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Everyone's been writing about us. Now we're speaking out. We're Thunder and Lightning, the First Guns.



Adam Gopnik Has An Eye For the Ladies

Adam Gopnik has a piece in this week’s New Yorker about the French “Le Fooding” movement. (Don’t ask.) While Michelle barely features in it—he refers to the White House garden—and we aren’t mentioned at all, but there is plenty of female objectification to be found! Here’s a rundown of all of the people Gopnik meets during the course of the article:

Raphaël Glucksmann: the filmmaker and human-rights activist (m)

Zoe Reyners: an exquisite, nervous blonde in white linen, with a distinct resemblance to the young Brigitte Fossey (f)

Alexandre Cammas: one of those passionately articulate young Frenchmen who speak with the relentless eloquence of French letters and philosophy, answering each rhetorical question as they raise it (m)

Marine Bidaud: [w]here Zoe had been an embodiment of fifties French beauty, elegant and tense, Marine was more in the line of the young Bardot (f)

Stéphane Jégo: had a black eye (m)

Anna Polonsky: a young Anouk Aimée as rendered by Modigliani (f)

Yves Camdeborde: [no description or identification] (m)

Notice a pattern? We do!

And Gopnik, while blind to his own pattern, does notice one. He asks one of the men what the deal is with the “astonishing glamour of the Fooding-istes.” The reply is that they find it helpful to have an alluring staff. No kidding. The acknowledgment, however, stipulates that they employ both good-looking men and women—despite having met both, Gopnik only described the appearance of the women at such lyrical lengths.

One wonders just how Gopnik could have gotten through this story if he had avoided reducing women to their appearance. Maybe Anna Polonsky is one of those exquisitely educated Frenchwomen who tend to quote Pliny when discussing the weather. Perhaps Zoe Reyners is passionate about politics—a Google search shows a Zoe Reyners who signed a petition protesting the sale of warships to Russia.  Alas, there are no images of her online. We have only Mr. Gopnik’s assessment to go by.

"Le Fooding" may be a new trend that aims to shake up the gastronomic world, but "Le Sexism" is one dish we are sick of.

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Dear CNN: We’ll Show You Our Slave Roots If You Show Us Yours

First, if you haven’t read the post from Renee at Womanist Musings (reposted here on Feministe) titled “The Obamas and the Door of No Return,” please do. It’s about the Obama’s visit to Cape Coast Castle, a memorial site for the African slave trade in Ghana.

As part of CNN’s coverage of the trip, “Anderson Cooper 360” sent reporters Joe Johns and Justine Redmonds to the site of the North Carolina plantation where Michelle Obama’s great-great-grandfather is thought to have been a slave. It’s an interesting story—we hope it prompts readers and viewers to think about how, just a few generations ago, our First Lady would have been considered the property of a white man. While we certainly can’t look back what happened on the Friendfield Plantation and think, “Whew! Problem solved! Go team!”, the distance between then and now is certainly a profound one. (Also, a slave plantation called “Friendfield” seriously tests our ability to even deal with irony.)

What we would have loved to see CNN do is to acknowledge that all Americans have slave roots, not just Michelle Obama. We are a country that owes much of our prosperity to our slave labor history. The White House was built by slaves. Thomas Jefferson would not have had the leisure to write one of America’s most treasured documents had he not owned slaves. This country would not be here if it weren’t for slaves. This is not news. Slavery is part of our collective history, and not just the history of Michelle Obama and other descendants of the African Diaspora.

Instead of noting that, CNN presented their trip to Friendfield as celebrity story—like going to Spain with Penelope Cruz!—and thoroughly erased the reality of slavery from their coverage. Describing a former plantation as “Not exactly ‘Gone With the Wind’” is almost laughably offensive, implying that if Michelle’s great-great-grandfather had been lucky enough to be a slave on the fictional plantation of Tara, his life would have been that much better. The piece does detail some of the woes of life at Friendfield, noting that the shacks the slaves lived in were hot in summer, cold in winter, and provided little protection from creatures ranging from chiggers to alligators. However, nowhere does CNN note the other unpleasantries Michelle’s great-great-grandfather and other slaves likely experienced, such as rape, flogging, or having one’s child taken away. The most jawdropping line, to us, is this one: “And unlike the CNN crew, the slaves were not free to leave.” No kidding. But hey, lucky you!

Johns and Redmond—and you too, Anderson Cooper— had an opportunity here. They could have taken the story beyond its “Today, instead of her outfit, we’re talking about Michelle’s folks!” premise and brought some powerful truths to their audience. The piece was ostensibly part of the coverage of the Obama’s trip to Cape Coast Castle, but they never made the connection between that place, “where human cargo was shipped off to a life of bondage,” and Friendfield, even thought it was literally right in front of them.

CNN should have foregrounded the fact that slavery is not a historical quirk in Michelle’s lineage, like a tendency towards twins, but a bloody part of every American’s identity. It is incumbent on all of us to reflect on this history and how it still affects us today.

This post was originally posted on Feministe, where we are guest-blogging for the week. Check it out!

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Something To Love About Sarah Palin

While we aren’t big fans of the soon-to-be-former Governor of Alaska, we agree with her about Title IX. In the current issue of Runner’s World, she says:

I’ve been very fortunate to be a recipient of all the efforts people put into Title IX all those years ago where girls got equal opportunity to participate in sports and extracurricular activities because sports growing up were my world. I’m so thankful for Title IX allowing equal access to these opportunities, and I’m a huge proponent of girls being able to realize what they’re made of by participating in sports, and whatever I can do there I’m going to be doing.

We think America is just beginning to realize what you’re made of, Ms. Palin! See you at the gym.

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About That Other News Story in South Carolina…

On June 13, a gorilla escaped from the Riverbanks Zoo near Columbia, South Carolina. Apparently this is bigtime news worthy of government attention, as an assistant to the state attorney general was posting updates on his Facebook account. On seeing the update, a local GOP activist named Rusty DePass (no words) posted “I’m sure it’s just one of Michelle’s ancestors—probably harmless.”

Where to begin? First, if this is the kind of discourse that occupies the state house in South Carolina, no wonder Mark Sanford got away with his affairs for so long. A couple of “Missing Dog” posters around town and they’d probably be distracted for days.

On a more sober note, this is a sad reminder of the long, ugly history of comparing African Americans to various types of monkeys and apes. Those folks back in the 19th century figured that dehumanizing a race that you are enslaving makes it a little easier to sleep at night. Why, it wasn’t too long ago that someone else compared another Obama to an escaped chimp! In February of this year, a chimpanzee in Connecticut escaped and mauled a woman, nearly killing her. The animal was shot and killed when he attacked a police officer.

Two days later, this cartoon by Sean DeLonas ran in the New York Post:

Elsewhere in the paper was a photograph of President Obama signing the stimulus bill. Subtle!

People always act shocked when racism like that of DePass or DeLonas is given voice, but it is actually all around us all the time. Philip Goff, a professor at Penn State, has done psychological studies and found that many whites associate African-Americans with apes, often subconsciously. (His test was a lot like the Harvard Implicit Assocation Test, which you can take here.)

While we appreciate the many strong voices that have responded to things like DePass’s comment, we also admire Michelle and Barack Obama’s refusal to even dignify such things with a response. While others are engaged in monkeyshines, the First Family is going about its business. Michelle has become a strong voice for health care, announcing that $851 million of recovery money will go to community health clinics.

She has been keeping us busy, too. We harvested the White House garden, we helped build a playground in California—we even danced the hula!

We’d like to see a monkey do any of that. Hell, we’d settle for seeing Rusty DePass or Sean DeLonas do it.

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Yes, Manohla, Women Do Go To Action Movies

We were really struck by Manohla Dargis’ review of the new Transformers movie in the Times this week. Of course, Manohla did not write it for us to read—the piece is intended only for men, because she assumes that only men will see the movie and that only men are supposed to see the movie. Here is her précis on the audience:

1. Young teenage boys who still play with Transformer toys (or keep them under the bed).

2. Older teenage boys who identify with the professional doofus Shia LaBeouf.

3. Somewhat older teenage boys who would like to play with the professional hottie Megan Fox.

4. Boys of all ages who think it would be cool to go to war and run around the desert shooting guns

Apparently Ms. Dargis thinks she is the only woman who is interested in the film, despite the fact that adult women made up a large part of the audience for the first “Transformers, and the audience for this sequel was was 46% women the opening weekend.

Ignoring the women in the audience neatly closes off an opportunity to discuss the gender issues in the film. Was this deliberate? It’s certainly an easy out. If Dargis assumes women won’t see the movie and won’t read her review, she doesn’t have to talk about how women experience action movies, simultaneously enjoying the same adrenaline rushes that male audience members do, while cringing in dismay at the often embarassing representations of women in the genre

Dargis’s detour around women is all the more notable because she does take the time in her review to chastise the film for its portrayal of war, race, and GM automobiles. Would it have been too hard, or merely too controversial, for her to include her fellow females in there? Perhaps she’s been spending too much time in dark rooms watching movies and has forgotten about the other women who could be sitting right next to her.

Come into the light, Ms. Dargis! Spend a few hours at the gym and look at all the strong women around you. Watch Terminator again. Remember that a woman can be strong and feminine and that a movie can be tough without being sexist. And bring that knowledge to the theater with you next time.

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Nothing Up Our Sleeve, And Nothing In Her Pants

Another female body in the news this week is that of Savana Redding, the nineteen-year-old woman who was strip-searched by Arizona school officials at age thirteen because of a rumor she had prescription-strength ibuprofen on her. The decision focused on the flimsy evidence officials had and the relatively low danger such drugs would present if found. This evidence, they said, did not warrant the intrusive nature of the search. The court did not, however, preclude such searches on stronger evidence or more dangerous drugs. So if you start a rumor that someone has heroin in her pants, she could still be forced to let adult strangers into those pants.

And the stranger who wants into those pants is, of course, the ever-odious Clarence Thomas. The lone dissenter on the decision was able to make a creepy discussion even creepier with his opinion, saying that access to the underwear of young women is essential. From the Times:

Justice Thomas also said Thursday’s decision provided the nation’s students a court-sanctioned hiding place.

“Redding would not have been the first person to conceal pills in her undergarments,” he wrote. “Nor will she be the last after today’s decision, which announced the safest places to secrete contraband in school.”

What’s the safest place to stay away from him?

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out, this case brings the gender bias of the court to the forefront. Ginsburg was forced to educate her fellow justices on just why such a humiliating search can cause lasting damage. In particular, when the case was argued in April, Justice Stephen Breyer downplayed the experience, comparing it to changing for gym class. Uh, maybe at Clarence Thomas High School, but not at any others we can think of.

It’s worth watching this clip of Ms. Redding.

When Savana says,”I didn’t know that I could say no,” and her mother recalls that her first reaction was to call the police, it is clear what a violation the search was. Ginsburg echoed this in her writing on the case, calling the search “abusive.” Savana, an honor roll student, eventually dropped out of school.

Unfortunately, although the court wrote that this search went too far based on the evidence at hand, incidents like this can still happen, because the decision upheld the doctrine of in loco parentis. This allows school officials to violate the civil rights of students in ways that cops are not allowed to, including searches with little probable cause. In loco parentis means that students in American schools do not have the right to free speech, are subject to random drug tests, and do not enjoy other rights that we as Americans love to blather about to the rest of the world. There are, for example, many high schools in this country where a student wearing a green tshirt or green armband to show support for protestors in Iran could be deemed “disruptive” and sent home, risking suspension if he or she refused to change clothes. Welcome to the land of the free!

We applaud Savana Redding for her courage and tenacity in taking this case all the way to the Supreme Court. It is too bad that even there she was forced to combat sexism and a judiciary so steeped in male experience that, if it were not for the strong clear voice of Ruth Ginsburg, might have dismissed this young woman’s experience as nothing more than a day in gym class. We’d like to shake both their hands.

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The Magnificent Two

By now you’ve probably read the emails between Mark Sanford and his Argentinean lover. We were particularly struck by Sanford’s attention to physical details:

I love your tan lines or that I love the curves of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of night’s light.

Wouldn’t it be great if those “two magnificent parts” started a blog? In the meantime, we wish those parts and all the rest of Lady X’s body strength in the coming week. Probably a good time to take up kickboxing for fighting off the paparazzi.

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Oh, Onion

As you all know, we recently went to Paris and London with Michelle, Malia, Sasha, and the President. But internet funnypaper The Onion thinks we went to Sri Lanka!

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Gagging on Newsweek’s “The Gaggle”

Katie Connolly of Newsweek, who wrote about Michelle and motherhood a while back, contributed to that magazine’s “The Gaggle" blog with a post about us last Thursday.

OK first: The Gaggle? That’s the best they could come up with? Sure, a “press gaggle” refers to an informal, yet on the record briefing to the White House press corps, and a “gaggle” is the technical term for a group of geese. But it’s also a derogatory term often used for groups of women, as well as military slang for a disorganized group. Since the two contributors to this blog are women, we’re calling this name ill-considered at best.

Back to Ms. Connolly, who was embedded in the McCain campaign throughout the ‘08 election and is now a political correspondent, asking the important question of our time, “So have the First Lady’s muscular bare arms prompted American women to rethink their workouts?” HOMG KATIE WE ARE INTERRUPTING OUR WORKOUT FOR THIS IN-DEPTH REPORT!

She does not, of course, answer the question, because that would take actual research and who would spend the money to research the ripple effect of our rippling biceps? Not The Gaggle! Connolly instead asks a local trainer who, we learn, “says yes.”

The rest of the piece is a rehash of fitness and women’s magazines advice about working out—combine cardio and strength training, no you won’t bulk, blah blah. What is is more than anything is a puff piece for the trainer, Jaime Andrews and her “sleek new DC fitness club.”

We are curious as to how this story got from its true home, a free local paper, into the blog of a prestigious magazine like Newsweek. We’re all for women working out, but we don’t think many women are going to national news magazines for help with their “bingo wings,” as Connolly calls them. Imagine a whole gaggle of women flapping their bingo wings around! Get your head down! Women, like all humans, read Newsweek for you know, the news.

Ms. Connolly, we’re sure you have a serious side. The other stories you’ve filed on the blog look good—pieces about President Obama’s trip to Buchenwald, the possibility of Texas going Democratic, your photo diary of Egypt. Maybe it was just your turn to supply the latter part of The Gaggle’s “Press, Politics, and Absurdity” tagline. But in the future, please leave us out of your puff pieces—we only like huffing and puffing in the weight room.

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Kirstie Alley’s Fitspiration

Being in the public eye is weird. It’s weird for any body, and it’s definitely weird for Kirstie Alley. Once known as an actress, she is now a celebrity caught up in an endless loop of having her body discussed, discussing the fact that her body is being discussed, owning the fact that her body is being discussed, owning the discussion about her body, and bemoaning that her body is being discussed. This kinds of makes us glad Michelle doesn’t talk about us, honestly.

But Kirstie did, of course, on Oprah last week. People described it this way:

[O]n Thursday’s The Oprah Winfrey Show , the former Jenny Craig spokeswoman discusses her recent weight fluctuations – and reveals an unlikely inspiration in her drive to get fit.

"We look around. We see what we want," says Alley, 58. "Don’t you look around and see what you want to look like? I’m, like, ‘Look, Michelle Obama’s guns. I could have those arms,’ " she says. "I don’t know about the legs."

Responds Winfrey: “You’ve got to work for that.”

Ok first, People? “Unlikely?” Why is that exactly? Seems to us we are pretty darn inspirational, if we do say so ourselves. If you’re saying you don’t think Kirstie can get herself a pair of African-American arms, you’re right but we don’t think that’s where she is going. And, just as an aside, how come no one ever talks about Alley’s development deal with Oprah? Could that be part of why she is on?

Anyway, Oprah’s answer was spot on. It does take work. We’ll see you in the weight room, Ms. Alley. Being an inspiration to women is something we take seriously, and we know Michelle does too. When we hear about women working out because they want to be strong like us, we are thrilled—but each individual woman who does the work owes her success to herself and not to us. So while we applaud Kirstie’s, or anybody’s desire to get fit and feel good, remember that when you are lifting that weight, it’s all you.

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