Heaping Scorn & Criticism on Feminist Advocates at Newsweek

by cv harquail on March 24, 2010

This week’s story about feminists at Newsweek who have publicly challenged that magazine for failing to make progress against gender discrimination encouraged me, as I’m sure it encouraged many others.

To see someone, anyone, make a prominent critique of a prominent organization, and then to have that organization make this criticism public, should have inspired enthusiasm.

More importantly, it should have inspired conversation about how to get Newsweek moving, how to hold Newsweek accountable, and how to advocate for change within our own organizations.barbie pensive.jpg

I know that few blogs address organizations per se, so I didn’t really expect to see many posts like mine. But. I did expect to see some posts holding Newsweek accountable.

But you won’t find that conversation on the interwebz today. Instead, the conversation is all about the advocates themselves.

Support for these feminist advocates?

You’d think that feminists around the blogosphere would have rallied to the cause of the Newsweek 3. After all, advocacy requires courage, and courage requires social support.

If you’d scanned some of the major feminist blogs, you might have expected them to highlight the advocates efforts, bring up their own stories in support, encourage them, call for more candor and action at Newsweek, and generally support these women.

Well, you’d need to look pretty hard for that conversation.

tinker tailor.jpg

What you’ll find, instead, is a conversation about how the women and their advocacy is not good enough. You’ll read that these three women –white women, college-educated women, physically able women, English as first language women – can’t possibly represent “feminism”.

Neither they nor their analysis is diverse enough. Their efforts are trashed because the Newsweek activists fail to discuss race, class, ability, sexual orientation or any other important intersectional analysis of sexism.

Raising a point, Burying the lede

While these critics raise some very important points that must be addressed about the complexity of feminism and the requirement that feminists consider all women and not just women like themselves, and while the advocates offer a not-terribly-enlightened explanation in defense of their article, the whole clusterflock diverts energy from the main issue of the article and the advocacy.

Yo, people.

A national magazine published an article about its own gender discrimination.

Are we going to ignore this while we bash the advocates with the syllabus of Feminism 101?

It is true, and it’s almost embarrassing, that the Newsweek journalist-advocates did not address the intersection of race & gender (or class, or ability, or sexual orientation or gender performance, or cultural group) in their criticism of Newsweek. It’s upsetting that they failed to note or quote any woman of color in their article. It’s misleading to represent feminism with photos and illustrations of only white women.

Yes, their analysis is simplistic. Yes, they could and should have done better to be appropriately inclusive and to represent feminism in its sophistication and breadth.

But they did something.

These women took a personal risk.

These women took a professional risk.

These women challenged a power structure.

These women are actively learning what it means to be a feminist and what it means to advocate for women.

Shouldn’t we be talking about what they did do, and how to take their advocacy further?

If we who claim to support feminism and feminists spend our energy criticizing women (or men) who make an effort to advocate, by showing them over and over where they screwed up and where they are inadequate, what are we teaching each other? What are we failing to learn?

Julia Berry, at InHerImage, asks a key question:

With these issues being as complicated as they are, how can we truly address racism and sexism at a deeper level? And how can we do so in a way that builds strength, rather than more division and disenchantment? I would love to learn how, without glossing over or ignoring the various issues at hand, we can support each other and continue to make progressive change.


For thoughtful analysis, see also:

Newsweek And Sexism by Echidne of the Snakes
Missing the point about race and feminism by Allision at EconomicWoman

Sexism at Work: Young Women, Newsweek, and Gender…and Race
Julia Berry, at InHerImage
What’s wrong with this feminist picture?
by Nona at GirlDrive
Will Newsweek Respond to Claims of Sexism?

Photos of vintage Barbies from Tinker*Tailor on Flickr


Nona March 24, 2010 at 10:55 am

Thanks for this post–you really get to the heart of the issue. It’s so true–how do you give them kudos, support, etc. without making constructive criticism sound like an attack? It’s difficult. And YES, you’re right…we should be focusing on holding Newsweek accountable. But that doesn’t mean we also can’t push these women in the right direction and open their eyes. I see that already with their latest post as compared to their first about the whole controversy.

Although I do disagree on one point: there *were* many feminist blogs who gave them kudos!! Feministing, Broadsheet, Women’s Media Center, the Ms. blog, etc. These are all mainstream feminist spaces. And besides the short Jezebel post, most of the criticisms give them their due props, too. So I don’t think they’ve been unilaterally torn down. They deserve major credit, and I do think they’re getting it.
.-= Nona´s last blog ..Veronica will be on Feminist Wednesday (today!) =-.

cv harquail March 24, 2010 at 11:43 am

Hey Nona- thanks for commenting…

I’m wondering now what the actual balance is between criticism and support, in both posts and comments. With commenters, I’ve seen far more negativity than support. And with the ‘big’ blogs, I thought that, aside from Broadsheet/Salon and Echidne who I recommend in this post, the support was kindof pro forma. Feministing celebrated with a cat video– which, although cute, did not so much to move the conversation forward. And Ms. had a quick pop-out quote.

Maybe I’m looking for them/us to offer more than an acknowledgment– maybe something like offering a hand, or also taking on Newsweek. I don’t think that even in own my posts I asked “how can we help them make the most of this opportunity?”. So, I’d like to see more forward movement to balance out the lateral learning.

And the story isn’t over… so there should be opportunities. Let’s keep each other in mind to we can support the next initiative . cv

joe gerstandt March 24, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I always appreciate your perspective on the topics that you post on. I think that this topic is a really important one and I actually think that are four very important things going on here:

1.) There are women that are advocating inside Newsweek.
2.) Newsweek is making some aspects of that issue public.
3.) People are challenging the advocates inside of Newsweek for not doing enough or representing the larger more diverse movement.
4.) You are pushing back on those perspectives.

I think that we have a strong tendency to want to determine or select which perspective is right and which is wrong, but I think that all four of these things are very important. Those internal advocates are doing something and moving the flag forward…if they were not doing something of substance I don’t know how likely it would be that Newsweek would be sharing this with the world.

They may still have a great deal of work to do, but the fact that they are being somewhat open about it is very encouraging and sets a good example. The people that are challenging those advocates and your challenge of those voices are both important dynamics that help keep a movement honest. When a movement stops pushing on itself and challenging itself, I think it generally starts adopting the same type of practices and politics of the institutions that it seeks to change.

So, I personally am happy to see each of these things happening, I see them as signs of progress and vitality. The aspect that is disappointing to me is that male business leaders still seem to assume that this issue does not have anything to do with them or the success of their business.
For what its worth.

elenabella March 25, 2010 at 1:48 am

I also wrote something connecting to Nona’s excellent post. It’s really important to be able to acknowledge the value of something like these pieces in Newsweek, but also to be able to note something like this large oversight – and then carry the conversation forward. Here is my take on it: http://elenabella.blogspot.com/2010/03/whats-wrong-with-this-feminist-picture.html
.-= elenabella´s last blog ..‘What’s Wrong With this Feminist Picture?’ Nona Willis Aronowitz asks a good question =-.

cv harquail March 25, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Hi Ellen! Thanks for your comment and the link to your post…. I added a (kindof long) comment there… and I’ll link back when I pick this topic up again. I really appreciate your perspective.

cv harquail March 25, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Hi Joe,
Thank you for bringing your change agent clarity to the situation… as you lay it out, the piece that’s missing to me is even clearer– what’s missing is the alliance building, the joining up, the community support. (and yes, the male business leaders… but then again, who’d support a movement that seemed against their personal and group interests!). I don’t know what it takes to give voice to the intra-group criticism and accountability-holding while at the same time getting those critics to join with those they criticize in the larger push at the power structure itself. Still trying to figure that one out… cv

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