Before reading this article, open this link to this picture and guess what has got conservative bloggers all up in arms about a blatant sexual display for the benefit of Bill Clinton. Can’t see anything obvious? Join the reality-based club.
Background: A group of liberal polibloggers were invited to meet with ex-President Bill Clinton for lunch and a low-key brainstorm on policy and blogging. When first reports and photos were released, a few people noticed there weren’t any bloggers of colour there, and the impression this gave and the reasons why it happened without being corrected were starting to be debated.
Enter Ann Althouse, an “ex-liberal” law professor and blogger, who looked at a picture of the smiling group at the lunch meeting, noticed that a young woman with long dark hair was standing in front of Clinton, and made a sniggering allusion which didn’t actually mention Monica Lewinsky, as she knew damn well that her commentors would pick it up. They didn’t disappoint her, and the sniggering rose to Beavis and Butthead levels in short order, especially as they noticed that the young woman had taken her breasts to lunch along with the rest of her, noticeable only because her modest knit-cotton top was pale against a background of dark clothing.
The blogger in question, Jessica Valenti, runs the popular progressive news-clearing-house blog for young feminists, Feministing. She is also NARAL’s in-house blogger, has had articles appear in the Guardian and Salon, and has a book coming out next year, which achievements are why she was invited to the lunch. She dropped into Althouse’s comment thread and gently complained about the emphasis on her appearance, and Boom!
Althouse went nuts about Jessica’s breasts, apparently because they were so close to Clinton, with her commentors cheering her on. She justified this by accusing Feministing of using sex to attract readers and Jessica of being a “breastblogger” on the basis of an ironic subverted icon on the masthead and an ad for a women’s shirt in which (you guessed it) women’s breasts are visible, so therefore obviously Jessica must have been displaying her breasts to titillate Clinton.
And for good measure, Althouse thinks any “so-called” feminist who would want to meet Clinton is a hypocrite because of those sexual harassment allegations, though this is a fairly transparent dodge to avoid addressing the original misogyny of her first remarks against Jessica. A longer timeline and round-up of links reporting the whole idiotic attack is at new Aussie feminist blog/online mag The Wo! Front.
How mean-spirited of Althouse to ruin the pride of a young person in being invited to meet the ex-President because she has made her voice heard with her writing and activism. As if most people wouldn’t be flattered to be invited and fascinated at the opportunity to see what the man was really like, whether they admired him or not. But again, the issue is that people saw a photo of a young, attractive woman at a political function and immediately sexualised her presence there, not even noticing that they were dismissing the idea that she could have intelligent and considered opinions to offer at such a meeting.
This kind of incident is a perfect example of how so many people see women””especially young women. We’re there to be ogled or ridiculed. We have nothing else to offer.
Most commentors on Althouse, even the ones who look down on crass intern jokes, still don’t get her objections. She dressed so that her breasts were not hidden (she was covered from neck to toe, and the top had sleeves, but by jingo, they still set off the boob-radar), therefore apparently she should just expect them to be commented on by anyone who feels like it. You should have expected it, don’t deny you were sexed up, get over it is the gist.
A whole lot of these guys (they’re nearly all guys) keep on stating variations of the “if women dress sexy, they should expect sexual comments” thing. Apparently, any clothing which doesn’t camouflage breasts, and any posture which doesn’t slump over them to de-emphasise them, indeed any time we don’t pretend we don’t have breasts is flaunting our breasts at men in a flagrant sexual display.
According to these prime exemplars of sexual etiquette, men (poor put-upon things) apparently have no other choice when they see breasts that are young and firm (let’s save the sexual invisibility of older women for another time) than to let the owner of those breasts know that they have been seen and judged, and any women who expects men to control their responses to breasts in a mannerly fashion is utterly unreasonable and imposing unrealistic expectations on men. Because men’s right to make women feel embarassed about their tits trumps all other rights.
My response to one of these guys in the Feministing thread linked above:
It's a simple actions have concequences sort of thing.
tigtog: We should accept “concequences” any time we don’t actively hide our breasts?
Just because someone becomes sexually aroused by someone else’s body doesn’t give one the right to assume that
(a)that was the intent;
(b)letting that person know of your arousal is polite, let alone expected;
(c) any response is owed to you simply because of your arousal.
Guys who make big displays about being physically aroused by women walking by are simply jerks, engaging in behaviour that any adult could control, except that they don’t want to, because they get off on shaming women.
Don’t like getting called out for getting off on shaming women? Stop doing it then.
It really isn’t up to women to hide ourselves away, fellas-like-Tony above. There’s nothing wrong with feeling sexually attracted by some woman’s breasts as she walks by. There’s a lot wrong with thinking that a rush of blood to your groin gives you the right to interrupt a woman’s day to make her aware of the fact.
Get over the boobies. Sure they’re nice and all, but there are times and places to make your appreciation known, and confronting a stranger going about her own business with your appreciation is neither the time nor the place. Having women be unaware that you like the look of their breasts will not kill you: showing some basic manners is not going to make your dick fall off. Grow up.
PS: Jessica’s putting out a shirt captioned “these breasts are made for blogging”, of which a portion of the proceeds will go to breast cancer charities. Way to go.