Are you “Man Enough” for the Middle Border?

Overhaul of South Dakota Watch screams, “News by a Man, for Men!”

Fellow blogger Todd Epp has undertaken a dramatic overhaul of his numerous blogsites, among them SD and Kansas Watch, and created a more “newspaperly” feel with all features on a main splash page of the new Middle Border Sun.

Among the new features for what was “SD’s Most Trusted Blog”–Today’s Babe.

I met Todd at last summer’s SD Blogosphere picnic, and have been following (though not so well recently) his excellent news coverage ever since.  When I heard about this overhaul with accompanying “Babe Feature” through fellow blogger Cory Heidelberger at the Madville Times, well–it was like our good liberal District 17 Senator Ben Nesselhuf went to Pierre and morphed into Roger Hunt.

Well, maybe that’s a little over the top.

Heidelberger set out to do a “feminist critique” of Epp’s new blog traffic strategy (which of course added to Epp’s traffic, as this post may do, more modestly), and Epp’s reaction was to respond with an incredibly weak cowpie of a chauvinist defense in another feature: “Today’s Blog War.” Nothing like sex and violence to drive blog hits!

The funny thing is–almost all of the discussion around this new feature has been by men.  Heidelberger notes in his post that the estimable Dakota Women bloggers have not commented–though it’s obvious from visiting their site that they have another, more serious matter on their minds–the murder of Dr. Tiller seems more newsworthy than a babe feature.

Heidelberger mostly gets it, though, when he explains:

Men view women in a way women rarely view men. Mr. Epp’s babe posts carry the subtext that women are worth paying attention to only because they are pretty. Even if women have numerous other talents to recommend them, we still too often tie them to their appearance.

Epp’s response:

I’m accused of objectifying women. Ok, perhaps guilty as charged. But I also appreciate beautiful women–particularly strong, intelligent, and funny women. And if they are South Dakotans, so much the better. Women like my own better half, Mrs./Dr. Middle Border Sun nee South Dakota Watch. Women like Shannon Stevens and January Jones. They are South Dakota women of achievement–and good looks.

Here’s the problem: as Heidelberger points out, too often women’s achievements are tied to their looks, and for some, let’s admit, their good looks are their achievement. But Epp’s feature, purportedly to celebrate South Dakota women of achievement, necessarily leaves out those “women of achievement” who are not so easy on the eyes.

Or it relegates them to another feature, which implicitly casts the judgment that they don’t belong in the “babe” category.  They did something worth talking about, but they just aren’t that great-looking, so we’ll toss them in another, not-so-hit-intensive category.

I’d rather be in the “Not-Babe” category–thanks, even if it means not so many hits.  Because another problem with this category is its name: “Babe.”  While Epp claims he is celebrating, not diminishing women, the diminutive he uses to describe the women he’s “celebrating” tells a different story.  He does the same thing, by the way, when describing fellow blogger Heidelberger:

My young liberal friend Cory Heidelberger is a far more enlightened male than I am.

One would assume that the author of DharmaTweets would pursue the sort of enlightenment he assigns to his colleague, rather than smirking at it, and at Heidelberger’s youth.

Epp also provides the “Esquire defense,” featuring an image of the magazine’s cover with a scantily-clad Carmen Electra in pigtails having her bikini bottom pulled off by a dog and an “oh-my-what-is-happening” look on her face:

Esquire magazine has been doing this sort of things for nearly 80 years. Intelligent non-fiction. Cutting edge non-fiction. Poetry. How to be a better man and person. And featuring fabulous babes.

Being a lawyer, Epp should recognize his own bandwagon fallacy, and he should also recognize that Esquire is a men’s magazine–written to celebrate men’s lives, men’s power, and men’s ability to objectify pretty women–even if they have achieved something besides their looks. Is this a good model for South Dakota’s most trusted blog?

And the idea that “…the new and improved Middle Border Sun gives you the option to gloss over what you don’t like and read what you do like” hides the fact that unlike Esquire, or even a regular newspaper, the content of the Middle Border Sun is written and controlled almost exclusively by one author.  “Glossing over” certain features on a one-author site does not escape the viewpoint or prejudices of the author one disagrees with.

On a final amusing note, both Heidelberger and Epp use their maleness as a construct in defense of their positions:

Here’s Heidelberger:

We are both man enough to disagree with each other.

And here’s Epp–in a Facebook response to my comment on his “Blog War” link:

I’m a big guy. I can take my lumps from my buddies.

Well, I’m not man enough, and I’m not a big guy, but I am a South Dakota woman of achievement and a feminist who’s not afraid to call out a BS defense of objectification of women on what is supposedly a trusted news blog by a lawyer who, I’m guessing, won’t be getting any clients for sexual harassment suits anytime soon.

See you at the South Dakota Blogosphere Open House!


17 responses to this post.

  1. Yee gads. Double standards are alive and well, as Todd Epp’s blog illustrates. How about not sorting women into “easy on the eyes” or not at all, regardless of their achievements, intelligence, strength, etc.? These noteworthy accomplishments & qualities become boring sidenotes to most readers (thinkers/viewers) if they always FOLLOW some sort of appearance rating system. Yeah, Rebecca, for taking Todd to task. Too bad, Todd, for being so decidedly unenlightened.

  2. Another interesting thing about “babe” is that it derives from “baby.” So youthfulness is also part of the equation, whether actual or perceived.

  3. I’m pretty sure none of the DakotaWomen have commented on it because none of us regularly read Todd’s blog 😉

    I like your take, so if I ever get around to posting the roundup I’ve had in the works for like a week, I’ll just link to you.

  4. Posted by flyingtomato on June 8, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    LOL! I found it through Cory’s blog.

  5. Doh! I knew I’d slip somewhere. But hey, I’m a big enough man human person — arrgghh!

    I acknowledge the imperfection of my own language, the lingering effects of growing up in a culture steeped in John Wayne machismo.

    Good call on the babe/baby language, too! I thought about addressing that issue, but my original post was getting long… and Todd doesn’t like those long posts.

  6. Posted by flyingtomato on June 8, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    You did good, but I had to point out the “men enough” comment in the midst of the (no longer) all-male conversation on the Babe Feature.

    I wonder, how does Todd get a scientific poll on today’s “to babe or not to babe?” if he’s already pulled in the Google babe-trollers?

    Well, at least he’s “man enough” to admit his man-crush and to take a ride (or try to) in a pink kayak. 😉

  7. One of my areas of practice is sexual harassment and discrimination–of women. I am one of the few attorneys around that takes these cases. So draw whatever conclusions you want but part of my professional life is spent trying to get justice for my women clients.

    I’ve also been a friend on gender and LGBT issues in South Dakota for years–abortion rights, equal pay, decent treatment in the work place, gay marriage, day care–as a lawyer, activist and a blogger.

    I’m also a red blooded Dakota guy. I see no contradiction.

    I’m also sad that Kelsey doesn’t read my blog. 😉

    Todd Epp
    Middle Border Sun

  8. Posted by flyingtomato on June 8, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    Yes, I thought that you handled these types of cases.

    As a woman, I can tell you that I would be incredibly hesitant to hire a person to represent me in a sexual harassment suit who posted a “Babe of the Day” feature on his blog. I do see a contradiction, and I think many other women would feel the same.

    But I don’t think you’re a pig, though your poll choices didn’t give me much choice but to call you one when I voted against the Babe of the Day!

  9. Is “red blooded Dakota guy” code for heterosexual? It seems to since it’s linked with “Babe of the Day.” If so, it’s not the best phrase to use to signifiy friend of the LGBT community as it implies men who aren’t sexually attracted to women aren’t real men or aren’t real South Dakota men.

    Actually, this makes me sad. When I first started reading South Dakota blogs last year, I couldn’t read “SD Watch” because it loaded very badly. Now that the site has been revamped, it loads better, but it’s got dated, off-putting content. So I still won’t be reading it. Sure wish Epp would reconsider and make his site more friendly for progressive women and others.

  10. Posted by Ann on June 8, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    Hasn’t anyone else noticed that South Dakota Watch has become devoted to attracting hits? The content has become so trivial and pointless in what Epp thinks will keep him on top of the hit list that I lump it with Sibby, Dakota Voice, War College, and South DeCola as wastes of time, except for one thing. They reveal mentalities that I would avoid in any professional or business relationship. i would not go to Epp for legal advice or be interested in a house listed with PP.

    However, Epp’s trivial, sexist attempts at attracting blog hits is nothing compared to PP’s total libeling of an Aberdeen woman charged in a spy case which is driven by both a mindless quest for hits and a sexist agenda. The two claim to be great friends. Figures.

  11. Posted by flyingtomato on June 8, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    A little more research into Todd’s comments on his own blog reveal the answer to your question: a resounding YES.

    “On the other hand, what red blooded South Dakota guy doesn’t like a strong, interesting, beautiful woman?”


    “I’d start Hunk of the Day but I think that might not be taken the right way.”

    Copied from comments on “Women’s Tennis: What’s Sexier Than Sweaty, Grunting, Tennis Babes?”

  12. What surprises me, Todd, is that not only can you not see the contradiction here, but that you don’t see the connection. We live in a culture where viewing women as objects of sexual gratification is par for the course. To view anyone (not just women–that’s just who we tend to objectify) as objects is to view them as means to our ends–to dehumanize them. It’s only when we don’t acknowledge the humanity of our neighbors that we think we get to use them for our purposes and pleasures.

    So, I’m willing to say that the very fact you even have cases about discrimination, equal pay, etc., or that we have reproductive rights threatened or have an insanely high rape rate in this country, very much has to do with the what you’re perpetuating on your website. We have to call out that stuff if we’re ever going to get beyond viewing women first and foremost for the sexual gratification of men.

  13. Posted by redhatterb on June 8, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Todd’s site has become boring. As far as the babe’s column goes, I feel it is sexist. Myself any man that calls me babe or baby, is looking to get hit. I find those terms demeaning in that I feel it sounds like the male saying it is making the woman sound small. I realize I am older than most of the posters online and tend to be opinionated, but that’s life.

  14. Posted by Kelli on June 10, 2009 at 10:55 am

    You said it perfectly, say what he wants – it is what it is. Unimpressed and disappointed. I’ll stick with you!

  15. […] Rebecca at Flying Tomato Farms with Are you “Man Enough” for the Middle Border? […]

  16. […] Rebecca at Flying Tomato Farms with Are you “Man Enough” for the Middle Border? […]

  17. […] Are you “Man Enough” for the Middle Border? by Rebecca at Flying Tomato Farms […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: