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Sen. David Vitter Thinks Rachel Maddow's Being a Woman "Must've Been a Long Time Ago&

July 19, 2010

Rachel Maddow Wants You to Fight Insensitive Comments!
Rachel Maddow Wants You to Fight Insensitive Comments!

Louisiana Senator David Vitter (R) has come under fire for making derisive comments regarding MSNBC host Rachel Maddow’s recently circulated high school yearbook photo on a New Orleans morning radio show. The segment that was supposed to be about David Vitter the Politician quickly became about something else when the show hosts (a man and a woman) turned the discussion to Maddow's yearbook photo, which has the MSNBC host with longer blond hair and pearls. Both remarked at how "bizarre" it was to see her "looking like a woman." Sen. Vitter then joined in, saying that Maddow's supposed tenure as a woman "must've been a long time ago."

Cue laugh track.

Taken at face value, this episode can be attributed to a slip of the tongue, or a misguided attempted at "getting into the spirit" of the genre of raucous morning shows (a trait that Maddow, a former radio show host herself, acknowledges [bottom of page]). Listening to the clip itself, however,yields more disturbing conclusions. Though the hosts certainly introduce Maddow as the subject of discussion, the senator's laughter starts from the second Maddow's photo is mentioned and only continues through his punchline, which sends them all into hysterics ("heavy laughter," as Greg Sargent of the Washington Post calls it, is an understatement). Though Sen. Vitter hastily released an apology for the remarks (and Maddow a subsequent acceptance of the apology), this episode just reminds us of the his previously established problematic views of women. As Jason Linkins of the Huffington Post noted, Sen. Vitter's sense of what womanhood entails may indeed be operating on his own preferences, such as those publicized after the scandal of his personal phone number being included in the "D.C. Madam"'s prostitution client records broke in 2007.

It is disturbing to hear Maddow, a highly respected and prolific media figure, reduced by virtue of her looks alone, and further distressing to realize that the Senator's "punchline" lands due to his and others' very narrow view of what constitutes femininity. Long blond hair and pearls? Woman. Short brown hair and a blazer? Unknown, and therefore deserving of ridicule. Faced with what they consider to be a less "traditionally feminine" woman, Vitter and the show's hosts strip Maddow of her womanhood entirely rather than reevaluate their own preconceptions. To avoid the future undermining of Maddow and others so the spotlight can instead move to their merits as professionals and, yes, as a professional woman, more attention must be paid to this kind of faux-innocent "joking around"-- a concept that casual remarks by high profile figures such as Senator Vitter, quite frankly, make difficult to imagine.

(You can listen to a clip of the radio show comments by clicking here)