Rachel Maddow, Anchor Woman

 
 

Nor is the distinction of being the first out lesbian to host a
prime-time news or political commentary show on American television
lost on Maddow, though she at first reframes the question in a more
general way.

“It’s a pretty big responsibility to be on TV, or to be on the
radio,” she says. “To be doing national broadcasting about the news is
a pretty weighty responsibility regardless of those things. So I think
I take it seriously in the broadest sense.”

When pressed lightly, however, she does offer her specific thoughts
on her historic achievement, and what it means for women, and men, in
the LGBT community.

“I think the responsibility that we have as gay Americans,” she
says, “is to the extent that we can – and we ought to be really
ambitious about the extent to which we can – we have to be out.”

“That’s the thing that we owe the people who came before us who are
the pioneers, and that’s the thing we owe the next generation of gay
people in terms of clearing the way and making life easier for them. I
think that there is a moral imperative to be out, and I think that if
you’re not out, you have to come to an ethical understanding with
yourself why you are not. And it shouldn’t be something that is excused
lightly. I don’t think that people should be forced out of the closet,
but I think that every gay person, sort of, ought to push themselves in
that regard. Because it’s not just you. It’s for the community and it’s
for the country.”

Of course, simply being a woman in a prominent nightly news position
is rare enough, which ought to give Maddow a unique perspective on the
substantial role that women, for better of for worse, have played in
the 2008 presidential race.

When asked for her thoughts, she pauses for a moment, and then unloads.

“One specific thing that I think has been interesting in this
campaign is the use of ‘sexism’ and ‘sexist’ as an epithet in
completely inappropriate ways,” she says. “The Republicans’ strategy,
in putting Sarah Palin on their ticket, and the way they have presented
her, and they way they have structured their political fortifications
around her, has been to cry sexism at any criticism of her, to cry
sexism at any political glance toward her. What they are doing is the
form of sexism that you see in ostentatious chivalry.”

Not that Maddow is worried about the honor of America’s young women, or AfterEllen.com readers.

“I think that young women are smart and I think that one of the
things that young women have been very good at is calling people on
their anti-feminist bulls–t,” she says. “So I look to young women for
leadership in terms of pointing out the difference between being a
woman and being a feminist. The difference between sexism and chivalry,
I should say.”

Speaking of gender gymnastics, one wonders how Maddow feels about her growing status as a thinking-woman’s sex symbol.

True to form as a self-described “infrastructure nerd” who “dresses
like a first-grader” in t-shirts, 501s and “skateboard sneaks,” she
seems genuinely unfazed by the attention.

“It’s really flattering,” she says, “and it’s really nice that
people would say nice things about what I look like, but, in terms of
what it means in my life, I don’t think about it too much.”

Without addressing the potential intellectual element of her appeal,
she proceeds with a discussion about physical appearances, and the
trade-off required for TV.

“I feel like in terms of what I look like, I’m working in a very
visual medium for the first time in my life, and I’m just sort of
trying to get by in terms of the basic, the minimum that I need to do
visually in order to be allowed to be on television,” she says. “And so
I put on the suit, so that I can go on TV. I let the makeup ladies put
makeup on me, which they do to their own satisfaction. I don’t pay much
attention to it.”

For the record, Maddow, who does not wear makeup in real life, dislikes very saturated lipstick colors.

The most controversial cosmetic of the campaign season aside,
Maddow, who was introduced to politics as a teenage HIV/AIDS activist
in the Bay Area, is driven to cover as many substantive issues as she
can while she holds the job she calls a “golden opportunity.”

Once the presidential contest is decided – though Maddow half jokes
that it could go beyond Election Day – she says, “I’m looking forward
to having a broader palette of items to choose from in terms of the
news of the day. I think that there’s a lot to expect in coming months
from politics, but it’s a big, fascinating world out there.” She
rattles off her concerns about North Korea, national security and a
federal government that she calls “scuttled.”

“I think the next year of news, not just the next few months of the election, is going to be great,” she says.

Asked whom she would most like to interview over that time, the
defense policy wonk unflinchingly responds, “Osama bin Laden. A, you’d
want to interview him so that you could catch him. But B, if you could
really talk to him, I think that he’s the great unknown in American
politics. He’s the looming specter.”

Should Maddow accomplish that elusive feat, even if it finds her in
some remote cave, her supporters in the LGBT community can be assured
that she will get the message about their collective pride over her
progress. 

“I’ve received a lot of love from the gay community in terms of
people being really supportive of me being out,” she concludes, “and
appreciative of my success, and people cheering me on, and it’s really
heartening. It makes me feel very grounded in the community, and I’m
grateful. And so to everybody who’s ever cheered at the TV for me, I
hear you.”

MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show airs weeknights at 9 p.m. ET. For more about Maddow, read our 2007 interview with her.

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