The other day, I heard from Hilary, a former student who forwarded a pdf of the Letters page in the January issue of Washingtonian Magazine. The top letter, which called out the editors for choosing to feature a naked woman on the cover, was hers:
Your magazine is cutting edge, informative, and entertaining without being superficial. However, when the December issue arrived, I was disgusted. Washington is full of beautiful, powerful, educated, intelligent women of all shapes, sizes, and ages, and this cover does nothing but degrade us to a naked – and I’m sure Photoshopped – figure with some lines about cosmetic procedures floating around her head…
Hilary said she was heartened by the fact that the magazine not only published her letter, but acknowledged the extensive blowback the cover had gotten from other readers. She also wrote that she was inspired by the documentary, Miss Representation, and since seeing it has been quick to “attack any and all forms of the continued objectification of women, especially powerful women, in our society.”
You go, Hilary.
The cover story in question focused on the dreaded F-word, as in: Don’t like what you see in the mirror? Fix it! You can guess the fix: pages of features on everything from going redhead or trying new workout routines to a guide to 12 plastic surgery procedures, complete with prices. (You can expect to pay anywhere from $2000 to $8000 to lift your eyelids.) All of which got me to thinking.
A while back we wrote about those two fall TV shows, “The Playboy Club” and “Pan Am”, where we castigated the male producers for pitching women in bunny costumes and girdles as examples of “empowered women.” (Apparently, the viewing public agreed. We’re happy to report that the first show met its timely demise while the second is on well-deserved hiatus.) But as I clicked through that issue of Washingtonian Magazine, an ugly little thought crept in: It’s not just men who are responsible for our objectification. You have to wonder if we’re sometimes complicit ourselves: The December cover of Washingtonian was shot by a women. All those features to “help you feel your best in the New Year” were written by women, for women.
Are we sometimes responsible for our own misrepresentation?
I found more food for thought over there on salon, where Mary Elizabeth Williams, writing about the new Chelsea Handler TV show, wondered why we consider shows about girls behaving badly to be ground-breaking:
But what really sets [the Chelsea-Whitney NBC Happy Hour] it apart is the whiff of voyeuristic creepiness about building a prime-time block around willowy females who dress up sexy and get their drink on. Is this really the same network that figured out how to give us the complicated, hilarious – and very different – characters of Reagan Brinkley, Leslie Knope and Liz Lemon?
Worse, though, Happy Hour reinforces the stereotype of ladies as inherently less funny than dudes. Chelsea’s humor, after all, hinges upon her being like a guy — someone who sleeps around and gets “lady wood” — but has conveniently appealing blond hair and boobs.
Over on twitter, a trending topic is #thingsaslutmightsay. Many of the tweets are from men. But not all. Yuck. Jezebel reports on a bathroom sign in a D.C. coffee shop that shows a creepy stickfigure gent peering over the stall at the stickfigure gal. This is funny? Who knows who came up with that bright idea — but what I wonder is why the sign is still up? Oh, it’s Saxby’s Coffee at K Street and Vermont Ave. Don’t go there.
And over at The Guardian, Dominic Rushe wonders why, in 2012, the Detroit car show is still using “female eye candy” to sell cars — when roughly half its customers are women? [Note: the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas is likewise using "booth babes" to accessorize its products.]
Rushe asks a good question. But I’ve got another. What’s our own role in all this nonsense? Whether or not we’re directly responsible for any of the sexism that continues to objectify our gender, we do have one responsibility — and that’s to call when we see it. Just like Hilary.