Also, in search of the lust for those thighs: Is it a good idea to introduce sexualized insult into the national discourse?
Basically no, it just isn't. Sexualized insults introduce a very fast track to the bottom. That's especially true of sexualized insults aimed at whole demographic groups.
That doesn't mean you can't state a case, if you actually have one. With that in mind, Alexis Coe makes this claim in her fraudulent but widely-praised best-seller, You Never Forget Your First:
COE (page xxxiii): The father of his country was no father. At least, not biologically. When Washington married the widow Martha Custis, he became the guardian to her two [surviving] children [of four]—a son named Jacky, age four, and a daughter naed Patrsy, age two—whom he appears to have loved and treated as if they were his own...When she refers to "the Thigh Men," Coe is referring to Washington's white male biographers, four of whom she names. She calls them "the Thigh Men," she insultingly says, because "[Washington's] thighs drive them wild" (Coe's italics).
...[Washington] didn't avoid the subject of childlessness. or wax regretful over it, which suggests it wasn't a source of great tragedy in his life. Yet the Thigh Men are obsessed with it. They spend dozens of pages discussing why it happened and why it doesn't detract from his virility—as if that's a preoccupation everyone shares.
In Coe's book, the insults continue from there. These insults are delivered in the Preface and Introduction to Coe's pseudo-book—and they represent the only part of her pathetic best-seller which is being discussed.
The insults continue from there. There's "something hinky" about the Thigh Men's "repetitive insistence on Washington's conspicuous masculinity," Coe insultingly says. One of these fellows—Pulitzer-winner Ron Chernow—is said to "take every opportunity to remind readers that the great general was very, very manly."
Also, "the Thigh Men are a decidedly 'size matters' crowd!" The sneering insults Coe delivers are just so snarky, so cool!
In the passage we've just posted, Coe maintains that the Thigh Men "spend dozens of pages discussing why [Washington's childlessness] happened and why it doesn't detract from his virility." Sadly, as she continues from there, so does her theme:
She claims that, "after defending Washington [on this score], the Thigh Men usually turn their sights on Martha, blaming her for the couple's childlessness."
So it goes as Coe couples some decidedly odd-sounding claims to a drumbeat of sexualized insult. Basically, Washington's male biographers have just been a hinky bunch of closeted dirty old men.
Having said that, how odd! In her end notes, Coe doesn't tell us where we can see the Thigh Men behave in the manner described regarding Washingon's childlessness. In which of their books can we see them spend "dozens of pages" "defending" Washington and his virility, then "blaming Martha" for the couple's lack of children?
Coe has named four different men, and her insults continue from there. But how odd! She never tells us where we can go to see this scholarly misconduct as it occurs!
Because we aren't modern journalists or cosseted professors, we decided to fact-check this claim, which comes tinged with sexual insult. Since Ron Chernow is the male historian Coe names first and loathes the most, we searched his Pulitzer-winning 2010 biography, Washington: A Life, for passages in which he discusses this topic.
In the case of Chernow, Coe's accusation is strikingly bogus. It isn't that Chernow doesn't discuss the question of childlessness because, like others, he does. But he spends little time on the topic, and this is the way he comes down:
CHERNOW (page 103): The marriage thrived even though Martha and George lacked children. Many theories have been advanced to explain this barren marriage. Martha may have sustained injury during the birth of Patsy, her final child [of four], making additional births impossible. Some scholars have speculated that George's early bout of smallpox or some other disease left him infertile...As Chernow continues, he says, perhaps a bit credulously, that Washington "didn't think he was sterile," based on something he once wrote in a letter. But you've now seen the "dozens of pages" Chernow devotes to this topic, and you've seen the way he defends Washington's virility while "blaming Martha."
Much later, on page 493, discussing a possible paternity matter, Chernow states his general view of this matter again. "There is also the problem that Washington was likely sterile," he writes, "although the problem with having children may have come from Martha."
On page 593, he refers, once again, to Washington's "apparent sterility." This is how Chernow comes down on this question, to which he devotes little space.
"Washington was likely sterile!" In this way, Chernow devotes dozens of pages to blaming Martha first.
Inevitably, this seems to be the very view on which the ridiculous Coe herself settles. "In all likelihood, Washington was left sterile from an illness in his youth," she writes on page xxxiii, immediately after penning her imagined version of what the Thigh Men have said.
Nowhere does she direct us to a place where even one of history's many Thigh Men has spent dozens of pages defending George and "blaming" Martha on this point. And sure enough!
Along comes Professor Kars in Sunday's Washington Post. She blows directly past this problem—a problem which appears again and again in this disordered book, forming an inexcusable pattern.
Has any historian ever discussed this matter in the way Coe describes? If so, she doesn't tell us where this has occurred—and she slimes three others, along with Chernow, for conduct she doesn't quote and won't direct us to in her notes.
This is ugly, stupid behavior. Possibly for that reason, it's currently being promoted by the New York Times, the Washington Post and by cable stars like Brian Williams, who never met a shifting tribal/corporate narrative he couldn't get behind.
Others have failed to fact-check too. We'll mention some tomorrow.
We still haven't examined a basic question—to what extent do the Thigh Men actually obsess on Washington's thighs? When first we looked into Coe's strange book, this was the first of the strange-sounding claims we decided to fact-check.
In the case of TV's Patty Duke, "a hot dog made her lose control." In the case of these male historians, do Washington's thighs really "drive them wild" (Coe's italics)? We decided to try to find out.
The allegation is so imprecise that there's no literal way to fact-check it. But the claim was larded with sexual insult. Beyond that, it struck us as perhaps a bit unlikely. We decided to search the books of the Thigh Men Coe names, if only to see how often they even mention George Washington's thighs.
How often do the Thigh Men actually mention his thighs? We'll speak in the type of language Coe might be able to process:
Not real f**king often.
Coe names four Thigh Men by name. Three of them get named in the passage about the way they allegedly obsess about Washington's manly thighs. (To peruse that passage, click here.)
One of the three is Joseph Ellis. The book in question is His Excellency: George Washington (2004). According to an electronic search, the word "thigh" or "thighs" appears in the book three times, only twice with reference to Washington.
One of the references concerns a tumor which appeared on Washington's left thigh during his first term as president, seeming to threaten his life. The reference is fleeting and medical.
That leaves the single reference to Washington's thigh which made Ellis a Thigh Man. Below, you see the sentence in question:
ELLIS (page 12): No full physical description exists for the period, but accounts from a few years later allow us to project backward to envision a very tall young man, at least six feet two inches, which made him a head higher than the average male of the time. He had an athlete's body, well proportioned and trim at about 175 pounds, with very strong thighs and legs, which allowed him to grip a horse's flanks tightly and hold his place in the saddle with uncommon ease.That's the only reference to Washington's thighs in this entire book, except for the later, fleeting reference to the tumor which seemed to threaten his life in 1789. In the fertile imagination of Coe, that single reference was enough to identify Ellis as a Thigh Man.
It also qualified him for the attendant sexualized insults and insinuations—insults and insinuations Kars waves off as "playful" in her review of Coe's book.
Ellis barely mentions Washington's thighs, but the same is true of Chernow—and he is Coe's most-reviled Thigh Man. She mocks him for writing a book of "almost one thousand pages," but fails to note that he barely mentions Washington's thighs in this enormous text.
According to an electronic search, the word "thigh" appears in Chernow's text nine times. Seven of those usages appear late in the book, when Chernow discusses the "fast-growing tumor" on Washington's thigh and the way it was treated. (He also discusses a later reappearance.)
That leaves exactly two (2) non-medical references to Washington's thighs in Chernow's lengthy book..
On page 30, Chernow presents his own description of Washington as a young man. In a passage which also reports that "his body was oddly shaped" and that he "spoke with a weak, breathy voice," Chernow tells readers this:
"He possessed strong but narrow shoulders and wide, flaring hips with muscular thighs that made him a superb horseman."
It's that one sentence, all by itself, which makes Chernow king of the Thigh Men. His only other use of the word occurs on page 106, when we're told, again in passing, that Washington's "wide hips and powerful thighs" created a problem when he had to order clothing, by mail, from his London tailor. (There was no Internet then.)
One relevant sentence in Ellis' book; two in Chernow's massive tome. The third Thigh Man, Richard Brpokhiser, uses the word exactly once in the book Coe cites.
The final Thigh Man, Harlow Giles Unger, never uses the word at all in the book Coe cites in her notes. Like Chernow (see yesterday's report), he does talk about Washington's teeth. In fact, he does so early and often.
This flies in the face of the brilliant insight Professor Kars took away from Coe's book. In her review in the Washington Post, Kars told us, in her own voice, that the Thigh Men ignore Washington's defective teeth but can't get enough of his thighs.
Can a modern nation expect to survive when even its professors behave this way? When professors, behaving like Donald J. Trump, think waves of inaccurate sexualized insult are just a "playful" affect?
Tomorrow: The end of the line