That Ms. Cover

As no doubt the editors hoped, this cover for Ms. Magazine’s Special Inaugural Issue has generated a lot of controversy. Many feminists feel that Obama’s feminist credentials are not nearly as strong as they could be, while the cover has generated an escalation in panic-mongering and shrill we-told-you-so’s from the religious right plus a great deal more snark about Obamessianic visions and rainbow unicorns from the neocon right. As the magazine hits newstands this week, Ms. have issued a press release which casts the cover art in the role of pressuring the new administration to live up to the high expectations for feminist reforms that campaign rhetoric has created.

It’s not every day Ms. puts a man on the cover.

But in choosing the cover for our special Winter 2009 Inaugural issue—on newsstands January 27th–Ms. wanted to capture both the national and feminist mood of high expectations as the 44th President of the United States took the oath of office.

In the cover story, “Visions for Change,” feminist leaders, experts, activists and Ms. readers share their visions of how we can move forward at this extraordinary time. Eleanor Smeal, publisher of Ms., warns, “For our hopes to be achieved, we must speak out and organize, organize, organize. Ultimately, we must hold our leaders’ feet to the fire or, to put it more positively, uplift them when they are caught in the crosscurrents of competing interests.”

Several of the other features and columns explore key policy issues anticipated for early action under the Obama administration.

· Obama has promised to invest substantial dollars in early childhood education programs. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Cornelia Grumman, in the feature piece “Beyond Babysitting,” explains why children need better education before kindergarten.

· Comprehensive immigration reform is high on the president’s agenda. In the feature “Ana’s Choice,” University of California, Santa Cruz Latino/a studies professor Patricia Zavella examines the pressing need for humane immigration reform, as she takes us behind the scenes with Mexican immigrants trying to keep their families safe and intact.

· Also promised is stronger action in Afghanistan. Alisa Tang’s on-the-ground report from Kabul, “Lives on The Line,” illustrates how Afghan women’s lives have been increasingly threatened by a resurgent Taliban.

· President Obama should not overlook jobs for women in the economic recovery package, writes Ms. Money editor Martha Burk in her column “Rescue Remedy.”

Those four bolded points are issues that women in all countries, not just the USA, could get behind as policies they’d like their governments to pursue. So what are your thoughts on the cover and the controversy? Just a publicity stunt and a storm in a teacup? Or fundamentally more disturbing?

Categories: culture wars, ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, Politics

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10 replies

  1. What do I think of the cover? A clever marketing ploy to get a feminist agenda noticed and taken seriously. A bold move that appeals to me, although I don’t think that Obama has earnt his feminist t-shirt yet the lifting of the gag rule is a good start.

  2. The speech he issued on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision was also a good start.

  3. I’m really staring to feel sorry for Obama, there is simply no way he can possibly live up to all the varying expectations being put on him. The only positive outcome I can see is if he sets out a finite set of priorities where reform will be concentrated (ie. most good for the most people) but that means no special interest group, including feminists, is likely to be pleased.

  4. This is controversial, but in my opinion, controversial in a good way. People are talking. I am sure there are men out there who never realized that they could be considered feminists, and are probably considering what it takes to be a feminist man.
    I’m not entirely sure that Obama has earned his feminist cred yet. But he’s better than most (if not all) of the presidents we’ve had so far, so I can see the interest in naming him feminist. I’m reserving my judgment of whether or not he’s a feminist for awhile. I’m glad he repealed the global gag rule, but now he’s trying to get birth control price regulations removed from the economic stimulus package, which is disappointing. Now, no feminist is perfect. But I am watching him closely anyway.
    I don’t subscribe to Ms., but I did buy a copy of this issue. If for no other reason than it might be a good historical document to keep around.

  5. “I’m really staring to feel sorry for Obama, there is simply no way he can possibly live up to all the varying expectations being put on him.”
    I agree Deus and I think that part of what makes the Ms cover so clever, there’s real play on the sense that people have heroic expectations for Obama.

  6. Clever marketing and a good way of fostering discussion is my 2 cents.

  7. This is the type of thing that can’t be assessed at this point in time, but will require the passage of more time in office for Obama, and seeing what sortof policies he plans on making during his term in office. Seems a little premature to me.

  8. I’m going to hurl a kitten into this nest of moderate pigeons and say that I think this cover is an insult to feminists for a whole slew of reasons. Firstly, and most superficially, there is the impression of acceptance that a man’s feminism is going to be something clandestine (a reading that is borne out by Obama’s dumping of the suspension of the global gag rule in the Friday trash, signalling it was something he didn’t want the press to pay attention to). Secondly there is the element that Liss at Shakesville pointed out, that a man is a hero for doing the bare minimum we should expect of a decent human being.
    Thirdly, and by far the most significantly, this guy is not a feminist. I know most people feel the jury is out, but whatever your working definition of feminism I think everyone would agree that a feminist finds misogyny unacceptable. Obama gets his music from Jay-z, his economics from Larry Summers, his religion from the likes of the Revs Warren and Wright, and his speeches from Jon Favreau. Somehow this last galls me more than anything, because Favreau isn’t a powerful political player that lets us excuse Obama by invoking his ‘big tent’ or ‘reach accross the aisle’ policy. He’s a close-to-the-heart-of-the-operation senior aid. Take a minute to think again about the photo Favreau chose to put up on his own Facebook page of himself groping the breast of a cardboard cutout of Clinton. Remember that this is his boss’s Secretary of State. Think about the disrespect – sexualized, female-specific disrespect – that shows and think about Obama going ahead and confirming him as his chief speechwriter, mouthpiece of his administration.
    Sorry for the long.

  9. I’m beginning to suspect that Obama is now rubbing his hands together (possibly maniacally) saying to himself “I’ve managed to con black people into thinking I’m black, white people into thinking I’m white, Muslims into thinking I’m Muslim, Christians into thinking I’m Christian, and even feminists into thinking I’m feminist.”
    He’s probably got a fair amount of cred for claiming all of the above except the last one. Orlando is spot on: he can’t be a feminist if he’s allowed blatant misogyny to flourish in his ranks, and he has.


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