Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Shut Up and Sing: Gendered Attacks on the Dixie Chicks

Recently, I watched the Dixie Chicks documentary Shut Up and Sing. For those who are unfamiliar, the documentary details the fallout from lead singer Natalie Maine's notorious/famous statement about George W. Bush at the beginning of the war where she said this to an audience in England:

"Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas."

The documentary shows Maines making this statement while her audience applauds and cheers. There was a huge backlash against the Dixie Chicks when those in the US caught wind of this statement. Country music turned its back on the Dixie Chicks, radio stations refused to play their music, and rednecks and so-called patriots decried Maines' statement. The Dixie Chicks eventually triumphed over the backlash by channeling their anger, hurt, and other raw emotions into a multi-Grammy-award winning album Taking the Long Way.

Now, I'm not going to re-hash the entire controversy here. It happened a few years ago and you can watch it all unfold in Shut up and Sing.

But what was most shocking to me, that I did not previously know about, was the vitriol and character of the comments directed at Maines and her bandmates- comments that I do not believe would have been made if Maines were the male lead singer of a band called the Dixie Dudes.

Let me explain.

See, how a genuine criticism works is like this:

"I disagree with Natalie Maine's statement [insert logical argument against the statement itself]"

For instance,

"I disagree with Maine's statement because a public figure should not criticize our President overseas."

Now, I disagree with the above statement, but it would be a valid criticism of Maine's statement because it is attacking the statement as opposed to Maine's character, gender, intelligence, or some other personal characteristic.

Within this clip from Shut Up and Sing, on national television, various pundits and newsperson make the *so very* rational gendered attacks against the Dixie Chicks:

If you can't open the video, here's a transcript (the quotes are in italics):

"Female pundit: Free speech... or bad manners?"

Male pundit: "Their opinion is so ignorant."

Male pundit: "They don't know what they're talking about."

Male Pundit: "I think they are the 'Ditzy Twits.' These are the dumbest, dumbest bimbos, with due respect..."

Because saying "with due respect" after calling someone a twit and dumb bimbo, like, totally erases the personal attack.

Bill O'Reilly: "These are callow, foolish women who deserve to be slapped around"

Female pundit Rebecca Hagelin: "Ab-solutely!"

How is it ever acceptable to claim that women "deserve to be slapped around"? How does Bill O'Reilly still have a job after saying that? Apparently there is a market for such speech and thought. Wonderful. Feminism is dead, indeed.

These statements make me ashamed that their speakers are American.

And further, if these pundits are making these public statements, one can only imagine what people were saying over the internet, especially under the cloak of anonymity.

The level of rage directed at Maines and the Dixie Chicks was surprising and shows that, perhaps, those who claim to so very much cherish our freedoms truly only do so conditionally.

That is, even though we, as a country, value freedom of speech, as the tagline of the movie states, "Freedom of speech is fine as long as you don't do it in public" or disagree with what some people think.

As a personal side note, I find it paradoxically amusing and sad that all those fervent Bush supporters at the beginning of the war have jumped off the bandwagon. Natalie Maines was brave enough to be a very public voice of dissent during a time when Bush's approval ratings were much, much higher than they are now. The war, that so many Bush supporters blindly supported just because Bush wanted them to, is largely seen as a failure. And, pointing this out says less about our troops there and more about our nation's lack of leadership. For, it is possible to support our troops while not supporting our president.

I'm sure Natalie Maines would hate to say she told you so, but.... nahhh, on second thought, she'd probably love to say she told you so.

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