Thanks Feminism

I know this blog has mostly covered topics related to global warming, but the tagline for this blog is “Random Thoughts on This Insane World” for a reason. I’m interested in discussing more than just this one subject. As such, I’d like to make a post about how a woman just said America is full of pedophiles.

A little while ago, I saw this tweet on Twitter:

In a weird twist of fate, Shirley Temple passed away this week. While reading stories about that, I saw several people refer to her as “America’s sweetheart.” Naturally, when I responded to that individual to tell them they were wrong about what the word meant, I pointed out the title given to Shirley Temple. There was a bit of an exchange, and then that individual broke off communication saying:

So apparently the person doesn’t care what the word actually means. To them, it’s “grossly sexist” to call someone a sweetheart because you think they’re kind-hearted, generous and lovable. And if you call Shirley Temple a sweetheart because you liked her spirit, you’re a pedophile.

Thanks feminism.



  1. Mr. Shollenberger,

    In my syllabi for my classes, I include a brief paragraph extolling frank and honest discussion about the ideas in the class. I point out that sometimes people will say things that ‘you’ might not agree with. I tell them that they are free to disagree, but that they must be careful to disagree specifically with what the person said, and not with what they thought the person said.

    I tell them quite blatantly that in civil society, intent ALWAYS trumps impact. It does not matter if you yourself wouldn’t use a particular word or phrase. Just because you think it has a certain meaning or connotation does not mean that the person who used the word used it in an objectively offensive way.

    However, as with your interlocutor here, in nearly all postmodern, victim-oriented ‘-ism’ studies, civility has been turned on its head, and impact now trumps intent.

  2. Dr. C, that’s a good lesson to teach your students. It’s amazing how often I’ll see people get upset just because they think a word means something. One of the best example is the controversies which happened because of people using the word “niggardly.” In those, you had some people who even acknowledged the word wasn’t a racial slur of any sort yet claimed using the word was bad because they took offense to it. It’s hard to imagine how a society can function if you have to try to guess what random things people would take offense over for no legitimate reason.

    Out of curiosity, what do you teach?

  3. I assume that as the owner of this blog, you have access to the email addy which I was required to enter? If so, shoot me a direct email, and I will tell you there. I prefer a veneer of anonymity.

  4. This reminds me of those who would ban Huckleberry Finn because Mark Twain used the “N” word. The “N” word didn’t carry the connotations then that it does today. He wasn’t being “racist”. As a matter of fact “N” Jim was Huckleberry’s most noble, honest and truest friend.
    I suppose some people just want to be offended to put the innocent on the defensive?

  5. Dr. C, I do, and I can send you an e-mail tomorrow (I’m getting ready for bed). Just to be clear though, I wasn’t asking about where you teach or anything like that. Just what class you teach that in. You might be able to say that without having problems with anonymity (though I don’t know).

    Gunga Din, that reminds me of a funny day I had a few weeks ago. I was out socializing with some people, and one person called another person a “retard” for doing something stupid. A third person got upset, saying it is offensive associate “retard” with “stupid” since “retard” is associated with people who are mentally handicapped. A little while later, I referred to a mentally handicapped person as “retarded.” The same person got upset with me, saying I shouldn’t call mentally handicapped people retarded because it implies they’re stupid.

    I couldn’t quite wrap my head around that one.

  6. @Gunga Din-That the word had different connotations isn’t why there is nothing racist about Twain’s use of it in the book. It’s that the use is simply historically accurate and moreover, when used in the book it is not even close to any kind of attempt to be offensive.

    The real irony is that it is apparently completely okay for people who happen to be black to casually throw the word around at each other-even in a manner that is intended to be an insult, although not always-but it is not okay, apparently, for the word to appear in a period piece from the 19th Century.

    Maybe it’s because Twain was a Mugwump.

  7. I always thought the word “sweetheart” was gender neutral. I always used to be my girlfriend’s “sweetheart”. Wives often call their husbands sweetheart.

    My opinion is that some women suffer from what I call ‘Bechdel Syndrome’ and just don’t want to hear about women being referred to in a familiar way in public by men, that automatically in their minds becomes “grossly sexist”. Granted it must be a plenty weird, you win a gold medal and suddenly people the world over of all ages genders and orientations are swooning for you – probably want your autograph too. Glad I don’t have THAT problem. Most of us simply aren’t accomplished enough and attractive enough to ever have being the nations “sweetheart” be a concern, SOME OF US it seems may be envious and resent other people’s good fortune.

    By the way, where in the conversation did the pedophilia part come in?

    Speaking of Shirley Temple, Grahame Green had this to say about her: “Her admirers—middle-aged men and clergymen—respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire.”


  8. w.w.wygart, sweetheart is gender neutral. It’s used more for females than males, but that’s because females are more commonly viewed as kindhearted. I know I’ve been called a sweetheart by a number of people I had no relationship with.

    As for the pedophilia part, it was a joke about the fact I had pointed out Shirley Temple was considered America’s Sweetheart when she was a little child. I’ve actually called a number of children sweethearts, and before the exchange I discuss in this post, I never thought twice about it. Now I’ll always have a moment of pause.

  9. Brandon,

    To finish the thought before it becomes completely stale.

    The irony is supposed to be that the wholesomeness of Shirley Temple’s image as America’s sweetheart was so firmly fixed in the public imagination that Greene’s 1937 review of “Wee Willie Winkie” cost Greene a lost libel suite that bankrupted his publisher Night and Day. Greene himself, a very flawed human being, could appreciate the licentious possibilities of the man within maybe. One could argue persuasively that Temple was exploited as a child for her “charm” and “enormous vitality”, but where do you draw the line between public perception of admirability, and the real evils of a media industry that creates, is sustained by such exploitation,, and who protect the actual pedophile perpetrators in their ranks?


  10. Brandon,
    Some arguments aren’t worth having. That tweet was one best ignored.

    FWIW: I don’t think calling any athelete “America’s Sweetheart” is grossly sexists per se. It might be in some contexts. There may also be an imbalance in how male and female atheletes end up described– with one getting coverage on athleticism and another on non-athletic aspects of their personality.

    That said: Back when he was a young Olympian, Bruce Jenner was a sweetheart. My Mom and brother spent the summer in Bowdin College in Michigan where the olympian’s were training. Peter who was about 9 at the time hung around admiring the atheletes, and Bruce was nice. Bruce sent actually him a post card from the Olympics. Peter was so thrilled. He got to “show” his big sisters that an Olympian really had been nice to him. So.. yeah, some athletes are sweethearts.

  11. lucia, I hadn’t expected it to turn into an argument. I (foolishly) figured once she was told what the word actually means, she’d understand it wasn’t sexist. I’m naïve like that.

    Your story about the Olympian is cool. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in person, much less interacted with them. I can imagine it must have been exciting for a young kid.

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