Lindsay in no way condones reading blogs at work, except this one.
Last Thursday at work, I was making a late afternoon scan of some of my favorite blogs (which is a “very rare occasion,” ok), and I loaded up Jezebel, the hugely popular women’s blog. I read Jezebel pretty frequently (“after work hours” of course, and “only on my personal computer”). Or at least frequently enough to have known, when I saw the now infamous/ever-so-elegantly-titled post “I Had a One-Night Stand With Christine O’Donnell,” from the parenthetical link at the end of the post’s teaser that that it was a story that had been originally posted to their parent site, Gawker, and that that meant I’d probably be better off not wasting my time reading it. So I didn’t.
But what I did read, when I checked the site again an hour later (“rare occasion”), was Jessica Coen’s defense of why Jezebel (arguably the Internet’s most prominent feminist site) posted the (heinously misogynistic) O’Donnell story. It’s a strange, kind of convoluted defense, provoked by the outpouring of Jezebel commenters who were offended by the fact that a feminist site would post something so obviously offensive to women. Coen says that Christine O’Donnell’s private sex life is pertinent info because it contradicts the crazy things she’s said publicly about sex, and that we have some sort of duty to uncover this kind of stuff as there was a threat (or at least there was last Thursday) that this woman and her crazy hypocritical beliefs about sex could get elected to the Senate. I wasn’t really buying it, and Coen’s defense also has a sad little aside, the tone of which totally bummed me out: “And yeah, Jezebel features a link to the story because we are a part of a company that, let’s be honest, knows how you work all too well. So it goes.”
In a lot of ways, I love Jezebel. Not only do they post some really wonderful articles about contemporary feminism and routinely call bullshit on sexist media, but their readership is huge — which means that their message travels far and wide, probably all the way to that proverbial misunderstood teenage girl in Idaho who would have never known what feminism is or where to read about it prior to stumbling upon the site and its community of readers. I don’t think I’m being too romantic when I say it’s probably changed some girls’ lives and opened up a whole new way of thinking for them.
But here’s the catch: Jezebel is only able to reach that huge number of people because it’s run by the hugely/sort-of-terrifyingly powerful Internet tabloid conglomerate, Gawker Media, which is run by a guy who fashions himself to be the Charles Foster Kane (sorry, Zuckerberg) of the Internet age, Nick Denton. To call Denton a misogynist, it seems, would be to mistakenly single out a specific target for his cultivated air of indiscretion. A recent New Yorker profile painted him out to be a vacuous, self-styled nihilist with an uncanny knack for making people want to barf. (My favorite part of the profile: “The first time McClear had lunch with Denton, she returned to the office afterward and threw up. She attributed this to food poisoning, but it happened again the second time they had lunch.”) Jezebel is just one (albeit abnormally well meaning) arm of Denton’s Gawker Media beast, which means that, on occasion, it has to bend to Gawker’s politics and morals (which is to say: complete lack thereof) and post such page-view grabbers as “Lady Gaga’s Vagina Almost Fooled Us Into Forgetting About Her Penis.” From these sensational headlines come page views, and from page views come ad sales and from ad sales writers can pay their rent. So it goes.
All of which I knew already, all of which I sort of grin and bear every time I read Jezebel, understanding that to reach an audience that large and diverse, compromises in content will necessarily have to be made. My interest was piqued, though, so I went back and read the original Gawker story. And, predictably, it made me want to barf. Regardless of your politics or views on O’Donnell, the story is so aggressively misogynistic that it had me wishing Jezebel could have put some sort of editorial foot down on running it on their site. Goes one poetic detail, “When her underwear came off, I immediately noticed that the waxing trend had completely passed her by.” The whole thing’s credited to “Anonymous,” though I can assure you, dear reader, that it’s not the Anonymous of Go Ask Alice fame. She wouldn’t have stood for this shit, and we shouldn’t have to either.
Last week I had just finished reading bell hooks’ Feminism Is For Everybody, but this incident was suddenly making its title ring so idealistic, a goal blocked by seemingly insurmountable systemic impediments. How can pure, unadulterated feminism possibly reach everybody when we have to constantly grin and bear these kinds of compromises in content, even from supposed feminist media? The question was overwhelming me as I stepped off the Metro on Thursday afternoon, until a momentarily comforting thought popped into my head: “Ooh, Thursday. New issue of the City Paper.” I stooped down to grab a copy of my city’s alt weekly — which routinely publishes great writing and used to be home to Amanda Hess’s amazing feminist blog/column The Sexist — and, flipping it over to the back cover, was confronted with this American Apparel ad.
If nothing else, these incidents serve as great, lucid examples of something else hooks writes about: the ways in which sexism is inextricably tied to other systems of power (it’s pretty easy to see the role that our good friend capitalism plays in this whole mess). But they’ve also triggered something in me — a desire to stop just accepting these sorts of compromises and dismissing them with a rueful, “So it goes.” Because even though we understand why this kind of shit happens, we shouldn’t just have to internalize it with an accepting sigh. We should be able to express that it pisses us off.