Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Benign Sexism

Now I've heard it all. There is something called "benign sexism", and supposedly Chris Matthews is only guilty of that type of sexism. What the fuck is it? Is it like a benign tumor which might hurt or inconvenience you but which is a lot better than having a cancerous growth?

No. It seems that ogling and leering at women is benign and so is treating them like not the experts they are on your show but as eye-candy brought there for the purpose of giving you a stiffie. This is benign, because the women should be flattered by the nice things Matthews tells them. Of course the nice things he tells them are totally inappropriate on a political talk show. It's as if he interviewed Henry Kissinger and spent the whole time admiring Kissinger's weird eyeglasses and pontificating on them as the windows of some weird conservative world, while Kissinger desperately tried to get a word in edgewise.

Here's the quote which annoyed me:

Yes, the Times profile acknowledged the fact that critics, including Media Matters for America, have accused Matthews of sexist behavior. But the Times quickly cordoned off that discussion to mostly mean that Matthews leers at women.

In a typical passage from the Times profile, Matthews tries to flirt with actress and Obama supporter Kerry Washington, whom MSNBC head Phil Griffin invites on Hardball at an event. "He wants you on because you're beautiful," Matthews said. "And because you're black." Matthews handed Washington a business card and told her to call anytime "if you ever want to hang out with Chris Matthews."

New York Magazine's Daily Intelligencer blog, in an item praising Matthews, picked up on that passage and suggested:

Places like Media Matters will doubtless point out this interaction as further evidence of Matthews's demeaning attitude toward women, but they'd be missing the point. Matthews is a sexist in the same benign way your grandfather is, but at least he tells the truth.

First off, "benign" sexism? That's an interesting notion. Is that sort of like "benign" racism? (Just asking.) Secondly, New York Magazine completely misses the point, because it adopts the same premise The New York Times does: this idea that Matthews is sexist because he ogles women both on and off the air.

Yes, that sort of behavior is problematic and inappropriate for the host of a political news program. (Am I not stating the obvious here?) But what the media conveniently ignore is the hateful, gender-based language Matthews uses to describe prominent (Democratic) women. It's behavior commonly referred to as misogyny.

Boehlert's whole take on how misogyny has paid off for Matthews is worth a read. Perhaps he will actually be listened to. Us wimminfolk are not.