Why We Can’t Agree: Is the Bachmann Newsweek Cover Sexist?

Michele Bachmann's Newsweek coverTerry O’Neill from the National Organization for Women (NOW) says yes, it is. Salon’s Joan Walsh says no, it’s not. And feminist icon Gloria Steinem says it’s borderline.

Pundits are split on whether or not Newsweek’s decision to run the unflattering (we can all agree on that, right?) picture of presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was sexist.

Why is it so hard to figure out? I think  it stems from the way the media has conditioned us to think about and view women. When so many young, female characters on television are sexualized, when even the most beautiful women in the world are airbrushed, when we see too few images of strong, athletic women and when so much of our news comes from the male point of view, we struggle with what is reality, what is media manipulation, how we view other women and what we’ve come to expect of how the media views us.

And then add politics to the mix and things get even more distorted. With such small numbers of women participating in politics, the media turns the few women who do into Everywoman. Remember, for example, how a vote for Hillary Clinton was portrayed as a vagina vote, not a vote for a candidate? President Obama caught on camera calling someone a jackass was an on-air gaffe. But Carly Fiorina caught mocking her opponent’s hair was mean girl behavior. More than one man running for president from a political party is called a candidate pool. But more than one woman is a cat fight. So is it any wonder that determining whether Newsweek chose a crazy-eyed image to match a crazy candidate or whether the magazine chose to create an unstable portrait of a woman running for president, gives us pause?

What do you think? Is the Bachmann Newsweek cover sexist?

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9 comments for “Why We Can’t Agree: Is the Bachmann Newsweek Cover Sexist?

  1. August 10, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    I don’t see how it’s sexist. Does unflattering mean sexist? Isn’t it more sexist to add color to the cheeks or lips? Or smooth out the wrinkles? They didn’t photoshop her, right? There happened to be a photo in which she looks as nutso as she is.

    The cover of Sarah Palin in workout gear (twice!), I could see as sexist. (More once than the other.) And wasn’t there an outcry there? Is this going to be how women wear down the bar of crying wolf? That’s SEXIST! will be shouted out every time a woman looks less than Vogue-worthy? I thought feminism meant we could be who we are without having to fit into a particular mold – whether it’s too “pretty” or too “ugly” or whatever.

    • August 11, 2011 at 6:15 am

      The issue isn’t that Bachmann doesn’t look attractive. It’s that she looks unstable – and the Newsweek editorial team chose that photo out of possibly hundreds taking during the shoot. The media makes choices. What choices are they making when they feature a woman running for office, or running a company or even running a family? And how do those choices affect how we think about women and power?

  2. August 10, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    —I think it’s just a damn Horrible photo of Bachmann! Seriously.

  3. August 11, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    —Hello, Ladies,
    yes, I can see that now. I take back what I said earlier.
    Bachmann looks insane & unstable. Like a crazy bitch.
    YES, This is Sexism.
    Thanks for clearing this up!!!

    • August 12, 2011 at 6:35 am

      Kim, I wasn’t sure what I thought either until I started writing.

  4. August 17, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    It seems that we’ve had some pretty unflattering photos of men on covers of magazines in the past and not asked if THAT were sexist. Perhaps the constant questioning of whether or not any disagreement with any woman is sexist is, in itself, sexist.

  5. Joanne
    August 18, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    I feel that focusing on the visual appeal of Bachmann just detracts and avoids discussion about the real substance of her candidacy.

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