Clear and Present Misogyny

September 20, 2007 at 11:42 pm | Posted in Culture, Historical Fiction, LIfe, Philippa Gregory, Sexual Identity | 3 Comments

Last weekend during her live web-cast, Philippa Gregory was asked on a couple of occasions which historical character she wishes she could have been. She jokingly selected Henry the VIII. In seriousness, she said that she would not want to go into the past to be any historical character before 1920 when women got the vote. More to the point, she would prefer to continue to live after the 1960s when contraception was legalized and made available. Along with many people in the audience, I don’t think that it would be that bad to go back and live as a woman who was born into some status and had strong character. After this week, I feel differently ~ society still hasn’t come far enough.

On the September 14th episode of “Real Time,” Bill Maher made some insulting, degrading, and medically inaccurate remarks about women, the role of their breasts, and their over-appreciation for the role of childbearing and its associated responsibilities. I won’t repeat what he said here. If you’re interested in reading the transcripts or seeing a video of this segment, it’s readily available on-line (it’s been removed from You Tube for violations).

Today is September 20th, six days full days after the episode aired. With the exception of the Internet’s Mommy Bloggers, there has been no other significant reporting about his remarks. Where is the outrage?

In fact now, as I published this post, not even Bill Maher’s wikipedia entry has been updated to reflect this “controversy” yet.

On the other hand, within minutes after Don Imus made his radio faux-pas, we heard of nothing else for weeks. In fact, I stopped watching CBS’ morning show because I couldn’t stand another minute of Julie Chen rehashing it with yet another “expert.” I’m not downplaying what Don Imus said at all. It was a crude comment focused on a group of minority women. Is misogyny only reprehensible under those circumstances? I hate to break it to you, but Maher’s remarks cover just about every single possible minority covered by law. Again, where is the outrage?

I would wager that if Maher had been comparing the fruits of a homosexual relationship to something “dogs can do” that he would have be tarred and feathered 10 times over with more angry crowds headed in his direction. Why aren’t there any angry crowds gathering to support all women and their roles in our society by speaking out against such a public display of misogyny? Why hasn’t HBO suspended him and his show yet? Can it be true that all of the flap about Don Imus had more to do with protecting the dignity of African American males than it did with defending the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team? I’m beginning to wonder.

So, Philippa, I’m beginning to understand what you were saying last weekend. Sure, we can now vote, own property, and use contraception. That’s all fine and good. What I would like, however, is to create and live in a society where men like Bill Maher are not given a pulpit from which to spew their misogynistic viewpoints to the entire world. Unfortunately, it is unrealistic and perhaps counterproductive to attempt to make every single human being fully appreciate all other human beings. There isn’t enough societal pressure in this entire world to keep one subset of humans from thinking and talking poorly about a different subset of humans.

I don’t want my daughters to live in a world where men, like Maher, can say such things to them. Unfortunately, I won’t always be able to protect them without the help of our corporate media. HBO, you, along with your subscribers and advertisers, can prevent those viewpoints from being telecast. Can’t you? Will you?



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  1. sorry to (politely, hopefully) dissent but…

    does your post mean you take up for the cause of breastfeeding in public? b/c, i’m a woman as well (obviously), and while i’m not yet a mother, i have every intention of breast feeding my child(ren). but NOT in public. ever. at all. and i wouldn’t consider myself the most fastidiously organized, plan-ahead kinda person, but i’m going to have to hope that i can summon enough of that personality trait to remember to pump ahead of time or just have formula on hand, in case of emergency. i really find it unnecesary and inapropriate to breast feed in public. it makes me uncomfortable when i see it.

    i don’t think anything maher said was all that cruel. i think he framed it in a way that was actually still respectful — you have a kid, great, but come on, not everyone in a restaurant has to celebrate that with you.

    maybe i’ll feel differently when i am a mother. for now i have to say i agree with maher, especially about the fact that — we have bigger things we should be crying out about.

  2. Please feel free to disagree with me. I want to know what other people think about this. I wouldn’t have written this post otherwise. Nothing’s taken personally here – unless you want to mess with my favorite books, characters, or authors! đŸ˜‰

    I actually have no feelings about breastfeeding in public whatsoever. My own experience with it was not pleasant. I had a baby who wanted to feed every 45 minutes. When she wasn’t nursing, she was screaming. I hold absolutely no warm fuzzies about it at all. There was tremendous pressure placed on me by my own mother and those oh, so dedicated breast feeding nazis. I do know that babies are unpredictable beings and while it might be nice to plan ahead and express milk or bring formula, you cannot guarantee that they’ll take a bottle. You just never know. Short of remaining in your home until you wean the child, what is a woman supposed to do? If you follow Maher, the woman who finds herself in such a position is either a just an exhibitionist in the first place or is simply incompetent.

    I can only speak from my own perspective. Although I mothered Emma from her second day forward, I did not experience any of the physical or hormonal changes that took place. Because I could not breast feed her, I never felt any of the pressures from both sides of the that war. With Allison, I felt as though I didn’t know what to do with her or myself. Thankfully I’m not a nursing mother right now. If I were, Maher’s words would have been just another hot shame to me. He would be yet another person who knew what I should or shouldn’t be doing when I didn’t. Why is it that Maher feels he is in any position to judge a new mother? Maher’s statements showcase his complete ignorance about babies and what it takes to mother them.

    That wasn’t a short answer. I do not agree or disagree with breastfeeding in public. I feel about a woman who flashes herself like it’s nothing out of the ordinary just as I would about a woman who wears next to nothing. To me, that is a completely different issue. I say leave the poor woman who does her best to keep herself and the child covered at all times alone and out of it. And, especially if you enjoy a non-nursing woman flashes some skin, keep your comments to yourself. Trust me, most women who find themselves in what feels to them like an highly uncomfortable and unintended situation do not want you to look at them or their child. The last thing I would have wanted in that situation is someone to come up to me and tell me how adorable my baby was.

    Had Maher stopped by simply stating that he did not like to see women breastfeeding in public, I could not have cared less. What I find appalling and misogynistic are the references he chose to use when righting this monologue. Perhaps others will argue, but there was absolutely nothing sexual for me about breastfeeding. I was, quite honestly, happy to have my breasts back to enjoy them sexually once that process was over. Comparing breastfeeding in public to masturbating in public is not only disgusting, but indicates to me his own feelings about women in general. There is a purpose to nursing. It is the way that nature provided mammals to sustain their young until they are able to eat solid foods. While people may not like to witness either, the purpose behind masturbation is far below that of nursing. Framing breastfeeding in such a manner forcibly strips away (pun intended) the dignity nursing mothers should have.

    I will also take issue with his comments about comparing childbearing to something “a dog can do.” True, every animal has the ability to reproduce in its own way. That doesn’t make the process for whatever species any less special or miraculous – unless you’re a cynical person I suppose. My children watch a lot of Bindi the Jungle Girl and other nature shows. We all are in wonder over what happens to create the next generation. There must have even been people who had those same feelings when Mr. Maher made his entrance.

    All of that being said, I do agree that there are bigger fires that need to be put out. Still, I find it interesting that the same was not true of three words uttered off the cuff by another talk show host. Why is it that people will fight for the dignity of some women, but not all women in general?

  3. i think you made some really great points that i didn’t consider, thank you for opening my eyes to some other angles of this debate. it’s definitely a very interesting one!

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