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The Case Of Huffington Post Sexism

There’s been some internet chatter recently about how Huffington Post, a blog with mostly liberal writers and a liberal slant on the news, publishes a lot of photos and slideshows of half-naked female celebs. Two years ago I was on staff at the Huffington Post and this was going on back then too. The ongoing hypocrisy of an ostensibly liberal politics site objectifying women’s bodies, sadly, is not new.

Let me say up front, I’m not chugging the HuffPo hater-ade. One of my best friends still works there as an editor and, over the years, I have blogged about feminist issues for the site. Plus some really great feminist women have written and still do write for the site, like journalist Amy Goodman, Cristina Page, author of How The Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, Gloria Feldt, the former CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Federation For America, and Jennifer L. Pozner of the watchdog group Women In Media & News. I’ve always been thrilled that HuffPo gave women’s issues front page placement and access to millions of readers.

However, when I worked there and continuing until today, I was always frustrated by how HuffPost epitomizes that persistent liberal problem of being progressive in intention but not in deed, i.e. women and men who complain that objectification is inappropriate are told they were being censorious. I guess women are totally equal to men now, so anything goes?

Let’s not be naive: sex sells and Huffington Post knows that. Put the words “boobs,” “breast” or “va-jay-jay” on something to get people to click—it works! Padma Lakshmi’s dress and Natalie Portman’s near slip. Guess the celebrity breast implants. Michelle Obama does polka dots and falsies. (In this case, they meant false eyelashes. Tricked ya!) Nobody actually thinks this stuff will win Pulitzers. But because T&A are traffic drivers, everyone rolls their eyes and looks the other way.

Nor is HuffPost the only site that benefits from traffic from sexy topics. The Frisky, too, gets a decent amount of traffic from stories about sex, breasts, penises, etc. But we often are poking fun at the rampant objectification seen in other media outlets — the “Celebrity Cleavage Chronicles” was more about the ridiculous “types” of cleavage terminology than a tit-fest. When we write about topics like nipples or lingerie, we do it with dignity for women and respect for sexuality. There’s really nothing dignifying or respectful about size 32 font screaming at readers to look at a closeup of Padma Lakshmi’s sheer dress and exposed nipples. Most of all, isn’t this kind of salacious content out of place and hypocritical for a news site? You would never see “‘Housewife’ Bethenny Frankel’s Wardrobe Malfunction,” along with a NSFW photo of said wardrobe malfunction glaring at you from the cover of The New York Times.

But how many times have I heard the argument that I shouldn’t complain about all the T&A because a woman is the public face of the site and women are in prominent business and editorial positions there? Newsflash, people: just because someone is a woman doesn’t mean she will treat other women with respect. I’m certain no amount of criticism—from Megan Carpentier at Jezebel to Amanda Hess at Washington City Paper to people who actually work for HuffPo and complained about this from “inside”—will dissuade HuffPo from more nipple slip coverage.

What do you think? Does this kind of coverage bother you, especially on a new site like Huffington Post?

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