President-elect Barack Obama has been on the cover of nearly every major national magazine and even a Spider-Man comic book. And last week his appearance on the cover of the latest issue of the feminist publication Ms. magazine made headlines.
The cover features a photoshopped image of Obama ripping his button-down open like Superman to reveal a T-shirt that reads: “THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE”?
Ms. magazine publisher Eleanor Smeal has stated that when she and the chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation board, Peg Yorkin, met with Obama, he said, “I am a feminist.”
Furthermore, Smeal believes that Obama “ran on the strongest platform for women’s rights of any major party in American history.”
So for her and others at Ms., the cover just made sense.
Some feminists, however, are outraged and Amy Siskind, co-founder of The New Agenda, a non partisan organization devoted to advancing women’s rights, is in that number.
In an article for The Daily Beast, she wrote:
The current vision of “feminism” is a man striking a Superman pose. Is it any wonder, then, that when The Daily Beast conducted a poll in November 2008, it found that just 20 percent of women are willing to use the term “feminist” about themselves and 17 percent would welcome their daughters using that label. The term feminism is hardly recognizable to itself at this point. It has been hijacked and corroded by those who formed the clique, excluded most of us from joining, and used feminism for their own purposes.
When interviewed by CNN Siskind said: “The problem with the cover is it’s a man standing in a Superman pose and thank you, but the women of this country can stand up for themselves.”
Other feminists say Obama hasn’t done enough to show he has women’s best interests at heart and some say the cover just rubs Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the faces of her feminist supporters.
I think Siskind makes a valid point. This image could imply that women are waiting for SuperObama to come save the day. But I think this image could be used in a very positive way to spark a valuable and necessary discourse on the role that men could and should play in women’s rights.
Most of us agree that one key to improving race relations is to increase tolerance and cultural sensitivity among majority groups. Well, doesn’t it make sense to teach men how harmful gender stereotypes can be if we want to improve conditions for women?
We teach our daughters, nieces and little sisters not to walk alone at night and even buy them an ounce of pepper spray. But we should spend just as much time teaching our sons, nephews and little brothers to respect women’s bodies, that rape is wrong and that “copping a feel” isn’t funny. It’s sexual assault.
Yes, men can be feminists. No, men like Obama should not be looked to as our savior, but they can and should be our allies in this feminist fight and I think that’s what the Ms. cover was trying to say.
What do you think?