Oh it’s sooo serious.

When asked about his involvement with super-sexy-super-witty-super-model-super-singer Carla Bruni, President Sarkozy responded: “It’s serious”, according to a CNN sound byte during NH primary coverage.

However, a little YouTube digging revealed his ACTUAL answer: a five-minute response that ranged widely through the historical precedents for asking a president such a question, the difficulties of human relationships in general, and the ludicrousness of the media caring so much about the personal life of a man who is fundamentally like any other… which goes hand-in-hand with the contemporary media misconception that being covert about one’s private life somehow corresponds to corrupt and nontransparent leadership (COUGH Bill Clinton).

I wish the current U.S. Presidential candidates could give this kind of response to media badgering. It was bitingly sarcastic, well-informed, and evinced a level of sophisticated contemplation beyond mere pre-press-conference maneuvering (“Being the President of the Republic doesn’t guarantee one the right to happiness–no more happiness than anyone else has. But no less, either”), and it certainly wasn’t cut into slogans meant for endless replay in news commercials. He reminisced about the days when “A chacun sa vie” (“to each his own”) was the reigning philosophy when it came to personal presidential matters, and it made me miss those days, too.

Ironically, carrying on about this for so long–even though he was criticizing the nature of the question–actually lowered his approval ratings, since citizens complained he was spending too much time talking about his relationship and not about real politics… imagine THAT public response in OUR country…

Sarkozy’s tone and perspective remind me of Hillary’s sarcastic response to the fact that people don’t find her “likable”: “That hurts my feelings! …but… I guess I’ll just have to carry on, somehow…” And, to reference the over-played Hillary-tears-up tape, her message that behind the rehearsed responses to debate questions, beyond the stark polling numbers, she is deeply and personally invested in making our country a better place and in pointing it away from what she sees as a darkening future is… refreshing (and sounds a little like that guy who just won the peace prize). As much as I don’t like Sarkozy, and though I am reluctant to vote for Hilary, that kind of meta-level perspective is what we’ve been sorely missing in the presidency lately; without it America has gotten into serious trouble.

These little glimpses of politicos’ evolution States-side and abroad give me at least a little hope. But if I have to go through a whole election year watching CNN cut rich, challenging rhetoric down to “It’s serious,” and furthermore have to watch candidates cater to that simple-minded standard, I’ll have trouble believing my vote is in any way ‘informed,’ or that our election process is anything more than a tabloid-triggered shot in the dark.

[This cutting diagnosis of media’s preference for sound bites over reasoned responses — and for sexual gossip rather than political intelligence — comes from Julie Johnson, editor of Clarion at Boston University. When she told me how CNN had chopped President Sarkozy’s responses, I shook my head first not at the infantilitzation of our public discourse, but rather at the sad fact that media outlets find it profitable to fix their cameras on the face and body of politicians’ partners like Carla Bruni or Camilla Parker Bowles. How offensive that mascara should play any role in a campaign plan; that it can and does speaks to the pervasive view of female companions as possessions owned by men in power. Are the male companions of female candidates subjected to this scrutiny? I don’t believe they are, since that deep-rooted tradition of political dimorphism lodged in our media psyche favors men, demeans women, and altogether ignores those outside the heteronormative groove. –CivilizeMe ]

Crass Interference: Taking pot shots at the wifely candidate

A classy knockdown of Senator Clinton’s credibility as a candidate is circulating the Net:

In a news conference Deanna Favre announced she will be the starting QB for the Packers this coming Sunday. She claimed she is qualified to be starting QB because she has spent the past 16 years married to Brett while he played QB for the Packers. Because of this she understands how to pick up a corner blitz and knows the terminology of the Packers offense. A poll of Packers fans shows that 50% of those polled supported the move. Does this sound idiotic and unbelievable to you? Yet Hillary Clinton makes the same claims as to why she is qualified to be President and 50% of democrats polled agreed.

In her classy response, Boston University philosophy student Shanna Slank gets right to the point in uncompromising but nonviolent fashion:

What is required when in the role of First Lady of the White House is quite different from that which is required when in the role of First Lady of the NFL. This is a silly parallel to draw. I would be interested to know if whoever authored this tid-bit is at all informed about Hillary’s activities during her husband’s presidency. Let us also not forget that she was elected and re-elected to the United States Senate all on her own. On my count, that’s first-hand experience in two of the three branches of the federal government, which is more than any of the other current candidates can lay claim to. Make whatever character judgments you’d like about Senator Clinton; however, questioning her qualifications by likening her (and, for that matter, reducing her) to someone’s wife and the wife of an NFL athlete at that, does not bode well for assumptions that will be made regarding one’s own intelligence.

Thanks to Shanna for sharing this sexist email litter and her riposte.

Barbie is a suffragette! (compared to Disney’s Belle)

What does the pink-and-purple cabal of the Disney princesses offer young, consumerist girls? The promise that wussiness, passivity, and being pretty warrant all the rewards of happily ever after. Barbara Ehrenreich makes a case against the princesses at The Nation:

… what a sorry bunch of wusses they are. Typically, they spend much of their time in captivity or a coma, waking up only when a Prince comes along and kisses them. The most striking exception is Mulan, who dresses as a boy to fight in the army, but–like the other Princess of color, Pocahontas–she lacks full Princess status and does not warrant a line of tiaras and gowns. Otherwise the Princesses have no ambitions and no marketable skills, although both Snow White and Cinderella are good at housecleaning. … In Princessland, the only career ladder leads from baby-faced adolescence to a position as an evil enchantress, stepmother or witch. Snow White’s wicked stepmother is consumed with envy for her stepdaughter’s beauty; the sea witch Ursula covets Ariel’s lovely voice; Cinderella’s stepmother exploits the girl’s cheap, uncomplaining, labor. No need for complicated witch-hunting techniques–pin-prickings and dunkings–in Princessland. All you have to look for is wrinkles.

Ehrenriech’s essay is a stirring indictment. Her analysis helpfully zeroes in on just those reasons we should discard the tulle ‘n’ tiara squad, whose gentility and superficial benevolence serve to somewhat deflect our contempt.

Burka Power?

In Danielle Crittenden’s final post about a week long experiment called “Islamic Like Me: Taking on the Veil,” in which Crittenden wore a Burka (a loose garment which covers the entire body with just an opening for the eyes, usually worn by Muslim women) for a week, she responds to those who defend freedom of choice saying just how much better off women in the West are. Throughout the week, she received varying comments about her objections to the Burka saying, for example, that she couldn’t see well and that she couldn’t eat without spilling food on herself like a baby. Well, wow.

First, let’s rejoice in the comforts of that wonderous American culture in which – wowie! – nothing is wrong! Women have so much freedom here to wear what they like (preferably the most showy of outfits), eat what they like (preferably rice cakes, also air is ok) and spend the day how they like (preferably working out, letting other people make decisions about their bodies and pursuing careers in which they may not get paid as much as people with different body parts).

Crittenden touched on some of these “pressures,” not acknowledging the fact that they cause unhealthy obsession, lasting physical alteration and sometimes death. Three cheers for spending 3/4s of the day trying to figure out how best to lose 50 lbs in one week. Three cheers for not teaching women how to get to know their bodies and love them. Three cheers for being walking uteruses. I’m not saying it’s ok to oppress women elsewhere and I do agree that the consequences in some sects of Islamic culture are absolutely brutal, but our culture is nothing to brag about.

Second, lets not ignore the absolute close minded idiocy of this woman. Because how can women from other cultures ever possibly live with themselves when they are not surrounded by the loving embrace of our government and high ideals, right?

Take a step back from your tiny perspective, Crittenden, and recognize what is just as problematic and oppressive a country as others.

p.s. The “amighty” man contributes to this here blog – we love Zach!

“Knocked-up” examined more closely at Slate

Over at Slate, Meghan O’Rourke turns the spotlight of her “Highbrow” column to the sexist endorsement of male autonomy and female obligation in Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up.”

Who’s surprised to see misogyny in a movie with this title? “Having a baby” is what happens when adult parents operate together to produce a child. When slovenly, unmotivated men underestimate their reproductive might, that’s when a chick gets “knocked up.” It’s a phrase that captures male potency and female receptivity as differences in power, rather than mechanically dissimiliar reproductive roles.

(I do remain unconvinced that we should shed a tear for the demise of the ‘female slacker’.)

Mammalian misogyny in mammoth movie?

Over at The Hathor Legacy,  C. L. Hanson lays out a case for the unexamined misogyny of the Pixar film “Ice Age,” in which the adventures of the protagonist mammals is launched by the death of a mother for the sake of her child. Does this mean that the filmmakers consider female characters disposable, or that they failed to realize that they treat female characters in this disposable fashion? I happen to think that the mother died of natural causes, and rather than being abandoning her to an unaided demise, Manny the Morose Mammoth was watching her last act before exhaustion and injury closed inevitably upon her.

Not the most imaginative plotting; the lazy device of the mother’s death in this film does not set female characters back a few millennia; but it does reflect a gender imbalance, a lack of concern for that imbalance, and is an amplification — albeit a quiet one — of the role of mother mere vessel, fulfilling her noble duty: bear the baby, birth the baby, save the baby, expire.

Whether you agree with the author or not, the question is a fair one, and a smart one, the sort of discerning interrogation of culture that is bound to expose even the most firmly rooted gender preferences.

Peeing in bushes: you’ve come a long way, baby.

Over one hundred and fifty THOUSAND Facebook members have joined the group *30 Reasons Girls Should Call It A Night*. Among these reasons, numbers 11 (“You talk to stupid skanks you really hate and tell them you really do like them and that ya’ll should be friends.”) and 14 (“You become overly enthusiastic when someone offers you $20 dollars to make out with your friend when you totally would have done it for free”) stand out as first-rate examples of how popular culture demeans women. Because, like totally the only way for a female to have a good time is strip down, smear some makeup on her face, and wade out into debauchery.

Number 18: “Your make-up is smeared all over your face and somehow you have still managed to make out with 5 different guys. very classy.” It’s clear that what’s going on here is veiled self-reproach; when someone does something which they would be embarrassed by if they had any sense, they mock the same behavior in others while remaining aloof to their hypocrisy. In an article for the UK Daily Mail, Alcohol Concern spokesman Frank Soodeen was quoted as saying that this group is “symptomatic of the culture of acceptability around drunkenness.” Of course, drunkenness is a means to an end, namely, the dismantling of dignity and mores which stand between women and objectification. A very non-scientific study of the members of “30 Reasons” reveals that 40% are male — a ready audience for the photos and videos of drunken foolishness that college women are being convinced is the finest way to spend one’s time.

Smut, rape, and premature conclusions

Steve Chapman, writing for The Chicago Tribune, doesn’t endorse the theory that easy access to Internet pornography explains the decline in sexual crimes reported by the FBI in their annual Uniform Crime Report: rape is down 72% since 1993, and other sexual assaults have dropped by 68%. He even paints the theory — proposed by Clemson University economist Todd Kendall — in dubious terms, as the “most surprising and controversial account” of this downswing. What then is the point of drawing our attention to a remarkable phenomenon in need of explanation, and then offering up an explanation put forth by a credible expert? Come on, Chapman, don’t be coy. If you agree, say so, and your only misstep will be leaping prematurely to a conclusion that is wholly not supported by the data. At least you won’t be accused of being disingenuous.

Klemson presented “Pornography, Rape, and the Internet”in October 2006 at Stanford, in front of students enrolled in a Law and Economics Seminar. Since his research was presented as a working paper, it did not purport to demonstrate clear causation between web porn and the incidence of rape. Indeed, Klemson is quite cautious in his conclusion:

The associated decline in rape illustrated in the analysis here is consistent witha theory, such as that in Posner (1994), in which pornography is a complement for masturbation or consensual sex, which are themselves substitutes for rape, making pornography a net substitute for rape.

Given the limitations of the data, policy prescriptions based on these results must be made with extreme care. Nevertheless, the results suggest that, in contrast to previous theories to the contrary, liberalization of pornography access may lead to declines in sexual victimization of women. [bold mine]

So an economist throws an analysis at some data, observes what may be something worth investigating, and cautiously reports that he’s looking into it. When journalists do their job, they are condensing and repacking news about this sort of scientific development; when they fail to pay attention, they are distorting and exaggerating the claims of scientists in order to nudge public perceptions.

People are properly interested in learning what science has to say about the origins of sexual assault. The media is going to continue misrepresenting scientific research for the sake of the sales that come with sensationalism. So please be skeptical of what you read; the gravity of rape demands more than sensational, unreflective explanation.

When this paper was making the rounds last fall, it caught the notice of more than one blog. At Freakonomics, Steven Levitt is skeptical of the conclusions being attributed to Kendall, his former student, explaining that “the concern is always, with this kind of approach, that there are other factors that might be driving both the adoption of the Internet and the decline in rape.” At 2x3x7, blogger Falstaff proffers a thoughtful analysis of the maths, and wonders whether if it “isn’t it more likely that what we’re seeing is just multicollinearity unrealistically inflating the regression estimates?” Translation: it looks like correlation rather than causation.

But the economist jury is still out. Rape, like any other (anti-) social phenomenon, is the product of multiple causes interacting in manifold ways. That the moral aspect of the crime is as simple as they come does not mean we should settle for simplistic explanations of the causes behind it. Simplistic answers, attractive though they may be to pundits eager to thicken their opinions with a little research,  beget ineffective policies and inaccurate perceptions.

feminist thought and action at boston university