Thursday, January 16, 2014

What The Twitter Talks About Today: The Foot And Leg Of A Giant Hillary Clinton on the Cover of Time Magazine.

The use of Twitter comments as a basis for a column or a post is new.  I am not a fan of it, because writing about people's opinions on something on Twitter is a) writing about those opinions as news, not writing about whatever the opinions are attached to, and b) there is often no way to judge whether the opinions picked for closer analysis are in some ways representative, the oddest, the most common on Twitter and so on.  -- Note that "representative" and "most common on Twitter" are not the same thing if by "representative" we mean what most people within some group in the real world think about some topic.  That's because the data on who is on Twitter, who is noticed on Twitter, who speaks for what group on Twitter, all of those are undefined, and also because what is noticed depends on whom the writers are following in the first place.

After that stern paragraph, what my Twitter feed  today talks about is the new Time magazine cover of Hillary Clinton, this one:

We know that the pant-covered leg and the foot in a heeled pump is supposed to represent Hillary Clinton, because of the attached text.  The woman in the picture is a giant, walking out of the picture, while a tiny man clad in a suit is clinging on to her heel, clearly distressed and uncomfortable.

It's a fascinating picture, telling us lots and lots and lots about the American political culture: 

Here's a country which has never had a woman president.  Here's a country which, right now, has one credible candidate for that path-breaking role.  She has lots of baggage, she is vastly hated and vastly admired, she is regarded as both an exception from all the rules and a general code for "uppity women" or "women oppressed in politics" or "white upper class women ruling this world" or "the power of nepotism".  She is both nothing (clawed her way to power on the pant leg of her husband) and everything (the one realistic chance to get a female president, the first blast of the trumpet for (not against, but provoking that "against") the monstrous regimen of women).

Clever, indeed, that picture!  Because what it describes is both correct and outrageously incorrect:  Hillary Clinton is a powerful candidate, yes, and especially powerful in the imagination of American conservatives.  But that's not really the whole (or even the main) message of the cover.  For that a photo of Clinton herself would have sufficed.

No.  That's a general picture of uppity women shod in stiletto shoes (the sexual feminine power) while also appropriating the power suit of men (the traditional male dominance), grown larger than life while the poor tiny guy tries to hold on.  It's a picture about the misogynists' world, the world where people of Hillary Clinton's gender are the ones in power, the world where giant women rule everything, where men are reduced to miniatures desperately hanging on.

All this is quite wonderful.  The picture tells us so much about how gender stereotypes are created, groomed and disseminated.  Why that works is because of the tendency to view women in politics as general representatives of some group, not as individuals.  That, in turn, depends on the relative rarity of powerful women. 

Doesn't that make your head hurt?


As an aside, click-bait covers of this type about women are not at all uncommon among the US magazines.  Here are a few earlier examples: