Did ANYONE who criticized the Ms. Magazine cover say that men couldn’t be feminists?

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Or even that Obama couldn’t be a feminist? I know I didn’t. Nor would I, in a million years. Nor did anyone else, that I am aware of. What the hell are these women talking about?

Ms. Magazine decided it could get some attention by photoshopping Obama as Superman, wearing a “This is what a feminist looks like” tee shirt and putting it on the cover. It worked. Many issues were sold. Many women feel that declaring Obama a feminist might be somewhat premature, especially since he hasn’t called himself one in public or donned a tee shirt like that in actuality (at least as far as I know) but hey, who cares, we are just a bunch of dumb girls anyway, right?

–Ann Bartow

ETA: Is Obama’s inauguration really “Christmas, Channukah and New Year’s rolled into one” as Naomi Wolf says? Must I buy gifts and send cards? [Note to the humor impaired - that was a joke. Maybe not a good one, but still recognizable as one to most readers, hopefully.]

ETA 2: It seems clearer now that the cover was intentionally designed to provoke controversy and dissent, which really isn’t what the feminism needs right now, nor will that be particularly helpful to Obama. As a result, I’ve lost a lot of respect for Ms. and the people behind it. Do they really think all the people attacking anyone who dared criticized the cover are going to become subscribers?

ETA 3:   Jezebel readers, please go here.

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0 Responses to Did ANYONE who criticized the Ms. Magazine cover say that men couldn’t be feminists?

  1. fourthwave says:

    What the heck? Of course men can be feminists and, you’re right, none of the criticisms of this cover that I’ve read have said anything to the contrary.

    Oh well. When people think they’re absolutely right about something, it’s hard for them to imagine that other people might take completely legitimate issue with that same something. I still have a real problem with the hero imagery, but I’m even more annoyed with the way some feminists who like the cover have reacted — as if they’re opinions are the only ones that matter. I’m perfectly willing to accept and understand why some people like the cover; they should be willing to accept that some people might not like it.

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  3. historiann says:

    fourthwave is right: “I’m even more annoyed with the way some feminists who like the cover have reacted : as if they’re opinions are the only ones that matter.” This is what happens when supporting a particular political candidate is imagined to be de facto evidence of the supporter’s virtue. Whenever anyone questions the policies, appointees, or bona fides of the candidate, that person is tagged as unvirtuous.

    Feminist criticism of the cover has focused overwhelmingly on Ms. Magazine’s judgment, not on Obama’s supposed feminism or anti-feminism. But many Obama supporters seem to have adopted the same hero-worship and emotional attachment to Obama that liberals criticized in Bush supporters ca. 2002-04: “You’re with us or you’re against us. You’re dangerous fifth-columnists who hate America.” Anything that looks critical of Obama, or like it might lead to critical thought about Obama, is shouted down in some quarters.

  4. vshawnt says:

    The debate over the Obama cover is opening up some old wounds for me. I’m a man who has studied and participated in feminism for a long time. It kills me that I even have to clarify that I’m a man who’s a feminist, but that’s at the root of the problem.

    Anyone who denies that there’s still a (fairly vocal and prominent, although probably not a majority) subset of the feminist community that bristles at male inclusion in the movement is not listening to the men in the movement. Female feminists must realize that in this situation, men are the minority–within the movement, that is. The “establishment” in any system can easily deny the voices of the minorities within that movement, but in doing so they act counter to the movements best interests.

    Those feminists who are largely antithetical to male prominence in the feminist movement often suggest that men are trying to take over the movement, or that they are trying to chivalristically save the movement–as if the men are acting like they’re coming in to save the day. Like feminism will somehow only become legitimate when the male establishment rides in to save the day by taking it over. That attitude has come to the fore in the debate over the Obama cover. I for one feel that this take on the cover, and male prominence in the feminist movement generally, is 180 degrees out of sync with my feelings.

    Obama on the cover of Ms. in a superman pose, wearing a “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt, is not sending the message that feminism needs to be saved by a man. It’s not projecting the patriarchal power of the superhero dynamic established throughout this genre. Rather, it’s turning that dynamic on its head. Male feminists don’t think that they are the saving feminism, they feel that feminism is saving them. We all must be saved from the hateful, narrow, and negative effects of patriarchy.

    The imagery of Obama in this pose, wearing this t-shirt, says to me that the way to become a superhero is to become a feminist. What a powerful image.

    Those t-shirts imply that feminists come in all shapes, colors, sizes, genders, and sexes. Interpreting the image as Ms. Magazine trying to send the message that Obama is the face of feminism is to deny the message at the core of that t-shirt. When someone puts that t-shirt on they are projecting their inclusion in a very broad movement. They are working to change the idea that feminism is to be identified with narrowly, because it has a narrow agenda and narrow membership.

    I concede that Obama has yet to prove that he belongs among the feminist leaders of this country, but he isn’t claiming that mantle, and this cover isn’t either. But, his life, actions, and statements certainly justify his inclusion within the movement (look at who he was raised by, who he identifies with, who he’s married to, and how he raises his daughters as a co-equal with Michelle). I hope that Obama will prove to be a strong feminist leader, and if he does he will simultaneously aid the movement while also inspiring generations of men to reconsider what being a feminist means. We’ll see, but this image is certainly a powerful symbol of what we should all be hoping for.

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  7. Ann Bartow says:

    vshawnt:
    As far as I know Obama has not called himself a feminist publicly nor actually worn a shirt like that. Ms. had to photoshop him into it.

    Why in the world would you think I’m trying to exclude Obama from “the movement”? I also hope that Obama will prove to be a great feminist leader.

  8. thebewilderness says:

    For me, the message of the cover is at odds with then Senator Obama’s theme song from the primaries, “99 problems”.
    I do not hold President Elect Obama responsible for Ms offering this slap in the face to feminists. I think they did it to make a buck, and I don’t think they care if it is divisive and dishonest.

  9. Ann Bartow says:

    I agree. I’d be very happy to see Obama honored as a great feminist in a year or so if his record supports this and he publicly calls himself one.

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  11. vshawnt says:

    Prof. Bartow,

    I didn’t mean to suggest that you personally were trying to exclude Obama from “the movement”, but rather that the discussion surrounding the Ms. cover feels tainted by an attitude that I have encountered frequently within feminist spaces, specifically, a resentment whenever men attempt to challenge discussion, critique the movement, suggest alternative strategies, or play a prominent role. There’s an vein that runs through the feminist movement that seems to take offense at male involvement at all. As if women are the only legitimate feminists and the only ones with relevant experiences and contributions. My point was simply that the debate surrounding this cover is tinged with that same caustic attitude.
    I in no way feel that your comments have inspired it, but rather that this feeling runs at some level throughout the movement. I feel strongly that this tendency must be challenged across the board if the movement is to progress.
    I agree that it is annoying that Ms. had to Photoshop this picture. I look forward to a day when Obama does where the shirt and openly calls himself a feminist. However, I think that a close look at his life, works, and words will hold up well against any standard that feminists have for men in their lives.
    Now, we’ll see if he can live up to our hopes.

  12. Ann Bartow says:

    vshawnt, so far Obama’s record is mixed, and he hasn’t appointed as many women to to his Cabinet and into other high level positions as I’d hoped. In a year or so we’ll have a better sense of whether his administration is committed to advancing the status of women. I’ll be doing what I can to make sure that women’s issues at least get his attention.

    In my experience, men who actively support feminists without trying to run things are welcome in most feminist spaces. As you suggest, however, there are often problems when men “attempt to challenge discussion, critique the movement, suggest alternative strategies, or play a prominent role.” If you don’t understand why this is so, probably best to end the conversation here.

  13. vshawnt says:

    I believe in, and fight for the feminist movement too. Your closing statement is precisely the kind of dismissive treatment that I have been referring to. If disagreements within the movement end like this, how will we ever speak to people outside of the movement and help them understand why they should work for the change we need?

    Besides, I don’t think that I said anything about not understanding where the apprehension comes from. Understanding why isn’t the problem. It’s to be expected considering what we’ve come from. But where we came from often isn’t where we want to be. Feminism grew out of a need to change what we came from into where we should be. We can understand where those feelings come from yet challenge them.

    If you’ve never served in the military but have challenged a war; if you have never been a teacher or parent but have argued for increased school funding; if you have never been poor but have fought for better economic and social policies; then you can understand that you don’t have to be oppressed to be legitimate (and legitimately prominent) in your fight against that oppression.

    The perspective of those inside, and personally impacted by oppression will always have a unique, prominent, and indispensable place in the struggle to overcome that oppression, but it should never be exclusive, and it should not be exclusionary to those who stand and fight along side of the oppressed.

  14. Ann Bartow says:

    I don’t understand our conversation to be a “disagreement within the movement.” Nor do I understand what you mean by “we.” All you have done since you arrived in this thread is lecture, hector and criticize me and other unnamed feminists. Please take your battle to be recognized as “prominent” in feminism elsewhere.