TRAISTER ON TAIBBI AND SMOKING-HOT SKANKS

November 19th, 2017

I have written much before about my recognition that as a native-born white male in the United States I am, by no merit of my own, the recipient of a level of privilege that places me near the pinnacle of humanity. In the past I have always focused on the white part of that categorization, but national events in the past month have me thinking much more about the male part.

Rebecca Traister, writer-at-large for New York Magazine, has written a long-read on the topic—thank you Mano Singham—that I find insightful. There is much there, but I wanted to pull out one bit because the man discussed is someone I’ve long admired: Matt Taibbi. In Rebecca Traister on the Post-Weinstein Reckoning, she writes:

The progressive journalist Matt Taibbi recently published a lengthy apology/explanation in which he despaired that the public reappraisal of the work that established him (in particular, a book about Russia that he now says is satirical and includes accounts of pushing women under the table for blow jobs, of telling them to lighten up when they object to such high jinks) is coinciding with the publication of his book about the death of Eric Garner. It’s the kind of important book that he’s been working toward writing for 30 years, he laments. Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of all the women who’ve wanted to be writers for 30 years, who’ve yearned to make the world a better place by telling stories of injustice, but who haven’t had the opportunity in part because so much journalistic space is occupied by men like Taibbi: dudes who in some measure gained their professional footholds by objectifying women — and not just in big, bad Russia. Take the piece Taibbi wrote in 2009 about athletes’ wives. “The problem with the Smoking-Hot Skank as a permanent life choice,” he opined, “is that she eventually gets bored and starts calling up reporters to share her Important Political Opinions.” Taibbi may feel demoralized because the hilarious misogynistic stylings of his youth are now interfering with his grown-up career, but lots of women never even got their careers off the ground because the men in their fields saw them as Smoking-Hot Skanks whose claim to having a thought in their heads was no more than a punch line.

Men have not succeeded in spite of their noxious behavior or disregard for women; in many instances, they’ve succeeded because of it. They’ve been patted on the back and winked along — their retro-machismo hailed as funny or edgy — at the same places that are now dramatically jettisoning them. “The incredible hypocrisy of the boards, employers, institutions, publicists, brothers, friends who have been protecting powerful men/harassers/rapists for years and are now suddenly dropping them,” says one of my colleagues at New York, livid and depressed. “What changed? Certainly not their beliefs about the behavior, right? Only their self-interest. On the one hand, I’m so happy they’re finally being called out and facing consequences, but there’s something so craven and superficially moralizing about the piling on by the selfsame people who were the snickerers and protectors.”

There is an argument that bad men—never bad women or bad people—can do great works, but now I have to consider what even greater works might have been done but for the privilege of bad men.

One of the practices in many families sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner is to ask the question: what are you most thankful for this year?

I wonder just how many people will admit that they’re thankful for the unearned privileges given to them?

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