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Are You Calling Him A Woman?!

July 2, 2010

[caption id="attachment_8887" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Can we continue to use the same old gender stereotypes to classify behavior?"]Can we continue to use the same old gender stereotypes to classify behavior?[/caption] CNN really hopes to stir up some debate and their ratings with a yet-unnamed political debate show, and their first step, naming Co-Hosts Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker, did exactly this. Eliot Spitzer, the former New York governor who got caught up in a high-profile prostitution ring, and Kathleen Parker, a self-described conservative writer, are an odd pair, which leave many thinking that CNN has officially gone off their rocker.  But whether they have or not, there is no doubt in my mind that many people will turn on their TVs to witness this pair in action.  Maybe CNN is the real genius here, because people LOVE to watch conflict, and their two hosts are already stirring up a big media storm. Eliot Spitzer’s exposure as Client #9 in a high-priced prostitution ring created a media circus that led to his resignation as governor in March of 2008. Prostitution “furthers the power politics of the male gender” and leads to the belief that women can be bought.  It perpetuates men’s upper hand in society, and allows for the continued denigration of women. Now this man who took part in propagating gender inequality by “buying” women, whose name many New Yorkers still associate with disgust will be hosting a show on CNN.  Does CNN really think it is okay to put him on TV?  Apparently they do, and it has been giving them the media attention that they have been craving for some time now. Spitzer is problematic in that here is a man who reduces “women into merely sexual objects,” and is about to be put on national television every day.  His soon-to-be co-host has not been much better in ridding the world of gender inequality.  To give a quick introduction for those who do not know much about Kathleen Parker’s beliefs, here is a quote from her recent op-ed in the Washington Post: "If Bill Clinton was our first black president, as Toni Morrison once proclaimed, then Barack Obama may be our first woman president." She goes on to say that she doesn’t mean that he acts like a woman but that he has the rhetorical style of a woman.  She even admits that this is perhaps not the most developed classification of a person's behavior.  "Our enlightened human selves may want to eliminate gender norms, but our lizard brains have a different agenda," she writes. In her defense, she argues that she does not "think that doing things a woman's way is evidence of deficiency but, rather, suggests an evolutionary achievement. Nevertheless, we still do have certain cultural expectations, especially related to leadership. When we ask questions about a politician's beliefs, family or hobbies, we're looking for familiarity, what we can cite as 'normal' and therefore reassuring.” Well here are the hatchets, though not just specifically towards Parker, but to this way of thinking. “Our lizard brains” agenda is taught to us in our upbringing. If we continuously characterize non-gender constructions, such as rhetoric, in the heteronormative way that Parker has, then we will never achieve the true equality that “our enlightened human selves” strive for.   And what exactly is “normal,” and who should define it? The climate of gender norms is rapidly changing, and female empowerment has reached new levels and audiences. Kathleen Parker is of a new brand of influential woman (See Mark Morford's article from last week in SFGate), and whether conservative or progressive, the time has come for the words “woman” and “feminine” to no longer have derogatory connotations. With that understanding, it's absurd to think that we should continue to categorize certain stereotypes of behavior and social constructions as belonging to one gender or another. As Mary C. Kurtis puts it in Wendnesday's Politics Daily blog, "The model of woman as the nurturing consensus-builder, as opposed to the take-charge, orders-barking Alpha male, is a straitjacket, limiting to women and men."  The times, they are a'changin'. What do you think of Kathleen Parker's Op-Ed? Leave us comments below.