This week, a half-empty social schedule has left me watching a lot of television. I expected to watch my summer ration of unintelligent and completely harmless cable TV. What I got was even better – the round-the-clock coverage of Martha Stewart and her legal troubles. Watching her get hauled off to jail was oddly gratifying, like watching the witch melt in “The Wizard of Oz.” Yeah, you loved it too – I can’t find a single person who didn’t take the same perverse pleasure in watching her arrest. There’s no real reason for my dislike of Stewart as I’ve never really watched her show, or really paid any attention to her at all. Up until tonight, I couldn’t even tell you what she did wrong.

J. Brady McCollough

No matter, because there is a separate list of charges the United States has against the defendant. Ms. Stewart is charged with the following: She’s perfect to a fault and never with a hair (or a spatula) out of place. Her cookies never burn. Her linens do not stain. Her plants do not die. She reminds every working housewife that her valiant efforts undoubtedly fall short when compared to Martha’s robotic efficiency and skill.

But most importantly, she is an aggressive business owner, who happens to be a woman. That bitch.

Sure, the real charges are insider trading. But how many Securities and Exchange Commission cases generate this kind of media coverage or public interest? Unlike Enron, Arthur Andersen and Adelphia, there isn’t a sense that Americans take issue with the crime at hand. Insider trading doesn’t really resonate with most people – it’s easy to do – understandable even. C’mon, if someone gave you advice that would prevent you from losing thousands of dollars, you’d probably take that gamble.

Besides, this incident pales in comparison to the kind of dishonest activity that slips (ha!) through the system all the time with much less fanfare. I’m not even speaking in legal terms here – I’m just talking about the kind of malicious, horribly abusive, downsizing crap that this proud nation was built on. Rejoice that Enron was caught in the act, but realize that Enron was one of many.

Undoubtedly, there are bigger fish out there than Martha Stewart, but there are none that are quite as fun to catch. Is this fascination with nailing Stewart connected with the current public intolerance of corporate scandals? I doubt it. No, this is a personal vendetta. The real fun in all of this is watching Martha Stewart, the wholly unlikable succubous of a housewife, be escorted around in handcuffs. Congressional leaders are itching to get a piece of this woman in a way not seen even after the Enron flunkies turned boxes of evidence into pulp.

At the bottom of this, my real issue with Stewart isn’t the crime she committed; more likely, I just don’t like to see a powerful, ambitious, aggressive woman succeed. How do I know that? Ask yourself how you would feel if she were a man – suddenly the words usually associated with Martha Stewart like “anal retentive” and “abusive” become instead “hard driving” and “competitive.” If Martha Stewart had a penis, we wouldn’t all be collectively calling her “that bitch;” we’d be buying her book.

This all seems connected to the recent exposure civil rights have gotten in the public debate. People are talking again about racial discrimination in the workplace and in society as a whole. But left out of this discussion have been the rights of women, as though their struggle ended with Title IX and Hillary Clinton. It has not. Women are still paid less than men and in the case of Stewart, respected far less than men. Stewart built her empire from the ground up and gave a sense of pride and style to millions of viewers. So powerful was her name recognition that it gave even the standard K-Mart fare credibility. By male standards, she would still be respected as a captain of industry, a leader. Unfortunately for Stewart, she’s a woman. Given the tone of the public, that seems to be the most serious charge against her.

Adams can be reached at dnadams@umich.edu .

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