09 August 2011

Just another issue for women in politics

So Newsweek decides to publish the latest in the "cheap-shot unflattering pictures of political women" saga. And the media now plasters it all over the place because this is somehow a story now, and the Newsweek Daily Beast team gets free advertising for lowering our political discourse just a bit more. And this, of course, sparks another silly partisan sideshow that no one really cares about.  Fox News asks aloud "what does Newsweek have against conservative women?" - you know, because that network would never do anything sexist or insulting to Congresswoman Bachmann or publish any less-than-ideal pictures of a political woman. And sadly, we all miss the point. Again.

Because this is nothing new.  If a political woman dares to raise her voice, she can expect stories that cite anonymous snipers whining about her "abrasive personal style," which is the worst euphemism for "bitch" I've ever seen.  Put Secretary Clinton in the situation room during the attack on Osama bin Laden's compound and suddenly a picture that includes her hand over her mouth becomes a national story. I put my hand over my mouth all the time.  I look at that picture and I still don't get it.  But whatever I'm missing is apparently such a big deal that  one newspaper in Israel actually photoshopped her out of the picture altogether.  You know, because a woman shouldn't be in that room or something.  The paper apologized after the fact but shouldn't it make you wonder why someone felt the need to edit the picture in the first place? 

Pictures show up all the time that take cheap shots at women who dare to lead.  The editors and others who publish them usually won't have the guts to say what they really want to say - something like "Sarah Palin is ditsy"  - but they'll print the one picture in the roll of 50 that shows her eyes a bit wider than normal or in the middle of a gesture that takes a fraction of a second. They won't say "Nancy Pelosi is a lunatic," but we all see the pictures with the wide eyes suddenly appear in news publications.  

And that's just the mainstream publications.  Just do an image search on google for any leading political woman and you almost immediately see the wonders of photoshop.  Heads on the bodies of porn stars.  Faces planted on the backside of a horse. I've even seen an editorial cartoon of Secretary Rice pregnant with a monkey.  The original cartoon came from a Palestinian paper - and then it was quickly republished online by several American news sites.

Of course, what happens if the woman dares to complain?  She can't take the heat.  She doesn't belong in politics. She's easily distracted.  But nobody really thinks much about what happens when that woman's children see the pictures.  Some might even blame the woman - "you had to be prepared for that."

Do we see unflattering pictures of political men?  Sure.  Newsweek just took a cheap shot at Mitt Romney too.  Bloggers have posted photoshopped pics of Presidents and Prime Ministers.  But be honest- they don't get the reaction that pictures of women do, and I'm fairly certain the frequency for women is disproportionately large.  

And pictures are just one aspect of the larger cultural problem. I remember when John McCain told a joke at a Republican fundraiser - to great laughs -  "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?  Because her father is Janet Reno." Some papers censored the joke, but others, like the Arizona Republic, didn't.  McCain apologized (after his press secretary initially denied he ever told the joke), but again - what makes anyone think  it's even remotely ok to say things like this?  Why weren't there huge consequences to this?

A couple of weeks ago I recorded a discussion with Joanne Bamberger - the blogger known as PunditMom and the author of the new book Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media Are Revolutionizing Politics in America.  We talked a bit about this phenomenon and I asked her how she thought women should respond to cheap shots like Congresswoman Bachmann being asked point blank, "Are you a flake?"  The conversation should be available on her blog in the near future, and I think she lays out the issues really well and gives some thoughts on how things might change.  I hope she posts the interview soon.

There's one approach to addressing this issue that I'd like feedback from women.  I remember a while back a running bit on Saturday Night Live called "Janet Reno Dance Party," where the Attorney General was played by Will Ferrell in drag. It ran a few times, and at the end of the Clinton Administration, it had a "final episode" that actually featured Janet Reno. She was essentially saying "I'm in on the joke," but the joke is really "Janet Reno is an ugly man."

Is this how women should handle this?  What do you think?

To me, the response to things like this should be to celebrate female role models.  I've done this a few times on this blog before - I think it might be time for another installment.

1 comment:

Janett Brown said...

Why are women always treated severely for the least faults? They are human beings. And human beings are not perfect.