I am seriously worried about Mitt Romney's bathing suit options.
What will we do if, God help us, he's elected and he chooses to wear a Speedo instead of a looser, baggier type of swim suit? If he goes swimming in Germany while on retreat with Angela Merkel, she may not be able to string together two thoughts. What's going to happen to Greece if THAT happens? Damn. This could be really bad.
Kinda like the nation's concerns about Sarah Palin's "boobgate" and Hillary Clinton's cleavage, which would be "distracting" to other politicians and diplomats...who must all be men since as far I know, breasts don't distract the majority of women.
Besides, the time for a national debate about the impact of, well, support is LONG overdue and relevant to his qualifications to run as president.
But, I admit, the concern that really keeps me up at night?
Whether the few female media commentators are is going to have to quietly store rape protection kits under their desks next time a strongly opinionated presidential candidate, steps onto a set. Just like the way Tucker Carlson "involuntarily crosses his legs" when he sees Hillary Clinton enters the room.
Can we stop this exercise now? It's embarrassing and degrading to have your clothes and your body parts dissected in Technicolor and high-def audio for literally the whole world to see while you try and talk about serious, substantive problems that we face as a nation.
That's why we have to stop humiliating strong, intelligent, ambitious women by micro-examining their bodies and indulging in outdated, mean-spirited, gendered word play meant to evoke browbeaten husbands. Mitt may have an embarrassing issue on his hands -- I would too if there were people in San Antonio Googling images of my underwear. But if he does, it would be because he's experiencing a fraction of what is experienced by female candidates, who bear the overwhelming brunt of this type of coverage, everyday. And the truth is that sexist media coverage does in fact have an impact. Excoriate women candidates for sloppy reasoning, a lack of critical thinking, a deniers' approach to Science 101, but not for looking "old" (code for infertile) wearing the wrong shade of buff or for having a higher-pitched voice.
We have a crisis on our hands because the already abysmal rate of female participation in leadership at all levels of government is declining. We have to stop ripping women politicians to shreds, dismiss it as "boys being boys," and then asking ourselves self-explanatory questions like, "Why don't women vote for them?" Or better yet, "Why don't more women run for office?" It's because they're rational people and this treatment is harassment. When men harass me on the street, I avoid them. We don't have the luxury of waiting for arrested development sexists to age out of the news analysis business. It is SO not cool to act this way anymore. This is not rocket science. But it is a serious risk to our nation's ability to compete in the world economy.
If you remain unconvinced of gender bias and the fact that men are still very much in charge and believe yourself to be an open-minded person, watch the Thursday, October 20th OWN network television premiere of Miss Representation, the 2011 Sundance Film Festival's award-winning movie about exactly this crisis.
What we need, especially as we approach the 2012 elections, is a test of bias in media coverage that everyone can use. Something female candidates and Mitt Romney can arm themselves with to call people on when their credibility is being challenged over the length of their long johns and hemlines. Something a public that believes not just in fairness, but in what is right, can use as they learn more about candidates.
Maybe the Chemaly Test for Unbiased Media Coverage. It's basically The Willis Test applied to political analysis; a way of evaluating the sexism of a statement, claim or assessment:
Take any comment written or said by a media figure, commentator or politician during the course of evaluating a candidate for office and reverse the gender of the speaker and the subject. If the statement still makes sense then its inherently unbiased.
Ellen Willis demonstrated this rule by applying it to two popular songs. If you look at the lyrics and apply the rule to them, "Under My Thumb" is not nearly so sexist as Cat Stevens' gentle, softly sung, "Wild World." Jagger's fantasy of revenge could easily be a woman's -- but it's a real stretch to imagine a woman warning her ex-lover that he's "too innocent for the big bad world out there."
Try it out on next time someone who swears he or she is not a sexist, and jokingly mentions vacuums, first wives, haggard faces, nagging voices, hormonal mood swings, litters, claws, and schoolmarms when talking about a woman candidate. And if you're a woman with media influence who's internalized sexist mores, and in turn denigrates other women for how they look or for having traits that are stereotypically lauded in a man, have some dignity. Do you really want to be remembered as an ingratiating lackey in the service of a culture that hates you?
Sexist language marginalizes women candidates and reduces the chances that women will run for office and win. If you're struggling to agree with the concept of a test, any test for unbiased language, maybe it would help to think of it as the Brooksley Born rule, because if this smart lone-woman-in-the-room hadn't been marginalized by a bunch of powerful men we very probably wouldn't be spinning our wheels talking about who's going to clean up after the Occupy Wall Street marchers.
I know we have the First Amendment and it's the cornerstone of our democracy. We can't stop people from saying words that we don't like. And it's a good thing. But, gender-biased language has to be as unacceptable as racially-biased language. Can you imagine what people would say if media commentators, analysts and reporters had, as Jeff Greenfield pointed out, talked about President Obama shining their shoes the way the joked about Hillary Clinton doing laundry and vacuuming?
I also understand that politicians put themselves in the public spotlight and are subject to scrutiny for legitimate reasons, but at the very least let's be open about a deeply embedded double standard and its deleterious effects. The radically disproportionate attention played to women's appearances, coupled with tired sexist tropes, are incompatible with claims of women's equality in the United States. If we have to do it, then Mitt's bathing suit options have to get 30 prime time minutes as well.
Also, when I searched for images of jock straps to use, there were NONE, when I searched for bra, I got a database. Just saying.
If you actually want to help eliminate sexism take the Miss Representationpledge.
Follow Soraya Chemaly on Twitter: www.twitter.com/schemaly