February 15, 2012

Who disparaged those feminists?

It's good to see that some people know what the passive voice is. Frank Bruni takes up the recent revelation by presidential hopeful Rick Santorum that part of his book "It Takes a Family" was written by his wife, which, at least in Santorum's mind, explains why he, Santorum, can claim that he is not familiar with the following quote ("I don't know -- that's a new quote for me").
“Sadly the propaganda campaign launched in the 1960s has taken root,” Mr. Santorum, or his wife, wrote in the book. “The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness.”
Setting the issue of authorship aside, Bruni writes that radical feminists "are disparaged" in the book, noting that  by using the passive voice he is "cutting him [Santorum] a break. I could have said 'he disparaged'* those feminists, because he's the only author listed on the book's cover," but he chose to focus on what cannot be contested: Feminists are disparaged in the book for makingwomen think that they only deserve respect if they work outside the home. The passive voice is not agentless -- it just allows us to leave the agent unspecified.


Note that other opinions are less generous: The L.A. Times, for example, writes that " Elsewhere in the book he assailed feminists for 'their misogynistic crusade to make working outside the home the only marker of social value and self-respect,'" in line with the assumption that it is quite natural to assume that a book published by a single author was written by said author.

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