December 6, 2010

How Jessica Coen Pulled A Maura Kelly

In 2007, when Jezebel first launched, and I started reading it, I never imagined it would be deleted from my “Bookmarks” folder.  They’ve had their share of controversies over the years, but I honestly can’t remember any of them being as bad as the one that took place in the last two weeks.

November 24th, an article titled “American Guy In Paris Freed From The Idea of Consent” was cross-posted on the front page of Jezebel.  Typically when Jezebel does cross-posts or re-posts, they include a lead-in or follow-up at the bottom of the post with information on the original website, author, and possibly why it was chosen to be included.

For example, when my “10 Commandments Of Pop Culture Feminism” piece was re-posted on Jezebel in May, the following information was included:

“By Rachel O’Connor

This post originally appeared on the site Feminist Fatale. Republished with permission.

The author of this post can be contacted at

Simple referencing – who wrote the piece and where it came from.  “American Guy In Paris…” had none of the above mentioned links or explanations.  Instead, Edward Pasteck’s essay on how French women feel empowered by being street harrassed and assaulted and how consent is overrated only included a link to an email address.

If you’ve read the post, you likely already know that it was in very bad need of a lead-in or wrap-up with some sort of explanation for why Jezebel felt this was worthy to give space to.  The title, all on it’s own, is completely disgusting.  Honestly, when I finished reading it, I wondered for a few minutes if the website had been hacked – ‘surely the editors will delete this and post some sort of explanation for what the hell is going on’ I thought.  Needless to say, I was wrong.

Commenters were obviously, and justifiably furious.  (As of my writing, the post has over 75,000 views and over 2,000 comments.)  Why the hell was an essay that disputed consent being posted?  Had the editors taken into account how triggering and upsetting this would be for assault or rape survivors to read?  Apparently they hadn’t.

Now, this is where the Marie Claire/Maura Kelly comparison comes in.  The new editor-in-chief of Jezebel, Jessica Coen, offered a non-apology-apology in the comments of the original post over the Thanksgiving weekend.  She told readers that it wasn’t posted for traffic-baiting purposes, because that has no bearing on their success or paycheck (untrue – see here.)  She told those concerned about the triggering aspects of the post, that Jezebel never claimed to be a “safe space”, and that Edward Pastek may have bullshit views, but he’s articulate, thoughtful, and earnest! Attention Jessica Coen: “His misogynistic beliefs are really well articulated” isn’t a valid reason to give that type of shit space on one of the most popular feminist-leaning sites on the web.

The following Monday, Ms. Coen posted her “official” response, explaining that “Edward Pasteck” is a pseudonym, and he’ll remain anonymous.  Like Maura Kelly, Jessica only apologized for people being upset, and explained that she was just trying to start a discussion.  Apologies if this is starting to sound a lot like the Maura Kelly piece I wrote, but there are some “debates” that aren’t really debates at all – like, “Should fat people be treated like human beings?”, or now, “Why is consent a big deal?”.  Newsflash: people who think they don’t need another persons consent to touch/grope/have sex with them are criminals.

As if all of that wasn’t offensive enough, the same day Jessica Coen posted her official apology, she also posted a “Counterpoint” to the original piece.  An anonymous French woman was given space to dispute Edward Pasteck’s piece, although there was no deconstruction of any of the horribly offensive drivel he had written.  Instead the counterpoint can be summed up thusly – French women don’t really like to be street harassed.  Way to go Jezebel – you missed the point of the outrage entirely.  Soon the French woman’s post filled up with comments saying so.  Obviously the issue wasn’t “Hey! Women don’t like to be street harassed!”  Rather, thousands of readers were outraged by the “consent is for puritans and prudes” aspect of the original essay.

Apparently Jezebel isn’t concerned with keeping their reputation.  One as a blog that is feminist, forward-thinking, and progressive.  A website that doesn’t tolerate comments wherein people try to make excuses for street harassment, sexual assault, and rape.  I’ve felt the website has been in decline ever since the new editor-in-chief came on board – posts about feminist issues are more few and far between, the pages now being filled with more snap judgments and silly celebrity articles.  And as long as Jessica Coen is in charge, and the above mentioned policies are cast by the wayside, I won’t be reading.

April 16, 2010

Add this to your list of unacceptable body parts: your armpits

Rachel O:

The media, in a series of editing moves, has now deemed them unacceptable and unfit for public consumption.

I’ve wanted to write this piece for awhile and, in light of Britney Spears releasing unretouched photos of herself for the Candie’s campaign, decided it was time.  Unfortunately I wasn’t very surprised by the things “enhanced” on Spears’ body – the usual suspects: cellulite, tattoos, blemishes, bruises, slimming of hips, thighs, waist, etc.  But lately there’s been a new body part deemed unacceptable by the photo editors at magazines, record labels, etc. – armpits.  That’s right ladies, the area under your arm, even when clean shaven has been deemed far too hideous for general public consumption.

I first noticed the trend, while reading Jezebel, as is usually the case with these kinds of things.  They posted the cover of British GQ where Anne Hathaway seems to be missing something.  Her armpit isn’t just hairless and smoothed by some moisturizing deodorant – it’s not there at all.  Just completely gone, just torso side and…arm, with nothing in between.  Since then, I’ve come to notice it in other places as well:

Photo stills of Lady Gaga’s music video Telephone:

A Kim Kardashian exercise line campaign:

A photoshoot for Harper’s Bazaar with Megan Fox:

and finally a Sports Illustrated spread:

Apparently that pesky underarm area hinders exercising, dancing, posing, and uh, swimming.

Now it’s just another thing that’s been added to a list of things for the resident photoshopper at any magazine, PR firm, etc. to check off their list, but I think the issue is much bigger than that.   Men don’t have to deal with the same “image enhance everything” that is so prevalent when it comes to actresses and pop stars.  For example, when Leonardo DiCaprio appeared on the cover of Esquire Magazine, all his stubble, lines, and wrinkles were left intact.  For women, this new underarm thing is another flaw that someone in a board room somewhere has decided is not worthy of publication – it must be fixed.  It is another issue for women to worry about – another thing for girls to look at and wonder “why don’t I look like that?” and “what can I do to fix it?”  These images eventually become the norm, what we think women really look like, or are supposed to.

Anyone who thinks it’s not a big deal? We’re living in a world where  Jessica Simpson going without make-up is a big deal.  And Glamour publishing a picture of a woman with a belly roll is considered a revolution.   So, yeah it’s a problem.  We’re in a publishing age, where someone in charge somewhere, looked at a Jennifer Lopez magazine cover, a Ralph Lauren ad, and an image in Maxim Mexico and said “perfect, send that to the printer!”

We need a lot less this:

And a lot more this:

March 22, 2010

Kathryn Bigelow: Best Director. Period.

Guest post by Rachel O:

The Hurt Locker is a movie that while, not hitting big at the box office, hit big with critics, and racked up the awards at the Oscars – Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Picture.  Portraying the story of a bomb technician in Iraq without being Anti-War or Pro-Bush, Kathryn Bigelow is having a good year in Hollywood.  While this certainly isn’t the first time Bigelow has directed a “manly”/”masculine” action movie, it’s the first time she’s garnered this much attention.   She directed a successful, and, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, brilliant movie, but also became the first for women in many places – first to win a Director’s Guild Award, first to take home the Oscar for Best Director.

Both pre- and post-Oscars, much has been written, some praising, some criticizing Bigelow and The Hurt Locker.  In the midst of award season, Martha Nochimson wrote an article at Salon that resorted to personal attacks on the director.  Nochimson took issue with the fact that while Bigelow was racking up awards and nominations, Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers, two other female directors who direct “life-affirming situations of romantic comedy” were cast by the wayside.  However, it didn’t seem to be a case of gender divided media, (i.e. all books that feature stories about women are considered “chick lit”).  Sometimes shit is just shit, no matter of the gender of the writer, director, producer, or characters.  I saw Julie and Julia, and personally, I didn’t think it could even compare to The Hurt Locker in terms of worthiness of awards, and truly amazing filmmaking.  My criticisms did not come from the fact that the person behind the lens has ovaries, but rather because the movies are simply not as good.  These romantic comedies which Nochimson wrote so highly of, are sometimes just as (if not more) damaging than a typical “guys” movie.  I don’t feel put down while watching Zombieland, but get depressed about the state of women in Hollywood while watching the trailer for All About Steve.  Jeremy Renner, in a recent interview, was told by the interviewer, that everyone she knew was shocked that such a “macho” film had been directed by a woman.  Renner simply responded, “What does having a set of ovaries have to do with directing a film? It’s through her eyes that she sees, not through her mammaries or anything else that defines her as a woman, right?”

Nochisom (or possibly an editor at Salon) felt an appropriate title for the piece was “Kathryn Bigelow: Feminist Pioneer or Tough Guy In Drag.”  I feel that calling Bigelow’s gender into question in the headline was just downright disgusting .  Nochimson put forth the idea that Kathryn Bigelow acts all tough, being such a badass in directing a war movie, to impress all the cool dudes – she couldn’t possibly be interested in making a war movie because she wants to, right?  On top of her hypercritical anger at Bigelow, Nochimson took homophobic shots at the successful director, writing that while Quentin Tarantino referred to her as the “Queen of Directors” (after her DGA win), a more accurate description would have been “Transvestite of Directors.”

The writer directed her anger at the fact that the whole movie is about this guy who diffuses bombs, and they focus on him the entire time!  Nochimson failed at both the movie and social/pop culture critical levels.  In criticizing the fact that Kathryn Bigelow failed to give the female characters (the daughter and wife of the main character, Will) a voice in the film, she simply came off as someone who participates in faux feminism.  That she wrote such a scathing piece about Bigelow because she’s successful, and did it while not having female characters (no matter their role) in her film, pointed out a much bigger failure on Nochimson’s part than Bigelow’s.

Following Bigelow’s historic win at the Oscars, one would think the anger and grievances for her and her film would slow, or even stop.  Instead a new set of issues sprung forth, people complaining about her male centric career up to this point, questioning her win based on the subject matter of The Hurt Locker and taking issue with Bigelow’s apparent lack of recognition of what a milestone moment it was for women.

Susan G. Cole wrote a critical piece, titled “Kathryn Bigelow: The Absentee Feminist.”  Cole makes assumptions based on Bigelow’s 120 second long acceptance speech – she must not celebrate International Women’s Day, appreciate the historic moment it was when she won, or care about her gender.  Seeing the almost immediate criticisms that appeared online after her win, my boyfriend said “She directed the best film of the year – period.”  To say I agree with that sentiment is an understatement.

Apparently praising her fellow nominees, dedicating her award to the troops, and thanking the critics who supported the film, along with the cast and crew who helped her make The Hurt Locker wasn’t good enough.  Cole compares Bigelow’s speech to Halle Berry’s 2002 Best Actress win at the same awards show, stating, “Berry wholly acknowledged that she’d made history, emotionally responded to the Oscar’s significance, reeled off the names of those actors who paved the way before her – from Hattie McDaniel onwards – and grasped that she didn’t do it on her own.  Not Bigelow.”  While it was Berry’s prerogative to mention the achievement in her award speech, I don’t think it’s right to position that against Bigelow for not doing the same.  The media talked about Bigelow’s gender constantly, and it’s pretty obvious she must’ve known what a big deal it was.

Cole’s piece feels unfocused – she writes about how feminist bashers love Kathryn Bigelow’s supposed stance on her gender, but then goes on to write about the attack on Women’s Studies courses and programs throughout the country.  The last line of the article is particularly bothersome – Cole blames Bigelow for ruining the week (Oscars on Sunday, International Women’s Day on Monday), writing “All in all, what could have been a great week for women turned out to be a bit of a washout.”  To blame Bigelow for ruining the week for 50% of the population is a little offensive to say the least.  It’s unfair to put all that on her shoulders.  While I think it’s important to examine gender and the role it has played historically in movies, Hollywood, and the award shows that praise them – I don’t think it’s worthwhile to attack this moment, to dissect every minute detail of Bigelow’s films, speeches, interviews, looking for flaws to criticize her on.  I’ll simply repeat the sentiment I felt after watching Bigelow take the stage twice in a row on Oscar night – The Hurt Locker was awesome, Bigelow is brilliant, and that’s that.

Kathryn Bigelow: Feminist Pioneer or Tough Guy In Drag? (Salon)

“It’s Through Her Eyes That She Sees”: Kathryn Bigelow On 60 Minutes (Jezebel)

Kathryn Bigelow: The Absentee Feminist (NOW Magazine)

February 21, 2010

Taylor Swift spoof. Priceless.

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Melanie @ 11:23 pm

Via Jezebel.

February 15, 2010

Body hypocrisy

Check out Jezebel and Claire Mysko’s pieces on the hypocrisy of women’s health/fitness magazines and the problem with body image role models of celebrity status. Mysko states:

Whenever an actress or pop star comes forward to talk about her struggle with an eating disorder or poor body image, I say a little prayer that she will find true health. I also hope that she’ll speak responsibly about recovery and self-acceptance. Unfortunately, I’m usually disappointed.

The fact is that getting over an eating disorder (or the murkier but more common problem of disordered eating) involves getting away from an obsession with weight, and that’s darn near impossible to do if you happen to be a celebrity–a job that requires you to go on the record about your exercise and diet “secrets” if you want to stay on the publicity train.

As the Jezebel piece notes:

The hypocrisy of women’s “health” magazines becomes fairly obvious just by looking at their covers. For example, this month’s Self magazine features one cover line, “Be Happy And Healthy At Any Size” tucked below a much larger cover line:

“3 Easy Ways To Lose Weight.”

What seems common knowledge to the cultural critic, the sociologist and the person recovering from disordered eating or an eating disorder is often less obvious to most. And one of those things is that magazines hailed as health magazines or gyms euphemistically called “fitness” or “health” (yeah, right) clubs are more about aesthetics and profit. I mentioned this in my December 2008 post:

I’ve known for years that gyms are not health clubs.  As Lester Burnham declares in American Beauty, he works out “to look good naked.”

Equinox Fitness is quite candid about it’s true aim with it’s tag line “It’s not fitness.  It’s life.”

Our culture increasingly sends contradictory and mixed messages. An ad for ice-cream you can indulge in on one page and an ad for diet pills on the next. While many celebrities are applauded for speaking frankly and candidly about their fight against a distorted body image and unrealistic expectations in the industry, their venue (magazines, television) overshadows their message with a plethora of insecurity boosting themes. Their voice is lost in the cacophony of voices whispering “you’re too fat” or “too flabby” while whispering “eat,” “indulge” (Haagen Dazs tagline “the longer lasting pleasure”) and “enjoy” in the other.


October 8, 2008

Women, consumption, the economy and the environment

This recent post at Jezebel on The Real Housewives of Atlanta entitled “The Real Housewives of Atlanta Represent the Crass Consumerism that is Ruining our Country” inspired me to spend some time talking about the larger role of women and consumption.

The Real Housewives of Atlanta — made up mostly of women who are wives of athletes — are the shallowest, bitchiest, and most materialistic we’ve seen in this Bravo series. All of them act like the girls you see on MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 — demanding designer labels, extravagant birthday cakes, and fully loaded Escalades — but perhaps the most disgusting is Shereé, who talks about how much “class” she has, which is a sure sign she doesn’t have any.

If you still have’t seen The Story of Stuff, now is the time.  Annie Leonard brilliantly breaks down “our stuff” and details the story of consumption from extraction to disposal.  Within a fairly short period of time, Leonard connects this system and “our stuff” to advertisement messages we receive via the media and the impact that extraction, consumption and disposal has on our environment…and us.

Sut Jhally has been making these connections for years and his concern has guided his work on the media, advertising and consumption. His article, “Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypse” was published in 1990 and is worth the time it takes to read.

20th century advertising is the most powerful and sustained system of propaganda in human history and its cumulative cultural effects, unless quickly checked, will be responsible for destroying the world as we know it. As it achieves this it will be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of non-western peoples and will prevent the peoples of the world from achieving true happiness. Simply stated, our survival as a species is dependent upon minimizing the threat from advertising and the commercial culture that has spawned it. I am stating my claims boldly at the outset so there can be no doubt as to what is at stake in our debates about the media and culture as we enter the new millenium…

…It is not enough of course to only produce the “immense collection of commodities” they must also be sold, so that further investment in production is feasible. Once produced commodities must go through the circuit of distribution, exchange and consumption, so that profit can be returned to the owners of capital and value can be “realized” again in a money form. If the circuit is not completed the system would collapse into stagnation and depression. Capitalism therefore has to ensure the sale of commodities on pain of death. In that sense the problem of capitalism is not mass production (which has been solved) but is instead the problem of consumption. That is why from the early years of this century it is more accurate to use the label “the consumer culture” to describe the western industrial market societies.

So central is consumption to its survival and growth that at the end of the 19th century industrial capitalism invented a unique new institution the advertising industry to ensure that the “immense accumulation of commodities” are converted back into a money form. The function of this new industry would be to recruit the best creative talent of the society and to create a culture in which desire and identity would be fused with commodities to make the dead world of things come alive with human and social possibilities (what Marx would prophetically call the “fetishism of commodities”). And indeed there has never been a propaganda effort to match the effort of advertising in the 20th century. More thought, effort, creativity, time, and attention to detail has gone into the selling of the immense collection of commodities that any other campaign in human history to change public consciousness. One indication of this is simple the amount of money that has been exponentially expended on this effort. Today, in the United States alone, over $175 billion a year is spent to sell us things. This concentration of effort is unprecedented.

With industrialization and the harnessing of machine power, factories were able to mass produce commodities in startling numbers.  As Jhally indicates, mass production REQUIRES mass consumption.  How is that possible in a cultural environment that valued thrift?


Advertising was (and still is) the vehicle that sold images, desires and lifestyles and created shifts in terms of the country’s values.  Rarely, can you identify the product that is being sold to the consumer.  That’s because it is not the product that is being sold.  It is the idea of who you could be, what you’ll feel like or how people will respond to you if you wear that perfume, drink that beer, drive that car.

What does this have to do with women?  Everything, as the Jezebel post indicates.

Women have been at the forefront of the shopping frenzy.  At the end of World War II, women returned to the domestic sphere or were demoted in the industrial jobs they held during mens absence in the war effort.  Upon their return, with renewed economic prosperity and the building of the suburban maze, women were targeted as professional homemakers and shoppers.

While advertising does not discriminate and manufacturers break down markets into specific demographics, shopping is still attributed to women.  Rarely, do I hear men proclaiming an afternoon of shopping as “retail therapy.”  Women have been socialized  to identify shopping as a fundamental female pursuit, hobby or, perhaps, even an art.  Shopping is neither of these things and shopping is not encoded into a woman’s biology.  Interestingly enough, while women are not experiencing an earning parity with men, they are shopping more…and falling into debt.

We can choose where we spend our money and how much of it we spend.  In the same way that women were urged to support capitalism post-WW II by shopping and filling their homes with appliances and furniture, we can begin a new revolution by limiting what we buy and where we buy it.