Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Althouse/OSM/LGF dustup

I was hoping to avoid commenting on the strange feud between Ann Althouse and Open Source Media, which is rather dull (to me, at least) and is taking up entirely too much space on Ann's usually very readable blog. I haven't been following the OSM launch too closely, and I don't quite get what it's all about. (Apparently, I'm not the only one.) But Ann's complaint about sexist attacks on her in the comments at Little Green Footballs piqued my interest.

In a post titled, "Can I get a feminist?", Ann writes:

[M]ale attacks on women are not so much of a food fight as a sex fight. Blogosphere-strength fighting with a woman takes on an outrageous sexual tone, aggressively declaring that that this is a boy's game. Are there any feminists around to see when it's happening and say a little something?

(She adds that, in her view, this is one of the reason there aren't more women in political blogging.)

Now, here's what happened, in case you (wisely) haven't followed the brouhaha.

Ann made an OSM-bashing post in which, commenting on Jeff Goldstein's (joke) reference to a beer glass with the inscription "Bloggers do it in their pajamas" spotted at the OSM launch party in New York, she said:

Would you drink a fluid out of something that said "Bloggers Do It In Their Pajamas"? I think of bodily fluids. But no matter, now the bloggers can do it in their Open Source Media. Or as somebody already quipped: Open Sores Media. Swapping semen for pus, bodily fluids-wise.

One of the OSM co-founders, LGF's Charles Johnson, reposted that last line at LGF under the heading, "The Epitome of Taste" and with the comment, "Althouse jumps the shark."

A lot of LGF commenters then took whacks at Althouse. Some of the comments were pretty nasty. It should be noted, however, that some of the people who used nasty language made it clear that they were responding in kind ("well, if she wants to be childish..."). To me, the most telling thing about the thread was that most LGF-ers automatically assumed that Ann Althouse was a leftist, and the most amusing (and depressing) comment was this one:

BTW folks - Ann is no lefty. She may be a tad bitter and jealous - but she's no lefty.

So be nice.
show some class.


(Obviously, in LGF world, civility and class toward a "lefty" are unnecessary.)

As for sexism: by the time Ann posted her plea for feminist intervention, the LGF thread had over 300 posts. One of them referred to to Ann as a "dumb slut" and a "Berkley house whore." Two or three made fun of her appearance. Another, subsequently deleted, riffed on Ann's "swapping semen for pus" joke (which, by the way, I still don't get) by saying, "Perhaps she's dyslexic and intended to say that she wants her puss swamped with semen?" -- which is pretty nasty all right, but strikes me as less a display of misogyny than an unfortunate attempt to play on Ann's already unfortunate wordplay. I should add that unlike some of Ann's commenters, I don't see "bitch" as a sexist insult. It's gender-specific, but so is "bastard" or "jerk."

I also have to take issue with the notion that somehow, women in the blogosphere are uniquely targeted for sexual insults. On sites that don't discourage flaming, for instance, is it unusual for men to be called names like "d*ck" or "d*ckhead"? Is it unusual for male posters to have their manhood called into question?

I'm not a fan of LGF; and I am, generally, a fan of Ann Althouse's. But I simply don't agree with Ann that the tone of the entire thread is "egregiously sexist." Nasty, yes, but to be fair -- Ann's own attack on OSM was hardly nice. I think Baldilocks sums it up well: if you make jokes about pus and semen to attack a venture you don't like, don't complain about the "outrageously sexual tone" of the response. And asking for feminists to step in and protect you really does not look good. Sorry, Ann, but in this case, you can't get this feminist in your corner.

Note: As I said, I am a fan of Ann's, and I want to take note of an excellent post of hers that I should have linked to, but didn't -- pointing out that in today's climate, reporting on scientific evidence of sex differences is "safe" as long as it's "spun" in a way that's flattering to women.


29 comments:

vbspurs said...

Firstly, Cathy, allow me to congratulate you on this excellent, and comprehensive summation of "Le Cas Althouse-LGF".

In the annals of in-house blog-fighting, this might rank as one of the queerest of unsubstantive quarrels I've yet seen.

(Although some people point to the "Moxie" blogfights, which I'm hardly interested in researching either)

Like you, though, I hadn't paid much attention to the whole Pajama/OSM saga, nor to Ann's...what shall we call it...distate with the entire enterprise, from word go.

I also don't know what it's about, or what exactly rubs her the wrong way about it (though I am led to believe she feels it's some kind of blogger sell-out).

Since I've mentioned it to her publicly, I feel comfortable in saying here that I too find her now almost perfunctory posts on the topic, both a little bizarre, and boring.

From what I have read here and elsewhere, I'm not alone. Alas.

Unlike you, however, I have no quarrel with the LGF crowd.

I am significantly more traditionalist than many another blogreader of Althouse's, and thus, don't mind LGF's testosterone-led Republican brio on occasion.

(Interestingly, I do very much mind women being called bitch. As an aside, in Britain, men call each other what might be termed the "c-word" here, usually used exclusively in the most vulgar terms for a woman -- a kind of reverse cultural sensibility. Even more interestingly, I don't find that word annoying. I find it amusing)

But I much prefer Ann's blog to LGF as my number one haunt, and usually love her eclectiblogging, and the reader comments it elicits.

I'm not sure this is a storm in a teacup though.

In the world of blogging, still a rather select crowd as we're in 1994-internet terms at the start of Blogosphere, one's reputation as a serious blogger can take a big hit if you seem overly off-keel on one topic or another.

(The Anchoress, e.g., said she had almost lost a significant portion of her readership, and blog-contacts, on her enthusiastic support of Harriet Miers)

There is no question of Althouse jumping any shark.

She is much too important as a legal voice in Blogosphere for that to be the case for a good while.

I do believe, however, that invoking the "feminist" theme was the wrong way to make the right point.

Perhaps it's generational, but when I think of Michelle Malkin getting the flak she does for the views she expouses, I think it's because she's a Conservative, first and last, not because she's a woman (although some of the insults she receives is avowedly sexist in tone -- it's disgusting, and I've emailed her to say so).

I think that this time next year, few people outside of LGF will remember this whole sorry episode.

It'll only be an issue, though, if in parrying critiques, both sides of the aisle, keeping referencing a blogger's sex and attitudes which result from it.

That's too terribly MoDo for words, don't you find?

Great post, Cathy. Comme d'habitude.

Cheers,
Victoria

Cathy Young said...

Thanks for your response, Victoria! Always good to see you post here.

I certainly don't think that Ann has "jumped the shark," but I do think that this incident will at least temporarily hurt her reputation in the blogosphere, and that's a shame.

I agree with you about Michelle Malkin. I will also add that while I don't for a moment condone the racist/sexist/personal attacks on Malkin, I think part of the reason she is targeted for such attacks is that she's not simply a conservative, but that she takes positions that (IMO) can be seen as making excuses for bigotry. As far as I'm concerned, Malkin's "shark" was the apologia for the Japanese-American internment.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Hi, Cathy--
If I may add:

Professor Althouse fleshes out the 'conflict' quite well on Audible Althouse. [http://althouse.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=34207]. I, too, didn't quite get the joke until she riffed on it in the Audible. Guys in pajamas, drinking beer out of glasses saying they "do it" in their pajamas got her thinking about, well, semen.

Open Source lead to Open Sores [she admits she didn't mention it first] and open sores made her think of, well, pus. Thus, swapping semen-for-pus. [And now, that's morphed in true Althousian style to "squism"].

But as to her "asking for a feminist", that, too, was classic Althouse, using a musical reference. In the comments section, Melinda asks:

Is the title "Can I Get A Feminist?" a reference to Marvin Gaye's "Can I Get A Witness"?

4:19 PM, November 17, 2005

Professor Althouse replies:
Melinda: Yes.

4:50 PM, November 17, 2005.

Tempest in a teapot. I'll bet she's laughing at it. A lot.

vbspurs said...

Thanks for your response, Victoria! Always good to see you post here.

Madam, you're about to be blogrolled, so I hope to be here more often. ;)

I certainly don't think that Ann has "jumped the shark," but I do think that this incident will at least temporarily hurt her reputation in the blogosphere, and that's a shame.

Yes. And I don't think she'll back down or change.

I agree with you about Michelle Malkin. I will also add that while I don't for a moment condone the racist/sexist/personal attacks on Malkin, I think part of the reason she is targeted for such attacks is that she's not simply a conservative, but that she takes positions that (IMO) can be seen as making excuses for bigotry. As far as I'm concerned, Malkin's "shark" was the apologia for the Japanese-American internment.

Let's just say that my views on THAT matter are varied and perhaps not altogether in line with yours.

For me, someone like Ann Coulter is far more egregious and annoying, than someone like Michelle Malkin.

I suppose why that is, is that I perceive Ann Coulter to be a media-hound first, and foremost.

I don't for one second believe she's not Conservative, nor that she doesn't have convictions in line with her politics, but the way she expresses them (Ban Canada!), etc., make me think she's a big phony too.

But Malkin -- oh no. She means it.

And like all intelligent people, her opponents hate the ones who really mean it, who really espouse what they say.

And you know -- I wrote that about Malkin. But I could just as easily be referring to the current President. Or Hillary Clinton.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Hey Ruth Anne! :)

Is the title "Can I Get A Feminist?" a reference to Marvin Gaye's "Can I Get A Witness"?

Ohhh. I did wonder. And since I'm not musical...

Cheers,
Victoria

Cathy Young said...

Hi Ruth Anne,

I, too, didn't quite get the joke until she riffed on it in the Audible. Guys in pajamas, drinking beer out of glasses saying they "do it" in their pajamas got her thinking about, well, semen.

Actually, I kinda figured that out from Ann's line in her blogpost:

Would you drink a fluid out of something that said "Bloggers Do It In Their Pajamas"? I think of bodily fluids.

But I still don't get it. Maybe I just have an impoverished imagination, compared to Ann. *G*

More importantly -- I think that Baldilocks is right, and it was Ann who, with that line, introduced an "outrageously sexual tone" into the exchange. (I agree that "bloggers do it in their pajamas" has sexual overtones as well, but pretty tame ones.)

Victoria: I'm deeply honored. *takes a bow* And I do agree with you about the Coulter/Malkin comparison.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Hi,Cathy--
Perhaps Professor Althouse's joke suffered from being "a geographic joke"--an extremely inside joke where you "had to be there", but I'm gonna' disagree that it is "inherently sexual". [And I also fear that I may be squirting lighter fluid on a fading ember, but here goes]:

Medical books talk about bodily fluids all the time and they are not inherently sexual. That blog post is what Althouse does. She thinks about words, muses about them, plays with them and throws them up for us to read and comment upon. She does it so well most times, that you are drawn in to her creative process. This example may be one of very few where it was lost in translation to many readers.

Also: is it possible that you saying her joke was "inherently sexual" might be analogous to a scantily-clad rape victim "asking for it"?

She has posted on 'blogging-as- art'. She is, at heart, an artist. People who blythely blow into her blog do not see her in the full context. Her blogging is performance art, with humor, wit, and law.

I think that in her own "studio", she should be entirely free to express herself. When her studio works gets shown in her "gallery" [her blog], we should be able to view it, comment upon it and buy it or pass on it. But some of those comments went well beyond blog-art-patronage and proved that they, too, didn't get it.

Cathy Young said...

Also: is it possible that you saying her joke was "inherently sexual" might be analogous to a scantily-clad rape victim "asking for it"?


I don't think so, because in the case of provocative clothing and rape, we're talking about a "response" in totally different kind/degree to the "offense."

I would certainly not say that a scantily clad woman is "asking for" rape. However, I find myself very annoyed by cases in which women who who engage in highly provocative and vulgar sexual banter at work turn around and complain of sexual harassment when they believe a man who responds in kind (i.e. with sexual comments) crosses some invisible line that they have drawn.

The phrase "can dish it out, but can't take it" does come to mind.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Fair enough, Cathy. We disagree.

Professor Althouse "dished" it out and she's also "taking" it, in spades. I still stand by the opinion that most of the passers-by just didn't "get it". Now it's taken on a life of its own, well past a joke that's fallen flat.

I agree with you about sexual harassment banter. My husband's business partner once got fired from a mid-management corporate job for looking at a female employee, and then, looking away, glanced at a trashcan. She claimed that he was implying that "she was trash" and she felt "really bad" as a result. Women like that make it difficult for any woman [like me] to work in corporate America.

As an aside: I believe that I got a whole lot better about these gender politics when I did two things: dated [and married] an Infantry officer, and went Airborne [conquering the fear of heights by jumping out of an aircraft, while in flight, gives one a sense of personal power and you get to wear the same badge the boys wear].

Both gave me a thicker skin and a keen insight into a male bastion. I was the only female attorney at the 82d Airborne JAG office for a while. You're always deciding which hill you want to die on because if everything is a crisis, no one will take you seriously when you need to be taken seriously. Learning not to be a girl who cries wolf is a lesson I shall have to impart on my twin daughters.

Thanks for engaging in this discussion so thoughtfully.

Cathy Young said...

Thanks for your thoughtful posts, Ruth Anne.

I agree that this whole thing has gotten out of hand, but as far as I can tell (I haven't looked at the LGF thread since yesterday), right now it's being perpetuated by Ann.

vbspurs said...

Victoria: I'm deeply honored. *takes a bow*

*curtsies*

Charmed, Lord Dudley.

...dang. That sounded better when Rosalind Russell said it.

Although not even my reduced vision these days accounts for my gender error, eek.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Ruth Anne, your insight into Ann Althouse is breathtaking.

I thought I had a good handle on her (as if), but I see that I lagged much much behind your intelligent observations.

right now it's being perpetuated by Ann.

Yeah.

Although, I recently too have gotten embroiled into a side-argument, brought on by a gratuitous slam on Ann Althouse, I found beyond the pale.

Blogs. They'll be the death of me.

Cheers,
Victoria

protein wisdom said...

I'm astounded that she's still going.

Here's the problem I have with Ms Althouse's criticisms: first, she take thinly veiled swipes at anybody whose content has been linked thus far (she says at one point that OSM has linked to nothing interesting); second, she is trying to set up a false dichotomy -- one that appears to be catching on, if any much of the dispassionate "analysis" I've read on OSM is any indication -- that those who joined OSM have "sold out" and that she is proud to have retained her autonomy and freedom.

But the thing is, contributors' sites aren't edited -- or under any editorial control -- by the OSM editorial board. Instead, the board just chooses what goes up on the portal.

My contract says that I allow OSM to place ads on my site (rather than using Blogads) and that I allow them to reprint my posts at their discretion. That's pretty much it.

The idea that Ann Althouse is punk rock and bloggers who've joined OSM are corporate pop sellouts is ludicrous.

But who knows? Now that OSM has received so much criticsm, perhaps they'll change their editorial standards (David Corn and Glenn Reynolds have already hinted at their disatisfaction with how the site has been edited thus far). Perhaps they'll go all serious, all the time, and avoid linking to bloggers without journalistic pretensions.

Of course, that would be a shame -- and it would be unrepresentative of the blogosphere and blogging, the charm of which comes from the unpredictability of the form and the eclective nature of the content.

Just my two cents.

protein wisdom said...

eclectic.

Stupid vodka.

peter hoh said...

Well, if Althouse was punk rock, I wouldn't be reading her blog.

With Ann, you're going to get a mix of high and low culture. She has a thing for the gross. It's not like a foul mouth on a nice girl -- that's mostly about shock value, and it's a fairly simple trick. Ann cleverly flirts with the boundaries of good taste, while (mostly) preserving her air of decorum.

I could understand the upset if she had said something like "The OSM crowd is a bunch of semen swapping pus heads." The LGF crowd reacted as if she had. And Ann has refused to step down.

I say, bring on the popcorn. This is better than one of her periodic bickering sessions with her ex-husband.

Ann is not an institution, like the NYT or Dan Rather, whose errors and bias need to be addressed. She's a blog. We're audience. Or to reference one of my mother's stock phrases, we're in the peanut gallery.

reader_iam said...

Well, I'm late to this party.

I got both Ann's original "joke" and the musical reference in her "Can I get a feminist" title." I wasn't wild about the former, 'cause I don't have much tendency to the gross (dead on, Peter Hoh!), but I thought the latter was rather clever. But then, I constantly have musical riffs and song titles pop unbidden into my mind in response to what other people write and while in the process of writing myself.

I guess I have to very, very respectfully disagree with you (one of my favorite bloggers--and the first and only I actually devoted a post to promoting on my new blog last week).

I do think Ann is continuing to beat a dead horse a bit here (Hi, Victoria!), and I do agree that to a certain degree she "brought it on." (Although, like Ruthanne--Hi, Ruthanne!--I think she's taking plenty and just fine.)

However, I do think that there's evidence in the blogosphere that women are uniquely singled out, sometimes, for sexual attacks of a particular (vile) kind. I'm not sure I'd equate "bitch" with "d*ck or d*ckhead," for example (I'm with Victoria on the former--I personally think that term is very loaded, among other things), but that's probably just a matter of interpretation on which reasonable people can disagree. And I can agree that it doesn't rise to the level of an outrageous sexual attack.

But "slut" and "whore" and other things that were said are on a whole other level. I don't see them at ALL analogous to either the terms referenced above OR Ann's original (ill-advised) riff on Protein's (funny) satire.

And I think using that type of language, in the context of attacking a woman with whose opinion you disagree, is indeed sexist. I elucidated my reasoning more clearly through my comments under Ann's "Can I Get a Feminist" post and won't bore you with them here.

In any case, because of the distinctions I happen to make, Ann was able to get this (not overly sensitive or easily offended woman, when it comes to strong opinions or un-P.C. langue) woman in her corner.

Anyway, great blog, Cathy! As soon I get my blogroll set up, you'll be right there ... but I wouldn't hold your breath expecting it to generate any traffic. It's just the principle of the thing ...

Cathy Young said...

reader_iam -- I certainly agree with you about "slut" and "whore," but these words were used by one poster. (They were both in the same post.)

Ann's "Can I get a feminist?" post made it sound like there was a barrage of such language, and I don't think that was an accurate description of the thread. (And yes, of course I fully agree that it was a very nasty thread.)

reader_iam said...

Fair point--especially regarding the written-as-if-a-barrage part. I suspect she was responding, whether consciously or not, to the fact that those comments were pretty quickly excerpted to a whole bunch of other blogs--and in that case I suppose it would feel like a barrage.

As for me, I guess I was also responding to the reference to "hooker" and "porn queen" and also the comments about looks, which I think--and I could be wrong here, of course--are more easily hurled at women and more likely to be hurtful to them. In addition, I probably unfairly took the fact that few commenters seemed to call-out the specific language as tacit agreement and approval of the terms, which made them more "bigger than life" than I think I would otherwise have found them.

Will keep that in mind ....

Thanks

Cathy Young said...

Yes, I did notice the comments about looks.

Actually it would be interesting to do a "real" study of how men and women are treated in blogosphere debates.

reader_iam said...

That would be interesting. Hmmmm ... strikes me there are a lot potential areas of study regarding the blogosphere. Do you suppose there's some communication/new media type out there working on a thesis or dissertation or something that would relate to your question?

reader_iam said...

I certainly would have found something like that interesting back when I was an interdepartmental English/Communication (Journalism/Mass Com) major. Of course, I graduated a couple of decades too soon.

Cathy Young said...

I have no idea -- haven't heard of anyone doing such a study, but it would be an interesting proposal to throw out there!

peter hoh said...

Ann is taking this on, in her own way.

http://althouse.blogspot.com/2005/11/democrats-have-long-long-way-to-go-to.html

vbspurs said...

First, what a lovely, reasoned, and well-written thread this is, by all concerned.

Not only Jeff weighing in, which made me sit up and listen to another side of the argument -- which I had been ignoring because I didn't get much exposure this weekend outside of Althouse --, but the absolute gem of a reply by Peter Hoh.

As I've always thought: the kind of blogger you are, almost always correlates the kind of blog commenters you get.

The better one, the better the other.

Cheers,
Victoria

Auguste said...

Malkin may "really mean it", but she doesn't "really write it." Not all of it, that is.

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