The Feministing Five: Zerlina Maxwell

Zerlina on Hannity

Zerlina smiling for Hannity

Two weeks ago, Zerlina was on the Sean Hannity show to talk women, guns and rape. If you’ve been following this blog, or her Twitter, or watching cable news in general, then you’ve almost certainly heard about her appearance. The premise of the segment was that all women should have the right to own a gun in order to defend themselves against rape. Zerlina had the audacity to argue that this is a problematic conflagration and that the onus should be placed on men to not commit rape, instead of adding yet another responsibility on women’s shoulders to not get raped. Fair enough. Well, the right wing media had a field day with this one and, of course, obfuscated her message. This led to a whole other species of vitriolic internet threats and jabs to her character.

Fortunately, other networks like MSNBC and Current picked up on this story and featured Zerlina recently on their shows to share, without interruption, her complete argument. (By the way, have you seen this John Fugelsang segment where he breaks down a Twitter fight about rape using Zerlina’s 3% rape conviction statistic? Watch it. Now.)

Since Zerlina is one of our own, Feministing readers get the special treat of hearing about this experience here on the site.

And now, without further ado, this special edition of the Feministing Five, with Zerlina Maxwell.

Anna Sterling: You’ve been a commentator for a lot of news shows. Did you have any idea that this Hannity appearance would be different than the rest?

Zerlina Maxwell: I’ve done Hannity before so I know what it’s like to do [his show]. It’s actually fun. He’s very nice and his staff is very nice. But I had no idea the reaction was going to be like this. I always get the “you’re dumb” tweets after I do FOX News. It wasn’t until the segment got picked up on The Blaze, which is Glenn Beck’s website. That is when I started getting threats. Because on The Blaze, they so cleverly took my quote: “Tell men not to rape women” and put the word “just” in front of it. I did not say the word “just” but they put it in front- that became proof in conservative media of what I said. They meme’d it, they put a picture, put it on Facebook. That’s what upset people. They assumed because I was saying that, I wanted women to not have the ability to get guns. That wasn’t my argument at all. I think the entire conversation about guns and rape needs to be taken apart. We live under the umbrella of rape culture and victim-blaming so the guns conversation is just another way to put the responsibility on women’s shoulders to prevent rape. And that’s what I was opposing in my argument. I don’t think we should be telling women they need a gun. I don’t think we should be telling women they need to not drink. I don’t think we should be telling women they need to wear longer skirts. I think we should be teaching men not to grow up and commit rape.

AS: Has this experience changed your journalism or commentating going forward?

ZM: I certainly don’t think that I’m going to change what I say. I’m obviously going to be concerned about whether what I am saying can be taken easily out of context. I’ll try to make my arguments a lot sharper. Now I see how things are taken out of context. Allies as well. I’ve been getting tweets from supposed allies asking questions about things I’ve never even written about. There’s accusations coming at me that I’m some sort of charlatan, which is weird.

AS: How do you prepare for these appearances? Was it difficult for you at first?

ZM: I’ve done a lot of media training. Media training is really helpful in the sense that when you get booked for something, I [now] have a routine of what I do. Usually they give you a background story for the piece, then I write out my three talking points, and I always make sure I have one point or one takeaway I want to say more than one time in the segment. It doesn’t always work out that way. Many times I’ll have to say something I wasn’t prepared to say if they ask a question I wasn’t prepared for them to ask. I read all the news anyway, so I’m always staying on my toes. The biggest preparation though is practicing your lines. It sounds like I’m acting and in some ways it is a little bit of a performance. A lot of times I practice in the car on the way. And a lot of it is legal training. I try to anticipate arguments others will make and how I can have a nice, witty comeback for that argument. Law school helps alot with that.

AS: You handle difficult arguments with difficult people like Hannity and Limbaugh with such grace and calmness. And on national television of all things! What tips do you have for our readers on how to become a great debater?

ZM: Practice, number one. They can seek out a media training program. I absolutely recommend doing that as well as debating your friends and family. For me, I just try to smile as much as possible. Sometimes I’m super frustrated, but I just smile. I focus on, “Okay, I’m getting yelled at, but I’m going to be ready to hit them back with another argument as soon as they’re done talking.” It takes practice. When I do a radio interview, I know I’m not a camera and so I [can] get really upset. I do Sean Hannity’s radio show a lot as well. Those debates actually get a lot more heated.

AS: Any funny stories or SNAFUs you have to share from the broadcast television world?

ZM: I definitely have jogged and briskly walked because I was almost late. Definitely don’t be late. I’ve never missed a segment, but I have had stress getting to a segment. Live TV doesn’t wait for you so you’re getting there and the makeup artist is stressed out, they’re under the gun, I’m on a time crunch, and the producers are all stressed out. When you get out there, you want to be calm on TV even though you may have sprinted 100 meters to get into the building on time. A lot of the cable news channels will provide you with transportation to get there. When they suggest a time to depart, I like to ask them to come 10 minutes earlier just so I can have a bit of a cushion. Always be prepared for everything to go wrong all at once.

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