Creepy contest: Alec Baldwin vs. Caitlin Flanagan

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, April 22, 2009 15:22 EDT
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It’s really a toss-up between these two, who have been thrown together because Flanagan was asked to review Alec Baldwin’s new book “Bitches Ain’t Shit”. Sorry the title is “A Promise to Ourselves “. I have no doubt that Flanagan was assigned because her editors assumed that she would be behind what appears to be a typical MRA screed that’s just been elevated because of Baldwin’s fame, but a funny thing happens when even the most anti-feminist of women, should they have a single brain cell rattling around in their heads, confronts the seething misogyny of MRAs that is only barely disguised by an obsessive detailing of court interactions that make them sound at times more like they’re recounting sports statistics than compiling evidence for their bullshit case of why women need to roll over and take their shit. Flanagan isn’t the sharpest pencil, but she is a grade B moron, unlike the grade A-ers like Dr. Helen, who fall over themselves defending men’s inalienable right to be abusive pricks, if they so desire. And while Flanagan tries to believe that Baldwin was done wrong by the court system, she can’t ignore the fact that he acted like a massive, entitled asshole, and his problems with his daughter are his fault, not his ex-wife’s. So she actually calls him out.

Standing on the street, once again confronted by life’s inability to meet him halfway with his simple desire to be the center of the universe, he snapped. He raved at the child in the ugliest language imaginable, threatening her and calling her terrible names.

Hee. But worry not, Flanagan’s momentary bout with sanity will soon abate into a frenzy of fundamentalist-inspired hoo-ha. Which is why I bring to you this question. Who’s the bigger creep in this article? Baldwin or Flanagan?

For contestant #1, we have Alec Baldwin, Men’s Rights Activist. According to even Flanagan, who is predisposed to be overly generous to men while mean and ungenerous to women, Baldwin is a sexist monster. (Not that Flanagan has any love for Kim Basinger, who she sees as monstrously unfeminine, due to Basinger’s possession of strength and a will.*) The marriage started off on a sexist foot, with Baldwin making a commitment to Basinger after she’d been taken down a few notches by the court battle, and he could be the richer, more dominant person in the marriage.

The lawsuit was protracted and ugly, and it stirred in Baldwin a sense of protectiveness, changing their relationship’s fundamental dynamic: “The woman who was wealthier and more famous than I was when I met her in 1990 was now bankrupt.”

They had a daughter, and Baldwin snapped into the role of daddy-as-owner of the little girl, while mentally shifting Basinger from the category “lover” to “mother”. Unsurprisingly, the marriage is doomed, probably in no small part to these factors. Baldwin, like pretty much every other MRA out there, gets completely discombobulated by divorce, because all of a sudden he cannot control his wife’s every move as easily as he could before. The child becomes a major point of contention, because she’s his legal stake to lay claim to control what he’s lost control of. He admits as much on “The View”, suggesting that his abusive rant that his daughter recorded was meant for his ex-wife.

[F]inally he admitted that it had been “improper” of him to use the word and that he had really intended the message for his ex-wife, not his child.

Classic MRA manuevering. The ex-wife doesn’t have to listen to you scream and call her names any more, and you can’t accept that, so you take it out on your children. Baldwin has all the other signs of having completely lost his mind over this, including the obsessive recounting of court minutia, something that becomes a focal point for many MRAs, as they sue and re-sue their exes to renegotiate custody, because the alternative—actually letting go and realizing you cannot control your ex-wife any longer—is unbearable.

So that’s contestant #1. Contestant #2 starts off her portion of the contest on a strong foot of suck, implying that it’s better to call a fat woman a pig than a thin woman.

If you were female and heard that tape recording, you remembered two things about it: the pitch and tenor of the snarling male voice and the use of that word. When a man calls an overweight woman a pig, he is saying she is fat. When he calls a slim and attractive girl—someone like Ireland—a pig, he is using the word in another sense, one that suggests a particularly feminine kind of repulsiveness. It was a horribly crude, almost sexual thing for a man to call his daughter.

The only thing she gets right is that it’s a nasty word, and it does have a weird sexual subtext. But I actually don’t detect any difference in how it’s used against women, regardless of dress size. When aimed at women, it’s about implying that there’s something foul and animalistic about female flesh (though the more you have of it, the more likely you are to hear the insult), and it has a side dish of shaming women about having appetites and desires, and not just of the culinary sort. One thing I found interesting in the book “Pledged” was that the run of girls to their new sororities every year at SMU is called the Pig Run, showing that the association between women and pigs is firmly ingrained in our society, even if the term is increasingly being used as a slur against just fat women.

To normal people, what Baldwin’s message clarified was that men in the thrall of patriarchal entitlement end up seeing women and children on the same continuum—as possessions, albeit ones that you have different uses for, but both under your control and deserving of an abusive dressing down if you lose that control. Gender came into play because daughters are seen as more subject than sons to fatherly authority, and obviously Baldwin didn’t have a problem using sexist insults to reinforce that. But, well, Flanagan reads the situation in an entirely different way. Pointing out that Baldwin is a devoted father, Flanagan then says:

Obviously that devotion is romantic, and here is the reason this scandal has engaged us for so long: its true center is not a particularly lurid and public divorce……

But a romance doesn’t need sex to flourish, of course, and in his daughter a father discovers a person whose very bloodline ensures that she will be charming to him: at the precise moment that his wife is fading into middle age, her beauty resurges in the daughter—there’s that unlined face you fell in love with so long ago! And instead of nattering away about all the tedious things your wife is always going on about, this ravishing new version has been programmed (by you) to talk about and care about all the things you are interested in.

But don’t worry! It’s not incestuous, because familiarity breeds contempt.

Dad doesn’t get too excited by the sight of Mom in her shimmy anymore, for the same reason Buddy’s never taken a hankering to Sissy: they’ve seen too much. It’s not community censure that has kept incest in check all these centuries; it’s stomach flu.

Which has the unfortunate implication that Dad having sex with Mom is incest, too, but let’s not get distracted from the real creep factor, which is that Flanagan is selling the father-daughter bond as sexual, or “romantic”, which is of course our culture’s euphemism for behaviors that convey erotic love and passion. Worse, your daughter is hotter than your wife, and so that’s got to spin a guy, right? Luckily, Flanagan has a cure for this unfortunate love triangle that couples create by breeding.

Fathers routinely (and quite callously) announce to the world that their daughters have a special and particularly feminine claim to their hearts that their wives don’t. It would be a recipe for disaster, were it not for the fact that family life is constructed so that it can contain both romances perfectly. And—as Alec Baldwin may someday come to find out—it’s the larger romance that girls (those cunning observers) really have their eyes on. If your father thinks you’re enchanting, but he’s put your mother out to pasture—well, that’s just disturbing. You have somehow beguiled this powerful, grown man in a way your own mother could not; what’s wrong with you?

How to count the screwed-up assumptions? First of all, the notion that divorce is about men putting women out to pasture for the crime of becoming middle-aged marks Flanagan as hailing straight from the trophy wife class, because in the real world, women file for divorce more often than men. Worse is the notion that a young woman can only construct male affection for her as sexual, sorry, “romantic” in nature, though in reality I suspect most kids realize that parental love is parental from both parents. I’m not disputing that the Daddy’s Little Girl syndrome exists. We’ve all met men who can’t contextualize loving a member of the opposite sex without dwelling on her as a sex object (even if they don’t actually feel sexually towards her), and so they encourage every little pretty princess behavior imaginable and don’t seem to get that their obsession with their daughters’ looks is creepy. Jessica Simpson’s dad comes to mind. But that doesn’t characterize most father/daughter relationships by a long shot, even when divorce enters the picture. God knows I was more likely to spend time with my dad changing a tire than being treated as girlfriend lite. (Gross.) I hate to even write about this, it grosses me out so much, but I think it’s relevant because Flanagan is once again fronting like she’s an intellectual, when actually all this stuff she’s spouting comes straight from Focus on Family-era Christian fundamentalism.

In other words, Flanagan is being a subtle apologist for the movement that gave birth to purity balls. In the right wing Christian worldview, it’s not only acceptable but advisable to sexualize your daughter as part of her training in being a good and proper woman who is passed from father to husband, and who regards them as roughly the same except she presumably has intercourse only with the latter. The asexual, sorry, aromantic relationship between father and daughter is regularly touted by right wingers as the reason that young women have sex outside of marriage.** I wish I could say I was joking, but I’m not—it’s assumed that young women date men not in their families because they long for that dating attention that should be provided by their fathers. Thus, the “Date Your Daughter” movement has become a big deal in the Christian right, because they assume if daddy’s ponying up with the gifts, flirting, and meals, then he can monopolize a girl until he gives her away to a man who actually gets to fuck her. Most of us are disgusted, but Flanagan’s trying to dress up this dysfunction as the natural order, and even going so far as to suggest that divorce disrupts it and permanently fucks girls up.

So, I leave it to you, Pandagonians.

Who’s creepier
Alec Baldwin
Caitlin Flanagan

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*Flanagan trots out Basinger’s court battle with the studio over her refusal to do “Boxing Helena” unless they rewrote the script to make Helena less bitchy. What Flanagan doesn’t bother to explain is that Basinger was right—a movie that seems like it’s going to be an examination of male obsession ends up making you wonder why the rapist/kidnapper of the story wants this particular woman, because she’s so awful. The movie’s a mess, because it can’t decide if it wants to be an examination of obsession or if it wants to endorse the patriarchal script about containing and silencing women.
**Because it certainly can’t be that women have sexual desire. Next you’ll be telling me they have orgasms.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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