Sunday, May 18, 2008

Two More Words I Need

Recently trolling around some radical feminist takedowns of Firefly, I discovered two more words I needed and never knew.

The first of these is a kind of corollary of Julian Sanchez' hugely useful "outsight" - which, for a refresher, is:

A statement believed by the person who utters it to be an important or profound insight, but which is in fact regarded by its audience as so obvious or elementary that it reveals the speaker as hopelessly ignorant or slow-witted, at least relative to the relevant group.

Wandering in Feminist Wonderland over the weekend, I realized that we need a related form of this work that means something like:

A person who believes themselves to hold radical or shocking opinions when in fact they are rehashing familiar ground.

Just to make clear the distinction, I first became concsious of needing a word for this talking to a bookshop owner in Black Mountain a decade ago. I can't remember the name of the shop - which was just a temporary vehicle for this woman to get rid of her paperback collection and is now defunct - but it was something like "Mysteries of the Hills?" Anyway, good as her collection was, she herself was quite annoying, always saying things like "I've found that men can't write about female characters, but women are good at writing about male characters," and then immediately putting her finger to her lips and saying "Oh, shhh! I'm not supposed to say that." See what I mean? Independently of whether the opinion is true (and in this case I'm not so sure it is: I would say that women are in general better at writing their male characters than men are at writing their female characters, but there are plenty of male authors who do quite a good job writing about women all the same), the point is that it isn't new or shocking, and going about like you've just said something really challenging and threatening to the establishment when in fact you're just repeating "Gynocentrism 101" is irritating at best, pathetic at worst. (For an example from Linguistics, be sure to check out Indiana's own Bob Port, who specializes in selectively quoting Chomksy and then following up with a second act of repeating well-established findings in Cognitive Science as though they were news to anyone.) So - I don't have any brilliant suggestions myself, but I think English needs a corollary word to "outsight" that's an adjective or noun for this kind of person.

Another word that I stumbled across was the practice - apparently invented on Gorgon Poisons - of calling male feminists "unicorns." Now, what Gorgon means by this is that men can't be feminists:

Oh, oh and a male feminist (no, no they really do exist, like unicorns and fairies, don't be so patriarchal) disagrees with me about all sex being rape.

That's the first use of it I saw, but the rest of the relevant post contains several references to male feminists as "unicorns," the implication being that they can't exist, and it's all a front.

I actually find this word useful myself, but not in exactly the same sense that Gorgon/Allecto means it. I think there can be male feminists, but probably not male gynocentrists of the kind that Gorgon represents. To the extent that there are such people (and it cannot be denied that one not terribly infrequently meets men claiming to be gynocentrists), I'm inclined to agree with Gorgon that there's probably a motivation beyond ideology at work. Either they're faking it, or there are some self-loathing issues, or, most commonly in my opinion, they're opting out of normal male sexual competition for whatever reason. And in fact, I am reasonably sure, from what I gather watching Buffy and Firefly, that Joss Whedon himself may be in this last category. No proof, of course, but I think the Whedon stand-in in each series is Xander (Buffy) and Wash (Firefly) - with Wash "more so" than Xander. Point being - he's no Riley, Angel or Mal - i.e. not an alpha by anyone's standards - and one coping strategy I've noticed in guys who are conscious of falling short of alpha status but definitely wish they had it is to drop out altogether and take "the girls' side." I had a roomie in college who definitely fit in this category. I propose we call these people "unicorns." Fitting - because while it comes close to being a real creature, and while there's nothing inherently contradictory in its nature, I'm not convinced I've ever actualy seen one, you know? The ability of some guys to lap up any amount of contradictory tripe radical feminists spit out unfazed tends to the conclusion that they're not really sincere. Trust a feminist to know that - no one knows their motivations better than them.


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