My gut reaction when I saw the cover of Newsweek with Sarah Palin in her tight runner’s shorts, coyly posed in that former beauty queen stance, I was ready to throw something heavy at editor-in-chief Jon Meachem.
Looking at the impact that the former Alaska Governor is having on the political world now is fair. Putting her on the cover of a major news magazine in a tight, revealing outfit makes me wonder — would they do this to any notable woman given the chance?
The buzz on the cover story has been mixed. The Women’s Media Center, which created a video during the 2008 presidential campaign entitled, “Sexism Sells, But We’re Not Buying It,” issued a statement saying:
[We] strongly object to Newsweek’s cover featuring Sarah Palin in short shorts and a fitted top. It is clear that, under pressure to be provocative, Newsweek is using Sarah Palin as a pin-up girl to sell magazines.
Like all political figures, Palin’s record, policies and performance should be subject to rigorous media critique. However, The Women’s Media Center opposes media coverage focused on her appearance and sexuality. This positioning of Sarah Palin undermines any serious analysis of her role as a national political figure.
What Mr. Meacham and his colleagues fail to realize is that, by portraying Sarah Palin in this light, they have added an additional barrier for all women and girls who aspire to political leadership. It is no coincidence that women make up only 17 percent of Congress while comprising 51 percent of the nation’s population.
What about Palin’s role in this? Clearly, she must have thought this was a perfectly legitimate way to portray herself and, as a mother of daughters, must not be worried about what message she’s sending by posing in what used to be called “hot pants,” even for a runner’s magazine.
I hold publications like Newsweek to a higher standard, though. I don’t want my fourth-grade daughter to get the idea that the road to political office is paved with short shorts, a suggestive pose and lots of eye makeup. Or that for a woman politician to be on the cover of a major magazine, this is what you’ve got to do.
For me, the bigger issue is the cumulative effect. It’s not just about Palin looking like a sexy runner in Newsweek. It’s also about portraying Michelle Obama as the shy party girl on the cover of Glamour and the brouhaha over Hillary Clinton’s cleavage. It’s about looking at the bigger picture and asking, “Is it ever OK?”
Newsweek is using sex to sell magazines. It’s no secret that Newsweek is in financial trouble, so it’s no leap to assume that hoping to sell more magazines was one of the considerations in choosing the cover photo.
At the end of the day, the question shouldn’t be whether Palin deserves this treatment because she’s the one who allowed the photo to be taken and whether she set herself up (again) to be viewed as the victim, even though the original photo was for Runner’s World. The bigger issue really is about all women. Because if the media thinks it’s OK to undercut and minimize high profile women with the use of a photo like this, then what would make them stop when it comes to how they write about and cover the rest of us?
When they call us “mommybloggers” as a way to belittle our writing or tell us not to worry our little heads about whether we get our mammograms at 40 or 50, it’s all a form of sexism, just as the use of this photo is.
Part of me does feel like Palin deserves what she gets. But if I don’t want to be on the receiving end of that same sexism, then don’t I have an obligation to speak up when it happens to her, even if she had some role in it?