Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Loren Coleman Likes Women

“For years...women needed to just stay home and raise a family. Their hormones made them irrational and they needed a man around to tell them what to do.”

Obviously whoever wrote the preceding quote is a male chauvinist. But in this case the obvious is wrong.

A woman made that statement. I twisted its meaning around by pulling it out of context and then throwing in a key ellipse. The quote is from a recent Grey Matters essay by Lesley (June 5, 2007) entitled “Give Pheromones a Chance.” When you read the original statement in proper context, it’s obvious that her POV is 180 degrees opposite of how I’ve spun it.

Lesley and other bloggers have been defending cryptozoological researcher Loren Coleman who has been accused of making a chauvinistic statement during a radio program. On Coast To Coast Coleman said that Bigfoot, being so pheromone sensitive, would be more apt to make contact with a woman than a man. A couple of women bloggers played up that comment, interpreting it in a female chauvinistic way. Now Coleman has been offering essays at about distaff Bigfoot researchers to prove that he isn’t biased against women.

Selective quoting and interpretation is so easy. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to smear the innocent.

One time I read an article about a researcher who explained why women on average are shorter than men, the evolutionary factor involved. The researcher speculated that the difference in height placed women closer to male armpits, thus women would be more apt to detect male pheromones.

Now there’s some male chauvinism, huh? The man who said that was just reinforcing the stereotype of the strong male and the weak female.

Actually, a woman anthropologist made that observation.


X. Dell said...

(1) Movie critics have become especially sensitive to the fact that some Hollywood publicity writer will distort their reviews by dint of ellipses. Some have even tried to write in such a way as to make their reviews ellipses-proof, so to speak.

The power of the ellipses stems from the fact that most people don't really follow up on anything anything.

There's nothing wrong with ellipses per se, just as there's nothing wrong with quoting anybody out of context, per se. After all, every quote is out of context. The only way to quote something completely in context is to include every single word said in that statement. So, if you're quoting from the Bible, or from War and Peace, you'd have a lot of words to type in order not to quote out of context.

The problem is that quotes are sometimes contrary to context. As you have shown here, that's the real issue with the Coleman quote here.

(2) I have to admit, I know relatively little about the bigfoot. So if you're looking for my take on that, I'll have to disappoint you.

(3) I'm not sure I agree with Lesley's view on this. I'm not sure because the particular article you linked to is poorly written.

(4) The problem with sexism (often couched in terms of fighting against reverse-sexism) isn't that it's politically incorrect--whatever that means. The problem is that it biases findings, and blinds researchers from making important connections. Judging from Coleman's statements, I wouldn't see this as an issue if it's based solely on biology. But I have seen it in a lot in other paranormal and parapolitcal writings.

(5) In his book Manwatching, Oxford anthropolgist Desmond Morris concurred with an opinion I had earlier heard from other social scientists that men and women were the same size for most of human existence. He and the other social scientists reckon that the disparities in height coincided with growing divisions of labor.

Okay. Morris and the others might be wrong. But any scholar declaring otherwise (male or female) would have to address why other theories are wrong. I wouldn't know if the female anthroplogist you referred to did this or not, because you didn't cite her.

Citation is an important part of context, you know.

Ray said...

X. Dell:

I agree: a citation for the paraphrased quote by the woman anthropologist should have been included. And if I could cite it, I would. I read that quote years ago in an article. And with all the stuff I process, I suffer from information overload. I can’t recall her name or where I read the article. Maybe I could somehow Google the expert’s name but that’s probably a lost cause. Where would I begin? What keywords would I use?

You’ll have to take my word for it about the quote. I was struck at the time reading it that if a man had said that, some feminists would have attacked him.

OK, you don’t agree with Lesley, but I was surprised that you found her article “poorly written.” I think it’s a good article. No, it doesn’t set a new standard for essays, but hey – it’s honest. I’ll take honest writing over perfectly wordsmithed but phony verbiage. Ever wade through volumes of pretentious academic blathering? I enjoy accessible writing; that’s why I read your blog.

And your comment regarding movie critics being quoted out of context with the use of ellipses. There’s a bad movie called “Spice World” that was reviewed in the New York Times when it debuted. The review didn’t exactly praise the movie. I laughed when I saw a newspaper ad promoting the movie. It selectively quoted the NYT review, something along the lines of “The Spice Girls in their first movie. . .are full of sparkle and energy.” The ellipse cut out everything between beginning of the first sentence to the last part of the final comment. The review read along the lines of “The Spice Girls in their first movie fail to entertain. . .While the movie is poor, the Spice Girls are full of sparkle and energy.”

No, that’s not a direct quote. But it’s essentially what I read. I wish I had copies of the review and the ad at hand I could cite. It was an outstanding example of selective quoting, the first time I ever saw everything in a review gutted between the first and last phrases.



X. Dell said...

(1) Ray, I cannot comment on the blog, for I have only read that one essay. To me there was quite a bit of ambiguity in it where I felt like I had to guess at meaning. For example, did grandma actively teach Lesley to view gender roles, or did Lesley simply learn them from observation and experience? In my own experience, the latter is far more common.

I mean no disrespect to anyone. But I am not sastified that I actually know what Lesley's point of view is on the subject by reading only this one piece.

(2) I am an academic. So I've read lots of "pretentious academic blathering." I see your point. A lot of it is pretentious. A lot of it is blathering. Because of the "publish or perish" dementia overtaking academia, it's unavaoidable.

(3) I didn't see the Spice Girls movie simply becaus of the trailer. But I get your drift entirely.