Posted by: jt | September 24, 2008

you missed your point

In its occasionally helpful and increasingly creepy way, my sponsored links from Google turned up a blog post at About.com on sexism at the Emmy Awards. Sexism? At an awards show? Surely you jest!

Since the (oblique) target of the accusation was my deliciously cheeky and determinedly un-PC Craig Ferguson, I had to read the first post and then the one it references at AfterEllen.com.

[W]hat were the Emmy writers smoking when they thought it was acceptable to have Ferguson leer and pretend to feel Shields up, while she stands there looking uncomfortable and accepts it? None of the male presenters were sexualized like this on stage. (A shocking double-standard, I know.)

To be fair, I can understand why some people find Craig offensive; it took me several months of watching his show before I came to my own verdict.* Most viewers wouldn’t be so dedicated (or, unfortunately, nearly as concerned). Here’s the bit from the Emmys:

As I read the first post, I found myself shrugging off the criticism – at least that regarding Craig. I have little need to defend him here; he flat out said he didn’t write the bit and he performed it reasonably well. Like most awards show filler, it wasn’t particularly funny.  It was written to be leering, obnoxious and sexist and he played it as such (and, smartly, added in some boredom). The fact that we view that kind of behavior as so ludicrous to be (theoretically) funny is, I think, a good thing. That joke isn’t demeaning to Brooke Shields, it’s demeaning to Craig. No one’s laughing at her, they’re laughing at him playing a fool.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on that but, whatever your perspective, it’s complicated by the fact that Brooke Shields first came into public view because nothing came between her and her Calvins, and is now starring in Candace Bushnell’s Lipstick Jungle. She is clearly a woman who isn’t averse to using her sexuality for professional gain and was/is quite deliberately something of a sex object.  I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with that.  I do think it’s difficult to argue that she’s being marginalized in this bit, since her career is so deeply rooted in her sexuality. (One could even make the case that Brooke Shields is the actually larger problem for feminism. I don’t believe that, but a case could be made.)

The second post is a good example of why I steer clear of much of the feminist blogosphere. I titled the link The Long, Flat, Seemingly Endless Bataan Death March To A Point** because – help me, fellow idealists – the negativity. It’s painful to read.  As I waded through the Sarah Warn’s lengthy critique of the Emmys, I realized that, despite finding fault with nearly every category – Not enough women! Not enough young women! Not enough women of color! – she offered no solutions. In this case, solutions being women who should have been nominated.

Who was left out? Who was overlooked?

What pisses me off is that, undoubtedly, there were women who should have been nominated and weren’t. I don’t follow the entertainment industry close enough to know who they might be. However, by writing such a scathing (and detailed) critique that offers no alternatives, Warn does more to invalidate her point than to prove it. Her failure to articulate the actual bias and sexism that feminists know exist leaves her post in the frustratingly stereotypical realm of whining or “bitching and moaning.” Instead of elevating discussion or increasing dialogue, it sets it back because it’s all too easy to write it off as mere complaining. There is no justifying evidence to prove her point; it’s pure opinion with no substantiating facts.  Not only is this a missed opportunity, it’s a detriment to furthering feminist causes because there is nothing to legitimize its claims.

We all need to bitch, whine and moan from time to time. That’s perfectly fair.  I just wish people would have the sense and the courtesy to do so in their personal space, not in venues that need to maintain their credibility, like AfterEllen.com.

We can, and must, do better.

………

*I quickly determined that he’s not a sexist asshole; it was the heterosexism / homophobia that took me longer to discern.  After several months, I reached my conclusion that Craig is the antithesis of homophobic (at least as antithetical as a het person can be). The problem is that we’re conditioned for gay jokes to be fear or hate-based, so that’s what’s easiest to see if we’re attuned to it. He is, somewhat ironically, ahead of the curve.

**Yes, shamelessly ripped from The Daily Show.

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Responses

  1. You said the C word. “Credibility.”

    I’m very very wary of this suggestion that critiques of sexism, etc., make a place lose credibility, or that such critiques and debates should be sequestered away to one’s “personal space.” That starts to sound way to creepy-Republicanish for my comfort and all kinds of red flags start going up.

  2. That’s not what I’m saying at all! Absolutely, critiques of sexism belong in public spaces and particularly in ones like AfterEllen.com.

    My argument is that critiques in public spaces need to be substantive and explain why something is a problem, not just point a finger and say, Problem!

    By providing zero examples of women who were marginalized, the post in reference does, in my view, have a credibility problem and by extension, the site where it’s posted does too.

    I just want the finger-pointing without evidence to stay in the personal realm and for the public sites to be more responsible in making their arguments. It’s too easy to tear down that post because it’s just complaining with no reference as to who is experiencing the marginalization. Without reference points, we lose the argument and get boxed into the stereotype of whining / bitching / moaning.

    You and I know the argument is true, but we need facts to convince the people who aren’t already with us. If we can’t do that, we’re just complaining with no hope of results.

    That’s what I want to stay in the personal realm – complaining with no hope of results, not criticism. We need more critiques in all spaces, they just need to be done in ways that reference facts, not just opinions, and, ideally, don’t reinforce stereotypes.

  3. Hmm. I guess. I mean, I can see your point, but I really do think it needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes offering solutions isn’t realistic or within scope or whatever. Sometimes simply pointing out the problem IS important. I think it’s kind of reactionary and buying into the Republican/asshole stereotype of “complaining man-hating feminists” if we cast all problem-pointing-out as being ‘bitching and moaning.’

  4. I’m not casting it as such. I’m arguing that, whenever possible, we need to strip other people of their ability to do so. I agree, it isn’t always possible to cite specifics but, all too frequently and in this case, it is.

    In this scenario, not providing solutions / evidence / alternatives is either an oversight or laziness – either way, we (as feminists) can and need to do better.

    My argument is that we can’t assume that people will agree with us – we have to give them reasons to agree with us. I think that public spaces should be pressured to do more to provide articulate arguments as to why people should view the lack of gender equity as a problem, not just arguing that gender inequality is a problem.

    We need to push the why, not just the what.

  5. Yeah I agree that the why is important. Some people can’t really grasp something until it’s put in concrete terms relevant to their life.

  6. Actually, Brooke Shields came into public view playing a ten-year-old child-prostitute in Louis Malle’s film PRETTY BABY.

    Put that way, even more true that “One could even make the case that Brooke Shields is the actually larger problem for feminism. I don’t believe that, but a case could be made”–actually, the case WAS once made, in MS., as I recall.

    PS: great post.

  7. Thanks, Daisy. I’m always prepped for people to come screaming at me when I critique feminists. It’s nice to get the opposite feedback (and affirmation that perhaps I have articulated my point! :-)

    And…clearly I’m not entirely up to speed on Brooke Shields’ career. ;-)

    Just for the record, I’m not trying to make a case that Brooke Shields is necessarily anti-feminist or bad for feminism. I’m not postulating an opinion either way (clearly, I don’t know enough about her or her career to make any such case).


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