(cross-posted from Heidi Li’s Potpourri)
Watch the video here. Listen to The New Agenda’s executive director Amy Siskind succeed as she raises pertinent, relatively mild objections, to the Ms. Magazine cover for its special inauguration issue. Then listen to Ms. Magazine’s executive editor Katherine Spillar as she first a) dodges the issue, which is not whether men can be feminists, but whether there is any basis for referring to this man, President-elect Obama, as “what a feminist looks like” and then b) tells people to read the magazine so as to understand the cover (read = buy the magazine) and then c) evidently indicated to the CNN anchors that subscriptions to the magazine are up because of the inauguration cover, and thus the cover was a good idea.
Successful covers do not require a magazine to explain or justify their meaning. For example, most thoughtful criticisms of The New Yorker’s satirical cover of the Obamas faulted the cover for being failed satire: for its failure to broadcast its satire and thus its potential to be taken too seriously. In other words, that cover, in many people’s opinion, failed on its own terms. Similarly the Ms. Magazine cover fails on it own terms. The intention was not to satirize the claim that Barack Obama, who has not one achievement in public life that can be considered as his own contribution to advancing feminism, is the paradigm of a feminist. No, the intention was tell us just what the cover said: that Barack Obama is a feminist, indeed a heroic – if closeted – one (note it is only his undershirt that reveals the truth of his feminism). If the intention was to say that men can be feminists, they should have put Bill Clinton, who put his career on hold to assist his wife achieve greatness in hers, on the cover. Or they could have put Terry McAuliffe on the cover, for his unwavering devotion to a candidate who happened to be female but who also had a record of standing by the once-core Democratic Party principles that have, in the past, made many of us proud to be Democrats. No way was Ms. Magazine’s intent to suggest that men can be feminists, a point that anybody who has given two thoughts to feminism gets.
Apart from an intent to laud and fuss over President-elect Obama, the intent of the Ms. Magazine cover is the intent of most magazines: to sell the merchandise. Fair enough, some will say. What’s wrong with trying to sell the merch? Generally, in the case of magazines not much. But Ms. Magazine was founded to lead a cause. If it simply wants to bump up subscriptions – assuming there’s enough data in yet to support the claim that the current cover does that – then Ms. Magazine should, straightaway, start with centerfolds labeling whoever is trendy at the moment as a stealth feminist. For those with more salable physiques, have them pull the over-clothes apart a little more widely; or maybe pose them with the slogan on the back of their panties, briefs or boxers, and wearing nothing else. They can shyly peek over their shoulder, indicating that they themselves are as surprised as the rest of us that Ms. Magazine has singled them out as archetypical feminists.
In the CNN interview, Ms. Spillar says “some people” have “overreacted” to the cover. This sounds an awful lot like the sexist tropes used by the cover subject’s language during the primary season, such as his imagery about Senator Clinton’s “claws” and “fangs” coming out. Just who is Ms. Spillar calling “some people”? Women. You know, the people whose claws and fangs come out when they get periodically down.
Ms. Spillar, you are completely correct that a man can be feminist. And in your interview today you demonstrated the corollary, that a woman can be a misogynist, belittling the concerns of those who once depended on publications like Ms. Magazine to give voice – and the front cover – to matters central to equalizing opportunities for 51 percent of this country’s population.
Filed under: Gender Equity | Tagged: 51 Percent, feminism, ms. magazine, the new agenda | 67 Comments »