The Women Men Don’t See

The polling/pundit debacle that predicted a “red wave” in the election has reminded me of this brilliant title of a short story by James Tiptree, Jr. Except that’s Alice Bradley Sheldon. Back in the day, a sure way not to be seen was to have a name coded as female.

Names coded as female are more acceptable now, but, as in Shelton’s story, much that is female is still not seen. We could still be traveling down to Mexico to get a lift to other solar systems, and nobody would know. The story is told from the limited viewpoint of a man who stumbles into two women’s vacation to Mexico. He cannot understand the women in any way but as sexual targets.

A great many pollsters live in a similarly limited world. Theirs depends on their models and the limited worldview those models encapsulate – gasoline prices, inflation fears, what they sometimes call kitchen table issues. Additionally, a conventional wisdom of how elections play out and fluctuate. No space for self-determination being taken away from half the population.

Back in May, we learned that Sam Alito was going back to the days of witch-hunting to justify his desire to keep women pregnant and barefoot. Insults were embedded in the threat. The subsequent Supreme Court decision echoed Alito’s reasoning. Half the population, probably more, were angry about that. It was not an anger easily placated, since it relegated the portion of the population that can become pregnant to poor health care, financial precarity, and subjugation.

Not only women were angry. Some men could see that this was a first step against their privacy and freedoms as well, or felt that depriving their fellow citizens of their rights was unjust.

But a large group, mostly men, live in a world in which this is not an issue. You can attribute that to many things – political preferences, an indifference to democracy, for example. I’m looking at the gender component of that blindness.

Women have made great strides since Tiptree’s writing. They are more visible, in influential jobs. Where their issues intersect with men’s (economic issues most prominently), they are taken seriously. The summer saw story after story of women who had to risk death because legislators in their states had no understanding of the biology of reproduction. Pundits did not see this. Nor did they see women and young people registering to vote. They stuck with concepts that stayed inside their safe zone. And they were wrong.

It is a phenomenon that I have run into in other contexts. Policies that center women do not exist in this world. They are inconceivable in the sense that minds in this world cannot contain or consider them. It’s an inability to imagine that women contribute particular ways of looking at policy, due to their history and circumstances.

Women are allowed to be in the conversation but not of it. They are allowed into seemingly influential positions, but distinctive thinking is not allowed.

Some pollsters got it right. They looked at the numbers and saw women and young people registering and then voting in high numbers since Dobbs. Three are Simon Rosenberg, Tom Bonier, and Christopher Bouzy.

More about this blindness here and here.

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I can’t find “The Women Men Don’t See” online, so here’s the Wikipedia article.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

2 comments

  1. David · 17 Days Ago

    That explains why we haven’t heard from Ursula LeGuin recently. She hasn’t gotten back from Mexico. (Thank you for all of your careful thought and clear writing. I don’t think that I’ve ever commented before, but that second paragraph summoned some strong images for me.)

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  2. Bill Arnold · 17 Days Ago

    Here’s a web.archive.org copy of the site you may have had in mind:

    Click to access The_Women_Men_Dont_See.pdf

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