Thursday, September 27

:: The Ugly, and Non-Naked, American

Sexist is as sexist does - even if you write for Salon's Broadsheet.

Yesterday, a short article appeared in Salon (in the stupidly named "Broadsheet" section on lady issues) about the Women's Party of Poland. Formed about a year ago by a group of electeds, activists and card-carrying members of the intelligentsia, the Women's Party is competing in the October 21 national election. A decent article about them appears here.

But Salon didn't focus on the Women's Party's ideas, nor on their electoral prognosis. Instead, Tracy Clark-Flory, one of Broadsheet's (did I mention how much I hate that name?) resident "feminists," chose to focus - exclusively - on their current ad campaign. Here's a taste:
How best to advertise Poland's newfound Women's Party? Nude chicks, of course! That seems to be the thinking behind the party's latest billboard, which features seven of its candidates in their birthday suits. A handful of the candidates cover their private bits with a sign reading, "The party of women. Poland is a woman." Two other women sit in the forefront, curled up to conceal themselves.

Manuela Gretkowska, founder of the Women's Party, explains: "This poster is intended to shatter stereotypes in the anachronistic world of politics, which is more often dominated by uncommunicative men with their black tie outfits." She continues, "We are beautiful, nude, proud. We are true and sincere, body and soul. This is not pornography, there is nothing to see in terms of sex, our faces are intelligent, concerned, proud."
The Salon piece is titled "Poland's Female Politicos Disrobe" and appears to be based solely on the article "Polish Women Strip Off in Bid to Woo Voters," from the U.K. tabloid The Telegraph. But the "lookit - nude chicks!" attitude is straight outta the frat house. And the rest of the Salon article is even more cringe-worthy. I'll get just get out of the way and quote it in its entirety:
Their decision to publicly disrobe might make more sense in light of the conservative government's tight restrictions on abortion -- the billboard could possibly, by a stretch of the imagination, be seen as a statement that women own their own bodies. But it certainly doesn't seem to "shatter stereotypes"; instead, it seems to bolster them. Is flashing your flesh the only way to be noticed or taken seriously as a woman -- wouldn't refusing such cheap ploys do a better job of seizing power from the "uncommunicative men with their black tie outfits"?

Playing to the lowest common denominator as a means of getting brief, hysterical attention hardly seems any more communicative. In fact, it seems a surefire way of causing anachronistic male politicians to simply shrug and wave off those silly female candidates.
I let my thoughts on this gestate overnight, and this morning birthed a lengthy letter to Salon that I fully realize no one will read. And yet, this seemed like a good way to spend my time. Now I post it here, for only three people to read. Still, I think Zippy especially will have a laugh, so here goes:
Given the choice between trusting the judgment of Clark-Flory versus that of the Women's Party - a group of intelligent and experienced activists, politicians, writers, etc. who live and breathe Polish politics - the smart money's on the Women's Party to know what's what.

Note to Clark-Flory: the next time you're thinking about publicly slagging off a group of accomplished women's rights activists you know nothing about, working in a political environment you know nothing about, consider at least calling one of them (on Salon's dime) to pose your critique and ask for a response rather than judging them by an article in the Telegraph. Or is that too much to ask? Its not for nothing that European feminists criticize their American sisters for being superficial, ignorant of different political cultures and lacking in solidarity.

With regard to the Women's Party's electoral situation: Poland's national elections are scheduled to take place on October 21st. The current ruling party, PiS (Law & Justice - just a hair's breadth from fascist) is polling significantly ahead of their closest competitor, the center-right party Civic Platform. If things go as expected, PiS will have to form a coalition government, which will be difficult because they have alienated most of their former allies. In this equation, the support of even the smallest parties is key. I believe I read that the Women's Party is currently polling at 3 to 5% of the vote, with 5% being the threshhold for joining the Parliament.

Under the PiS, Poland has veered sharply right wing, not only defying the European courts with regard to abortion but also cracking down on liberal educators and the rights of gays and lesbians, fomenting anti-semitism, opposing the EU's anti-death penalty consensus, and so on.

It is in this context that the Women's Party is trying to rally support for a different way of life - one in which women (and men) have autonomy, individuality and self-expression are valued, and the culture more closely resembles that of Western and Northern Europe and less so that of Putin's Russia.

I don't think the Women's Party effort has much to do with American-style consumer culture objectification of women. These are strong, intelligent, confident women who are presenting themselves as such.

Among their concerns is the fact that there are some powerful women who hold public office in Poland who don't know or care much about women's rights. The Women's Party is saying that they will do good things politically, and that they won't forget they are women / abandon women's rights once they are elected.

Their makeup and hairstyles - as well as their evident comfort with their own bodies - indicates they are modern rather than traditional, part of the future rather than the past.

In addition, the honesty vs. corruption issue is very, very important in Poland, and the partial nudity (nothing to hide) and accentuation of their "femaleness" (there, as here, women tend to be seen as more trustworthy in politics) get that message across uniquely and powerfully.

Of course, such an ad campaign would be a laughing stock in the United States, where for the most part admitting you are a feminist is still taboo and women in the public eye are viewed first and foremost as sex objects.

And of course, there will be plenty of immature people who will point and snicker. Lowbrow media types will report on the Women’s Party solely because of the nudity, and will denigrate them as nothing more than the empty-headed perpetrators of a “sexy” publicity stunt (recognize yourself, Broadsheet?)

Note to Clark-Flory: its easy to be derisive and shallow. Its more difficult to be insightful and generous. Your job may reward the former, but the latter is good for the soul.

Oh dear. I think I just paraphrased a Smiths song.


ladybec said...

What a great letter! I'm sorry for you that no one will read it. It's much better than the original article. And yes, Broadsheet is a horrible, horrible name - I hate it, too.

Wish I had more insightful comments to make, but I'm mostly counting down the moments until I leave to go on vacation (which will include seeing Buffy - yay!) right now.

Kirsten said...

So many things to address in this post...

1. Thanks for catching this, Ciccina!

2. I agree with you about Broadsheet. I realize that they want to have a snapshot look at "women's" news that gets ignored on the home page, but by calling it "broadsheet," they further marginalize it, rather than bringing it into the testosterone-driven mainstream.

3. I would only add to your fine fine letter that broadsheet also reinforces this puritan "no sex please, we're feminists" nature of American feminists. It's a sad thing that the author can't tell the difference between a naked woman and porn. And given that attitude, doesn't that make her a lot like the PiS?