Episode 116: Loophole Women
Published October 27, 2017.
Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.
Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.
Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. On this week's agenda, ugh, why are so many quotes from men and why is it so hard to find quotes from famous women? Plus loophole women, trashing, and the Weinstein fallout among women. Who runs the world? Girls. Yes, girls. [Laughs] I didn't mean that as a question. And Amy Cuddy and the drama over power-posing.
Aminatou: Hi Ann Friedman!
Ann: Hey, boo-boo. What's up?
Aminatou: Ooh, girl! It's getting cold out here.
Ann: This episode coming to you live -- well, not so live -- from Chicago.
Ann: Where it's raining.
Aminatou: Where it's raining. You know, we've been on a little Midwest tour. It's been fun.
Ann: So one thing that brought us to Chicago was we were cohosting this day-long series of talks for Chicago Ideas Week, separate from our CYG business, which is ample. And the script for the talk opened with a quote, like a sort of set the mood for the day quote. The quote, I was enraged to discover, was from Charles Lindbergh.
Aminatou: Ooh, what's problematic about Charles Lindbergh, Ann? He's a Midwest hero apparently. [Laughs]
Ann: Yeah. I mean Nazi sympathizer.
Ann: I know. Even the Wikipedia page is damning.
Aminatou: He stole his own baby but also he was a Nazi?
Ann: I know. The famed pilot who ventured into the unknown and was into genocide. That's like . . . anyway, so we were like obviously we can't have this quote in something that we're reading and we went on a hunt to try to find a better quote that was sort of thematically similar and discovered that every single one of those quote database websites like Wikiquote, How, like whatever, are just full of quotes from terrible, dead white men.
Aminatou: Always. Yeah, but also when we finally found the lady quotes we needed because they needed to stick to the theme that was about like exploring the unchartered, and so when we finally found the quotes that we needed, surprise, surprise, all the ladies were badasses.
Ann: I know, and so we learned so much about people who . . . it's sort of tangential to our obsession with reading obituaries but when we started researching the women who had given the few quotes we could find in these quote-collecting websites they were amazing including this deep sea explorer named Sylvia Earle.
Aminatou: Iconic biography.
Ann: Who was a woman neither of us had ever heard of before which is shameful but maybe not because we're not oceanographic ladies.
Aminatou: Yeah, because you know, whenever people talk about the oceans, all you know is Jacques Cousteau, you know?
Ann: All I know is my favorite stoner content to watch is deep sea documentaries. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Deep sea documentaries. Yeah, I'm really into Jacques Cousteau. He's got some daughters. All his children do deep sea stuff, so yeah, I definitely did not like -- this is not an area I have any expertise in.
Ann: Okay. Well Sylvia Earle, we were screaming with joy when we found her bio. She was the first female chief scientist at the Us National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She has been National Geographic's explorer in residence since 1998. And the best part of her Wikipedia entry was her nicknames which include . . .
Aminatou: Oh my God.
Ann: Her Deepness.
Aminatou: Her Deepness is so good.
Ann: And The Sturgeon General. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Yeah, like the Venn diagram of deep sea exploration and like stoner culture is very real.
Ann: Cannot be denied. But shout out to Sylvia Earle. And then we also found a really good Georgia O'Keeffe quote, right? There was . . .
Aminatou: Yeah, Georgie O'Keeffe, mother of American modernism. She knows. She knows what's what. All of Georgia O'Keeffe's quotes are iconic. Remember how I couldn't find her though and I did that weirdo Google search to get to the bottom of it?
Aminatou: It was like Lady Jackson Pollock, vagina. [Laughs]
Ann: You were like you know, that woman who paints pelvises?
Aminatou: I know! Then it all worked out. She has an entire pelvic series. They're great, yeah.
Ann: So next time you need an inspirational quote to sub in. Also it made me wonder, I need to do some research about how quotes are curated for those sites because if it's a Wikipedia style like not enough non-white dudes are submitting quotes, like maybe we need to have an effort to populate some of these websites that conference organizers are using for their inspo quotes and seeding them with some more incredible women and people of color.
Aminatou: Yeah. [Laughs] Sorry, I was googling Georgia O'Keeffe plus racist and I'm finding things. Okay.
Ann: I mean . . .
Aminatou: No, I should've done that on my own free time. What else are we talking about today?
Ann: Well, I feel like a lot of what's been happening in the wake of the Weinstein revelations and the series of other powerful men in other industries who are being recognized finally for the bad behavior that they perpetrated for years is that there's like this sub-conversation going on. [Sirens] That's the sound of the feminist police. But there's been a conversation also about the women who were enabling some of these men to do terrible things or just like women -- basically women's complicity. And Andi Zeisler has an article in Bitch Magazine referring to them as loophole women. Hang on, let me find the money quote here.
Aminatou: Wow, loophole women. That's good.
Ann: I know. Okay, so loophole women is a term that she took from Ariel Levy's 2005 Female Chauvinist Pigs book which I have some issues with but we'll set that aside.
Aminatou: I know. It does not age well upon re-read.
Ann: Yeah. You know, there's also like Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl refers to her as the cool girl. Alana Massey wrote an article where she was referring to this as the chill woman. But basically like women who don't want to step too far out of line with men and don't identify with women. They're basically like oh, yeah, y'all are victims over there. I'm here on the side of men just living my life. Like I'm above it all.
Andi Zeisler is saying these are women who need to be held accountable. Maybe not to the degree that men are held accountable for their bad behavior but they function as gatekeepers to men who are doing this bad stuff and they're erasing other women.
Aminatou: Yeah. I think the reason that articles like this are important -- well, there's like many reasons, right? And I have not read the piece yet. But, you know, I trust your reading of it. It's the fact that so many . . . there's like so many different conversations that are happening. One is if you are a woman and your first instinct when you hear of a male behavior is to think "But that guy is really nice to me," it's really before you say that out loud is to pause and the real question you should ask yourself is "Why is that person nice to me? And why have they done something terrible to somebody else?"
Ann: The siren sound you hear is the feminist police. [Laughs]
Aminatou: The sound of the beast. Woop-woop. [Laughs] I used to sing that song at police cars all the time. Anyway, Houston people problems. Yeah, it's to really examine instead of the defensiveness of, you know, rising to the occasion of defending a man, it's to really just pause and think why? Why are they kind to me? Or why have they helped advance my career, etc., blah, blah, blah? And somebody else had a negative experience with them.
But I think too it's this reminder there's so much of the conversation around this of when we start talking about like what are policies we can put in place to stop bad male behavior? A lot of people say like "We need to have more women in power!" Or "We need to have more women in positions of power." And I'm like hmm, sure, but what kinds of women, right? Because you have women who are in charge of places, like take Facebook for example, a company that you might have heard of.
Ann: Wait, what?
Aminatou: You take a company like Equifax for example who also has a woman in charge and bad things happen there or they are not . . . they're not where they're supposed to be. And so I think that thinking that sisterhood is what's going to save you is very misguided and thinking about what constitutes actually having women in power, is it just having one? Is it having many? It's like what kind of background do they have? What kind of . . . you know, what kind of their politics and their policies are. And so there's not a simple solution to any of this.
Ann: Yeah. I mean obviously there's questions about women in charge of an organization where this behavior is allowed to flourish. Like that's one type of loophole woman to use this term. But there's also women who, you know, I think are probably in a super, super misguided way trying to protect and separate themselves. There was that New York Times op-ed by Blossom. Did you read that?
Aminatou: Ugh, Blossom. So problematic for so many reasons. But yeah, tell the people what the op-ed was about so I can be even angrier about it.
Ann: I'm just going to quote one line from it which is "I dress modestly. I don't act flirtatiously with men as a rule."
Aminatou: Let me hit you with a headline: Blossom is a fucking liar. [Laughs] Because -- she is. And that's one of the problems to me that was wrong with that op-ed. And she's been on the record before calling out specific pop stars about how they are, like one being Ariana Grande, which we've also discussed on this show.
Ann: How they are meaning how they dress?
Aminatou: Yes, how they dress, you know? And how they present themselves. But the thing with Blossom, that actress, that is really funny to me, is she has in the past accused Ariana Grande of dressing provocatively. And I literally found a picture on the Internet where they're both wearing the exact same outfit. And I was like girl, how come you are comfortable calling out other people but all I see is you showing skin, skin, skin, skin, skin here? Also that argument is really dumb, like saying that being modest is what protects people from being harassed. It's like that doesn't hold any water when you think about how many children are sexually assaulted. That argument doesn't hold any water when you think about the fact that women in really modest societies get harassed and raped also. It's like work out your ugly duckling feelings in your own personal life. You don't have to pathologize them to how other women live.
Ann: Right. And also pretending that what you wear will keep you safe won't actually keep you safe.
Aminatou: Yeah, anybody . . .
Ann: I think there's a self-protective impulse in that too.
Aminatou: Anybody who's ever been street harassed while wearing a garbage bag knows this is not true.
Aminatou: Like if what you wore determined how you were treated in the world then we would all be wearing the exact same outfits.
Ann: Right. Even though I do feel very sexy in an oversized chunky turtle neck.
Ann: Like it would pass Blossom's modesty test.
Aminatou: Yeah. Because watching that whole conversation play out in this moment was so infuriating for so many reasons. I was like one, the New York Times op-ed page set you up and you didn't even see it because you thought you were smarter than you were. And also just that argument comes from like a personal place as opposed to from a systemic critique and that's also why it fails. Where she's like "Here's been my experience in Hollywood." And it's like actually nobody cares about your experience; we care about the systems that enable people to act bad in systems that destroy people's self-esteem. So sorry, Blossom, play again next time.
Ann: Right. And I think that, you know, there's a lot of . . . I don't want to say it's on a continuum cleanly from like bad to good or something like that but this behavior is not all parallel or not all the same. Like writing a bad op-ed and literally being an assistant who knows that women are going to be assaulted and leading them into another room, those are different things and I don't want to conflate them. But I think that like bringing them up all in a similar context does serve a point. You're right, these are people who are not thinking systemically about things and are thinking that they can separate themselves from rape culture, from a system that does this to women more broadly, from men who are predatory, and that's just not possible.
Aminatou: Right. Or also that women who find themselves on the receiving end of harassment or on the receiving end of sexual assault really have done something to put themselves there because they think that whenever you try to excuse that behavior you are literally saying like "Well, you know, here are the coping strategies that I had and here is how smart I was or here is how my beauty and my power shielded me," or whatever, instead of realizing how much these are all really crimes of opportunity and therefore the grace of God go all of we. Like they can happen to anyone and it's never your fault if it happens to you.
Aminatou: But we always find ways to rationalize blame and somehow the women who are the victims are the ones that are supposed to shoulder some of the blame which is ludicrous.
Ann: Yeah. Then I think the thing I get wary at though when I read articles like this one which are calling out a phenomenon which is important to talk about for sure, but I'm also aware of the ways that it places attention again back on what women are doing as opposed to keeping the focus on people who are perpetrating, in my mind, like greater offenses like assault and harassment directly. And I think that the idea that you want to . . . you want to have these conversations while thinking about the intention of the person in question, like if someone is setting out to just write an incendiary op-ed, yes, who cares? Let's trash them for that decision. But I think there's a complicated set of questions you have to ask when you're focusing your attention on other women who have not perpetrated these crimes as opposed to on the men who have perpetrated them. And I think about trying to do systemic work, like building a broad movement to undo this, and I just want to keep the focus on the worst people frankly.
Aminatou: Right, and focus on the people who commit crimes, you know?
Aminatou: I think that that . . . like there are many ways in which we are all complicit with patriarchy and rape culture. Even us skin in the game feminists, that's a thing I think we should all be asking ourselves and then really making distinctions with people who are actual collaborators and were accessories in crimes and having honest conversations about that. But at the end of the day it's like the men who do the bad things should be held responsible and accountable and it's a shame that they're not.
Ann: Yeah. And I think that there's . . . it's hard. It's hard to keep that in perspective while also -- because I do want people who I'm trying to get free with to hold me accountable when I do things that are actively undermining other people, you know? Like whether or not I realize it. Hopefully I'm not doing it on purpose, hypothetical version of me. But I don't know. Have you ever read the second wave Jo Freeman essay about trashing?
Aminatou: Yes. Ugh. So real. So real.
Ann: Perpetually relevant. It's from April 1976 and yet 40 years later feels very on point with the way some of this stuff can play out. Usually it's more . . . like I think that she's referring more to people who are kind of like playing who's the best activist as opposed to calling out women who are actively undermining other women.
Aminatou: Yeah. The dark side of sisterhood.
Ann: Yeah. We'll link to it in the show notes but essentially this is the scenario you don't want to evolve which is people who are generally sharing political aims taking each other down for being slightly off-message or for being seen as undermining the Movement with a capital M as opposed to recognizing that we can all come at this problem in different ways and we all experience it in different ways. So I just want to point that this is not new. And again I guess the example in Andi's Loophole Women essay are not all from this precise moment in time but I just want to point out it exists in a long history of like . . . a big, long, historical feminist quagmire. [Laughs]
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Ann: Do you want me to hit you with some posi news?
Aminatou: I saw that you put such good posi news in the vagenda. I'm so excited for you to tell me about it.
Ann: Well I just, I don't know. When I was thinking about what we should talk about this week there ended up being lots of articles about incredible things that girls around the world are doing -- individually, not collectively. I do wish girls around the world were united in a massive . . .
Aminatou: Girls around the world, my non-profit.
Aminatou: My public private partnership. [Laughs]
Ann: Oh my god.
Aminatou: That's awesome. Okay, like what examples?
Ann: Okay, first one, my hometown newspaper The Los Angeles times wrote about this annual event called Young Storytellers in which fifth graders write scripts and then Hollywood celebrities read them and enact them.
Ann: And one of the prominent ones this year was composed by a woman named -- sorry, young woman named Grace Ani. It's called Small Hands, Orange Face.
Aminatou: Who is it about? [Laughs]
Ann: I don't know! I mean maybe -- I'll give you a few guesses. We'll link to the video and you can see part of a reading about it.
Aminatou: She got Tony Hale and Natasha Rockwell and Max Greenfield to perform her screenplay? This is amazing.
Ann: I know. I'm like give her . . . wait, what's the . . . give her a Tony. I'm like what's the award . . .
Aminatou: For plays?
Ann: For plays.
Aminatou: [Laughs] We're going to take you to a play. This is so great.
Aminatou: Okay. Yeah, you know? It's true what they say. The children, they are our future. Oh my god. And there's news about an eleven-year-old STEMinist in Flint.
Ann: Tell me more.
Aminatou: Listen, I know about this from you from via NPR. So this young woman in Colorado, Gitanjali Rao, had watched her own parents test for lead and realized how unreliable the process was and she set out to change that. She detected a lead-testing device. Oh my god, look at this baby STEMinist. She's so great. Here's what the seventh grader -- she's in seventh grade -- here's what she says: "I have been following the Flint, Michigan issue for about two years. I was appalled by the number of people affected by lead contamination in the water." Me too, seventh grader. Me too. "I went well . . ." So she talks about the water testing process and how it's basically garbage. "I went well, this is not a reliable process and I've got to do something to change this." This girl is amazing and she's a little baby scientist. Look at her at the 3M Innovation Center. You should really look up this article on NPR. Everything about it is great.
Aminatou: I am really into this 3M Young Scientist Challenge that she's also into. I love these kids.
Ann: Baby STEMinists!
Aminatou: I know, baby STEMinists everywhere. Also she goes on to really explain how her process works and that's where I have to get off the train.
Aminatou: Where I'm like I don't actually understand how you test for lead in water but I'm going to believe NPR. But I think that's really cool. Also she was named America's top young scientist, a distinction that comes with a check for $25,000. Girl, put that money away for college.
Ann: I hope she's learning how to invest.
Aminatou: I know. Ugh. This is so great.
Ann: Did you read this feature about Amy Cuddy?
Aminatou: Ooh, queen of power posing. I did read -- I did read the feature in the New York Times Magazine and it was a lot.
Ann: Right. So Amy Cuddy is the researcher who has given one of the most popular TED talks of all time. I guess let me find the number of how many millions of times. Yeah, so the video of her talk about power posing is now TED's second-most popular. It's been seen by 43 million viewers. And she also has a bestselling book that she wrote in 2015 called Presence that is partially about her power posing research but other -- you know, other research about power and the body and stereotyping.
So at the time she gave the talk and got popular for all this research she was on the faculty at Harvard Business School. These days she is not on the faculty of the business school anymore and all of her research is being questioned and everything seems like it's kind of spun out of control.
Aminatou: Yeah. I mean that was the thing that was really crazy about reading this article is just like how many levels there are. You know, it's like on one hand it's really an article that's about the subjectivity of data. On the other hand it's an article about, I don't know, the human side of the replication crisis and social psychology. And also it's about like sexism and bullying and social science. It has everything.
Ann: Well back up. Beep, beep.
Aminatou: Beep, beep. Beep, beep.
Ann: [Laughs] So maybe talk -- explain that a little bit more, like the fact that it's about replication. What is the social science thing that's going on?
Aminatou: Well I mean this is the problem is that I've read thousands of words and I'm like I don't think I understand what social psychology really is about which is probably what made the power posing TED talk so compelling and spun an entire brand for her is that whatever business she was in she had found a really simple distillation, like a thing that you could tell people.
Ann: Right. So one reason I think that her research was so exciting to many people is she and her co-researcher said they had found physiological responses that when people power pose they had hormonal shifts and stress-related shifts that made them . . . that were associated with more confidence, or like being calm in the face of adversity. They also found when people self-reported how they were feeling that they were feeling more confident after power posing. And basically the part of that research about physiological response has not been replicated so that's like the replication thing that you are referring to. When other researchers have tried to get people to power pose and then talk about how they feel and test their cortisol levels and things like that they did not find a correlation between power posing and being less stressed out or being more confident.
However she claims that the . . . she still stands by the research about it changing how you feel about yourself and I thought that's not like a super forefront thing in the article. It's more about drama in academia and replication and things like that. But I think it's pretty . . .
Aminatou: Academia has so much drama.
Ann: Oh my god, academia is nuts.
Aminatou: It's like reality TV. I'm like why is nobody talking about this? These people are all bananas.
Ann: Well the whole structure of their entire industry is crazy where they're giving out more PhDs than they have jobs for and then also scamming students and also scamming adjuncts. Yeah.
Aminatou: It's like the Apprentice. It's like the real Apprentice is academia. It's like the whole thing is wild to me.
Ann: Yeah. It is like a weird pyramid scheme and of course, you know, we just talked about trashing. Of course there's lots of in-fighting when you're in a precarious position. But also, you know, and this is sort of implicit in the article -- it's not front and center -- one of the reasons why she became a real poster woman for this "replication crisis" was because she was a woman who made really popular research, or whose research was very, very economically beneficial to her too. You know, this best-selling book and all the talks.
Aminatou: Yeah. She got a platform out of it. She became a household name. But the thing that I was really -- I guess was very . . . one thing that was not weird, that I was like "Hmm, of course," is how many social scientists go through this stuff, right? And it just so happens that now the woman is the one who is becoming the poster child for maybe social science is not all it's cut out to be and maybe going from academia into the real world this way is something that is frowned upon.
One of the things that was really fascinating in the comments to the piece on The New York Times and also even the general response about Amy Cuddy was just this whole like she really put herself out there. Like there's something wrong with that, you know? And all of the manifestations of success I guess. Yeah, that whole thing you were saying, she was doing well financially. She was whatever, and how that's an indictment of her work, like making work that is popular.
Ann: Right. A best-selling book is the academic's version of a short skirt.
Aminatou: Yeah! And I'm just like . . . I'm like I don't know, Malcolm Gladwell does some crazy stuff. Nobody's coming for him.
Ann: He also doesn't have tenure.
Aminatou: No. Yeah, he doesn't have tenure, but there's a bunch of these people who make TED talks or they do like, I don't know, pop culture -- like non-fiction, like blockbustery type work. And it's just interesting to me that this one is the poster child for why that's wrong.
Ann: Yeah. I mean feminist thinking cap, why couldn't it be this one?
Aminatou: Yeah. It's just like hmm. Like this is, you know . . . I'm like wow, gender complicates everything.
Ann: And it's interesting too. Like there are other professors quoted in this article who say that look, in the past everyone was encouraging members of the academy to make their work popularly-accessible and there's been this complete reversal or backlash that she seems to be bearing the brunt of. So really she was really successful at a thing a lot of people were pushing to do at one point. And it looks like okay, so where this ends up though is she's working on a new book project tentatively called Bullies, Bystanders, and Bravehearts about people who essentially went through what she went through in terms of having their work questioned and becoming figures on whom everyone's drama about things not related to them is concentrated. [Laughs] Also just like academia, get it together.
Aminatou: Yeah. Academia is so shady. I'm here for it but it's shady, you know what I'm saying? Yeah. I'll probably read her next book. For sure I'll probably keep on top of this drama. But also I really enjoyed that this article I felt like was really fair to all sides. Like I rarely feel that way about something -- you know, like something that can be so personal or can be a takedown. And I was like you know, good job Susan Dominus. This was . . . it felt fair to all sides. There are good people on many sides. [Laughs]
Ann: So are you still power posing is the question.
Aminatou: I mean I still power pose, not because of the science but because opening up your diaphragm feels awesome. [Laughs]
Ann: [Laughs] And I think that's generally what she said too, right? If you feel better it's still worth doing even if your cortisol levels don't shift.
Aminatou: Right. You know, it's just one of these things that I'm like you know, if this is wrong, it's a victimless crime. Let Amy Cuddy rock. It's cool.
Ann: Okay. And with that, hands on hips. I will see you on the Internet.
Aminatou: [Laughs] Hands on hips, deep breath.
Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet: on our website callyourgirlfriend.com, download it anywhere you listen to your favs, or on Apple Podcasts where we would love it if you left us a review. You can email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. We're on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at callyrgf. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn. All original music is composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs. Our logos are by Kenny Shesnede. This podcast is brought to you by the wonderful Gina Delvac.
Ann: Gina D! See you on the Internet.
Aminatou: See you on the Internet!