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Well, you did dare to speak in public, so I guess you deserve this

Remember Katherine Fenton, the young woman who asked the candidates a question about the gender pay gap during Tuesday’s debate? The one who gave Barack Obama the chance to remind us that the first law he ever signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and gave Mitt Romney the chance to give us all a great meme (and also invent a story about his track record of hiring women)? Well, because that 24-year-old woman had the nerve, the audacity, to ask about gender inequality – IN PUBLIC, OUT LOUD – she’s now the target of attacks on the right.

I’m not going to link to the Free Beacon, the conservative site that yesterday put up a post about Fenton – with no author byline, real classy move – because I don’t want to give them the traffic. But Free Beacon has taken to Fenton’s Twitter feed in an attempt to find tweets that will discredit her. And as we all know, the best way to discredit a woman in America is to call her a slut (it’s a tie with “fat” and “ugly,” and you get extra Douchebag Points if you can do all three). From Raw Story:

The article, published anonymously, alleged that Katherine Fenton’s Twitter account “reveals that purple Joose is her choice to get blackout drunk and she has a history of getting wet at happy hour.” The article also highlights sexually suggestive messages Fenton allegedly sent from her Twitter account.

The Twitter account cited in the article no longer exists.

Yeah, you take that, 24-year-old kindergarten teacher who wants to be paid as much as a man doing the same job! Now you’ll think twice before publicly voicing an opinion, you slutty slut slut! You’re lucky we let you vote, you drunken hussy!

Irin Carmon at Salon had an interview with Fenton yesterday, in which Fenton said that she didn’t feel either candidate answered her question, and that she’s still an undecided voter. One thing I bet she’s not undecided about, though, is that this shit is uncool.

According to that interview, Fenton doesn’t consider herself a feminist, but let me tell you something, Katherine: if a 24-year-old man had stood up and asked a question that conservatives didn’t like, they wouldn’t pull this kind of stunt. They wouldn’t bring up his drinking and throw around sexual innuendo about him, because in our culture, drinking and fucking make men more powerful, not less.

This shit is sexist, and feminism is the fight against sexism. You might not consider yourself one of us, Katherine, but we’ve got your back anyway.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/thelittlegrape/ Mari Passananti

    An anonymous comment is an act of astonishing cowardice.

    In terms of the media, however, I assumed any piece published without byline represented the views of that publication’s editorial board. So to me, it seems the editors of Free Beacon stand by this piece.

    http://thelittlegrape.blogspot.com

  • http://feministing.com/members/tkalenb/ Kalen T

    I’m very much with the post up until the last two paragraphs, particularly the last. Call me short-sighted, but why is it so important that someone self-identifies as a feminist over merely being an advocate for equality between all genders? And what does it mean to identify as feminist? Is there some sort of litmus test that we have to pass? Is identifying as feminist one form of those many means by which we achieve equality?

    Between this blog and the July 18, 2012 post about the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer — specifically drawing attention to the fact that neither individual identifies as feminist, addressing them directly, and then immediately giving back-handed comments such as “You might not consider yourself one of us, Katherine, but we’ve got your back anyway” or “And Marissa, it is too bad that feminism has become a negative word. You know what’s also too bad? Your failure to acknowledge that without feminism, you could never have become the CEO of Yahoo” .

    I could entirely be misreading the inflections/tones/passion, but this smells like a subtle form of shaming. Hence — as opposed to keeping the focus strictly on the fact that it is wrong for these conservative sources to be going after Katherine for not adhering to a specific social script which is beautifully outlined in the post by her deviation — my question regarding the importance of identifying as specifically ‘feminist’.

    I don’t think it should matter if someone identifies as feminist or not as long as they are in favor of gender equality and against those cultural structures/practices, overt as well as covert, which seek to suppress that equality and disadvantage multiple communities, women and transgender among them. I don’t really see the reason/advantage for rebuking these women for not identifying “as one of us”.

    • http://feministing.com/members/zugasaurus/ Laura

      I don’t think it’s meant to be shaming at all. What’s problematic about the women you mentioned not identifying as feminist is that it contributes to the widespread misconceptions of what feminism is. The reason that that’s a problem is that the very simple ideas underlying feminism–ideas about equality and fairness–become “feminist” ideas. They get attached to the great looming evil that anti-feminists constantly try to convince everyone feminism really is.

      The phrase “those who fail to remember history are condemned to repeat it” comes to mind. That quote from the Marissa Mayer article makes a good point. It’s true that without feminism and the feminists willing to put in a lot of effort to push it, Mayer wouldn’t have ever been able to get the position she holds. To forget that, to deny that it was important, or to minimize the value of feminism and its ideals is to walk a dangerous road. Feminist values do not become less true or right or important just because people turn against the title, but they will become less vigilantly-protected.

      Is it the end of the world when a particular individual woman disclaims the title “feminist?” No, of course not. But when it’s a trend, particularly among women who speak the loudest and reach the widest audience precisely because of what feminism has done for them, feminist becomes a bad word, something that people don’t want to be. And if the name is bad, then what it represents must certainly also be bad. And when that happens, there will be big problems for all women, not just those who call themselves feminists.That’s not where we need to be heading.

      • http://feministing.com/members/rachel612/ rachel

        Thank you, Laura. Something to link to permanently.

      • http://feministing.com/members/tkalenb/ Kalen T

        I second Rachel in this. Thank you for an awesome and thoughtful answer, Laura! It’s definitely given my brain more to munch on.

  • http://feministing.com/members/cowman/ Al

    It’s ridiculous that people are attacking her because she spoke out against inequal pay. It’s like that woman who spoke up in front of Congress about contraception and got lambasted by the right for daring to talk about contraception in front of men. I mean, some people still call her a slut and other slanderous names, despite her never mentioning needing the contraception for sex. In this case, this woman’s question had nothing to do with sex so why on earth do the right resort to sexual slurs and insults? It’s ridiculous.

  • http://feministing.com/members/rosalynk/ Rose

    I find it very frightening that in today’s world many people are still trying to silence women. Women make up half the population – why shouldn’t women have a voice? Is it so intimidating for a woman to ask for something she knows she deserves, like equal pay? I stand by Katherine as well and I believe that more people, both men and women, should be asking why equal pay between the sexes is nonexistent. It is a fact that on average, women who have a bachelor’s degree will still make less money per year and in their lifetime than men with only a high school diploma. For a man and woman working the same job, the man will, on average, make much more money than the woman will. What man is so disrespectful towards himself and his own gender, much less that of his female counterparts, that he would allow someone to pay him more regardless of his abilities or intelligence but based solely on the fact that he is a man? It was a man who said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” and we need to recognize that gender, just like skin color, is not a part of the equation of the worth of a person.