Confidence games

Advice Goddess has some rather scathing words for Rebecca Solnit's piece on being silenced by men who patronize her.

I have to say, I actually recognize the phenomenon that Solnit is talking about. About once a month, some liberal blogger links to a piece I have written, declaring that I am an idiot who doesn't know what I'm talking about. The subject is almost always economics. Often the liberal blogger himself doesn't know anything about the topic, but having heard other people assure him that I am a complete idiot who doesn't know what she's talking about, he feels on relatively safe grounds. Frequently, he also links to a criticism of what I have written that does not, in fact, prove that I am a complete idiot who does not know what she is talking about.

The fun begins when the readers begin emailing and commenting to the effect that I am a complete idiot who does not know what she is talking about. For they all have two things in common:

1) They are men

2) They really, really have no idea what they are talking about. When I write back pointing out the elementary errors they have made, providing an elementary explanation, and a question as to, say, which model of minimum wage employment they are endorsing, they "softly and silently vanish away".

I'm pretty sure that if I were a man, most of them would not agressively accuse me of knowing nothing about the topic I write on solely based on the assurance of someone else who knows nothing about the topic I write on. Perhaps I am wrong, having never been a man, but based on watching public interactions between same, I surmise that the attacker would credit the notion that the man might have done something--other than being cute and possessing ovaries--to get his job, and therefore leave room for himself to back down. He would not start on the assumption that the man would be unable to respond to the overwhelming power of "you're an idiot who doesn't know what he's talking about."

But complaining that they push me into silence would be shameful. First of all, it misses the most important point about these people, which is that they are completely hilarious. These stories are completely hilarious even when the person involved is not a pompous jerk--I laughed for about an hour at a story told by a scientist that involved explaining some major physics theorem to the airline passenger next to him, only to find that he was explaining it to the guy who had discovered it. But when you add cocksure misogyny to the picture, you've got comedy gold. I like to circulate the funnier emails to friends in the economics profession--it's hours of fun for the entire family.

But beyond that, really, who cares? Are you seriously going to outsource the design of your social persona to some guy who thinks that women who disagree with him are definitionally stupid? The behavior is sociologically interesting and socially annoying, but on the list of things that has radically impaired my life, this ranks well below the TSA. Honestly, the hardest part of these encounters is that awkward moment when he realizes that you know what you're talking about and he, alas, does not. Everyone pauses in silent embarassment. But I have learned that you can ride out your empathetic shame by fumbling in your pocketbook for a mint.

I don't mean to excuse their behavior; they're sexist jerks. But the correct response to sexist jerks is to ignore them and speak the hell up anyway. Eventually, the declining returns to being a sexist jerk will drive the species into extinction.