2013: The year in sexism

"Big" thighs, Blurred Lines and post-baby bodies galore -- behold the moments the year forgot feminism

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published December 26, 2013 3:00PM (EST)

Robin Thicke      (AP/Alex Brandon//Salon)
Robin Thicke (AP/Alex Brandon//Salon)

Let's not even go into the attacks on reproductive freedom or all the violence against women, or even the Aaron Sorkin characters who set your teeth on edge. Let's just talk about the ways pop culture can chip away at the soul, the ways a jokey demonstration of a game or an imaginary Twitter fight or yet another celebrity explaining that she believes in equality but don't call her a feminist or the sound of that song that just wouldn't go away can make a person realize how far we still have to go. There were truly far too many contenders to choose from this year, but these were the sexist lowlights that raised our blood pressure most.

Elan Gale

It turned out "Diane," the huffy airline passenger in the medical mask, never even existed. What Buzzfeed dubbed an "epic" encounter that "won" Thanksgiving was instead merely the "Bachelor" producer's stunt to "entertain some people" with "a cautionary tale." Gale's "entertaining," "cautionary" message? You can pretend to send a strange woman a note saying, "Eat my dick" and be lauded as a champion of civility. Got it.


In an inadvertently revealing feature on Bleacher Report co-founder Bryan Goldberg's attempt to "redefine what 'women’s interest' looks like," the New Yorker showed the world a man who's disappointed. Disappointed, because "Honestly, nothing would have been more helpful here than for some highly regarded feminist writers to say, 'Bryan’s a good person.'" A man who explains, "I am a dude. I don’t have a lot of overlapping interests with most women my age. I’m really into history. I’m really into markets and finance. I don’t know a damn thing about beauty, but I don’t need to." Because those unhelpful feminists wouldn't be into history or finance. And the photo accompanying the whole thing? It was of a thoughtful Goldberg sprawled on the floor and surrounded by a gaggle of female employees, tapping away on a laptop perched on a high-heeled, short-skirted woman's lap. Who says it's tough for women to find desk jobs?

Sexism pretending to be journalism

Goodness, where to begin? James Taranto boo-hooing over a "war on men" and "an effort to criminalize male sexuality" in a story on military sexual assault? Richard Cohen's bizarre Miley Cyrus-centric complaining about "the so-called Steubenville Rape" (an odd term for a crime that has so far led to two rape convictions)? How about CNN's pity party for the rapists? Maybe a Fox News guest's assertion that women should "thank men" for freeing us up "to embrace that side of yourself that isn’t about work"? We could list all the ways the media gave a platform to Dark Ages ignorance, but we'd be here till 2015.


What do you if you're a "premium" clothing brand faced with accusations of deteriorating quality in your merchandise? If you're Chip Wilson, you oh so subtly suggest maybe the problem is your fat, scratchy thighs, lady – perhaps because his company's pants only go up to size 12 anyway. In a Bloomberg interview in November, the company founder said, "Some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for it … They don’t work for some women’s bodies. It’s about the rubbing through the thighs, [and] how much pressure is there." Women and their thighs protested otherwise. Wilson abruptly stepped down as company chairman a month later.

Maria Kang

Speaking of body wars. First, she laid down the gauntlet – and got herself a whole lot of free publicity – by posing in an abs-flaunting ensemble surrounded by her three children and provocatively asking, "What's your excuse?" Then Kang ramped it up by ranting against Curvy Girl Lingerie’s campaign of plus-sized women posting photos of themselves in their underwear and complaining, "We’re normalizing obesity in our society." To cap it all off, she confidently told ABC in early December, "I said you can just tell by looking at someone if they are fit or not…. Anyone can tell this with a bare naked eye looking at a bare naked stomach." For her obsessive fat-shaming, Kang is proof that a woman can be just as backward and toxic as any man.

Insanity toward female politicians

There was the New York Post's catty Hillary Clinton cover saying, "No wonder Bill's afraid." There was the time Julia Gillard's "small breasts, huge thighs and big red box" were the menu items at an Australian fundraiser. There was Wendy Davis' depiction as an "abortion Barbie." There was the outraged backlash against British MP Jo Swinson and the question of whether she "hates women," because she had the audacity to stand during Prime Minister’s Questions, despite being seven months pregnant. In short, if it involved a woman who managed to ever be elected or appointed to an office, chances are someone had something terrible to say about it.

Geek misogyny

Remember when Adria Richards tweeted a photo of some men she said were making crude comments during a conference? When the men were fired, Richards was threatened, harassed and canned from her job. During TechCrunch's Disrupt conference, a pair of dudes unveiled a TitStare app and another got up and pantomimed masturbation. And at E3, a live "Killer Instinct" demo featured a male player telling his female opponent, "Just let it happen. It'll be over soon." Oh, if only this juvenile, boys' club crap really was over.

Royal baby hysteria

Moments after she'd popped out her first child, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, was already being lauded by CNN correspondent Victoria Arbiter, cheering, "This is how brilliant a royal Kate is. There are women throughout British Royal Family history who have panicked over not being able to deliver a boy and here we are. Kate did it — first time." Yes, it's true, biology fans – being able to have a son instead of a daughter is not a matter of sex-determining chromosomes but brilliance. And when she emerged the next day from the hospital carrying her new son in her arms, the Huffington Post announced that "Kate Middleton Debuts Post-Baby Body One Day After Giving Birth." Not debuting the future king of England or anything, but her body. Her early pregnancy was marked by hyperemesis. But it was the public reaction to the birth that makes feminists want to throw up.

Miss America haters

When 24-year-old Miss New York, Nina Davuluri, became the first Indian-American winner in the pageant's history – notably beating blonde, tattooed, gun-loving member of the armed forces Miss Kansas -- the morons of the Internet took swift umbrage and called the new queen "Miss 7-11" and said she resembled "a gas station clerk or motel owner." For an extravaganza usually known strictly for its sexism, it was an innovative display of putting a woman down by being really racist too.

And of course, "Blurred Lines"

There's nothing wrong with pop music getting sexy -- I too am up all night to get lucky. But Robin Thicke's ode to a "good girl" with ambiguous sexual boundaries – unlike the "bitch" of his prior history -- combined with that video of naked models meowing and cavorting around leering, fully dressed men made for the most shudder-worthy earworm of the summer.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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