I’ve been ruminating a lot on what the existence of a Katie Roiphe, a Naomi Wolf or a Double XX means for feminism and media in the 21st century.
Early women’s liberation gained a great deal from the participation of media savvy journalists. Immediately popping to my mind are Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Gloria Steinem, the infamous take overs of Ladies Home Journal and of Rat. I’m also thinking of the early work of Judith Hole and Ellen Levine.
Eventually women’s liberation gave rise to a massive number of alternative periodicals and publications, which I happily use as source material.
In the 90s, Wolf and Roiphe come along, but we still had alternative publications like Bitch. I had a definite preference for the latter. While working as a Women’s Center director at William Paterson University, we brought the editor of Bitch, @JennPozner, the editor of Latina, Leora Tanenbaum, and the collective that authored Telling to Live, Latina Feminist Testimonios. It was pretty much the best job ever for a person who writes about contemporary feminism and history.
With the advent of the internet and massive amounts of social media it feels categories are blurring in ways that don’t really work for me. Far too often it seems that big voices of people who essentially function as professional feminists dominate public discussion of issues. The problem, as many others have noted, is that women write for “big” publications must constantly come up with the “next” new thing, seeking larger venues, like an excerpt in The Atlantic or Vanity Fair, or the New York Times, or wherever.
I started pondering the outcomes of that need recently when putting together materials for my course Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies, which coincided with spilling of much much much ink over the topic of “men in crisis!” Would men disappear? Was masculinity on the decline?
Of course as a historian I recognize these questions as not-uncommon. Crises in masculinity occur quite often in American history, typically associated with periods of economic hardship. What freaked me out, to be quite honest, was women arguing that indeed dudes had it tuff. I’m old skool enough, and grounded in factual feminism (i.e. wage gaps) to find that frankly kind of appalling. Pulling out random stats, with no context, and arguing for blanket applications to all women and all men flies in the face of all reasonable scholarship on gender (even my students in intro women’s history know you NEVER write just “women” without specifying which women, where and when!).
When I see #vagina trending on twitter (GOGOGO) because Naomi Wolf has worked her way down to women’s genitals, or see the blogs go abuzz over Katie Roiphe’s most recent stupid statement of privilege, I cringe. I want more attention paid to the sort of transformative work being done by @womensmediacntr and #PWV and less to the paid public feminist voices.
update: apparently I’m not getting my wish, Emily Brazelton, this afternoon, on Slate