Monday, August 8, 2011

Is a Bad Photo Sexism?

As usual, conservatives only pay any attention to an "-ism" when it affects one of their own.

This time, the controversy is over a Newsweek cover of Michele Bachmann. According to the Yahoo News' account of the situation (did my credibility just go down?), conservative pundits and readers are up at arms about the photo.

"Newsweek needs to be ashamed for propagating one of the typical female stereotypes used to denigrate women," a commenter on wrote. "If you don't like Bachmann's positions, say so. But to slot her in the typical witch, bitch, nut, or slut memes hurts all women!"
So what do you think? Take a look at the photo. Is this sexism?

I'm not convinced. I'll agree that it is an unflattering photo, but I think that Sarah Palin's Newsweek cover was much more sexist. She was shown in running shorts from a photo she took for Runner's World, an exercise publication. This picture of Bachmann just seems crappy, if anything. Is that inherently sexist? I mean, how often do we see media of both persuasions using really unflattering pictures of the politicians they don't admire. It's a totally standard media trick. It's not really sexist if we can answer the question, "Would this also happen to a male politician" with a resounding: yes.

If anything about the cover is sexist, it might be the copy which calls her rageful. I can't help but think that male politicians who are just as passionate are called just that--passionate, not rageful. But far be it from me to condone her views, which are dangerous, extreme, and hateful. So perhaps, it's not inaccurate to call her the "Queen of Rage" even if it does hint of sexism.

At the end of the day, I have a really hard time objectively receiving conservative's claims that the Left is being sexist (racist, classist, homophobic, what-have-you) since the Right's actual policies seek to limit the freedoms of these people on a daily basis. I'm always feeling that their intention is to use these claims as a smoke and mirrors trick designed to keep the public from noticing what they're really up to.


  1. This is a fascinating question. I'm on the fence. On the one hand, I don't know if we would see this type of photo of Rick Perry or Mitt Romney, who right now are some of Bachmann's peers. So I can see the argument that it's sexist to give her less respect and take her less seriously as a female candidate. On the other hand, who's to say that's the reason? Maybe she is a bad candidate who just happens to be female.

    But reason aside, I think it's just bad journalism. Using the photo was rude. The phrase "queen of rage" is Murdoch-esque. (But I'm probably going to read it now.)

    At the same time, we've all seen a million pictures of George W. Bush making funny faces. So maybe some people just tend to look a bit odd in photos.

  2. Yeah...some people are just more photogenic, so you don't see many bad pics of Slick Rick. But W. or Obama seem to have had their fair share, so it's doesn't seem super-sexist in that light. But I agree it is bad journalism, regardless of being sexist or not. And it's bad when either side does it.

  3. Not sexist. At all.

    Biased journalism? Absolutely.

    I'm reminded of a class discussion over photography in advertising from one of my media arts classes in college. The TA that was leading the class introduced several photos from magazines - some were ads, and some were supporting pics for the articles - she'd start the conversation with lines like, "So, what is this one REALLY selling?"

    One of her pictures was a close-up shot of Ted Kennedy. Just a close-up of him, with nice depth-of-field. Good photo, I guess. Her first line was, "What about this? I'd say it's sexist, for starters." Half he class nodded along in agreement, and the other half was like... "WTF?"

    Her contention was that ANY photo of a male in power was inherently sexist. Seriously.

    I'm not going to pretend that sexism (or racism) doesn't exist, but just because somebody happens to be a woman or a minority doesn't mean that any negative reporting and/or criticism of them is sexist/racist by default. It doesn't mean that any POSITIVE press is reverse-sexism/racism, either.

  4. I'm inclined to agree...although I still think the copy is more suspect. I wonder why conservatives didn't just try to go after the biased-ness of it? They're always looking for a chance to scream "mainstream liberal media!"


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