I’ve been watching videos of Rachel Maddow on YouTube for the last two weeks, completely taken with the way in which she handles herself, whether it is in an interview with a person whose politics she agrees with (for example Barack Obama), an interview with a person whom she disagrees with (for example Uganda’s David Bahati), or a thematic commentary/critique (for example the Republican Party’s “war on women”). There’s just something about Rachel that makes me want to BE her. I am unashamedly awed by this lady who is three years younger than I am. I sent a friend of mine a clip of Rachel’s 2008 interview with Obama, saying that “ I feel like I KNOW this woman. I feel like she’s me. Or maybe it’s wishful thinking.” My friend wrote back that I’d have to drop some of my diplomacy and courtesy (which in any case is a result of a strongly gendered upbringing). She also noted that my inner free spirit might be responding to what I see as Rachel’s freedom to speak her mind. And more importantly, speak it to one of the most powerful MEN on the planet.
This set me thinking. I completely agree that the resonance I feel is linked to some part of me that struggles to speak my mind AND be taken seriously (ie not fear being labelled ‘arrogant’, ‘bitch’ or ‘flirt’ just because I don’t kowtow to a man’s way of reading relationships and the world). But the person she was speaking to (Obama) was not the focus of my attention. I think that what appeals to me about Rachel is how she retains a way of speaking her mind that is not ‘masculinized’ — so she laughs, and she emotes and she responds on a very personal level, even while she tears apart arguments and positions. To me that is a freedom I aspire to — to be myself, and still be effective. Not having to shape myself to a masculine world in order to be taken seriously. It’s like watching an evolving project of feminist epistemology. It still could be argued that her success is based on her adopting some of the main tenets of masculine-oriented political dialogue and journalism. But I love the way she negotiates it.
Of course there are other issues involved. For example, her privileged position as white and middle class arguably facilitated her coming out as lesbian and having an openly gay partnership. I do admire these choices greatly, not because being lesbian per se is something I value, but because the choice to come out and to be in a committed gay relationship signals to me individual introspection, courage and intentionality, as opposed to the social pressure and gendered expectations that I (admittedly somewhat cynically) associate with most straight marriages. But I would also have to concede that these are not choices everyone has the freedom to make.
Similarly, it must take a certain amount of privilege (even if only subtle cultural capital) to be able to establish a voice that can be heard above the general political chatter with all its power dynamics. I can’t pretend to understand how the world of TV anchors and political commentary works. I am just registering my awareness that there are other things to consider when aspiring to be like someone, or when simply enjoying being in their presence (even if via video).
So now that I have demonstrated how mature I am,please excuse me while I fangirl over more Rachel Maddow videos on YouTube.