A picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes people don’t entirely agree on what those words are. That appears to be the case with the cover of this month’s issue of Time Magazine, where a moderately high-heeled pump and pant-suited leg is used to embody the inevitable presidential run of former Senator, former Secretary of State and former First Lady Hillary Clinton.
Their disagreement? Whether or not the cover is sexist.
“I’m pretty sure it marks the official starting point for the next two years of talking about Hillary in the same old bullshit, sexist tone: she’s scary, she’s pushy, she’s stepping on men – guys, she is LITERALLY STEPPING ON A MAN IN THIS PHOTO – and oh, her high heels and her pantsuits,” writes Chloe Angyal at Feministing.
Amanda Marcotte, writing at Talking Points Memo, agrees. “It’s a direct, highly gendered provocation that strongly implies that electing Hillary Clinton would somehow be a tragic thing for men, and even some how ‘end’ men the way the man in the image is about to be ended through stomping,” writes Marcotte, who also calls it “a single cover image,” that “has successfully dashed any hopes that electing the first president who isn’t white would ease the passage for the next potential president who isn’t male.”
Even the attempts to look at it from both sides seem to fall flat. In Slate, Amanda Hess, trying to analyze the image from all viewpoints, still concludes:
On the other hand: A giant woman trampling over a measly businessman suggests a form of power beyond the political. The cover trades in the imagery of several sexual fetishes—macrophilia, in which (mostly) male fetishists get off on images of (mostly) female giants; trampling, in which (mostly) female dominant parties walk all over (mostly) male submissives; and the common foot fetish, which also looms large over the image.
“[My thoughts] went something like this: ‘Wow, they couldn’t even be bothered to use a photo of her face. Wait, why is she crushing a tiny man? Is that what TIME thinks powerful women do? Dangle tiny men on their powerful yet stylish kitten heels?’” writes Nathalie O’Neill at Bustle, who then says, “It basically says that Hillary isn’t entitled to play the political game on equal footing with men.”
It seems that overall, I may be the only person who actually doesn’t think the cover is sexist. Perhaps that’s because unlike nearly every feminist writer I’ve come across, I don’t see the man on her heel as being “crushed,” “squashed,” “trampled” or in any other way diminished. He appears to be hanging onto her heel (literally) for dear life, and is in the process of being shaken off.
Over at The Frisky, Jessica Wakeman calls it correctly:
[T]his particular photo-illustration doesn’t set off my sexism alarm bells. It actually struck me as illustrating a powerful female candidate leaving a lesser man behind her in the dust because she is so much bigger/better. Hillary is stepping past her rival; the rival appears to be either jumping out of the way or clinging to her heel. It’s not the heel (the femininity) that is scary, per se, but the size (the toughness) of the opponent.
To me, it makes perfect sense. Even without declaring a candidacy, Clinton has become the frontrunner in the Democratic presidential nomination race. She quite literally leaves the other likely candidates, all of whom are male, nipping at her heels, and it is impossible for many of them to keep up. Also quite literally she has her own enormous shoes to fill, saddled not just with the expectations of her run and the fact that she would be expected to live up to the legacy of her own husband, but that she would be the first female candidate for president from a major party and potentially the first female president.
It’s a lot to pack into one cover image and, frankly, this picture nails it. This isn’t about domineering women and tiny, emasculated men. This is about a powerful candidate outrunning her rivals already, and the massive shadow her potential candidacy casts over the race. That the major candidate is a woman and the others are male is simply a result of the players that have to be invoked in the image.
Our society is inundated daily with sexist images in the media. This cover, in my opinion, isn’t one of them.
Photo credit: Time Magazine