Sunday, July 05, 2009

Editorial: Taking sexism seriously

[Added July 7, 2009, Thank you to The New Agenda and for getting the word out on the imbalance with regards to bookings and bylines. Added July 9th and thank you to Hillary's Village and Spiral Gate and Donna Darko and for also getting the word out in their contiued fight against sexism.]

2008 was when feminism, the women's liberation movement, ended up crashing.


What should have been a year of highs was instead a year of lows. Women worked overtime to destroy Hillary Clinton's run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination (those women included but were not limited to Laura Flanders, Betsy Reed, Eve Ensler, Katha Pollitt and Ruth Conniff). By refusing to stand up against the sexism (Katha would explain she'd promised herself she wouldn't call out sexism until after the November election), some women encouraged men to continue to utilize it and some women joined in.

What a proud moment for them all.

The campaign season would end with Sarah Palin being picked as the vice presidential nominee. Only the second woman to be on the ticket of one of the country's two major parties. And feminists either stayed silent or joined in the sexualization of Palin. They found it perfectly acceptable, for example, when Tina Fey, 'playing' Palin, lifted up her skirt on Saturday Night Live (Thursday edition, when Will returned to play Bush). They found that acceptable and not worthy of calling out. They found all the sexualization of the woman acceptable.

Hillary was a castrating bitch, the 'left' told you, and Sarah was a dumb bimbo.

And the same women who couldn't call out those sexist portrayals (often because they were feeding into them) couldn't call out the typical response in the mainstream to women of color: Ignoring them.

Which is how the historic Green Party presidential ticket of Cynthia McKinney and running mate Rosa Clemente was rendered invisible by the press.

It was all part of the same rigged game and women could have banded together (and men as well) to say "NO!" They could have prevented it at any point. That didn't mean they were planning to vote for Hillary, Sarah or Cynthia & Rosa, it just meant that they weren't going to allow four historic women in a historic year to be victimized by sexism.

But very few women were willing to do that.

And as a result of that, all women were degraded and we're still paying the price in 2009.

The 'left' demonstrated in 2008 what Ellen Willis observed in 1969:

A genuine alliance with male radicals will not be possible until sexism sickens them as much as racism. This will not be accomplished through persuasion, conciliation, or love, but through independence and solidarity; radical men will stop oppressing us and make our fight their own when they can't get us to join them on any other terms.

And the only thing to add to that is to note how many women demonstrated in 2008 that they'd happily sell out their sisters to cozy up to misogynist males.

The end result is that abortion rights are weaker than every before in 2009. The end result is that women can't even achieve equality in representation in our alleged 'progressive' media.

Do you read magazines?

Harper's magazine spent the first six months of this year running 28 female bylines to 129 male ones. Who did you hear complain? The Nation magazine featured 399 bylines in the first half of this year -- only 109 (less than a third) were women. Who called it out? Who railed against it? Who even bothered to inform you?

Maybe you listen to radio?

The Progressive Radio Show is produced by The Progressive magazine and Socialist Matthew Rothschild spent the last 26 weeks speaking with 17 male guests and only 9 female ones. CounterSpin spent the first six months of the year speaking with 34 men and only 15 women.

And these are our 'friends' on the 'left'. This is their idea of equal representation. And they never get called out on it. And they're never forced to do better. And we all act like it's okay.

It's not okay.

Well public television. They get the people's money. They get it from donations and they get from our tax money. So surely, surely, PBS does a better job, right?


In the first six months of this year Washington Week had 33 female guests and twice that number (66) of male guests while Bill Moyers featured 43 men and only 13 women. This is PBS and who the hell has called them out?

This is from PBS' Editorial Standards & Policies: "The goal of diversity also requires continuing efforts to assure that PBS content fully reflects the pluralism of our society, including, for example, appropriate representation of women and minorities. The diversity of public television producers and funders helps to assure that content distributed by PBS is not dominated by any single point of view." "Appropriate representation of women and minorities." So who monitors that because clearly Gwen Ifill and Bill Moyers are failing. Clearly.

Does the ombudsperson monitor it? No. Even though that should be his or her job, that's not the case. And please note, none of your 'left' media 'watchdogs' would dare bark when Bill Moyers flaunts sexism. They don't say a word. They never do. It's why the problem gets worse each year.

Let's be really damn clear, not only is Moyers not meeting the Standards & Policies of PBS, when he's had 43 men on and only 13 women, he doesn't need his failure pointed out to him unless he's senile. Senility is the only excuse for how this happened and even senility doesn't excuse it.

Gwen Ifill? The naive can give her the benefit of the doubt for booking three men and one woman and not noticing (May 8th and May 1st are two examples of that) but if she didn't notice April 17th and March 13th that all of her guests were men, she's not observant enough to pass for a journalist. And if she thought her all male panels in any way met the diversity guidelines for public television, than she's not intelligent enough to host public affairs programming.

Let's repeat one more time that no one, NO ONE, has called this out. Not NOW, not Women's Media Center, not Women's eNews, no one.

What's the point of these organizations and outlets if they aren't going to call out rank sexism?

Why do they even exist if they're not going to fight for equal representation for women?

Why has 'brave' Katha Pollitt of The Nation never tackled this issue?

It's 2009. PBS's guidelines were written in 1971. 39 years later, we still shouldn't have to be fighting for equal representation on public television. But that's where we are and we're at that point because there has been a systematic failure in feminism.

Not at the grassroots. At the grassroots, women (and men) fight daily for a better world. But at the top? At the top, you've had far too many 'leaders' get too damn cozy with men. There's a feminist 'leader' for example, that was far too damn cozy with Steve Ross and ended up stabbing a woman with cancer in the back -- stabbing her in the back after she promised to help. It is shameful that it happened. It is shameful that this well known 'secret' did not lead to a serious examination by feminists. Because 'leaders' keep selling the movement out to get in good with men.

They're making deals and settling on issues the grassroots don't even know about. They're making decisions that no one gave them the authority to make.

It's past time that those who want to be in leadership -- many of whom self-appointed themselves to leadership -- were answerable to the grassroots.

It's past time that feminism again declared it's independence.

Along with refusing to call out Bill or Gwen (mainly because they might need the shows to sell a book someday -- oh my!), many of the feminist leaders either sit on the boards of the 'left' magazines and radio programs or regularly raise money for them. So, for example, take a look at The Nation masthead or read who's sitting on FAIR's advisory board and ask why these feminists aren't insisting on equality?

In what many are seeing as a sign of real change, Kim Gandy's hand-picked successor was not voted in as the new president of NOW despite all of Gandy's dirty tricks and behind-the-scene stunts. It's seen as a sign that the grassroots (and some leaders) have had enough and they're not going to take any more of this crap.

A good way to find out who are the real 'leaders' is to wait and see which feminists call out the lousy representation women are getting in magazines, radio and TV.

And it's going to require real calling out. None of that nonsense Dana Goldstein offered at American Prospect in 2006. None of the "poor Gail Collins." As any feminist remotely connected to Ms. or the Feminist Majority Foundation knows, long before Dana wrote that article, Gail had sent out her nasty e-mail reply that she would not hire a female columnist to fill in for Maureen Dowd because she didn't believe in that. Dana serves up poor Gail who whines that more males submit columns than women but she doesn't tell you that Gail Collins had long ago said it was not her job when the paper's only female columnist went on a six week vacation to ensure that a woman came on board. Gail wasn't interested in that.

And it's going to require calling out bad columnists like Gail Collins. She's not any helping any woman and doesn't need to be emulated or praised. Her repeated trips into the sewer to ha-ha over sex scandals helps inform no one. If you're a woman and you have a column, you have a responsibility to raise the bar, you have a responsiblity to write about serious topics and demonstrate that, yes, despite claims to the contrary, women can handle politics, women can handle international themes, women aren't just a bunch of useless harpy gossips. We really need to call out the female columnists that give all women a bad name.

It's going to require not finger pointing at Newsweek and other mainstream periodicals. Yeah, they need to have gender parity. But how 'bout we start with our supposed friends? How about we demand and get gender parity from The Nation, from CounterSpin, et al and then, having demonstrated it is possible, we move the fight to the mainstream?

The reality is that until we can hold 'independent' media accountable and force it to change, the mainstream media's not going to listen. Their response is going to be to excuse their own sorry records by pointing to the female-run Nation magazine and noting how sorry their record for publishing women is. That's even more true of PBS and allowing it to continue to skirt its own guidelines.

2009 is when the wreckage of 2008 is cleared away. We can roll our sleeves and get to work or have another year where all women are sold out -- one by one -- by our 'leaders.'
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