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June 12, 2008

Focusing In On Sexism


First of all, I couldn’t be more pleased that a conversation about sexism in the media seems to be taking shape now that Hillary has withdrawn.  At The BAG, both racial and sexual stereotyping has been a primary focus here, starting well before the Hillary – Obama contest.

Which brings me to this image the NYT ran yesterday illustrating its story on the debate over Hillary’s media treatment.  Given the context, I think the isolation on Hillary’s chest, framed by a bevy of microphones, is actually pretty brilliant.  The close up offers the hypothesis — through the anatomically-narrow framing — that Clinton was often targeted, or taken on, specifically for her gender.  (The fact that she is cut off at the neck makes the contributing point that, for the sake of really having the conversation, Hillary’s personality might well be left out of the discussion for the moment.)

And then, I think the photo is even more interesting than that, what with those phallic little microphones poking around and the fragment of the stern-looking female face (as if a projection of Hillary’s reaction to being objectified, or the sentiment of the female journalist feeling caught in a testosterone-driven industry) just behind.  There is even the question of whether a sexual analogy is to be made in the positioning of Hillary’s hands — or whether that is sexist of me for seeing in the first place?

(slightly revised. 9:20 EST)

image from: Media Charged With Sexism in Clinton Coverage (NYT)

Also recommend: The Sex Speech (Kristof – NYT)

Katie Couric’s response (CBS blog)

(image: Jacob Silberberg for The New York times.  March 2008.

  • flyingshark

    Oh, just come out and say it: “Talk to the breast”.
    The male equivalent shot would be interesting: “Talk to the _____”.

  • Scarabus

    Just ’cause you’re paranoid, that doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.
    And just ’cause you might be sexist, that doesn’t mean you aren’t reading the image appropriately.
    Reminds me of Picasso’s naughty painting of Marie Therese. (

  • contrariangrammarian

    You’re making too much out of this — it’s actually an ad for an anti-arthritis pill.

  • swarmofkillermonkeys

    One of the most sexist things regarding this issue is the persistent assumption by the accusers that the press is uniformly male! How ironic. Note we can see the holder of the most intimate of those microphones… a woman locking Hillary in almost an embrace.
    Considering the HUGE boost Hillary received early (early is best, remember) in the primary from the press and her inevitability, and constant access to as much media as she wanted… I mean, really has EVERYONE forgotten the press freeze out of John Edwards? Well, they covered Hillary instead! There surely must have been sexism somewhere (outside of Fox, which doesn’t count as news) but not at all determinant in the outcome of the primary. In fact, she was treated as any other candidate (after her deferential start). Equality does not mean special treatment.
    So that’s what I see in the photo… the sadness of identity politics where Hillary was held most closely by women, even if they are looking away from her actual substance with disinterest or distain. The “face” or identity of the candidate is unimportant, it only matters that she is female. That is what I read here from that woman journalist literally behind her. Most of the mikes are well above the breastline anyway, rendering this sexually neutral to me.

  • Emily L. Ferguson

    No matter what the arrangment of objects in the photo, with or without a face, that color yellow is so ugly that it negates any “attitude” one might like to infer from the image, to me. It’s not sexually neutral, it’s simply not sex-related. No connection. She should never have bought that suit!

  • Stuart

    It is a brilliant photo, terrific composition.
    Just wondering, has anyone noticed that her breasts are (extremely) asymmetrical in this shot? Michael points to the positioning of her hands, which both create and mirror the asymmetry and perhaps more importantly draw the eye up to the right breast as do all the reporter’s hands and recorders.

  • Emily L. Ferguson

    They’re not assymetrical. She’s leaning on the seatback with her left elbow. That’s why her right hand is so contorted, as well.

  • Zzyzx

    It is very difficult to separate any sexism in the coverage from the antipathy that people, me included, feel about her. I know sexism is there and it pokes it’s head up into the open glare once in a while. Basically, any man over 40 (which includes most of the male media corps) has a residue of resentment and sexism against all women. The ones who don’t, have done a lot of work; the rest of them…..not so much.
    BUT the fact that it is there, subliminal as it may be, does not mean it was a significant factor in Hillary’s loss. Her loyal followers, passionate though they may be, when they gain some distance and perspective, may indeed find that Hillary was a contributor to her own downfall. She makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. When she is charming she can be very winning……..and then she does something very hateful. She’s like the very sweet demure lady in the office who, the minute your back is turned, the trick knife drops from her sleeve and she proceeds to cut you to pieces.
    But in this photo, it’s the hands that transfixed me. They are just short of the ‘wringing of hands’ position. It calls to mind the little whimpering episodes the pundits made so much of. And rightly so, in my opinion. She uses it as a tactic and in so doing, diminishes much of what true feminists have worked for for decades. These hands are saying, pity me, poor beseeched me. She’s the kind of ‘feminist’ who runs for the cover of her husband when things get tough. The women who fell away from supporting her sensed that, I’m sure.

  • Janet

    Way to prove the point of sexism against Clinton, Zzyzx. You don’t seem to me to have done the work. I would like one concrete example of “When she is charming she can be very winning……..and then she does something very hateful. She’s like the very sweet demure lady in the office who, the minute your back is turned, the trick knife drops from her sleeve and she proceeds to cut you to pieces.” Just one example that could justify all the stereotypes, and for that matter, the first name basis, that you feel free to use.
    Please give an example of the “kind of ‘feminist’” or the “true feminist” you are referring to in this paragraph.
    I have to fight the first name thing myself. It is so destructive, yet so invisible, and really brings home to me the extent of misogyny and how far we all have to go.

  • Victoria

    Flyingshark says the male equivalent would be “talk to the …” – Really? Can anyone imagine THAT image in the Times? Wouldn’t it most likely be an image reflecting physical strength/power or intellect? Remember all the George Bush swagger images?
    I, too, am happy for renewed awareness about sexism, but right now so much of it is overloaded with personal emotion… I look forward to the distance and disciplined across-the-board analysis by various study groups, so that we can really get down to the realities. — I note in the Times article that Kim Gandy is worried about what may come at Michelle Obama. As am I. But, as a Democrat, I reserve the right to be equally concerned about Cindy McCain.
    As for the image above, I have always been struck by the fact that Hillary is known for wearing a lot of yellow – that color that has no part of pink or blue.

  • Zzyzx

    Janet: Example 1: The well documented crying incident in the coffee shop answering the woman’s question about how she managed to hold up under all the pressure. She started to reply, then got teary and her voice broke (okay, I’ll even give her that it was real), but before she even finished the sentence she was bashing Obama. And I’m not the only one that noticed that; the woman who asked the question was so upset at her answer that she switched her vote the next day from Clinton to Obama.
    Example 2: One of the last debates, where just she and Obama were left, she couldn’t praise him enough, how happy she was to be with him and how much she respected him, etc., etc. The very next morning, about 12 hours later, she was sarcastically ripping him a new one.
    As to why Hillary and not Clinton? Simply to separate her from Bill. If one says Clinton did this or Clinton did that, which Clinton was the subject, since Bill was campaigning and getting almost as much notice as she was for a good part of the campaign. You may not see it as fair, but it’s a short-hand distinction that many of us used. And Hillary capitalized on it by making it part of her logo. If you will look back at the photos of yore, Obama’s banners say “OBAMA” and Hillary’s say “HILLARY.” Again, she did it to herself.

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