Sexist Media Images Redux

We undoubtedly are going to have some levels of disagreement about the Newsweek cover photo of Michelle Bachmann and about whether Tina Brown–by choosing an unflattering image of the candidate–was trying to grab headlines or chose to ignore a sisterhood moment.  I have to admit that Michelle Bachmann is a difficult person in general to stand up for, and I’ve been fighting my natural tendency to think that since she’s crazy it’s okay to use a photo that captures it. But, I have to say after watching the media portray female candidates in a variety of truly sexist ways, I can’t say any more than I think this is just a photo that sort’ve captures that moment when she did her alternative address to the nation after the state of the union address.  She’s dressed in a suit which is better than the running outfit photo that kept showing up all over the place for Bachmann’s tea party pal, Sarah Palin.  Bachmann’s not Photoshopped so we’re clearly aware that she’s an over-50 woman with her share of wrinkles.  There is only the title that seems a bit over the top.  That would be the  “Queen of Rage”. Still, Bachmann’s thing is being angry at every thing and every body so is that a sexist mis-characterization?

The “Queen of Rage” headline is where things get interesting. Is that accurate? To a degree, in the sense that Bachmann’s primary appeal is to the GOP’s angry wing. Her constituency is the resentful, the conspiracy-minded, the get-government’s-hands-off-my-Medicare crowd (this applies to Bachmann herself, who personally profits from farm subsidies and Medicaid payments while decrying the tyranny of government spending). If you’re looking for a sensible, experienced manager, Bachmann is not your candidate. What’s interesting, though, is that as she stokes and profits from angry voters, she is extremely careful to keep a smile on her face. If Newsweek put an unflattering picture of Sarah Palin on its cover, you can bet she’d be whining about the lamestream media and their campaign to keep her down. But Bachmann hasn’t said a thing about the Newsweek cover. She knows there’s nothing to be gained by complaining, and the controversy is actually great for her.

Fox News jumped into the fray immediately and made hay with the fact that NOW came out against Tina Brown’s choice of cover photos. This undoubtedly puts a good size notch in Brown’s journalistic belt.  Conservative blogs are all over the NOW statements. These folks had nothing to say about the treatment of Hillary Clinton, but when it’s one of their own, they immediately become politically correct.

One of presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s major political opponents is defending her against what it says is blatant sexism on the part of Newsweek magazine.

Monday, the National Organization for Women (NOW) spoke out against Newsweek’s most recent cover, which features an extreme close-up of Michele Bachmann and the title “The Queen of Rage.”

“It’s sexist,” NOW president Terry O’Neill told TheDC. “Casting her in that expression and then adding ‘The Queen of Rage’ I think [it is]. Gloria Steinem has a very simple test: If this were done to a man or would it ever be done to a man – has it ever been done to a man? Surely this has never been done to a man.”

While some have pointed out that Newsweek has used unflattering photos of men such as Rush Limbaugh and John McCain on its cover, O’Neill says that is not the issue.

“Who has ever called a man ‘The King of Rage?’ Basically what Newsweek magazine – and this is important, what Newsweek magazine, not a blog, Newsweek magazine – what they are saying of a woman who is a serious contender for President of the United States of America…They are basically casting her as a nut job,” O’Neill said. “The ‘Queen of Rage’ is something you apply to wrestlers or somebody who is crazy. They didn’t even do this to Howard Dean when he had his famous scream.”

Actually, I do think the Howard Dean scream was more over the top than this cover but then, I’m not a Fox zombie.  Here’s NOW’s statement via ABC News.

Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, disagrees with Rep. Michele Bachmann’s policies, but O’Neill told ABC News today that she believes Newsweek’s portrayal of Bachmann in this week’s issue is “sexist.”

“I think it’s sexist. She is a serious contender for the presidency of the United States,” O’Neill said in a phone interview from Washington, DC. “I don’t see a single serious male contender who has ever been portrayed on Newsweek or a similar type of magazine in that fashion.”

“It’s the combination of they snap the photo of her with her eyes very wide – people call it ‘crazy eyed’ – plus that huge label they slap on her as the Queen of Rage,” O’Neill continued. “Her policy positions are diametrically opposed to NOW’s positions and I intend to defeat her. That’s my job. But no male politician is treated this way. As much as I disagree with everything she stands for, she is a serious viable candidate for the United States presidency and there is no male viable candidate who has ever been treated this way.”

“What you’re talking about is sending a message to good women everywhere who would be wonderful presidents that they better not to step out of line, that they better not try to be leaders in the political sphere because they will be shamed – and that’s what this cover does.”

So, I want to list some reactions by feminist bloggers and women journalist on the topic.

From Slate‘s Jessica Grose:

I hate it when Michele Bachmann makes me defend her, but I’m with Loesch on this one: The Newsweek cover was unnecessarily unflattering. I doubt Newsweek would portray a male candidate with such a lunatic expression on his face. As much as it pains me to admit it Bachmann is a legitimate candidate and major magazines should treat her like one.

From Maya at Feministing:

As conservative bloggers have rightly noted, this is a sexist cheap shot. Dana Loesch says, “When your premise is an unflattering photo…to sell your bias, you just might be a chauvinist.” Michelle Malkin asks, “You’ve resorted to recycling bottom-of-the-barrel moonbat photo cliches about conservative female public figures and their enraged ‘crazy eyes?’ Really?”

Some conservatives have also argued that this is evidence of the liberal bias of the magazine–and the mainstream media more generally. But, as Jessica Gross points out, Newsweek, which ran a sexist cover of Sarah Palin in her running clothes in 2008, has portrayed almost all of the recent male Republican candidates in a serious light. Sexism: the one thread that unites the dueling biases of the liberal and conservative media!

Joan Walsh and Gloria Steinem also at Salon:

I wrote earlier today that I didn’t think Newsweek’s photo of a zealous-looking Michele Bachmann was sexist. Mainly I thought the photo was newsworthy; I also pointed to many shots of male politicians who looked similarly hopped-up.

The National Organization of Women’s Terry O’Neill disagreed, saying “It’s sexist…Gloria Steinem has a very simple test: If this were done to a man or would it ever be done to a man – has it ever been done to a man? Surely this has never been done to a man.”

Before I published my piece I emailed Gloria Steinem asking if she thought the photo choice was sexist. She got back to me after I published it. Here’s what she said:

Terry O’Neill is absolutely right about my test. About the photo, I think it’s borderline. It’s so hard for feminists to prove that we’re even-handed — because right-wing anti-feminist women so rarely do anything defensible — that this may be grasping at straws.

I think it’s grasping at straws. Conservatives kicked off the griping about the Bachmann photo, but given the ease of finding photos of Bachmann with the same otherworldly gaze, the photo was neither sexist nor politically unfair.

Alright, so you know I never put up gratuitous photos of women candidates that I consider toxic for women, children and policies that would help both women and children.  You also know that I consider myself an unabashed feminist. I just don’t know if unflattering photos come under the heading of sexism.


I had to look twice at this photo, it reminded me of some one posturing on a toilet stool,


Talk about creepy eyes!!!

58 Comments on “Sexist Media Images Redux”

  1. WomanVoter says:

    Yes, this did upset me, even though I don’t agree with any of Michelle Buchmann’s policy positions. They haven’t done anything like this to the male candidates, heck not even Osama Bin Laden:

    See, even Bin Laden wasn’t given the ‘crazed’ look.

    Then they wonder why we didn’t ‘GET OVER IT’!

  2. Robin Rogers says:

    I think Michele Bachmann is a nutjob, but I also agree Newsweek’s cover is provocative. The first thing I thought when I saw it in my mailbox is how unflattering the photo is, and how Newsweek isn’t doing itself any favors.

  3. JeanLouise says:

    Even Jon Stewart, who rarely ecognizes the most blatant of sexism, thought that this picture was over the top. He suggested hanging her with her words and, then, did so. I agree that that’s the way to reveal the real Bachmann.

    Newsweek did make fun of Romney a month or so ago by photoshopping his head onto one of the characters from the very profane “The Book of Mormon” who was in the air in a dance move.

    • WomanVoter says:

      Was that on the COVER? Palin’s photo was cut, with her facial hair showing (it is peach fuzz) but the object was to make her ugly as an ugly ‘hairy Ole lady’. I am just sick of all the misogyny, just sick of it! Who do they think gave birth to them Hairless MEN!

    • Allison says:

      I saw that Romney cover – it comes with a headline “How the Outsider Faith Creates Winners” – and his head is obviously superimposed on a shot of the actor doing a leap. His face looks normal and he’s being called a “winner”.

      I’ve seen several wild-eyed shots of Bachmann so they do seem to use those against her. HRC gets that awkward-looking photo treatment all the time. You see that much less with male politicians.

      The caption is also questionable – Queen of Rage. Maybe rage is not such a bad thing. I wish our spineless Dimocrats would show some rage once in a while.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    I don’t get what is “sexist” about the Bachmann photo. It makes her look like a religious fanatic, which she is; but what does it have to do with sexism?

    • dakinikat says:

      If you google images Bachmann you find a lot of photos like that. I think she has issues with her contacts frankly.

    • WomanVoter says:

      Did you see the other photos, this one was the worst one, and Gee, do they have to do that? Her policy positions should be enough to highlight and make points on, I am tired of the ‘Crazy Women’ bit…

      • bostonboomer says:

        I’ve seen much worse ones of Clinton. IMO, that is just what Bachmann looks like. She always has that wide-eyed look.

      • The Rock says:

        Amen BB. Not one conservative news agency or blogger mentioned the Hillary’s ‘witch’ picture, or the Hillary nutcracker that was splashed all over the net in 2008.


        Hillary 2012

      • WomanVoter says:

        I went to class and found the ‘Hillary Nut Cracker’ was there on the desk, then voiced my disappointment I was told a ‘conservative’ woman, a police woman had brought it for the instructor. SAD!

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      Yes, it seems that most of her pictures have that thing with her eyes. I bet you can even find picture of her on “approved” websites and stuff that have that same expression.

    • Valhalla says:

      jumping in the middle here — I do think the cover is sexist, but not in quite the same way as NOW or Steinem. I think it’s that it’s a pretty time-honored treatment of women to depict them as too crazy, emotional, unbalanced and so on to discredit them and bar or hinder their participation in professions, public life etc. It’s a classic stereotype that even when today isn’t always delivered in a gender-specific manner, has easy resonance with people because they’ve already aborbed and internalized the sexist predicates that make the equation work.

      I think the media’s treatment of Bachman overall is sexist in that it plays into that. But the Newsweek cover is just one instance of that, which for whatever reason is the single instance everyone is focused on. When you view the Newsweek cover in isolation, then it doesn’t seem so bad, and the arguments for sexism seem weak.

      But atomizing instances of sexism to discredit them is also a standard strategy which accomplish the same dismissal or denigration of women as a group.

      Now, I don’t like Bachman’s politics at all. But her actual political views, while extreme, are no more extreme than Huckabee’s were. Yet he was always treated overall with respect as a serious contender for the presidency. I don’t recall any cover photos of him looking insane.

      The other thing is that sexism comes in a lot of flavors. One flavor — more subtle than the outright barefoot-and-pregnant kind — is when the stated objections to a person are gender neutral but the vehemence and vitriol with which they are delivered are far greater when someone female is the focus. I think Clinton, Palin and Bachman are all victims of that particular brand.

  5. WomanVoter says:

    Thank BB for covering this.

    Where are the countless magazine covers or countless shows making fun of Boehner for crying? Where is Jessie Jackson Jr., questioning his tears… The misogyny has got to stop, it is creating a HOSTILE LIVING ENVIRONMENT!

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks WV, but Dakinikat wrote this one. And I’ve seen tons of photos making fun of Boehner crying.

      • WomanVoter says:

        Yes, I saw some, but nothing to the campaign of attacks by Obama’s campaign on Hillary. They went SICKO with misogyny on Hillary. Sorry, about the mix up, I guess I was going from one to the other trying to read catch up…it’s been a week or more for me.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Yes, they were horrible to Hillary, and I don’t recall NOW complaining about it, do you?

        • Minkoff Minx says:

          Exactly BB, I don’t remember NOW having a problem with all the horrible crap that Hillary had to deal with. Crickets over at NOW back then…

      • WomanVoter says:

        No, at that time NOW said nothing, and under the current NOW president the media all but ignored her and tried to say she was attacking Obama when she complained about the StupaK Executive Amendment…

        Do you remember the report that said the 2008 Primary Campaign set women back 24 years politically? Sad, but I do believe it has set us back.

  6. bostonboomer says:

    Here’s an interesting article on the same topic. It shows crazy-looking photos of lots of political women. Maybe it is a sexist thing.

    • WomanVoter says:

      It is, I tell ya it is…and they are attacking us all…see men hold her VERY EXACT POLICIES!

    • WomanVoter says:

      It happened to me, they sent a reporter out and I didn’t know he was bent on getting me. When I saw the picture in the front page I thought WTF…is this…when the guy was supposedly fixing his camera (photographer), he took a photo (OK, ya all know I do photography) which I was NOT aware of… The story was OK, nothing controversial, but the photo killed me. At first I thought I was being self critical, over sensitive etc, then a power house male called…to ask about the article (thought it was a good interview), but wanted to know WHO the WOMAN was in the story!?! See, I was set up, I said I didn’t know WHO the WOMAN was either…sticking to that story as from that angle and the distortion of the lens (used for wide shots of mountains) no one could tell it was me.

      Later the newspaper wanted another interview with a photo for a series of people, then it became apparent why the distortion/Hit Piece…and I refused to do it with the HIT reporter and said I wouldn’t let their photographer near me. They sent out a new photographer that I knew, that photo shoot was OK and people knew it was me.

      So, they are attacking women, they want us all to STF UP and when we don’t comply WHAMO…they turn us into wild women, ugly women, wide eyed or CRAZY women on the ATTACK even if you are only talking about buildings.

  7. paper doll says:

    It signals the power elit is done with the MB phase of the 2012 campaine. The media made her, and they will unmake her . imo

  8. Branjor says:

    The thing is that in this misogynist culture a man can be shown looking crazy, evil or whatever and that’s just him – it’s never generalized to the entire male sex, even when the behavior is fairly common in said male sex. However, when a woman, even one woman, is depicted in such a way, it hurts all women because it is taken to be an illustration of something about women and generalized to a much greater extent.

    • WomanVoter says:

      …that’s just him – it’s never generalized to the entire male sex -Branjor

      YES, case in point, we women are now all potential knife wielding psychos after Lorana Bobbit incident.

  9. Pat Johnson says:

    I wish I could feel some degree of outrage over Michele Bachmann’s picture on Newsweek but I guess it has been washed away since this is the same person who would deny another woman her rights if given a chance and continues to portray gays as perverts.

    It is not the photograph of Michele looking wide eyed and a little nuts, it is what her message to voters contains and women in particular.

    Flog me if you will, but her crazy stare is no different from the crazy statements she throws out there, some having no basis whatsoever in fact or reality. MIchele has appeared in much the same way when being interviewed. The one right after the 2010 midterm election when answering questions froim Chris Matthews comes to mind.

    She looks no different from any other wide eyed Evangelical who claims to have had messages from the hereafter.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I agree. I hope it helps keep her from getting the nomination.

      • WomanVoter says:

        Unfortunately, it will garner money into the GOP war chest, while they leave her to flutter out of in the open water…they have made their pick, she is just drawing the sharks.

  10. madamab says:

    It would be one thing if she didn’t look like that all the time, but since she does…I think it’s borderline sexist at best.

    As Dak showed, male candidates are portrayed unflatteringly all the time. The idea that they would “never” do this to a man is obviously not true. I remember seeing tons of terrible pictures of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and other Presidential males. Hell, remember when they ran with that water rabbit picture of Carter?

    Excellent post about a very touchy subject.

    • dakinikat says:

      Thanks. I skipped writing about it a few days ago because I am so tired of the Krewe of Quiterella and Bachmann apologists, but it popped up again and felt like we couldn’t ignore it. I still think Howard Dean got some outrageous treatment too. It’s the populists that really get the crazy-eyed treatment, imho; right or left.

      • Pat Johnson says:

        And how many times was Dean’s “whoop” played over and over again on every network broadcast? Too many times to count which spelled doom to his chances just from appearing a little ramped up over a victory.

      • WomanVoter says:

        I wondered about that, and wondered why the Democrats didn’t defend him…still do today. Also, the attacks on his wife were brutal and they didn’t hit back nor address the attacks. Sad, very sad… I told people, I didn’t see what they were talking about, hadn’t they been to a Bingo night with the activity director yelling out the WINNER!

      • bostonboomer says:

        Democrats defend Dean?? They were the ones who destroyed him. Robert Gibbs, who previously worked for Kerry is the one who made the ad with Osama bin Laden’s photo superimposed over Dean’s. Then Gibbs went to work for good ol’ Barack.

      • WomanVoter says:

        Sheesh, no I didn’t know that…thanks. Learn more each day.

  11. Pat Johnson says:

    Michele is the same person who wants to eliminate the EPA, refuses to tax the rich, denies climate change, and believes in Creationism as a subject to be taught in schools. She is against funding education, wants to privatize Social Security, and calls Planned Parenthood an abortionist mill. She also cites the Founding Fathers inaccurately by insisting they worked for years to eliminate slavery when the truth is most of them were slave owners themselves.

    And this woman wants to be taken seriously as a contender for the presidency. Just by opening her mouth she underscores her deficiencies and we don’t need a photograph on the cover of Newsweek to substantiate this conclusion.

  12. madamab says:

    BTW – she is NOT a serious contender for the Presidency. The Repubs will never nominate her. Not that that is an excuse for sexism, but I just had to get that off my chest. 🙂

    • Pat Johnson says:

      I don’t agree: she is a serious contender within the ranks of certain segments of the Republican Party. She may not garner the support of the Republican establishment but i don’t doubt for a moment that she is serious about her chances.

      Will she get the nomination? Probably not but it does not mean that she has any less serious claim. She has been working very hard over the last 6 months to establish herself. Could be that come Saturday and the straw poll she may have to take a backseat to Rev. Rick from Texas should he decide to join the mob but in her mind she is going as far as she can in the process.

      The money for her campaign keeps rolling in by all accounts so there are many others out there who take her seriously as scary as that is to say.

      • madamab says:

        My thinking is, if she can’t get the nomination, she’s not a serious candidate. She is the right-wing Cynthia McKinney of 2012. She may stir up a lot of fear and hatred on the left, but she hasn’t got a “prayer”.

        The GOP also will not nominate Rick Perry. He is a complete non-starter. Again, he’s a stalking horse for the wingnut lunatic fringe.

        Anyone who is nominated by the GOP will have to be able to convince the American public he’s a moderate. (You know it will be a “he,” also.) Perry cannot do that, nor can Bachmann.

        Romney, however, can, and has the experience to back that up. Plus, his hair is like totally Reaganesque, man.

        No, there will be no surprises on the GOP side. The Dem side is what is becoming interesting, IMO.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Which one could conceivably appear to be “moderate?” Only Romney (BTW, he’s not moderate), and he won’t be nominated because he’s a Mormon and the evangelicals don’t trust him.

      • madamab says:

        Totally agree Romney isn’t moderate, but his credentials are far more mainstream than any of the other Goopers. Governor of a blue state; put health care reform into effect; pro-choice at one point (probably he actually is); etc. etc.

        The GOP nominating process is much more top-down than the Dem process. In 2008, Huckabee (another whacko) was winning too many primaries, so they just stopped the election process and nominated McCain. That’s why the rightwingers won’t have a say in who gets nominated.

        My theory, anyway.

    • WomanVoter says:

      I agree with you there, they are using her to fill their WAR CHEST!

    • bostonboomer says:

      I think she’s a very serious contender. I find her far more frightening than Palin, and I think she could get the nomination. Once Perry gets in, maybe she’ll be less likely to win. I do not believe the Republicans will ever nominate Mitt Romney. He can’t get the support of the evangelicals.

  13. WomanVoter says:

    AlterNet AlterNet
    RT by MeltemArikan
    ‘Bachmann Was Inspired By My Dad and His Christian Reconstructionist Friends’ — Here’s Why That’s Terrifying

    More people should read this, but gush shucks it doesn’t have a crazy photo…policies/ideas sure are OUT THERE, but CNN nor MSNBC are covering it.

    • joanelle says:

      Wow, womanvoter – I agree more folks should read the article at your link above:

      Frank Schaeffer explains in his book Sex, Mom and God that he thinks it’s important to understand how Michele Bachmann was so influenced by his father Francis Schaeffer, as described by the New Yorker Magazine filling in what the New Yorker left out.

      Most Americans have never heard of the Reconstructionists. But evangelicals have felt their impact through the Reconstructionists’ profound (if indirect) influence over the wider (and vast) evangelical community.

      Take Michele Bachmann. She is a Reconstructionist, schooled – literally – by some of that obscure movement’s leading thinkers, including my father.

      Anyone who wants to understand American politics, not to mention North American religion, had better get acquainted with the Reconstructionists. For instance these folks just held America hostage in the debt crisis, an attempt to – literally – destroy the government’s ability to function at all a manufactured “crisis” in which Bachmann was a leading proponent of scorched-earth, destroy the system “politics.”

  14. Pat Johnson says:

    Perhaps if more people had snickered over the photos of Hitler with his teeny tiny mustache and his beady little eyes the world might have been a different place.

    We can argue over media treatment of gender specific candidates but if the message is as hate filled as some of them seem to be I maintain it is “open season” regardless of who is or who is not wearing a skirt.

  15. Pat Johnson says:

    Rick Perry is going to stomp on all the other candidates when he finally enters the race. The GOP establishment just “loves him”.

    Although painted as “weird” in some corners, Romney at least is not as batshit crazy as Bachmann or Santorum. But Rick is “acceptable” to most of the Establishment and the Tea Party so I have a hunch that he will capture the nomination and possibly bring Michele onboard as his female v p candidate. Be still my beating heart!

    It will be about then that my head will explode all over the screen.

  16. Linda says:

    I think the use of the word “rage” is a convenient assignation – a two birds with one stone sort of thing. I have rage, but I’m not on her side of the political spectrum. If you can contribute to the idea of Tea Party craziness, then you can deflect inquiry into who else might have it, why, and turn the herd.

  17. joanelle says:

    Frankly, when I first saw her picture, I didn’t know what people were so upset about, because it just looked like Michelle -the way I’ve always seen her – she’s a real wingnut, looks like one, talks like one and will, if given the chance, lead like one. 😯

    • janicen says:

      I agree, joanelle, when I first saw the picture, I could not understand what all the fuss was about. I do think the “Queen of Rage” title was over the top.

      Speaking of covers, my blood boiled when I saw a Time Magazine cover in the grocery store about “Chore War”, the subtitle says,“Let it go. Make peace. Men and Women, it turns out, work the same amount.” I refuse to buy the magazine to read the article, but I don’t really need to read it to know that the statement is ridiculous.

  18. paper doll says:

    MB is only serious if the powers that be decide to use her to bring on Barry part 2
    Which seemed the case just a short time ago. However lately it seems they don’t want
    that….so Perry is suddenly the golden one . If they nominate Perry , they want Obama gone
    and MB will be a trivia answer…in the 2012 campaign…like the Donald.

  19. Valhalla says:

    Also, not to particularly defend NOW, but they did call out some of the media sexism directed at both Clinton and Palin in ’08. They totally fell down on calling out Obama and his Attack Dogs of Misogyny (ie, most Dems). Just to be accurate.

  20. WomanVoter says:

    Michele Bachmann tries out a local delicacy at the Iowa State Fair – a foot-long corn dog. Photo: Toby Harnden

    OK, I don’t agree with her policies, but honestly exactly what is the message here?