Monthly Archives: February 2011

Double standards: Women in criticism

Over at Bookslut, Alizah Salario offers “Twenty-Three Short Thoughts About Women and Criticism,” among which are the following:

12. What makes a good critic? It’s a thorny question, one that prickles when I try to handle it. At her most basic, a good critic must possess a certain amount of chutzpah in order to believe other people will read — and care about — what she has to say. Call them audacious or simply arrogant, critics must have the confidence to write with conviction. They must demonstrate to readers why, of an infinite number of interpretations, theirs speaks a truth (but perhaps not the truth). Critics can’t be afraid of hurting someone’s feelings with writing so caustic it goes down the mental hatch like battery acid. They must be assertive, authoritative, outspoken and downright ballsy — all traits traditionally associated with men.

13. That’s not to say plenty of women don’t have what it takes, but an assertiveness double standard exists. A man who is self-assured and outspoken is often considered strong and simply doing what a man’s got to do, but a woman of the same ilk is bitchy, demanding, and pushy. Where a man is tough, a woman has a lot of nerve. Perhaps this doesn’t apply as much in journalism, a field where aggressive self-promotion is par for the course. Still, I’ve wondered if there are fewer female critics in prominent publications not because we aren’t out there, but in part because the combination of ambition, intelligence, and audacity does not always work in a woman’s favor.

14. When writers Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner coined the term “Franzenfreude” on Twitter, they started an Internet kerfuffle. It pivoted around the fact that women who write novels about family drama and suburban malaise are relegated to that literary backwater know as “chick lit,” but when Jonathan Franzen explored the same topics in Freedom, he received critical acclaim. Is it because his book is better than their books, or does it have to do with the fact that we’re not critical of those doing the acclaiming? We all love to see ourselves reflected on the page, and that’s part of it. If the majority of critics are men, they might have a harder time seeing themselves reflected in a book with pink stilettos on the cover, even if the content isn’t all that different from Franzen’s manly forest-covered, lumberjack-sized tome.


17. “There is a different set of standards regarding women and credibility and aggressiveness on the air,” said Keith Olbermann of Rachel Maddow when she started her show. When it comes to criticism and commentary, whether political or literary, in print on the air, do women have to work twice as hard to prove themselves capable?

18. Enter Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Keith Olbermann (even though he just exited). Cultural critics who garner mainstream attention are not just critics, they tend to be “media personalities,” aggressive and excitable in all their prime cable slot glory. They piss people off. They are famous precisely because they lose their tempers and wreak havoc. Maddow has been criticized for being too emotional, too butch, too partisan, too wishy-washy. A woman shows a little edge, and suddenly she’s erratic and emotional. A man does the same thing, and he’s a star.


20. Sometimes I think I should brand myself as the Kim Kardashian of journalism. No, really. Lets say, hypothetically, a young-ish woman like… oh I don’t know, like me, for example, aspired to write in-depth long form articles, like the kind found in The New Yorker. How would she go about doing so? Get a good education? Check. Read voraciously and write obsessively? Check and check. Work hard, make connections, and pray lady luck is on her side? Check, check and check. Then comes the realization that pithy phrases and good ideas can only get you so far in a short amount of time. People crave more than a byline. They want a story, a face, and a human being. They want someone interesting, and for a young woman that often translates to beautiful and/or sexy. So what’s a gal to do? Strengthen her online brand, of course! And how does she do that? Tweet saucy pics while reading something intense and Russian! Come up with a provocative moniker! Create a celebrity scandal! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to put on my hair extensions and fake eyelashes and have an illicit affair.

Read the whole thing here.

A previous post (well, half-inchoate rant) of mine that touches on double standards in the workplace is here.

(Image via Inside Tech)


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“Secrecy is the handmaiden of evil”: speaking out against misogyny

There’s been a lot of commentary in the wake of CBS reporter Lara Logan’s brutal rape at the height of the Egyptian protests; I feel compelled to share this perspective, from Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates compares the struggle against rape to the civil rights movement, in which he sees the call for nonviolence as a voluntary relinquishing of a basic right, that of self-defense, in the hopes of securing even more fundamental human rights. (And in fact the Egyptian people have just done the very same thing.) Similarly, he sees women who bravely speak out about rape as giving up their right to privacy, in order to address a greater evil:

Even when it happens close to us, we often do not know because the victims do not speak. They have every reason in the world not to speak, beginning with the fact that much of the world stands ready to punish them for it. Surely in Egypt, right now, women are suffering from the same evil which Lara Logan suffered. They can expect no sympathetic public outcry upon naming of the crime and executors. Likely quite the opposite.

I would not argue for a compulsive airing of suffering, but I would argue that secrecy is the handmaiden of evil. And while we all can understand why a victim would never speak on such a horror, moreover we can understand the great injustice in even requiring the victim to part with their natural rights, it’s worth supporting that speech when it happens.

There are many wise and powerfully personal statements in the comments section as well. Emily Hauser links to her post on the matter, which I also strongly recommend. And in a comment further down that personally strikes a chord with me, she writes:

The role of men is absolutely key in this struggle.

When we teach girls to own their bodies and to say no and to take self-defense classes and to speak up when all that doesn’t work — while that’s important, all we’re doing is managing the problem. We’re not solving it.

If we want to actually solve the problem, if we want to make rape a terrible rarity, rather than a terrible common-place, men need to be an active part of the solution. They need to educate themselves, educate each other, educate their boys, name and shame, and be absolutely unequivocal in their support for women in the fight. Only when it becomes unthinkable for men will we begin to remove it from our midst.

Absolutely right. It will take more than women speaking out about misogyny, whether it manifests in rape or other forms of degradation and marginalization; it will take men who listen, and who tell other men to listen. It means all of us fiercely calling out rape culture wherever and whenever we see it. It means all of us calling down shame and rage and scorn — and the full force of the law — on individuals who rape (whether the victims are women, men, or children), and on the institutions that enable them. It means the long hard work of building a society in which women and men are simply accorded the respect and dignity that is their due as human beings; and for that we need all hands on deck. Men have to step up. *I* have to step up.

For the sake of my wife and daughter — and for my own sake, for the privilege of looking at myself in the mirror with a clean conscience — I’ll do everything I can.

(Image by slytherin-prince)

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Why libraries matter, cont’d.

Via Boing Boing:

And if you don’t know who Alan Moore is, here you go. (He’s the one on the right. You may or may not know the silent fellow, but don’t worry — he gets around to meeting everyone.)

It’s worth going to the original post to see the first commenter bring up the frustratingly persistent canard that libraries are irrelevant in the digital age — and the rest of the commenters rising brilliantly to libraries’ defense.

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A difference in temper

Following up on my previous post: Kenan Malik offers a psychological take on the differences between believers and atheists: Continue reading

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Thriving on open questions: science, religion, and spirituality

“There are two great powers,” the man said, “and they’ve been fighting since time began. Every advance in human life, every scrap of knowledge and wisdom and decency we have has been torn by one side from the teeth of the other. Every little increase in human freedom has been fought over ferociously between those who want us to know more and be wiser and stronger, and those who want us to obey and be humble and submit.”

— Philip Pullman, The Subtle Knife

Physicist Marcelo Gleiser tries to square religion with science by arguing that both are ways to approach the question of the “Three Origins” — of the universe, of life, and of mind. Like advocates of poetic atheism, Gleiser points out that the availability of natural explanations of the universe

…doesn’t mean that understanding the three origins would eliminate our spiritual connection with nature and with each other. On the contrary, our understanding of the world should only strengthen our spirituality. The belief that explanations of the natural world remove us from it has no foundation. Rationality and spirituality are complementary aspects of our humanity.

If we are to look for common ground in the scientific and religious modes of understanding, it is in the fascination we all share with the mystery of creation. Religious or unreligious, we ask the same questions.

This is true. But the difference is in how we answer those questions. Gleiser conflates spirituality with religion, when actually they are two distinct attitudes. Continue reading

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On behalf of hard-working, intelligent, accomplished women who are passed over for promotions by clueless bosses who favor flashy, self-promoting men with “vision” (often paired with incompetence) rather than practical know-how and years of proven ability at getting shit DONE

Why, yes, as a matter of fact, my wife has had a bad week. Why do you ask? Continue reading

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People, not technology, will make us free

Previously I expressed my doubts that social media was the all-important spark of revolution in Egypt that it’s been made out to be, and cited Frank Rich’s and Malcolm Gladwell’s comments for support. But Andrew Sullivan makes a compelling counterargument: Continue reading

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