“Her tits don’t sag” – on Ali Campoverdi and supposed progressives judging a woman’s “respectability”

The comments on Ali Campoverdi’s lingerie photos have swung me back around to my favourite topic – the policing of women’s looks and attire by so-called feminists and feminist allies.

Now, for reference’s sake, Ali Campoverdi has recently landed a job in the Obama White House. She has also posed for Maxim.

So far, from what I’ve read, some of the… choicest reactions to Ms. Campoverdi have come from the anti-Obama, pro-Clinton camp. This immediately reminded me of the sexist comments and outrage that erupted on the day that Hillary Clinton dared to show a bit of cleavage. Now, frankly, I think Hillary Clinton is a fine-looking woman (not that it matters – but I would just like to say that any “Hillary is ugly, lol” comments here are not going to be tolerated, because they’re both sexist and dumb) and detest the attempts to utterly un-sex her – no matter where they originate. People might agree or disagree with this, but the insanely intense focus on Hillary’s appearance and outfits are honestly no different from much of the talk on Campoverdi, I’ve decided.

What’s being discussed here, once again, is a certain standard – what’s appropriate and what isn’t, what’s OK to criticize and what’s not, and, most importantly, who’s “respectable” and who is “not respectable.”

People forget that standards are fluid. A few weeks ago, I was, predictably, being followed and harassed by a man in a residential neighbourhood of Amman, Jordan. As I flipped him off, I heard laughter. Two women on the sidewalk where observing the scene as it unfolded, and clearly found it amusing. They were dressed very conservatively, even for a Muslim country like Jordan, and even though they could clearly see the discomfort and pain on my face, they chose to laugh. Not to admonish this man, but to give him support.

Why? Well, I can only guess, but considering the treatment I regularly get here in Jordan – it just might have something to do with me being blond, obviously Slavic, and hijabless – while in public.

See, I just didn’t fit these women’s standard of respectability. A man treating me like trash? Fine by them.

I honestly don’t see any difference between this incident and the treatment of Campoverdi. Because I think that these “respectability” standards wherein women’s appearance is concerned are always sexist and always arbitrary. Men who adopt faux-radfem rhetoric to enforce these rules get my misogyny radar blooping and bleeping like nothing else. The women who cheer them on do too.

Now, in regards to women and slut-shaming, I am usually very uncomfortable with introducing the word “jealousy.” “You’re just jealous” is a line most readily used by sexist men in order to police women, especially women who identify as feminists and/or progressives. “You just can’t get a man, baby. You’re just jealous of all those hawt women who have better sex lives.” We’ve all heard it before.

Yet when I read comments like this one – “OMG! She’s the stereotypical ObamaBot. Everything’s coming up roses for her because her tits don’t sag” – I certainly detect jealousy – and assholery, and stupidity. And that’s brilliant, really, because sexist men have been pitting women against other women for centuries, so when women fall into that trap, whilst loudly proclaiming their superior politics, it’s both hilarious and more than a little sad. Almost as sad as some of the comments to Violet Socks’ post on the subject.

I don’t think Maxim is a feminist mag. I don’t think posing for Maxim is a feminist act. Then again, me buying carpet cleaner today was not a feminist act either, so, honestly, Campoverdi and I are in the same boat.

I think everyone has their own path in life, and that posing for lingerie pictures should not preclude one from a political career. NOT posing for lingerie photos and NOT fitting some equally arbitrary beauty standard should not preclude anyone from going into politics either. This “cover your shame, harlot” nonsense is a product of immaturity and anxiety, as equally pathetic as the “Hillary has cankles, haw haw” line.

In a sexist society, any woman can be judged based on her appearance, and judged harshly, relegated to subhuman status, in fact. Those women who found a man sexually harassing me so damn amusing – they may one day be called “whores” and “sluts” for not covering their faces in public. Equally, the snide little asides on Ali Campoverdi are on the same continuum as those snide little asides on the cleavage of an older woman such as Hillary Clinton.

So why don’t women just drop this bullshit altogether? Is it just too satisfying? Now, please understand that I equally hate the “we shouldn’t judge Ali, we should just judge the act of posing for Maxim” to be equally ridiculous. It’s a little close to the “don’t hate the sinner, hate the sin” stuff, for my taste. Because, guess what, people’s definition of “sin” do, in fact, vary.

In this light, I liked Octogalore’s comment on the subject. I wasn’t really sure as to what she meant when she said that “men are simple,” but these lines jumped out at me:

I don’t think we pose in fishnet stockings like VS or do Maxim like Ms. Campoverdi solely because of “the patriarchy.” I think the patriarchy is why we are valued most for doing it (at a particular time). Even without patriarchy, both genders would still be valued for physicality and would likely enjoy displaying it. We’re humanoids, not celestial, purely cerebral beings.

So I don’t think the answer is for people like AC to be castigated for capitalizing on both her body and mind. The way to topple patriarchy is not to avoid the former, but to do more of the latter.

As we used to say in high school – damn straight. Fuckin’ a.

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12 thoughts on ““Her tits don’t sag” – on Ali Campoverdi and supposed progressives judging a woman’s “respectability”

  1. In the blogposts linked in this column, Octogalore’s comments show the most insight as to why Ali Campoverdi gained her assistantship, namely, social connections arising from her father’s status and connections as a Stanford Law graduate and her own connections as a graduate of USC and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. This is not to devalue Ms. Campoverdi’s actual intellect and training as reflected in her degrees from USC and Harvard. But since her competitors for the job would have had similar academic resumes, but possibly not the same social connections, it’s probably the social connections that won the day for her. It also probably didn’t hurt that she is Favreau’s girlfriend.

    AC’s Maxim photos themselves are inconsequential because they were made while she was pursuing a career in show business. From what I could glean from the linked blogs, AC chose a political career only at the last minute. If so, then she graduated from being a typical Hollywood opportunist to being a typical Beltway opportunist. If people need to criticize AC, they should criticize her for what may be her soulless opportunism (if she turns out to be soulless). But the photo shoot by itself is nothing.

    One criticism missing from the outrage over AC’s and Favreau’s supposed privilege is their racial privilege. If either AC or Favreau had been other than white, their publicized photos would have cost them their White House jobs. It was a little surprising that no one at RL or elsewhere (so far as I’m aware) made note of that.

  2. Thanks, Natalia!

    I was being a little facetious in saying men are simple. But I did half mean it. I think men respond to obvious signals. If women have unequal economic power, we will be policed in ways including being put in a box if we flaunt our sexuality. If we have equal (or greater) economic power in society, then we have access to a greater range of expression without condemnation.

    Poeschl and Natalia — I (and others) talked about the white privilege issue regarding Madonna/Whore dichotomy here. I think it applies more to Natalie Dylan or to Ashley Dupre than to Ali Campoverdi because of how race and class intersect. Someone like Condi Rice or even Ali C, if she’d been black, with her White House job and Kennedy degree, would take more flack than a white woman but would keep her job because it still would have been seen as a childish prank. If Ashley Dupre or Natalie Dylan had been black, we would see a greater gap with how their white counterparts are treated, IMO.

    I think part of racism is an assumption that POC are [fill in the blank]. And working in the White House isn’t in the blank, so people who make it there, or whatever other marker of class status, are viewed by racists as exceptions and treated differently — not like they’d treat whites, but not like they typically treat blacks, either.

    I think the distinction between blaming and critiquing is fair, though. I’m not sure I agree that your buying carpet cleaner and AC posing for Maxim (or, to include myself in the critique, my stripping in Vegas) are identical as not being feminist acts. Your buying carpet cleaner is neutral. AC and I were contributing to a culture that objectifies women. Until an equal number of women and men are displayed, being one more woman who is displayed adds to the overall gestalt.

    To me, it’s like the difference between something not being a crime (or non-neutral act) and their being no affirmative defense. In this case, there is an affirmative defense — it’s a good way to survive and even thrive (financially) in the current world.

    So it’s defensible and maybe even has merit, but the act itself I don’t think is neutral, feminism-wise.

  3. Living in Jordan – I noticed that nothing I do in public is neutral (I think it’s like that elsewhere too, but I’ve become more aware of it here). Even going out to buy carpet cleaner – because I don’t fit into the shifting “respectability” ideal, wherein many people are concerned. I don’t think anyone does – a woman in full abaya gets started and hollered at just because people are wondering what’s underneath (and then people say – “Well, she wasn’t walking right, what can you expect?” just as people would say “she posed for Maxim, what can you expect?”). More importantly, I don’t fit into the feminist ideal (does anyone, once again?) – perhaps because, as you said up above, the feminist ideal is something than has to do more with celestiality than physicality.

    I think something like stripping or Maxim is only a greater confirmation of the fact that women, in most cultures, are valued/noticed mostly in terms of how they present themselves physically. But that it’s all on the same continuum. And, since stripping/Maxim get you paid (the guy blatantly trying to look down my blouse in the aisle when I bent down to pick up that carpet cleaner obviously doesn’t get to pay – but I don’t know if there was much difference in leering at me vs. leering at a picture of, say, Ali. He’d say I asked for it – after all, here I was! In public! Buying things unchaperoned!), the nature of the act is further altered. Altered in a positive way? Negative? I don’t know. Maybe both, or neither.

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  5. It’s just depressing to see the same ol’ quasi-radfem crap pop up again, only this time with added quasi-Democratic whatever it is. I mean, that myiq2xu guy? ew ew ick ick gah. and I’ve defended or at least let be creepy/dubious “ally” dudes, I know; but that one takes the biscuit. the login alone…

    and it’s like: yeah, I think Favreau’s creepy; what’s it have to do with his gf? It’s her problem if she wants to date him; leave her the fuck alone.

  6. myiq2xu March 14th, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    What is Hillary’s core constituency? Women.
    Older, yet “liberated” women.
    At 47 years old, I am a “boy toy.”
    Since they are post-menopausal, that means they don’t swell, they
    don’t tell, and they’re grateful as hell.

    http://wwwdotballoon-juice.com/?p=9901
    ————————————–

    myiq2xu, on October 12th, 2008 at 1:47 am Said:
    Here’s an old Hillary Clinton/KFC joke:
    KFC is running the “Hillary Clinton special” It’s two small breasts, a
    pair of flabby thighs, and a bunch of left wings..”
    http://riverdaughterdotwordpress.com/2008/10/12/saturday- night-open-
    thread/

  7. Since they are post-menopausal, that means they don’t swell, they
    don’t tell, and they’re grateful as hell.

    Yeah, this guy is just a beacon for us all. It’s sad he doesn’t comment on Feministe. He could surely contend for the title of Next Top Troll at one point or another.

  8. can’t we nominate him anyway? just because he’s not a -feministe- troll doesn’t mean he isn’t a troll…

  9. One criticism missing from the outrage over AC’s and Favreau’s supposed privilege is their racial privilege. If either AC or Favreau had been other than white, their publicized photos would have cost them their White House jobs. It was a little surprising that no one at RL or elsewhere (so far as I’m aware) made note of that.

    I would guess the reason you won’t hear most intelligent people making that argument is because it is the epitome of a straw man.

  10. @garychapelhill

    It’s not a straw man — although it’s absolutely true that it’s a hypothetical argument because AC and Favreau aren’t people of color, and therefore we can’t prove what would happen if they were.

    What we do know about Obama from his electoral campaign is that he takes greater pains to placate white racist men than to meet the demands of women voters of any race. In 2008, the voters most intransigently opposed to Obama were white racist men, and the same demographic will likely vote against him in 2012 (Republicans are banking on it). Obama needs to keep that demographic quiet.

    Think what the reaction of this white male demographic would have been if Favreau had been a black man who even appeared to be cupping the putative breast of a cardboard representation of Hillary Clinton.

    Think what the reaction of the same demographic would have been if AC had been a black woman posing seminude in Maxim before she applied for a White House job. AC, had she been black, might have seemed less threatening in her photos than a black Favreau would have in his photo. But AC, if black, still would have been an easier target for Republican rage than she is now, precisely because she is in fact white. Remember that in the 1980′s, Vanessa Williams, a black woman who was crowned Miss America, had her crown revoked because she posed for Playboy. Times haven’t changed that much.

    Here is where I respectfully disagree with Octogalore’s point that for black appointees in the White House, class connections and political rank trump white racism. That might conceivably have been true for Condi Rice, the Secretary of State (and also a conservative), had she admitted a youthful indiscretion, but I’m not convinced that low-level staffers like AC and Favreau, had they been black, would have enjoyed the same protections of class and rank. This is especially true given the fact Obama in 2012 will again be confronted with implacable white racism in the voting booth, especially from white men, whereas women of any race will probably not vote Republican (or so Democrats probably believe), at least not in significant numbers.

    So the argument about AC’s and Favreau’s race is not a straw man because it is in fact relevant. But even though the argument is based on electoral realities (as I think), it is still hypothetical, and I should have noted that in my earlier comment.

  11. Pingback: links for 2009-02-23 « Embololalia

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