Monday, April 16, 2007

The Imus media disconnect on sexism

Is this painting Artemisia's means of brandishing
symbolic justice for herself and other victims?

I haven't posted in ages but I wanted to step away from painting to note an astute observation from Digby's Hullabaloo on Don Imus and media. Read the whole comment. After examining the media's "feeding of a nasty American Id" --a complicity that enabled Imus to smear the exemplary Rutgers women's basketball team 12 days ago, black journalist Gwen Ifill in 1993, and many others over the years--Digby highlighted an insidious issue that often gets overlooked. And it's a shame:

The blatant racism of Imus's comments was the straw that broke the camels back. Everyone recognized immediately just how wrong that was. But, we have a long way to go with the sexism issue, which was never really dealt with openly in this thing and which is so pervasive in talk radio that it's hard to know where to start.

Listen to any radio talk show discuss Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi or Rosie O'Donnell and tell me if they can stick to substantive disagreements with what they say for more than 30 seconds before they launch into an attack against their looks, their voice, their sexuality--- whatever. I dare you. When the Republican party's cleverest issue framer comes out with a shocking rhetorical clunker like this, you know that there is a serious problem:

FRANK LUNTZ: I always use the line for Nancy Pelosi, "You get one shot at a facelift. If it doesn't work the first time, let it go."

It's stupid, sexist and ultimately self-defeating. It's a recipe for a political backlash and shows just how out of touch many of our culture's most powerful men are on this issue.

But rightwing male idiocy aside, let me just say this: I would hope that no decent person of either party would ever, ever think it was ok to appear on a show where someone says things like this:

"Ain't gonna be so beautiful when the bitch got a bald head and one titty."

That wasn't some obscure rap lyric (and I'm not sure I've ever heard a rap lyric quite a horrible as that, and some of them are truly horrible.) That comment about an unnamed famous woman who had announced she had breast cancer (I think it might be Sheryl Crow) was made just two years ago by Imus sidekick Sid Rosenberg and it was recounted in Vanity Fair in January of 2006. I'm pretty sure that all his fans in the media knew all about it --- the piece featured all of them, after all. I find it completely stunning that anyone could find that "charming" or funny or entertaining, who doesn't have a real hatred for women in his or her soul. That is the very definition of misogyny. (And you can throw in a despicable loathing toward the sick and disabled too.) I'm not sure it can go any lower than that.

Yes, Digby. That's pretty low. What passes for media opinion and alleged political discourse--I say alleged as if howling qualifies--too often belittles women, especially powerful female politicians. I doubt that a predominantly African-American male Rutgers basketball team would have registered on the Imus radar.

Still more curious: Why didn't the female employees and managers of NBC and CBS rise up to condemn Imus before his racist-sexist combo bash of April 4? Where's the outrage over denigrating women that occurs in media regularly?

If I could speak to the young women of America I'd caution: Don't let the internalized misogyny of Phyllis Schlafly doormats and whining macho boys undermine the force of the U.S. Constitution and your dignity as half of the human race. It's time to stand up and say, cut the "bitch" talk. Now. Advertisers traditionally court female consumers since women account for 81% of household purchases and you can use your purchasing clout, your minds, your influence, and the law, and organize. When advertisers axed Imus out of their schedules, the network pulled the plug on his show. So get a clue, ladies.

Will the Imus incident signal a change for the better? I hope but I doubt that misogyny in America will subside until more generations of gender-blindness have evolved and after the lizard brains--male and female--have finally shut up six feet under. Color me skeptical.

For now, I'll gather my brushes and paint, doing what I can to lift my sisters up with new narratives, new imagery, and hopefully inspire future acts of justice. We've got some catching up to do.

IMAGE: Judith Slaying Holofernes, oil on canvas by Artemisia Gentileschi, c. 1620. See her Naples version for commentary and source for the quote below the above image. I mentioned Artemisia in my previous post but she deserves the extra attention as one of the world's greatest artists. Art historian Mary D. Garrard expressed in her book that Artemisia "has suffered a scholarly neglect that is unthinkable for an artist of her calibre." Indeed. I wonder why?

UPDATE: It's not just Imus.