The Washington Post got schooled today on referring to women as men’s muses.
The Post published a headline on the husband-wife team behind the 2017 romantic comedy “The Big Sick,” which is loosely based on the real-life love story of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, who was placed in a medically induced coma after a few months of dating. The Washington Post article referred to Gordon as Nanjiani’s wife and focused on her medically-induced coma from a rare form of arthritis as the inspiration for the film.
Nanjiani quickly pointed out to the paper that Gordon was more than an inspiration; she co-wrote the film, and her name needed recognition in the headline. The paper listened and changed the headline.
You're right. We've changed the headline. https://t.co/9seOMmKyaR
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) January 10, 2018
He wasn’t the only one to call out omissions of Gordon’s name. American actress and playwright Zoe Kazan tweeted in response to a Twitter Moment that the least Twitter could do was include her name if it wanted to make a “moment” of her life and illness.
she has a name she has a name she has a name: Emily V. Gordon, now a multiply-award-nominated screenwriter. it’s HER body & HER illness. the least you can do is put her name in the headline, if you’re going to make a “moment” of her life. thanks 👋🏼 https://t.co/BZXxxqdFz9
— zoe kazan (@zoeinthecities) January 10, 2018
“It’s no surprise that he sees her as more than just his ‘wife’, but it’s not shocking that women are still fighting to be seen as their own person, rather than somebody’s wife or girlfriend,” wrote Bustle’s Allyson Koerner.
The Post changed the headline to “Kumail Nanjiani opens up about his wife Emily V. Gordon’s illness, which inspired them to write ‘The Big Sick.’” The Twitter Moment also had a headline change to “Kumail Nanjiani opens up about his wife Emily V. Gordon’s illness,” Hello Giggles’ Madison Vanderberg wrote.
Nanjiani played himself in the film, but does his screen presence trump Gordon’s contributions to the film? Vanderberg doesn’t think it should.
“We understand that The Washington Post identified Nanjiani by name because he’s the ‘more famous’ one, but in this instance, two people both wrote the same screenplay about their shared experience, and to acknowledge one by name and the other as ‘his wife’’ is completely sexist,’” Vanderberg wrote.
Isnt she his wife though?? You can't fix something that isn't wrong..
— Salés Nicco (@NiccoSalles) January 10, 2018
Some Twitter users noted that The Post’s original headline was factual, but the uproar on Twitter for the headline change stems from an erasure of female voices in a male-dominated society.
The Post’s decision to change the headline signals a shift toward accrediting female contributions, as the #MeToo and #TIMESUP movements push to eradicate gender bias and sexual harassment in the patriarchal status quo.
The conversation about belittling a female’s accomplishments to so-and-so’s wife is not new. In June, The Associated Press received pushback for calling Amal Clooney, a prominent international human rights lawyer, as the “wife of George Clooney.”
I think you mean Amal Clooney, noted human rights lawyer, gave birth to twins. #FixedItForYou
— Badh (@badhmorrigan) June 6, 2017
“It happens time and time again. Women are tied so closely to their male partners that they are often referred to as the plus-one of a relationship: the dreaded ‘wife of,’” wrote Refinery 29’s Morgan Baila.
She’s not an American movie star, yet Amal Clooney shines brightly in the courtroom as a barrister representing clients–including WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and former Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy.
“I’m sure George himself would be flabbergasted by this wording — his wife’s resume way surpasses his own in every way,” Baila wrote. “Let this be a reminder that once again women are not objects or possessions and shouldn’t be treated, or tweeted, as such.”
The debate isn’t about which spouse has a more impressive resume, but on recognizing a woman as her own person, separate from any male partners.
Bustle’s Allyson Koerner didn’t waste any time expressing a needed change in media coverage for women. “Let me make this extremely clear: Everyone needs to stop referring to Amal as just George’s wife. Yes, she is obviously his spouse, but she is so much more than that,” she wrote.
In fact, Koerner suggested a few different titles to call Amal Clooney, such as “using her actual name, goddess (because, duh), badass powerful woman, or you know, her job title, which is an international human rights lawyer.”
The AP also referred to Clooney as “actor’s wife” in an August 2015 tweet about her legal work, which the Huffington Post’s Dominique Mosbergen labeled “sexist.”
Comedians Amy Poehler and Tina Fey summed up the “wife” media label best when they quipped at the 2015 Golden Globes about George Clooney receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award while Amal Clooney achieved so much on the international stage.
It’s not just Amal Clooney and Emily V. Gordon, though. When Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu broke a world athletic record in 2016, NBC commentators called her husband “the man responsible” for her achievement, but failed to note that some swimmers claimed he verbally abused her, wrote The Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak.
While these women may also be wives, it is not an excuse to tie a woman’s success to a man’s name. The Washington Post showed yesterday that it will listen to calls against headlines that reinforce female erasure. The rest of the media, it’s your turn.