Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, May 12, 2004


In 2002, while a prisoner of one of her many whistleblower tizzies, Maureen Dowd wrote in the New York Times:

Nancy Drew, ... teen-age detective, a plucky strawberry blonde with a blue roadster, emboldened millions of little girls to think they could outwit the world. The successors of the pretty young sleuth who always tripped up the bad guys are legion: Sarah Michelle Gellar in "Buffy," Jennifer Garner in "Alias," Jill Hennessy in "Crossing Jordan" and, most famously, the crackerjack F.B.I. agent Clarice Starling, the dot-connecting nemesis of Hannibal Lecter.

If the spirited Nancy Drew had grown up, she would probably have ended up a dispirited whistle-blower.

That's what happens to women of ingenuity and integrity in macho organizations -- from Sherron Watkins at Enron to Coleen Rowley at the F.B.I. -- who piece together clues and ferret out criminal behavior and management cover-ups.

To Big Mo, it matters that these were - to her mind - women of ingenuity and integrity in macho organizations. Big Mo carefully skirts analysis of what happens to women who lack ingenuity and integrity in macho organizations - giving her thoughts their customary tautological whirl. Don't blow the whistle? Sorry, you have no ingenuity and integrity. And, of course, she needs no examples of what happens to men of ingenuity and integrity who blow the whistle on macho organizations. Indeed, while she doesn't say so expressly, she seems - to my mind - to suggest that no such examples are needed for comparision because that almost never happens.

The significance of gender - especially the association of women with integrity - is by no means peculiar to Big Mo. The sensible Peggy Noonan, for example, tasted the same tonic - albeit without Big Mo's fruity flavoring:

We should study who these men are--they are still all men, and still being turned in by women--and try to learn how they rationalized their actions, how they excused their decisions or ignored the consequences, how they thought about the people they were cheating.

Well, things sure change fast - indeed, these particular things had changed well before Msess. Dowd and Noonan comments were written. We have had the Martha Stewart trial and conviction, which revealed what might be called a "macha" personality and the organization it spawned, and now we have all those images of Army Pfc. Lynndie England, seen worldwide in photographs that show her smiling and pointing at naked Iraqi prisoners, [who] said she was ordered to pose for the photos, and felt "kind of weird" in doing so. The face of Spc. Sabrina Harman can also be seen smiling in news photos over piles of naked Iraqi prisoners. And let us not forget that Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski was the person in charge of Abu Ghraib when the abuses occurred. So perhaps it is appropriate that some have suggested a less wholesome cultural significance for the Nancy Drew series ("There seems to be more bondage in the books than in all of the Marquis de Sade") than the one ventured by Big Mo.

Significant time has passed and we have seen no ruminations from Big Mo or even Ms. Noonan on these latest exemplars of the "female" moral hegemony - including the facts that it was investigations by macho organizations (the SEC, the DoJ, the Army) that rooted out the irregularities and, to the extent there were whistleblowers, they were all men. Will these two scribbling worthies hold Army Pfc. Lynndie England, Spc. Sabrina Harman or Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski responsible for their respective acts or failures to act? Or will we see some reversion to the assumption that women are not responsible for their own acts while around men - especially macho men: the Hillary Clinton "pink-suit-interview" approach. Will the gender aspect be discussed by these two scribbling worthies, and other women commenters, at all - or will we see it all put down to some genderless "these-guards-were-just-untrained-losers" dismissal? Or will one or more of them come up with something containing a bit more ingenuity and integrity?

I haven't seen anything yet.

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