The New York Times blames the patriarchy

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006 · 20 Comments »

Bob Herbert seems to be channeling the Great Spinster Aunt (though not, alas, her superior writing ability). This is his column from yesterday, which I’m going to release from its gilded Times Select cage and reproduce here in its entirety.

“Who needs a brain when you have these?”
— message on an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt for young women

In the recent shootings at an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania and a large public high school in Colorado, the killers went out of their way to separate the girls from the boys, and then deliberately attacked only the girls.

Ten girls were shot and five killed at the Amish school. One girl was killed and a number of others were molested in the Colorado attack.

In the widespread coverage that followed these crimes, very little was made of the fact that only girls were targeted. Imagine if a gunman had gone into a school, separated the kids up on the basis of race or religion, and then shot only the black kids. Or only the white kids. Or only the Jews.

There would have been thunderous outrage. The country would have first recoiled in horror, and then mobilized in an effort to eradicate that kind of murderous bigotry. There would have been calls for action and reflection. And the attack would have been seen for what it really was: a hate crime.

None of that occurred because these were just girls, and we have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that violence against females is more or less to be expected. Stories about the rape, murder and mutilation of women and girls are staples of the news, as familiar to us as weather forecasts. The startling aspect of the Pennsylvania attack was that this terrible thing happened at a school in Amish country, not that it happened to girls.

The disrespectful, degrading, contemptuous treatment of women is so pervasive and so mainstream that it has just about lost its ability to shock. Guys at sporting events and other public venues have shown no qualms about raising an insistent chant to nearby women to show their breasts. An ad for a major long-distance telephone carrier shows three apparently naked women holding a billing statement from a competitor. The text asks, “When was the last time you got screwed?”

An ad for Clinique moisturizing lotion shows a woman’s face with the lotion spattered across it to simulate the climactic shot of a porn video.

We have a problem. Staggering amounts of violence are unleashed on women every day, and there is no escaping the fact that in the most sensational stories, large segments of the population are titillated by that violence. We’ve been watching the sexualized image of the murdered 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey for 10 years. JonBenet is dead. Her mother is dead. And we’re still watching the video of this poor child prancing in lipstick and high heels.

What have we learned since then? That there’s big money to be made from thongs, spandex tops and sexy makeovers for little girls. In a misogynistic culture, it’s never too early to drill into the minds of girls that what really matters is their appearance and their ability to please men sexually.

A girl or woman is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so in the U.S. The number of seriously battered wives and girlfriends is far beyond the ability of any agency to count. We’re all implicated in this carnage because the relentless violence against women and girls is linked at its core to the wider society’s casual willingness to dehumanize women and girls, to see them first and foremost as sexual vessels — objects — and never, ever as the equals of men.

“Once you dehumanize somebody, everything is possible,” said Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of the women’s advocacy group Equality Now.

That was never clearer than in some of the extreme forms of pornography that have spread like nuclear waste across mainstream America. Forget the embarrassed, inhibited raincoat crowd of the old days. Now Mr. Solid Citizen can come home, log on to this $7 billion mega-industry and get his kicks watching real women being beaten and sexually assaulted on Web sites with names like “Ravished Bride” and “Rough Sex — Where Whores Get Owned.”

Then, of course, there’s gangsta rap, and the video games where the players themselves get to maul and molest women, the rise of pimp culture (the Academy Award-winning song this year was “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”), and on and on.

You’re deluded if you think this is all about fun and games. It’s all part of a devastating continuum of misogyny that at its farthest extreme touches down in places like the one-room Amish schoolhouse in normally quiet Nickel Mines, Pa.

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20 Responses to “The New York Times blames the patriarchy”

  1. Burrow says:

    I posted a link to this article on his blog yesterday. I’m really glad that it got such coverage as the NYT, because it is something that many feminists and feminist supporters have been screaming about for ages.

  2. Violet says:

    I read it and thought, “I’m reading this in the New York Times?” I hope Herbert shot a copy over to David Brooks.

    No, wait — Brooks will probably come back with an editorial saying that all this misogyny is because feminists have upset the social order. Women are much better off when they’re barefoot and pregnant, sez Bobo.

  3. Pony says:

    I was this minute, reading a story of community outrage in a small town north of Calgary Alberta Canada, where a mixed breed dog was apparently beaten, had it’s muzzle taped shut and paws taped together, and then dragged behind a truck. It was found barely alive, back broken, a trail of blood down the road. Later put down. Teenage boys have been arrested. The townspeople, and apparently moved and stunned people from far have threatened similar and unspeakable acts on the boys and their families, causing the RCMP to bring in more staff, put security on the suspects and their families, and daily issue warnings against vigilante actions. Townspeople are not pulling back much at all.

    The story has been picked up in media all over the world, e-mails, phone calls, money, cries of horror, and threats are raining down on Didsbury. Every comment is accompanied by “it’s a dog. they love their masters. they just want to please us. they depend on us”. And variations.

    Would there be such response to a woman being tortured, tied up and told to say she likes it more please, until then killed?

    North of Didsbury in another somewhat larger community, over the past eight years or so, about a dozen prostitutes were found dead in an area near a dump. One at a time. One or two page six ewspaper stories each, head-scratching, posturing. Nothing. October 2006: still nothing.

    Further west beginning about 16 years ago, about 60 women, one at a time, also “high-risk lifestyle” (note lack of the word choice) one at a time went missing. No-one was much interested, certainly not the citizens or cops. “High-risk lifestyle. If you have information.” End.

    The families and children of those women advocated for years that something be done. Finally, almost by chance, those women were subsequently found ground up in the dirt of a pig farm. The most frequent and often first spoken reaction I heard as it was reported, was that people wouldn’t want to eat pork for awhile.

    Well they call the site “Missing People” but really, it’s Murdered Women”:

    I guess you know what I’m trying to say. I’m even worse at it then Herbert.

  4. Dlunch says:

    Sweden positive comment alert! Not that there is not misogyny there too. But one small positive measure that is place: No naked or sexualised images just to sell a product are allowed in advertising. In other words the image of a woman in a bra and panties,for example, can only be used if the product being sold is a bra and panties, (same for men) the same image can’t be used to sell, for example a car.

  5. cicely says:

    …. No naked or sexualised images just to sell a product are allowed in advertising. In other words the image of a woman in a bra and panties,for example, can only be used if the product being sold is a bra and panties, (same for men) the same image can’t be used to sell, for example a car.

    Yay, Sweden! I’d love to find a place where everything the Swedes have got right is listed. It’s not that I haven’t looked. I have just heard things like this on public radio – good social initiatives – over the years. Dlunch, do you know whether it’s true, for example, that no advertising is allowed to target children under 12 years of age in Sweden?

    By no means am I trying to turn this thread into another one about porn – but at least porn *is* about sex. Maybe there’s something inconsistent about my support of this Swedish initiative re advertising – which someone will no doubt point out to me if so, but I like it instinctively. I spent some late night time in NZ years ago defacing sexist billboards.

    As to the NYT article – gosh, it didn’t take long did it? Was there any comment like this in the mainstream press after the Montreal slaying?

  6. richard cherry says:

    note recent swedish government scandal – at least 2 ministers have resigned having admitted financial irregularities. One (a woman) hadn’t paid her TV licence.
    Bless! Even their sleaze stories are somehow very wholesome.
    And on the other hand – they have (I believe for the first time…help me out here) a govt describing itself as ‘centre right’. Will this start to impinge on the liberal values that appear to underpin the society?

  7. richard cherry says:

    An ad for Clinique moisturizing lotion shows a woman’s face with the lotion spattered across it to simulate the climactic shot of a porn video.

    When I read this, I thought it said ‘Clinton moisturising lotion’. And I guess if that product came to me it would be the line I might consider using.

  8. dlunch says:


    No I am not even gona touch that porn thread with a barge pole. Yeah the Swedes are even more serious when it comes to targeting children with advertising. I dont think that the centre right party will make much difference to these types of social initiatives in Sweden, The new prime minister is centre in a very Swedish way anyway, and still far to the left of Tony say, or Clinton for that matter. Also there is consensus, in Sweden about certain social issues. But I am going to stop saying nice things about Sweden…it is really damn cold and dark there-for a negative.

  9. Burrow says:

    The dark and cold are the problems I have with Sweden. Now can they export some of that forward thinking to a Mediterranean country? (I understand the feat I am asking for. Maybe a friendly takeover?) *sigh*

    Less dreaming, and YES there were many comments in the Montreal Massacre; the papers even talked about the gender aspect of the crime: how a man shot women. The Canadian papers didn’t have a problem with mentioning the misogyny of the act.

  10. Violet says:

    Dark and cold doesn’t bother me. I’d love to live in Sweden. Dark only half the year, and cold is always good. My impression is that Sweden’s new “right-wing” government is probably flaming commie pinko by American standards.

    You know, Nixon couldn’t get elected today, he was so far left of most current U.S. politicians. That’s how far to the right we’ve been dragged.

  11. Dlunch says:


    Swedish Universities have lots of programmes in English. So you might have a chance of getting a job there if you really wanted it. Stockholm is a beautiful city–but unlike men and women,in Sweden, not all Swedish towns are created equal. Also higher education(in english) is free in Sweden, even for foreigners.

  12. Dlunch says:

    Sorry did not mean to turn this into a Sweden post..I say no more.

  13. cicely says:

    Beacons can’t hide under bushels, Dlunch! Maybe you Swedes (assuming you’re Swedish) have an embarassment of riches of the finest kind?

    I feel I must quote from a 2004 article written by an American, Daniel Brooks, which, unfortunately has disappeared from the dissent magazine website where I found it last year. I would so love to be able to link to the whole article.

    ‘Living last fall in Sweden, I often felt as if I were in the richest country in the world. In my two months there, I never saw a boarded-up window or dilapidated house. Cell phones were ubiquitous, carried by everyone from children to seniors. In small Swedish towns I saw the trappings of upper-middle-class American life – travel agencies, chic cafes, and such Swedish chain stores as H&M and Ikea, whose aesthetic quality limits their range in the United States to a handful of sophisticated metropolitan areas. The general outlook of Swedes in all but the most remote parts of the country was like that of America’s upscale, educated, urban elite. The nation still reflected Susan Sontag’s 1969 observation that ‘the ideas and attitudes of, say, The Village Voice, are ‘establishment’ opinions in Sweden.’

    In relation to the rules around advertising, it’s not the result of problems around sex and sexuality perse…

    A sex education magazine for teenagers put out by the Swedish National Institute of Public Health seemed concerned not merely that teens were having safe sex, but that they were enjoying it. The lead article included an excerpt from the Kama Sutra detailing a rather acrobatic sexual position and informed it’s teenage readership, ‘The clitoris is for enjoyment. It is in just the right place for fondling.’ A government publication of this sort would be almost unthinkable in the United States.

    I don’t know why he wrote ‘almost’ unthinkable!
    And this bit is for you, Dlunch.

    Swedes, in their quiet way, feel themselves to be in the vanguard of humanity, steering a path between the political tyranny of the Soviet Union and the market tyranny of the United States. As Susan Sontag observed in her 1969 essay, Swedes were not ‘disposed by temperament to export aggressively what they practice…but confidently await the inevitable movements of history that will lead other nations to imitate them.’

    I do appreciate that Sweden may not be perfect, but I wish the people who criticise it’s economic system would more often make the links between that and the social health achievements we could and should all be aspiring to, imo. That consensus you mentioned, Dlunch, that would prevent even a Swedish centrist party from destroying humane values – I wish I knew how Australia, say (where I live although I’m a New Zealander) could get there from here.

    I hope the blogoshere spreads the knowledge widely about the things Sweden has achieved. People need to know what we’re fighting for, as much as what we’re fighting against.

  14. Mandos says:

    Whenever American-ish economists are confronted with the economic and social model of Sweden, they contend that it can only be held together by deliberate compliance by Swedes, and that deliberate compliance is based on shared nationality…

  15. Dlunch says:


    I am not Swedish, but have had a lot of contact with Sweden and things Swedish(including cursing flatpack furniture) for quite a number of years. Of course! Swedes see sex as natural, it is for having and enjoying. I think young Swedish women are a lot more mature and confident than American young women on the whole–none of this whore/virgin crap.I think Swedish compliance is based on the fact that the system works for most people, and most of the time people feel they are getting good things for the taxes they pay, like health care, like good daycare, and decent schools…social housing …more vacation time…Why do Americans think they have it so good,compared with other developed countries? That is a mystery. Women definitely have a stronger voice in politics. Women academics can really make an impact on policy. Then again women are still mainly working in the public sector there. At least they are going forward though. Some people complain that it is a very boring place to live, mainly Swedes. I think the winter is too long, and too dark.

  16. cicely says:

    Mandos says:

    Whenever American-ish economists are confronted with the economic and social model of Sweden, they contend that it can only be held together by deliberate compliance by Swedes, and that deliberate compliance is based on shared nationality…

    Maybe so – maybe not. The longevity of the system has allowed it to take root, so to speak, and, as Dlunch points out, to prove its worth to most Swedes. I admire it very much from afar and I think any nation could aspire to all that’s good about it. (Most people aren’t even aware of what’s good about it in much detail at all, unfortunately. I think it should be studied in schools!) Having said that, I understand that immigrants are bringing in the more individualistic values from their home countries, not to mention religious ones in some cases as well, and young Swedes are being seduced by the ‘you can have it all’ values they see on imported tv shows. The Swedish population will have to keep on choosing their own model and values – election to election – for it to survive. I believe international support, appealing to a deserved sense of pride, would help.

    Well, Dlunch, it’s a shame about the dark and the cold. All the more reason to hope other countries, with better climes, might follow the Swedish ‘Home of The People’ model.

    I wonder why Swedes complain that living there is boring. What do they consider is missing, do you think? Don’t they have sporting and cultural pursuits, etc? Are we to assume that people need the dog eat dog way of life to give it an ‘edge’? I hope not.

  17. richard cherry says:

    Maybe this is the impression of an impressionable schoolboy, but when porn was mentioned (well you knew it would rear its ugly head sooner or later) there was always a mention of ‘swedish hardcore pornography’. Is this a myth? Or is the wondrous el dorado that hath no fiords merely a den of depravity?

  18. Dlunch says:

    Well Mr Cherry,
    I would not want to google that question to find out. I really have no idea. Of course it could just refer to the fact that it is pornography with blonds in the staring roles. But this is the limit to my Swedish information on the subject.

  19. Txfeminist says:

    Am I having a good dream? Was this really published in the Times? Pinch me, please.

  20. will says:

    “Am I having a good dream? Was this really published in the Times? Pinch me, please.”

    This is a trap, isnt it?