I kid, I kid. Kristof’s idea of a compelling argument is displaying the ravaged body of a women of color from the Global South for the edification of white liberals. He wouldn’t know a compelling argument if she stood up and slapped him in the face.
However Kristof may want to apply his own annoying “It just makes business sense" arguments about Twitter’s all-male board of directors to himself:
Twitter is on schedule to go public as a company next month, a sparkling symbol of innovation, technology — and stale, old thinking reflected in a board of seven white men.
Twitter users are reportedly more likely to be female, so it’s bizarre to have no women on the board. But the main reason to add women — not just on Twitter’s board, but in politics, business and the news media — isn’t just equity. This shouldn’t be seen as a favor to women but as a step that would be good for all of us.
You know another influential body that reflects a lot of “stale, old thinking?”
That would be the current slate of the Grey Lady’s opinion makers, that dull dozen who have regular columns and tell all the rest of us what to think. It’s a collection of voices that is far from representing New York City or the United States, or the Times’ readership. 50% of the Times’ 29 million unique monthly visitors and 48% of its 4.8 million paper subscribers are women. So what gives, O Paper of Record?
Seriously, this group could use some shaking up. Thomas Friedman basically exists to be the punchline of taxi driver jokes. David Brooks is a racist who’s losing his touch when it comes to hiding that sorry fact. Joe Nocera spends half his time defending BP from the people whose lives it ruined. Maureen Dowd has been phoning it in for a decade (I mean do we really need more Washington DC fanfic, MoDo?) And Ross Douthat, the only one of the bunch under the age of 40, espouses opinions about women that might as well belong to an 80 year-old.
Of course, as with corporate boards, there is only so much space at the top of the Op-Ed pages. And one of the hardest things for the white men who love to talk self-effacingly about the value of diversity is realizing that talking ain’t doing and talking while white and male is drowning out women and people of color who might be talking too. (Indeed, a woman reporter at the Times wrote a better, more interesting post on the subject weeks before Kristof got to it.)
Therefore, I announce the First Annual Fuck You, Grey Lady Challenge: I challenge you, Nick Kristof to put forward one subject that you write about in your column that couldn’t be better addressed by a woman of color. When you come up empty (and you will) I challenge you to put your money where your mouth is and resign. Pass that giant megaphone to a young woman of color. We can take care of saving ourselves.
Like many Americans, I am not a white person. And like many non-white Americans, I do remember the substance of Dante de Blasio’s campaign ad for his father’s mayoral campaign. I remember Dante de Blasio claiming his white father as his own. I remember Bill de Blasio claiming his Black children as his own (something generations of white political leaders in this country have avoided). I remember looking at Bill de Blasio differently once I knew that he opposed Stop and Frisk not just as a so-called progressive but also as one of millions of parents of Black sons who fear for the safety of their children from the police.
I remember these things vividly, and with complicated emotions, because I am not white, and because I am not Black, and because I have a white mother, and because we live in a country where the prohibition of miscegenation remained in a state constitution until the year 2000 and even then 40% of the voters in Alabama voted to keep the ban. I remember because these are complicated and emotional issues. I remember because I can’t forget.
What’s both astonishing and completely unsurprising about Bruce Handy’s Op-Ed in the New York Times, “My Afro, Myself,” is that he doesn’t remember the substance or context of Dante de Blasio’s ad. Indeed, one could fill a volume with all the things Handy had to not remember in order to write this essay. He doesn’t remember that before Angela Davis’s Afro was a way to sell t-shirts, it was a political statement — a way to strike fear into the hearts of white people who viewed Black liberation as terrorism or worse. He doesn’t remember Black is Beautiful or how such a statement could be revolutionary and liberatory. He doesn’t remember Sally Hemmings or Essie Mae Washington-Williams. He doesn’t remember that Barack Obama, whom he quotes as saying “My Afro was never that good,” also had a white parent, and has explored his complex relationship with his own blackness at length. He doesn’t remember Stop and Frisk. He doesn’t remember Jim Crow. He doesn’t remember slavery.
Handy’s absence of mind is explained but cannot be excused by the condition he admits in his first sentence: “Like many Americans, I’m a white person.” It is his whiteness that allowed him to appropriate one aspect of Black identity without taking on the burden of institutional racism and state violence. It is his whiteness that allows him to write with unearned authority about that one aspect; to profit professionally if not monetarily off the fame of a young Black man; to offer advice to that same young man. (It is likely Handy’s gender that allows him to perform this act of uber-whiteness in the august pages of the New York Times. White women who want to engage in this practice are more likely to find a platform at the MTV VMAs.)
An Afro is not a “hat or ivory-handled white stick or whatever affectation” one chooses. It is not a “protracted, inertial wallow in self-abnegation.” It is not a variation on Donald Trump’s comb-over. Handy’s confusion on this point is a symptom of the affliction of American whiteness. In exchange for power, in exchange for supremacy, white Americans have for generations surrendered their cultural identities in order to assimilate into the default “American” culture.
I understand and, to a certain extent, empathize with the sense of loss that the children of that whiteness feel when they look at other peoples’ culture and other peoples’ identities. It’s not difficult to see how that sense of absence can lead them to adopt or appropriate pieces of other people’s cultures as if they were an article of clothing or accessory. Without awareness of their own roots, they become cultural magpies if not outright colonists. Some even yearn not just to put on the accouterments of another race or ethnicity, but also the struggle (or at least what Gawker calls “that sweet, sweet moral superiority" of not having privilege.)
I do understand, but I that doesn’t mean I don’t wish you all would stop. Whiteness is a construct that has been used as a weapon against people of color for centuries. The fact that it also does harm to the very people who wield it should be motivation for white people to move away from whiteness, not by pretending to be parts of other peoples’ cultures, but by learning about and embracing their own. You have to surrender the power whiteness gives you and find your own culture at the same time. You have to do this with the same sense of urgency Forever 21 applies to capitalizing on Black culture. Seriously: do it now.
Bruce Handy admits that he wrote about his pouffy hair because “on some level I must still crave negative attention,” so here’s where I will give him some. Bruce, this essay is inexcusably stupid. You know nothing about the topic you’re writing about, and your concern that Dante de Blasio will become defined by his Afro is entirely misplaced. Dante de Blasio will always and forever be defined first and foremost as a Black man, no matter the length of his hair. If you must share your “epiphany” with others, perhaps you should direct it toward Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, and other white men trying to make a buck off the appropriation of Black culture. Writing about art and literature performed or written exclusively by white people seems to be your thing anyway.
Julia Carrie Wong
When I first took Lady Grey to task for valuing the care and feeding of zoo animals (and white collar workers’ ability to waste time on the clock watching said zoo animals being cared and fed for) over the serious concerns about food insecurity for 9 million low-income women and children, I worried that I might be being a tad unfair. It was, after all, only the first day of the shutdown and the shuttering of panda cam was a fun if hacky fact about the consequences of congressional intransigence.
However, it seems I did not speak to soon. Indeed, in the days since I wrote my initial post, the New York Fucking Times has gone on to mention panda cam in FOUR SEPARATE ARTICLES AND A SLIDESHOW and cuts to WIC in NONE.
Here, for your edification, are the five panda cam mentions the Grey Lady saw fit to print:
“National Zoo’s Panda Cam Goes Dark,” Ashley Southall, October 1 at 5:08pm.
WASHINGTON — One casualty of the impasse in Washington is the public’s look at the newborn panda at the Smithsonian National Zoo on the “Giant Panda Cam.”
The popular live video stream was turned off Tuesday as part of the federal shutdown. Visitors to the Web site were greeted by a black screen carrying the message, “Error loading stream.”
“The cams require federal resources, primarily staff, to run and broadcast, and they were deemed not essential in the case of a shutdown,” zoo officials said in a statement, adding that the animals would still be fed and cared for.
The zoo has 15 live feeds for animals like the Asian small-clawed otters and the naked mole-rats. All of them went dark.
The Giant Panda Cam was one of the zoo’s most popular sites in August, when the giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth. The site racked up 847,000 page views by the end of August, most of them after the cub was born, according to The Washington Post. The figure does not include mobile users.
The panda cameras are funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation and operated by volunteers, who were furloughed along with most zoo employees. All events were canceled at the zoo, which was closed to visitors and vehicle, pedestrian and bike traffic.
Fans of the Panda Cam were not happy about the digital darkness.
“Surely this is our nation’s darkest hour,” John Stephen Dwyer said on Twitter.
The Twitter user @delrayser urged lawmakers to compromise.
“GIVE THE GOP WHATEVER THEY WANT,” @delrayser said.
“On Day 1, Parks Close, Workers Stay Home, and ‘Panda Cam’ Goes Dark,” Michael D. Shear, October 1
The reality of the shutdown began to become clear early Tuesday. Children’s playgrounds in small pocket parks around Capitol Hill were closed. The military service academies suspended all intercollegiate sports competitions. The National Zoo’s online “Panda Cam” stopped showing images of Mei Xiang’s latest cub. Officials stopped giving tours of Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay.
“Will the Shutdown Affect Your Travel Plans?" Stephanie Rosenbloom, October 1 at 2:40 pm
Speaking of Web sites, Smithsonian National Zoo’s “giant panda cam,” beloved by scores of animal-loving procrastinators, has also been shut down (National Parks, along with Smithsonian museums, are closed, and so are National Park Service Web sites). Don’t bother clicking the “Start the Panda Cam” button; you will only be disappointed.
“Another Shutdown Victim: U.S. Efforts to Offset China,” Mark Landler, October 2.
WASHINGTON — Debate over the federal government shutdown has tended to focus on those it hurts: veterans, tourists barred from the Lincoln Memorial and Yellowstone National Park, and giant-panda enthusiasts deprived of their publicly funded panda cam….
An ungovernable America is not something that the Chinese want either, given the economic interdependence of the two countries. But in the diplomatic struggle for influence in the region, a dysfunctional Washington plays to the short-term advantage of Beijing, especially with China having weathered its own domestic political upheavals.
“And,” added a senior administration official with bitter humor, “they still have a panda cam.”
“Shutdown Felt Far Beyond Washington,” Slideshow, October 2
A young visitor will have to wait to visit the National Zoo in Washington, which even stopped showing images of the last baby panda on its online “PandaCam.”
And here, for the New York Times’ edification, is my response, which has not significantly changed since Tuesday:
SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT THE PANDA CAM ALREADY AND COVER SOME REAL GODDAMN NEWS ABOUT HOW THIS IS AFFECTING POOR PEOPLE YOU ASSHOLES.
Julia Carrie Wong
I was hoping I was only going to have to say this once, but I was wrong, so here it goes again:
SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT THE PANDA CAM ALREADY.
Every single US news organization has already assigned some hack reporter to write an “Aren’t we clever for tapping into the Washington-hack zeitgeist by making the government shutdown about something as cute and internet-savvy and hacky as the panda cam?” piece. (And yes, I realize I used “hack” three times in that sentence — it was deserved.) If you don’t believe me, click here.
And you, Grey Lady, you “paper of record,” you “all the news that’s fit to print,” you New York Times: you’re the worst of the worst. Because not only did you not get around to your definitive panda cam story until 5:08 pm Eastern (making you hacky and slow), but while you were busy assuring us that the pandas, naked mole rats, and Asian small-pawed otters at the National Zoo are being fed and cared for, you forgot to assign a single reporter to cover the more pressing issue of 9 MILLION LOW-INCOME WOMEN AND CHILDREN FACING FOOD INSECURITY BECAUSE OF THE LOOMING LOSS OF WIC BENEFITS.
Your editorial board made a mention, but poor people aren’t NEWS, amirite? You’ll just carry on with your liveblog coverage of all the ways the shutdown impacts people who can afford to go on vacation, the real victims in all of this.
Honestly, Fuck You, Grey Lady. And Fuck You, Every Other News Organization. Fuck all y’all.
I was not planning on writing any thing else about the New York Times’ coverage of Anthony Weiner, in part because I was assuming that Lady Grey had already gone as low as she could go, and also because I don’t really care about Anthony Weiner, but what can I say? I’m a slutbag for woman-shaming.
It’s actually somewhat pleasantly surprising that we’ve made it this far into the Weiner scandal without too, too much scorn being reaped upon woman-kind Usually a male politician behaving badly would morph instantaneously into a BLAMETHESLUT situation. But despite some predictable meanness about Sidney Leathers and patronizing wringing of the hands in Huma Abedin’s direction, for the most part the media has avoided judging women-in-general in favor of focusing on the apparently endlessly fascinating puzzle of Weiner’s schnitzel.
But the Grey Lady has predictably jumped in to fill the void, publishing “Weiner’s Women,” an Op-Ed piece by Susan Jacoby.
There is something missing from the endless moralizing and sophomoric jokes aimed at Anthony D. Weiner. That something is the role of women in a coarse and creepy Internet culture dedicated to the fulfillment of both male and female desires for virtual carnal knowledge.
People ask how Mr. Weiner’s wife, the soulfully beautiful and professionally accomplished Huma Abedin, can stay with him. My question is why hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women apparently derive gratification from exchanging sexual talk and pictures with strangers.
While recognizing the benefits of safety, control, and consent provided by online interactions, Jacoby is troubled by the “fantasy” that “female thrill seekers” find in online sexual relationships:
But the “sex” that women engage in with often anonymous men on the Web has nothing to do with pride in one’s body or mind. Whatever women or men are getting out of sex via Twitter or YouTube, it is not recognition of their specialness as individuals…. Sex with strangers online amounts to a diminution, close to an absolute negation, of the context that gives human interaction genuine content. Erotic play without context becomes just a form of one-on-one pornography.
For Jacoby, women’s embrace of online sexuality is a betrayal of the feminism her generation fought for:
As a feminist, I find it infinitely sad to imagine a vibrant young woman sitting alone at her computer and turning herself into a sex object for a man (or a dog) she does not know — even if she is also turning him into a sex object. Twentieth-century feminism always linked the social progress of women with an expanding sense of self-worth — in the sexual as well as intellectual and professional spheres. A willingness to engage in Internet sex with strangers, however, expresses not sexual empowerment but its opposite — a loneliness and low opinion of oneself that leads to the conclusion that any sexual contact is better than no contact at all…. This is not the sort of equality envisioned by feminism.
I don’t think Jacoby necessarily set out to write a shaming and anti-feminist essay. She asks a question that is certainly valid — Why do women engage in online sex? But instead of taking the bold step of posing that question to actual women, Jacoby skips the evidence gathering and jumps to her own conclusions.
And this is where my feminism and Jacoby’s feminism begin to diverge. Because my feminism demands that women be allowed to speak for themselves.
With only her imagination to depend on, Jacoby’s conclusions about these thrill-seeking women are as two-dimensional as the pornographic depictions of women she deplores. What is the difference, really, between the infinitely sad, vibrant young women yearning for Prince Charming but settling for a dick pic and the naked actress faking an orgasm on the screen? Neither is real. Neither is allowed to be fully human by the beholder. They’re both just projections of desire, be that desire sexual or diagnostic.
Sex is complicated. I’d defy Jacoby or anyone to come up with a time in our history when sex between men and women has not been fraught with issues of power, race, class, control, money, property, and more. You think a single lady getting off in a chat room is sad? What about Lydia Bennet forced into a marriage because she was 16 and horny? What about Bertha Mason locked in the closet because her husband couldn’t handle her sexuality (Jean Rhys version, what)? What about Tess of the fucking D’Urbervilles? That shit is so sad I had a nervous breakdown reading it in college and had to remove the book from my room so it wouldn’t haunt me in the middle of the night. Shall we go back another hundred years? Another thousand? Fictional or non, things aren’t going to get much cheerier.
The internet might change the mechanisms of communication, but what it hasn’t changed is the fact that women’s sexual autonomy will always be infringed upon in a patriarchal society. My feminism wants to dismantle that patriarchy. Jacoby’s feminism seems content to exist within it. The very idea of judging a woman as “infinitely sad” based on one potentially minor aspect of her life is a feature of that patriarchal worldview.
Weiner’s women? Fuck that shit. Women belong to themselves. What we do with men when we choose to do things with men is our own damn business, and there’s nothing sad about that.
— Julia Carrie Wong
Is it really too much to ask the so-called paper of record to have slightly more of a handle on itself than your average supermarket aisle weekly?
I ask myself this having watched, in silence, as the Grey Lady has floundered around Anthony Weiner for the past few months. First, of course, there was the ridiculous, redeem-my-career-in-exchange-for-access cover story for the NYT Sunday magazine, a masterpiece of non-journalism whose writer failed to substantiate, or even interrogate, the basic premise of his own piece — whether Weiner was indeed post-scandal-inducing-dick-pic-behavior:
"Never even occurred to me to ask! I just assumed it had stopped when he got caught, lost his job and started therapy to save his marriage." —Jonathan Van Meter, quoted in the Washington Post
Then, following the revelations of Weiner’s continued proclivity for pseudonymous crotch shot texting, NYT went all stern papa on his ass and called for his withdrawal from the mayoral race in an editorial that conveniently ignored its own complicity in providing free-of-charge focus-grouping for said candidacy:
At some point, the full story of Anthony Weiner and his sexual relationships and texting habits will finally be told. In the meantime, the serially evasive Mr. Weiner should take his marital troubles and personal compulsions out of the public eye, away from cameras, off the Web and out of the race for mayor of New York City.
In expressing crocodile condolences for Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, the Editorial Board forgot the somewhat salient fact that the couple reentered public life not, as they imply, through announcing Weiner’s candidacy for mayor, but in the Grey Lady’s own magazine, a month earlier:
It’s difficult not to feel for Ms. Abedin. The couple deserved privacy as they worked through their problems — and they had it, until they re-emerged in public life and Mr. Weiner decided he was a good fit to run New York City. Mr. Weiner and Ms. Abedin have been saying that his sexual behavior is not the public’s business. Well, it isn’t, until they make it our business by plunging into a political campaign.
The rest of the Times’ cast of lily-white opinionators soon weighed in, with Frank Bruni speaking out for Weiner’s child in a blog post entitled, “The Littlest Stake Holder”:
Everybody’s talking about the wife.
Why isn’t anybody talking about the kid?
When Anthony Weiner resumed his online dalliances even after he’d resigned his Congressional seat and he’d apologized to Huma Abedin, pledging to become a better man, he wasn’t merely betraying her all over again. He was betraying their son, Jordan.
(My response to Bruni’s concern-trolling? BECAUSE ANTHONY WEINER IS RUNNING FOR MAYOR AND NOT TO BE YOUR GODDAMNED FATHER. THE AMERICAN OBSESSION WITH CONFLATING ELECTED OFFICIALS WITH DADDY FIGURES IS PART OF THE PROBLEM WITH OUR PATRIARCHAL SOCIETY AND NOT SOMETHING WE SHOULD ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO DO MORE OF SO CAN WE PLEASE FOR ONE GODDAMNED MINUTE FOCUS ON HOW WEINER’S NEOLIBERAL POLICIES WOULD AFFECT THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE’S CHILDREN INSTEAD OF PRETENDING TO CARE ABOUT HIS BABY?)
Maureen Dowd (Oh Maureen, we here at FYGL have not given you nearly enough attention) went full-on racist with her column, “Time to Hard-Delete Carlos Danger:”
When you puzzle over why the elegant Huma Abedin is propping up the eel-like Anthony Weiner, you must remember one thing: Huma was raised in Saudi Arabia, where women are treated worse by men than anywhere else on the planet. Comparatively speaking, the pol from Queens probably seems like a prince.
When you puzzle over why Maureen Dowd thought it was necessary to otherize Abedin as a “stylish Muslim Garbo” from Saudi Arabia, you must remember that she’s from the USA and works for the New York Times, both of which could lead a person to think it’s perfectly fine to be SERIOUSLY FUCKING RACIST AND ISLAMOPHOBIC.
But today, the New York Times, has finally, possibly, reached the nadir of it’s Weiner-mania with a “Political Memo” entitled, “Weiner’s Behavior: Psychiatrists Weigh In.” Don’t let that “Political Memo” tag fool you. There is nothing in this piece that analyzes or even mentions the policy aims of a man who would be mayor, or the implications of said aims on the people of New York City. Nay, Lady Grey has gone full-on US Weekly by reaching out to psychiatrists who have never treated or even spoken with Anthony Weiner to suggest potential diagnoses for his sexting pathology:
His pattern of behavior is intriguing to mental health professionals and experts on sexual behavior, who — while they emphasize they cannot offer an authoritative diagnosis without examining him — discussed a variety of possible explanations for such conduct.
Some suggested the indiscretions might be an addiction with neurological roots. Others theorized that Mr. Weiner, a Democratic candidate for mayor of New York, could be meeting sexual needs unsatisfied in a marriage. And still others said he might be driven by a combination of a mood disorder and feelings of inadequacy to seek reassurance about his masculinity from women he had never met.
I am not ashamed to admit that I read US Weekly on the plane and in the aisle at Safeway, and I have happily indulged in the speculative-psychiatric accounts from so-called experts on why Britney shaved her head or didn’t wear shoes at a gas station. I expect that kind of drivel from a rag that runs retrospectives of reality television dating shows. I don’t expect it from a paper that purports to publish all the news that’s fit to print. I think that even the writers for US Weekly know that this kind of armchair diagnosis is straight-up bullshit that really just serves as filler to run in between photographs of disheveled celebrities. It’s one step above body-language analysis and one step below unnamed sources close to Britney’s first cousin.
I get that times are tough. I get that you’re competing with the Post and the Daily News for page views and clicks and subscribers and all. But this is not your niche, Grey Lady. I wish you would see a shrink for Weiner-derangement syndrome, get your daddy issues sorted, and go back to what you do best: writing subtly-shaming pieces about women’s sex lives and maybe, just once in a while, reporting the goddamned news.
— Julia Carrie Wong
The hardest part about skewering a David Brooks column is knowing where to start. Do you nibble on morsels of casual racism, out-of-touch pop culture, and hatred for the young? Or do you just dive straight into the main course of deeply conservative economics with a glaze of elitist social mores? A banquet of Brooks really is an embarrassment or riches—if, by “riches,” you mean “blinding rage.”
His latest column is no exception. In it, Brooks uses Ethan Edwards—the lawless, racist vigilante played by John Wayne in the classic Western movie The Searchers—to bemoan the fate of good old-fashioned working men who can’t make the transition to the new economy:
The movie’s West was a wild, lawless place, requiring a certain sort of person to tame it. As the University of Virginia literary critic Paul Cantor has pointed out, that person had prepolitical virtues, a willingness to seek revenge, to mete out justice on his own. That kind of person, the hero of most westerns, is hard, confrontational, raw and tough to control.
But, as this sort of classic western hero tames the West, he makes himself obsolete. Once the western towns have been pacified, there’s no need for his capacity for violence, nor his righteous fury.
Books continues with a poignant description of what makes Edwards such a tragic figure:
Ethan Edwards made this world possible, but he is unfit to live in it. At the end of the movie, after seven years of effort, he brings the abducted young woman home. The girl is ushered inside, but, in one of the iconic images in Hollywood history, Edwards can’t cross the threshold. Because he is tainted by violence, he can’t be part of domestic joy he made possible. He is framed by the doorway and eventually walks away.
Of course there are a few details about the character of Edwards that Brooks glosses over a bit too quickly.
Like Edwards fighting for the Confederacy. Or almost killing the niece he’d gone to save from Comanche abductors (Comanche abductors!!!) because, in his words, “living with the Comanche ain’t living.” Or finally “saving” his niece from the Comanche mostly against her will.
But never mind. Those are just prepolitical virtues.
The real meat and potatoes here is Brooks’s point about the job market. You see, Brooks thinks the main problem with our economy is a skills gap where some workers—mostly men without a college education—just haven’t caught up to speed with the new knowledge economy:
Many men were raised with a certain image of male dignity, which emphasized autonomy, reticence, ruggedness, invulnerability and the competitive virtues. Now, thanks to a communications economy, they find themselves in a world that values expressiveness, interpersonal ease, vulnerability and the cooperative virtues.
Or, put differently, WHY WON’T ANYONE AT THE NEW YORK TIMES READ A GODDAMN ECONOMIC CHART?!
Seriously. Just read a chart! Try one about the stagnation of middle-class wages. Or deunionization. Or offshoring. Or the exponential rise in fixed expenses like housing, healthcare, transportation, education, and childcare. Or the rise of massive, sustained income inequality. Or the decline of the public sector. Or the end of comfortable single-income households among all but a precious few. There are many charts for David Brooks to choose from.
But then he might make a horrifying realization: Working-class men don’t have such high unemployment because they can’t adjust to a new set of virtues. They have such high unemployment BECAUSE THEY’RE NOT PART OF THE ELITE CLASS THAT’S STEALING EVERYTHING.
Worse yet, actually taking the time to understand the the plight of people who don’t weekend in Aspen might take away from something far more valuable: the time Brooks spends relaxed on a custom recliner in his home theater, a half-eaten bag of gourmet kettle chips rising and falling on his chest as he nods his way through old episodes of Gun Smoke and dreams of a time when he was young and virile and full of prepolitical virtues.
But we shouldn’t criticize David Brooks too much; a lot of men his age have trouble crossing the threshold.
—Joshua Eaton (@joshua_eaton)
For years, organizations like VIDA and the Women’s Media Center have done a great job of documenting the egregious gender byline gap and lack of representation of women in the media. WMC’s latest report cites statistic from the Media and Gender Monitor that in 2011, women were the focus of only 24% of news stories. VIDA tracks the percentage of women writers among book reviewers, bylines, and authors reviewed, and found that the Grey Lady reviewed two books by male authors for every one book by a female author in 2012 (a ratio that has stayed consistent since Vida started The Count in 2010). These statistics make clear the fundamental truth that our media is not interested in women. It’s not interested in hearing about them, and it’s certainly not interested in hearing from them.
There is, however, one major exception to this rule: Women (or men) who are willing to write a judgmental or shaming or prescriptive piece about how or when or where or why or whether or how often other women should have sex, jobs, husbands, or babies will ALWAYS find a mainstream media outlet willing to publish them.
“Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game Too,” by Kate Taylor, is just the latest example of the New York Times’ endless appetite for such articles. The story fronts this week’s Sunday Styles section – Lady Grey’s go to section for news that is vagina-adjacent. (Where else but the section featuring wedding announcements and runway reviews would one profile Gloria Steinem or discuss workplace issues like maternity leave?) The article features interviews with numerous undergraduate women at the University of Pennsylvania and purports to examine the “views on sex and relationships in college” of “a generation of women facing both broader opportunities and greater pressures than perhaps any before.” Taylor relates the experiences of numerous anonymous women, touching on issues of class, career ambition, slut shaming, rape, sexual assault, “hookup culture,” virginity, and marriage.
There are many problems with this piece and how it represents women and women’s sexuality. I’m guessing/hoping that some of my favorite lady writers are dissecting many of those issues on twitter as I write (and no, this is not a comprehensive list of women I like on twitter), so I’m not going to spend too long enumerating said problems. (Although, since I just spent half an hour on those hyperlinks, I guess I could give it a few minutes, and say that I’m disturbed with Taylor’s representation of rape and sexual assault in the piece:
In November of Haley’s freshman year, a couple of months after her first tentative “Difmos,” or dance-floor makeouts, she went to a party with a boy from her floor. She had too much to drink, and she remembered telling him that she wanted to go home.
Instead, she said, he took her to his room and had sex with her while she drifted in and out of consciousness. She woke up with her head spinning. The next day, not sure what to think about what had happened, she described the night to her friends as though it were a funny story: I was so drunk, I fell asleep while I was having sex! She played up the moment in the middle of the night when the guy’s roommate poked his head in the room and asked, “Yo, did you score?”
Only later did Haley begin to think of what had happened as rape — a disturbingly common part of many women’s college experience. In a 2007 survey funded by the Justice Department of 6,800 undergraduates at two big public universities, nearly 14 percent of women said they had been victims of at least one completed sexual assault at college; more than half of the victims said they were incapacitated from drugs or alcohol at the time.
The close relationship between hooking up and drinking leads to confusion and disagreement about the line between a “bad hookup” and assault. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, 10 to 16 forcible sex offenses were reported annually to campus security as taking place on Penn’s campus or in the immediate neighborhood.
Based on the 14% figure Taylor cites, of the more than 5000 full-time undergraduate women students at UPenn, more than 700 have been or will be victims of at least one sexual assault, but only 10-16 of these crimes are reported annually. Taylor is abdicating her responsibility as a reporter to make clear to the reader that what happened to Haley was, in fact, rape and not a “bad hookup.” By focusing on alcohol consumption rather than, say, male aggression, she reinforces the victim-blaming narrative of rape culture that tells us women are responsible for their own assaults. Where is the Sunday Styles trend piece entitled “Sex on Campus: He Can Rape Women and Still Get A Summer Internship at Goldman” that asks, “How is a generation of men raised in a patriarchal society confronting the moral challenge of obtaining consent prior to engaging in sex?”)
But to return to my main objection to the New York Times’ publishing of this piece, I just want to say: FUCK YOU, GREY LADY. STOP PUBLISHING THIS SHIT.
Taylor’s article was written with reference to Susan Patton’s Princeton-women-should-get-married-before-it’s-too-late letter – covered in the Times here and here; and Julia Shaw’s essay “Marry Young,” published this year by Slate. It is just the latest in a seemingly endless train of Grey Lady explorations of “hookup culture,” which represents just a fraction of the rest of our media’s fascination with that subject. And the hookup culture pieces are just a small portion of the rest of the articles that get written about women with the intent to categorize, pathologize, and judge the various choices women make in their lives, especially when sexuality is involved: Marry Young! Don’t Get Married! Have Kids Before Your Eggs Dry Up! Don’t Have Kids If You Want a Career! Have Nannies! Lean In! Lean Out! Don’t Give Blowjobs! Don’t Lose Your Virginity! Don’t Be A Prude! You’re A Woman, And We Find That Confusing, Because We’re Distracted By Your Breasts, And Concerned That You Might Start Menstruating, So Just Do What We Say, And Stop Talking!
That these stories are endlessly commissioned and written is symptomatic of our patriarchal society’s deep discomfort with unregulated female sexuality and with the very idea of female agency. In the past, rigid moral structures made it clear what women’s roles were supposed to be, and society punished women who transgressed. These days, it’s somewhat unfashionable to be too, too strict in saying that a woman’s place is in the kitchen (or bedroom, or nursery), at least for the “liberal” likes of the New York Times. But even this “enlightened” segment of society still isn’t prepared to accept women exercising the freedom that men have to exert independent agency over their own lives. And so, rather than focus on punishing some women who step out of one role, society shames all women for all things, no matter which way they’re stepping or which role they’re trying to fill. Our helpful media, led by the paper of record, plays its part in keeping us in our place by publishing trend piece after trend piece after trend piece expressing the true anxiety at the heart of it all: that women might take actions that do not reinforce a patriarchal society and maybe, just maybe, don’t have anything to do with their relationship to men.
And so, I’m going to say it again: FUCK YOU, GREY LADY. STOP PUBLISHING THIS SHIT. COME TO TERMS WITH THE RADICAL IDEA THAT WOMEN ARE AUTONOMOUS HUMAN BEINGS AND GET OVER YOUR DAMN SELF.
Julia Carrie Wong
As a woman of color, I think I speak for all of us when I say, THANK GOD NICK KRISTOF IS BACK. Kristof’s latest column, “A Free Miracle Food!” takes place in Mali, where Kristof just happened to come across a woman and child in need of saving:
Then we spotted a baby boy who was starving to death. The infant, only 3 weeks old, was wizened from severe malnutrition and had the empty, unresponsive face of a child shutting down everything else to keep his organs functioning.
The teenage mother, Seyda Allaye, said that she didn’t have much milk and that the baby wasn’t nursing well. She saw that he was dying and that morning had invested in cow’s milk in hopes of saving him.
Cow’s milk wouldn’t have saved the baby, but Kristof could! And save that baby he did. Kristof drove Allaye and child to a (male) doctor. “Dr. Traoré repositioned Seyda Allaye’s arm, helped the infant latch on to her breast, and the baby came alive…. The miracle food that could save so many lives is: breast milk.”
The rest of the column, in which Kristof waxes poetic on the wonders of the FREE MIRACLE FOOD that is breast milk, is pretty standard Kristof fare, including all of his favorite tricks. Kristof is our oh-so-modest hero who swoops in to save the day. Women of color are passive and uneducated and in need of Kristof or other men’s wisdom. Women of color are also generally nameless and faceless, while men like Dr. Amidou Traoré and public health expert Shawn Baker are afforded names and titles:
In a village in Mali, Erin and I watched a woman wash a baby — and then pour handfuls of bath water down his mouth. ‘It makes the baby strong,’ a midwife explained.
He also includes my personal favorite Kristof trick: the head-fake toward self-awareness that doesn’t actually mean anything:
Look, I realize that there’s something patronizing about a man griping about poor breast-feeding practices, and, in the West, the issue is linked to maternity leaves and other work practices. But, if we want to save hundreds of thousands of lives, maybe a step forward is to offer more support to moms in poor counties trying to nurse their babies.
Look Nick, I realize you think that saying you realize you’re being patronizing lets you off the hook for being patronizing, but it doesn’t. It really really really doesn’t. If you’re going to spend your time shaming women for not breastfeeding long enough and well enough, you might as well own your patriarchy and say, “I AM NICK KRISTOF AND I MANSPLAIN BREASTS.”
I don’t want to wade into an argument about the merits of breastfeeding, but I do want to pick a big fight with Kristof’s notion that breastfeeding is FREE — an assertion he repeats three times in an 800-word column.
I’ve tried to puzzle this out, and the best I can come up with is this: The only way you can say that breastfeeding is free, is if you think that women aren’t worth as much as men.
Breastfeeding takes time — lots and lots of time that a woman could use to do something else. It takes energy — significant amounts of energy, from what I can tell as a woman who’s never done it. Breast milk doesn’t fall from the sky like manna. (Now that would be a free miracle food, amirite?) It is produced by women and requires work by women to pass on to babies.
If men were told to do something for six months that took tremendous effort and time, men like Kristof would call that work. And work ain’t free. It is only when you start from a place where a woman’s time and energy aren’t worth as much as a man’s that you come to the conclusion that breastfeeding is free. Which of course, is the place where Kristof always resides: smack in the middle of patriarchy.
The devaluing of women’s work, whether it be breastfeeding, child care, teaching, nursing, or other forms of care work, is fundamental to our patriarchal society. (You should read Sarah Jaffe’s essay on the topic, “A Day Without Care,” for lots of brilliance.) And Nick Kristof is a white knight ready to sacrifice all to maintain that patriarchy.
Which I suppose brings me back to where I started: THANK GOD NICK KRISTOF IS BACK TO SAVE US WOMEN OF COLOR FROM OUR MISERABLE SELVES.
Oh and also, Fuck you, Grey Lady. Seriously, fuck you.