Women and the Media - The Feminist Monster Myth
One afternoon, while writing an essay at the library, I stumbled across Susan J. Douglas’s fabulous book “Where the Girls Are - Growing up Female with the Mass Media”. Although her book was a personal account of a baby boomer’s relationship with the media, I - a young woman born in the decade that brought the world Dynasty cat fights and Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 - found it an informative, relatable read. One of my favourite passages mocks the stereotypes of feminists perpetuated by the media.
“The moment the women’s movement emerged in 1970, feminism once again became a dirty word, with considerable help from the mainstream news media. News reports and opinion columnists created a new stereotype, of fanatics, “braless bubbleheads”, Amazons, “the angries, “and “a band of wild lesbians. The result is that we all know what feminists are. They are shrill, overly aggressive, man-hating, ball-busting, selfish, hairy, extremist, deliberately unattractive women with absolutely no sense of humour who see sexism at every turn. They make men’s testicles shrivel up on the size of peas, they detest the family and think all children should be deported or drowned. Feminists are relentless, unforgiving and unwilling to bend or compromise; they are single-handedly responsible for the high divorce rate, the shortage of decent men, and the unfortunate proliferation of Birkenstocks in America.”
I laughed at the ridiculous caricatures scared people drew when it appeared that women were breaking out of the kitchen and into the big, wide world. It amused me so much that I copied out the passage and stuck in a scrapbook as an example of how change can create hysteria.
Then, I started reading about the accusations biographer Edward Klein was throwing at Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) in a myriad of different media formats - Vanity Fair, The Drudge Report and Fox News to name but a few. Seeing how the media eagerly lapped up the dramatic claims in The Truth About Hillary, including the unsubstantiated speculation that Senator Clinton was “sexually frigid” and that she was raped by her husband in order to conceive their daughter. And of course, Senator Clinton could not possibly deserve fair payment for writing a book because people were interested in what an intelligent, powerful woman had to say. No, according to Klein, “greed seemed to be the only explanation for the outlandish book deal.”
“She was a mother, but she wasn't maternal. She was a wife, but had no wifely instincts. She said she was passionately in love with her husband, but many of her closest friends and aides were lesbians,” he claims, not bothering to back up his claims with evidence or explain how having lesbian friends negated her love for her husband.
But its not only authors like Klein who feel its fair game to manipulate and insult a powerful woman by making implications and allegations about her family, sexuality and personal feelings.
Radio host and former cast member on MSNBC's The Situation with Tucker Carlson Jay Severin has called Senator Clinton an “anti-Christ”, “the devil”, “sociopathic” and a “Manchurian candidate”. He did apologise for once calling her a “lying bitch” but only because "technically, it's a redundancy."
Rush Limbaugh has also seemed to take a particular pleasure in attacking Senator Clinton claiming that she is a “real man” and apparently owns a “testicle lock-box”.
But then, this is a man who frequently uses the term “fem-nazi” and believes that those who speak out against sexual harassment are just jealous because nobody’s harassing them.
I have no problem with people attacking Senator Clinton’s policies or even examining her personal life if it is relevant to her role as a public figure. What bothers me is that too many media figures - many of whom are men - seem to take delight in using her gender or status as a feminist to discredit and attack her.
The media has enormous power - most of us consume it on a daily basis via television, the internet and newspapers. How many people hear Limbaugh and Severin and assume that they must be speaking the truth? How many people start to believe that a woman who demands equality is a “wild lesbian” or a “fem-nazi”?
If those in positions of power won’t stand up and end this rubbish, I guess we’ll have to make them. So, e-mail Rush, Jay and any other media figure that slurs women. E-mail their bosses and their sponsors. If they won’t do the right thing by themselves, lets see if they’ll do the right thing when we demand it.