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Your Lips Are Moving, but the Female Sound Barrier Prevents the Sound from Coming Out

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, August 14, 2012 9:56 EDT
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So, Hillary Clinton was being interviewed at an event in Kyrgyzstan, and was asked a straightforward question about women and ambition. She answered:

It requires, for a woman, usually in today’s world still, an extra amount of effort because I think it’s – the fact that women are still sometimes judged more critically. If you are in the courtroom or you are presenting a case, it still is a fact – and this is not just in Kyrgyzstan, this is everywhere – that when a man walks into a courtroom it’s rare for someone to say, “Oh, look what he is wearing.” (Laughter.) But if you walk into a courtroom, or any young woman walks into a courtroom, people are going to notice. And that will be an additional requirement that you have to meet.

A few moments later, the interview turned:

MODERATOR 1: Okay. Which designers do you prefer?

SECRETARY CLINTON: What designers of clothes?

MODERATOR 1: Yes.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Would you ever ask a man that question? (Laughter.) (Applause.)

MODERATOR 1: Probably not. Probably not. (Applause.)

Perhaps the moderator heard the word “clothes” while zoning out on the rest of the answer and thought, “Oh good, we can finally talk about what actually matters when you have one of the most powerful women in the world in front of you.”

On a similar tip, Jane Clare Jones has a must-read piece in The Guardian about the ugly reaction from Russian authorities towards Pussy Riot and their notably famous female supporter Madonna.

In a recent Guardian interview, a member of the group still in hiding explained that “the main concept was to appeal to the Virgin”, to ask her to “protect the political system” because “the Virgin is the protector of Russia”. While superficially an act of naive superstition, one suspects the women were not really banking on their leader being summarily swept away by divine intercession. Just like Madonna before them, the insolent political power of their gesture came from self-consciously reclaiming that great emblem of patriarchal oppression. They wanted the Virgin to abandon the patriarchs, switch sides, and “become a feminist”. They wanted her pussy to riot.

Against this background Rogozin’s dismissal of Madonna-as-whore almost reads as inadvertent irony. The subtext is nothing if not glaring. In the patriarchal playbook, a woman’s moral virtue is synonymous with … well, her virtue. Good women are chaste and pure. And the others – those who express their sexuality in ways not sanctioned by church and state, those who are sexual at all – are quite simply not to be trusted. They seduce and entrap. They’re dirty and diseased. And, above all, they are deceitful and duplicitous. If they want to moralise, they should, as Rogozin told us in his second tweet, put their pants back on. And if they refuse, nothing they say is to be taken seriously or believed by anyone. A simple sexual slur, and, as if by magic, a woman’s word is instantly devalued, divested of authority and discredited.

I frequently get variations on the “you have sex!” accusation to discredit me from conservatives—Jones is right that we shouldn’t think we’re so much better than the Russians—and it’s always fascinating how that accusation and all its forms is, as Jones says, that the person flinging it really does seem to think it means nothing you say can have any value. I’ve always found it interesting, because the ideal you’re being imagined against is basically a non-entity for all practical purposes, which is to say a virgin. I mean, yes, virgins exist. But they are a tiny minority of adult women! This isn’t a judgment, just a fact. A very small percentage of the population doesn’t know how to drive, but we’d find it very strange if someone tried to discredit a woman by saying, “You have a driver’s license!” It’s just a typical part of being an adult. If someone said that, in fact, we’d have to assume that they were using the driver’s license as a stand-in for a general objection to women maturing into adults, and essentially saying that there is nothing of value that an adult woman has to say.

Stepping back from it, I have to think that’s exactly what makes slut-shaming such an attractive attack for misogynists. Boiled down to its essence, the equation of sexual activity with lack of moral worth is a way of saying that women’s opinions have no value, but doing so in a way that leaves the tantalizing (and false) promise that there’s such thing as a woman pure enough that her opinions could matter. It creates a neat little system. When one is a girl and not yet fully sexual mature, your opinions don’t matter because, you know, girl. But a rite of passage, losing your virginity, that’s associated with adulthood in the same way getting a driver’s license is makes you an immoral slut whose opinions also do not matter. The rare adult virgin could, in theory, have an opinion that matters, except in practice, they’re assumed (often incorrectly) to be girlish, and so back to “your opinion doesn’t matter”. It’s just a way of discounting every opinion uttered by a woman, but doing so in a way that makes it seem like it’s about her choices and not her womanhood. But don’t believe the hype.

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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