Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Pay the Male-Bashing Jar

We humans often just can't help ourselves. We like to bond with our peers, which often means a laugh at the expense of the other.

For an hour and one-half today, this it's-only-human trait trotted around the dais at Suffolk Law's Rappaport Center panel on women in MA politics. Knowing the human wont, I still found it hard to believe that the four panelists, moderator and center's exec all kept up the theme of light to moderate male bashing.

To read the powerful messages and musings from the panel, check the coverage.

I was one of a tiny number of men in the auditorium. That was odd by itself. While the topic was Women in Politics: Challenges and Trends, nothing limited the attendance to women. Moreover, a typical Rappaport Center program has a fairly balanced gender mix. Regardless, the audience was women and they made it plain that female bashing was awful but male bashing was pretty damned funny.

Having been raised around women and spent my time in living rooms, backyards and occasionally beauty salons, I heard much worse. I know that know that there is a real hypocrisy by women as well as men about bashing the other. Moreover, the worst I heard growing up was invariably in the homes of classmates raised solo by their divorced moms.

The far more lighthearted teasing of men in general was much gentler today. It was odd only in that the same women returned repeatedly to the theme of how unfair it was of the media and male pols to slam women candidates and officials. Huh?

It all started with the introductory remarks by the center's executive director, Susan Prosnitz. She's a bright, fun and funny person, who runs this great series of public-policy events. Yet, she set the tone with remarks about how pleased she was that everyone on the panel had shown up on time. She joked that this was because they were all women, implying men aren't as considerate and efficient.

That and each other thread of sexism throughout the next 90 minutes got laughs and sometimes cheers and applause. Imagine if women came into a seminar or panel where the all-male participants regularly spoke in negative stereotypes of women and the nearly all male audience hooted. Here though, men when mentioned were incompetent, vain, and too dumb to know they were dumb.

And so it went. The panel discussed serious topics, presented the fundamental problems, and proposed fixes. They couldn't stop piling it on men though.

For another example, a topic was how it took a political party eight times of asking a potential woman candidate to run to get her to accept. Typically, a man only has to receive a single invitation. That led to numerous jokes over a half hour or more. Men think they are qualified for anything and everything, in fact, they know it. Even totally unqualified men will be sure they should run for any office.

The bashing was not only without any rational basis, just stereotypes of manly men. It avoided getting to the real subject and problem. How can parties identify and recruit women candidates if they require so much cajoling? What can be done to inspire women to feel confident enough and be willing enough to face the rigors of campaigning?

Toward the end of the panel, I recalled where I had heard this kind of double talk before. Racists and sexists I had met or known, many in the South and a few in-laws, would say likewise insulting things, laugh, and if called on it say it was just in fun and they didn't mean anything by it.

Among the what-to-do parts of the panel, they had some related suggestions, although they were talking about sexism directed against their own gender. There was that Name It. Change It. project intended to stop media sexist stereotyping of women, in particular.

While the panelists of successful women pols did not think they personally had been hurt by media gender bias, they seemed convinced with good reasons that such sexism could make it hard for women candidate to be perceived fairly and get their share of respect and votes.

How odd though for this group to call for fair treatment and no sexism directed against women candidates, and then to fall back into the lowest common denominator male-bashing humor. I have a digital recording and could count the anti-man jokes and jibes. I'm sure it was a dozen or more, nearly all endorsed loudly by the audience.

To play the alter kaker, I have to wonder whether this is the way they think and speak all the time around other women. I honestly must have spent too much time with other UUs. My own stereotypes of raw gender bashing is generally of barbershops/hair salons, frats/sororities, and bachelor/bachelorette parties. Maybe I need to think of any single-sex gathering, including a public policy panel.

No men were actually harmed in the making of this panel. Then again, no cross-gender bridges were constructed today either.

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