Real feminists don’t have breasts

“Little things please little minds.” Sometimes not-so-little things:

Valenti with Clinton

The photo (cropped from the original, which includes a larger group) looks pretty innocuous, right? But it has created a great stir in the blogosphere — twice! The original stir happened six months ago and it’s back in the spotlight again this week.

It helps if you know that Jessica Valenti, the woman in the grey sweater, is a feminist who contributes to the blog, Feministing. Note that Jessica is white; she has brown hair; and she has breasts. OMG, she and Monica Lewinski are virtually indistinguishable! (Not really. Perhaps Valenti looks a little like Paula Jones.)

According to Valenti’s critics, she is pushing her breasts forward so that Bill Clinton can’t help but think, “I must have that woman. Maybe I can come up with an excuse to go into the broom closet with her.” In other words, this feminist is using her body parts to curry favour with a powerful man.

This major news story first hit the blogosphere in September, when Ann Althouse jumped all over it. Now it’s getting renewed attention after Althouse had a total meltdown in an interview on

(It’s available on Youtube, of course. But it’s not worth watching, unless you’re titillated by the sight of a presumably rational adult throwing a hissy fit. In brief, the interviewer (Garance Franke-Ruta) made a perfectly innocent reference to the “the whole sort of Jessica Valenti breast controversy,” which was enough to send Althouse into a rage. Althouse accused Franke-Ruta of character assassination and indeed, of assaulting her!)

Does the photo really warrant this much attention? Andrew Sullivan nails it: “It’s amazing what two boobs, Bill Clinton, and a blog can foment, isn’t it?”

But maybe the controversy illustrates a serious issue. As Valenti lamented back in September:

Things like this remind me that no matter what I do or accomplish, because I’m a young woman all I’m good for is fodder for tacky intern jokes and comments that I don’t “represent feminist values” because of the way I posed in a picture.

What’s worse is that this comes from other women, other progressives, and other supposed feminists. How are we supposed to move forward as a movement if we’re busy bashing each other with this ridiculousness?

I don’t know anything about Jessica Valenti, so I can’t comment on her intelligence or the substance of her feminism. But the above point is certainly valid: why are women so often in the business of putting other women down? Aren’t feminists supposed to oppose behaviour detrimental to the advancement of women?

I’m reminded of one of the Church Fathers, who castrated himself in his zeal to obey Mt. 19:12. I guess a real feminist would have her breasts removed.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bill
    Mar 28, 2007 @ 16:05:56

    Another reason I don’t venture into the debate over feminism. Personally I think of myself as a feminist as I support equality, but it seems that equality is not a feminist idea anymore. A gender lens that accepts the diferences between the sexes is more a feminist point of view, and I was told once that only a lesbian could be a true feminist. Personally it is just an issue of definition but some would, and do, disagree.


  2. Knotwurth Mentioning
    Mar 28, 2007 @ 22:23:52

    But then, does this idea of removing one’s breasts not violate the entire notion of feminism? I’m sure this is what you are driving at partly, dad, and it is certainly what Bill means when he comments on the gender lens… but it just seems so ridiculous, because it’s not even comparable to the zealous priest, because it does not follow any interpretable notion of what feminism should entail! She should be happy to have breasts, as having them is part of being feminine. Becoming more like a man does not seem a constructive way to earn women rights… it just makes women nonexistent!

    As Bill said, if this is feminism (which it is criticized as being, although I have rarely heard quite as blatant a case that I could actually see documented), I would sooner be considered a fan of equality, not feminism. But then, feminists see that as not supporting women. That much I know, because I have shared that opinion (feminism having gone further than equality in its demands) with friends who consider themselves such. Sigh!


  3. Stephen
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 08:12:59

    • Bill:
    I guess it’s up to women to dispute the correct meaning of “feminist”. It’s probably safer for us to describe ourselves as egalitarian, and avoid using a term that means different things to different people.

    But — with due regard for the fact that I’m male, and therefore on the outside looking in — it seems to me that Althouse has made herself look bad here. Both times — first in September and again this week.

    • Knotwurth:
    I guess my point in the final paragraph was too oblique. I think it is mistaken zeal for a Christian to castrate himself; and I think it is mistaken zeal for women to suppose that any woman who wears a tight sweater is therefore not a true feminist.

    The worst anyone can reasonably say is that Valenti’s pose looks artificial — forced. But that doesn’t prove that she was trying to make her breasts prominent in the photo! People sometimes look awkward in photographs; it’s foolish to make assumptions that this is the “true” person revealing itself.

    Come to think of it, you recently posted on that very subject.


  4. Ozymandias
    Mar 30, 2007 @ 11:35:27

    I don’t see anything controversial about her pose. It is just a picture.


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