Monday, May 22, 2006

In Defense of Big Girls

It's only six months before the elections, and a number of progressives are getting rather testy--towards each other.

Regular readers of political blogs may have been following the "Big Girl" fiasco. John Aravosis, of AmericaBlog (one of the most heavily trafficked liberal blogs on the Web), inadvertently launched the squabble when he used the following as a title for a post:
Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) is nothing more than a big girl
I don't recall seeing the original post at the time it appeared; if I had, I might very well have dismissed it as an inept attempt to use gay slang to smack Robert upside the head.

But some real girls (as opposed to all the "big girls" like me) understandably took offense; it might be one thing to call a gay friend a big girl, but it's another to use the term as an insult. Nevertheless, Pam Spaulding offered her understanding that "blogging can really be a messy affair"; it's easy to say something stupid and instantly splatter it all over the Internet, but
How one cleans up a mess like this generally leaves the greatest impression on folks, so on that front, John could either let the thread roll off into the archives with the issue unaddressed, or say it was truly a foot-in-mouth issue that unnecessarily damaged the power of the original post's intention and be done with it.
It's almost as if Pam could predict what might be Avarosis's reaction and offered some friendly, preemptive advice. Alas, however, Aravosis failed the character test spectacularly. Instead of remaining silent or simply offering an immediate retraction and an apology, he removed the term but added this mealy-mouthed, defensive rejoinder.
After all, what's really important about what I wrote isn't that we're losing our civil liberties as our democracy disappears, but rather, that you're offended by the use of gay vernacular. Thanks for helping us keep the eye on the ball.
I was somewhat surprised by this response, since AmericaBlog has a history of chiding straight newsmakers and politicians for using offensive terms against gays, and I would have thought that Aravosis, of all people, would have understood the importance of language. And, within the gay movement, surely Aravosis is aware of the feeling shared by many lesbians that their concerns are usually the first to be set aside when conflicts like this arise.

His mention that the term is gay vernacular is fair enough--and correct enough--except for one problem noted by the Republic of Dogs:
The Achilles heel in this argument is that no self-respecting gay man would call Senator Roberts "girl". [...] Calling Pat Roberts a girl (and going on to say that being afraid and unpatriotic is the essential definition of "girl") has got nothing to do with gay vernacular and everything to do with patriarchy. In fact, it's about three millimeters from straight-up calling the senator a faggot.
When several other blogs and a number of frequent visitors to AmericaBlog discussed Aravosis's lack of empathy (not to mention his hypocrisy), he went a little crazy: rapidly deleting hundreds of comments (mostly reasonable, some hostile) and posting what can only be called a histrionic meltdown, which included the following:
Guys, anybody who isn't happy, please leave this blog and don't come back. I'm serious. Get out. [...] Rather than fight our common enemy, you'd rather sit here and beat me up because somehow you get off on that. That's fine. You're no longer welcome. Please leave. [...] I choose to spend my time fighting the enemy. You choose to spend your time fighting friends.
It's impossible for me to distinguish these sentiments from the following statement: "You are either with us or against us." It's a world view that admits no shades of gray. In a word, it's neo-conservative.

Shakespeare's Sister, a blog that has been one of the chief critics of Aravosis's behavior, summarizes,
I find it extremely disappointing that one of the leaders of the progressive movement in the blogosphere has chosen to be so willfully shut off from a legitimate discussion about the use of a phrase that is offensive to many of his readers--and that, once again, addressing sexism in progressive blogging is being viewed as an either-or proposition.
I have been a regular reader of AmericaBlog for a couple of years (since just after its inception); I even cited them in my very last post. I also know this mess is a tempest in a teapot; to many folks it might even seem boring and insular. But the way Avarosis has handled this episode both alarms and saddens me. We have a long six months ahead of us, and we can't afford this kind of insensitivity.

I don't have but a handful of readers, so any response from me can only be regarded as feebly symbolic. Still, at least for now, I can no longer recommend AmericaBlog and I've removed it from my list of Favorite Blogs. Instead, you'll find another great site (one I would have added eventually anyway): Shakespeare's Sister.

Update: I was unaware, until I saw the proof via Main St. USA, that Avarosis used to be a Republican (gasp!) working for Senator Ted "Bridge to Nowhere" Stevens, who is also famous for mule-headed hissy fits. It seems there might be a serious bug in Avarosis's deprogramming.

I also notice belatedly that the above duststorm caused City Elf to to make changes to the Blogroll as well (maybe we'll start a trend):
I doubt anyone will notice these changes, especially not John Aravosis, but I think it's important for me to feel that the links I have here on this page reflect what I believe. And what I believe is that I'm more like Patrick Henry than Pat Roberts, and I'm not going to link to someone who seems to think otherwise.