I very recently (last night) went to a Mother Jones fundraiser featuring a conversation Rachel Maddow. She was as engaging and funny in person as she is on her show, and very approachable. So much so, that I was able to get a picture with her, and she wrote a note to my 13 year old son.
The on-stage conversation covered politics and media, with an occasional toe dipping into conspiracy theories and other personal views that make Rachel tick. And I found that I identify with Rachel on quite a few things.
There was talk about how Rachel and her show are both smart, and how the expectation that the audience can keep up is part of her show's appeal. She quipped about not being a typically pretty news anchor, saying "...if you're dealing with people who are not making a decision purely on the basis of celebrity or looks, then ou have to offer something else..." For Rachel this means detailed news peppered with nuance and cleverness. Her words reminded me of a transition I experienced a few years ago.
First of all, I've always been a geek. Whether or not I was in denial about this fact for a number of years or just oblivious to my own geekyness is a personal dispute that I occasionally wrangle with. Nevertheless I was a geek all the same. Still am. But, in my younger years, I was also quite the babe. Although not very tall, I was slender, with an athletic build, long hair and an ass that looked great in red jeans. I was pleased with how I blossomed as a woman, but also very frustrated. I found that I had a hard time getting people to take me seriously. Contrary to my cute looks, I was quite a serious person, and had a hard time connecting with people on a personal and intellectual level. This struggle lasted for a number of years, until after having my second child, I gained weight and lost my babe status.
At first I mourned the loss of being desirable, but then I started recognizing the benefits. For the first time, I was being taken more seriously. Not being an archetypal object of desire afforded me the opportunity to be thought of by my state of mind. When people described me as having a great personality, it was more than a euphemism for being fat. It was a genuine observation that might have been missed in previous years. It was as if not being thin and pretty anymore allowed me to be smart, clever and quirky. I was finally recognized for who I really am.
So it's for this reason that I choose to celebrate the success of someone like Rachel Maddow. She doesn't fit the classic tv model for broadcast media. And as a result, her audience watches to hear what she has to say, and enjoy the many ways that she brokers her finely distilled intelligence. I hope that her success is the beginning of a movement that truly celebrates women for being smart as opposed to being sexy. Because quite honestly, I've enjoyed the former far more than the latter. It is by far a better way to be recognized and reinforces a mantra that I regularly repeat to friends and colleagues alike: The best things we can be as women are smart and strong. Once we embrace that, everything else falls into place.