Journalism’s obsession with symbols and how they distorted our perception of reality.

People who look for publicity tend to be ruled by egos far more than conviction, but as journalists love their freaks, they often give the poseurs more publicity than the ones who are more thoughtful.

The “hatting” of the statue of Harriet Tubman was an unfortunate example of why journalism doesn’t get feminism and how it is distorting perceptions of reality.

Some people are really outraged, but their anger is misplaced at the wrong group. Others are trying to be more diplomatic, but again, it is not the whole picture.

So let’s break down this ugly episode from a different perspective:

  1. No true feminist would wear such a childish hat. First of all, it is meaningless, and a waste of life passivity. Second of all, it infantilizes women, and the nose tweaking is petty and something a powerless six year-old does because there is no other way to get back at mommy and daddy. So to wear one is an admission you don’t get feminism, but you do get the concept of getting attention for yourself by any passive means necessary.
  2. No feminist would place a hat on a statue. No feminist would think that was productive. She would absolutely know that a hat will not bring back victims of domestic violence, such as Holly Hamilton, or save the 200 girls who are still under Boku Haram’s power, or do anything for an Canadian Aboriginal Woman who was murdered, or help a single victim of human-trafficking. Lobbying governments, demanding news outlets focus on real issues, and taking bold and productive actions, on the other hand, would do a lot more than walking down a street with a placard and wearing an ugly hat. The only person who would do such a stupid thing is an insensitive ditz.
  3. Feminism has now been co-opted by Hollywood and Madison Avenue. Commercials of women still eating under their calorie count but pumping their fist in the air is not going to appeal to feminists. Movies with scantily clad women that are still told in a patriarchal style aren’t feminist. Now that attention-seekers have decided they are feminist, they are trying to figure out how to use the concept without actually giving up any of their non-feminist ways. So let’s wear that ugly hat, ladies! And shouldn’t we be marching right over those homeless women fleeing their abusive husbands and those teen prostitutes terrified of their pimps? Giving speeches will still get us airtime on the evening news, right?
  4. Journalism understands movements as a single entity that requires a symbol and catchy phrase. #MeToo, Time’s Up, they understand. Pink hat with ears that is in reference to the president’s crude blustering, they also get. But the press has always been sexist; so the lens is still patriarchal. They do not see that feminism is a mosaic, and that there is more than one kind, and that white women are not the only spokespeople around. This has given other women some idea that feminism is now a white thing.

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It’s not, of course, but the press covers it in such a way as to misrepresent it because being mindful of gender, age, and race all at the same time is, like, hard, or something.

Take the above cover. There is nothing innate or necessary about those group of women being together. The magazine could have focussed on any six currently popular actresses. If I had been invited to the photoshoot and saw that the demographics were that skewed, I would have bowed out immediately. Optics aside, there is something very insensitive about it. (As an aside, way back in the early aughts, I was asked to find students for one paid internship at a magazine, and as I was a college professor at the time, the pool would have been my rosters of students. I can tell you right now, I picked the absolute best and brightest, and it was a very diverse group. If you do not have diversity, you don’t have the whole picture).

5. What has happened is symbolism has been a shortcut for journalists; a hack, as it were. Instead of looking for the facts, they look for symbols to do the talking for them. The Tubman Affair is proof that this practice is destructive and should stop.

Stop looking for symbols and empty catchphrases. They will do no one any good. Look for facts from different voices. Do not assume the rich white feminist’s reality is the same as the working class Latina feminist, or even the rich Latina feminist. All three could have radically different realities, even if they all share the same truth.

Because feminism is being exploited as a war tactic against Donald Trump, too much is getting lost in translation. Feminism is getting distorted, and it is giving a false impression of what feminism is about: it is not a “white” thing. It is a way for all women to be free from abuse, obstacles, ostracism, inequity, and all the feints and ruses used against them to hold them back and confine them. Feminism isn’t about race: it is about freedom and getting opportunity; so women can live productive and prosperous lives as independent human beings. Women can then go on to create their own businesses, movements, industries, towns, political parties, ideologies, and anything else they want and need.

It is not about prancing around in a childish hat, and then, not knowing what to do in a democracy, belittling a historical figure with it (mind you, the figure wasn’t actually belittled because no one stupid ugly hat can take away from Tubman’s accomplishments). Her plight — and yours — have nothing in common.

And journalists should — but won’t — learn a lesson of what happens when you replace facts with symbols — perspectives get skewed, and the voices were absolutely need to hear, are usurped by those who don’t have a clue of what reality is, let alone the truth.

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