Anna North nails it in this admirably brief but accurate analysis of the “women’s stories” peddled by the mainstream media:
These stories, in mainstream American media, tend to fall into certain categories. There are the ones about when women should get married. There are the ones about how women balance work and their children, told with no discussion of these women’s race or class, and with a strange disregard for the possibility that said children might also have fathers. And then there are the ones about hookup culture.
Hookup culture stories are extremely popular. The latest, Kate Taylor’s “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too” sits as of this writing at the top of the New York Times’ most-emailed list. It is about women at Penn, but it is essentially the same story as this one about women at UNC, and though less overtly polemical, it is also essentially the same story as this and this and this. It’s not hard to see why these stories succeed: They are about very young women having lots of sex with multiple partners. They’re a lot like porn, except that instead of an orgasm you get a vague sense of free-floating anxiety.
This is the emotion of the women’s story. It does not move. It does not satiate. It does not provoke tears or laughter, or even good clean fear. Maybe it titillates, but ultimately, it is intended to worry. The women’s story sidles up to you at a party and asks in the honeyed voice of a false friend whether you or other women like you might be doing sex or love or motherhood (the top tasks of the woman) slightly wrong.
It gets better. North notes that the curious obsession with women from elite colleges is pernicious for other reasons, too:
Or maybe it walks right past you. Because in order to sell itself as a story about all women, the women’s story can only actually be about a small group of women, women who have been designated as worthy of having worry-stories written about them. These women are usually white, straight and middle-class, and also (especially if they will be photographed alongside the story) fall within an accepted range of body size and facial structure. Stories may be written about women who do not fit into this group, but they will be stories about race or poverty or fatness. Women marked by any of these things do not belong in women’s stories.
. . . . . .
The women’s story marks out a group of people who need to worry, who are worth worrying about. You, the story says, have the opportunity to lead the life of a good woman, if only you do everything exactly right. But the women on the outside of the story, the women who were not interviewed or photographed, do not have this opportunity. They, the story implies, are already lost.“
The repetition of the same three topics again and again, treated in the same way, is not only boring. It is not only a waste of the time of journalists who might otherwise be investigating new stories in new ways. It also constricts thought. It perpetuates the illusion that the hookup culture story and the marriage anxiety story and the mommy wars story are the only stories to be told. It alienates those for whom these stories have no resonance, and it makes those for whom the stories do resonate forget that there are other stories to tell. It makes us all smaller.
I am more than tired of women’s stories. I am angry at them, because they obscure the stories we should be hearing, that are already being told if we’d only listen. They drown out the stories of women.
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