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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