"Look at Rachel Maddow. She comes at me on the basis of emotion. She demonizes me. I don't want conservatives to win on the basis of emotion. If we lower ourselves to the level they operate on, we hurt ourselves and our arguments."
I happen to think Rachel Maddow's initial response to this is top notch, that being:
I was trying to do my work. But then that pops up in my Google Alert, then I read it and I become alternately so blindingly enraged and then hysterically upset and then inconsolably morose and then hyperactively giddy and then happy and then sad and then mad and then happy again that I couldn't make sense of any of the facts that I was gathering. All of which I was trying to read through the tears of joy and anger and anxiety that I just can't control! Can't you tell I'm falling apart right now? So I promise - hold on, I'm getting emotional about this promise. I promise that tomorrow, I will gather myself and offer a full analysis of today's Tom Coburn news.
But, probably given that Rachel Maddow runs a newsish show where she discusses things that are actually happening out there in the world and then giving her opinion about that stuff, she didn't really delve into what the fuck just happened there. So, being that I don't have a newsish show and just this little blog, I'll do that.
First things first: there is the belief out there that women are emotional. I know, shocker. There is the belief out there that being emotional makes women less capable. Double shocker! There is this belief that by being emotional, women are therefore also irrational. Crazy, right? Who'd ever think that?!
Truth is, I think most people believe that. Maybe not consciously. Maybe not full on, full frontal "woman=emotional=irrational=unreliable=bad! men=logical=rational=reliable=good! men≠women!"
But it is there. And it is there because it is all around us. It is there when we talk about hiring a good worker, or hiring a woman. It was there during the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings, when someone made the comparison between having a heart surgeon who'd had to struggle to get where he is, or the best surgeon one could find, even if that surgeon had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. The idea that the first (the guy (or girl) who had to work really hard) could beget the second (that guy could be the best because he had to work so hard) is missing.
There's this thing with prejudice - all kinds - that make it hard for those of us who consider ourselves to be good people to recognize it within ourselves. It isn't just that we cognitively know that prejudice is bad and we are good, and thus we can't be prejudiced, though that's definitely a part of it. It is that in order for us to recognize our own prejudices, we have to be able to recognize when our most reflexive thoughts contain prejudice. That's extraordinarily difficult to do. It is incredibly difficult to puzzle out if you find some woman emotional because she is, in fact, being overly emotional - or if it is because we are conditioned to see women as emotional, as attacking on the basis of emotion alone. And when we're confronted about our underlying assumptions, whether by friends or by articles or by blog posts, it is essentially difficult to accept that what this other person is saying may be correct. Because what we thought felt so natural and so right, and what that other person is saying - that calling women you don't know emotional and attacking on the basis of emotion - is both historically and inherently sexist - is so foreign and so obviously wrong. Plus, it probably feels like a personal attack, because you, good person that you are, would never say something prejudiced. Because doesn't that other person know this is just how the world is?
Because of that, I don't think Tom Coburn is consciously eliciting the dog whistle of "women, crazy, huh?" But that doesn't mean his remarks aren't fused with the premise that a woman's actions are borne out of emotionality, and that emotionality is bad. It doesn't mean that he is playing a really old hand of sexism, and it doesn't mean that because he's ignorant of that (because to him it is just true), his remark isn't sexist. It doesn't mean it doesn't play into the grander metanarrative about women, and their intellectual oomph.