Michele Bachmann: Palin version 2.0? When it comes to gay rights, yes.

Is it possible that Michele Bachmann's position on gay rights makes Sarah Palin look sensible?

Back in 2008, then vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin referred to homosexuality as a "choice". This was hardly surprising. Palin had already established herself as a Bible-bashing "traditionalist". So for her to spout such ignorance in relation to being gay was about as surprising as hearing Nick Griffin mention that he doesn't care much for Muslims.

 

As much as this talk of the unholy homosexual "lifestyle choice" was expected from Palin, it was still abhorrent. I wasn't aware that I'd "chosen" to be gay -- thank you, Mrs Palin, for letting me know. How much more openly homophobic could a mainstream political figure afford to be? Quite a lot, it turns out.

Enter now Congresswoman Bachmann.

In a recent interview with NBC, which quickly became a YouTube hit, Michele Bachmann was played some audio from a speech she made at a 2004 educational conference. According to the Bachmann of seven years ago, homosexuality is, wait for it... "A part of Satan".

 

Can't we go back to it just being a "choice"? I'm gay, but I'm at least a little bit more comfortable with being told that I chose to be, rather than the soul-torturing lord of the fiery realms of Perdition having forced me into my sexuality with the business end of his fork.

But anyway, what did the 2011, potential president, Bachmann have to say about her 2004 self's little slur? "I'm running for president of the United States, I'm not running to be anyone's judge". But Congresswoman, surely you've already made a judgement, and not a very nice one at that? The interviewer replied with something along those lines, only to be told again by the squirming Bachmann that she "isn't anyone's judge".

Sadly, the interviewer didn't do a Paxman and demand that the Congresswoman answer the question properly, until she was curled in a foetal position on the floor, weeping and praying for oblivion. She pretty much got away with her pathetically evasive answer.

But enough of Bachmann's rhetoric, let's look at the facts. The Congresswoman has made clear that, if she wins the presidency, she will do everything in her power to reinstate the controversial 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy for the US military, which has only just been abolished.

 

Palin, on the other hand, made the news earlier this year when she re-tweeted gay conservative Tammy Bruce calling DADT "hypocritical". OK, so the former Governor of Alaska may not exactly have draped herself in a rainbow flag and joined the nearest gay pride parade, but compared to Michele "gays are from hell" Bachmann, she's starting to look very much like the lesser of two evils.

What's more, Palin supported the inclusion of gay Republican group GoProud in this year's national Conservative Political Action Conference. As it turns out, the group was altogether banned from the conference - so all the more props to Palin for having, albeit unsuccessfully, stood up for them.
This, in light of the fact that Bachmann voted 'NO' on enforcing against anti-gay hate crimes, means that Palin is starting to look more and more, well, reasonable.

In the same interview where Plain referred to homosexuality as a "choice", Bachmann's fellow 2012 presidential hopeful, bless her heart, said that she has a close gay friend. As pitiful and "I'm-not-racist-I-have-a-black-friend"-like as this is, I very much doubt that Michele Bachmann has ever knowingly met a gay person, let alone acquired a GBF.

It's bizarre to think that, with President Palin, gay rights would be quite considerably less doomed than with President Bachmann. Both women are staunchly anti-gay marriage, yet Sarah Palin, right at the back of her mind (such as it is) seems to possess some vague notion that it's OK-(ish) to be gay. Bachmann, on the other hand, is to gay rights what an over-excited, muddy puppy is to a pile of freshly washed white bed sheets.
Although a Palin or Bachmann presidency may look too unlikely to worry about, it's still sad that, in mainstream US politics, minorities are so often forced to look for the lesser of evils.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA