The New York Times tackles “Butch Fatale”


When Rachel Maddow is involved, it’s hard for me to look away. This weekend, while scanning the spring issue of T, The New York Times Style Magazine, I saw the words “Butch Fatale” next to an illustration of Maddow, and became giddy.

The excitement was short-lived.

Writer Daphne Merkin decided to tackle the subject of “lesbian glamour,” which apparently has “come out of the closet” in the form of Maddow. Merkin has been the subject of much criticism over the years for her ignorant remarks about lesbians, and women in general. After all, she gave up trying to please us gays years ago.

“I’m tired of protecting the sensibilities of the gay community,” she wrote in a 2007 post for Jewcy, a Jewish media and entertainment site. “When they so clearly are not in need of protection — at least not around the enlightened urban audience …”

Daphne Merkin

This week’s article, “Butch Fatale,” is a no-holds-barred attack on dykes disguised as some sort of complimentary, “Oh, look — some lesbians have style now” trend piece. Merkin, whose experience with lesbians seems to come from reality television and Perez Hilton, decided to consult an expert for her piece: her gay male friend:

“I don’t think that much about lesbianism,” says a young gay male friend of mine, unwittingly stating the problem in a nutshell. “No one thinks that much about lesbianism. Who cares?”

It just gets worse from there. Merkin goes on to say male homosexuality celebrates “prettiness and youth,” dating gay icons back to the Greeks. When she thinks of lesbian icons, all she can see is “Fran Lebowitz,, looking surly and bored.”

Also, according to Merkin, there are only two types of lesbians: butches and femmes. Femmes look like “any other pretty young thing” and butches are just borrowing from “gender influenced dichotomies” by possessing an “arrant handsomeness.” She must have consulted her dyke handbook! But, wait! Things have changed, she writes:

Lesbianism has finally come into a glamour of its own, an appeal that goes beyond butch and femme archetypes into a more universal seduction. Her name is Rachel Maddow, the polished-looking, self-declared gay newscaster who stares out from the MSNBC studio every weekday night and makes love to her audience.

Merkin, who obviously hasn’t read any interviews with Maddow, claims Rachel is no “barefaced, unstylish dyke” — you know, like the rest of us. She also says Maddow wears makeup onscreen to please her male viewers. (Last time I checked, even the male newscasters have to wear makeup, it being television and all.)

It would matter if Maddow were genuinely androgynous-looking, like a real-life version of the neutered Pat from Saturday Night Live. Or if she were hard-edged in her style, acting combative instead of charming.

Again, we all know how combative androgynous-looking dykes are.

This isn’t the first time Merkin has made an ass of herself to the lesbian (and feminist) community. She pissed off Dr. Betty Dodson and Susie Bright in 2006 when expressing her distaste for women working toward gaining reproductive rights:

The thought of becoming more closely acquainted with my private parts in a public setting seems potentially traumatizing rather than liberating or, God knows, celebratory.

In one of her books, Dreaming of Hitler, she says that even lesbians “wish to be filled with something hard and penislike and not-female.” Uh-huh.

This article is proof that lesbians continue to be overlooked and misunderstood within mainstream media. The fact that anyone thought Merkin’s opinion on “lesbian style” — based on tired stereotypes — has anything to do with reality is frightening.

What do you think of Merkin’s article?

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