Tag Archives: Sexism

Sexist Newsweek Cover Inspires Frum’s Latest Opinion: “She Asked for It!”

And now, an entirely new argument for sexism: She asked for it! Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Sarah Palin complains that her Newsweek cover is sexist. The magazine borrowed a photo from Palin’s Runner’s World interview last year, showing the fit governor in running shorts next to the question: How do you solve a problem like Sarah? Journalist David Frum scorns Palin’s complaints, claiming that “she brought it on herself.”


Where have we heard this one before?

For such a smart guy this is a remarkably tired argument. This smacks of all the flaccid-minded men who have long attempted to control women by demeaning them, justifying their actions because “she asked for it.”

This has nothing to do with Palin’s politics. This has everything to do with an old-fashioned Salem-style witch trial. Frum’s claim that Palin “brought it on herself” attempts to pigeonhole the governor into a prefabricated conception of women that comes from Frum – not Palin.

Frum told The News Hour with Jim Lehrer Nov. 18 that “[Palin] is a woman who has got into a position of leadership by sending very powerful sexual signals. And we see that in the way that men like her much more than women do.”

Or perhaps men like Palin much more than women do because she is a Republican. Men tend to lean right at the polls, while women lean left. Perhaps the gender disparity in Palin’s fan base comes from her politics, not her person.

Frum wants to inject Palin’s public persona with a Salem witch trial mentality. She must be a witch, your honor; she came to seduce me in my dreams! But the only “powerful sex signals” Palin sends come from the base fact that she’s a woman. Once, last year, she showed a little toe cleavage. But really, David, what would an attractive woman have to wear that could spare you from discomfort?

Society has long understood that insecure people impose those insecurities on the people around them. Folks eager to be perceived as the smartest person in the room treat every conversation like a competition, talking over their colleagues and only about themselves.


Similarly, insecure men have long objectified the women around them. You need only look to how Rodrigo and Iago, and finally Othello, objectify Desdemona in Othello to see how deep this particular vein runs. Perhaps a more modern man than Othello should be able to engage with an authoritative woman without determinedly reducing her in his mind to one of those laughably-outdated sexist paradigms long after women shed those old pigeonholed roles.

It does not take a feminist to be offended by such intellectual laziness. Frum’s claim that Palin has forced sexuality on us reflects his own uncreative “scholarship”. This cheap attack is the punditry equivalent of a schoolboy dipping a compatriette’s pigtail in ink. It’s unnecessary. It’s weak.

It wasn’t Palin who sent “sex signals,” in the form of fit thighs on the cover of Newsweek – it was the magazine. Former White House press secretary Dana Perino notes that Newsweek’s decision to run this revealing cover without Palin’s permission was “worse than sexist”:

I think it is demeaning and degrading and Newsweek knew exactly what it was doing. They made sexuality a part of her performance. And this is something that if it had happened to someone on the left, the feminist organizations would be screaming about.

This is not a question of sexism versus feminism. This is a small-minded ad hominem attack by a man made uncomfortable by Palin’s femininity.

Says Perino:

There is a special burden for women in politics. And we saw that even for Hillary Clinton. And especially if you’re an attractive woman and a conservative woman, then that burden is even greater. But the great thing for Sarah Palin is she’s having a wonderful book tour, she’s done some great interviews. She’s going to tour the country.

This has nothing to do with politics. Women should not have to wear ugly clothes because attractive suits make men like David Frum blush. Old-school misogyny stems from insecurity and will thrive in a community that does not rebuke Frum for comments like this.

Lashing out at Sarah Palin because she dared to leave the house with her face uncovered is outdated and inappropriate. Of course, if Frum would feel more comfortable around women to whom he is not attracted, that remains entirely his prerogative.

At The New Agenda.


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Femme Mafia

I’ve been playing in girlie lit an awful lot recently; it’s subsumed a bit more of my consciousness than I like to admit.  Frankly it’s a little bizarre to hear so much chatter and realize there’s still so much animosity among folk who pretty roundly agree.

This morning I posted at The New Agenda that the iPhone app for “scoring chicks” — since yanked — is a little disgusting.   But realistically there’d be no market for the app if women really found it disgusting.

If men were pretty sure they couldn’t get away with “that” behavior (and, frankly, I can think of many more piggish things than using this app) then no one would buy it, right?  So while it’s men who make up the purchasing demographic, it’s women’s choice not to put our collective foot down that perpetuates such market.

It doesn’t matter why we choose not to get involved — we have many bigger fish to fry, or smart women don’t find themselves meeting men who might use a line like the app’s gross suggestions — the point is that we make a choice to shrug it off, and maybe enough women respond positively that men are intrigued enough to buy.

That’s the tension with feminism.  It’s about opportunity.  Look at the numbers.  Women have opportunity.  We have the opportunity to make life choices, and we make them. When other women or employers don’t respond to those choices with open arms it seems silly to blame them.  Willingness to assume a “victim” mentality irritates me in general, and there’s a really fine line between being objectified and objectifying oneself.

The ad clipped below captures the whole of that tension:

None of my female Muslim friends are close enough friends for this kind of disclosure; my experience with Hijab-ed sexuality is limited to books in the Reading Lolita in Tehran vein and one traumatic, fiercely-intimate massage in Morocco. That is to say: I have no idea how much an abayah is choice, tradition, feminine, and how much of it is oppression.

The ad itself is sexy and effective — I want to be more like that woman, from the skivvies and kohl out.  But is there any more perfect symbol than the abayah to represent that tension between what we want and what is imposed on us?

For the same tension closer to home, see this Dove ad:

It’s a fine line indeed.  I’m absolutely not suggesting that women experience no objectifying pressure.  What I’m suggesting is that the pressure is not entirely external.  And I’m suggesting that, to some degree, we embrace it.

Or maybe not.  Again, the tension.  Every time I encounter street jeers I want to ask the men whether that’s ever scored a date.  To some extent it really is just objectifying women, and it’s not about hope or interest.  Maybe it really is just about striking back against repressed feelings of rejection.

Look again at the Dove commercial.  Inasmuch as objectification stems from an aggressive defense mechanism it doesn’t come from men. It comes equally from women.

This is no novel conclusion. My takeaway?  It’s the residual willingness to assume a “victim” mentality that does the objectifying. It just seems so pointless to keep talking about a “glass ceiling” when in fact we should embrace the opportunity we have to make choices, acknowledge that there’s no single valid choice, and move forward.

I adore debate. There’s nothing I love more than moving the ball down the field. But this taste of gendered debate gets tiring quickly. I can’t help but feel like it’s just as sexist to pledge merit-blind support for someone because of her gender as it is to discriminate along the same lines.

It should be about being the change you want to see in the world. I will always resist the temptation to replace merit with simply card checking the right cache.

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