Can’t a Public Woman Just be Sexy?
Since I started out this week with an annoyed rant, I think I’ll continue it in the same vein. My discussion on Monday about wanting to be left alone to do what I want with my sexual freedom, even if that excludes some of the freedoms many of my sex-positive friends might enjoy practicing, tinted my reading of this article on BagNewsNotes.com about a Vanity Fair photo of MSNBC’s Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski, featured at the top of this post. Full disclosure: I have never once in my life watched Morning Joe. I haven’t the foggiest idea how to pronounce Brzezinski’s last name (breh-zuh-zin-skee?). Nor have I actually read the Vanity Fair article that goes along with the photo, and which I’m told focuses on Brzezinski’s flirtations and sexual tension with the show’s host, Joe Scarborough. So yeah, I’m stabbing in the dark here.
But here’s what I see when I look at this photo: a female TV personality who’s been relegated to “co-host”-dom acting a little whacky and a little sexy to get the attention of the viewer, and from the direction of her gaze, the attention of her colleague, as well. Sure, it sucks that she’s just the “co-host” who needs to try for attention, and sure, that might be because she’s a woman. Sure, there’s a subtext of, “Hey, pay attention to me!”, and that’s borne of a culture in which women often flaunt their sexuality to get that attention. But, for the love of sexy fun times, can’t a woman just goof off now and then? Be a little sexy if she feels like it?
According to BagNewsNotes, no. Especially not if the woman in question places herself within the arena of politics. Author Karrin Anderson sees this photo as unexcusably sexist. “The notion that women exist primarily for men’s amusement (both on and off the job) seems oh so Mad Men, yet the trend toward depicting public women (especially those whose jobs place them in the realm of politics) primarily as sex objects is alive and well in the 21st century. The pornification of political culture (a process in which some women participate willingly and others have foisted upon them after their image is conscripted) has depicted political candidates (e.g. Sarah Palin and Janice Hahn) and women voters (in viral videos like this one and this onefrom the 2008 campaign) as strippers…. Looks like it’s Mika’s turn. Not a stripper, you say? Well, what else do we call women who dance on tables for men’s spectatorial enjoyment?”
I see the idea here, and I don’t think it’s entirely off the mark. It is obnoxious when female politicians are painted as sex objects rather than real, thinking career-women. It distracts people from the main point of what they’re trying to do, and from their status as humans instead of vagina-bearing humans. But just as much as I resent the sexualized expectations our culture builds around political women, I also resent the idea that political women have to be 100% unsexual in order to maintain their credibility. I fucking love it that Hillary Clinton goes in front of cameras without all her makeup done and doesn’t take shit from journalists about her fashion choices–that’s badass, and an important precedent to set for other female politicians. But that shouldn’t mean that Hillary can never show a little leg or get a little flirty in a photo if she damn well pleases. Making a bigger deal out of politicians’ sexualities (male or female, gay or straight) than they need to be is a problem, but so is avoiding that problem by neutering every female politician. It’s like saying that in order for feminism to be successful–for every woman to be afforded equality–that we’d all need to learn to pee standing up so nobody can make fun of us for sitting down to pee. Well, here’s news: we all pee. And we all have sexy sides. Expecting female politicians to pretend that they don’t is just as self-defeating as treating them all as sex objects.
Can’t a woman just dance on a table now and again for the hell of it without losing face?