A May Day for Feminism at the Post

The Washington Post front page on May 1 looked like a May Day paean to the National Organization of Women, promoting progressive ideas about women's roles and family structures.   

A feature by Jane Black on soaring food prices featured a color photo of a woman and toddler and noted that she “has already given up organic meat and decided to buy organic milk only for her 2-year-old son, not for the whole family.”

And what constitutes the whole family? The second paragraph begins:  “Tracy and her partner also stopped buying the cereals they like….”

Catch that? “Partner,” not husband.  The casual presentation of a family headed by a woman and “partner” of unknown sex, on the front page of a major newspaper, has the effect of normalizing non-traditional families. This follows the script of After the Ball, a gay public relations manual for changing Americans' minds about homosexuality:

“At least at the outset, we seek desensitization and nothing more (italics in original). You can forget about trying right up front to persuade folks that homosexuality is a good thing. But if you can get them to think it is just another thing – meriting no more than a shrug of the shoulders – then your battle for legal and social rights is virtually won.”

We don't know if the “partner” is male or female, and we are not supposed to think that's relevant, anyway. The point here is that the boy is either living in an unwed household or a lesbian household. Shrug.  If you include enough of these, readers eventually won't even see them as social speed bumps. That's the idea behind casting homosexual characters in nearly all prime time TV shows, too.  

Right next to the Post's front page food story is a feature on Monica Brown, an army medic who was awarded the Silver Star for bravery under fire in Afghanistan. Ann Scott Tyson's article, “Woman Gains Silver Star—And Removal From Combat,” has a riveting account of Brown's undeniable courage, but also contains a lengthy, one-sided argument for putting more women in harm's way.

The piece quotes military people criticizing the Army's policy of exempting women from combat or jobs that increase the risk of combat. Tyson fails, however, to quote a single supporter of the policy, which the Army codified in 1992, other than a reference to President Bush having “forcefully backed the policy” in a 2005 interview with the Washington Times in which he stated there should be “no women in combat.”

Brown's story is compelling. And conditions in the current war zones arguably make it more difficult to separate combat roles from non-combat jobs. But Tyson might have devoted just a little ink to people who want to spare women the horrific conditions that Brown survived. It may be true that the Army often honors the policy in the breach, but does that mean the Army should abandon the exemption? It might mean that the Army should be tasked with better enforcement or even fewer women stationed near combat areas.

In contrast, author Kristin Henderson, in her February 24 Washington Post magazine story on women in the military, quoted Center for  Military Readiness President Elaine Donnelly.  The prominent critic of placing women in combat said, "If we as a nation say it's okay to expose women to direct combat violence, it's a cultural shift, and not in the right direction."  

Just in case traditionalist women readers felt left out on May Day, the Post included a featurette on Page A-17 on the private screening of the upcoming HBO film Recount, which depicts Florida's contested 2000 election. Laura Dern plays conservative Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who made the crucial decision to accept a ballot recount and certify Bush the winner. Even though an independent audit of the ballots by a media consortium later concluded what Harris concluded, that the count was accurate and that Bush had carried Florida, here's how the Post's Mary Ann Akers and Paul Kane describe the action:

“Dern plays Katherine Harris, who, as Florida's secretary of state, called the state's presidential election for her friend George W. Bush. Dern does a spot-on, if slightly over the top, Harris, who, as a congresswoman after her secretary of state stint, was one of the most lampooned members of the House.”

The column notes that Dern's husband, musician Ben Harper, “laughed riotously at her every scene.”

The screening was held “in a backyard tent at the home of Washington Post icons and uber power couple Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee.”

The column notes drily: “Harris was not at the screening.”  

Robert Knight is director of the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.