In “The Trouble With Jezebel” on Double X, Linda Hirshman takes Jezebel to task for what she considers to be a cavalier and snarky attitude on serious subjects like rape and STDs. Then, she asks, “What can Jezebel tell us about the state of young women’s lives?”
Can we please stop talking about Jezebel already? Is there’s really some big conclusion to make about “women’s lives”? The last time I checked, lots of women were blogging about their experiences and their opinions — Feministing, Nerve, Your Tango, Divine Caroline, Bust, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Heather Armstrong, Twanna Hines, and yes, this site. I like Jezebel. In the past, I liked it more. I used to blog for the site before I came here. I still pay close attention to what Jezebel writes about and agree with some of what Hirshman has to say. I’m not as devoted a follower as I used to be because I’ve been turned off by the snarky tone and the knee jerk cries of misogyny and sexism. I don’t love the casual, too-cool-for-school way some of the site’s bloggers discuss serious issues like rape and safe sex.
In her piece, Hirshman rehashes old news — last summer’s “Thinking & Drinking” debacle, in which Jezebel bloggers Moe Tkacik and Tracie Egan got drunk and joked about rape. If Jezebel is representative of women, you’d think Hirshman could pull out something a little more current. But the situation was revealing in that it proved how seriously Jezebel was being taken and how unprepared the site’s bloggers were for that kind of scrutiny. I don’t think Tkacik, Egan, or anyone else at Jezebel realized when they took their jobs that they would representative of anyone but themselves.
“Representing” a generation is a big burden to shoulder, especially if you don’t want it and don’t feel like it’s what you signed up for. If you’ve ever spent any time reading the comments on Jezebel, you know the readers are a loyal bunch. But they also have assumed a certain amount of emotional “ownership” over the site, as they clearly think the site represents them somehow. The average Jezebel reader doesn’t blog for a living or get to express her views in such a public forum, so when a post on the site missteps or defies what the majority believes, there is much ado. It’s no wonder Jezebel bloggers have been known to bitch about readers on their personal blogs and Twitter feeds.
My main problem with Jezebel is their refusal to acknowledge their shortcomings and mistakes, errors in judgment or hypocrisy, as in the case of the “Thinking & Drinking” disaster. Hirshman writes:
“It is surprising that the offense that arouses the liberated Jezebels to real political fury is the suggestion that women like them might be made responsible for the consequences of their own acts, or that there might be general standards that define basic feminist behavior. Suggest that women report the men who rape them for the sake of future victims, say, or that women should be asked why they stay with the men who abuse them, or urged to leave them, and the Jezebels go ballistic. Judgmental, judgmental! Doing what feels good to you is the only standard that is allowed.”
Some accused Hirshman of slut-shaming, victim-blaming, and misogyny, but she’s right about one thing. When you blog about your personal experiences, it doesn’t make you immune to criticism and judgment, and those who criticize you aren’t breaking some sort of girl code for calling you out.
When Egan and Double X managing editor Jessica Grose discussed*** a documentary about Roman Polanski and jokingly (not to mention erroneously) discussed the charges that he still faces for raping a 13-year-old girl in the 1970s, many commenters were offended. Egan was steadfast in her defensiveness, writing, “I can express my own opinions without being labeled a bad feminist. And I, nor anyone else, should ever have to apologize for any of it.” Admitting that you were in error is the same as turning in your feminist club card?
When Megan Carpentier wrote an essay about being raped at 17 and not reporting her attacker, it was unrealistic for her to expect that her decision wouldn’t be criticized. Any and all criticism of a victim doesn’t equal “victim blaming.” Difficult and complicated issues require difficult and complicated discussions. You cannot bring up a controversial topic like this — whether you were 17 at the time or not — and not be willing to thoughtfully discuss all its angles, without crying about being judged. You never know where your audience could be coming from and what they may have experienced.
I wish Jezebel would cool it with their judgmental snarking on people that they don’t agree with or have disdain for. Christine Coppa, who blogged about her pregnancy and preparing to be a single mom for Glamour.com, got put through the ringer on Jezebel. Wasn’t that an obvious example of a “girl-on-girl crime,” something the site claims to hate? Each issue of any women’s magazine is picked apart; only the discarded examples of misogyny remain. I’m all for critical thinking but is every issue of Glamour that evil? I love Glamour! I also think Patty Stanger is the wisest woman on TV, aside from her moments of psychotic wrongness. Am I officially out the cool feminists club now?
Because the site has gotten so much attention for its more salacious posts — Egan bedding a dude at the Academy Awards of porn, Tkacik writing about condoms sucking — Hirshman associates their laissez faire attitude about sex and sexual safety with Jezebel as a whole. Unfortunately, it’s not a fair or thorough assessment. The less controversial and snarky writers may not get as much attention, but they are often wonderful to read. I enjoy posts by Dodai Stewart, Anna Holmes, and weekend editor Hortense (who was once a site commenter). I find their posts to be the most sincere, thoughtful, and intelligent. I wish they got more attention.
But more than that, I wish some other women’s sites would get invited into this never-ending “what the f**k is up with modern women and feminism?” debate. Jezebel’s audience is impressive, but it’s hardly the largest one out there. Since when do the viewpoints and experiences of one website — which has a fraction of the traffic of iVillage or Divine Caroline — represent an entire generation? How can it? Hirshman wonders: “What … is the state of young women’s lives?” Jezebel isn’t the answer.
***UPDATE: This article was also written last summer, making it just as “old” as Hirshman’s “Thinking & Drinking” reference. Just an FYI.