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.