Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The year in sports (got your attention!)

Since making the decision that French grad school - yes - seemed a better bet if I was going to be a self-supporting adult then did journalism, I have not given the field as much thought as I did way back when. (Still think I made the right choice! Just this morning I paid for my very own pain au chocolat that I ate at an outside table at Le Boulanger des Invalides while writing the diss...) But I've been semi-paying attention to the recent debates about why girl-journalists are so underrepresented. And I'll admit to having read Conor's list of top non-fiction essays of the past year in that light. Not knowing the gender of the writers mentioned who go by initials, I did not Google them all to get to a final count, but we're not looking at 50-50. Of the six he lists as "bloggers of the year," things are definitively not 50-50. 100-0, all six being dudes.

These are, Conor explains, his "personal picks," and I don't think we're obligated, in our personal reading, to reach demographic utopia ala elite college admissions committees. (Elderly or long-dead Jewish men are so very, very overrepresented in my own book-reading, young female grad students and academics in my blog-reading.) That the list appears not on a personal blog but in the Atlantic, with its six male bloggers to one female, does, however, change the context. It's now both a list of general-interest recommendations and one that tells readers, if you read these, you can hold your head up high.

What I noticed, in looking at the list, was that the question of whether more men than women cover Real News and the opinion field closest to it - the way this is always framed, as in, not enough women are following/confident in their opinions about the news - was kind of irrelevant. More to the point was the inclusion of sports (in the article and blog section) and the exclusion of fashion (again, not an issue if this is how an individual's reading tilts, but we're left with the impression that one is serious-person-acceptable, the other not). The "Food" category seemed like it might make up for that somewhat, but we get nothing to do with gender, women-in-kitchen-or-not, body-image, who actually does the farmers'-market shopping, etc. This is both an individual's list - subjective in a way that's interesting and a good thing - and a man's list, which is where things get more complicated.

While the list is in no way intended as a representation of what Journalism values these days, and is indeed the opinion of one journalist, I think it's fairly consistent with what is and is not viewed as important in the field. And, to reiterate, the issue is not even whether we have as many women as men out there with profound and informed thoughts on whether Pakistan knew. (I, for one, can't help you here.) It's that the fluff that gets covered under the banner of Acceptable Diversion tends to be the kind of fluff smart men follow, whereas the fluff even really, really smart women keep track of is defined as just too silly to be put in respectable publications.


PG said...

It's interesting that the section of Friedersdorf's list that probably has the best representation of female writers is "This Is A Business," though I suppose three of them are about sex work in some form (actual prostitution, "bottle girls," Hooters girls).

I was surprised that he didn't seem to have any book reviews on his list, just Zadie Smith's NYRB review of "The Social Network" movie.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I noticed "Business" was the exception, but wasn't sure what to make of it - the rest of the list is what it is. I guess one way to look at it is as evidence that the list was not at all meant to leave out female writers, but is merely an expression of interests that the reader is meant to see as particular (insofar as Conor=an individual) but also universal (insofar as, Best Of, in a major mag, etc.), but not... male.

Sigivald said...

The "Food" category seemed like it might make up for that somewhat, but we get nothing to do with gender, women-in-kitchen-or-not, body-image, who actually does the farmers'-market shopping, etc.

Good Lord. Seriously?

By which I mean, who the hell wants to read about those things as "food blogs"?

Perhaps the issue here is not so much him as you?

(Issue, not "problem" - because there's no "problem" - but your complaint means there's an issue.)

What I'm trying to say is that, outside of people who already care about those issues (Who shops at farmer's markets? Who cares about farmer's markets?), that's not what most people read "Food Blogs" for.

The people I know (in person) who read food blogs, read them for, well, the food.

Not for Social Commentary or Gender Issues. For food.

Recipes, food-porn, where-to-eat, that kind of thing.

Might you be conflating your rather specialized and uncommon interests (amplified by the internet's ability to make any specialized interest look not-specialized) with those of The Average Person? Or, not so much even The Average Person, as much as any person who isn't into Gender Studies?

(Which brings up your ultimate sentence - after all, not every Very Smart Woman cares about that.

I suspect that plenty of them don't care at all apart from being told they Have To, even if they try to shake it off.

Not because it's an inherently Unimportant subject - any more than it's inherently Very Important - but because being Very Smart doesn't imply anything about what interests someone.)

I suppose in a way this also relates to PG's mention of a lack of book reviews.

Maybe he just doesn't care about book reviews - no one is, after all, obligated to. I certainly don't, having mostly given up on modern fiction outside of genre work, and having never given a damn for mass-market nonfiction.

(I know my interests aren't those of the Average Person, myself - but I also don't waste time on Other People's Big Lists Of Popular Stuff, for that very reason.

I differ greatly from the notional average Atlantic-reading "Very Smart Man", I'm sure, despite being by all available indications a Very Smart Man.

Thus I know from personal experience that lists like this are stupid wastes of time to examine. Literally all one should try and take from them are "what the author likes or wants you to think he likes".

Anything more is, in the end, intellectual self-pleasure.)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Seems you don't want to respond to the substance of my post, which is not surprising given your knee-jerk conservative blech-Gender-Studies response. My point was much less about the list itself than about a broader phenomenon I think it represents.

So I'll respond to what is, I think, addressable in what you wrote: Conor referred to food articles that were about food politics, i.e. that appeal to the niche you're claiming I'm the one bringing to the table. He mentioned Michael friggin' Pollan and the sustainability of tuna! This is not me being all bobo farmers'-market for the heck of it. It's within the context of what he wrote.

PG said...

It's not a matter of whether one "cares" about book reviews. They're a well-established and popular format for discussing the history of an idea and what new contributions are being made to it.

I'm slowly reading a few of the suggested articles. The Hooters in Tokyo one is crap, as was pointed out by many many Slate commenters who know at least as much about Japanese people and breasts as one can learn from the manga section. It wasn't even particularly well-written; I don't know what Friedersdorf was thinking by including it. The Rachel Uchitel one was not bad in itself, though it made me want never to live in NYC again (and magnified my pre-existing prejudices against LA, Vegas and South Beach). The one about actual sex trafficking, despite being the most horrifying in subject matter, did not make me want to stay out of Houston, although it reminded me not to trust the HPD. Mimi Schwartz does a lot of good work in general.

The ProPublica piece about dialysis was very, very good -- I'm familiar with the peculiar status of kidney failure among ailments, but I hadn't realized that the clinics were such a trainwreck. I'm in the middle of the NYT Jihadist Next Door profile, but it's getting on my nerves because the kid really doesn't sound exceptionally bright, but this essay had to have fed his ego like a bucket of KFC.