The Shame Game

Men bond by making jokes about each other. Women bond by shaming other women.

I would dearly love to tell you about what I have been doing this past week. The hours-long conversations with lawyers. The equally long conversations with colleagues and friends. The decisions that I have had to make about when to speak—and when to say silent.

But to tell you, I would have to do something that I am not very good at.

Name names.

I am amazed that other women find it so easy.

It took me a year and a half of being called names on social media to call out another woman who had been trying to shame me. (I understand that she has continued to do so, including in more formal academic settings.)

It has now been almost a year since I wrote about her, and the name-calling has only gotten worse.

For the most part, from other women.

I think my favorite this past week was, in effect, an unnaming. I am She Who Must Not Be Named.

Others have been more blunt.

(And, yes, I get that by providing these links, I am in effect naming names—some would call it providing proper references for my assertions.)

What have I learned from all of this? I am not much of a woman, clearly. If I were, I would be much better at being a bitch.

Christopher DeGroot has written powerfully about the situation that we find ourselves in, particularly in academia, with the calls for “safe spaces,” “speech codes,” and “bias response teams” against the argument in favor of freedom of speech.

But why now? Why when there are so many women in academia, more than ever before?

DeGroot hypothesizes:
Earlier this year a poll asked university students which is more important, free speech or diversity and inclusion; 53 percent said inclusion and diversity, 46 percent said free speech. Behind these figures there is a significant gender difference: 61 percent of men favored free speech, while only 35 percent of women did so.... 
Simply consider how this plays out psychologically. With their greater altruism, women care more about other’s feelings than men. Since they are higher in negative emotions (neuroticism), they are more readily offended than men. They also tend to value conformity or consensus more than men do. And it’s owing to the collective power of these traits that large groups of women are so formidable when it comes to enforcing “speech codes,” demanding “safe spaces,” alerting “bias response teams,” and so on.
Why do women need “safe spaces”? In my experience, it is to protect them from other women.

I know, I know, that is not what the other women say. They say it is to protect them from men.

The men who josh with each other, making jokes about everything.

The men who might notice their looks—because that is what men do in the presence of beauty.

The men who judge each other on the basis of accomplishments and are ruthless in criticizing each other—so as to improve.

Most of the people I have been talking with this past week are men. Who shake their heads when I show them what other women have been saying about me—and advise me not to engage.

My guess is, they know women. DeGroot, again:
Physically weaker than men, and bearing within themselves the future of the species, women rarely find it in their best interests to be overtly aggressive. It’s far more effective, indeed, to be a fox than a lion. 
But it’s precisely because they cannot afford to be straightforward like men that women are more resentful and vindictive than men. Passive where a man is active, a woman simmers and simmers, and when she does exact revenge, it is by subterranean means.... 
The greater subtlety of women is lost on most men—but not, of course, on women themselves. They know it only too well... 
This underlying antagonism of women naturally turns up in the workplace. Thus, Allison Gabriel, assistant professor of management and organizations at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, in her recent studies of men and women in the workplace, “found consistent evidence that women reported higher levels of incivility from other women than their male counterparts…. [Women] are ruder to each other than they are to men, or than men are to women.” And the more assertive the women were, the more rudeness they received from other women. Hence, while feminists are forever urging women to be “strong and independent,” women’s biggest obstacle in doing so is likely to be other women. 
What we are missing in our present academic culture is, well, patriarchy—in a good way.

DeGroot has some wisdom here as well:
Like the rest of the baby boomer’s liberations, therapy culture, which elevates feeling above all other considerations, was an awful idea. Where in the past Americans learned self-restraint by having to subordinate themselves from their earliest years to an external force (i.e., the patriarchal male), today there is for many only the authority of the law; and since, unlike a good father, the law does not naturally inspire obedience (let alone reverence), in many instances people will reduce it to their own interests, or break it so long as they believe they can get away with doing so.
Many of the threats I have received this past week from other women have been legal: “I am going to call the lawyers on you.”

When I talk with the lawyers—not all were men—they tell me, no, this is not properly a legal issue. It is about how best to behave as colleagues—fellow intellectuals, if you will.

The question is, can we? What say you, my fellow women?

Image: Samuel Rowlands, Well Met, Gossip: Or, ‘Tis Merry When Gossips Meet (London, 1656), London, British Library, C.117.b.52, title page

See MedievalGate for the full story of what my colleagues have been saying about me—and I about them.

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