Hostile Sexism

In yesterday’s post, I basically vented about the sexism being displayed by the Senate GOP during the Kavanaugh confirmation process. Today, I want to follow up with a broader discussion of what a recent sociological study has dubbed “hostile sexism.

An article from Salon discussing the study began–predictably–with the Kavanaugh fiasco, and the remarks from Trump and Senate Republicans.

Republican elites are also defending Kavanaugh, with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, going so far as to say that even if the rape allegations were true they might be excusable: “I think it would be hard for senators not to consider who he is today”. Once again, per America’s tradition, culture and habit, elite white men are protected from the consequences of their behavior.Toxic white masculinity is encouraged in America. White men are infantilized, while black and brown men and boys are pathologized.

The article described the relevance to these recent events of a recent study by University of Kansas sociologists David Smith and Eric Hanley. Their research wasn’t limited in its scope to sexism, although it did address what it called “a socially combustible mix of racism and sexism, in combination with anger and bullying.”

Writing in “The Anger Games: Who Voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Election, and Why?”, which appeared in a recent issue of the journal Critical Sociology, Smith and Hanley summarize their new research:

“We find that Trump’s supporters voted for him mainly because they share his prejudices, not because they’re financially stressed. It’s true, as exit polls showed, that voters without four-year college degrees were likelier than average to support Trump. But millions of these voters — who are often stereotyped as “the white working class” — opposed Trump because they oppose his prejudices. These prejudices, meanwhile, have a definite structure, which we argue should be called authoritarian: negatively, they target minorities and women; and positively, they favor domineering and intolerant leaders who are uninhibited about their biases.

The authors research confirmed what other research about the 2016 election, from political scientists as well as sociologists, has found: what unified Trump’s voters was not “economic anxiety” but prejudice and intolerance, and a significant dose of misogyny.

Smith and Hanley identified eight attitudes that interacted with each other and strongly predicted support for Trump: identifying as conservative; support for a “domineering” leader; Christian fundamentalism, prejudice against immigrants, African-Americans, Muslims and women; and “pessimism about the economy.”

The research demonstrates the ways in which racism and sexism reinforce each other, and predicts support for candidates willing to bully both women and people of color.

Most Trump voters cast their ballots for him with their eyes open, not despite his prejudices but because of them. Their partisanship, whether positive (toward Trump and the Republicans) or negative (against Clinton and the Democrats), is intense.

This partisanship is anchored in anger and resentment among mild as well as strong Trump voters. Anger, not fear, was the emotional key to the Tea Party, and that seems to be true for Trumpism as well. If so, the challenge for progressives is greater than many people have imagined. Hostility to minorities and women cannot be wished away; nor can the wish for domineering leaders. The anger games are far from over.

The Salon article included an interview with one of the researchers that is well worth reading in its entirety. This response to a question, especially, explains his disagreement with the approach of many liberals to Trump voters:

Many liberals are reluctant to believe that large numbers of people are as mean-spirited as their words and actions might suggest. They want to think that fear, not vindictiveness, drives support for vindictive rhetoric and policy. That’s generous, but I think it’s also a special kind of blindness.

In fact, we seem to have two opposite forms of emotional blindness. Many liberals can’t believe that large numbers of people are vindictive while many conservatives scoff at the idea that liberals are not vindictive. Liberals often make excuses for people who show signs of intolerance. Right-wingers, in contrast, often laugh at claims to “feel your pain.”

These attitudes shouldn’t be ignored. Right-wingers who hate liberals are problematic, and liberals whose reflex is to forgive them are problematic too.

This research helps explain the behavior of the Senate Republicans that set me off yesterday.

It doesn’t excuse it.


  1. We need to hear from sociologists more and economists less. I’m sure by now Sheila has read David Brook’s comments about Kavanaugh. He fits into the toxic white frat boy category. And win at any cost is very accurate.

    There’s no doubt he assaulted those women but the GOP officeholders don’t care because their base and donors don’t care.

    It’s truly more simple than most open-minded people can rationalize. I have friends who’ve tried being tolerant and give those people the benefit of the doubt, but they’ve all eventually caved on trying to be nice and tolerant.

    Don’t just read the articles on media outlets…take a peek at the comment section. I still LOL at those comments in the INDY STAR who call writers, “liberal hacks.” I bet the so-called journalists also crack up.

    Sadly, these Neanderthals date back prior to the formation of our united states. It never went anywhere and they are all Nanny red states–pure irony. They bash the federal government but without the federal government, the Nanny states couldn’t function.

    Sociologists and psychologists should be sought for their opines but our newspapers and broadcasters seek out economists and warmongers. Do you think this is by accident?

    As a country, we place more emphasis on money/economy versus building a society that makes the majority happy and content during their time here on Earth. It’s very sad. As long as bible thumpers have their bibles, they will always be able to justify their sexism and since the bible is the “word of god”, they are righteous in their beliefs.

    As I mentioned yesterday, the silver lining is more women are running for political office than at any time in history AND winning. I might actually turn my TV back on if sociologists and psychologists were invited on shows to explain this counterinsurgency to Trumpism, fka, Tea Partyism financed by the billionaire Koch brothers and other very wealthy white men obsessed with economics and power.

  2. “The Goldwater rule is the informal name given to Section 7 in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Principles of Medical Ethics[1], which states that it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures whom they have not examined in person, and from whom they have not obtained consent to discuss their mental health in public statements.[2] It is named after presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.”

    One of the first books regarding, sans direct diagnoses”, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” was a result of this APA rule. The unhinged display by Trump we viewed yesterday, termed a press conference and following his laughable display at the United Nations, is the latest and the longest public display of hostility, including “Hostile Sexism” evidenced by an unexamined person’s questionable mental stability imaginable. This must be what the White House “insiders” have “leaked” to the public; the Trump they must deal with day and night. If we had asked Michael Moore to script the display of a deranged leader; he could have done no better than what this country and much of the world viewed yesterday. Trump reminded me of Idi Amin yesterday; “what unified Trump’s voters was not “economic anxiety” but prejudice and intolerance, and a significant dose of misogyny.” While a formal diagnosis of his neuroses based on his public displays may not be acceptable; it is blatant evidence that a diagnosis is necessary before we see Kavanaugh appointed to SCOTUS or Trump instigates that war he denied seeking during his unraveling rant yesterday. Trump displayed his own “Hostile Sexism” excuses as due to being a “very famous person” which means he has the authority to excuse Kavanaugh of these public accusations.

    The sex angle regarding Kavanaugh’s dangerous appointment came late in the Senatorial Judicial Committee’s game of loading SCOTUS with evangelicals who have denied and removed sexual harassment, abuses, attacks, violations and rapes from their centuries old long list of sins. Whatever level of unwanted sexual contact referred to; they are all HOSTILE attacks. The Kavanaugh denials are familiar because the same denials are used by all predators; ugly and destructive as they are and should not be ignored…they are taking away from the documented reasons uncovered during the Senate “hearing” which constitute the legal reasons to disqualify him from the appointment to SCOTUS.

    Sex is always a primary distraction from any issue at hand for the American public.

    VOTE BLUE! While we can still vote!

  3. The ideas expressed in Sheila’s comments today certainly counter the oft used cry “When they go low, we go high.” It is one thing to be civil in the face of bigotry and racism; it is another thing to make excuses for that bigotry and racism or worse, to remain silent.

    For too many liberals, part of the problem in standing up against bigots and racists is an unwillingness to risk giving up on whatever relationship there might have been between them and the bigot. In this area of our society it is clear that liberals are the uniters and conservatives are the dividers.

  4. Todd, the point here is not just that the Trump voters and GOP don’t care if he’s a hostile sexist racist etc…. they *love* that he is. They are thrilled that their own attitudes are being legitimized and that he is enacting their sadistic impulses.

  5. So it seems that we now have evidence that more than half of his voters could be placed in a “basket of deplorables?”


  6. “…part of the problem in standing up against bigots and racists is an unwillingness to risk giving up on whatever relationship there might have been between them and the bigot.” So, Theresa, what is one’s option, then, if one’s immediate family is entrenched on the other side? Yes, I am unwilling to risk total ostracism from my parents and some siblings, not to mention other relatives. While I am realistic enough to get that I cannot change minds, I am terribly conflicted about the hardening of my heart and sadness in my soul that prevents me from being a cogent family member. This is especially painful at this point in time, when my parents and other relatives have more days spent than stored.

    Are we all just “bricks in the wall” of a set piece on the national and international stage? My personal calendar continues to fill up with more funerals and memorial services than I care to admit.

    This real-life quandary exists even as I am a reluctant testament of the #MeToo movement and a casualty of a WM-dominated industry. So again, I raise the question: how much does one risk to be on the “right” side of history? Is the result worth the cost?

    Even as liberals, wewoukd do well to consider “walking around a while in another man’s skin” (Atticus Finch).

  7. It is of note Kavanaugh’s fellow class mate who Christine Ford says was in the room when Kavanaugh assaulted her Mark Judge, wrote a book – Wasted: Tales of a GenX Drunk.

    According WIKI -> Wasted describes in detail the author’s secondary education memories, particularly those involving heavy alcohol usage by his peers and himself at Georgetown Preparatory School. The author writes that the social environment of his peers at the school was, “positively swimming in alcohol”. Judge recounts a hookup culture involving binge drinking, especially during a period of time at the school known as “Beach Week”. Judge defined “Beach Week” at Georgetown Preparatory School as a “week-long bacchanalia of drinking and sex, or at least attempts at sex”

    He presents in-depth memories of orgies and attempts to have sex fueled with alcohol at residences along the beach shoreline.
    Represented by attorney Michael Avenatti, a third woman, Julie Swetnick, came forward publicly on Wednesday to accuse Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of gross sexual misconduct when he was a young man.

    Michael Avenatti, if you recall is Stormy Daniels attorney. Avenatti is particular thorn in President Agent Orange’s side as Avenatti is totally unintimidated by President Agent Orange.
    In her sworn statement, Julie Swetnick says she that Kavanaugh and his friends were known at the time for “targeting” girls with alcohol and drugs in order to take advantage of them sexually, and that she has “a firm recollection” that Judge and Kavanaugh were among the “boys lined up outside rooms at many [other] parties waiting for their ‘turn’ with a girl inside the room.”

    It does seem at the least the Republicans since they control the Senate would call for an FBI Investigation into the Ford and Swetnick cases. The Statute of Limitations has run given the time, but lying to the FBI is a criminal offense.

    Given President Agent Orange’s sexual escapades Mark Judge and Kavanaugh would fit the mold of privileged abuse of woman.

    At his point the Republicans are determined to push Kavanaugh through the process. The only question is will the full Senate confirm him? A full Senate vote will be a real test of Joe Donnelly.

  8. One of the last comments in the column makes an important point. “Right-wingers who hate liberals are problematic, and liberals whose reflex is to forgive them are problematic too.”

    The liberals mentioned are problematic because, as Karl Popper once said, being tolerant of intolerance begets more intolerance.

  9. Carrie, The price being payed for not willing to risk your family relationship is that hardening of your heart and sadness of your soul that prevents you from being a cogent family member. We all must face that choice in these times… either speak your truth or remain silent in the face of racism and misogyny. You are not alone in this agony. All of us suffer.

  10. Of course the fact that Trump could be carried into the Whitehouse by 3,00,000 votes short of a majority of 2016 voters by Russians working social media is the most important evidence that we have of the magnitude of a dysfunctional culture in the US. Remember though that he was among 13 potential Republican candidates offered and though he was the one with by far the least political experience he was not a standout among them in terms of dysfucntional authoritarian personality. In fact Mitch McConnell with years of political experience has shown himself to be as dysfunctional in terms of serving we the people.

    As Sheila often asks, “what can we do?”.

    We know that the upcoming election is absolutely key in terms of stopping the contagion of the electorate by entertainment media. A very loud message needs to be sent or everything will continue snowballing towards failure.

    No one can really predict the odds that all Republican Senators are part of the epidemic. We will have a major clue on that apparently on Friday.

  11. Aimee Yermish,

    Damn. I wish you weren’t so right. I was stunned yesterday to hear from a liberal long-time friend who wrote me that he “found it difficult to believe” that Dr. Ford could have suffered “long term” trauma from the Kavanaugh attack, concluding that much of her pain was “self inflicted.” (!)

    Let me hasten to add that this guy has been married 50+ years, has two terrific daughters, a master’s degree and never before has he said or written anything to me that is so myopic or misogynistic. I was, and am, stunned.

    If my friend could express such thoughts I shudder at the thought at what might lie in wait in the minds of the troglodytes on the Republican panel of old white men.

    If there is a silver lining to this ominous cloud it is the women. Women friends of mine who have always been virtually apolitical are appalled with what they see and damned angry about it. It is evident in their candidacies and their protests and comments on social media.

    Finally, I concur with the sentiments that the Trump bigots, misogynists, homophobes, etc., cannot be reasoned with but instead must be bludgeoned to blunt their attacks. Logic, reason, morals, etc. mean nothing to them–only their sick joy in the “freedom” Trump has given them to indulge openly in their sickness.

    It was about fifty years ago now that Bobby Fischer, World Chess Champion (himself a twisted mess of a human) explained, “Chess is a subtle game. You have to know when to punch and when to duck.” We liberals must stop ducking and learn to punch.

  12. Perhaps one of you lawyer types can advise: We have dysfunctional Executive and Legislative Branches. I assume that John Roberts is in charge of the quality of the services of the Judicial Branch. How can he not express an opinion about the functioning of the Supreme Court with the addition of a largely only lightly investigated Justice chosen strictly by limited partisan process without the confidence of so many Americans?

  13. This is not within the Chief Justice’s constitutional paygrade. He has to accept whatever the president and the advice and consent of the Senate send his way since he is in no way involved in the selection and confirmation of such justices.

  14. Two more great posts – I have to agree with Thersa’s comment from yesterday – these Republicans realize that their days are numbered. Demographics and the shock of Trump are signs that they see. They are going to try to “scorch earth” the government as much as they can, in any way that they can, and for as long as they can.

    My hope (being both cynical and hopeful) is that the Trump sticks with Kavanaugh and that some small number of Republicans (Flake?, Murkowski?) vote him down. Next, voters enraged by the hearing put the Democrats in charge of both houses. (I will ignore the likelihood that Republicans will confirm a new justice and 20+ judges in November without hearings.)

    In the hearing today, Kavanaugh seemed arrogant, with a sense of entitlement. He also showed that he believes he is above review by the Senate. He, like Bork before him, does not believe in the America we grew up in. (Remember that Bork’s rejection wasn’t purely on party lines.)

    I don’t know what we can do beyond vote (for now), but I don’t believe that we should go high when they have gone very, very low. For decades the Republican Party has moved further right until they have become the party of White nationalist. The Democrats have been “reasonable”, seeking compromise — and moving further to the right as well.

    In 2003, when Tom Delay engineered a second redistricting in Texas having just won control of the state in midterm elections, I suggested that Democrats redistrict Illinois, putting leading Republicans Henry Hyde and Dennis Hastert in the same heavily Democratic district as Danny Davis or Jesse Jackson, Jr. My older, wiser, more temperate brother disagreed. Several years later, he admitted that I was probably right.

    I believe that thinking, feeling Americans should put the Democrats in control and the Democrats should fight fire with fire until thinking Republicans reclaim their party and we can return to a more civil era.

  15. Carrie —
    Totally get where you’re coming from. Makes me wonder about the Civil War where “brother fought against brother.” We are living in very unsettled times and to quote Pogo: “We have met the enemy and they are us.”

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