Thursday, July 1, 2010

Scientific proof that Kathleen Parker's sexism is dumb

Via Andrew Sullivan, linguist Mark Lieberman gets into the Kathleen Parker "Obama is a woman" column that got me so irritated yesterday. Parker suggested that the number of "passive voice" sentence constructions during his big oil speech were proof that he lacked a certain "rhetorical testosterone."

Lieberman makes an observation similar to one I made:
The first thing to say is that there isn't the slightest evidence that passive-voice constructions are "feminine".
Right. But if Parker does want to play that game, well, there's some unsettling evidence:
Women don't use the passive voice more than men, and among male writers, number of passive-voice constructions doesn't appear to have any relationship at all to real or perceived manliness. The "passive is girly" prejudice seems to be purely due to the connotations of (other senses of) the term passive, misinterpreted by people who in any case mostly wouldn't recognize the grammatical passive voice if it bit them on the leg. ...

But I did just make a quick analysis of president George W. Bush's post-Katrina address to the nation. I count 142 sentences, 25 of which contained one or more passive-voice tensed verb constructions. That's 17.6%. Doing the same thing with Barack Obama's post-oil-spill address, I count 135 sentences, 15 of which contain one or more passive-voice tensed verb constructions. That's 11.1%.
I don't think Kathleen Parker will get another Pulitzer Prize for this column.

And in any case, it's worth noting that even if Barack Obama has a "feminine" communication style, that doesn't make him a bad leader. That was the point of Parker's column -- an insult both the the president's manhood and, well, to women.

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