Something has been bothering me lately. And each incident that I read about in the paper is like salt in the wound. I come from a family where, for better or worse (it’s better), we let our feelings out. So here’s are a few examples of what’s brought me to the point of blogging today.
For example, when Secretary of State Clinton was on an official trip to Africa this summer with the focus of her trip being on issues that affect women especially and disproportionately but was asked what her husband would do about a local issue, she was terse. Her short, clearly annoyed response led to the media labeling her as a bitch and speculating that perhaps her poor mood was related to her bad hair day. If they think that was bitchy, then they’ve gone soft. Blaming her appropriate response to an asinine question on a bad hair day is the worst kind of dismissive sexism, and it pissed me off.
Shortly after the Hilary story, which by the way was covered INSTEAD of her important mission in Africa, Michelle Obama wore shorts. As in short pants. On vacation. In Arizona, in the summer. And people went ape-shit and actually used air-time to ponder whether or not this is appropriate for a woman in her position and furthermore, does she have the right to wear them at all? The short answer that she has the right to wear any damn thing she wants, even if it is inappropriate, but shorts aren’t. While Mrs. Obama works to raise her family and create her own role as a powerful, intelligent woman in an influential position, we spend an entire news cycle focused on the idea that a grown woman in the United States of America in 2009 would dare to wear chino shorts to the Grand Canyon. While many Americans could not point to Iraq on an unlabeled map, they all have an opinion on the fashion choices of the First Lady. I weep at what this means for the way women are respected in our culture.
Things only got worse from there when, after winning the 800m at the World Championships in Berlin, Caster Semenya was thrust under the media microscope as her gender was called into question. After the test results were hastily and possibly irresponsibly released/leaked to the media, her life was changed forever. The questions of whether Caster should keep her gold medal from Berlin and whether she should be able to compete as a female in the future are complicated, and addressing them with intelligence and compassion could be an important milestone for the future of gender issues. But instead we see images of her fellow athletes speaking to the media about her without intelligence or compassion. We see a fascination with idea of hermaphrodites as a sex concept, not as a human condition. And all this swirls around the life of an 18-year old girl who, like all 18-year old girls, has yet to understand herself, her sexuality, her place in the world. For shame.
Most recently, Serena Williams lost her temper during the semi-final round of the U.S. Open. The ensuing media frenzy, even after her subsequent fine and apology, used phrases like ‘threatening’, ‘cheap’ and, my personal favorite, ‘unladylike.’ I don’t condone her outburst, but the way she was portrayed in the media in the aftermath reeked of unspoken bigotry. Has anyone ever heard of John McEnroe? His angry outbursts were his gimmick and fueled his post-tennis career as a spokesperson and celebrity. But I guess that kind of behavior is cute on him.
The most disturbing aspect of each of these stories was that the harshest criticism of Hillary, Michelle, Caster and Serena came from other women in the form of reporters, news show hosts, pundits and peers being interviewed. Women who asked the questions that, perhaps, they felt pressured to ask by their superiors in the media machine. Or perhaps, more distressingly, they never thought to ask themselves whether the questions they were posing were intelligent, reasonably unbiased or even relevant.
Even the discussion on the blogosphere and in the sphere of my own friends included far too many sentences that started with “I’m not a feminist but…” as though somehow their defense of these women would be lessened if they attached the dreaded f-word to their name. As though, as one of my dear and male friends suggested, by mentioning that sexism and gender bias exist makes them real.
And so, even though I know you like my blog to be funny anecdotes about cheese or wedding dancing or dog fanaticism, I’m here to tell you that sexism and gender biased do exist. That these stories only represent a small sampling of the mildest forms in which these biases still exist, that talking about this in terms of racism/sexism/ageism is not counterproductive, but pretending that those things don’t exist surely is. This is what a feminist looks like.