The media can’t get enough about America’s new butch sweetheart, Rachel Maddow.
I can’t say I blame them, but this week’s piece on Maddow entitled Butch Fatale maybe takes it a bit too far.
Author Daphne Merkin writes an overly poetic piece about the role of lesbians in fashion–the forgotten wallflowers, she calls us. She relies on a lot of played out tropes (battle of the sexes, lipstick lesbians, etc) and makes the claim that Maddow marks the beginning of a new era for lesbian glamour.
Lesbianism has finally come into a glamour of its own, an appeal that goes beyond butch and femme archetypes into a more universal seduction. Her name is Rachel Maddow, the polished-looking, self-declared gay newscaster who stares out from the MSNBC studio every weekday night and makes love to her audience.
While I agree that Rachel Maddow’s existence and popularity definitely say something about the openness of the mainstream media, I can’t help but think Merkin is making a mountain out of a molehill. Maddow hasn’t changed the lesbian community as a whole, and despite whatever the mainstream population does or doesn’t think about lesbians, there is a subculture which promotes and fosters all sorts of fashions and gender presentations. It’s a subculture that has been thriving for a long time now, with or without media representation.
Maddow may be making love to some of her audience (like the Feministing crew) but she’s also walking the fine line between androgyny and acceptability. She’s got the necessary feminine touches to make her palatable (coiffed hair, pink lipstick, eyeshadow) and not too butch for TV. I wouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking she has changed the fundamental meaning of sex icon.
I heart Maddow just like the rest of us but let’s not pretend she’s some sort of lesbian savior.