Monday, May 7, 2012

Bachmann and Palin: Media Attention to Physical Appearance and Sex Appeal

As noted in a prior post last fall, I’ve been disturbed by what I perceived to be a lack of respect in the mainstream media for Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin’s intelligence.  Not only do I think there is a double standard about female candidates’ intellect, I’ve also been disturbed by disproportionate media attention on Bachmann and Palin’s physical appearance. 

I haven’t heard a lot of that emphasis on physical appearance in the news media, but it has been a reoccurring theme in the entertainment media.  (However, I have noted in the past that the two are often hard to differentiate these days.) 

Last summer in particular, whenever I caught the opening monologue of late night comedians, the physical appearance of Bachmann and/or Palin seems to garner more attention than I would have expected.  I don’t even watch such programs very often, but I’ve heard Jon Stewart, David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel all make comments that I found to be offensive about Bachmann and/or Palin’s appearance.  I’ve heard the term “hot” used to describe them, as well as similar terms denoting their physical attractiveness.  I’ve also heard them referred to with the word “babe.”  Such characterizations are disturbing to me on many levels.

First, Bachmann and Palin are politicians who have been considered for the presidency.  Neither Representative Bachmann nor Governor Palin has hit the campaign trail to win a beauty pageant or a wet t-shirt contest.  Their intelligence, leadership abilities and vision for the country should have been the focus.  Their physical appearance should have been irrelevant, so I’m amazed that it even got noticed.

Second, I cannot help but notice that these late night talk show hosts are all male and they are apparently heterosexual.  So, I find it quite depressing that through their lens a woman can be so easily diminished to nothing more than a sexual being.  Haven’t we evolved to be a little more sophisticated view than that?  Apparently not.  That depresses the heck out of me.

However, it is also sad to me that even speaking out against such sexism is immediately suspect to many in our society.  Indeed, many may read this very post and dismiss these concerns out of hand.  Lighten up. They are just jokes.  What a tight ass. 

Such dismissive reactions fail to appreciate the gravity of such pop culture references.  Sadly, many people look to such comedians as news sources.  Even those who do not are often greatly influenced (even unconsciously) by the joking characterizations of such comedians.  Such jokes send the subtle message that women like Bachmann and Palin are just sexual objects and don’t count for much else.  They are not real politicians.  They aren’t to be taken seriously in campaigns.  How outrageously demeaning such attitudes are.

To anyone who might be inclined to think of such pop culture jokes as harmless fun, I would encourage you to reflect on whether you would feel the same if they were used against someone other than Bachmann and Palin.  What if your mother, your sister, your wife, your daughter or your niece were running for political office and was publicly characterized in such terms—emphasizing only her physical appearance and not her intellect and beliefs?  Would you want your mother, sister, wife, daughter or niece to be referred to as a “babe”?  Would you want to hear strangers describe her as “hot”?  Would that contribute to the dignity of her political campaign?  Would it encourage voters to take her candidacy seriously or would it invite them to view her campaign as a joke?

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

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