How Odd!

Reuters' "Oddly Enough" continues to piss me off with its weirdly misogynist designations of what constitutes "odd news." Scrolling through their collection today, I find:

Woman kept dead husband by bed for a year: "A woman in Mexico City kept the body of her dead husband by her bedside for a year until neighbors, disturbed by the smell, called the police." [1]

Woman arrested over body parts in fridge: "Malaysian police have arrested a woman in connection with the murder of a man whose body was chopped into 11 pieces and stuffed into a refrigerator in a posh apartment in the capital." [2]

Clinton campaign insulted by cleavage article: "Insulted by a fashion article about Hillary Clinton's cleavage, her presidential campaign is trying to use the incident to raise money." [3]

Sheikh delays plane over seating: "A Qatar sheikh held up a British Airways flight at Milan's Linate airport for nearly three hours after discovering three of his female relatives had been seated next to men they did not know." [4]

Broken Record Time: In recent months, I've read under the heading of "Odd News" stories about a man branding his wife with a hot iron, a man coercing his wife into having plastic surgery to look like his deceased first wife, wives/girlfriends/exes being held against their will in various "odd" places including a coffin, women being traded for "odd" objects or offered as reparations for "odd" transgressions, "odd" forms of abuse against women, and women doing notable things good and bad, that, while newsworthy, only seem to be "odd-worthy" because they were done by women, all reported alongside such frivolous fare as Chocoholic squirrel steals treats from shop.

This strikes me as one of those nuances of sexism that many men don't notice or understand. To have women's experiences like this trivialized as "Odd News" is just infuriating, and being obliged to think about someone chuckling over the hilarious oddity of a one of the most powerful women in the world being insulted by a cleavage article—and having the hilariously odd notion to make lemonade from the stinking lemons by raising awareness and funds with it—can make a gal angry as fuck, particularly as she recognizes that the constant positioning of humiliated women as the butt of jokes humiliates us all. This shit is important, and even as I say it, I know why it doesn't seem like it is, or should be.

The thing is, the real cost of sexism to women is not in our paying a single emotional penny here for this insult and a single emotional penny there for that disgrace, but in the cumulative negative balance it leaves inside each of us. Even if we let this thing or that thing roll off of the thickened skins of our backs, we pay another penny each time; letting it roll off your back is just another way of saying keep your complaints to yourself, but it doesn't change the reality that sexism takes its toll, whether one has the ill manners of mentioning the offense or not.

As I've said before, the word that comes to my mind when I try to explain how sexism affects me is history. And I don't mean history in an academic sense, as in the history of the feminist movement, but as in my own history—a thousand threads of experience that come together to weave the fabric that I regard as my life. That history contains lots of wonderful and not wonderful things, related and unrelated things. Little things, things like seeing so many stories about the mistreatment of women culled under the heading of "Odd News," prick at a particular thread as though it's a guitar string, but instead of producing sound, it produces memory, memory of all the other times I have seen women or their stories belittled for others' amusement, memory of all the times such degradation has been used to mask the need for helping women in real need of assistance, or even just in need of being regarded with some basic fucking dignity.

I don't carry these memories with me because I want to. I carry them with me because they have left indelible prints upon me, affected my understanding of who I am to other people. I don't want to be bothered when I notice things like the treatment of women in "Odd News" features. But it doesn't matter what I want. To protect myself against this reaction is to deny my experience, to deny part of myself.

I write posts like this in the hope that they will speak to a man who has never had to think about what it means to be a woman in the world, who doesn't understand what women are "still complaining about," or wonders why we can't just let pass without comment, without anger, a sexist t-shirt or a misogynist slur or our irritation at the way stories about women are presented in the news. But mostly, I write posts like this for other women, who see things like this every day, and feel it chipping away at them, and whose pain is assuaged only by knowing that other women share it. In other words, I write posts like this for me.


1 Sad, pitiable, and gross are all adjectives that come to mind before "odd." But it's about a woman who's also non-American, so naturally it found its way into Reuters' Oddly Enough.

2 Heinous. Cruel. Despicable. Not so much "odd." But hey, it was a non-American woman, and she was upper class, and that's the trifecta for odd-newsiness.

3 This "odd" news story contains the hilariously "odd" contention from senior advisor Ann Lewis that donors can "take a stand against this kind of coarseness and pettiness in American culture… Frankly, focusing on women's bodies instead of their ideas is insulting. It's insulting to every woman who has ever tried to be taken seriously in a business meeting. It's insulting to our daughters—and our sons." Odd, odd, odd!

4 Ooh, even better than a non-American woman doing something terrible, it's non-American women having something terrible done to them! Oppression is just so darn odd!

(And I'm not presuming that the women in question actually felt like something terrible was being done to them. I'm just trying to capture the typical vibe of the Odd News stories, in which any cultural differences affecting women are implicitly framed as oppressive. Some actually are; some actually aren't—depends on the individual story.)

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus