When the ASME (American Society of Magazine Editors) awards for magazine journalism were listed online, the blogopshere took a quick whiff and reported back with the precise recipe for becoming award-winning journalist: Oh, testosterone. No women were nominated in profiles, features, reporting, essays or columns– the most prestigious categories.
What this sparked was a discussion about the gender byline gap and how the award-winning magazines like The New Yorker and Harpers don’t publish as many stories by women because they don’t pitch them. People pointed out that often, women stick to the “pink ghetto” of women’s magazines (and websites) and write about “pink” topics that are, apparently, undeserving of acclaim.
I am here to reclaim the term, “pink journalism.” I happen to love stories about women, relationships, sexuality, lifestyle, reproductive health, personal essays — all of which are considered “pink”and, I think, wildly important. That said, after the jump are some of the best “pink” pieces I’ve read recently, with comments from some of my favorite ‘”pink” writers. This is in no way a complete list, just a few favorites. And feel free to add your recommendations in the commets.
1. American Marvel (Profile of Chris Evans) by Edith Zimmerman | GQ
Celebrity profiles are not inherently pink (especially not celebrity profiles in GQ) but Edith Zimmerman turns a piece that could have been drab into something revelatory, by injecting herself into the story.
Edith gets too drunk and the blurs the lines between interviewing, flirting and hooking up with her source. Zimmerman skates around biases by being as honest as possible about her experience. I will say this once: When a man writes about being messy and getting drunk we think of him as adventurous, when a woman does it, we think of her as neurotic or damaged. Please write more celebrity profiles, Edith!
Honorable mention: Kiki Kannibal: The Girl who Played with Fire in Rolling Stone, another profile and although it isn’t experimental like Zimmerman’s (or even as objective) it tells a compelling story about female adolescence, fame and the internet.
2. Look God No Hands Blaire Briody | Bust and Utne Reader
Part of the discussion has been about how women are pigeon-holed into “pink” topics, and how they pigeon-hole themselves. As someone who frequently writes about sex, I worry about this. Am I dragging my name through mud? But like … pastel-mud? A mud mask? This piece is an example of the opposite. Blaire Brody is an editor for The Fiscal Times and here she is writing about porn in Bust.
I contacted Rachel Kramer Bussel, the erotica writer and editor of Best Sex Writing 2012, and asked what she thought about reputation and sex writing:
“Sex is part and parcel of our lives and while it’s often treated as a ‘women’s’ topic, obviously it’s more universal than that. ‘Pink’ topics, especially sex, cut across journalism, and touch on everything from health to politics to sports to religion. Best Sex Writing 2012 features everything from a piece questioning the application of child pornography laws to a Village Voice story about men who prefer “fat chicks.” When I’m editing the Best Sex Writing series I look far and wide for approaches to sex that are smart and nuanced.”
3. The Business About My Breasts Susannah Breslin | Forbes.com
This one is more along the lines of personal essay — a genre that is amply “pink.” Susannah’s piece is about breast cancer, it is about how she is dealing with the diagnosis and her thoughts.
This Chris Kraus quote (from her very personal book I Love Dick) feels appropriate:
“To be female means to being trapped within the purely psychological. No matter how dispassionate or large a vision of the world a woman formulates, whenever it includes her own experience and emotion, the telescope’s turned back on her. Because emotion’s just so terrifying the world refuses to believe that it can be pursued as discipline, as form … I want to make the world more interesting than my problems, Therefore, I have to make my problems social.”
Here is what Susannah had to say about “pink” and her piece:
“I am so, so tired of women talking about what is OK/feminist/not feminist for other women to write about. Ugh, women need to just shut up and write already. I wrote the piece because it was that or go nuts. I like to present myself as strong in my work, and I worried that disclosing I had early-stage breast cancer would cause people to think I’m weak. Instead, writing it was cathartic, and I got a ton of responses that were terrifically inspiring. People are very, very curious about death.”
4. All the Single Ladies Kate Bolick | The Atlantic
It was a major oversight that this piece was not included in the ASME awards. I G-chatted an editor who works at a Very Popular Women’s Magazine who agreed with me.
Here is what she said:
“What upsets me is that ‘pink’ topics are considered lesser by default. I think there are two types of writing: 1. Journalistic writing which requires interviewing sources, research and on-the-ground reporting and 2. Personal essay. Both can fall into pink. The journalistic writing tends to be more respected; although, as with Kate Bolick’s “All the Single Ladies”– or hell with your Observer piece about abortion doulas– if the journalism/research is about lady things, it’s often considered lesser. That pisses me off.
But part of the problem is that a lot of writing about ‘pink issues’ too often comes with a very clear bias. It feels like activism and ‘counts’ less because of that. In the same way that way Fox News or MSNBC isn’t winning any awards– they have an agenda. Sometimes this is just not rigorous enough, journalistically. But Kate Bolick’s piece did deserve an award and I think pieces that strive to be objective deserve much more attention.”
5. Flick Chicks Mindy Kaling | book excerpt in The New Yorker
A must-read for anyone who has ever seen a movie. Kaling writes from the perspective of being a woman in a male dominated industry — film. Here, she defends and criticizes the rom com. Pink, pink pink.
Fruzsina Eorodogh writes not about Hollywood, but YouTube. She also writes about things like Reddit and video games things we usually associate with dudes. YouTube may be a far cry from Hollywood, but Eordogh also sees a lot of gender problems on the website. She says any woman who creates a channel can expect to be called a “slut” and rated on her looks. “Youtubers are more accepting of gays than they are of women, which is weird, and makes me worried” she says. Eordogh’s reporting on the “Reply Girl” phenomenon explored how some women are using YouTube’s sexist culture to game the system– making money from the clicks.
Eorodogh also agrees with everything Mindy Kaling says about romantic comedies. “Why would a guy not want to watch two people falling in love on camera? Why would any person not want to watch that?” she asked.
6. Life Without Sex | The Third Phase of the Asexuality Movement Rachel Hills | The Atlantic
Rachel Hills pens things for UK Cosmo that are honest-to-God great. I loved this piece she wrote about turning 27 and this one about the rise of the male kiss. But I also love what she wrote about asexuality for The Atlantic. Here is what Rachel Hills had to say on about writing about sex. Or not sex.
“One of my concerns with the way mainstream media talks about sexuality is that it’s almost always about women. Is XYZ behavior empowering for women? Or is women’s sexuality being repressed? But women aren’t the only people who have sex, and they’re not the only people whose sexuality is politically and socially mediated.”
So, technically three pieces. But I wanted to give a shout-out to the women writing about reproductive health, abortion, birth control and all of the stuff that has recently (horrifyingly) become so important to talk about.
Here is something Laurie Penny wrote to me in an e-mail:
“The colour pink does not appear on any national flag. That should tell you a lot about what people mean when they talk about ‘pink’ topics. If it’s something that’s supposed to be of interest mainly or exclusively to women, then it’s considered a light and fluffy subject. It’s a classic way of rejecting women’s work and women’s experiences.”
8. Puberty Before Age 10: A New Normal? Elizabeth Weil | New York Times Magazine
Writer, Virginia Sole Smith sent this article to me with a note that said:
“Here is an example of a an important ‘pink’ topic finally getting taken seriously. This is something that five years ago lady mag editors thought sounded too alarmist and fringe-y. Forget mainstream mags!”
The story is truly shocking. There have been multiple cases of pubic hair at three at four years old! It is hard to believe it has taken this long for this topic to see the mainstream.
Sole-Smith also adds:
“When we talk about lady mags as being a ‘pink ghetto’, we’re talking strictly in terms of how they are perceived/respected within the publishing industry (which is to say: not so much). In terms of actual audience reach, readership numbers, etc. lady mags are doing Just Fine Thank You. On the whole, they reach a much wider, more mainstream American audience than the New Yorker is even aware of existing — and so, to my mind, they are capable of being a tremendous force for good.”
A great example of that good is Virginia’s story on hunger among families in the US.
9. Dear Sugar Advice Column #48 Write like a Motherf*cker Cheryl Strayed | The Rumpus
This piece tackles writing “like a girl” and thus inherently deserves a place on this list. I asked Kate Fridkis to comment because as a personal essayist, she also writes like a motherf*ckr.
“I think issues like body image and relationships and family are real and incredibly important. If women are talking about them a lot, there’s a reason. It is not as simple as ‘women aren’t allowed to talk about other things.’ Also, don’t think everything you write has to be serious. I definitely don’t listen to pressure to be ‘serious’ all the time!”
10. “I Can Handle It”: On Relationship Violence, Independence and Capability Autumn Whitefield-Madrano | Feministe
When I asked Autumn Whitfield-Madrano about her favorite “pink” pieces, she suggested Glamour’s piece on domestic violence as a great example. “That piece was really great, they were looking at how domestic violence was changing and doing real honest-to-god service,” she said.
As a lady-mag-ist herself, Autumn also has a lot of ideas about this topic:
“Given that so many talented female writers are drawn to personal writing and then are dismissed for it, I can’t help but wonder if calling personal, subjective writing ‘soft’ is a way of discouraging women from writing at all. We’ve come to put a lot of faith in modes of thinking that have traditionally been aligned with masculinity. Generally speaking, women are less likely to be aggressive in contacts with editors. They may be discouraged from pitching repeatedly after being turned down. But the pitch system favors traditionally male modes in that sense. Outlets have to be more creative if they’re sincere about wanting to get female writers– they may have to solicit writers, perhaps repeatedly.
And maybe the way towards equality includes not only getting more female reporters who are writing from a supposedly neutral, unbiased, impersonal space, but also examining why we’re so eager to belittle forms of writing that–surprise!–are predominantly written by women. Sharing our stories–our deeply personal stories–is a feminist act. The most compelling news stories have a deep human element, and with the right voice sharing the right experience, personal writing can make a point more eloquently and forcefully than reporting.”
I agree with her, but I chose a personal piece Autumn wrote on the same topic, because it just spoke to me.