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.

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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


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