Friday, November 8, 2013

What If Rand Paul Were a Woman?

1. What If Rand Paul Were a Woman? (2013 Nov 7) The Atlantic.

2. Category of problem: Sexism, women in politics

3. Level of problem: National level in particular, with the overarching problem being at a national, state, and local level

4. The article concerns: An analysis on the biases towards women in politics (and, implicitly, similar positions of power and influence) leveraged on a hypothetical gender reversal à la Republican senator Rand Paul.

5. Why this is important: It is important to critique the way that women are treated in a public forum, particularly in comparison to men. The media both reflects and perpetuates social gender constructs, and an analysis of the media can reveal patterns of sexism thereby creating a discussion about the media's role and responsibility in women's rights and the pervasiveness of sexism. Critiquing pop culture is one important way to devalue sexist beliefs and prevent their perpetuation - it is a critical element of modern feminism and thus is important in perpetuating the primary goals of feminism: female empowerment and equal rights for women.

6. My views on this issue/policy: As a feminist myself I think the promotion of the feminist lens is very important, if not the critical leveraging point of the movement, and I'm happy to see a feminist critique in such a widespread publication as The Atlantic. The gender reversal argument is a beautiful and compelling argument for feminism because it highlights a lack of equality that many people continue to claim doesn't exist, while also detailing the ways in which inequality manifests. A simple comparison between the way female and male celebrities are treated will reveal rampant sexism from both sides of the gender spectrum.

However, I felt this particular criticism was a bit weak. I definitely agree that, in all areas of celebrity, including politics, women are unable to to get away with the very same blunders as men, for the fact that they are women. It is abhorrently evident that women are held to higher standards of behavior than men, and that their indiscretions are met with apocalyptic response. I have no qualms with this premise, but the reality of the hypothetical rang mostly untrue. Michele Bachmann has not exactly been the most graceful in conducting her self-image, nor have her public statements been particularly sensitive, intelligent or factual - and yet, it doesn't appear to me that she is ostracized by conservative media outlets. The article ignores the devastatingly vast importance of partisanship in forming opinions on politicians, and it does hold, despite the articles implicit and explicit suggestion, that liberal individuals and media outlets have absolutely ostracized Rand Paul and called out his mistakes (case in point, The Atlantic). I'll concede that the insults haven't been nearly as gendered as the ones presented in the hypothetical narrative, but I am sure that the liberal twitter-ship is avast with creative insults and condescending hashtags to describe Rand Paul's public mishaps.

However, it is not my main concern to undermine the integrity of the author's hypothetical premise, but to point out the critical importance of well constructed, well conveyed and objective feminist critique. When an author, such as Dupuy, publishes a feminist critique that leverages on  a realistically baseless argument and is riddled with partisan bias in a widely read publication like The Atlantic, she creates an opening for opponents of feminism to really undermine the movement. I would prefer a well-thought out, inscrutable piece of criticism once a year to numerous mediocre ones. When a feminist speaks out to a mainstream audience, she is often speaking to a hostile one: if her goal is to perpetuate the goals of feminism, she should be sure that her arguments are sound, valid and compelling, or she may effectively reverse her original goal.

In 1973 female tennis player Billie Jean King played Bobby Riggs in what was dubbed the Battle of the Sexes: Riggs claimed that, as a male, he could beat even the best female tennis player in the world. King said a win would be a small but important victory for women, and, "a loss would have set us back ten years." King won, but her admonition is extremely important; if a feminist doesn't do her absolute best work in a public forum, she is liable to engender scrutiny of all women.

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