Sunday, June 24, 2012

A few thoughts on the "Michigan mishegas"

Historiann recently had a post about the "Michigan mishegas" in which State Representative Lisa Brown was silenced for saying the word "vagina." Apparently Rush Limbaugh can use vile language to attack a woman with only the mildest of rebukes, but a woman naming a body part is well beyond the bounds of what the Republicans call "decorum," which is an entirely flexible concept depending on whether a man or a woman is doing the speaking.

I think they were not shocked but annoyed because Brown had broken the barrier of invisibility. When she spoke up like that, they had to look at and listen to her without the usual protective shield of inattention, and it really irritated them.

 Lots of studies and anecdata show that women don't necessarily get listened to with the same attention as men. How many times have you brought up a good point in a meeting, had it ignored, and heard the same idea praised 5 minutes later when a man said it? (*Disclaimer: Not all men do this, of course, but I'm thinking about the Michigan situation.)

 This goes double for women older than Brown who are at the true American women's invisibility barrier. I don't know the exact age, but at a certain point, women become mostly invisible (ask any older woman about this), and at that point their speech instead of silence apparently really grates. How many times in 2008 did we hear about Hillary Clinton's "shrill" voice (which isn't), her "aggressive" tone (and why is that wrong?), and so on? The pundits and the media were absolutely merciless about that, regardless of her brilliance and rationality. Now that she's Secretary of State, media types are full of praise because she's doing wonderful work that they don't pay much attention to. She's back being invisible--sadly so, IMHO, but still invisible. They don't have to listen to her, which as far as they're concerned is as it should be.

 Tina Fey said something in Bossypants that sheds a little light on the invisibility issue: "I know older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves, and they still work. The women, though, they’re all 'crazy,'" she said. "I have a suspicion—and hear me out, because this is a rough one—that the definition of 'crazy' in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to --- her anymore." By saying what she said, Lisa Brown made it impossible to see her as "invisible," and let's keep breaking that barrier.


Anonymous said...

"How many times have you brought up a good point in a meeting, had it ignored, and heard the same idea praised 5 minutes later when a man said it?"

Deirdre McClosky (formerly Donald) once said that the first time this happened she cheered inside because her colleagues were finally accepting her as a women. But it got old really quickly.

Anonymous said...

*woman (not women)

Feminema said...

That line of Fey's is so brilliantly, terribly true that I've now accepted it as a major pillar of my thinking about professional relations between the sexes. I can't bear that dynamic between members of my own department.

Every day seems to pass with newly crazy, hypocritical moves by the GOP with regard to women. My only hope is that even republican women will start to drop out out of frustration.

undine said...

Nicoleandmaggie--if there's an "aha!" moment about women's power in the workplace, that one has to be it.

Feminema--absolutely agree on the brilliant but true part. I wish we could teach parts of Tina Fey's philosophy in writing classes. About GOP women--their reasoning seems to be based on other things, so they may not vote based on how much their rights are restricted, but it does seem irrational to me.

Z said...

Great post. And all true.

Carl said...

I hereby pile on the 'true dat' train. Still, I wish the public discussion about the specific Michegas had been a little more nuanced, just because that's the kind of nerd I am. She did not in fact just say the word vagina, although doing so might have been enough. She suggested that the Speaker, personally, were interested in hers, personally. This is an altogether more inflammatory speech act, wittily delivered and arguably appropriate, but calculated one hopes to achieve exactly the effect of escalation it did. Let's give credit where credit is due, then.