Yesterday, Slate’s Emily Gould dropped this post accusing Jezebel of playing on women’s insecurities to pimp them out to advertisers and masking said tactic in the guise of feminism. If the post itself weren’t a mess of contradictions and hypocrisy, the fact that she used the oldest trick in the online feminist playbook – trashing another feminist or feminist blog to ostensibly protect the movement but really just trying to gin up inner circle controversy to get more hits on Google – would be enough to make many of us call bullshit.
But the post is a bizarre sort of mess, built primarily on the claim that Jezebel writer Irin Carmon’s fairly nuanced and well reported look at gender discrimination in the writing and on-air department of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show is not, in fact, feminist journalism at all. According to Gould, Carmon’s post, especially her query as to whether Olivia Munn got her new Daily Show gig less because of her comic chops and more because of her large male fan base, is part of a regular pattern by the feminist blogs to incite “what the writers claim is righteously indignant rage but which is actually just petty jealousy, cleverly marketed as feminism.”
Wait a minute. Since when is it not feminist to ask why a show has only had two consistent on-air female correspondents in seven years and can’t seem to keep women on the writing staff? Aren’t we still for gender equality in the workplace? Since when is it not responsible journalism to track down people who’ve worked inside what’s been repeatedly reported as a “boy’s club” and ask them if, in fact, the reports are true? And since when is it not ok to ask why certain women with certain qualities get hired while others do not and why women are held to a different standard than men in applying for the same job? If feminism isn’t about rooting out and exposing the nitty gritty of sexism, I’m confused about what we’ve been doing all this time.
No matter, though, because attacking Carmon’s post is just a jumping off point to get Gould to her main argument: feminist blogs, en masse but especially, especially Jezebel, are guilty of applying a faux-feminist bent to the glossy magazines’ tactic of playing on women’s insecurities to get high traffic and, therefore, advertisers. The insecurity in the Daily Show piece was about Olivia Munn as an example of what feminist women evidently fear most, a woman who “dares to seem to want to sexually attract men” – an offensive, contradictory assertion based at once on tired stereotypes of feminists as scared of or opposed to sex and women as catfighting bitches so threatened by one another as sexual rivals they fail to focus on the important things.
Yet even posts on what most would agree are important things, like body image and beauty standards, are suspect in Gould’s eyes. There is probably a bit of truth here: all feminist bloggers know these topics are sure to stir up the commenters and most post something at some point or another that simply bemoans the existence of beauty standards and the stars who meet them without saying much about how to change those standards or mitigate their impact on women.
Yet, it’s possible these particular posts get lots of page views and comment action because banging up against beauty ideals is a very tangible experience of sexism that most women face every single day in varying forms. The impulse to read and talk about this experience online is less a manifestation of insecurities than a desire to have the experience of oppression validated by a sympathetic sisterhood. That isn’t about advertising but about the very necessity of feminist community – we know we’re not crazy or alone because our sisters feel the same way and together maybe we can do something about it.
Which is exactly why Gould’s solution to this supposedly disastrous problem with the feminist blogosphere is so bizarre (emphasis mine):
It’s certainly important to have honest, open conversations about the issues that reliably rake in comments and page views—rape, underage sexuality, and the cruel tyranny of the impossible beauty standards promoted by most advertisers and magazines (except the ones canny enough to use gently lit, slightly rounder, older, or more ethnic examples of “true beauty”). But it may just be that it’s not possible to have these conversations online.
Congratulations, Ms. Gould. You’ve managed to suggest putting yourself out of a job while also uttering one of the most absurd, out of touch sentences on the internet as of late – and I assure you, that’s not an overstatement for page views.
For many in my generation, the internet feminist community serves the same purpose as consciousness raising groups of the 1970’s. Feminist (and womanist, gender justice, mujerista and women’s liberationist and the many subsets of these) blogs are where we get angry over shared grievances, organize against said inequalities, and build and strengthen our feminist community. Disagreements that break out in the comment threads over everything from what’s offensive and what can be reclaimed to the very meaning of the term ‘feminism’ serve the same purpose as heated debates in women’s studies classes: to sharpen our critique and analysis and build on the shared knowledge and ideology of varying expressions of varying feminisms. The difference is that, while the playing field is nowhere near as equal as it should and must be, the participants in the conversation don’t have to pony up $30,000 a year or even leave their apartments to join in.
This unique opportunity to build a movement in such a space is why the most disturbing aspect of Gould’s piece is how she seems to see herself – and the feminist bloggers who write for outlets large enough to concern herself with bashing – as the arbitrators of what’s “feminist” and important and commenters and writers on smaller sites as mere puppets to be led around at will. Not only does this adherence to hierarchy reek of hypocrisy from those purportedly trying to abolish it’s twin brother, patriarchy, it excises those most in need of community and support from the conversation. Since many, though certainly not all, of the women considered online feminist celebs are white and educated and often heterosexual and living in the big cities, it’s not hard to see exactly which voices are being marginalized in their dismissal as part of the big group of lemmings.
If you think the existing posts on body image are doing little more than making women feel worse, a point that can definitely be made, take a page from the fat acceptance blogs and ask readers to submit pictures of what they consider beautiful or be a little bit vulnerable and talk about a personal experience with body hatred and what helped you out. It’s obvious young women need and want to talk about it, so why not be a part of the solution?
I, for one, would take a thousand of these posts over one more from a well positioned feminist deciding for all of us that attacking another well positioned woman or blog is the most important feminist issue of the day.