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Let us cowboy up, my Princesses

There was an article in Wired last month about why athletes choke under pressure.

Feh. Sports. I didn’t get that gene. But buried in the middle of it was a really interesting concept sports psychologists call stereotype threat.

It was first noticed when two Stanford psych profs were able to knock down black Stanford undergrads’ GRE scores fifty percent, just by telling them it was an IQ test. Lest you think that’s one of those lefty bullshit stats aimed at Certain Populations, it’s been tested many times since and it works for everybody. You can psych out women before a math test by reminding them they’re women. You can screw up white men before a math test by telling them they’ll be compared to Asians.

…in 1999, Jeff Stone, a social psychologist at the University of Arizona, asked both white and black golfers to play a putting game framed as a test of either “sports intelligence” or “natural athletic ability.” The results still astonish: Among the golfers considering the putting game a test of “natural athletic ability,” blacks did better than usual and whites did worse. Among those framing it as a sort of sports intelligence test, whites did better and blacks worse.

Basically, we’ve all internalized the stereotypes, and other people can psych the HELL out of us with them.

This whole whoregate thing made me think of this — one of Jerry Brown’s associates (looks like his wife, maybe) called his opponent, Meg Whitman, a whore.

Oh. Dear. A lewd, woman-specific insult aimed at a woman.

Why, this is…a…a…a perfectly ordinary game of hardball, ladies. This is the kind of ugly trash talk that is entirely unexceptional.

And yes, I know it’s not nice and I know it’s not fun (my email can occasionaly be unfun; I can’t imagine how Michelle Malkin takes hers in stride) — and it sure as hell isn’t an approach I’d be comfy taking — but it’s no big. We demean ourselves by pretending otherwise.

We aren’t getting womany insults because we’re women; we’re getting whatever insults they think will get under our skin and screw up our game, because we’re playing with the big boys. And some of them don’t play nice.

ADDENDUM: on the other hand, we should certainly make a big effing deal of this language whenever they use ugly stereotypes, on account of they pretend they don’t. As Alinsky sez:

Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 11, 2010, 11:47 pm

Do you think Chris Christie like the fat jokes? No, surely he does not. But he owns them and they become powerless against him.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: October 12, 2010, 12:29 am

There is also Dorothy Parker’s “Superfluous Advice”:

“Should they whisper false of you,
Never trouble to deny;
Should the words they say be true,
Weep and storm and swear they lie.”

I figured out a long time ago that, taken to its logical extreme, that means the best strategy is to ignore all insults. It is a strategy which has served me well for many years.

I surely do wish more public figures would take your advice. Mudslinging is tedious to watch and listen to.

Comment from Ric Locke
Time: October 12, 2010, 1:27 am

I go farther, hark.

On one dimension, statements can be divided into two categories: true and false.
On another dimension, statements can be either complimentary or derogatory.

Statements which are false, whether complimentary or derogatory, should be ignored because they carry no information.
Statements which are true and complimentary should be appreciated. Thank the person who likes you.
Statements which are true and derogatory are actually a favor — they are pointing out a deficiency you really have and may not have noticed. Thanking them may be too much to ask, but you should take them to heart and try to do better.

Under that rubric, the concept of “insult” is empty.


Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: October 12, 2010, 1:38 am

Point taken, Ric. Indeed, I have to agree that when someone points out a fault–or an error–I acknowledge it if the circumstances permit. Apart from anything else–it draws the poison if the intent was malicious, and if the intent was kindly, why, as you pointed out one should thank those who do you a kindness.

Having said that–I am no fan of the current fashion for acknowledging error in the hope of avoiding consequences, like that idiot DA in Wisconsin who thought that admitting he had sent amorous text messages to a victim-witness in a case he was prosecuting would be sufficient to allow him to remain in office. The acknowledgement of the accuracy of the truthful and derogatory should, as you note, be followed by a sincere attempt to do better. . .and to put things right to the extent that is possible.

Comment from Ric Locke
Time: October 12, 2010, 2:13 am

Apologizing for error seems to me a different category, and no, the apology doesn’t automatically generate absolution. The offender has to do something to correct the mistake.

I read the article, then followed the link to Google Scholar (which I didn’t know existed until now) and skimmed a couple of the summaries. Wild, wild stuff. White men can’t jump if you remind them they’re white. Black people score lower on IQ tests if you remind them they’re black. What happens if you remind them that they belong to a group with a positive stereotype? Is this the mechanism underlying “national identity”? Assuming the “Can do!” stereotype still exists, how do black people do if you remind them they’re Americans?


Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: October 12, 2010, 2:43 am

You say apologize, I say acknowledge. . .let’s call the whole thing off.


I find I am increasingly uncomfortable with the word “apology.” This comes, mind you, from someone who was notorious (in younger days) for saying “sorry” at the drop of a hat. I’ve gotten better, in my old age, at finding ways to admit fault and convey my true intent to correct it. But altogether too many of what pass for apologies these days are mere window dressings, to the point where I think the term has been devalued.

Oh, damn. Sounds like Stoaty posted some really excellent links. . .and I’m too tired to pursue them tonight. But no doubt they’ll still be excellent tomorrow.

Comment from bad cat robot
Time: October 12, 2010, 3:33 am

Whenever people try that stunt with me it activates my “kick ’em in the shins” gene. I probably wouldn’t have bothered getting the math minor (what with the requirements for the physics degree, it was just one more math class and some paperwork) but it was a nice official hammer to hit the “women can’t do math” people with. Oh Larry Suuuuummmmerrrs, come out and plaaaaaayyy…..

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: October 12, 2010, 4:03 am

Snicker. My first year as a lawyer I was expected (to this day I haven’t a clue for what purpose) to accompany the senior male partner in our small law firm in a set of public-sector labor negotiations. I did NOT get any kind of undergraduate math/science credential–but I had grown up immersed in numbers, and swam through simple arithmetic as through a limpid pool. So, it seemed obvious to me that if you wanted to know what percentage increase over “A” the number “B” represented, you should divide “B” by “A,” lop off the 1 before the decimal point, and treat the numbers after the decimal point as a percentage.

Nope. My boss could NOT see that. So. . .we had to start all calculations by dividing something by 100. In order to determine what 1% was.

Made me crazy. But at the same time it taught me something about butting your head against a stone wall. The lesson the moth learns from the flame, only more useful as I didn’t actually end up immolated.

Comment from Allen
Time: October 12, 2010, 5:33 am

Reminds me of one of my horses, and the roundpen. He’s got the Ya Ya’s and doesn’t want to listen. Off to the round pen with you.

With lunge line, and lunge whip, make ’em work, round and round. See, he’s doing my bidding now. OK, so on occasion I’m a broken old cowboy, but I do know how it works.

Have I mentioned, that horses, cattle, and people do some of the same damn things? Well, rodeo clown, and political advisor do strike me as similar.

Have I told that old joke? Cowboy up, or are you going to lay there and bleed?

Comment from Allen
Time: October 12, 2010, 5:45 am

Oh, BTW, yes I know the Brits spell it “longe” which they probably got from the French. And, the Queen wears funny hats at the opening of race day.

So sue me.


Comment from Bill (now the .000357% of your traffic that’s from Iraq) T
Time: October 12, 2010, 9:26 am

I have no flaws — I have *character traits*…

Comment from Frit
Time: October 12, 2010, 11:59 am

For me, to be insulted, someone has to accuse me of something that deep down I fear or know to be true about myself, which I also dislike, AND their opinoin matters to me.

Over the years, I’ve learned to accept myself, good and bad. I realize that the opinion of others is just that; their opinion, and need not be taken as fact.
For the past 2 decades I’ve not felt truly insulted by anyone. 🙂

Comment from jwpaine
Time: October 12, 2010, 3:37 pm

I’m with you, Frit. If a criticism of me rings true, I try to improve, regardless of who is offering the criticism. Compliments, on the other hand, get filtered through my opinion of the person giving the compliment. If my opinion of them is low, the compliment is ignored, and, depending on the flattery quotient, my opinion of them is adjusted downward.

Comment from scubafreak
Time: October 12, 2010, 8:26 pm

LOL.. I took one look at that pic and my rather twisted mind was immediately howling:


OK, I’m off to watch Animal House again…

Comment from Randy Rager
Time: October 12, 2010, 8:43 pm

Scratch a Dim, find a racist, sexist homophobe, darned near every single time.

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: October 12, 2010, 9:27 pm

The “whore” news story took off not because of how much it hurt Whitman – my guess is not much – but because of how much it says about Brown, and what a nasty little turd he is. He presents himself one way but in private is another, and that is very unattractive to voters.

And you don’t hit girls. Not if you’re a real man.

Comment from EW1(SG)
Time: October 14, 2010, 2:03 am

Christopher says:

And you don’t hit girls. Not if you’re a real man.

I don’t care if you are a real man or not. Huh, I don’t even care if I am a real man or not, if I catch you hitting girls, I am going to crack you upside the head with something solid.

And you may not get up.

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