Put Some Respect on Amal Clooney’s Name
The debacle that was much of the media’s coverage of her recent UN appearance shows that when covering famous, successful women, we have a long way to go.
When it comes to famous women, entertainment reporting is all too often limited to the three w’s: who are you wearing, what do you weigh, and where is your boyfriend? Female celebrities are increasingly fed up with questions about their fitness regimens and relationship statuses. Prime examples include Scarlett Johansson getting pissed off when a reporter asked her what lingerie she wore under her Avengers costume, and Ariana Grande lecturing a radio interviewer who questioned whether she could last longer without her phone or her makeup. Although, knowing women, it was probably just these stars’ time of the month.
Stupid, sexist coverage is an equal opportunity scourge, afflicting everyone from the lowliest model to the actresses at the top of the celebrity totem pole. Of course, the less clout and Hollywood currency you have, the more likely you are to be questioned on couture over craft. In 2017, interviewers know that they’re going to have to ask a female lead at least one question about her latest film before they can address her hairstyle and/or ovaries. But when you’re more famous for bagging a celebrity boyfriend than for your own career, you’re automatically signed up for a lifetime of vapid questions and eye-roll-inducing headlines. Let’s just say, Meghan Markle probably isn’t going to be grilled on the upcoming season of Suits anytime soon.
Amal Clooney, an accomplished international human rights lawyer and soon-to-be mother of twins, has been learning this lesson the hard way. Of course, the former Ms. Alamuddin has a fascinating career in her own right—but in Hollywood-land, this unique woman has been assigned the “George Clooney girlfriend experience.” This isn’t to say that Clooney’s less conventionally accomplished exes didn’t also deserve better. The ubiquitous narrative is that Clooney was a lifelong bachelor who dated a string of interchangeable models and actresses before finally finding a woman who had beauty and brains. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know if exes like Sarah Larson actually did have intellectual sides/rich interior lives—tabloids were too busy referring to her as a Vegas cocktail waitress and placing bets on when Clooney would move on to his next conquest.
While the media’s treatment of Amal has been comparatively kinder, expressing genuine awe at her string of pre-Clooney accomplishments, it’s clear that celebrity reporters don’t really know how to talk about a woman who has shiny hair and a degree from Oxford. Notable gaffes include the time that Mrs. Clooney was accosted by the press while representing a case before the European Court of Human Rights in 2015. Instead of asking Amal about the case that she was working on, reporters decided to grill her on what she was wearing—which happened to be the ceremonial robes of a British barrister with absolutely no patience for paparazzi bullshit. Also in 2015, the Associated Press was thoroughly dragged when they posted a tweet that referred to the newlywed lawyer as “Amal Clooney, actor’s wife.”
Two years later, celebrity reporters and social media editors are still shockingly incapable of covering Amal Clooney. The latest example came earlier this month, when TIME tweeted, “Amal Clooney shows off her baby bump at the United Nations,” accompanied by a picture of Clooney speaking at the UN and a link to an article about her “chic pregnancy look.”
A basic Google search reveals that Clooney did not in fact stop by the intergovernmental organization to give foreign diplomats a peak at her tummy. In fact, she was there for an event called “The Fight against Impunity for Atrocities: Bringing Da’esh to Justice,” during which she gave an impassioned speech imploring the UN not to “let ISIS get away with genocide.” She continued, “Don’t let this be another Rwanda where you regret doing too little too late.”
Conversely, TIME—specifically, whoever runs their social media—did way too much way too quickly. Their half-baked, poorly thought out tweet was universally mocked. One Twitter user summed up the controversy efficiently: “Seriously? She was at UN giving speech about genocide not ‘showing off her baby bump.’ Get your shit together.” The headline of the article was later amended to “Amal Clooney Addresses United Nations on ISIS.”
TIME, as it happens, wasn’t alone in its reproductively-obsessed, journalistically-challenged coverage of Clooney’s UN appearance. The Mirror headlined their piece “Amal Clooney is a vision in yellow as she shows off hint of baby bump in chic dress,” while the Daily Mail went with a more exclamatory, “She’s starting to show! Pregnant Amal Clooney shows off twins baby bump as she heads to the UN.” And then there’s this inane gem: “Amal Clooney Is All Smiles as She Showcases Baby Bump in Stylish Pink Outfit.” Et tu, E! News?
When a woman’s day job is representing Yazidi women who have been abducted and held captive by ISIS, it’s pretty easy to come up with an interesting interview question that doesn’t revolve around her husband or her blowout. On Sunday, Clooney spoke with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria alongside her client, an Iraqi woman named Nadia Murad. Murad told the story of the horrible ISIS attack in 2014 that led to her being abducted for three months and routinely raped and abused by ISIS militants. “They sold girls, girls that were underage, because ISIS considered that permissible under Islamic law,” Murad said. “They came not just to attack certain people, but they came for all Yazidis.”
Clooney, who represents a number of Yazidi women in addition to Murad, advocated waging a legal war on account of what she deemed some of “the worst crimes of our generation.” “We know that there’s a military campaign going on where ISIS is being taken on on the battlefield,” she explained to Zakaria. “What we want is to see ISIS members also in a courtroom.” Clooney also noted, shockingly, that there hasn’t been a “single prosecution against ISIS in a court anywhere in the world for the crimes committed against the Yazidis.”
In addition to bringing Murad’s story to a larger audience, CNN’s Sunday interview showed that it is possible to interview Amal Clooney without succumbing to a sexist script. But since old habits die hard, the Columbia Journalism Review has published a handy guide to “reporting on women’s bodies” in response to that shoddy UN coverage. “Ignoring the actual work of brilliant women to gawk at their bodies is both sexist and irresponsible,” Kara Alaimo writes. Instead, media outlets “should only report on a person’s appearance if such information is relevant to a story…In situations when a woman’s external appearance has nothing to do with the activities she’s pursuing, there’s no reason or excuse for commenting on it. Rather, reporters should report on the activities the woman is pursuing.”
The fact that a notion this simple—we should report on what women are doing, not what they look like, no matter who they’re married to—needs to be italicized is pretty bleak. But if typographical emphasis is what it takes to deter sexist tweeters and myopic paparazzi, then italicize away.