Gender and Foreign Policy

Men have run wars like, forever. They are bigger and stronger. Male chimpanzees are known to form bands that patrol the boundaries of their territories and beat the crap out of other male chimpanzees. So yes, of course, why would you consider that male control over national security issues, and political science in general, would not be natural?

I’ve written a couple of posts on gender in foreign policy that were turned down by male editors, and others have had similar experiences. I was reminded of this recently by someone who has gone through it again.

Of course it’s possible that these pieces just weren’t well-written, but the reasons they are turned down are oddly similar, and it seems to be mostly pieces about gender in foreign policy that get this treatment. The editorial objection is “What is it you are saying?” accompanied, later in the game, by “Why do you keep repeating this?” These are smart men, who one might think would detect their own self-contradictions.

I’ve also tweeted about gender in national security, and some Juicers have asked me to write a post. It will be a series of posts. Consider this one an introduction to the subject.

Carol Cohn was the pioneer who first noted in 1987 the male sexualization of discourse in nuclear security. She recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in response to Donald Trump’s tweet that his nuclear button was bigger and better than Kim Jong Un’s nuclear button.

I am trying to think back to 1987 and how we thought about such things then. I can’t tell if we have always thought about missiles as being phallic or if Cohn first made that idea explicit enough that we could discuss it. These things are so ingrained, so much a part of our thinking, that it’s hard to get outside the frame to talk about them. That’s what Cohn did.

Cohn in her latest:

I started thinking about this over three decades ago, when I was working among civilian nuclear strategists, war planners, weapons scientists and arms controllers. What struck me was how removed they were from the human realities behind the weapons they discussed. This distancing occurred in part through a professional discourse characterized by stunningly abstract and euphemistic language — and in part through a set of lively sexual metaphors.

The human bodies evoked were not those of the victims; instead, there were conversations about vertical erector launchers, thrust-to-weight ratios, soft lay downs, deep penetration and the comparative advantages of protracted versus spasm attacks — or what one military adviser to the National Security Council called “releasing 70 to 80 percent of our megatonnage in one orgasmic whump.”

Language limits what can be thought and argued. Let’s take “penetration at all levels,” which I know is not Adam’s wording and that in some of his work cannot be avoided, precisely the problem that Cohn outlines.

“Penetration” is of course something the male sex does. Penetration at all levels is a power fantasy and, pretty much, rape. It’s not something women can do. (I’m excepting sex toys; our minds aren’t subtle in these things.) It’s not even an accurate description of what Adam has been talking about, which is Russian influence and infiltration. Those two words would allow for greater understanding.

Sexualized discussions of national security can make people miss things. Negotiation is less likely to be the response to rape than violence. Negotiation is a reasonable option in a discussion about influence and infiltration. And the male-oriented sexuality keeps women out. It’s uncomfortable for them and makes what they say less believable to men.

For someone like Trump, seeing action as manly and negotiation as feminine can be dangerous to all of us. For military strategists, that sort of thinking limits the kinds of options they can consider. For the rest of us, it can make a difference in how we vote.

Much of this gendering of national security takes place below conscious thought. That is why an editor keeps asking what an article about gender and national security is about; he can’t see that his own thought might be conditioned by the gendered vocabulary of national security.

Valued commenter celticdragonchick reminded me of James Tiptree’s The Women Men Don’t See. Tiptree, of course, was Alice Bradley Sheldon. It’s another example of how language and privilege shape what you can see and understand.

I’ll continue to talk about gender in national security on Twitter and will say more here. If you want to read more, the Cohn articles are a good introduction, a short read and a much longer one.

 






98 replies
  1. 1

    Sexism, humanity’s original sin. I know that universal voting rights are important, but it still might be best to put men on ice for a few centuries.

  2. 2
    MomSense says:

    Guess I wasn’t far off when I accused a professor of having missile envy. That was a loooong time ago.

  3. 3
    jeffreyw says:

    *smokes cigarette*

  4. 4
    Frank McCormick says:

    Cheryl — interesting topic and I’m looking forward to following up on your links. I just started rereading “Left Hand of Darkness” (RIP Ursula K Le Guin) and started wondering, at what point do we KNOW that Genly Ai is male, rather than assuming that he is, given our cultural tendency to assume that characters are white and male until described otherwise. And, yes, sometimes, we still assume the “default” even when explicitly told differently.

  5. 5
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    I don’t know if Brian Williams sees a therapist, but if he does I can’t imagine that person didn’t say, after trump’s missile attack on an empty air strip, that beautiful, thrusting, powerful explosion of raw power, “I think we need to talk about your performance the other night…”

  6. 6
    Steeplejack says:

    Good post.

    I would like to see “infiltration at all levels” replace “penetration at all levels” in the discussion.

  7. 7

    Here’s a serious foreign policy piece helping us to understand Vladimir Putin’s manly displays as a part of his governance.

  8. 8
    WaterGirl says:

    @Steeplejack: When the car was rolled out, I used to call the Ford Probe the Ford Penis. It was so transparently supposed to appeal to men that I felt compelled to ridicule it.

  9. 9

    @Frank McCormick: What we assume of the gender of people (and animals) is an interesting topic. I don’t know if it’s been studied. I know I’ve been wrong in both directions on the internet and in other situations.

  10. 10
    WaterGirl says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: I had a double major of Psychology and Sociology in college; if that was still my field, I would study that in a heartbeat.

    For the longest time, I thought commenter muddy was male. This past year, I thought commenter Imm was female. I’ve known for months and months that that is not the case. I absolutely KNOW that Imm is male, but in a comment just yesterday or the day before I had to change 3 instances of “her” to “him”. Crazy. But interesting.

  11. 11
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @Frank McCormick: I do remember it was some way into the book that I noticed he wasn’t white.

  12. 12
    manyakitty says:

    Not sure if you’re a podcast fan or not, but I highly recommend Bombshell. The three hosts are women, and they all have experience in national and international security and policy. They only invited female guests until the newest episode, which has Ben Wittes and Kai Ryssdal. Fascinating and smart.

  13. 13
    narya says:

    I LOVE that Cohn article; I couldn’t manage to work it into my dissertation, but it’s truly awesome. I also strongly recommend Donna Haraway’s work; particularly “Primate Visions,” though others like Cyborg Manifesto better, apparently. “Primate Visions” really challenges many of the things you mention here. And if we’re going to talk about language and discourse, well, I’ll spare you all the Wittgenstein, but still point you to Pierre Bourdieu. Oh, also too, Thomas Laquer (sp?), whose “Making Sex” is similarly awesome.

  14. 14

    @Cheryl Rofer: I submitted my first article to IEEE with just my initials because I was worried my gender would hurt. The editor called and asked for D.A. Winsor and wound up making a startled noise when I said that was me.

  15. 15
    Nicole says:

    Cheryl, thank you for this. I really look forward to reading everything you post on this subject.

  16. 16

    @manyakitty: I do not listen to Bombshell. The women who are on it are excellent, and I follow the ones who are on Twitter.

    But BOMBSHELL, for a podcast by women, ffs!

    No. Just not gonna.

  17. 17
    WaterGirl says:

    OT, but Katy Tur was on Preet’s podcast last night. I don’t watch the news channels, so I had never seen her before. I am curious to know what folks here think of her.

  18. 18
    Betty Cracker says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: In an effort NOT to pass along unconscious bias to my daughter when she was growing up, I tried to be gender-accurate or neutral when referring to animals. It was surprisingly difficult! So much bias is baked into language. I wonder how populations that speak languages with gendered nouns handle this sort of thing?

    Anyhoo, fascinating topic and great post. Thanks!

  19. 19
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    For someone like Trump, seeing action as manly and negotiation as feminine can be dangerous to all of us.

    I think Trump’s mind is informed by Big Time wrestling and doesn’t get concepts like the winner of a knife fight is the guy they take to the hospital. That’s why the Gorilla Channel joke was so widely believed.

  20. 20
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @Frank McCormick: …Also, in that book Le Guin uses male pronouns for all of the Gethenians, which probably makes it a little harder to see that Genly is male and they’re not (most of the time). In her short story “Winter’s King”, which was set on Gethen, she flipped it in a revision after writing Left Hand and changed all the pronouns to female.

    And there’s a bit about war and the propaganda supporting it in there, as I recall; it’d be interesting to read that again and figure out how the gender angle fits into it.

    Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice got a huge amount of attention when it came out for its linguistic twist of using feminine pronouns for all the characters (since the protagonist is associated with a culture that doesn’t have a linguistic or much of a social concept of gender). It struck me how radical people were treating that as being, even decades after Le Guin’s novel. And it’s not even the primary emphasis of the trilogy, which to a large degree is about imperialism and war, and a protagonist who is a specialized war machine in the process of becoming a person (and a political actor). Both Le Guin’s novel and Leckie’s seem somewhat pessimistic about the peace benefits of decoupling war and masculinity.

  21. 21
    manyakitty says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Fair point, but I took it ironically because of its connection to War on the Rocks. Regardless…

    Thank you in advance for your posts on this topic.

  22. 22
    Aleta says:

    Glad you’re doing this. Look forward to the series. (Is this sentence off by a word or two? “Negotiation is less likely to be the response to rape than violence.”). I believe describing missiles as phallic was frequent in 70s feminist writing, including in anti-war analysis and anti-nuke demos. Probably was going on in anti-war writing about Vietnam.
    + Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Dr. Strangelove.

  23. 23
  24. 24

    @Betty Cracker: I tried to ungender my language wrt animals a while back and also found it difficult. So easy to refer to all of them as “he.”

    Estonian is kind of a cool language in that it doesn’t have gender. The third person pronoun is tema, for he, she, or it.

  25. 25
    geg6 says:

    @WaterGirl:

    Can’t stand her. But I know others who disagree. Mostly men, FWIW.

  26. 26
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @Aleta: It’s hard to imagine anyone not thinking of missiles as phallic, especially if they’ve been exposed to Freud’s ideas to any degree (and Freud was a huge deal in the mid-20th century, way more than now).

  27. 27
    stinger says:

    Thanks, Cheryl Rofer. I look forward to more posts on this topic. (And to your posts on other topics.)

  28. 28

    I’m headed out now but will check on this thread when I get back this afternoon.

  29. 29

    @Frank McCormick: there’s a point in Iain Banks’ The Player Of Games where the main character arrives at a planet with three genders, the apex of which is hermaphroditic, and the narrator interrupts. The narrator explains that, since the narration has been translated from a superior language into one which has only two gendered pronouns, the apex gender will be referenced using pronouns of whatever gender happens to be considered superior in the reader’s civilization.

    It then proceeds, using of course the male pronoun. When reading it I thought, well, that will be amusing if/when it some day changes, but by then we’ll probably be reading it in translation from archaic 20th-century Orwellian English.

  30. 30
    WaterGirl says:

    @geg6: Thanks. She came off well in the podcast, but that didn’t tell me anything about how she has done her job. Is she like Maggie H or does she actually call Trump on his bullshit?

  31. 31
    Frank McCormick says:

    @Matt McIrvin: I remember that as well — which why the re-read will be interesting to see where she explicitly spells out both Genly’s sex and skin color since difficulties arising from cultural assumptions is the principle theme of the book.

  32. 32
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Betty Cracker: I’ve got to think some about this, but gendered nouns seem to be weirdly random. One off the top of my head, “table” is feminine in French and masculine in most Slavic languages. Animals are somewhat easier as there are in many cases separate words by gender: cow/bull, hen/rooster.

  33. 33
    MisterForkbeard says:

    @Major Major Major Major: I love that book. And series. Iain Banks was a real loss for all of us when he passed – his books are full of that kind of insightful and somewhat passive cultural (ha) critiques.

    @Cheryl Rofer: I hadn’t really thought of all this, and my first instinct was to basically say “that’s interesting but I don’t really agree or see the point”… and then I realized what I was doing. Thank you for writing it.

    That said, “penetration” doesn’t always have to come from a sexual mindset. When reading histories or fiction, whenever I’ve read someone talk about penetrating defenses I don’t think I ever ascribed a sexual undercurrent to it. But maybe that’s just because I’ve internalized the language and its overtones.

  34. 34
    cthulhu says:

    Male chimpanzees are known to form bands that patrol the boundaries of their territories and beat the crap out of other male chimpanzees.

    Currents estimates have us diverging from chimps more than 10 million years ago so it may be more a case of convergent evolution rather than common ancestral trait. Bonobos (arguably more “peaceful” than chimps) and humans split more recently but that was still millions of years ago.

  35. 35

    @Gin & Tonic: even back in Latin or IIRC Sanskrit, the ‘gender’ of the noun has little to do with its meaning.

    @MisterForkbeard: he uses too many words though.

  36. 36

    @Cheryl Rofer: Mandarin Chinese has “ta1,” which has three different characters for masculine, feminine and neuter, all pronounced the same way.

  37. 37
    afanasia says:

    Thank you – I’m looking forward to the next post on this topic. And I second narya’s recommendation of Donna Haraway – she’s fascinating.

  38. 38
    MisterForkbeard says:

    @Major Major Major Major: Is there such a thing as too mamy words? :)

    More seriously, Player of Games and Surface Detail are some of my more favirite books.Banks was fantastic, and the series is worth reading if just for the continual jokes that are the Ship Names.

  39. 39
    Mary G says:

    In one of the Vorkosigan books Emperor Gregor tells Mile’s prospective stepson that fish don’t think about water because it’s all they know and I have thought that that applies to some men.

  40. 40
    Brachiator says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: This is great stuff and I want to look at all the links you provided. It’s also funny that I may have been thinking about related matters when I was listening to a BBC News Hour podcast on my evening commute yesterday. The subject was Turkey’s attacks on Kurds in Syria and its foreign policy implications, and also what the US wanted from Turkey and the Kurds. There were a number of guest experts, male and female, including a woman speaking about Turkey, representing the Turkish government’s policy, and who would not go on air with a Kurdish spokesperson.

    But the main thing that struck me was that the moderator of this discussion was a woman. I did not get her name and will have to go back and download the podcast again. But it was one of the few times, no, the only time that I had heard a news hour foreign policy discussion led by a woman. I can’t say that she strayed too much from standard BBC moderator procedures. She did what I expected, a good job and asked good questions.

    I guess I understand the notion of gendered viewpoints, but I am not yet sure that I see any goal of “neutral” or “non-gendered” as a worthy goal or alternative, nor do I necessarily presume that a female writer or moderator would be more neutral or less gendered than a male writer or presenter.

    As an aside, I have long had an interest in science, and early on signed on to the idea that a lot of cultural and gender assumptions needed to be throttled when scientists detailed their observations of animals or wrote about human evolution (one of my main interests). It should have been obvious that discussions about “man the toolmaker” missed contributions from women or even thinking about those contributions. Dopes focused on stone tools and weapons and neglected to even consider that wooden tools, nets, etc obviously existed but were not preserved. I’ve even argued that the long used, common metaphor of a “Queen Bee” may have led scientists to overlook other aspects of bee behavior and social organization.

    And the male-oriented sexuality keeps women out. It’s uncomfortable for them and makes what they say less believable to men.

    There is a lot to unpack here. Variations of this happen in so many places. I’ve read about writers’ rooms where women’s input is devalued or ignored. This also intersects with culture and race, for example, in the complaints of black women that their voices and presence is devalued or ignored in discussion groups dominated by white men and women.

    Valued commenter celticdragonchick reminded me of James Tiptree’s The Women Men Don’t See. Tiptree, of course, was Alice Bradley Sheldon.

    Love the example of Tiptree. I also like this bit of foolishness that came from another noted SF writer:

    Robert Silverberg wrote “It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing.”

    A number of other writers also fell into this trap in discussing her work.

  41. 41
    Gravenstone says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Okay, I’ll admit that I missed the subtext within the name BOMBSHELL until you raised your objection. I initially just viewed it in the context of a large, significant bit of news rather than the sexualized stereotype.

  42. 42
    Betty Cracker says:

    @Gin & Tonic: I remember thinking they seemed pretty random during my (limited) Spanish language studies.

  43. 43

    @MisterForkbeard:

    if just for the continual jokes that are the Ship Names.

    Lovingly referenced in Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire.

    And yes, there is such a thing as too many words! It’s one of Strunk & White’s most famous dictums (dicta?): Omit needless words.

    ETA even his name has too many letters!

  44. 44

    @Brachiator: one of my mom’s favorite New Yorker cartoons is of a boardroom discussion, with the leader saying to a woman, What a wonderful idea, Ms. Soandso. Perhaps a man would like to repeat it?

  45. 45
    Aleta says:

    The use of sexualized language for weapons also seems to promote the idea that male sexuality is a threat. (By nature, Andrew Sullivan wants to believe; but many women and men are hoping to change the socialization that comes with accepting that idea, and lately are writing a lot about this.)

  46. 46
    Brachiator says:

    @cthulhu:

    Currents estimates have us diverging from chimps more than 10 million years ago so it may be more a case of convergent evolution rather than common ancestral trait. Bonobos (arguably more “peaceful” than chimps) and humans split more recently but that was still millions of years ago.

    Bonobos split from chimps. Humans and chimps split from a common ancestor.

    Early writing about chimps designated them as peaceful, until Goodall and others saw competing bands of chimps confronting each other and going to war. Bonobos were not understood to be a separate species from chimpanzees until relatively recently, and sadly, bonobo territories have been greatly reduced by human encroachment. There is still a lot we do not know about them. Also, some of the writing about them suffers from the same idealized pacifist dreams that infected some of the earlier writing about chimps.

  47. 47
    manyakitty says:

    @Gravenstone: That’s part of my interpretation, too.

  48. 48
    Starfish says:

    @WaterGirl: Because we have political conversations here, I assume most commenters are male. However, most of the people who come to this website are female.

  49. 49
    Starfish says:

    @WaterGirl: Didn’t she write a whole book about having to follow the campaign and how it was hard for her to be singled out by him? Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History

  50. 50
    Brachiator says:

    @Major Major Major Major:

    one of my mom’s favorite New Yorker cartoons is of a boardroom discussion, with the leader saying to a woman, What a wonderful idea, Ms. Soandso. Perhaps a man would like to repeat it?

    I’ve actually seen this happen a couple of times, once involving a woman, another time involving a black man.

    In both cases, a proposal was not accepted until it had gone around the room and been restated by a white man. In one of these situation, this ultimately led to the white man getting a promotion.

  51. 51

    @Brachiator: I don’t doubt she has seen it too, that’s why she likes/hates it so much.

    ETA one time she found out the salaries of her peers (all male) and went to complain. Her boss, flustered, started bullshitting, “well this figure doesn’t include your company car—“

    She’d never been offered a company car, but her peers had.

  52. 52
    opiejeanne says:

    @Gin & Tonic: I took German in HS and college and have forgotten most of what I learned because of disuse, but I remember being amused by the genders of various inanimate objects.
    My HS German teacher distributed copies of this to us in second year. Mark Twain’s The Awful German Language http://www.kombu.de/twain-2.htm

  53. 53
    Brachiator says:

    @manyakitty:

    Not sure if you’re a podcast fan or not, but I highly recommend Bombshell. The three hosts are women, and they all have experience in national and international security and policy.

    Added this to my podcast list. Thanks for the recommendation.

    A couple of episodes also refer to favorite drinks??

    @Starfish:

    Because we have political conversations here, I assume most commenters are male. However, most of the people who come to this website are female.

    I remember a radio talk show host noting that while the majority of callers to his political show were male, the demographics revealed the audience to be about equally male and female.

  54. 54
    manyakitty says:

    @Brachiator: Yes, they drink while they’re taping, and discuss their beverages of choice. Hope you like it! I always learn something, and they include a helpful reading list for each episode on the website.

  55. 55
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @Brachiator:

    I’ve even argued that the long used, common metaphor of a “Queen Bee” may have led scientists to overlook other aspects of bee behavior and social organization.

    Fred Clark was just writing about the prehistory of that–it’s even worse: for a long time they were called “King Bees” (since it was the biggest and seemingly the most important bee, it must be male and a King) and nobody could figure out how or whether bees had sex. That it was in fact a female Queen was argued and popularized by Charles Butler, who lived in England during the reign of… Elizabeth I. But that the Queen was actually not so much a monarch as everyone’s mother, they still didn’t get for a while, because… “Virgin Queen”…

  56. 56
    WaterGirl says:

    @Starfish: Yes, she wrote a book, but I didn’t know the title or the fact that she was singled out by him. Thanks.

  57. 57
    WaterGirl says:

    @Major Major Major Major: Wow. Was she then offered a company car???

    This happened more times than I could count at the University.

  58. 58

    @WaterGirl: she quit, watched them run the company into the ground, took out a big loan, bought the company, fixed it and made it even better, and sold it back, agreeing to run it as a consultant.

    ETA and then got the company car.

  59. 59
    manyakitty says:

    @Major Major Major Major: That is bad. ass.

  60. 60

    @manyakitty: yeah, one really shouldn’t fuck with my mom, lol.

  61. 61
    sheila in nc says:

    @Starfish:

    Because we have political conversations here, I assume most commenters are male. However, most of the people who come to this website are female.

    I’m sorry, but why on earth would you assume that most people interested in a political conversation are male? Are you specifying “commenters” because your theory is that they are the ones socialized to speak up? I’d say that some of our most trenchant and effective political commenters here are the women (e.g. Kay).
    I picked my nym without much thought because I had an observation I wanted to offer, after lurking quite some time. I’ve wondered from time to time if I should have come up with something non-neutered (and maybe more original!) I have no idea if my writing style comes across as male or female, unless there is a gender quality to the tendency to overuse sentences with multiple clauses.

  62. 62
    Gelfling 545 says:

    @Betty Cracker: Most of my dogs hsve been femsle, so I jump to she for dogs. My cats, on the other hand, have been male so my presumption is usually he. Of course grammatically, until fairly recently, if the gender was not known the “rule” was default to masculine and I learned grammar in a pretty strict school. Now some of my younger FB friends have posted their preferred pronouns and I try to oblige. I think we are in for a somewhat confusing time as we sort all this out but it is on the whole, I think, worth it. I do believe that in the long run we will have to create a few new pronouns.

  63. 63

    @sheila in nc: Daily Kos published some demographics a while back and they were very very male, FWIW

  64. 64
    Ruckus says:

    @Betty Cracker:

    So much bias is baked into language.

    Probably because when most languages were developed, men were the writers, they were in charge. Some days I’m amazed that we don’t still communicate in grunts, clicks and buzzes. In a timeline of humanity it really hasn’t been that long in most cultures that women have even gotten educations, spoken out, voted, have credit (monetarily or otherwise). And ours is behind the curve to many others. And look, we are still fighting against a lot of humans who hold the idea of humans that just look or sound different have less value. Those same people still value females in their own culture the same way.

  65. 65
    WaterGirl says:

    @Major Major Major Major: For reals? I love your mom. Payback’s a bitch. And living well really is the best revenge. Assholes.

  66. 66
    Gelfling 545 says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: I find things a bit easier in French, too, where “On” can cover a multitude of situations.

  67. 67

    @Ruckus:

    Some days I’m amazed that we don’t still communicate in grunts, clicks and buzzes.

    Some of us do!

  68. 68
    sheila in nc says:

    @Major Major Major Major: Daily Kos’s commenters? Or people interested in politics?

  69. 69
    pappenheimer says:

    Just a comment about language to Cheryl – Another language with a gender-neutral third person pronoun is Malay, or Bahasa Melayu/Bahasa Indonesia. “Dia” means he or she.

    Note that both Malaysia and Indonesia are Moslem-majority countries, so they aren’t exactly bastions of feminism (however, the Minangkabou of Sumatra retain matrilineality to this day after converting to Islam hundreds of years ago.)

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    Starfish says:

    @sheila in nc: It may be a reflection of how long I have been here. Remember, this was the blog of John Cole, a white dude from West Virginia who voted for George W Bush twice. It was one of the few conservative blogs that I followed.

  72. 72
    Ruckus says:

    @MisterForkbeard:
    Think about war not all that long ago. It was men advancing, penetrating a line, a defense, finding an opening, killing other men with penetrating weapons.
    I wrote that with the weapons in mind, pikes, pointy sticks, knives/swords, even projectile weapons, rifles had bayonets. Can that be all put down to maleness or to male writers? Or was it that men were using the weapons at hand/that they had invented in the only way they understood?
    @Cheryl Rofer:
    This is a great post. I look forward to all of them.

  73. 73
    J R in WV says:

    @WaterGirl:

    I know that she needed security assistance to move safely at Trump campaign rallies. He hates her enough to rant up the crowd about her reporting, perhaps the first instance of Fake News associated with a person traveling with the campaign.

  74. 74
    Brachiator says:

    @Ruckus:

    So much bias is baked into language.

    Probably because when most languages were developed, men were the writers, they were in charge.

    Wait. What? The first languages were oral, and no one knows the relative contributions of men v women.

    Or were you joking or being ironic?

  75. 75
    J R in WV says:

    Cheryl,

    Perhaps you could write about gender as Chuck Rofer, or as C. Rofer as others have.

    I have to say a male editor of a technical journal of any nature who has trouble comprehending an article about gender should be relieved of duty immediately. Or any gendered editor. I’m an old retired white male and I have no trouble understanding the issues you mention.

    But I have also lived for nearly 50 years with a woman who was breaking into a male business and having the typical troubles, up until the day she was awarded total and permanent mental disability, mostly from the abnormal treatment she received for the 30 years she worked for that business. And it is not easy to achieve that even with the assistance of your physicians. And a labor lawyer.

  76. 76
    Ruckus says:

    @Major Major Major Major:
    Well played!
    Hope it was true, well the second and third parts anyway.

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  78. 78
    pappenheimer says:

    There was an attempt some years back to link matrilineal societies to the practice of long-distance raiding. If the leading man and his warriors spent their summers out sacking towns a month’s walk or sail away, who oversaw bringing in the harvest? And if war leaders’ heads wound up on pikes outside those towns fairly regularly, it made sense to have the property in their sisters’ names to avoid those nasty inheritance squabbles.

  79. 79
    Ruckus says:

    @Brachiator:
    Maybe I should have been more specific, the written word, the structured use of the language. But yes even the spoken word which at least now follows the structured for the most part. No we don’t know who came up with the concept of any word, but most languages are structured with gender in mind and it is mostly a male dominated structure as it was mostly male dominated cultures. There are many exceptions, as several have noted in this post, where many languages at least allow for a neutral or non gender or in some cases it is an integral part of the language. Some languages use both genders equally, leaving the use of gender up to the speaker. But many languages stress the male side far more, english for one. Male/female is a prime example.

  80. 80
    Ruckus says:

    @Major Major Major Major:
    Great! Show em how it’s done.
    Revenge can be sweet. Well deserved revenge is better. Revenge over pompous arrogant assholes is the best.

  81. 81

    @Ruckus:

    most languages are structured with gender in mind

    Hm, this is less true the further east you go, to the point where you reach the 20%+ of the earth that lives in China/Japan/Korea and speaks a non-gendered language.

  82. 82
    Dan B says:

    As a gay man who came of age in Gay Liberation in 1969 we came out in the midst of radical feminism. (see W.I.T.C.H. wahoo!) Your post awakened many trains of thought. Coming out requires awareness of society’s prejudices and your own internalization of those societal norms. The fear is great. I was afraid I’d be shunned (actually happened) and attacked (that too). It didn’t take much mental effort to understand it was because we were upending power dynamics.

    The same thoughts occur to me with ‘Me Too’. I’ve been the victim of sexual harassment and stupidly fallen into it myself. The dynamics in the LGBT community are different since the power play of male versus female is not present in sexual/romantic relations. Nit tgat it’s absent but there’s a different awareness. The issues your post brings up immediately struck a chord. It would be fascinating to compare the LGBT take on this to the predominate heterosexual take. And to compare the closeted response. (Roy Cohn, etc.) Since the closeted tend to join in the persecution of women and gays with special ferocity.

    Please consider these to be half baked thoughts lacking robust academic background. Time to take this up with my gay professor friends? (They’ve focused on HIS and minority issues, for some reason//)

  83. 83
    Ramalama says:

    Penetration at all levels is a power fantasy and, pretty much, rape. It’s not something women can do. (I’m excepting sex toys;)

    I’m sorry to have to comment about this, but fingers and even a bunch of fingers, combined, are things women can and currently do use to penetrate (various orifices).

  84. 84

    @cthulhu: Yes, and the bonobo chimpanzees are matriarchal. Also, the females gang up on aggressive males (http://bit.ly/2ne7Att), to reduce aggression in the troupe. Sounds like a good system to me.

  85. 85
    DHD says:

    Really interesting post. A couple things that came to mind reading it and subsequent comments:

    As a linguist I really have to insist that gender in language and sex (in language or otherwise) are not the same thing. This isn’t even some kind of post-modern queer theory, just a simple fact of how language works. Some languages have masculine and feminine, others have animate and inanimate, and Chinese and Bantu languages have dozens or hundreds of noun categories.

    Even though “appeal to nature” is a logical fallacy it’s not unreasonable to think that men are “naturally” more suited to fighting primitive wars, but… this has no bearing on their fitness for planning and directing them, nor does it have any relevance to modern warfare.

  86. 86

    @MisterForkbeard:

    That said, “penetration” doesn’t always have to come from a sexual mindset. When reading histories or fiction, whenever I’ve read someone talk about penetrating defenses I don’t think I ever ascribed a sexual undercurrent to it. But maybe that’s just because I’ve internalized the language and its overtones.

    This ambiguity has bothered me some. Since 1987, when Cohn wrote her big paper, language generally has become a lot more sexualized. I’m not pleased about that, because it seems to me that there are other things to talk about besides sex, and it tends to feed into what Cohn described.

    In another ambiguity, missiles do need to be more or less that shape. There have been creative paintjobs that emphasized the metaphor, though.

  87. 87
    WaterGirl says:

    @J R in WV: Trump hating you is a pretty good pedigree. :-)

  88. 88

    @Brachiator: Here is a great thread on how gender stereotypes affected the discovery of the sex life of bees.

  89. 89

    @J R in WV:

    Perhaps you could write about gender as Chuck Rofer, or as C. Rofer as others have.

    I suspect the problem would persist. The editors literally cannot wrap their minds around the concepts.

    I’ve always used my full name on professional publications. For a while, early in internet history, when it was felt to be a dangerous place for women, I used a pseudonym that was not obviously of one sex or another. People usually assumed I was male.

  90. 90

    @Dan B:

    It didn’t take much mental effort to understand it was because we were upending power dynamics.

    Gender dynamics have worked to everyone’s disadvantage except cis heterosexual men. And we can add white to that and extend it to lots of other folk. I’m thinking of making the next post in this series about intersectionality.

  91. 91
    a thousand flouncing lurkers (was fidelio) says:

    @Ruckus: No, I’d say that when most languages had their prescriptive grammars recorded, the majority of writers (or at least grammarians) were male. Spoken language development generally predates the development of a written form by many years, and spoken languages are always more fluid than written ones.
    Studies have shown that many changes/adaptations in language are first started by young women, and then survive if others take them up and use them with frequency.

  92. 92

    @DHD:

    As a linguist I really have to insist that gender in language and sex (in language or otherwise) are not the same thing. This isn’t even some kind of post-modern queer theory, just a simple fact of how language works.

    Yes, some of this can get confusing. To add to the confusion, gender also means the social construction of sexual identity. Even further confusing, I don’t always get them right. Feel free to call me on it any time.

  93. 93
    RSA says:

    @opiejeanne:

    I took German in HS and college and have forgotten most of what I learned because of disuse, but I remember being amused by the genders of various inanimate objects.

    When I was learning German and reading traditional fairy tales, “das Maedchen” and “der Junge” threw me for a loop. That is, the word for “girl” is neuter in gender, while the word for “boy” is masculine. So you might be reading about Georg and his gloves but also Hannah was a little girl and it had a horse. (The degree of influence of language on thought is still an open question, as far as I know.)

  94. 94
    RSA says:

    @Brachiator:

    As an aside, I have long had an interest in science, and early on signed on to the idea that a lot of cultural and gender assumptions needed to be throttled when scientists detailed their observations of animals or wrote about human evolution (one of my main interests). It should have been obvious that discussions about “man the toolmaker” missed contributions from women or even thinking about those contributions. Dopes focused on stone tools and weapons and neglected to even consider that wooden tools, nets, etc obviously existed but were not preserved.

    This is one of my interests, too. Animal tool use is a difficult challenge, conceptually, and it’s really hard for us not to impose our human biases on what non-human animals do. For example, most animal behavior researchers informally repect the criterion that an animal’s use of an object in a given context should be purposeful, or goal-directed, in order to count that object as a tool. But goals aren’t directly observable. They’re only inferrable, roughly speaking, as cognitive phenomena. So our examples of tool use include behaviors of bonobos and corvids but also of wasps, where things sort of break down. Still, we keep learning.

    Also, for what it’s worth, I came across a book then that you might like, or might have read already. Oswalt provides a brief taxonomy of human tools, including nets.

    Oswalt, W. H. (1973). Habitat and Technology: The Evolution of Hunting. Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, New York, NY.

  95. 95
    barb 2 says:

    @WaterGirl:

    Katie Tur’s book is worth reading — She covered the Orange Monster for MSNBC from the Primary in New Hampshire through the November General Election.

    Katie Tur’s book:
    Unbelievable: My front row seat to the craziest campaign in American History

    At one point Trump’s SS guys had to walk Tur to her car after he worked up his crowd against her. She has no love for the Orange Monster.

  96. 96
    Bill Arnold says:

    @Brachiator:
    Re this,

    Robert Silverberg wrote “It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing.”

    Was a voracious fan of Tiptree’s work as teenager (mid 70’s) and spotted the not-male author gender pretty quickly. Didn’t matter at all (except for the amusement) because the work was so good.
    Anyway, to Cheryl, read “The Women Men Don’t See” for the first time just now (thanks for the link! Thought I had read all of that author’s work) and a few notes:
    (1) It’s slowly getting better. Another generation or three, perhaps, with no backsliding. Sigh.
    (2) The effect of not being memorable is familiar and not IMO intrinsically tied to gender, except through sex differences in learned stupid norms. (I do wonder about gender differences in frequency of voice vs gender differences in hearing loss as people age (and skewed gender ratios among the powerful), but these can be corrected now.) It took me a while (many years) to become aware enough to understand how to modulate the effect and have fun with it. I can be ignored/invisible with the best of them when desired.
    (3) There are many males who would act similarly to the way Ruth did at the end of the story, for similar or related reasons.

  97. 97
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    So Cheryl, tell me, how do you reconcile this idea that men see their penises with missiles with the male tradition of describing every vehicle as female? A ship is always “she”, nose art is always a picture of some woman and so on.

  98. 98

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques: That’s easy. They are in charge of “her” and tell “her” what to do.

    I think nose art is more a thing with airplanes, no?

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