Thursday, January 15, 2009

Super-feminist Obama to the rescue!

I posted a few days ago about Ms. Magazine's "This is What a Feminist Looks Like" Obama cover. Since then, a lot of blogs besides Feminist Law Professors (where I came across the cover the first time around) have shared their thoughts.

Some people love it. Some people hate it. And I feel pretty ambivalent. I definitely don't love it, and while I think that it's great that Obama has privately declared himself a feminist, I would like it a whole lot more if 1) this had been a public declaration and 2) if the magazine cover didn't implicitly suggest that Obama's come to save feminism (and you can't tell me that Superman iconography isn't explicitly about the idea of rescue).

In any case, check out these other posts discussing this cover and consider this post as a link round-up of sorts of all these varying opinions.

The original Feminist Law Professors post was, unfortunately, followed by what I think was an unnecessarily snarky and (I think) insulting response by Megan at Jezebel (thanks Laruen, for this link!) who claims that Ann Bartow of Feminist Law Professors and Amy Siskind writing over at The Daily Beast are the equivalent of P.U.M.A.s (Hillary-lovin', Obama-hatin' Democrats) and just "have their collective (organic cotton, sweatshop-free) panties in a wad." She concludes:
So maybe it's not so surprising they missed the point Ms. was trying to make in celebrating a President who supports so many of the policy issues that have been on the feminist movement's agenda, like wage equality and reproductive choice — it's still only the composition of his chromosomes that matter to some. I think that's called sexism, right?
If you like the cover, great, but I see no reason to be rude to those who have offered legitimate reasons why they think it's problematic.

As would be expected, Melissa McEwan over at Shakesville offers a much more thoughtful response to the cover:
That Obama has not regularly and unapologetically identified himself as a feminist makes this image problematic—as does the reality that, while Obama is clearly better on women's issues than the retrofuck lunkhead and his band of misogybag miscreants who've been leading the country the last eight years, he's not been what might fairly be deemed a leader on feminist issues.
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 fucking minimum to be considered a decent person.
On the other hand, Tracy Clark-Flory, over at Salon didn't really think anything of the cover initially, but understands the conflict:
When I saw the cover yesterday, I thought: Well, that's silly. Yes, we're all crossing our fingers that Obama is a superhero who will rescue our country, and his policies do seem basically feminist. But isn't it, I don't know, a little premature to declare him a superhero, particularly of feminism?

Then I considered that perhaps the intended message was simply that Obama, widely heralded as our nation's savior, also happens to be an undercover feminist. And then I moved along. But the cover has since sparked a feminist firestorm online.
In response to criticism, Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and publisher of Ms. posted an explanation over at The Huffington Post, claiming
When the chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation board, Peg Yorkin, and I met Barack Obama, he immediately offered "I am a feminist." [...] But we are not giving President-Elect Obama a blank check. For our hopes to be achieved, we must speak out and organize, organize, organize to enable our new president's team to achieve our common goals. Ultimately, we must hold our leaders' feet to the fire or, to put it more positively, uplift them when they are caught in the crosscurrents of competing interests.
All that said, Jill over at Feministe loves the cover, as does Deborah at Girl w/Pen, and I respect both of their opinions a great deal, so it's by no means a cut and dry issue.

If you've found other posts about this cover or you've written one yourself, feel free to post links in the comments!

ETA: Again, care of Feminist Law Professors, this CNN video about the Ms.'s cover:


Vertigo said...

I would feel better about the cover if Obama publictly said he was a feminist... I guess one will have to wait.

Aviva DV said...

I agree, Vertigo.