Tuesday 15 January 2008

More than Just Bad Taste

Okay, I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more. Conrad Black has finally pushed me over the edge. I don't normally read the man but my husband reads everything in the paper and Conrad's latest lapse of good taste was brought to my attention because JG wanted to know if I knew what 'callipygian' meant.

Here is what Black said:

With trepidation, but not embarrassment, I offer the thought that Mrs. Obama, a formerly disadvantaged alumna of Princeton and Harvard, to judge from her well-strategized appearances on national television in exiguous dresses and trousers, is as callipygian as Jennifer Lopez. (That is my only concession to political correctness for 2008; you look it up if you must.) I saw her on TouTube saying that, "Reform must be from the bottom up." In her well-favoured case, this could be a double-entendre.
If this is what Black thinks is politically correct, the sooner he goes to jail the better. Sans dictionary and, one hopes, sans access to the outside world. The idiot loves big words. 'Exiguous' is defined as 'scanty' in JG's Random House Dictionary. 'Callipygian' means 'having well-shaped buttocks' in the same source. And so what I think Conrad has said about Michelle Obama (whose first name he could not be bothered to use) is that she wears sexy clothes and shows off her butt. Or so I interpret it. The comment tells you more about Black that it does about Mrs. Obama; patronizing, sexist and in very, very poor taste. Is there anyone in the English speaking world other that Black who doesn't need to look up a word like that? What are you prepared to bet that he wrote the paragraph to give himself a chance to use it? Here, by the way, is the only photo of her that I found that would in any way validate Black's description, and I had to page through a lot of photos of her in full skirts and pearls. She strikes me as thoughtfully turned out.

I am extremely tired of reading physical descriptions of women that intend to establish their characters through the way they look. We don't judge men that way, to state the obvious. With very few exceptions, a woman in the public eye has her hair, figure, clothing choices and general attractiveness mentioned before anything else. And, historically, her 'womanly' skills. Cookie baking! Queen Elizabeth II has had her 'dowdiness' and hats analyzed to death. Jacquie Kennedy Onassis' hats and spending habits were constantly picked at. Whether a woman is too attractive or less than attractive is always a factor. Blonde and busty denotes stupidity. Anything other than extreme thinness is treated as a character flaw. Bloody hell!

The question is not one of women who choose to dress provocatively. The problem is that just being a woman is provocative -- riding a bike in lycra shorts and a tank top can get a young woman raped and killed. So can being out late in a parka and heavy boots. I believe that the kind of garbage Black wrote about Michelle Obama is a sort of licence to men to think about women only in terms of their physical attractiveness, to depersonalize them, to produce an atmosphere of complicit salaciousness which gives permission to move toward the extreme of mindless lust. If that sounds overdramatic, so be it. I am resolved to protest the publication of this stuff wherever I find it.

Starting with Saturday's National Post. A shortened form of this rant has just gone into the Letters to the Editor section. I'll be really surprised if it gets printed.


  1. Oh, I bet it'll be printed. Half the reason they like to print Black's ravings is to piss people off. I look forward to seeing your letter there.

    By the way, what does 'callipygian' mean? I swear, he writes with a thesaurus right beside him.

  2. Oh brilliant response to an obnoxious comment. I hope you get printed. Let us know!

  3. Bravo! That's a great rant. I think Clinton was wise to decide to wear pantsuits all the time. That gave the media less to work with.

  4. Add to that the inherent racism in what he said. An old white guy drawing attention to a black woman's ass? No thank you.

    Well said, Mary.

  5. Oh I approve - and if it doesn't get printed in the National Post, send it to the Globe (or Christie Blanchford - she would appreciate!)

  6. Here's hoping we are reaching a tipping point of outrage at this sort of sexism. The more posts like this, the better, the more letters to the editor, the better. Keep up the good work.

  7. I hope they print your letter...I think you nailed him dead on!


Artistic Merit

  I read an interesting essay this week about the effect of art on the human condition. The argument was that, from our very earliest begin...