I don’t want to be writing this post. I was hoping this Labor Day would truly be free of labor, but I woke up to another dismissive Tweet from CNN Senior Business Correspondent Ali Velshi that compels comment. I’ve always enjoyed and respected Mr. Velshi’s analysis, but was unpleasantly surprised yesterday by his response to Mitt Romney’s claim to create 12 million new jobs if elected. Mr. Velshi stated, “Are you kidding? I’ll wear a dress for a week if after four years we have averaged a quarter million jobs per month.” Uh, wear a dress?
In other words, if Mr. Velshi loses his wager, his punishment is to wear women’s clothing. His comment derives its punitive meaning from the fact that we live in a society that routinely devalues women, and it’s considered absurd and demeaning for men to don anything feminine. Comments disparaging femininity are so ubiquitous and societally acceptable that Mr. Velshi’s sexism likely went unnoticed by most of his male and female viewers. Stealth sexism right in front of our faces.
Most boys learn to devalue the feminine at a young age since masculinity is learned through parents, teachers, media, advertising, and other entities encouraging intense rejection of everything associated with femininity (e.g., reviling the color pink, “boys don’t cry” (like girls), and the now classic gendered insult, “you throw like a girl.”) Both boys and girls learn to value masculinity. To highlight this double standard, it would be non-sensical for a female news personality to say she would wear pants as a punishment.
Granted, it’s problematic to reify or celebrate socially constructed femininity since it comes with damaging baggage, but it’s also not okay to publicly disparage it as this equates to disparaging the values girls and women are raised to embrace. This is what Mr. Velshi did. I tweeted him to say his words were “demeaning to women,” and he went out of his way to insult me. He labeled my critique “dumb” without articulating a counter argument. Here’s the exchange:
Unfortunately, Mr. Velshi’s comment joins a multitude of other television personalities saying blatantly sexist things. His statement was couched in a channel surfing marathon that included watching Snooki’s unbridled excitement in finding out that her (then) unborn baby would be a boy. Different channel, same sexist devaluation of girls/women. And unfortunately, Snooki and Mr. Velshi’s words matter because popular culture creates, reflects, and reinforces cultural norms.
I’m sure Mr. Velshi and others will think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but to mix metaphors, I’m zeroing in on a drop of water that serves as a reminder that there’s an ocean. If Ali Velshi acknowledges the blatant sexism of his sentiments, either privately or publicly, I promise to wear a dress for a week.