athletics was supposed to break down such divisions. The separation is a nod to biology: After puberty, biological women can’t compete with similarly gifted biological men.... [Do we] think it’s important for cisgender women to have a place where at least a few of us can experience the thrill of victory. Maybe that isn’t an important social goal. Or maybe it is, but just not as important a goal as trans inclusion. Either way, that question will have to be asked and answered — out loud, where everyone can hear it."

Writes Megan McArdle in "We need to be able to talk about trans athletes and women’s sports" (WaPo). 

The easiest solution is not to talk about it. Not only does it seem undesirable to say anything that could feel hurtful toward transgender people, but it's also quite unpleasant to need to say anything about the physical inferiority of women. The only way even to consider excluding transwomen from women's sports is to forefront the athletic inferiority of the female body. To have this conversation is to be transformed into a bunch of Bobby Riggses. But to fail to have the conversation is to say we don't need a special category for the female body and the whole women's sports movement was about nothing.

I thought maybe it would facilitate the conversation to speak of "the female body" instead of "women" or "ciswomen" or "natural women." As McArdle points out, women's sports isn't about how much "like a woman" the athletes feel inside. Indeed, it seems probable that many of them don't identify with what the culture traditionally considers feminine. And the women's sports movement was about transforming traditional gender roles: You could feel very very boyish and you're as womanly as the girl who revels in girliness. Isn't that the ideology of the women's sports movement?

The separate category exists because of the bodily differences and not at all because of inward feelings.... or does it? Maybe sports is really only about how people feel inside. You have to do something outwardly for it to be sports, but you do it for the feelings. If the women's sports movement was about boosting the feelings of women — women, who are inherently inferior at sports! — then how can you turn around and be unkind to the transgenders?

"At least a dozen cities have set homicide records this year. The scale of the killings is recapitulating the worst moments of the United States’ 20th-century urban crisis."

"And if we can’t stop it, we’ll also end up with the kind of over-the-top political response that we have spent decades regretting. That was the era when Bernhard Goetz, the 'Subway Vigilante,' became a New York folk hero for shooting a group of young men who demanded $5. Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton left the presidential campaign trail to be home for the execution of a severely brain-injured convict. A few years later, as president, Clinton would help spearhead passage of the infamous 1994 crime bill, which ended up dogging both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden during their presidential runs because the modern era blames it (somewhat unfairly) for mass incarceration. The younger progressives who called out Biden and Clinton tend to view the law-and-order politics of that era as pure sadism — or else as a racist, 'New Jim Crow' backlash that served to keep Black Americans separate and unequal.... Crime control is arguably a prerequisite for many items on the progressive policy agenda. Want people to support higher immigration? Reassure them that foreign gangs are not going to reassemble on American streets. Want people to move to dense, walkable urban neighborhoods where their carbon footprint will be smaller? Those neighborhoods won’t be very attractive if there are many criminals walking around, too. And of course, people are most likely to support a reformist criminal justice agenda when crime is low. If many people you know have been victimized, you tend to err on the side of keeping offenders in jail."

3 takes on Zuckerberg's "metaverse."

1. "Facebook wants to be The Matrix" by Kevin T. Dugan (Fortune).
Zuckerberg still puts bringing people together as his guiding principal [sic], and this is how to do it, even if it just has them interact more with sensors and goggles than with other living, breathing people. It all seems kinda bleak, like when you first see how people are harvested to make up The Matrix. As Morpheus says, channeling the French postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard, “welcome to the desert of the real.” But as Facebook’s continued dominance in social media attests, you don’t really even need people to like your product very much in order for it to be extremely powerful and widely-used.
In the virtual and augmented future Facebook has planned for us, it's not that Zuckerberg's simulations will rise to the level of reality, it's that our behaviors and interactions will become so standardized and mechanical that it won't even matter.... We learn to downgrade our experience of being together with another human being to seeing their projection overlaid into the room like an augmented reality Pokemon figure... Now, just as we're waking up to ways Facebook has knowingly eroded our social, mental and civic well-being, Zuckerberg is back with a new offering: a way out.... But... to go in the direction that Zuckerberg is pushing us, we must leave our humanity behind.
[M]any companies that see the approaching catastrophe and dutifully try to adapt fail to do so. Kodak invented the digital camera in 1975, and nonetheless went bankrupt in 2012 thanks to digital photography.... If you wanted to create a digital photography company, you probably wouldn’t staff it with 145,000 employees of a company that made cameras and film....

When Zuckerberg founded Facebook, he was one 19-year-old college student with a computer, among millions. A decade ago, when he was pushing the company to focus on mobile rather than desktop and buying Instagram for $1 billion, he was a 28-year-old entrepreneur. Now he’s a billionaire, one of only thousands, and he has aged out of the coveted 18- to 34-year-old demographic..... [I]t seems more likely that the future belongs to people we’ve never heard of — those without a legacy business to worry about or a thick layer of money and fame insulating them from the longings of ordinary users.

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