I’m a firm believer that everything in life is a reflection of the conversations that exist between people, groups, communities, and society at large. Things – whether tangible or not – have their origins in language, exist in cultures, and permeate society through conversation. This is evident in fashion trends, viral videos, binding acts such as marriage, projects like the World Wide Web, and even the space station. Common denominator? Language. A thought becomes a word and gains exponential traction by way of conversations. The most powerful channel we have to distribute these conversations is the media. Particularly the news media.
Lately, I’ve become acutely aware of a disempowering conversation that seems to have taken our culture by storm. I’m not sure when it started, but it’s prominence has become somewhat of an unspoken reality between men across America. It sounds something like this: “Women are crazy. C-R-A-zy.” Or some variation of that. You get the idea.
Now, let me start by saying that I have extraordinary men in my life. Men, who by definition, are nothing short of “feminists” themselves. But I’ve noticed that even they have this inherited conversation about women. The best part? That I’m crazier for not knowing that I’m c-r-azy, or for daring to think that maybe this genetic trait skipped over my DNA chain – like Passover.
I know it sounds borderline funny or as if I’m being flippant. You might even be chuckling out of recognition. Perhaps you’ve overheard this comment too? But here’s the problem, on a fundamental level this attitude continues to propagate gender disparity in our country. Perhaps the connection is not linear, but a very real demonstration of this graced the latest cover of Newsweek in the name of Republican presidential candidate, Rep. Michelle Bachmann. There’s no denying it – she looks crazy. She has been showcased in a light that depicts her as a psychiatric ward patient, not as a serious contender for the 2012 Republican Presidential Candidate.
I’d like to be clear about who my role models are. They are women like Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dr. Maya Angelou, and Gov. Jennifer Granholm. My personal ideology doesn’t necessarily resonate with that of Rep. Bachmann’s or Sarah Palin. But when you disempower one woman through an overtly prejudiced depiction – you suppress all women. And like it or not, by capturing over a quarter of the votes in the Ames Iowa Straw Poll this past weekend, Rep. Bachman has demonstrated that she’s a serious contender.
Newsweek also failed to feature former Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi on its cover. I guess it may have been easy to overlook since she’s only one of 60 people who have ever held the office of Speaker of the US House of Representatives. I’m not sure how though, especially given the fact that she’s the first woman in history to hold such a position. They certainly didn’t miss a beat when it came to Speaker Boehner. He made his appearance on the cover within days of the 2010 election. Much ado about nothing? Au contraire. The connotations here have everything to do with gender disparity. If breaking the status quo and shaping history like Leader Pelosi did isn’t news, then I’m not sure what is.
The news media is both the message and the messenger, and Newsweek’s current cover of Rep. Bachmann doesn’t speak to her qualifications – it propagates a message that women are crazy. It sends a dangerous message to young people, telling girls across America that as a woman, you don’t stand a shot.
The media is powerful beyond belief and has unimaginable reach. It can be an instrument of change and it’s high time we start using it as one.
Heidi Nel is a Senior Associate at Dewey Square Group (DSG) where she serves as a digital strategist for a variety of non-profits, start-ups and corporations. She is a New Leaders Council Fellow and a member of Step Up Women’s Network, a national network of women dedicated to strengthening community resources for women and girls. A self proclaimed feminist who loves to rock a great pair of heels, Heidi’s favorite accessory is an opinion – something that never goes out of style. This is her first guest post for Fem2pt0.