The blogosphere's breast debate

Blogger Ann Althouse rips on Feministing's Jessica Valenti after she poses for photo with Bill Clinton.

Published September 16, 2006 1:40AM (EDT)

Here's a dispiriting turn: Feministing frontwoman Jessica Valenti is being virtually assailed for having breasts -- or, at the very least, for failing to cover them up with a dowdy sweater or scoliotic hunch. In case you've missed this blogger battle royal, here's an introduction: Valenti was one of several bloggers invited to meet former President Clinton over lunch, and the lunch was followed by an obligatory photo op, in which the 27-year-old happened to stand directly in front of Clinton.

Law blogger Ann Althouse -- who either wasn't invited to the party or couldn't make the trip from Wisconsin -- then weighed in on the photo, snarking about Valenti's proximity to the former prez. A reader took the bait, wondering, "Who is the Intern directly in front of him with the black hair?" And in a race to the bottom, others joined in: "Dunno, but by her expression, it looks as though she may be getting 'a small glimpse at greatness.'"

Valenti herself eventually joined the fray, cracking back, "It's so nice to see women being judged by more than their looks. Oh, wait..." Althouse tried to rationalize her sniping by accusing Valenti of posing for the photo. Valenti replied: "It's a picture; people pose. And I'm not sure I understand your logic anyway. If I 'pose' for a picture (as opposed to sulking and hunching over?) then I deserve to be judged for my looks? I don't see anyone talking shit about the other bloggers smiling pretty for the camera." Fair points all, in our opinion.

But Althouse just dug in deeper, writing, "Jessica: I'm not judging you by your looks. (Don't flatter yourself.) I'm judging you by your apparent behavior. It's not about the smiling, but the three-quarter pose and related posturing... Posing in front of him like that irks me, as a feminist. So don't assume you're the one representing feminist values here. Whatever you call your blog..."

Yikes! Althouse seems to be engaging in the oldest form of female-baiting: Reducing other women, especially one's professional competitors, to their appearance and sexuality. To knock Valenti for looking attractive and then hit her with the inverse criticism "Don't flatter yourself" is behavior unworthy of the cattiest locker room. What's more, all this "intern"-related sniping is a comment on Clinton, not on Valenti. Althouse seems to be trying to make the point that feminists shouldn't give Clinton a photo op anyway because of the Lewinsky scandal, but unfortunately, the woman takes most of the blame.

In a more recent post (titled, outrageously, "Let's Take a Closer Look at Those Breasts") Althouse also attempts to skewer Feministing for its mud-flap mascots. A note to Ann Althouse: The use of the iconic mud-flap girls as the Feministing logo is deliberate. They are giving the finger. You can -- as Broadsheet readers always have -- argue about whether feminists can successfully reclaim oppressive words and images, but Althouse doesn't seem to have considered the obvious intention of the images.

Althouse further griped that Valenti has placed an ad for a Feministing tank top "stretched over the breasts of a model" and that one of the top posts is "a big close-up on breasts." And, yes, some (fully clothed) breasts are sometimes to be found on Feministing. Women do tend to have breasts. Are ads anti-feminist unless clothing is depicted on benign, breastless mannequins? Given this preponderance of evidence, Althouse concludes that "Jessica writes one of those blogs that are all about using breasts for extra attention." Kind of like bloggers who complain about other women's breasts for extra attention.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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