Giving the Media’s Process a Name: SOB-ing
January 28, 2009 by Dr. Karen H. Kvavik
Editor’s note: This is an ACTION ALERT for our readers. Please read this post on what Dr. Kvavik calls SOB-ing, and then think about how we can stop the SOB-ing of Kirsten Gillibrand that is going on right now. We need your ideas and your help to stop this thing in its tracks!
What is it about Sen. Gillibrand? What do Sen. Gillibrand, Gov. Palin, and Secretary of State Clinton have in common? Why, they’ve all been SOBed!
The press and mainstream media have Simplified, Objectified, and Bimbo/Bitchified them all: SOB. (I guess we could debate whether it is SOB or SOB/B’ed, leaving the latter term as separate words. And “Battered” could be used for our more restrained public and polite needs, when necessary.) A smart, independent, vibrant, self-made, non-deferential, and attractive woman who is forthright and ambitious ends up being called a “bitch.” She is, to coin a word, “ambitchous.” Alternatively, she may end up labeled a “bimbo.”
We need to name and label the process. It is important that we have a name for this process that happens to these women so that we can better understand it, communicate it to others, and do something about it.
The idea of trying to name the process came out of a discussion with a Co-founder of The New Agenda. She suggested that we have to put a name on what is happening, to make it visible. Then we can deal with the issue and communicate to others about it. Remember the term “borking,” for the failed nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court? We have to make the SOB behavior identifiable with a concise label.
We are now seeing a pattern of highly visible political women who are being systematically battered (SOBed) by the media and even by people within their own parties.
It is too simplistic to say that it is “just politics.” There is at least a tri-stage process in the SOB attacks on the woman. The stages are really a gradual morphing of the way she is characterized, like the progress of a disease. There is a repetitiveness in the labeling from news piece to news piece too. Of course, some so-called journalists leap to the final stage almost at the beginning, and we see the viciousness of 3rd-stage labeling and demeaning immediately on some website comments.
Here are the stages:
1. Simplify Stage.
Her policies are simplified into sound bites. She as a person is simplified and begins to be characterized regarding appearance, demeanor, family, and personality. This is an initial assessment stage.
2. Objectify Stage.
The objectify stage is a gradual morphing process into criticisms and attacks on her appearance, hair (very important), comments on her as a mother, her body, fashion, “womanliness,” with implications as to her femininity. Being aggressive is not a positive quality for a woman. It’s okay for a man, or he is a wimp. Her image slowly keeps morphing until finally she becomes a tabloid-type object, a stereotype, a figure of ridicule. If she flubs an interview she’s labeled “dumb.” If she hasn’t gone to a prestigious enough university, she’s “not well-educated.” On the other hand, if she’s too brilliant, then she’s an insufferable know-it-all. If she is not deferential and humble enough, if she speaks her mind, if she’s too independent, the pejorative labels will hit her.
3. Bimbofy/Bitchify (Batter) Stage:
In this last stage she receives downright vicious attacks and may end up being Photoshopped in a bikini or even in degrading porn or sado-masochistic images. Saturday Night Live satirizes her. Both Clinton and Palin were subjected to degrading images put out on the internet and in magazines. Finally, this stage is when the most offensive labels are applied. Sen. Clinton was labeled a “bitch.” Gov. Palin was called a “bimbo,” and later a “dimbo.” Both were called “c***s.”
The media now shows few qualms about severely denigrating the woman for her appearance, style, fashion, her “womanliness,” even allusions that she might be gay or have affairs. Female members of the press participate gleefully also. If you’re a woman, you don’t want to be like her. Ms. Obama, if she isn’t careful, could end up like an “unpleasant, heavy-handed first lady”…like Hillary Clinton, according to M.K. Ham.
We do not see such egregious behaviors with male candidates, unless they have unsavory restroom activities. Certainly no one writes about the appearance of Al Franken. No one comments on Rep. Murtha’s looks, nor Sen. Schumer’s, nor Gov. Kaine’s. Vice-President Biden takes some jokes about his hair and facial “work.” He does not get a label for that. Does anybody criticize Sen. Norm Coleman’s looks?
Despite the oligarchic and dynastic implications of Caroline Kennedy’s futile bid to be senator, the obvious quid pro quo nature of putting her on the transition team, and the political influence of her family, the media still did not query her much on real issues. Rather, they first simplified and then objectified her. They went after her on her appearance, her personality, her mannerisms, her speech fillers (“you know, uh”), and her lack of experience. There were tabloidish asides about her marriage and her nanny, but, in general, it was personal and remained in the Objectify Stage. She did not reach the Bimbofy/Bitchify Stage with exposés and denigrating images. She dropped out.
The press commentary and blog articles unfavorable to Gillibrand were shallow, with focus on a very few talking points — her gun control stance, her stance on hunting (e.g., Carolyn McCarthy, the gun control advocate, was quoted in many stories as saying that Gillibrand was a “bad choice.”). We were left with “bad” in our mouths. Gillibrand’s liberal positions on many issues were barely covered. She is a securities lawyer who dared to question the bailout issues. It is not just the New York City vs. upstate Republican divisions in play. Gillibrand has made it clear that as Senator she represents the whole state, and as Representative, she represented her upstate constituency.
She is labeled as “Tracy Flick” by some. She is castigated laughingly by Rachel Maddow for not interrupting her introduction by Paterson and the press conference to take Obama’s phone call. As if Gillibrand had control over when Obama called! And the White House knows very well the exact time when it calls someone–that was a small-time power play.
Politico.com simplifies and objectifies her as unpopular among peers, as “Tracy Flick,” and says she
“has never been shy about her political ambitions — or her willingness to vault over older, more experienced politicians. That aggressiveness and self-confidence has endeared her to the powerful politicians who share her impatience to get ahead… “Nobody really likes her,” sniped one New York City-area member, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“She’s smart and capable, but she’s rubbed people the wrong the way,” said another.”
Who specifically made the comments? No sources are identified. She’s the aggressive, confident, assertive, smart, capable woman, but she has annoyed others. Is she not liked because she has these qualities? Because she speaks out? Why then so many accolades from so many people and confidence in her abilities by Sen. Schumer and the Governor?
A number of articles not only criticized Gillibrand, but then accused Governor Paterson of angering the Kennedys and not being astute politically. Even Sen. Schumer has been criticized. It sounds to me as if someone’s P.R. machine is working overtime.
The New Hillary.
Gail Collins of the New York Times says Paterson “ended up sliming Kennedy.” She herself slimes Gillibrand, by calling her “The New Hillary.” Ah, yes, we know how the Times didn’t like Hillary, so this is not a compliment. Sen. Schumer is not put in a good light, as he “believes that doing something silly is a way to reassure voters that he doesn’t think he’s better than they are. ” Collins portrays Gillibrand as someone who’d like to “march in 45 parades,” and thanking everybody “on the planet” in the introductory speech:
“We’re in for the long haul. If you’re a New Yorker with a parade or sausage-eating contest coming up, be sure to invite Senator Gillibrand.
Collin’s doesn’t go after appearance. She belittles Gillibrand’s personality as a woman of “giddy good cheer.” Are men ever called “giddy?”
Maureen Dowd is the Apex (or is it the Nadir?) of Nastiness. She calls the governor a “goofball” who spent 5 weeks “dithering,” vindictively mentions his infidelities and drug use, and claims that he and his aides trashed Caroline Kennedy.
“The 42-year-old Gillibrand, who has been in the House for only two years, is known as opportunistic and sharp-elbowed. Tracy Flick is her nickname among colleagues in the New York delegation, many of whom were M.I.A. at her Albany announcement.
Fellow Democrats were warning Harry Reid on Friday that he was going to have his hands full with the new senator because she’s ‘a pain.’ Carolyn McCarthy…said she may challenge the “N.R.A. poster child” in 2010.”
Gillibrand is the plat du jour now for the press and MSM. And she has just begun her SOB odyssey. Palin mania has died down somewhat, and Clinton so far is enjoying a honeymoon with the State Department. Who will be next?
Finally, there is no need to discuss the opposite process, SOW. I am sure the reader understands this process clearly in the making of the Obama image and how it has functioned in the media and the Democratic Party. Its acronym stands for: Simplify, Objectify, and Worship.
I hope I have simplified, objectified and clarified these processes. I hope our readers write, phone, call out, and explain these behaviors, e.g., “Don’t SOB her” or “She’s being SOBed.”
(I’d like also to thank Jenn, Violet, Freethinker, and Cynthia for their suggestions or exchanges.)