“Just drop the tease”: Why we need to Name It and Change It

Sexist language is deeply ingrained in modern public discourse. Words such as “flirt” and “tease” roll off of our tongues with incredible ease, and rarely do we stop to recognize the impact that these words have. Why is it that the sexist rhetoric is so pervasive and yet simultaneously so overlooked?

This is the question that popped into my head while watching the first episode of CNN’s new show, Parker Spitzer. During the show’s “Opening Remarks” segment, Kathleen Parker argued that Palin should announce her decision on a presidential run in 2012:

"I have to confess, I never thought Sarah would grow the legs she has -- no, guys, not those. The legs to keep building momentum…She has something that obviously appeals to lots of people. She has 'It,' big time. But she's also maddening to many others, especially women. She flirts, she's a tease

In the same breath, she contextualizes her opinion:

“…of course all politicians do that—men do it, Democrats do it—that’s how they raise money, but Palin is also coy, which after a little while begins to feel dishonest… C’mon Sarah, just drop the tease and just tell the American people you’re not running. "

What struck me was the way in which Parker described a simple political maneuver in terms of stereotypical female mating maneuvers—flirting, teasing, and acting coy. Parker is correct in her assertion that all politicians, including men, act this way. Why is it, then, that Parker insists on conveying Palin’s actions exclusively in terms of seduction?

These remarks may be a far cry from other blatant examples of sexism in media, but in many ways this type of “mild” sexism may prove to be more detrimental. Sexualizing women has not only been normalized in our society, but has been profoundly embedded into our social lexicon. This is the kind of sexism that flies under the radar. This is the kind of sexism that women are capable of. This is the kind of sexism that we participate in every day without notice.

The more we let sexism exist without accountability, the more we legitimize it within our linguistic and social fabric. Silence only breeds more sexism. Change involves identifying the problem in order to weed it out of our common discourse. The solution is to Name It and Change It.

Published by Kate McCarthy on 10/14/2010

« Back to More Blog Posts