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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Call Me, Tweet Me: When free speech turns sexist

Published: March 16, 2012
Section: Opinions

Do you like beautiful women? Do you like politics? Do you like free food?

If you do, you may have found yourself at a Brandeis Libertarian-Conservative Union (BLCU) speaker event featuring S.E. Cupp last night.

From what I’ve gathered from the Facebook event page and a little Internet detective work, Sarah Elizabeth “S.E.” Cupp is a politically conservative commentator and writer, published in several notable newspapers, and featured on CNN and Fox.

So many aspects of the Facebook event offended me that I don’t even know where to start, but I’ll try to keep it concise.
In a competitive environment like Brandeis extra-curriculars, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got, and at Brandeis having a smokin’ speaker is definitely noteworthy. Although I think it’s distasteful, immature, borderline trashy and downright offensive, the BLCU is fully within their right to free speech to market the event as they wish. Unfortunately.

Several students questioned the BLCU’s marketing strategy on the wall of the Facebook event. Some complaints were met with mature, well-thought out arguments about free speech, while others … weren’t.

On the marketing and perceived censorship of wall posts, one female student wrote “It’s kind of disgusting that the posts calling out the sexism in the advertising of this event were deleted. When the first sentence is about this speaker’s looks and not her intelligence or her occupation or anything relevant, that’s sexism.”

The comments quickly spiraled out of control. “Your paranoia and feeling of entitlement that everybody must conform to your standards resembles that of an autocratic tyrant and is contrary to the First Amendment,” wrote one administrator of the event.

Wait, wait, it gets better.

The next response was an attack on her seemingly “provocative” profile picture, which wasn’t even of her.

“Now, you are accusing us of using a woman’s looks to attract people to our event? Good point. But, look at your picture. If it is you in the picture, you are modeling in what appears to be very provocative clothing. I assume you made that your profile picture to obviously attract people to your Facebook page. Doesn’t that not align with your values that you are strongly forcing upon this Facebook event?”

Therein lies a big part of the problem. Unless the girl’s picture was her posing in lingerie, I can’t imagine how it could be relevant—and even then I would have trouble making the connection.

Tina Fey taught me that I should never call another girl a slut or a whore, because “it just makes it OK for guys to call [us] sluts and whores.” OK, I already knew that it was wrong on a lot of levels, but as the ever-inspirational Ms. Norbury she reinforced it. We’re supposed to embrace our inner beauty and see the better qualities in everyone around us, right?

Some women are curvy, some are stick-thin, but we’re all supposedly beautiful, right? That begs the question—where do we draw the line between calling ourselves beautiful and letting others call us beautiful, or sexy, or hot, or anything else that praises our physical looks?

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I know where I draw the line. To an extent, I’m fine with anyone using whatever words they want to describe someone’s appearance. Obviously, I’d prefer they stick to respectful, positive words like beautiful. Remember in “When Harry Met Sally” when Harry tries to set Jess up with Sally and Jess says, “When someone is not that attractive, they’re always described as having a good personality”? Maybe that’s a good thing.

That said, appearance should never be a selling point. Before they are able to speak, both boys and girls are told how cute they are, how handsome or beautiful they’ll grow up to be. It’s a societal flaw, not a partisan point of contention. For both sexes, there is constant pressure coming from all directions to be attractive, whether that means being a size zero or having bulging abs.

We’re all in big trouble if we don’t start to look deeper on a regular basis. If the BLCU was trying to use Cupp’s looks as a promotion tool, a picture would have worked much better. I agree, she is incredibly beautiful. The fact that they felt the need to spell it out indicates that either they truly believe it is a way to get people to come to an event, or that they don’t care that they are objectifying her. Her beauty is not, presumably, why they brought her here. Her political views are the reason.

I don’t know whose idea the marketing strategy was. It’s entirely possible that when the BLCU contacted Cupp, she suggested it. It’s also possible that if she saw the flyers and the Facebook event page she would be disgusted, but perhaps flattered and admire their chutzpah.

I would have loved to have been on campus last night to go to the event and ask her what she thought and if her physical attractiveness was something for which she wanted to be known. I know what my answer would be. Although ideologically the two of us could not be more different, I respect Cupp for the work she’s done, but if I had garnered that much respect as a political commentator, I would be ashamed for the group that seemed to care more about my physical assets than anything I actually had to say to them.