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Courtney Messerschmidt Is Just a Beer Commercial

September 9, 2011

In case you missed it, ding dong Great Satan’s Girlfriend is… well, not dead, but outed. If you missed the brouhaha, here and here and here. Good timing, too, because after she linked to Caitlin’s excellent post about women in IR/FP/natsec and had the temerity to stick some random co-eds on top, I had just about had it with people holding her up as some vanguard for women in the field. The character of Courtney Messerschmidt was not some paragon of womankind; she was a pernicious element that can’t go away soon enough for my tastes.

To be clear, I’m not objecting to her ideas (what few I could glean through her mangling of the English language). I don’t agree with neoconservatism, but I do support free speech and freedom of conscience.  Had she simply spouted gibberish without the photographic accompaniment, I wouldn’t have had quite as much of a problem.

No, I’m primarily outraged by her claim to be promoting women when she was very clearly doing the opposite. Not to go all Sociology 101 on you, but her choice of images belied her commitment to promoting women’s participation in these traditionally male-dominated fields. Her photos were generally of rumpled, possibly drunk, teen/20-something girls, often suggestively dressed, posing for the straight male gaze. Sometimes there was a militant element, but just as often these girls are in their Victoria Secret PINK best in a dorm room. This is what women in foreign policy are supposed to look like?

And I get that it’s a marketing ploy. It’s the same basic premise as a beer commercial – men like looking at women, men feel entitled to look at women, men pay more attention when women are half-dressed, and somebody somewhere benefits (though rarely the women being looked at). In the case of beer, the company makes sales, because men are the primary purchasers of beer. In the case of Courtney, she gets attention in a crowded marketplace of ideas, because men still dominate the field.

But unlike in the beer scenario, women were actively harmed by the Courtney character*. Courtney is a prime example of a patriarchal bargain at work. By sexualizing her intellectual output to draw in (male) readers, she was participating in a system in which women as a whole are disadvantaged in exchange for her personal gain. Once inside the in-crowd, she made noises about girl power without doing anything to dismantle the system that holds up the male view as the only one that matters. All gender is performance, but her performance of a specific form of femininity and the resultant attention she got for it disadvantages women who aren’t willing to take their clothes off to be heard. Most smart women realize that men will pay attention to you if they’re sexually attracted to you, but that that doesn’t equate to respect for your ideas. So most smart women keep their clothes on and struggle to be heard above the din in the normal ways.

Look, it’s not easy being pretty, young, and/or female in this field. I’m not claiming to be the second coming of Liz Taylor here, but I frequently question whether I’m being taken seriously because I’m talking sense or because I’m cute and charming. Are you reading this because I’ve got a great rack? Is my writing being promoted because I’m female, and therefore need that extra boost because well hey she’s trying but she’s just a girl, or because I’m legitimately good at this? I don’t want to be thought of as good for a girl; I want to be thought of as good period full stop. I don’t want to do better than I otherwise would strictly because I’ve got two X chromosomes.

If I were feeling charitable, I’d feel sorry for the real Courtney, tucked somewhere in this collective. She’s made some bad choices, dropping out of college, et al, and this probably seemed a good way to get some attention. But y’know, I’m just not feeling charitable. We’ve all had to fight to get where we are. There’s an older generation of women who had to fight more. To cheat your way past the real work of establishing yourself and building your legitimacy through the objectification of young women… nope. No charity. There is a level of self-centeredness and willful perniciousness on display in this little collective that takes my breath away.

I imagine there will be no consequences for her. I expect that she/they will still write for Wings Over Iraq and Line of Departure – free content posted constantly is hard to pass up – and I expect Tom Ricks will continue to venerate her as the voice of an up-and-coming generation. I also expect she/they will continue attaching photos of sexy ladies to titillate a male audience, who are clearly the only people who anybody would want to write for anyway [/sarcasm], because they don’t understand how harmful that is to the real women out there. So, y’know, thanks, Courtney. Thanks, anybody who publishes those photos. Thanks for continuing to legitimate the objectification of women. If you’re the future of foreign policy and national security, I want nothing to do with it.

* There’s an argument to be made that beer advertisements also harm women; see here, here, and here. Basically, read Sociological Images. It’s the best blog out there hands down.

  1. William Dupre permalink
    September 10, 2011 6:46 pm

    Look, if people don’t like you or your ideas they’ll find some reason to reject you, not necessarily a logical reason. If you’re a woman, they may say oh, she’s just a woman, what does she know about the subject. If you’re a male they can say you didn’t go to the right university, or you wear the wrong shirts, or you don’t have the right class or social origins or the right political leanings.

    To think that one can take sexuality out of the equasion of face-to-face human communication is to misapprehend what humans are.

    To think that one’s on-line articles are accepted or rejected because of one’s sex is to underestimate one’s readership.

    Are you hoping to achieve notoriety and acceptance as a writer just because you are a woman? Do you deserve our readership simply for the fact that you are a member of an “oppressed class” (females),

    If you don’t like being looked at by men, why do you display your photograph on the blog? This would seem to be inconsistent with your protestations. But then, in my world, women have the right to be inconsistent.

    Do you approve the niqab which protects women from men’s gazes? Okay, that come’s with a lot of other associations, such as job discrimination and worse. But if it didn’t?

    • September 12, 2011 9:09 pm

      There’s a lot to respond to here, and I can’t and won’t hit everything. Quickly though:

      I don’t deserve your readership because I’m female, nor do I really believe my readers read me because of that. It is, however, the sort of question one asks oneself during long dark teatimes of the soul.

      I post my headshot because people put more trust in authors whose faces they’ve seen. I do not post it for men, or for women. I post it for my audience as a whole.

  2. Hexsaw permalink
    September 11, 2011 5:20 am

    Thank-you for perfectly summing up my frustration with GSGF. I never quite understood why she was venerated, but because writers I admired seemed to follow her respectfully/admiringly (Tom Ricks, WOI, Carl Prine, DM), I found myself periodically returning to her page and then found myself irritated all over again by the sexytime and the incomprehensible nuspeak.

    Which of course left me wondering whether I was actually a sexist bastard because I couldn’t comfortably associate foreign policy insight/legitimacy with 20-something hot coeds. Or an aging idiot because I couldn’t understand her pop-31337-speak.

    But it’s the first issue, the idea that using sex to sell foreign policy legitimacy undermines everyone, is something that I never even considered. Sheesh. Thanks for the article, and for making me think about this.

    • September 12, 2011 8:52 pm

      You’re more than welcome! Sociology gets a bad rap, but it’s got some pretty useful frameworks for understanding interpersonal relations.

      And yeah, it’s not just you. Almost everybody I’ve talked to has said they read her, or tried to read her, because of one or more of the individuals you mentioned. I think there are some interesting group trust dynamics at work here – “she” gained the trust of a few well-respected individuals and grew that into a public voice – and I don’t mean to put primary responsibility on any one person’s shoulders. I suppose all we can do is chalk this up to valuable lessons learned.

  3. Lisa permalink
    September 12, 2011 9:53 am

    This is nothing that most women don’t already know, even if they won’t admit it: Women are often the harshest judges of other women. The flip-flop-wearing Valley Girl in my office whose conversations are so liberally peppered with “like”s that I can’t even stand talking to her may be the smartest thing to come down the pike in a long time, but if she isn’t bright enough to present herself as a professional, I’m not going to listen to her. And yes, I’m a middle-aged woman, but I wouldn’t be her age again if you paid me.

  4. William Dupre permalink
    September 13, 2011 2:07 am

    Diana –

    In my earlier post I neglected the main point of your article: GSGF. I hit the site a few times a week. Some of the lingo is obscure to me but most is not. I enjoy the effect. It’s quite poetic sometimes.

    You don’t like their marketing strategy, yet that very strategy encourages me to be a repeat reader. Some of the nation’s warriors on the battlefront may find it comforting, too. In the end, that’s what their fighting for, isn’t it? As much or more than for democracy and the flag, their fighting for their family back home.

    The site may also attract differently-oriented women. Knocking the site opens you to charges of unconscious homophobia.

    Most importantly, the site discusses issues of U.S. national security, a subject sorely lacking in the infotainment diet of most Americans. If, through the pretty pictures, GSGF motivates a few men to consider national security concepts, I think it has performed a useful service.

  5. James T permalink
    September 13, 2011 10:50 am

    I started reading GsGf because I thought the name was great – the dripping with irony format sort of follows naturally from the dripping with irony name which is why I’m guessing the name preceded the format – as a man I find the pictures somewhat titillating but ultimately more amusing than anything else – same with the playful language which, as I spent my youth reading James Joyce, merely seems a puerile distraction to me – but after being briefly entertained by the format now when I go to the site I skip quickly over the photos and the ‘writing’ to see simply if there’s any links worth clicking on [and often there are, to the site’s credit]. But would I go to the site just for that reason if not for the pictures and the illusion of some cute young girl being behind it all? I dunno. Probably not. But that to me makes the site clever marketing wise, not offensive. I understand why women might be offended, you feel threatened by it, but as a man I don’t feel threatened by it and ultimately all social conventions come down to perceived threats. To expect men to deny their natures and act as if there’s some implied threat in it is silly – and unless Nancy Pelosi somehow becomes president and enacts a eugenics project designed to turn men into some monstrous hybrid of Dr Phil and Barney Franks, to expect anything else from men is always going to be silly and naive.

    Now, as a highly educated but I must say quite attractive male I sort of get where you’re coming from here – I get ogled at business meetings, I get phone numbers passed to me and lots of uninvited attention – I may be amused by this attention, or annoyed at possibly not being taken seriously – but of course I never ever feel threatened and that’s the crucial difference. Is this unfair? Sure, in a way I guess – but short of a massive social engineering effort to correct it I don’t see there’s much you can do about it apart from what democratic modernization is already doing on its own – there’s always gonna be something about men that women fundamentally find ugly and offensive and I’m not sure you’d want it any other way.

  6. September 13, 2011 12:07 pm

    Or you can think of her as failed performance art – Commedia dell’arte -and just laugh quietly. Outrage and attention are her fuel. Ignore her after saying you find it funny and a bit pitiful, and she’s toast.

  7. Thom permalink
    September 13, 2011 7:38 pm

    To imply GSGF is incommunicable is hard to qualify. Do you have any specific examples to share?

    Certainly parts of the Valley Girlisms are charming, and distracting, yet checking the links involved it was an impressive grasp any particular subject as well as enlightening.

    Example, essays on Hesbollah feature the phrase “overtly robust rocket rich Body Part Collector General.” All linked to additional reliable sources with the latest estimates of Hesbollah’s missile stock, Secretary General Nasrallah’s bio on the English language website for the Islamic Resistance of Lebanon and a Daily Star news article with the headline “Nasrallah Collected IDF body parts.”

    I learn something every time I visit GSGF. Did the eye candy draw me in? Perhaps. Yet the material keeps me returning.

  8. Brad permalink
    September 13, 2011 7:53 pm

    There is no inappropriate imagery, no foul language, only the application of mild sexuality to a subject that is traditionally completely devoid of it. Folks who find this content offensive, I would suggest perhaps take themselves a bit too seriously. In fact, the implication that the target male audience is so seemingly unsophisticated as to be incapable of evaluating the message separate from the imagry is, I would argue, offensive.

    It’s entertaining and innovative, bottom line. And it’s hard to make a case that Gsgf has any impact on others attitudes toward anyone other than Gsgf. You harm yourself by having a hissy fit over it, quite frankly.

  9. Fnord permalink
    September 19, 2011 4:20 pm

    Ah, for real. GSGF is the equivalent of Blackfive with a feminine spin: War as Porn. Its talking about killing humans as if it was just another college-game. I dont care about the pix. Its the fucking lingo that gets me, as if Dick Cheney was just an adorable if brutal high-school jock and all this war shit is just another episode in East Valley High, or whatevah. Death Porn. ANd it aint got anything to do with feminism from my pov, its just ugly. “Like, arabs are sooo smelly, ya know?”. Playing up to the jocks

    But I guess finding war not sexy makes me just another PK whining liberal. Bah..

  10. Chris permalink
    September 21, 2011 3:45 pm

    Sorry, you are outmatched on every level. Since you put this up, only a handful of posts have followed. Meanwhile the GSG has continues to put out interesting articles crammed with great links and sources.

    Only ugly girls with approved degrees and dress code can opine on National Security? As a testosterone addled slobber monkey I read the GSG because it makes total sense. I love the basic premises it contains – American exceptionalism, Israel’s right to exist and defend itself, the entire concept that the US could have led a serious ass-kicking of every wannabe before they had boot one on the ground, but hasn’t, and THAT makes it the beautiful benevolent behemoth that it is.

    The Messerschmidt Media Machina responds collectively here:

    Courtney herself fires back at Theo Spark’s with “Dear Diana”

    You two should kiss and make up.

    And grab us another beer while you’re up sweetheart.


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