I feel bad for Ann Coulter. No, really. The conservative commentator known for her outrageous quips about all things liberal is back in the news with her anti-Jewish remarks, surely calculated to stir up interest in her new book "Why Liberals Are Stupid. Plus Evil," or something like that.
And with the new round of Coulterish rantings (why do people continue to take this woman seriously?) came something worse " at least to me. The ugly, ugly names.
I know you've seen them. Maybe you've even uttered them, quietly to another sympathetic liberal, after Coulter so thoroughly set you off. Bitch, bimbo, slut, blonde bubble-head, fembot, bulimic and many others so offensive they can't be printed in the newspaper.
I can't say I agree with any view espoused by Coulter, being one of those very liberals about whom she makes buckets of money talking baseless smack. And I would never defend any of her positions. She's a big meanie pants who seems to delight in making people feel bad. And she probably got years of practice perfecting that skill in the strict caste society that is grade school.
Worse still, she is one of the people I hold personally responsible for bringing the principles of professional wrestling to public discourse. Can it be too much longer before we have political commentators with gaudy costumes and monikers like "The Liberalator" or "Dr. GOP," whose success in a debate is measured in loudest voice and meanest snarl?
But as a woman in the mostly male world of opinion, I can't help but cringe every time I hear or read someone gleefully insulting Coulter's looks, her age, her body shape, her supposed frigidity. "That's not her worst feature," I want to yell.
It's her words, stupid.
Coulter would probably hate that I have empathy. But I have been there, and it's hard not to feel the injustice that as a woman opinion-maker an assessment of our attractiveness often accompanies the rebukes of our ideas.
This is on purpose, no doubt.
From a very young age, girls learn that the most potent measure of their worth as a person is based on what they look like, or rather what other people think they look like. For men, their sense of self-worth and the value judgements of others has little to do with how good they look and stems from their intellect or business acumen.That's why you see beautiful women with squirrelly men like Woody Allen, but rarely see gorgeous men with brilliant, but homely women.
As a man, you have to be obese like filmmaker Michael Moore to get the fat jokes. But Britney Spears, one of the fittest young moms in the history of all time, was mercilessly mocked for her embarrassing performance at the MTV Video Awards for being fat because she actually filled out her glittery bikini.
It's not just Coulter and Spears who are hit with inappropriately personal and often sexual comments.
In March, Joan Walsh, editor in chief of the online magazine Salon, wrote about the culture of abuse against women in the blogosphere, specifically one that erupted in the Bay Area when a female software programmer had to shut down her blog after an avalanche of verbally abusive, sexually explicit and outright threatening comments.
In the article, Walsh said that the controversy caused her to face something she didn't want to admit about: the level of online abuse toward women writers.
"Ever since Salon automated its letters, it's been hard to ignore that the criticisms of women writers are much more brutal and vicious than those about men " sometimes nakedly sexist, sometimes less obviously so; sometimes sexually and/or personally degrading," she wrote.
I've known that for years, ever since I moved from being a reporter to the editorial side, and the readers comments became much more personal and graphic, both from fans and foes. I was shocked; how does my appearance have anything to do with the validity of my argument? Does New York Times columnist Tom Friedman have to deal with reader letters making fun of his mustache?
What set me off this time was a graphic of Coulter done up with insulting comments about her body parts set on top of a photo of her on Maxim.com (the online home of the skanky men's magazine). I found it on the Web through the meaner-than-ever Wonkette.com, which added its own nasty comments.
Instead of feeling self-righteous, I felt something terrible: a kinship with the most odious woman in America.
It's easy for those of us targeted by Coulter's hateful polemics to ignore (and, let's be honest here, maybe enjoy) the personal insults against her. And many will say that Coulter is actually asking for it, what with her deliberately repugnant words and her provocative dress.
Yeah, asking for it. Where have we heard that before?