Progressives are feminists or they’re not Progressives.

Here’s a radical notion: If you’re a man and you call yourself a Progressive, you can’t sling sexist insults at women.

Any women.

Not just Progressive women. Not just women you like. Not just your mom.

If you want me to take you seriously and believe that you are genuinely committed to the Progressive agenda, you may not take sexist swipes at Conservative women, either — not even the really awful ones.

Not Michele Bachmann.

Not Sarah Palin.

Not New York Daily News columnist SE Cupp, of whom I had never heard until Hustler magazine (a decidedly questionable source of Progressivism, I admit, despite what Larry Flynt might think) photoshopped an image of her with a penis in her mouth, and opined:

S.E. Cupp is a lovely young lady who read too much Ayn Rand in high school and ended up joining the dark side. Cupp, an author and media commentator who often shows up on Fox News programs, is undeniably cute. But her hotness is diminished when she espouses dumb ideas like defunding Planned Parenthood. Perhaps the method pictured here is Ms. Cupp’s suggestion for avoiding an unwanted pregnancy.

So yes, the latest example of men on the left who think it’s ok to viciously dehumanize Conservative women by reducing them to their sexual organs and/or conventional attractiveness is provided by Hustler — a publication predicated on dehumanizing women by reducing them to their sexual organs and/or conventional attractiveness. BUT.

But, as can be seen by clicking on the links embedded in the names of Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin above, Hustler is far from the first or last example. Need more?

Ed Schultz and Laura Ingram. Keith Olbermann and Ann Coulter. Keith Olbermann and Carrie “opposite marriage” Prejean. Matt Taibbi and Michelle Malkin. Bill Maher and Karen Santorum. Bill Maher and Megyn Kelly. Michael Moore and… all women (some of whom are, presumably, Conservative).

And perhaps unsurprisingly (to me, at least) it doesn’t stop at the Republican Party door — it turns out that so-called Progressive men are often happy to say these things about women they don’t like on the left, too: Chris Matthews and Hillary Clinton. Keith Olbermann and Hillary Clinton. Matt Taibbi and Hillary Clinton. Matt Taibbi and Erica Jong.

In some of these cases, the men in question apologized, and did so in a fashion that to me seemed sincere (Olbermann, for instance, and Schultz), and that’s to be respected.

But I’m not going to applaud it, because I am just so damn tired of the whole thing, and honest to God: I know I have to expect this from the other side of the aisle — but from my compatriots, too?

It’s everywhere, this treatment of women, everywhere. And it is most certainly not limited to Famous Men. It’s in conversations, and on Twitter, and on reddit, and in blogposts, and among comments on blogs, and on Youtube, and at the work place, and at school, and on the street.

It’s exhausting. It’s demoralizing. It’s heartbreaking. And it’s fucking everywhere.

If you are a man somewhere on the left side of America’s political map and you don’t understand these facts well enough to understand that pulling old-school sexism out of your back pocket and wielding it against Conservative women is just plain wrong — you’re betraying me. You’re betraying me, and all the Progressive women in your life, and any daughters you may have, and ultimately, the cause of Progressives everywhere.

Just as I support the right of Log Cabin Republicans to get married (despite their party’s efforts to prevent it) and the right of African-American Republicans to vote (despite their party’s efforts to roll back the Voting Rights Act), I support the right of Conservative women to be treated as human beings (despite their party’s efforts to legislate women as something less).

This is not about party affiliation — this is about the radical notion that women are people. All women.

Even the Conservative ones.


  1. I am interested in this article, Emily, because it seems to me the type of sexism you refer to grows not only from an entrenched male attitude, which is undoubtedly there, and is as wrong when directed at right wing women as it is when directed at any women, but also from a rapidly encroaching sexualisation or sexualism that posits that all sexual references or behaviour as being an appropriate matter for public humour or some other sort of public participation. The “Go Grrrl Raunch Factor” (which wasn’t about women discovering their own sexuality, it was about women aping the worst of mens’sexuality, to my eyes) has blurred the lines between what is acceptable and what is not.

    I am not prude – at all. But I do think there is a simple rule for political and social interchange. Lambaste the ideas or the opinions with all the vigour you like. But other than reflecting that holding those opinions may say something about the person concerned’s intelligence or allow you to draw some assumptions about their political affiliation, leave their person and sexuality out of it.

    The only proviso I would make is if a person is caught in blatant hypocrisy – the gay bashing closet gay senator or pastor, for example. But other than that, let’s rediscover civility, and lose the sleaze.

    • aaron singer

       /  May 24, 2012

      Along these lines, I had an interesting conversation with a friend a few months ago on gaslighting.

  2. losgatosca

     /  May 24, 2012

    I agree with your general sentiment, but Hustler is not progressive or on the left.

    They degrade and exploit women for profit. There’s nothing progressive about that.

    • Darth Thulhu

       /  May 24, 2012

      Mr. Flynt of The People v. Larry Flynt likes to imagine he is a progressive champion of free speech.

      Likewise, by successfully hoisting a Republican Speaker of the House on his own petard of adultery-witch-hunting, Larry Flynt likes to imagine himself an anticonservative crusader.

      As you both wisely say, though, anticonservative partisanship and self-interested commercial speech do not a moral progressive make.

      • aaron singer

         /  May 24, 2012

        While I have not seen her on Fox News because I don’t watch it, I have seen Cupp on panels on MSNBC, FWIW.

  3. Misogyny is one of many amazing devices by which the thoughts of one person are deemed unworthy of consideration by others. Similar tricks include: Asserting someone to be mentally ill. Asserting someone to be of the wrong race or ethnicity. Asserting that metabolites of a drug the person consumed 6 weeks ago, must cloud the person’s thinking. Asserting oneself to be always correct because one believes it to be so. To be one with the pack of haters, one need only obey these social cues, and dismiss all independent consideration of the ideas the unworthy person expressed.

    And there’s a strange tendency for these ad hominem attacks to reach fever pitch, when money is involved.

    Nobody paid much attention to the last 50 Americans to die of suicide. And the strongest woman I know, a sufferer of Lyme disease who has been invited to kill herself, because it’s oh, so inconvenient to prescribe her enough pain medicine, without provoking an investigation of one’s medical practice by a small army of narcs with high-school diplomas, keeps on plugging away at life, with a little help from her friends, because she happens to enjoy the company of other kind, thoughtful, loving people, and has no desire to quit fighting for her life.

    But someone with the wealth of Michael Jackson is incessantly harassed with questions about his mental health, and whether he and all his money should be placed in the care of a legal guardian, to protect him from himself.

    Somehow, hate is less revolting when it isn’t disguised as concern for the weaker among us…the usual starting point of every argument demanding that women surrender their right of independent thought, to men.

    Like Christoph Waltz’s character in Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds”, haters look better with swastikas tattooed on their foreheads. At least we know what to expect from them.

  4. losgatosca, I think this is directed as much at the progressives trying to defend what Hustler did as much as it’s directed as Hustler itself.

  5. SWNC

     /  May 24, 2012

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. It is slap-ass, flat-out wrong to make sexually degrading and/or violent comments to a woman for expressing a political opinion–no matter if you agree with that opinion or not. Really, this is basic decency 101.

  6. How about what I’ll call the news-anchorization of politics (aka weathermanization, NFLsidelinereporterization), by which I mean, a habit of putting attractive men/woman with little to no brain power up for office? Is it fair ground to point out that part of why Sarah Palin was chosen as a VP nominee may very well have been the fact that she is attractive? If the other side is engaging in a form of sexism, how do we point it out without offending? Is the problem that even though it’s done with both male and female candidates, it tends to be only the female examples that get the criticism?

    • SWNC

       /  May 24, 2012

      There’s a big difference between saying that part of Sarah Palin’s appeal to the GOP was her attractiveness and photoshopping a penis into a columnist’s mouth.

      • definitely. The post was prompted in part by that particular image but ended up being about broader issues relating to sexism in politics.

  7. chingona

     /  May 24, 2012

    @ Yolly … This has been Hustler’s schtick for a very long time. Long before girl raunch culture was A Thing. The problem isn’t seeing sex as humorous. The problem is seeing sex as a way to humiliate and degrade women.

    • corkingiron

       /  May 24, 2012

      I’d like to push back just a little. You say the problem is seeing sex as a way to humiliate and degrade women, and I think you have that reversed. The problem as I see it is in seeing humiliation, degradation and submission as sexual – or erotic. It is seeing sex as something you do to somebody instead of something you do with somebody. Most of the women I know are capable of a great deal of raunchiness – but sex, to them, is a mutual thing.

      • CitizenE

         /  May 24, 2012

        When I was a young guy, I once told a wonderful, flirtacious woman about to become a lover that I wanted, as the vernacular goes, to make love to her. “Not with me?” she replied. I have never mistaken the preposition “to” for “with” in conjunction with the phrase “make love” in the 40 or so years since. I definitely wanted to make love with her.

      • chingona

         /  May 24, 2012

        They showed her with a penis in her mouth. This was supposed to shut her up and put her in her place. Having a penis in your mouth is not inherently degrading or humiliating. In this instance, it is not that the humiliation is erotic. It is that an erotic act is depicted as inherently humiliating.

        This is a bit semantic. In many instances, your formulation might be perfectly correct. But in this case, I stand by mine.

  8. Are you missing the “Please don’t throw me in the briar patch” element here? SE Cupp is a manufactured character as much as Triple-H or The Undertaker. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to that character – which was separated from the women who created it a long time ago.

  9. Darth Thulhu

     /  May 24, 2012

    Thanks for this. Two things.

    1) It is really sad to see how wired we are as animals to accept ad hominem attacks. If we didn’t naturally lap them up so happily, there wouldn’t have to be all the repeated insistence about their illegitimacy. All the sexist and racist and homophobic and populist putdowns are eager reaches for lazy ad hominem. Thanks for pushing back.

    2) Mr. Taibbi’s last name has two b’s in it. Worth the edit.

    • 1) You’re welcome! : )

      2) Fixt. Thanks!

      • Darth Thulhu

         /  May 24, 2012

        (Sorry to be a pest, but one “Taibi” lingers. Should be “Matt Taibbi and Erica Jong” right after Hillary Clinton … I promise I will now take the OCD elsewhere, but seriously, that dude likes talking a lot of smack about different specific women.)

        • ACK.

          Fixing nao! One would think I would remember how often he’s been awful, in my own post if nowhere else.

  10. Ophelia

     /  May 24, 2012

    The only thing I’d add, not because I think this post would disagree with the point but because it needs to be said, is that, for the most part [aside from Michelle Malkin], these posts and comments are about a particular type of woman: mainly white, cis, straight, middle class+, able-bodied, etc.. In others words, women who are allowed to be “just women” in a way that women of color, lesbian women, trans women, disabled women, poor women, etc. aren’t allowed to be “just women.”

    It’s important to note because it’s an issue that’s as old in feminism as feminism: white, cis, straight, middle class+, able-bodied women talking about the oppression of “all women” and mostly meaning people like themselves. That’s not to say that most of what you’re describing doesn’t affect most women to varying degrees. But it is to say that sexism is only the primary source of insults and oppression to women who are “just women,” and that even that sexism manifests itself differently for different people. To be an ally to “all women” is to be an ally against sexism, but also against homophobia, against ablism, against transphobia, against economic oppression, against racism, against agism. I think that message can fit here, but it can’t be left out.

  11. Mark

     /  May 24, 2012


    What then do you make of Jong’s response?

    “So what is wrong with American men? Particularly male journalists. I think it was discovered long ago and labeled ‘Momism’ by Philip Wylie in a virulently sexist book 1942 book called Generation of Vipers. The book went through many, many printings in the forties and fifties. It apparently struck many nerves. Momism is a kind of Oedipal obsession with the bad mother — to counter a boy’s attraction to his good mother.”

    That’s just warped. That’s neither progressive nor feminist. Rather dehumanizing if you ask me.

    • I don’t agree with it, but she’s not the topic of discussion here, and furthermore, she doesn’t represent a trend. And finally, when the people in a position of relative power (men over women) have a broadly shared attitude, it’s much more significant that when a single person, who also happens to be in the relatively less-powerful group, says something controversial.

  12. JohnnyO

     /  May 25, 2012

    Hate to break it to you, but claiming sexism in cases where they are just being mean (i.e. Matt Taibbi with Hillary Clinton’s “flabby” arms) delegitimizes your entire argument. I would tread carefully at what you call sexism. If women are to be treated equal (which of course they should be), they need to be able to take some punches – even if they are “under the belt”.

    Sexism should be reserved for attacks BASED SOLELY ON THE FACT THAT THEY ARE WOMEN (or MEN, for that matter!!)…calling Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann “batshit crazy” is as far as I’m concerned simply stating the obvious, and has nothing to do with their sex. Now if I were to call Sarah Palin an “attention craving whore”, I’d most definitely be going beyond the point of acceptability – because I’m implying that her status has something to do with her sex. I should instead simply call her an “attention craving imbecile”…you see the difference?

    • Leading with “Hate to break it to you” is not a terrific way to earn attentive ears.

      But beyond that: Insulting a woman based on her failure to meet conventional attractiveness standards is a) something I refer to in the body of the post (so in the framework of this particular post, that insult of Jong makes perfect sense) and b) absolutely part of the problem. Women are forever dismissed with what tends to be called “body snarking” — or, in other words, for being ugly in the eyes of the beholder. It’s at the heart of the problem I discuss.

      And don’t tell women to learn how to take verbal punches. Women take verbal punches all day long, every day. Click on the links from the word “reddit” on, and and listen to women telling you about the reality of their daily lives.

      • JohnnyO

         /  May 25, 2012

        Ouch – I am officially reprimanded and will not be so dismissive in the future. Thanks for the advice.

        Oh please…”failure to meet conventional attractiveness” is what the comments about Chris Christies’ weight are all about too. It does not necessarily have anything to do with your sex. That’s my point. If you choose to be victimized by a comment, by all means be offended, but claiming that men are thinking in sexual terms when they are being descriptive is a bit sexist as well, is it not?

        I enjoyed your post and agree about there not being a place for sexism – especially as a progressive male. I’m certainly not a fan of stooping to anybody else’s level. But as I stated…in my opinion you run the risk of delegitimizing your argument when you choose to see things in such broad terms. I think it weakens your bigger argument (or at least limits your audience) when you do that. Do you honestly believe that Matt Taibbi is a sexist?

        • Darth Thulhu

           /  May 25, 2012


          • JohnnyO

             /  May 25, 2012

            Please…get a grip on reality. There is off-color humor and then there is misogyny. He may be guilty of missing a target or making a bad joke, but you claiming he a sexist or misogynist solely on one horrible balls joke really devalues your justifiable cause. You run the risk of reducing your audience to just the like-minded and defeating the whole purpose. Stick to actual REAL victims and perps please.

            • Again, “get a grip on reality” (as well as “Please” [unless you mean it, I suppose!]) not helpful in the “getting people to listen” department.

              And yes, I think Matt Taibbi is a sexist – or, more accurately, I think he acts like one. I can’t tell you what he has in his heart, I can only tell you what he says in his writings and in interviews, and yes: Using a woman’s supposed non-attractiveness (among other awful things he’s said) is a sexist slur.

              FWIW, I oppose all fat-shaming, and thus decry any such comments made against Christie (or anyone).

              But context, history, and social relationships actually matter. Dismissing a woman by saying she’s in some way non-attractive is simply not the same as dismissing a man for the same reason.

              I’m not going to keep arguing this because I don’t have time, but the bottom line is: The objects of oppression really do have a different experience than those who do the oppressing, and in this case, women-writ-large are the former, and men-writ-large are the latter.

              • JohnnyO

                 /  May 25, 2012

                In this case I wasn’t actually trying to get attention, I was actually telling Darth Thulhu (and now you) to get a grip on reality.

                I hope that once you reach the true position of equality in your mind you’ll be able to drop the contextual argument. Otherwise, you’ll never find peace.

        • Have you ever read the Exile? It’s a magazine Taibbi was a massive part of writing that took pride in its ability to mess with Russia. One of their many adventures included trying to sleep with a ton of prostitutes in a single evening to cap off a long running series. Matt’s a good writer, occasionally subversive in a way others aren’t, but not the guy to go to for progressive views on language toward women or really, all that progressive views on women. His stock and trade is dehumanization and that can get ugly when gender is the target. That it is directed at the right places doesn’t mean it is free from the noxious poisons of the surrounding culture.

          • Shame I can’t like things on here. Yeah, the Exile was an extended exercise in privileged sociopathy masquerading as avant-garde provocation. Not that there isn’t more where that came from…

  13. This is a product of the term “progressive” and its attendant baggage. Progressive means nothing. It’s a weasel word, which took hold because people let their opponents define then.

    • I actually couldn’t possibly disagree more. “Progressive” means, by definition, moving forward. I wear it with real pride.

    • JohnnyO

       /  May 25, 2012

      I think you’re confusing “progressive” with “liberal”. It drives me nuts when “liberal” is used as a swear word…as if it’s a bad thing, but unfortunately it appears that battle is lost. I still think “progressive” is considered a positive statement, unless your an opponent to progress.

      • Personally I think liberals in the UK should reclaim the word they way gays have “queer”, turning a badge of oppression into one of confident assertion.

        Of course, using a word as a term of abuse that represents, around the world, a perfectly mainstream political philosophy, is just another example of how weird and insular America’s political culture has become recently.

  14. Brooks

     /  May 25, 2012

    Great article.

    Bill Maher has a history of outrageously sexist remarks, and doesn’t seem to “get it” when people point it out, which is infuriating. But I’m wondering: what exactly was objectionable about his comment re: Santorum’s wife? To imagine that his own wife must hide away with a vibrator in a bathroom because of her husband’s sexist and controlling attitudes towards female sexuality seems like a pretty decent critique to me.

    Isn’t that joke only sexist if you assume that imagining someone wanting judgement-free sexual pleasure is in itself degrading? And isn’t being outraged about that just reinforcing the exact kind of unhealthy puritanical view of sex that Santorum himself promotes? Or am I missing something?

    • Throughout history, men have owned and controlled women’s sexuality. When men feel free to talk about my sex life as if they have a right to do so without so much as a by-your-leave, they’re dipping into that history. It’s a way that men humiliate women, in order to control them — and in this particular case, Maher was dipping into the very, very old trope of humiliating a man by humiliating “his” women.

      So yes, I find that comment incredibly objectionable and sexist.

  15. cofax

     /  May 25, 2012

    Bravo Emily.

    Sexist attacks on women political figures are cheap rhetoric–fundamentally, the attackers are cheating, because they’re not engaging with the content of Malkin’s or Coulter’s or Palin’s (or Clinton’s) remarks, but with their physical appearance. That’s not the way you win an argument.

    And it’s not even funny. As Jon Rogers says, “Always punch up.” In other words, going after someone for a perceived weakness on a variable that you are in a higher position on (Matt Taibbi is male, and he’s attacking women for being unattractive women, not for being senior political figures while he’s just a political blogger), is neither good humor nor good sportsmanship.

    And, as you say, it undercuts their argument that they are progressives, supporting women’s rights.

  16. LizR

     /  May 25, 2012

    Thank you! This is not just an issue that just applies to women on the progressive team, it applies to all women who are suffering gendered attacks.

  17. I’m in the process of evolving my opinion. For me its a personal battle with the “shock value” of “going there”, feeling personally frustrated with how to express one’s self to someone you feel like you lack commonality with, and knowing that the common denominator can always be found by going lower.

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