You Can Do Better: In Defense of One “Ladyblog”

On Monday, n+1 contributor Molly Fischer wrote an article, “On Ladyblogs,” in which she tried to further articulate her feelings about sites like Jezebel and The Hairpin. In the process, she displays a remarkable aptitude for sweeping generalizations, half-assed research, and reneging on a commitment because the self-imposed assignment no longer felt “relevant.”

Fischer opens her article talking about how she once pitched an article to The Hairpin, asking to write about seeing Erica Jong and her daughter speak. She got the OK, went to the reading, made notes, and then, “When it came time to write the piece, I found, to my surprise, that I didn’t want to. Part of the problem was that I didn’t know what there was left to say about Erica Jong. [“¦] But the larger difficulty was the dislocation I felt as I imagined writing up the event for the Hairpin.”

By her own admission, she “let the the Jong story slide off my to-do list.” Because editors love losing expected content because the writer just isn’t feeling it anymore. “Participating in The Hairpin meant speaking to strangers as if they were my friends,” she says.

Perhaps I’m being harsh (“Harsh? You’ve already said she’s half-assing research”), but my problem is not that she has an issue with The Hairpin’s culture, but that:

  • After already being familiar with the site, she is the one who asked to write the article, only to write for n+1 about no longer liking The Hairpin instead.
  • The attitude here seems to be, “Well, I suddenly realized I’m better than this, so forget it.”

Now, I don’t know that her article was officially on The Hairpin’s schedule, and no, I don’t know the specifics of the pitch and the agreement to it. For all I know, the editor said, “Get it to me whenever, no big deal,” but still, isn’t it bad manners not to turn it in?

Hell, she could have gone on and written the exact same article, “So Many Feelings” (which P-Mag talked about here), immediately afterward, but she was not unable to honor her commitment. Unless it was spelled out specifically, “We want you to write as though speaking to a friend,” (in which case she shouldn’t have pitched it at all, since that’s not her style), she could have still written an article about her disillusionment with Erica Jong and her unexpected reaction to attending the reading. “I thought I would like this, but here’s what happened instead,” would not have been out of line.

Fischer’s mind-change about writing the article is besides her larger point, but I find myself annoyed with anyone who wags a finger and literally says, “you should know better,” when there is absolutely no apology made for not writing what she said she would.

I am not trying to question the validity of her concerns with The Hairpin itself – if you don’t like the direction a site is heading, cool, move on – but rather, that her concerns with them and Jezebel turn into a blanket dismissal of all sites that dare use the term “ladyblog.”

Yes, this is one of them.

Lest we think I’m getting bent out of shape on behalf of Persephone for not being mentioned at all, I want to point out that her definition of an “ideal” site sounds… familiar.

Perhaps this, then, is what I meant: my ideal website–and we’ll call it a women’s website (what the hell) because I am a woman–would be one that didn’t make these excuses, writing off fun as “filler” or requiring the premise of friendship in order to raise weightier matters. This website would be one where the editors were willing to assume authority in and for their work, even if it meant sometimes seeming argumentative or unlikeable or wrong. It would be one where good faith could be assumed without gussying everything up in the trappings of intimacy, swaddling tricky subjects in chattiness.

 

These links come from a five minute perusal of Persephone’s archives. Each of the articles requires no friendship prerequisite, some of them have respectful disagreement in the comments, and the “fun” TV article isn’t called filler. Myself, I’ve written about my irritation with anything light-in-tone being dismissed as “fluff.” I’m sure other readers could pull out more posts that also fit her “ideal” criteria.

I’m not an editor here, and I’ve only been writing for the site since the beginning of this year, but Persephone Magazine has existed just as long as The Hairpin has (both were founded in October 2010), and though I’m not speaking for them, I’m betting that the editors here are “willing to assume authority in and for their work.”

The personal, the appealing, the intimate: these are qualities that have been traditionally associated with female writing, and I want to help confirm their worth. But what if I feel most intimate and exposed when I’m making an argument? What if I feel I’m revealing myself when I try to analyze how I experience the world? What if I find it empowering to create space for disagreement?

These questions she asks of herself are not problems for the Hairpin and Jezebel to solve, or any other site for that matter. Any writer needs to decide how much of themselves they want to reveal in their work and hold to that, as long as their feelings stay that way. One has to decide how comfortable they are with exposure, and if one finds it “empowering to create space for disagreement,” then do just that. But don’t demand that two specific female-centric sites cater to your specific vision. They’ve got their own, and if you don’t fit that, don’t ask to write for them.

I’m actually not much of a Hairpin or Jezebel reader. I usually see their posts when a friend or another site links to them and it’s a topic I find interesting, but I’m not a regular reader. Fischer’s assertion that Jezebel is “platitudes and predictable self-righteousness” is the same reason why I don’t hang around the site. It’s not my style, and the comments are worse. The Hairpin, I don’t have any strong feelings about one way or another. Sometimes they post things that I read – that’s about all I can say.

Here’s the thing, though – There are other sites out there.

While clubby intimacy might be the internet’s default mode, a ladyblog presents this mode as an end in itself. And if being a woman means joining a club, then we’ve mistaken a failure of second-wave sisterhood for its goal: we’ve embraced exclusion as if it were an achievement.

So yes, about that “half-assed research”: Above, I could have said, “I know there are other sites out there,” the I know implying that Fischer does not. Perhaps she is aware that there are more ladyblogs out there than The Hairpin and Jezebel, or xoJane and Rookie, which she mentioned in the first article. Still, by framing “On Ladyblogs” as a complaint about all women’s online media, she negates the contributions of sites that do not resemble the sites she mentions by name, save for a lot of XX chromosomes floating about the joint.

If she wrote about her issues with two specific sites, I doubt I’d even be writing this post because her views wouldn’t be making generalizations about this site, a user of the “ladyblog” moniker. It’s the lazy journalism with which I have a problem. If taking a strong stance against something is her thing, then is it so unreasonable that I am irritated with that stance lacking focus?

I mean, can I help you out with that, Ms. Fischer? Is this what you would like to get at?

  1. “The Hairpin and Jezebel alienate readers by their clubby attitude and dismissal of other ideas.”
  2. “I am unsure about why I feel anxious in that sort of environment, and I would like to explore what that means to me personally.”
  3.  “I do not like this environment because I think it is more valuable, personally, to read and write other types of material.”
  4. “Here are some sites that I think do a much better job with women’s issues compared to The Hairpin or Jezebel.”
  5. “I would like to hear about other sites that you, my readers, think do a much better job compared to The Hairpin or Jezebel.”

If those are not her points, if I am being too presumptive, then her complaints are even less clear. Her post that derides the house style of other sites has no clear style of its own other than to say, “No. Not that. I am not like them.”

“I agreed with the implication that respecting the things women make means asking how they can be better,” Fischer writes near the end of her post, referencing one Hairpin writer’s problems with the show Girls.

I see.

Molly Fischer, I respect that you want women’s online media to improve. I respect that you do not want to write in “BFF-style,” and I respect that you want to analyze how you experience the world.

Still, you can do better.

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Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

15 thoughts on “You Can Do Better: In Defense of One “Ladyblog””

  1. What gets me is that we often do use an informal and/or “chatty” voice, but I don’t think it diminishes anything. The news doesn’t change just because it is served in appetizer form and sometimes introduced with “Hey Cats and Kittens!” We have a lot of wonderful and loyal commenters, and after almost two years I feel a kinship with them and our other writers. The friendly voice comes form our having built a community, and I like that.

    1. I kinda feel this way too. Informal language and camaraderie does not automatically mean cliquish behavior, nor does it inherently demean the subject. I actually like the more informal attitude because it makes it easier to disagree here, the same way I can disagree with friends in real life.

  2. Once upon a time I had to freelance write to support myself. The most demeaning gigs were, without fail, contributions for glossy ladymags, hence I’d say I know forced inanity and pretend-friendly chattiness when I see it. I don’t see it on P-mag, and for all that’s wrong with Jez, I don’t think that was ever among their major problems either.

     

    1. I would say that the pretend chattiness is fine over there and the crazy, fly-off-the-handle-at-the-slightest-grievance commenters are problematic, but not the main problem. The tone of the articles has changed for the worse in my opinion. And that’s why I left.

      Snark has always been prevalent there and I don’t have a problem with it in concept, but no lines on the amount of snark have been drawn. It now seems to be considered more important to be as snarky as possible at the expense of the information in the article. Everything is mockable, nothing is sacred – not even their own platforms (is there a platform for Gawker sites anymore? that’s a whole other thing), not their readers/commenters, not science, not politics, not the mainstream, not the fringe, etc. Plus, it seems that they think you can fight snark with snark. You’re never going to get a more thoughtful commentariat if you mock those who try, mock those who don’t, and mock all sources of your own information. Garbage in –> garbage out.

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