January
14th 2009
Ms.stake

Posted under: American history, Gender, publication, women's history

UPDATED BELOW

Melissa McEwan has the best, most succinct post I’ve seen yet on what’s wrong with the current Ms. cover, shown at right.

According to the press release (and a note on their site here), the cover was conceived after Ms.‘ publisher, Eleanor Smeal, and chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation board, Peg Yorkin, met Barack Obama and “he immediately offered ‘I am a feminist’.”

Which is nice to hear—in fact, I wish I’d heard it from him myself, at any time during the campaign, ahem—although I’m not sure his private admission to feminist women whose support he was courting warrants the cover, particularly when there are prominent female politicians who have never been given such glowing treatment, despite being authentic feminist champions who are quite willing to publicly identify as feminist.

And would enthusiastically wear the actual shirt on their actual bodies in the actual physical world in actual reality.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment–although it would have been nice (as McEwan said) to see the President-Elect actually f’real posing for the cover proudly wearing a feminist tee shirt.  She continues:

Yet he’s represented here as a superfeminist, which reinforces the same old narrative we see played out over and over again when it comes to men’s participation in a “women’s domain”—the women of feminism (or parenthood, or housecleaning, or rape prevention, or early childhood education, or nursing, etc.) are doing What Women Do, but the men who engage strongly in these areas are ZOMG SO SPECIAL AND BRILLIANT AND SELFLESS AND HEROIC!!!!11!

Rarely does an image so perfectly, depressingly capture this phenomenon, this reflexive tendency to over-reward men for doing what, in a just world, would be the bare [effing] minimum to be considered a decent person.

I hope Ms. is right about Obama, but this cover looks like 70% wishful thinking plus 30% celebrity worship, which just makes the magazine look silly.  Presidents aren’t supposed to be fluffed by their constituencies–they’re supposed to be pushed by them and even threatened by them.  One thing you have to say about  George W. Bush:  he knew his base, and was extremely loyal to them.  He was beholden to Evangelicals and right-wingers, and they took every opportunity to remind him of that.

UPDATED, later this morning.  Oopsie!  I missed other feminist blog commentary about this, as Knitting Clio pointed out in the comments below, both at her blog and at Feminist Law Professors, where Ann Bartow writes, “In 1972, the cover of Ms. featured Wonder Woman with the tag line ‘Wonder Woman for President.’  In 2008, Wonder Woman was on the cover of Playboy, and Ms. is instead symbolically looking to a male superhero to “rescue” feminism?  Very problematic imagery, in my view.”  Don’t you understand, Ann?  Plastic pr0n boobies are so liberating!  Who needs a woman in the White House when we can have plastic pr0n boobs?

19 Comments »

19 Responses to “Ms.stake”

  1. Emma on 14 Jan 2009 at 9:39 am #

    Two great critiques. Thank you.

  2. Knitting Clio on 14 Jan 2009 at 9:41 am #

    What, you didn’t like mine? ;-) It was a day earlier, but not nearly as good.

  3. Historiann on 14 Jan 2009 at 10:39 am #

    I’m sorry, KC–I missed your post and the one at FLP! I’ll make the correction now.

  4. Notorious Ph.D. on 14 Jan 2009 at 11:53 am #

    I’m with you, ann. I’m hopeful, sure, and I think that most feminists are. But we need to realize that we are, as a group, perhaps suffering from a bit of post-trauma distortion. Compared to Bush (and the leaders allowed to flourish during his tenure), just about anyone looks like a hero. But you don’t get a medal for the simple fact of not being a misogynist jagoff. You need to earn that medal.

    I hope that Obama will. I’m really pulling for him. But we’ll have to wait and see.

  5. Indyanna on 14 Jan 2009 at 12:30 pm #

    I’ve always been a little bit icked-out by the Alan Alda, Phil Donahue, what is it… syndrome? trope? Protesting too much, trying too hard? It just seems a little bit weird, like American idol, but without all the guff. It shouldn’t be a case of the talk and the walk, right, but rather just do it? One might think.

  6. Historiann on 14 Jan 2009 at 1:47 pm #

    Yeah–put up or shut up, right? Except, Obama hasn’t actually done the Alan Alda thing–he hasn’t talked at length about feminism or how he’s going to implement feminist values in his policies. Ms. is unilaterally declaring that he’s a feminist for him. My problem is not with Obama–the main point of my post is that so-called feminists look pretty silly when they go ga-ga for a man (in Notorious’s excellent turn of phrase) “for the simple fact of not being a misogynist jagoff.”

    Good for Obama (not to mention us girls!) if he’s not a total d-bag. That doesn’t make him “SuperFeminist.”

    Meanwhile, I thought you all might enjoy this parody of the above image.

    HA-ha!

  7. SuperFeminist « mirabile dictu on 14 Jan 2009 at 4:44 pm #

    [...] Historiann and the links she provides for comments on the Ms cover from Shakesville, Feminist Law Professors [...]

  8. hysperia on 14 Jan 2009 at 4:50 pm #

    I really love the rumproast t-shirt. But it goes side-by-side with the idea that this “controversy” isn’t important. It doesn’t rank up there with Gaza maybe, but I think it’s worthy of response. And the comments over there are really creepy.

  9. Historiann on 14 Jan 2009 at 5:12 pm #

    That’s right, hysperia–I should have added a disclaimer that I disagree with their editorial line, which is dismissive (to say the least!) of feminist concerns, but I still think the graphic is funny.

  10. hysperia on 14 Jan 2009 at 5:49 pm #

    I agree and I even posted it! Thanks.

  11. prof bw on 14 Jan 2009 at 11:08 pm #

    I am concerned with both the Superman pose and the computer generated image. If he won’t stand in the t-shirt himself then he does not belong in one on the cover of any magazine. It feels to me like far too many people have mythologized the man and missed the real one in front of them . . .

  12. Historiann on 15 Jan 2009 at 8:16 am #

    Exactly–not only is the (super)hero-worship overblown (and a little embarrassing, people–what are you, eight years old?), it’s the kind of thing that will set people up for major disappointment when Obama throws them under the bus. They’ll react angrily and personally, and old Dems like me will be forced to pick up the pieces for the party.

    We’re all happy Bush is being handed his hat and shown the door. But let’s not forget: the POTUS is a pol and is always a pol. He’s not a hero. He’s not a Messiah. He works for us, but he’ll only work for us IF WE REMIND HIM OF THAT instead of publishing gobsmacked mash notes.

  13. bruce nahin on 15 Jan 2009 at 11:15 am #

    It appears to me that Ms Magazine is involved in the media hysteria over Obama. It is almost like an idol worship. The man hasn’t even been installed, hasn’t done anything( nor has his track record in the past indicate that he will)to foster a belief that he is a feminist. The media has fallen in love with this guy( yes lets give him a chance)but the media has placed a very high level of expectation over him- he is not the Messiah, he is not” Change” he is a man and let us look at him with open eyes, opposing when necessary and praising when appropriate- But not worship and stand in awe like some celebrity worship and wishful thinking being projected upon him

  14. Emma on 15 Jan 2009 at 1:24 pm #

    Ms. says their subscriptions have increased. Which, I think, was the point. There is a real need to be relevant to younger feminists/women. If you’re not, you die. We see it all over the place: feminist bookstores, women’s festivals, newsjournals like off our backs — all dying b/c young women/feminists won’t support them for one reason or another.

    Ms. Magazine is doing what every news organization in the US has done: turned coverage of Obama into a moneymaking enterprise. It goes so well with his corporate brand campaign that it’s usually invisible. Ms. Magazine is just in a unique position vis-a-vis older feminists. IMO.

    That’s not to say I agree with the cover. I don’t. And I sent my strongly worded letter of criticism to Ms. Magazine. But I’m not going to cancel my subscription, in fact when the time comes, I’ll renew it because there is no other mainstream publication that does what Ms. Magazine does for women and feminism.

    I guess, in sum, for me this cover is emblematic of how the unique good feminist institutions do is pretty soundly ignored, but when feminist institutions make the same boneheaded mistakes everybody else makes they’re held to a higher standard, a standard which requires their demise. That’s not right, IMO.

  15. Satsuma on 16 Jan 2009 at 11:30 am #

    Obama will say amazing things behind closed doors. I never once heard him say “I am a feminist” at a large public rally. But privately, I know Bush and company NEVER would have even said that!
    Ms. sold out to the Democratic party long ago. After all the feminists viciously attacked Gov. Palin, well I wondered–is the National Organization for Women really only for the National Organization for Liberal Women? I think as women, we can go far beyond meer party labels.
    Most liberal men “say” they are feminists, but they don’t DO anything about. Men love to mouth platitudes about abortion rights, because they won’t have to change anything to have this opinion. Doesn’t fool me, and I agree, we shouldn’t be putting men on the cover of Ms. ever. But hey, they are pandering for power…I get it.

  16. Historiann on 16 Jan 2009 at 11:38 am #

    Yes, Satsuma: abortion rights (or the reverse) are just political footballs for men on both the Left and the Right. The Right uses abortion to gin up money and enthusiasm in elections, but has no intention of actually doing anything to completely outlaw abortion because that would kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Just as anti-abortion people were disappointed that somehow their pet issue was never a priority for Bush or the congress that his party controlled from 2002 to 2006, so pro-choicers will be disappointed by Obama and the Dem congress’s future inaction on this subject. (Or so I predict–but I acknowledge that I am Historiann, not Futuriann!)

    ROE ROE ROE was the only argument many Obama supporters had to offer feminists as early as the end of the primaries. Most of us recognize that as a rhetorical bludgeon (or even as a threat) rather than a promise of specific policy fixes.

  17. hysperia on 16 Jan 2009 at 5:00 pm #

    I’m looking for a place to express my amazement – shock, even – about the mania that’s going on over Obama’s inauguration and I picked here – I hope you don’t mind. Millions of people flooding into Washington? Obama underwear on the market? Geez, I live in Canada and my publicly funded radio station, the CBC, is running an “Obama playlist” feature where Canadians can choose songs that suit the occasion. I’m inclined to choose something like “Onward Obama Soldiers”.

    This does give me great pause and in some ways, the Ms cover fits right in there, although it could be seen as ironic – though few people will see it that way I presume. It all gives me pause not just because people are going to be disappointed but because I fear that Obama is being so idealized that people will continue to rationalize everything he does – if Obama does it, it must be good.

    Many people have tried to say, hey look, he’s just one man and not a particularly progressive leader at that, so keep your eye on that man as you would anyone else. I’m so glad that America is finally getting a black President and no one will be happier than me to see the door hit George Bush’s butt. But why on earth must Obama be deified in order to celebrate that fact? It’s downright scary. Do you think this reflects an American tendency to glorify its leaders when possible, especially when they’ve had a crappy one? Is there historical precedent for this president? He seems to be doing everything he can to play into the istorical Lincoln? Were people this “happy” to see Lincoln’s inauguration, or did his popularity arise only after he’d actually done something?

  18. Historiann on 16 Jan 2009 at 6:08 pm #

    Hysperia–maybe a 19th C historian or Lincoln scholar will weigh in on this, but what little I know about the 1850s and 1860s, Lincoln was of course tremendously unpopular by comparison to most of our recent Presidents and Obama (except for Bush). He won only a plurality of votes in 1860, no sweeping mandate, and (of course) a whole chunk of the U.S. seceded immediately upon his election. Lincoln’s assassination, and the success of his prosecution of the war, retrospectively burnished Lincoln’s reputation.

    I think the Obama worship right now–as over-the-top as it is, is probably 70% due to the fact that Americans, like most of the rest of the world, are excited to get rid of Bush. I share your concerns–the New York Times had on its website earlier a headline asking people about “your hopes for Obama.” His election is historic–but if I were a Republican right now, I would be gagging because of the obvious bias. I don’t recall anything like this on the eve of the Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, or Bush II inaugurations–but I was still very young when Reagan was first inaugurated.

  19. Emma on 17 Jan 2009 at 10:24 am #

    Actually, if I were a Republican I’d be stoking the hero worship for now to ensure that the fall, when it comes, is as huge as it possibly can be.

    I read in Politico that Obama wants his economic plan to pass with 80 votes in the Senate — where Dems hold a 59 seat majority (maybe 60 w/Franken?). Turning to the Republicans to shore up his postpartisanship politicking is, IMO, very dangerous. When the economic plan fails, as it must if it’s small enough to garner 80 votes, the Republicans will use it to grease the skids under Obama for 2010 and 2012 and will be play off the impossible expectations that are being encouraged right now. Maybe Obama will make impenetrable Teflon out of all this, Reagan did. But Reagan had the benefit of an economic recovery that Obama will almost certainly not have, and that will almost certainly be as a result of his own right-center politicking.