Courtney Messerschmidt Is Just a Beer Commercial
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.