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Former CIA Director’s Casual Sexism and Hypocrisy

Michael Hayden, who was the director of the CIA during part of the Bush administration, went on Fox News and put his sexism on display, saying that a single line from a statement made by Sen. Dianne Feinstein about the need for transparency about torture shows that she’s too “emotional” to be objective. She said this:

If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted.

And this is how he spun it:

Now, that sentence, that motivation for the report, Chris, may show deep emotional feeling on part of the senator. But I don’t think it leads you to an objective report.

Oh yes, of course. Women are just too emotional to be trusted to be purely rational and objective the way men are, goes the very old and incredibly stupid stereotype. Amy Davidson nails this:

There are really two issues here. One is the reflexive tendency to disparage or dismiss a woman in politics (or in business, or anywhere) with a remark about her supposed susceptibility to emotion. The other is the way a certain femininity—the wilting kind—is ascribed to those who doubt that torture is good for America.

The cartoon is of the clear-headed torturer who has put tenderness aside for the sake of country, against the squeamish, sensitive, can’t-handle-the-truth doubters. The supposed contrast is between focussed, rational realism and a tendency to faint. (Men and women can be put in either role, as in “Zero Dark Thirty.”) But fear and a desire to punish, which disabled the judgments of many in the government after 9/11, are emotions, too, and even harder to control than, say, mercy. So is a fascination with one’s own power to protect or, less charitably, one’s self-imagined ruthlessness. So is a tendency to be charmed by dark sides. One can argue that those who turn to the law or a moral code, in moments of crisis, can be the least flushed by feeling. That is not to make a case against inserting feeling into politics: righteous indignation and kindness can anchor, rather than discombobulate. It might be most accurate to say that various emotions serve us differently. They wake us up, and, when they do, in what can be an outraged, bleary-eyed moment, we should be careful about what we reach for.

And if the intelligence community thinks that the controversy over our legacy of torture is just the result of some silly girlish feelings, then we haven’t even begun to deal with the consequences of those years.

There is another powerful emotion that may be at work here: shame. One source of C.I.A.’s anxiety about the Senate report is that it apparently casts a cold eye on the effectiveness of torture. It didn’t do us much good, apparently. Perhaps it is painful to have compromised one’s principles and not brought back anything good. But that psychological exploration should not take place entirely in classified quarters.

Yes, let us remember that the entire torture regime has been sold to us on the basis of emotion, specifically fear. Isn’t that the whole point of the “ticking time bomb” scenario that torturers always use to justify their actions, even though that situation has never actually happened? “If you don’t let us torture this man, untold numbers of people are going to die and their blood will be on your hands!” Somehow misogynists never recognize that this is a pure appeal to emotion as well. By “emotion” they mean only concern and compassion, not fear and hatred. Those are manly emotions, you see.

And let’s not let Feinstein herself off the hook for making exactly those kind of emotional appeals herself. She’s been a staunch defender of the government’s illegal surveillance activities and she has sold it explicitly on the basis of our fear of terrorism. It was Feinstein who demanded, along with Harry Reid, that all of the amendments to the reauthorization of FISA, which included additional safeguards to protect privacy, be rejected and she justified that on the grounds that we can’t hamper the people who are protecting us from the barbarians at the gate who are just dying to overrun us. She has been as irresponsible in her use of emotional blackmail to justify public policy as any Republican has been.

Comments

  1. says

    Yes, his casual sexism is bad. But you should see his even-worse formal sexism! (His business-casual sexism is not too great, either.)

  2. eric says

    Now, that sentence, that motivation for the report, Chris, may show deep emotional feeling on part of the senator. But I don’t think it leads you to an objective report.

    Now that sentence, that argument against release, Michael, shows me you’ve got no more credible argument against release.

    Ad homs – the last refuge of those with no good counterpoint.

  3. John Pieret says

    she justified that on the grounds that we can’t hamper the people who are protecting us from the barbarians at the gate who are just dying to overrun us

    It’s the barbarians inside the gates we should be more afraid of.

  4. scienceavenger says

    This was so bad even the Fox News military analyst (a woman) cringed and said something like “Never use the term ‘emotional’ when discussing things with a woman’. Reminds me of the guy who responded to one of Rachel Maddow’s arguments by telling her how passionate he could tell she was about the issue. Their sexism is so ingrained, they don’t realize they are doing it.

  5. dingojack says

    “This was so bad even the Fox News military analyst (a woman) cringed and said something like “Never use the term ‘emotional’ when discussing things with a woman’”

    So why exactly is ‘emotional’ a bad thing?

    Dingo

  6. zmidponk says

    To echo Dingo, I’ve never understood why ‘being emotional’ was such a bad thing. I mean, there is logical and rational reasons for not torturing people, but, to me, a major reason to not do it is the simple emotional reaction that torture is a vile act, and therefore, for us to be the ‘good guys’ we seem to think we are, we simply shouldn’t do it unless there is a VERY good reason (and I’ve yet to hear a ‘good reason’ that isn’t badly flawed in some way, or straight out of that well-known documentary, as some people seem to think it is, ’24’).

  7. lofgren says

    It doesn’t even seem like he is disparaging emotions or the people who feel them with this sentence. Surely we have all seen misplaced emotions cause a person to act unwisely? And surely we have all had occasion to affirm our empathy and understanding for those emotions even while we condemn that action.

  8. psanity says

    The casual sexism was impressive, especially since he was referring to DiFi, which also made it laugh-out-loud funny. How sexist do you have to be to not notice that Sen. Feinstein, far from being a crybaby sissy-girl, isn’t, how can I put this, the sort of person who allows emotion to cloud her judgement even when that might be a good idea?

    It’s such a laughably peculiar thing to say about her in particular that if Mr. CIA had been wearing his underpants on his head when he said it, I probably wouldn’t have noticed.

  9. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    “.. Now, that sentence, that motivation for the report, Chris, may show deep emotional feeling on part of the senator. But I don’t think it leads you to an objective report.” – Michael Hayden, ex-CIA director.

    Oh yes, of course. Women are just too emotional to be trusted to be purely rational and objective. -Ed Brayton

    Emphasis added.

    Hmm .. I’m not so sure that this is about misogyny as such. It may or may not be there depending on your interpretation.

    Hayden isn’t singling her out as an emotional *woman* – he’s not even referring to women at all that I can see here – but rather as an emotional individual senator. Who, yes, happens to be female in this case but is that really relevant and would he not say the same of a male senator saying the same thing? Maybe?

    So I think milages may vary, right?

    As for emotions being bad, well no, but they can in get in the way of making rational logical evidence based judgements which is a bad thing. I think it’s fair enough that we be emotional but also that we step back, set emotions aside and make “cold / hard” decisions based on logic and reason and most of all evidence instead at least in many circumstances.

  10. doublereed says

    @10 StevoR

    Hayden isn’t singling her out as an emotional *woman* – he’s not even referring to women at all that I can see here – but rather as an emotional individual senator. Who, yes, happens to be female in this case but is that really relevant and would he not say the same of a male senator saying the same thing? Maybe?

    LOL right. Of course he would have said that if Feinstein was a dude. You must be joking, right? Nothing about what Feinstein said was emotional. The only reason he said that was because she is a woman.

    Seriously, you’re post was so stupid, pedantic, and shallow that I suspect you are trolling.

  11. Nick Gotts says

    doublereed@11,

    No, StevoR isn’t trolling: he just likes the idea of Muslims being tortured, and thus feels obliged to find some way of defending the CIA spokesperson.

  12. lofgren says

    The only reason he said that was because she is a woman.

    I am definitely not convinced. I suppose I need to dig up the video and watch it myself but it’s not as if men don’t have emotions or have their positions dismissed as too emotional. There is no denying that “emotional” has been used as a code word for silly little women with their silly little ideas (and probably PMS), but that doesn’t mean that every instance of the word means that. Based on the text here it simply appears that he is saying he understands that torture is appalling but (he believes) that he can show it is an objectively effective policy without substitute.

    As I said above we as skeptics have to make very similar statements all the time. We understand that you feel a strong emotional need to protect your children, but objectively vaccines do not cause autism. We understand that you fear death but objectively chelation does not work. We understand that you are suspicious of technology as powerful and potentially dangerous as genetic tinkering, but GMOs are objectively some of the safest foods available. If we’re not allowed to point out when emotions conflict with logic for fear of being sexist then a lot of skeptical activism and positions will have to be simply abandoned.

  13. doublereed says

    What? There’s literally nothing about her statement that is emotional. It’s completely straightforward. Unless you think calling torture “brutal” is emotional.

    Yes, of course the only reason he said that was because she is a woman. There’s no other reason out there, because she wasn’t actually emotional in what she said.

  14. lofgren says

    So the only two possibilities are that he was correctly describing her literal words as emotional or he was only saying it because she is a woman. Surely I don’t need to explain to you what an offense to logic that statement is.

  15. dingojack says

    Lofgren / Stevo – Are you seriously trying to tell me that Mr Hayden, who has filled the role as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (the premier US civilian intelligence gathering organisation) simply didn’t notice that Senator Dianne Feinstein was a woman? He completely missed it?
    And you’re seriously telling me you think Mr Hayden’s audience were all similarly gender confused? Seriously?
    Dingo
    ——–
    Oh BTW Lofgren – “… it’s not as if men don’t have emotions or have their positions dismissed as too emotional.”
    I’m sure you can provide plenty of actual real life examples of men having their ideas summarily dismissed with a rhetorical hand-wave because they are “too emotional”. Right?

  16. lofgren says

    Are you seriously trying to tell me that Mr Hayden, who has filled the role as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (the premier US civilian intelligence gathering organisation) simply didn’t notice that Senator Dianne Feinstein was a woman? He completely missed it?

    What? No of course that is not what I am trying to tell you.

    I’m sure you can provide plenty of actual real life examples of men having their ideas summarily dismissed with a rhetorical hand-wave because they are “too emotional”. Right?

    Do I have documents I can cite? No, not really. It’s not an easy thing to search for. Have I seen it happen? Absolutely. Frequently. See my previous post about this being a regular and necessary requirement of being a skeptic. If you don’t acknowledge your opponent’s sincere emotions then you will get accused of “not caring about” or even “hating” babies/cancer patients/white people/Christians/big foot hunters/ancient Chinese medicine practitioners/whatever. A good 55% of skeptical dialogues open with “I’m sure XYZ is a great person who just wants to help people but nevertheless the evidence shows that…”

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