"In the spirit of helpful correction": Tucker Carlson and the everyday sexism of policing women's tone

A vile set of emails sent by the Carlson brothers reveal the different manifestations of sexism. Both are awful

Published March 26, 2015 3:56PM (EDT)

Tucker Carlson                      (Fox News)
Tucker Carlson (Fox News)

If the emails sent by Tucker and Buckley Carlson to Amy Spitalnick were a university course, it would probably be called Comparative Approaches to Being Totally Sexist.

The emails, obtained and published by BuzzFeed, were about a request for correction on a Daily Caller story about comments made by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. In response to Spitalnick -- the director of public affairs for the mayor's office -- calling the Daily Caller report “disingenuous,” editor Christopher Bedford told her that if she “annoyed” him “with another whiny email” before he reviewed the request he would mute the thread.

Spitalnick then reached out to Tucker Carlson, the founder of Daily Caller, and called the response from Bedford “appalling.” Tucker responded:

Dear Amy,

Thanks for your email. You believe our story was inaccurate and have demanded a correction. Totally fair. We are going over the transcript now.

What Bedford complained about was your tone, which, I have to agree, was whiny and annoying, and I say that in the spirit of helpful correction rather than as a criticism. Outside of New York City, adults generally write polite, cheerful emails to one another, even when asking for corrections. Something to keep in mind the next time you communicate with people who don’t live on your island.

Tucker Carlson

Now it seems that all of this was then forwarded to Buckley Carlson, also a Daily Caller contributor. He responded:

Great response. Whiny little self-righteous bitch. “Appalling?”

And with such an ironic name, too… Spitalnick? Ironic because you just know she has extreme dick-fright; no chance has this girl ever had a pearl necklace. Spoogeneck? I don’t think so. More like LabiaFace.

Trouble is, Buckley copied Spitalnick on his email diagnosing her with an extreme case of “dick-fright,” which is likely how the exchange became public. When asked for comment on the exchange, Tucker told BuzzFeed: "I just talked to my brother about his response, and he assures me he meant it in the nicest way." (What a charming pair of siblings.)

The whole gross episode is revealing for a couple of reasons. First, it shows how some men talk about women when they are in the company of other men, and how they co-sign on one another's vile bullshittery. (This might sound familiar.) The exchange also exposes the different approaches to sending the same exact message, which is not unique to Daily Caller editors: Uppity women need to be put in their place.

Buckley's email was boorish, but Tucker's strikes me as somehow worse. Probably because few people would view it as sexist, and his polite condescension gives his misogyny cover. It's a well-documented problem. The Carlson brothers may serve as a particularly grotesque example, but there’s a growing body of social science on how men (and women) police women’s tone, particularly in professional spaces. Often under the pretense of being helpful.

In a study of 248 performance reviews, Kieran Snyder found that just under 60 percent of the reviews received by men contained critical feedback, while that number was nearly 90 percent for women. And the kinds of critical feedback men and women received was also different.

Here are a few examples of feedback given to men:

“Hone your strategies for guiding your team and developing their skills. It is important to set proper guidance around priorities and to help as needed in designs and product decisions.”

“There were a few cases where it would have been extremely helpful if you had gone deeper into the details to help move an area forward.”

And to women:

“You can come across as abrasive sometimes. I know you don’t mean to, but you need to pay attention to your tone.”

“Your peers sometimes feel that you don’t leave them enough room. Sometimes you need to step back to let others shine.”

“This kind of negative personality criticism -- watch your tone! step back! stop being so judgmental! -- shows up twice in the 83 critical reviews received by men,” said Snyder. “It shows up in 71 of the 94 critical reviews received by women.”

And while women were told that their “aggressive” leadership could be alienating their colleagues, Snyder found that wasn’t always the case for men. In the three reviews given to men that contained the word “aggressive,” two were instructing the review subject to be more of it, not less.

This is where “Lean In,” rather than banal empowerment speak, becomes a minefield for many women. Lean in, but not too much. Be assertive, but not too assertive. Don’t be the office candy dish, but don’t be cold, either. Don’t be a pushover, but don’t be pushy. Make your voice heard, but maybe take a step back, too.

The rules are rigged, and women experience it on a daily basis. It might come dripping with condescension (let’s call it the Tucker method) or misogynistic bile (let’s call it the Buckley), but the message about putting women in their place still rings clear.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Amy Spitalnick Buckley Carlson Gender Gender Bias Mayor Bill De Blasio Tucker Carlson Unconscious Bias