Last month the Associated Press published a poll of 158 sports editors for Female Athlete of the Year. Two of the top 10 were horses. Tennis great Serena Williams came first, and the horse Zenyatta came second.
While sports editors have a reputation for being sexist and chauvinistic, they also deserve a reputation for courting controversy through cheap stunts designed to bait feminists. And these efforts often work.
Unsurprisingly, online feminists were outraged. As one blogger wrote: "We live in a world in which animals are eligible to win 'Female Athlete of the Year' from one of the most important global news agencies. That's some shameful stuff. And for the record, none of the male athletes of the year were anything but human. That said, the winner was NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson. Given the AP's criteria, maybe his automobile should have won instead?"
Like sports editors, editors of "lads mags"' such as FHM and Zoo also have a reputation for provoking feminists through outlandish stunts. Years ago my boyfriend announced that he wanted to enter me into Zoo magazine's "Win your girlfriend a boob-job" competition. I was less than impressed but did not take the bait.
More recently, a quiz titled "Are you man enough for her?" was published in FHM. The quiz allocates "10 man points" for having sex with a woman when she has told you she does not want you to.
Feminists were quick to argue it is deeply offensive - and rather disturbing - to point to rape as a measure of manliness. But it is not always clear whether these editors are deliberately trying to court controversy, or whether they are just ignorant and offensive.
Yet while there are very valid reasons for feminists - and all women - to take exception to these tasteless articles, feminists often damage their cause by reacting in such a way that only perpetuates the stereotype of them as being humourless, shrill and aggressive. This gives chauvinistic editors more material to discredit feminists, and women at large.
When feminists respond to supercilious stunts with serious polemics, they can be easily accused of overreacting and lacking the ability to view things in context. When feminists become laughable figures, their arguments are often dismissed or lost amid the ridicule. Paradoxically, this shields those individuals who do hold misogynistic attitudes.
As a young woman I know how difficult it is to make a complaint and have it properly considered. If feminists want to be taken seriously, they must come up with ways to make others, particularly young men, more receptive to their views.
They could point out that their objections are directed at the magazines and not at those who read them. It is important feminists acknowledge that many readers are not misogynistic, and that they would take offence at any suggestion they are.
It would be a mistake for feminists to assume young men are not capable of reading with critical distance, or that they unthinkingly take on every offensive concept they are exposed to.
Not only do most of them possess a varied media diet; they have multiple and often contradictory sources of ideological input. Studies also show factors such as peer-group mentality and family-belief systems play a far greater role in informing their attitude towards women and gender issues.
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