Tag Archives: sexism

Bigotry And The Campus

My university–albeit not my campus–recently made the Washington Post, among other national publications, thanks to a longtime business-school professor’s racist, sexist and homophobic posts to social media.

According to colleagues on the Bloomington campus, Eric Rasmusen has voiced these opinions–which he characterizes as “conservative” and “Christian”–for several years.   What apparently triggered the current attention to them was his recent retweet of an article suggesting that women are destroying academia. The ensuing publicity has led to a lively argument over the University’s response, which has been to condemn his opinions in the strongest possible terms while respecting his First Amendment right to express them on his own site.

The current kerfuffle illustrates–among other things– the dishonesty of most conservative criticisms of higher education, especially the charge that conservative faculty members aren’t treated fairly.

More telling, however, is Professor Rasmusen’s clumsy effort to distance himself from the clear implications of his own social media history.

Rasmusen, who has taught at the school since 1992, told the Indiana Daily Student on Wednesday that he only shared a quote he “thought was interesting and worth keeping note of.” He told the student publication that the backlash was surprising, adding, “It seems strange to me because I didn’t say anything myself — I just quoted something.”

In a Thursday interview with Kelly Reinke, Rasmusen said he should be able to quote from an article without agreeing with it in its entirety; he deflected questions that asked him point-blank whether he agreed with the piece.

Since then, Rasmusen has continued to update a personal page “for links concerning the 2019 kerfuffle in which the Woke crowd discovered my Twitter tweets, retweets, and suchlike and got very excited, and my Dean and Provost immediately overreacted.”

If the Professor’s history of racist, sexist and homophobic posts reflects his considered philosophy, why does he seem so reluctant to own that philosophy? (I’ve noticed that a number of individuals who spout truly offensive racist rhetoric nevertheless object to being labeled racist. But that’s an observation for another day…)

The university’s response, in my view, was exactly right. It’s an approach that respects both the First Amendment and the right of students to have their classroom performance fairly and equally evaluated.

Indiana University Provost Lauren Robel did not mince words in a statement to the Kelley School community Wednesday, asserting that Rasmusen had used his social media accounts to push bigoted views for several years. Robel said Rasmusen had previously used slurs to describe women, who he has said do not belong in the workplace and academia. He has similar feelings about gay men, Robel said, because “he believes they are promiscuous and unable to avoid abusing students.”

Robel also said Rasmusen thinks black students are unqualified for attendance at elite institutions and are academically inferior to their white counterparts….

“Ordinarily, I would not dignify these bigoted statements with repetition, but we need to confront what we are actually dealing with in Professor Rasmusen’s posts,” Robel wrote. “His expressed views are stunningly ignorant, more consistent with someone who lived in the 18th century than the 21st.”

She indicated that school officials have been flooded with demands for Rasmusen to be fired in recent days, a request she said the university could not — and would not — adhere to because “the First Amendment of the United States Constitution forbids us to do so.” But, she said, Rasmusen would be in violation of the law and school policy if he acted upon his discriminatory views while grading or making tenure decisions. The school would investigate and address those allegations if they were raised, she added.

The university will ensure that students worried about being treated fairly in Rasmusin’s classes–an understandable concern, given the persistence with which he has voiced his views over the years– have alternative courses available to them, and administrators are requiring him to use a double-blind system for grading so he won’t know whose papers he is evaluating.

Are faculty members who espouse Rasmusin’s particular brand of conservatism rare on elite American campuses? Of course. His views are blatantly inconsistent with academic competence. They are inconsistent as well with the legitimate conservatism that does have a place in academic discourse.

Defending bigotry by calling it “conservatism” is an insult to genuine conservatives. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that going around…

 

Hostile Sexism

In yesterday’s post, I basically vented about the sexism being displayed by the Senate GOP during the Kavanaugh confirmation process. Today, I want to follow up with a broader discussion of what a recent sociological study has dubbed “hostile sexism.

An article from Salon discussing the study began–predictably–with the Kavanaugh fiasco, and the remarks from Trump and Senate Republicans.

Republican elites are also defending Kavanaugh, with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, going so far as to say that even if the rape allegations were true they might be excusable: “I think it would be hard for senators not to consider who he is today”. Once again, per America’s tradition, culture and habit, elite white men are protected from the consequences of their behavior.Toxic white masculinity is encouraged in America. White men are infantilized, while black and brown men and boys are pathologized.

The article described the relevance to these recent events of a recent study by University of Kansas sociologists David Smith and Eric Hanley. Their research wasn’t limited in its scope to sexism, although it did address what it called “a socially combustible mix of racism and sexism, in combination with anger and bullying.”

Writing in “The Anger Games: Who Voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Election, and Why?”, which appeared in a recent issue of the journal Critical Sociology, Smith and Hanley summarize their new research:

“We find that Trump’s supporters voted for him mainly because they share his prejudices, not because they’re financially stressed. It’s true, as exit polls showed, that voters without four-year college degrees were likelier than average to support Trump. But millions of these voters — who are often stereotyped as “the white working class” — opposed Trump because they oppose his prejudices. These prejudices, meanwhile, have a definite structure, which we argue should be called authoritarian: negatively, they target minorities and women; and positively, they favor domineering and intolerant leaders who are uninhibited about their biases.

The authors research confirmed what other research about the 2016 election, from political scientists as well as sociologists, has found: what unified Trump’s voters was not “economic anxiety” but prejudice and intolerance, and a significant dose of misogyny.

Smith and Hanley identified eight attitudes that interacted with each other and strongly predicted support for Trump: identifying as conservative; support for a “domineering” leader; Christian fundamentalism, prejudice against immigrants, African-Americans, Muslims and women; and “pessimism about the economy.”

The research demonstrates the ways in which racism and sexism reinforce each other, and predicts support for candidates willing to bully both women and people of color.

Most Trump voters cast their ballots for him with their eyes open, not despite his prejudices but because of them. Their partisanship, whether positive (toward Trump and the Republicans) or negative (against Clinton and the Democrats), is intense.

This partisanship is anchored in anger and resentment among mild as well as strong Trump voters. Anger, not fear, was the emotional key to the Tea Party, and that seems to be true for Trumpism as well. If so, the challenge for progressives is greater than many people have imagined. Hostility to minorities and women cannot be wished away; nor can the wish for domineering leaders. The anger games are far from over.

The Salon article included an interview with one of the researchers that is well worth reading in its entirety. This response to a question, especially, explains his disagreement with the approach of many liberals to Trump voters:

Many liberals are reluctant to believe that large numbers of people are as mean-spirited as their words and actions might suggest. They want to think that fear, not vindictiveness, drives support for vindictive rhetoric and policy. That’s generous, but I think it’s also a special kind of blindness.

In fact, we seem to have two opposite forms of emotional blindness. Many liberals can’t believe that large numbers of people are vindictive while many conservatives scoff at the idea that liberals are not vindictive. Liberals often make excuses for people who show signs of intolerance. Right-wingers, in contrast, often laugh at claims to “feel your pain.”

These attitudes shouldn’t be ignored. Right-wingers who hate liberals are problematic, and liberals whose reflex is to forgive them are problematic too.

This research helps explain the behavior of the Senate Republicans that set me off yesterday.

It doesn’t excuse it.

 

If We Just Kill Off My Age Cohort, Things Will Improve….

For the past several weeks, this blog has mostly been sharing depressing observations. Since it’s Sunday (a day for uplift, or at the very least some time off), I thought I’d post a more hopeful story before returning to what threatens to become the “regular programming”at least until November 8th.

In a post memorably titled “Our Lady of Perpetual Misogyny,” Juanita Jean related a story of fundamentalist sexism and its unexpectedly heartwarming conclusion.

Two girls at Foothills Academy, a high school in Scottsdale, Arizona, made the boys’ soccer team. When the school was scheduled to play Our Lady of Sorrows (how appropriate!), a Phoenix parochial school, they were informed that Our Lady’s all-boy soccer team would not even come on the field if the girls were to play. They would rather forfeit. (God says girls have cooties…)

Presumably, they’d get those cooties–or be barred from heaven–if they so much as kicked a soccer ball in a game where females participated. The Foothills coach left it up to the team to decide whether to play without the girls, or to forfeit.

Each player on his team voted. Every player voted to accept the forfeit. Especially noted are the players who are being looked at for college soccer scholarships and whose stats will be affected by each game not played. “I don’t give a damn about my stats, the girls are my team mates.”

The league will be updating their rosters with schools willing to play girls.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: once my age cohort is gone, things will improve. As stories like this confirm, the younger generation gives reason for optimism.

The undergraduate and graduate students I teach are by orders of magnitude more inclusive, less bigoted and more focused upon building community than the cranky old men and women of my generation.

If we can manage not to destroy the world–or elect Donald Trump (pretty much the same thing)– before we hand it over to them, things will definitely improve.

The Age of Vandalism?

Random thoughts prompted by a seemingly interminable election campaign:

  • When I ran for Congress in 1980, women candidates were still rare. One of the “truisms” I encountered about the differences between male and female candidates was “Men run for office to be someone; women run in order to do something.” As with all sexist constructions, it isn’t a “one size fits all” observation, but it certainly is an accurate description of Clinton and Trump. Clinton has issued reams of carefully constructed and highly detailed policy positions; Trump talks only about himself–and from all appearances, has not the foggiest notion of what governing entails or what the constitution permits. The question, of course, is whether a celebrity-obsessed culture wants leadership or entertainment–no matter how dangerous or damaging that entertainment may be.
  • I share in the depressing point of view offered by a reader of Talking Points Memo:”Win or lose, on November 8, Donald Trump will have garnered some 60 million votes. Sixty million Americans will have gone to the polls and voted for him — clear-eyed or self-deluded people, making that choice enthusiastically or resignedly, very much because of what he represents or in spite of it. 60 million people will have voted to entrust themselves and the people they love not simply to a vulgarian narcissist who desperately needs medical help, but also to someone who is so arrogantly and defiantly ignorant that he thinks Supreme Court justices investigate crimes, that federal judges sign bills, that he would have the power to replace leadership in the armed services with officers who have publicly supported him, that the Constitution has (at least) 12 articles, that the United States could use nuclear weapons tactically without initiating nuclear war, that we could have new libel laws that wouldn’t gut the Bill of Rights, etc. Win or lose, Trump has already exposed something about us that we need to grapple with. All of us.”
  • I’ve never understood vandalism. Theft is comprehensible; people want something and take it. But destruction just for the sake of destruction has always been unfathomable to me. I mention this because, more and more, participants in America’s political system have come to resemble vandals–intent on mayhem rather than reconstruction, unwilling to participate in the hard work of productive reform. Whether it’s the members of Congress’ “lunatic caucus” or the thugs acting out at Trump rallies, or the racists relieved that “political correctness” no longer restrains them from spewing their hate, these are people simply venting their rage, trying to bring down “the system,” with no concern about the social or fiscal costs and no apparent concern for what comes after the destruction.

I’m very depressed. The Trump campaign has uncovered and threatens to normalize an America of which I was previously–blissfully–unaware.

Forty-nine more days…..

Who’s Driving?

“Who’s driving?” is actually a very scary question.

The New Republic recently ran a first-person account of a Trump rally, written by a creative writing professor who attended out of curiosity. His report on the event–what he heard from attendees and from those hawking paraphernalia–was deeply disturbing, and gave rise to a “chicken and egg” question: Did The Donald create the angry, mean-spirited crowd at that rally? Or did their seething hostility to the various “others” who are his targets create an opening for Trump or someone like him?

This campaign, whose success has long been attributed to the forgotten working and middle classes, the so-called Silent Majority, has been, and always will be, an unholy alliance between the Hateful and the Privileged, the former always on a never-ending search for new venues for their poison and the latter enjoying, for the first time since Reagan’s ’80s, an opportunity to get out and step on some necks in public.

I considered the odd pairing and its implications as I left the lot and turned onto Coliseum Boulevard. Trump can be defeated, and most likely he will be, but elections cannot cure this disease. It’s always been here and perhaps it always will be. Trump’s narcissistic quest to “Make America Great Again” has only drawn the insects to the surface, and there’s plenty of room to wonder whether he’s driving the movement or if it’s driving him.

It is sobering and very depressing to realize that a substantial percentage of Americans reject what really does make America great: our willingness to treat our neighbors as valued fellow-citizens, whether or not they look, pray or love the same way we do. Diversity, inclusion, civic equality….those are the aspects of American culture that most of us (or so I hope) value and embrace.

Of course, America’s commitment to inclusion and equality has always been as fragile as it is laudable.

If you  click through and read Professor Sexton’s article–fittingly titled “American Horror Story”–you enter an America very different from the “can do” nation that has long taken pride in welcoming “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The people cheering for Trump aren’t welcoming huddled masses, and they aren’t looking for solutions to America’s problems; they are looking for someone to blame for whatever has gone wrong in their lives.

Trump’s supporters are attracted to his nativism and bluster, his ability to reassure them that whatever “it” is, it isn’t their fault. His appeal lies in his ability to focus their discontents and direct their animosities outward: toward Mexicans or Muslims or women or immigrants. His supporters find his utter ignorance reassuring–there’s no need to know all that mumbo-jumbo about policy and the Constitution and how government works. Just know how to wheel and deal and screw the other guy.

If the nature of his appeal is obvious, the number of voters who will respond to that appeal is not. Less obvious still is an answer to the question posed by the shaken professor who attended the rally: is Trump a cause or an effect? Is he driving this current “know nothing” eruption, or has an increase in nativism and resentment created Trumpism?

And most worrisome of all: how widespread is the Trumpian conviction that making America “great” requires making Americans white and Christian?