Rachel Maddow Love: Post-Gay or “Straight-Washing”?

maddowIt’s been awhile since we talked about the deep-abiding love everybody has for Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s perky, adorable lesbian political pundit. See? We just did it ourselves. Well, Bitch magazine’s Jonanna Widner wonders if all the automatic Maddow-madness is really a sign of post-gay acceptance or if the media coverage of Maddow simply treats her sexuality as a cute personality quirk, like “her love of classic cocktails.” She raises a good point and since your editor gets quoted in the article, we’re going to weigh in.

Widner writes:

“Indeed, for Maddow, the blogosphere has been turning cartwheels, batting its eyelashes, and collectively giggling like a hormonal schoolgirl at her first dance. “I know I’m probably breaking some kind of gay male covenant,” said blogger Japhy Grant of Popnography, kicking off an April 4, 2008 post about her. “But I have the world’s biggest crush on Rachel Maddow.” The responses to Grant’s post were equally starry-eyed, though oddly speckled with disclaimers. “Rachel is smart, funny, no nonsense, and absolutely adorable. I totally have a girl crush on her (tho’ I’m a happily married woman.)…” wrote CouldIBe?; another poster gushed, “I thought I was alone in my unfitting crush (straight woman!). She can switch from being really witty and funny to speaking really eloquently about important issues, without losing a bit of her credibility! Plus she’s just lovely to look at and listen to!” A third enthused that he was “Hetero, married to the sweetest thing for 25+ years, and I can’t stop watching Rachel.”

But she questions whether all this love is basically because Maddow is so rad and not necessarily a sign of increased tolerance, saying:

“The stories in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the L.A. Times have been clear about Maddow’s sexuality, but they never dig into it. It’s not so much what they’ve said as what they haven’t. The paucity of coverage about Maddow’s sexuality stands out sharply when compared with the barrage of references to a second characteristic: namely, how nice she is.”

Which is true. Maddow herself is not exactly reticent to talk about her sexuality, but certainly she doesn’t make it a major part of her MSNBC persona– which is a marked contrast rom how she presented herself in her previous gig at Air America. Widner’s concern is that, in loving Maddow, straight folks are fooling themselves into thinking they’re ‘post-gay’, because they like her, when in reality, they’re not. She says:

“Maddow’s existence as the postgay, well, poster child mirrors Barack Obama as the “postrace” politician and Hillary Clinton as the “post- feminist” one. The three of them combine as a hopeful triumvirate, true; but there’s a danger that the public will see them as the ultimate proof of how far we’ve come, thereby marginalizing how far we still have to go.”

It’s an interesting point, to be honest, but essentially an academic one. Maddow is one of two openly gay cable news pundits (the other being financial guru Suze Orman) and when the pool is so small, it seems a little early to start questioning the motivations as to why audiences like Maddow. The same argument could be applied to Ellen, who is openly gay and manages to dominate daytime while talking about her relationships and her views on gay rights–and who, you could argue, is beloved not because she’s gay, but because she’s so damn cute.

Weirdly, we’re okay with this. In a perfect world, people ought to be judged on their awesomeness, not on their sexuality and we’d love Maddow even if she was into guys. Perhaps some folks will watch Maddow and lull themselves into a sense of false complacency about their tolerance, but we imagine more people will watch her, like her and wind up finding out she’s a lesbian and have their worldview expanded a little. At the same time, Madow suffers from the double-standard all pioneers face– she’s choosing to be openly gay in public, but doesn’t want to be defined by her sexuality. The fact that she’s so popular and beloved while being open about her sexuality doesn’t mean that there still isn’t work to be done, but like Obama and Hillary, it’s still a sign of undeniable progress.