After hearing lots about the Ms. Obama cover controversy from detractors (but only a short response from publisher Eleanor Smeal), we decided to go straight to Smeal — and executive editor Kathy Spillar — herself.
I caught up both yesterday at the EMILY's List Luncheon and asked. To a great degree, Spillar and Smeal attribute the controversy to women who saw the cover but did not read the article. Smeal said:
By the way, we weren't calling him Superman, that was the imagery. They didn't read our column which really shows that what we really wanted people to know was that he ran on the strongest platform for women's rights of any candidate. One of the reasons was his policy director was Karen Kornbluh, and she put it all through the platform. But, if we're going to achieve that platform, we're going to have to hold our leaders' feet to the fire. We must organize, and organize and organize if we're going to achieve the groundswell of public support that makes it all possible. So there's no "rescue" of the feminist movement — as you can see here, it's strong and healthy."
When I asked them to respond to the criticism that putting a man on the cover as a feminist icon felt exclusionary to some feminists, Smeal had a couple of comments.
No! It means that everyone can be feminist! We have a majority of women [who call themselves feminist] and strong support among men. Why don't we say it? I'm very proud that the 44th President of the United States self-identifies as a feminist and I want the world to know!
[In their polling] 33 percent of men self-identify as feminists and 58 percent of women do. Among young women... the identification of themselves as feminists is like 68 percent. So it's celebratory!
I really think that's its overdue for a time to talk about the feminist movement. And men can be feminists, too. And we're glad that this cover gives us this opportunity. But I also feel that there are some people that hold on to the past in a way, and the future is that this is a very exciting time. Civil rights and women's rights were fought together. We've now cracked it for African-Americans. Obama represents high hopes for both our communities.
Looks like at least some feminists are up for a little discussion about the future of the feminist movement. Because if not now, when?