A couple of weeks ago, when I was feeling Very Important, I got into a little fight with some men on the Internet about Viagra. Specifically, the Viagra being given to Afghan warlords to keep them on our side by providing enough erectional staying power to “please” all of their many, many wives. All of whom are undoubtedly thrilled by this newfound ability to consummate (over, and over, and over again) their arranged marriages. All of whom undoubtedly had their wildest dreams fulfilled by being married off to these fine specimens of malehood in the first place.
My anger started at a low ebb when Megan over at Jezebel first pointed out what struck me as the very, very obvious marital rape implications. (Nevermind the question of whether we really want to make men’s erections a central tenet of our foreign policy.) She did this, of course, after Spencer Ackerman had spent considerable time giggling over the question. It got quite a bit more intense when I wandered over to find Matt Yglesias soberly justifying the move (“definitely clever”). And Ezra Klein’s jokes (“[h]ard power or soft power?”) made me get up and leave the computer. But then, of course, I came back.
I don’t want to rehash the “debate” that ensued. (You can find me in the comments on any of these sites being called a racist for daring to suggest some of these wives may not be wild with anticipation at the prospect of so much erect penis.) But it threw into sharp relief a question that had been bugging me – and a couple of other people – since the onset of this new era of political dudeblogging: where are the women? Not just the women writing these blogs, but the women that, you know, of whom “politics” allegedly has as its subjects?
Well, maybe I know the answer. The other night I happened to catch a bit of Primary Colors – the movie absolutely no one watched but everyone talked about back in 1998. In that thirty minute stretch I must have watched Maura Tierney’s character roll her eyes at her “co-politicos” at least fifty times – and she was hardly in every scene. And I felt her, because for most of my life this is how I have felt in the presence of the presence of that particular species of dude I tend to call the “political science jock”* – and who I’d guess, though I have never met them, Ezra and Matt and Spencer belong.
Lest you think I am referring to politics enthusiasts who also dabble in athletics, the hallmark of political science jockery is actually the commitment to politics itself as a sport, which is to say – a value-free pastime in which the primary objective is, well, to win. These people memorize committee names and district boundaries and know every twist and turn of the programming on Meet the Press. They can tell you who the last four governors of North Dakota were. They trade trivia about the deviations between the text and the delivery of Obama’s first inaugural.
All of this would be all well and fine and good were it not for the claim, from this sort of person, that politics is, can, and even should be primarily this. Oh, they’ll often give lip service to grander aims of human endeavour like health care or security or, you know, even women when they come to think of it. But they’ll claim that these aims are not “real hard politics.” The real hard politics, apparently, resides in information stored neutrally, just like baseball scores.
So when they get to a subject like Viagra in Afghanistan, something of a short circuit happens for the political science jock. If everything’s a game, and the only objective is to win, you cut your informational losses. If you don’t know for sure that women are going to be raped as a result of this measure, but you do know for sure that men place great value on their erections, you’re more likely to put the latter into your score matrix. And then, somehow, the U.S. (which is, after all, your “team,” right?) comes out on top. It’s win-win, right?
All of this is to say: the absence of women in these discussions has a whole hell of a lot to do with the ways the chattering classes talk about politics. Sport as a metaphor is one that’s particularly comfortable for men, not because women can’t or don’t talk about sports, but because many men don’t even see the problems with this mode of discussion. It is the way it is, they say – and women are welcome to join in, provided they observe the rules of the game! What these dudebloggers need to know, however, and what this little Viagra non-debate showed so well, is simply this: your rules are not obvious, or objective, or God-given and they too need to be the subject of interrogation. Because if the rape of women isn’t “real hard politics,” I can imagine why a good chunk of us just aren’t interested in your expertise on the issue.
* Some political science jocks are, of course, women, but from my own anecdotal evidence it seems even they find the club rather dudely in that regard – they just happen to believe that they can (and oh indeed they can!) be just like men.