Author: Clinton, Palin Coverage Tainted by Gender Stereotyping

Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were the Target of Gender Stereotyping during the 2008 campaign

On Tuesday, Kathleen Hall Jamieson–a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and author of several books on politics and the media (including Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment and unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation)–spoke at Fountain Street Church in downtown Grand Rapids on the topic of women and politics in the 2008 election. Jamieson spent the majority of her talk looking at the how the two most prominent female candidates–Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin–were portrayed in the media.

Two Candidates, Two Different Ways of Portraying a Laugh

In the beginning of her talk, Jamieson asked the audience to think of a front-running candidate in fall of 2007. A candidate who had raised substantial amounts of money. A candidate who was from New York. That candidate also had an eccentric laugh. The candidate had a tendency to laugh when asked a tough question.

Jamieson–who showed video clips to backup her claim–said that this description could have fit either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Rudy Giuliani.

However, the media only made a story out of Hillary Clinton’s laugh, dubbing it a sign of “in authenticity” and a “cackle.”

Jamieson argued that this was a result of a gender stereotype and bias in the media. The reporting drew on a lexicon of dismissive language–i.e. a “cackle” that originates with female witches–that is used in a gendered way. She cites other examples such as “shrill,” “strident,” “harpee,” and “bitch”–all of which can be used to dismiss women.

Clinton Faced Pervasive Gender Stereotyping in 2008 Campaign

Kathleen Hall Jamieson argued that Hillary Clinton faced almost constant gender stereotyping in the 2008 campaign.

She shared several video examples with the audience, among them a clip in which a John McCain supporter asks McCain “How do we beat the bitch.” Jamieson explained that the referent is assumed and that there is an underlying assumption that this is appropriate. She asked the audience to consider why it was that nobody asked if it was appropriate to refer to a Senator this way and contrasted it the national discussion that followed other instances of inappropriate language use.

This was just one example of numerous sexist lenses used to cover the campaign. Jamieson said that Clinton was subject to a double-standard of evaluation. For example, MSNBC host Chris Matthews described a speech as “charming” and said that she was only a Senator because people felt bad for her. At other times, she was portrayed as a “nagging wife” and a “scolding mother.” Jamieson said that these portrayals all went back to a “residue of past discrimination” against women.

Jamieson said that gender stereotyping had a backlash before New Hampshire when after a week that including Clinton having an emotional moment on television, being confronted by protestors yelling “Iron my Shirt”, Obama saying that Clinton was “likeable enough”, and John Edwards saying Clinton wasn’t qualified–women changed their minds and voted for her.

Sarah Palin Faced Similar Treatment

When sexism and media coverage are discussed in terms of the 2008 election, much of the discussion tends to be dominated by progressives looking at the treatment of Hillary Clinton. However, Jamieson reminded the audience that Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin was subjected to similar treatment.

Like Clinton, Palin was sexualized by the media (particularly on the Internet) and made into an object of desire rather than a serious political candidate (examples would be Photoshopped images and popular references to her as a “VPILF”). Jamieson argued that this had the practical effect of removing them from the debate as candidates.

Palin was also subjected to a host of questions about whether or not she could be both a candidate and a mother, or a vice president and a mother. Obama was never asked such questions, despite the fact that he had two kids who he would be raising in the White House.

Headlines: Obama Signs Fair Pay Act; Israeli Peace Offer Would Maintain Settlements

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Obama Signs Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

President Obama has signed his first piece of legislation into law, reversing a Supreme Court ruling that blocked women from filing pay discrimination lawsuits. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is named for a female employee of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company who was paid 40 percent less than male colleagues doing the same job. Ledbetter lost her suit against Goodyear after the court ruled she did not file a complaint on time.

President Obama: “This is only the beginning. I know that if we stay focused, as Lilly did, and keep standing for what’s right, as Lilly did, we will close that pay gap, and we will make sure that our daughters have the same rights, the same chances and the same freedoms to pursue their dreams as our sons.”

Obama Denounces “Shameful” Wall Street Bonuses

Meanwhile, President Obama has criticized Wall Street following news financial executives received an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses last year. The average payout amounted to $112,000.

President Obama: “When I saw an article today indicating that Wall Street bankers had given themselves $20 billion worth of bonuses, the same amount of bonuses as they gave themselves in 2004, at a time when most of these institutions were teetering on collapse and they are asking for taxpayers to help sustain them, and when taxpayers find themselves in the difficult position that if they don’t provide help, that the entire system could come down on top of our heads, that is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful.”

Although bonuses declined from 2007, the $18.4 billion equaled the same amount paid in 2004.

Reps.: Cancel $400M Stadium Naming for Taxpayer-Rescued Citigroup

Meanwhile, here in New York, Major League Baseball’s New York Mets are facing calls to cancel a $400 million stadium naming rights deal with Citigroup. Congress members Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Ted Poe of Texas are demanding the annulment of a contract naming the new Mets stadium CitiField. Kucinich said, “It’s totally unacceptable that Citigroup should be able to spend $400 million in naming rights when they’re the recipients of a massive federal bailout.”

Lobbyists Grossed Record $3.2B in 2008

A new study has found the lobbying industry pulled in record amounts last year. The Center for Responsive Politics says special interest groups paid lobbyists $3.2 billion in 2008, the most ever on record, and a 13 percent increase from 2007. The total amounts to more than $17 million for every day Congress was in session last year. More on lobbying later in the broadcast.

Senate Backs Child Healthcare Expansion

The Senate has passed a measure expanding government health insurance for low-income children. The $33 billion State Children’s Health Insurance Program measure would be funded in part by a tax increase on cigarette packs. The House passed its version of the SCHIP expansion earlier this month. Former President George W. Bush twice vetoed similar measures, but President Obama has vowed to sign it into law.

Blagojevich Removed From Office in Unanimous Impeachment

In Illinois, Governor Rod Blagojevich has been removed from office in a unanimous impeachment vote. On Thursday, the state Senate voted fifty-nine to nothing to impeach Blagojevich for abuse of power. Blagojevich was indicted last year on bribery and wire fraud charges. The allegations included trying to sell President Obama’s vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder. The impeachment vote came shortly after Blagojevich ended his boycott of the proceedings and tried to plead his case.

Rod Blagojevich: “There is no evidence before your body here that shows, no evidence that there was any wrongdoing by me as Governor and, again, if you give me a chance to bring witnesses in, I can show you that I didn’t do anything wrong. I did a lot of things that were mostly right, and that some of the things that are said about me are simply not true.”

Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn has taken over from Blagojevich as Illinois governor.

Israeli Peace Offer Would Maintain 230,000 West Bank Settlers

The Israeli government has admitted its most recent peace offer to Palestinian negotiators would still leave more than 200,000 Jewish settlers in the Occupied West Bank. The offer was made in talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In meetings with U.S. envoy George Mitchell, both Olmert and Abbas confirmed the Israeli offer would remove just 60,000 settlers of the two hundred ninety-thousand in the West Bank. The remaining 230,000 settlers would stay in the large settlement blocs that nearly cut the West Bank in half. Not a single Palestinian refugee would be granted the right to return to their former home in Israel. Palestinians were offered an equal amount of Israeli land in return and shared sovereignty over parts of East Jerusalem. But the settlements are widely considered illegal under international law and a non-starter for many Palestinians. Palestinian negotiators reportedly refused a demand to sign off on the deal that would then be handled by the winner of the upcoming Israeli elections.

Israeli PM Promises “Maximum Settlers” on Palestinian Land

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leading polls and has rejected any territorial concession to the Palestinians. And even though the offer would still ensure Israeli control over key settlement blocs, Netanyahu’s opponent, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, has distanced herself from the proposal as being too generous. Livni said: “I will advance only an agreement that represents our interests. Maintaining maximum settlers and places that we hold dear such as Jerusalem-not a single refugee will enter.” Meanwhile, Mitchell continued his Mideast tour with meetings in the Occupied West Bank. On Thursday, Mitchell sat down with Abbas in Ramallah.

Middle East Envoy George Mitchell: “To be successful in preventing the illicit traffic of arms into Gaza, there must be a mechanism to allow the flow of legal goods and that should be with the participation of the Palestinian Authority. President Obama has also underlined our commitment to a better future for all Palestinians, whose legitimate aspirations for an independent and viable state should be met.”

Report: Israel Hid Settlement Data

Mitchell’s visit comes amidst reports the Israeli government has deliberately hid its own data showing rapid construction in West Bank settlements. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports an internal government survey found construction in three out of four settlements was conducted without proper permits and in many cases on private Palestinian land. The Israeli group Peace Now said this week settlement expansion grew fifty-seven percent last year. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas told Mitchell that Israel’s blockade of Gaza and its expanding West Bank settlements are the main obstacles to peace.

Saeb Erekat: “For the Israelis to continue their settlement activities, and at the same time to continue trying to separate between the West Bank and Gaza, because we believe that the Israeli attacks and aggression-one of the objective is to keep the West Bank separated from Gaza, and this cannot stand. The West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem are a single territorial unit, that’s the territory of the Palestinian state, and we will spare no effort, as President Abbas told Mr. Mitchell, to pursue with the assistance for our Egyptian brothers, the path of national reconciliation.”

Mitchell won’t be traveling to Gaza as the Obama White House continues the Bush administration’s boycott of the democratically-elected Hamas government. In Gaza, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh urged Obama to break with Bush policy.

Ismail Haniyeh: “To build relations, as President Obama said, with the Arab and Islamic world stemming from mutual respect and mutual interests, we say the gate to this relationship with our Arab and Islamic world is from Palestine, from the Palestinian cause and from the need of a change in the US policy when it comes to the Palestinian rights and their suffering.”

UN Launches Gaza Appeal

The UN meanwhile has launched a new humanitarian appeal to help rebuild Gaza and aid victims of the Israeli attack. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon spoke from the gathering of business leaders in Davos, Switzerland.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon: “The population were already vulnerable because of so many months of severely restricted supplies. That is why humanitarian special appeal for Gaza that we are announcing today is so timely and so important. With the help of this 630 million dollar appeal the United Nations and other aid agencies can jump into action to help the 1.4 million civilians in the Gaza strip to recover.”

Turkish PM Walks Out of Panel With Israeli President

In other news from Davos, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walked out of a panel discussion Thursday after a heated exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Erdogan had tried to respond to Peres’ defense of Israel’s attack on Gaza.

Israeli President Shimon Peres: “What is there to fight? So the ceasefire is, as far as Israel is concerned, it is not a problem for us. We have never started, we shall never start fire, and when they fired against us we replied but after a great restraint, and thousands of people were killed too. They weren’t killed in a concentrated manner, so what?”

Erdogan tried to respond but was cut off by debate moderator, Washington Post reporter David Ignatius. But he later angrily continued his response.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “You killed people. I remember the children who died on beaches, and I remember two former prime ministers in your country who said that they felt very happy when they were able to enter Palestine on tanks. Now, those are former prime ministers who have said that they have been very satisfied with themselves when they entered the Palestinian territories on tanks and I find it very sad that people applaud what you have said because there have been many people who have been killed and I think that it is very wrong and not humanitarian to applaud any actions that have had that kind of a result.”

Iraq Seeks Blackwater Replacement

In Iraq, the State Department is searching for a replacement to the private military company Blackwater Worldwide. Iraq announced this week it won’t renew Blackwater’s license to guard U.S. personnel and installations. The U.S. says it will comply with the order and has already spoken to the companies Dyncorp International and Triple Canopy. Five Blackwater guards were charged last month for the September 2007 mass-shootings of seventeen unarmed civilians in Baghdad’s Nissour Square.

French Workers Hold Nationwide Strike

In France, more than a million workers took to the streets nationwide in a general strike against the French’s government’s response to the global financial crisis. The strike was the largest in Western Europe to date since the crisis unfolded last September. Critics say French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s $33 billion recovery program has favored banks over workers.

Latin American Leaders Criticize U.S. at World Social Forum

In Brazil, the ninth World Social Forum continues in the Amazon city of Belem. On Thursday, a panel of Latin American presidents criticized the U.S. for its role in the financial crisis and its double standards in allowing massive state intervention in financial markets. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa spoke alongside Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo, and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa: “The guilty parties in the crisis try to give lessons on morality and good economic handling. The most powerful people on the planet have united to find a therapy for the dying. They’re getting together–the central bankers, the representatives of the large financial firms, the people primarily responsible for the crisis.”

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is also attending the forum, choosing to boycott the gathering of business leaders in Davos, Switzerland.

Army Suicides at Record High

Back in the United States, suicides amongst U.S. troops have increased to a three-decade high. Pentagon officials say at least 128 soldiers took their own lives last year. The final tally could be higher as more than a dozen other deaths are still under investigation. It’s the highest total since record-keeping began in 1980.

RNC Protester Accuses Informant of Entrapment

In Minnesota, jury deliberations have begun in the case of a protester accused of making Molotov cocktails during the Republican National Convention. The case has attracted further scrutiny after it was revealed a key government witness is Brandon Darby, a long time activist turned FBI informant. The accused protester, David Guy McKay, says he fell victim to entrapment. McKay says Darby came up with the idea for the firebombs and encouraged the activists to make them.

10 Arrested Blocking AIPAC Gala

And here in New York, activists opposed to the U.S.-backed Israeli assault on Gaza disrupted a gala event last night put on by the lobby group AIPAC. The demonstrators chained themselves together to block two entrances at the Marriott hotel. Police forced them apart by burning off the chains with blow-torches. Ten people were arrested.

Speakers Deliver Compelling Talk on Race and Gender and their Relationship to Animal Advocacy

Vegan Speakers on Race and Gender at Calvin Animal Rights Event

Friday and Saturday, Calvin College held their third annual Wake Up Weekend! event hosted by the College’s Philosophy Department and a variety of student groups. The weekend featured a number of speakers addressing animal advocacy issues, including oft-neglected issues of race and gender and how those topics relate to animal rights. While the vegan brunch and chili cook-off was great, this talk was the highlight of the weekend for me!

Thinking and Eating at the Same Time: Reflections of a Sista Vegan

Michelle Lloyd-Page, Dean for Multicultural Affairs at Calvin College, shared stories of what it means to “eat like a vegan” as an African-American woman, and the stumbling blocks and victories she has faced in her own community and family.

Living in Muskegon Heights, a predominately Black community, Lloyd-Page spoke of not only the availability of vegan food and organic produce, but also what it means to make the choice of rejecting meat and dairy products. She explained that for many low income African-American families, like those in her neighborhood, being able to work enough to afford such a luxury as chicken, is a large step. When many families see this as a luxury, telling them what they can and can’t have is an action directly tied to race, privilege, and education.

She went on to explain that people of color often make the assumption that becoming vegan is just as simple as cutting something out of your diet and then replacing it with vegetables and other healthier plant-based alternatives. The problem with this approach, she has learned through experience, is that you are taking away their perceived “staples” and long-standing traditions associated with them such as various Soul Food dishes. This is problematic for white people to not only think it’s only a matter of simplicity associated with a vegan lifestyle, but also to deny the strong cultural and identity ties to meat eating, as well as saying “I’m telling you what you can and can not eat”, when African-Americans have been told that by white people for generations.

Beyond cultural associations to meat, Lloyd-Page also talked about what it means for her and how it feels to be a Black woman and be vegan. For example, popular conceptions of veganism almost always exclude people of color. She explained that if this movement wants to reach out to other people, we have to have these conversations about race and even gender, otherwise it will stay white. In turn, she spoke about her own experiences in her community of being accused of trying to be white, be better than everyone else, be perfect, and leaving her own traditions and roots – something that most white vegans may have not even considered before.

While race is often ignored by the animal rights movement, Lloyd-Page spoke with insistency that our approaches in engaging in conversations about veganism have to be careful but can be done successfully. She explained that we have a problem when “white college kids will save a chicken, but not a starving child.”

For example, telling someone they should eat something outlandish that they have never heard of and can’t find in their neighborhood, might not be as good of an approach as making traditional recipes vegan and talking about the many health benefits of becoming vegan.

Lloyd-Page concluded her portion of the panel by explaining that all oppressions are linked together and that we cannot just fight animal cruelty alone, we have to fight them all or else we are not acknowledging their connections, thus allowing them to continue.

“Speciesism, Sexism, and Racism: The Intertwining Oppressions”

The second panelist, Nekeisha Alexis-Baker, recent graduate of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and co-founder of Jesus Radicals, was segued nicely by Lloyd-Page’s closing remarks on the importance of recognizing the interconnectedness of the oppression of people and animals.

Alexis-Baker began her presentation by showing a projected picture of herself smiling and holding a baby raccoon, Edward, she had rescued and became friends with. She told of her own experience with Edward as teaching her how we treat non-human animals and what that implies of our society in general. She discussed the ideologies of racism, sexism, and speciesism, and how they all use a process of “othering” which not only allows for the mistreatment of animals and humans, but makes this classification socially acceptable.

During this discussion–through the lens of slavery–Alexis-Baker went on to incorporate the mistreatment of women as well. Through images she explained the level of desensitization our culture has adopted when it comes to cruelty, the many forms it takes and ways it is carried out, the legacy of the past, and how that has allowed us to glorify this mistreatment.

An example that was discussed was the comparison of African-American slaves to cattle. She explained the acceptability of shackling, branding, whipping, and breeding slaves was due to the fact that they were seen as the equivalent of cattle–solely raised for consumption by white people, particularly white males. This is especially true in the case of lactating Black women who continued to be wet due to nursing their own children and being forced to feed their “master’s” children as well. Alexis-Baker strongly stated that here there was no difference in the status of a Black woman, nor the status of a cow, because clearly they were both being bred and used to be subservient to their “master”.

In addition to this cattle/slave relationship, she also highlighted the fact that this “situation”, if it could even be simplified as such, of people of color who have been dominated by white men, could not even be considered oppression at the time, because only humans can be oppressed, and the status of a slave was below that–it was one of a non-human animal.

The link between slavery and the mistreatment of non-white humans today, to the mistreatment of animals was explained wonderfully and described in the most “easy to understand” terms when Alexis-Baker said, “They are desired, dismembered, and devoured, both figuratively and literally” they are both “…valuable in satisfying the male” as well as being “interchangeable bodies between non-human animals and women, both being objects.”

Sexism and Speciesism

She explained how this touches almost everything in our culture, even to the point of being incorporated in to the well intentioned animal rights movement at times. An example of this was a projected picture of a scantily, if not naked, clad woman in a suggestive pose with cuts of meat drawn all over her body.

The image, put out by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), was intended to invoke shock to the viewer by comparing the consumption and dismembering of animals and its acceptability, to the unacceptability of a person being treated in the same manner. While the intentions may have been good, in the end PETA chose to portray a young, thin, white woman to seduce the viewer into understanding their message.

Alexis-Baker emphasized the problems behind not noticing the intertwining of oppressions. In this situation women were being oppressed, while animals were trying to be freed. Her conclusion, along with Lloyd-Page’s, was that no one is free when others are oppressed. For Alexis-Baker, this means realizing that being vegan is one way to deal with these oppressions, and that as a Black woman, she has no choice but to strive for a liberation that involves everyone.

Vern Ehlers Votes Against Pay Equity

Grand Rapids Republican Representative Vern Ehlers

On Friday, the House of Representatives–voting largely along party lines–approved two measures aimed achieving gender pay equity. The bills–the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act–aim to close loopholes in existing equal pay protections and make it easier for employees to sue for discrimination.

However, Grand Rapids Republican Vern Ehlers sees this as too controversial and voted against the bill, along with fellow West Michigan Republican Pete Hoekstra. In the past, Ehlers has voted against similar bills when they have come up. Republicans have criticized the bills claiming that they will pave the way for excessive lawsuits.

Also, while it might not be directly related to this vote, Ehlers has referred to himself in print as a “recovering sexist.” It seems that a simple step towards undoing some of the sexism in our culture would be voting for legislation that attempts to address longstanding disparities between what men and women earn.

To this day, women continue to earn only 77.8% of what men earn.

Review: The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality and Relationships

The Price of Pleasure–a new documentary airing this week at the Wealthy Theatre–offers an important look at the pornography industry and the impact it has on people’s lives.

The Price of Pleasure - Pornography, Sexuality, and Relationships

Pornography is one of those issues that either becomes framed as a matter of free speech or morality. Those who oppose it often are labeled as anti-sex feminists. However, there are new voices and new perspectives that are trying to draw attention to the violence in both the production and consumption of pornography.

In a new documentary The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality and Relationships, the directors provide a fresh look at an industry that now has an estimated 420 million websites, produces 13,000 new DVDs every year, and is completely intertwined with mainstream media. The Price of Pleasure does not necessarily draw strong conclusions, but it does raise important questions about the pornography industry and what impact it is having in the US.

The documentary begins with a look at how pornography went from being a marginal business that tended to be viewed with scorn to a multi-billion dollar industry that boasts its own lobby. The porn lobby, known as the Free Speech Coalition, challenged legal rulings and some significant cases in the 1990s, particularly cases that paved the way for the power that the Internet would provide the industry as a mechanism for distribution. Now pornography is part of the capitalist landscape with media companies like Time Warner and NewsCorp profiting off partnerships with the porn industry.

Other issues raised in the documentary are how pornography makes commodities out of women & men, the racist elements of pornography, and new trends in pornography, such as “Dorm porn.” Dorm porn is a growing phenomenon where college students are making porn as a way of paying for tuition.

One of the most revealing aspects of the documentary was a study done by students and faculty of the New School, where they looked at the most popular porn videos to make some determinations about the content. Pornography defenders have long argued that anti-porn activists always use the “worst” porn examples and make it look like this is all porn. However, as Robert Jensen and Gail Dines have shown in their research, the bulk of porn produced now is what might have been called “extreme” years ago. This is exactly what the researchers from the New School discovered, that the most popular porn videos that were being rented in the US had extreme content. The researchers found that in 89% of the videos they viewed, verbal and physical violence was central to the production.

The documentary includes voices from those in the porn industry, former porn industry workers, researchers, and activists. It is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to understand what the industry is and what impact it can have on our lives.

You can view the trailer online and come to a public screening this Wednesday, January 7 at the Micro-Cinema in the Wealthy Theatre at 7pm.

Ehlers Votes Against Gender Pay Equity Legislation

Late last month, Representative Vern Ehlers voted against legislation that would start to address the disparity in pay based on gender. While Congress passed a law in 1963 aimed at addressing such disparities, they have continued to persist.

Late last month, Grand Rapids area Congressional Representative Vern Ehlers voted against legislation in the US House of Representatives that is designed to address disparities in pay based on gender. The bill–which passed by a vote of 247 to 178–was supported by all Michigan Democrats and opposed by all of the state’s Republicans.

While Republicans have criticized the bill for allegedly being a “gift” to trial lawyers who support the Democrats, the bill is designed to address longstanding disparities in pay. Republicans criticized the measure saying that trial lawyers will benefit from provisions that allow people to sue for discrimination and also criticized it because they say that current laws are adequate to gender pay disparities.

However, since the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, disparities have persisted. Think Progress reports that numerous disparities continue to exist. Women currently earn 77 cents to every dollar that men make. It has also grown for unmarried women, who earn only 56 cents for every dollar that men make.

The legislation–which is by no means perfect–increases penalties for gender-based discrimination. It also makes gender-based discrimination as serious of an offense as discrimination based on race, age, or ability and allows women to file lawsuits for compensatory and punitive damages.

How Disney Shapes Attitudes on Race and Masculinity

Like many children in the United States, we grew up watching Disney films. At the time, it seemed fine–but what were these films teaching us about masculinity and race?

While browsing today, we came across a powerful video that looks at how Disney shapes attitudes about masculinity. We urge folks to watch it and consider it as one example of how the media influences ideas about gender, masculinity, and patriarchy:

In addition to shaping attitudes about masculinity, Disney also influences how people see race. Here is another short video that explores that topic:

Media, Sexism, Patriarchy, and Hillary Clinton

On Friday, Media Matters and the Women’s Media Center launched a new campaign called “Sexism Might Sell, But I’m Not Buying It.” The core of the campaign is a video and petition that calls on the corporate media in this country to stop reporting on women through a patriarchal lens. The campaign uses the media’s coverage of Hillary Clinton’s campaign as its means of addressing the issue and it has produced a video showing numerous instances of the media using patriarchal language instead of covering the issues of the campaign:

Of course, it is important to remember that sexism in the media’s coverage of the Clinton campaign is unfortunately only one example of sexism in the media.

WGRD DJ David Fox Reportedly Fired for On-Air Comments

According reports sent to Media Mouse and reports on the Internet (1, 2), local West Michigan DJ David Fox has been fired from his job at WGRD. Fox was reportedly fired on Aril 18, 2007 for comments that he made on the air. According to reports of what was said, Fox played the song “Smack My Bitch Up” by Prodigy and made comments once the song concluded referencing “smacking the bitch up” to which a caller on air at the time said something to the effect of “she has two black eyes don’t she?”

A little more than a year ago, Media Mouse concluded a study examining David Fox’s on-air comments and his repeated misogynistic, sexist, and occasionally racist statements. During that time, we documented statements by Fox degrading women, making homophobic insults, and expressing support for prostitution. The study was launched following comments by David Fox and co-host Lukas D repeatedly speaking about prostitutes and even threatening violence towards them. Ironically, one of these exchanges from 2005 featured references to the song “Smack My Bitch Up” and spoke of violence towards women:

Caller 5: We cannot figure out who sings that “Firestarter” song.

DF: It’s the group hat sings “Smack My Bitch Up.”

Luke: Prodigy.

Caller 5: Prodigy, there you go, Prodigy, alright, awesome. Thank you very much.

DF: Hey thank you don’t cut it, I want something else in like a monetary form.

Luke: Yup, we want money.

DF: Some hookers.

Caller 5: Got no cash, spent it all on beer at the Griffins game.

DF: Ahh, some whores down on the red light district sound sorta nice.

Luke: Dude, send some of those Division girls up to the studio.

Caller 5: Alright buddy. Hey, play that song at 9:45 would ya?

DF: We’ll play it when we wanna play it. Beat it.

DF: See, we’re not gonna do “firestarter” cause if we get some of those, uhh, ladies of the night. What are we going to do to them?

Luke: Throw them off the boat, smack my bitch up!

Of course, while David Fox’s firing is long over due, WGRD still promotes misogyny and patriarchal views of women and the problem is bigger than David Fox. The station has hosted contests at local sexploitation club Tini Bikini’s and is currently heavily promoting a “pregnancy pageant,” while their photo galleries feature regular appearances by WGRD DJs at Hooters.

Grand Rapids Radio Station WGRD Promotes Sexism and Misogyny through DJ David Fox

A new study by Media Mouse has found that local Grand Rapids alternative rock station 97.9 WGRD makes extensive use of sexism and misogyny to generate an appeal to its core demographic of 25 to 34 year old adults. The study, focusing on a month long period of monitoring this winter, found that DJ David Fox repeatedly made reference to prostitutes, strippers, sex, and “hot chicks” in addition to making racist and homophobic statements.

According to new research by Media Mouse local alternative rock radio station 97.9 WGRD (owned by Regent Broadcasting) is promoting sexism and misogyny through its continued airing of David Fox’s 7:00pm to 12:00am weeknight show on the station. This winter, Media Mouse monitored the station for a little over a month, randomly checking in on Fox’s show to determine whether the sexism and misogyny it had previously heard was an isolated occurrence and instead found that Fox’s show—and to a large degree the station’s programming as a whole—makes use of sexism and misogyny as a means of appealing to it’s core audience of 25 to 34 year old adults. According to both its marketing information and recent ratings information, WGRD’s model has proven to be successful and it is currently the fifth highest-rated station in Grand Rapids. As is frequently the case in patriarchal society, the effect that the station’s programming has on women is never taken into account when in the evaluations used to determine how successful the station is in appealing to its target demographic.

Media Mouse first became aware of WGRD’s pervasive sexism and misogyny when it was discovered that the station was promoting Tini Bikini’s “American Hottie” contest. At the time, Media Mouse saw the station’s involvement in the contest within the framework of a study conducted a year earlier by the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) that surveyed sexualized portrayals of women on the websites of local radio stations, with WGRD joining other stations in linking to objectifying images of women on its website. While the website has changed since the time of the GRIID study and some of the content has been removed, the station still prominently features a link to the “GRD Model of the Moment” where objectifying pictures of women wearing few clothes are found. In addition to sponsorship of events at Tini Bikini’s, the station has also done events at Hooters and has hired dancers from Perfect 10 Entertainment (a Grand Rapids company providing “exotic dancers” for parties and promotions) to appear at events and concerts hosted by the station.

On a whole, the station has directed much of its content towards a male audience; however, DJ David Fox has taken this to an extreme, creating for himself a program where there are almost constant references to sex, strippers, prostitution, and “hot chicks.” Media Mouse first became aware of David Fox on November 1, 2005 when David Fox and co-host Lukas D told a caller who asked a question that in return for the answer they wanted “some hookers” with Fox elaborating that “some whores down on the red light district sound sorta nice” and Lukas D adding that the caller should “send some of those Division girls up to the studio.” Following the discussion of prostitutes, Fox and Lukas D went on to discuss Tini Bikini’s and praised the club for being “the closest you can get to a strip club but it’s nice” as it has “cute girls” unlike strip clubs where the majority of strippers are “skanks” or “barfers.” Content such as this was frequently heard during the period monitored, with Fox making additional references to prostitution in Grand Rapids with Fox referring to female co-hosts as the “girls we got down the street” in reference to the popular notion that prostitutes are found on Division and also telling a caller with relationship problems to “swing over to the red light district on Division” and “pick yourself up one.” Content referencing strip clubs was considerably more common, with Fox referring his attendance at strip clubs and even bragging about how he sent a friend to Parkway Tropics to have his “girl Stacia and all the rest of the chicks treat him like a VIP.” He also frequently talked about the Korn song “Twisted Transistor” and its popularity at strip clubs. On a related note, Fox also seemed to have an intense interest in Paris Hilton, whom he referred to as “high class trash,a “slut,” and a “whore” while discussing who she has had sex with and referring to pornographic videos of her.

In addition to focusing considerable attention on women in the sex industry, David Fox also repeatedly refers to women as “chicks” a term that gives them both a lower status than males and less power than males. The “chicks” that Fox refers to are also given limited roles both on his program and in society in general, with Fox referring to a female co-host as a “hoe” and calling other female guests his “new slaves.” His inability to refer to women in a respectable way was taken to its most absurd level when Fox referred to a realtor who had bought advertising time on the station as a “little chick” and told listeners that they should contact if they are selling their home. When questioned about how why he refers to women as “chicks,” Fox simply told his audience “maybe this is the wrong station for you if you think chick is a bad word.” David Fox also claimed that men are more important than women are in a ridiculous discussion about who should have been allowed into the lifeboats on the Titanic.

The idea that Fox gives women a subservient role in which they exist exclusively to benefit males is nearly inescapable when listening to his show. This gains further prominence when one looks at who is actually running the station and thus who has the power at WGRD, and it should be no surprise that the on-air staff is predominately male and that the artists played on the station are overwhelmingly male. Women who call into the show are also addressed in a similar manner, with Fox asking a female caller if his comment “excited” her and telling her that she might get tickets if she can “sweet talk” him, but then later determining that “she might actually have to send a photo” before getting tickets. Women are thus given a role that allows them only to be objects of male sexual desire, a fact that is reinforced when Fox praises women who possess qualities that he likes, which aside from the aforementioned physical attributes, include women in bikinis that like Applebees, Arby’s, and Dairy Queen and women that watch watch Girls Gone Wild. Of course, it is important to remember that not only do these roles limit women, but they also give men considerable power to determine not only what is attractive but also what is appropriate behavior for women.

Not only does the show present a patriarchal view where males are dominant, Fox also routinely uses homophobic insults. For example, on November 1 Fox told a caller that did not agree with him “you are probably gay.” Fox also joked about his co-host Lukas D doing “Brokeback Mountain” things, joked about homosexual rape, and joked about how one of his friends has a less than masculine name. Of course, as is frequently the case with men who expose homophobic views yet benefit from patriarchy, Fox has expressed approval of lesbians who “kiss” or “make out” for the pleasure of male audiences. Fox specifically praised Sharon Stone for her “great lesbian scene” in Basic Instinct, which Fox described as “total tongues, man, awesome.”

Throughout his broadcast, David Fox also frequently shared “news” with listeners and occasionally discussed current events. Fox does not pretend to be a news reporter, so the discussion of news items was very much akin to the type of conversation that you might find in a high school locker room, no doubt due in part to his selection of topics. Many of these news items come in the form of short three sentence news updates and a sampling of the updates Fox chose to share with his audience reveal that they are neither worth more sentences or even air play in the first place. Some of the topics included 34% of women saying that if their dog were their boyfriend they would date him, a dentist training prescriptions for sexual favors, another dentist trading Oxycotin prescriptions for sexual favors, an evangelical group of women reaching out to strippers, and a man in Kalamazoo that got caught having sex with a sheep. Occasionally, David Fox did spend more time on news stories, although the topic selection and level of discourse remained juvenile at best. For example, on March 1st, Fox reported on a man who was arrested for drinking the urine of adolescent boys, a story which may have had some news value if it had happened in the Grand Rapids area and was properly contextualized instead of simply being shared “because it is pretty out there.” From time to time Fox also addressed current events and on February 15 discussed the Winter Olympics and reported a rumor about which Olympians are the “slutiest.” On February 9, Fox also addressed teenagers getting in trouble for posting pictures of themselves drinking at parties on MySpace, with Fox and his co-host Lukas D conducting an interview with a former East Grand Rapids High School student about the controversy. Of course, rather than address the topic in a serious way, Fox interrupted the interview to ask if “any hot chicks got busted.”

Moving beyond sexism and heterosexism, David Fox’s show also featured racist content during the study period. In one incident, in February of 2006, Fox discussed a news report read by a co-host that a trend in China was making your eyes rounder, to which Fox responded that he was not surprised because “you go over there and you got some nationalities and it’s hard to even believe that they can see” in reference to a prevalent and offensive stereotype about the shape of Asian peoples’ eyes. On March 1st, Fox aired an incredibly offensive song featuring numerous stereotypes of Arabs and people of Middle Eastern descent. The song, a parody of the Backstreet Boys’ “Backstreet’s Back” was called “Dubai’s Back” and expressed what the song’s composer felt was the excitement terrorists had over President Bush’s proposal to let the United Arab Emirates-based Dubai Ports World run some US seaports. The song equated all Arabs with Al-Qaida and featured the line “Hello Al Qaida we’ll let you in, so bring your guns and bombs,” conveyed the stereotype that Arabs cannot be trusted, referred to Arabs using stereotypical names such as “Punjab,” and suggested that Arabs had limited intelligence. While in this case the offensive language was not said by David Fox, he did chose to air the song and also described it as “pretty funny” with his co-host Lukas D praising it as being “classic.”

According to Regent Broadcasting Grand Rapids’ (the owner of WGRD) mission statement, the radio group aims to value its listeners and the community. Their mission statement has four components—“service to our community,” “service to our audience,” “service to our advertisers,” and “service to our company.” While clearly David Fox’s programming and the station as a whole appeal to the company’s bottom line in terms of continued ratings and serves some of its advertisers (especially sexist businesses in West Michigan such as Tini Bikini’s, Hooters, and various strip clubs discussed on his show), a strong argument can be made that airing David Fox is not providing a “service to the community” or even a “service to our [WGRD’s] audience.” Instead, Fox’s sexism, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia does more to isolate members of our community—women, gay/bisexual/transgendered people, people of color, and people of foreign origin than it does to build any type of “community.” Of course, Fox would likely point to the ratings that he has as proof that the community approves of his programming, but this bypasses the question of what other choices they have. Radio is currently dominated by sexist content and as such, there is really nowhere else for his audience to turn, as the same type of content is found on other stations in Grand Rapids. To that end, people must consider not only the offensive content on David Fox’s show but radio in general, and ask “is this serving the community?”

Unfortunately, while both Regent’s mission statement and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandate that radio stations serve the community as radio makes use of public airwaves, community members have limited means to hold broadcasters accountable for their content and their failure to serve the community. Of course, one way to do so is to call or write to the station to complain about objectionable content, but unfortunately, this method will likely do little to actually hold the station accountable and indeed someone called David Fox to tell him that his continued use of “chick” and portrayal of women is “degrading” to which Fox simply told the caller that WGRD is “the wrong station” for him. Still there is value in contacting the station’s management, as they have likely received few objections from the public and have no doubt received very few from people coming from a pro-women position as opposed to objections from an easily marginalized position of religious morality. The public can also hold WGRD accountable when its FCC license comes up for renewal when the FCC evaluates stations to make sure that they serve “the public interest, convenience, and necessity.” During this process people can file a “petition to deny” and provide written testimony outlining how station’s have failed to serve the FCC’s outlined needs, but unfortunately renewal periods last eight years and local radio stations are not up for renewal until 2012. In the case of David Fox on WGRD, members of the community can also file indecency complaints with the FCC if they believe that the FCC’s indecency standards have been violated. To meet the FCC’s indecency standard, obscene content must have aired between 6:00am and 10:00pm and must meet three conditions:

  • An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find the material, as a whole, appeals to prurient interest;
  • The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law;
  • The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value

While the FCC is fairly stringent in defining what is obscene, a large amount of content Media Mouse heard on David Fox’s show appeals to the “prurient interest,” occasionally depicts or describes sexual conduct in a “patently offensive way,” and almost constantly lacks “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” Moreover, the complaint process can serve to “formalize” public objections to the station’s content and therefore is useful in increasing public pressure on the station.

When considering how best to register objections to the content on David Fox’s show, it is important to consider that all radio stations are required to keep a “public file” at their offices. While the file contains a number of mundane materials such as the station’s FCC license, its recent license renewal applications, and a copy of the FCC’s publication “The Public and Broadcasting,” it is also required to keep copies of “letters and e-mail from the public” as well as “material relating to any FCC investigation or complaint.” To this end, it seems that contacting WGRD’s General Manager Phil Catlett ( and Program Director Jerry Terrants ( via email or postal mail (WGRD / 50 Monore NW Ste. 500 / Grand Rapids, MI / 49503) is likely going to be the most effective way of applying pressure on the station.