Saturday, May 12, 2012

"Why does she have to be so hot?", or, How even some feminists are getting it wrong on the infamous Time cover

I think I may be starting to flip-flop on the Time cover again. I still think the headline was a bad choice, but so much of the other criticism I am seeing is just so terribly wrong-headed that I'm beginning to feel that countering the BS is more important than the judgmental implications in the headline.

For one thing, in the mainstream media there is still plenty of the predictable "ZOMG that kid is way too old!" garbage. If breastfeeding advocates had gotten exactly the cover they wanted, that's the battle we'd be fighting here -- and we ought not to lose sight of that, because it's a golden opportunity. Time has just opened a national conversation on how old is too old to breastfeed, and while you may not personally like how they introduced the topic, the #1 message needs to be: "As young or as old as you and your child feel comfortable with!" Let's not squander this unique chance obsessing over details.

Most troubling to me, though, is how much of the criticism is along the lines of, "Why did Time feel they needed to show an attractive woman with her boobs out?" I touched on this yesterday, but I feel I need to say more. I'm even hearing this criticism from some feminists and breastfeeding advocates, and while I understand where they are coming from, I think making an issue out of it, at least in regards to this particular image, is a big mistake.

The answer to the titular question, "Why does she have to be so hot?", is plainly obvious: Because she's on the cover of a magazine.

And no, that's not really okay. As I said yesterday:

I think the problem here is not so much the Time cover itself, but rather the fact that women in our society are constantly judged on the basis of their appearance, by both men and women alike, far more so than men are. The way a woman looks, and her perceived attractiveness, is already a highly-politicized issue.

Women appearing on the cover of Time magazine, or any other national magazine, tend to be highly attractive. This is nothing new. And while it reflects poorly on the way we evaluate and objectify women, this cover photo is at worst "not part of the solution" in that regard.

So why is that becoming such a big deal over this particular image? To me, the answer is obvious: Breastfeeding is still being sexualized and subjected to sex-shaming. People see that image, and instead of seeing an unconventional portrayal of breastfeeding, they see a woman flashing her naughty bits. That kind of response is exactly what we are trying to oppose! Why are so many breastfeeding advocates inadvertently encouraging it?!?

I'm vaguely reminded of the patriarchal religious impulse to demand that women "dress modestly" or cover themselves, lest men be tempted. "How dare you reveal your ankle in public? I won't be able to help myself!" Grow up. A woman who is breastfeeding doesn't have to assume a deliberately un-sexy pose for your benefit. She doesn't have to eschew makeup or (I can't believe I'm even saying this) make herself look homely just so you won't get all confused.

And anyway, why is it such an awful thing that a woman is breastfeeding and looks a little sexy at the same time? Is sex that dirty and evil (or breastfeeding that dirty and evil?) that it needs to be segregated from everything else at all times?

As I've admitted, there is a slight problem here in that Time is just unquestioningly going along with the "sexy ladies sell magazines" trend. But we see that kind of thing constantly and most of us don't typically make a thing out of it at every single opportunity. We're only making a thing out of it right now because this woman is breastfeeding. That shouldn't matter. If an inexplicably attractive woman on the cover of a magazine isn't worthy of complaint when she's not breastfeeding, then it's not worthy of complaint when she is breastfeeding. End of story.


  1. Is it just me? What bothered me most about that cover was the look on the kid's face. That was just awkward and a bit creepy. (Yes, the age thing got to me a little, too; but I recognized that was irrational social expectations driving that.)

  2. I totally get what you're saying about the awkward look on the kids face, but I think the reason it's "creepy" instead of "funny" is because of those same irrational social expectations. Seeing a kid in an unusual circumstance with an awkward "what am I doing here?" look on his face is normally cute and funny -- but because we as a society have all these weird hang-ups about breastfeeding, we tend to see it as creepy.

    But no, it's not just you :) I've heard that complaint about the awkward look on the kid's face too. I appear to be in the EXTREME minority by not finding anything off-putting about the image. (My reservations about the caption remain)