Friday, November 15, 2013
This is another post by our guest blogger Prof. Susan Apel at Vermont Law School:
At its recent convention in California, the state’s Republican Party offered campaign buttons that read: KFC Hillary Special—2 Fat Thighs, 2 Small Breasts. . .Left Wing. According to some sources, the buttons were removed after journalists noticed them. A few commentators opined against the buttons as strategy, saying that once again, Republicans appear to be beyond blind when it comes to women, despite the party’s hollow promises to erect a more gender-friendly “big tent.” Others gravitated to the sexism inherent in reducing any woman, especially an accomplished woman like Hillary Clinton, to breasts and thighs. They noted that Clinton has long been subject to such scrutiny, including the now famous and oft-quoted comments about her “thick ankles” in Carl Bernstein’s book.
Time Magazine’s recent cover shows a photo of Chris Christie in silhouette. The cover reads: The Elephant in the Room. Yes, we know that the elephant is the symbol of the Republican party—how clever! We also know that Time would not have used the word “elephant” if Christie were not obese.
If Clinton runs for president, I am certain that we will continue to see coverage of her appearance, followed by the inevitable criticism of same. “The truckload of ink” (as Susan Campbell put it) thrown at all aspects of her looks is sexist, and in a particularly pernicious way designed to attack powerful women by seeing them as body parts (in the case of the campaign buttons, sexualized body parts ) and then, for good measure, deeming the body parts as unattractive. Hillary haters –who are legion—will revel in the sexism; the rest of us will condemn it as wrong.
The Christie coverage, however, seems to present a different, if not equally disturbing, issue. Mention of his weight is not sexist. The reduction of a whole man to physical attributes doesn’t seem to offend men in the same way, maybe because other non-physical things, like intellect, are traditionally valued in men and not in women. Maybe that is why Christie seemed to easily shake off the whole issue, claiming he didn’t care about the Time cover.
But if not sexist, the coverage of Christie’s weight is still wrong, and ought to draw the same kind of opprobrium from commentators and all of us. As many others have observed, fat people remain as the accepted butt of jokes and callous comments even among the politically correct. Calling an overweight man an “elephant” is shameful behavior that should not be tolerated in the schoolyard bully much less on the cover of a national magazine. Where are the truckloads of ink (except for Jon Stewart) in his defense?