Amal Clooney’s baby bump, not ISIS? Let’s leave women’s bodies out of news coverage
You might not have noticed, but a world-renowned lawyer and human rights activist gave an important, impassioned speech at the United Nations on the Islamic State and genocide. That’s because all U.S. and British media could talk about was her yellow dress and her baby bump.
Amal Clooney asked the world body to press forward with an investigation into crimes committed by the Islamic State. “I am speaking to you, the Iraqi government, and to you, U.N. member states, when I ask: Why? Why has nothing been done? … Don’t let ISIS get away with genocide.”
But of course, since the British-Lebanese lawyer is married to actor George Clooney and is pregnant with twins, most media focused on what she was wearing.
“Amal Clooney is a vision in yellow as she shows off hint of baby bump in chic dress,” reported The Mirror. “Wearing 4½-in heels at 6 months pregnant … is that wise, Amal?” asked The Daily Mail. Time originally went with a tweet that teased, “Amal Clooney shows off her baby bump at the United Nations,” but at least it later used a headline of “Amal Clooney Addresses United Nations on ISIS” after it got slammed on Twitter.
Samantha Schmidt at The Washington Post also took issue, reminding everyone of the seriousness of Amal Clooney’s message:
Those watching her speech would have hardly noticed her barely visible bump, unless, of course, they were specifically looking for it. Most were more focused on her impassioned address, which she attended with her client, Nadia Murad, a young Yazidi woman who was enslaved and raped by Islamic State militants.
And let’s review Clooney’s bona fides, which gives her plenty of authority to discuss this topic:
Clooney is a barrister for Doughty Street Chambers in London and represents clients before the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights as well other domestic courts in Britain and the United States. She served as a senior adviser to Kofi Annan when he was the United Nations’ envoy to Syria, and was counsel to the British inquiry on the use of armed drones, in addition to serving on the country’s team of experts on preventing sexual violence in conflict zones.
All of this is just the latest example of the double standard and fuzzy focus women face when trying to enact serious policy and address serious issues.
Before the media became obsessed with Hillary Clinton’s emails, they spent an inordinate amount of time on her pantsuits, which were covered in full by both The New York Times and The Washington Post. Former first daughter Malia Obama, who wants to study film, currently has an internship with filmmakers at the Weinstein Co. But all Slate wanted to talk about was whether she was committing a fashion faux pas with her choice of high-waisted jeans, and it wasn’t the only media review:
The Huffington Post pronounced that Malia “looks awesome” in them, and Vogue had her channeling Rihanna. (“Someone’s got to work!” the Daily Mail blared in its headline, a sly reference to her recently deposed father.) Woke lil’ sis Teen Vogue said Malia “slayed the first day of work outfit.”
Gee, I wonder what she’s learning about filmmaking? Who cares, I guess, as long as we can pass judgment about her clothes.
Kara Alaimo at the Columbia Journalism Review took the media to task. “Ignoring the actual work of brilliant women to gawk at their bodies is both sexist and irresponsible. It’s sexist because it reduces women to objects to be viewed while men, of course, don’t get the same treatment. I haven’t seen any reports lately about the stomachs, clothes, or shoes of male human-rights advocates. It’s irresponsible because it shifts focus away from the bodies of murdered civilians and onto the body of a celebrity. It leaves readers uninformed about one of the most pressing issues of our time.”
CJR issued a simple two-step rule for journalists:
First, media outlets should only report on a person’s appearance if such information is relevant to a story. … In situations when a woman’s external appearance has nothing to do with the activities she’s pursuing, there’s no reason or excuse for commenting on it. Rather, reporters should report on the activities the woman is pursuing. …
Newsroom policy should also demand that if a media outlet is going to report on the bodies of women, then they should also report on the bodies of men in a similar fashion. … I somehow can’t imagine Time following through on its tweet if it required also covering the U.N. Secretary-General salaciously.
“Every newsroom needs policies about how they cover people’s bodies,” Alaimo wrote. “It’s time for the media to evolve past archaic notions of how women’s bodies should be discussed. The imprint a woman leaves on the world has little to do with the silhouette of her shoe, and everything to do with the work she pursues.”