Not Jealous, Still Outraged

As I’m sure many of you can relate, when your area of study is Women and Gender Studies, you find yourself starting sentences like this, “One my favorite feminists was tweeting about [insert interesting issue here] today, and it got me thinking about…” So oblige me in saying, one of my favorite feminists, Jessica Valenti, tweeted a link to an article a few days ago by Slate’s Emily Gould about feminism marketed as “petty jealousy.” Sure, this made me curl my lip a little, and made my fingers a little itchy, itchy enough to write a comment.

Fortunately, I took a day off from it and put my feminist thinking cap on.

The thing that struck me is that she ties feminism to jealousy of other women. I’m still not sure what specifically I’m jealous of in these other women, but Gould seems to be implying the marketed feminism is just jealousy against beautiful women. Sure, feminist blogs get upset about the sexual ways in which a famous and influential woman may present herself, but many feminists are still sex positive. It’s just how that sex is presented. I mean, I wouldn’t mind looking like Olivia Munn, but the potential issue concerning her looks, or any Hollywood starlet’s looks, is how those looks are presented or used.

So, the feminist internet community’s mixed response to Olivia Munn’s new gig on the Daily show ties into the title of Gould’s article, “Outrage World.” Some feminists of the internet were irritated by the buzz around something that should have been happening for a while, more women on TV.  But most of Gould’s commentary is lost on me. She mentions that there are lots of women-centered things to be angry about in the world: “It’s certainly important to have honest, open conversations about the issues that reliably rake in comments and page views—rape, underage sexuality, and the cruel tyranny of the impossible beauty standards promoted by most advertisers and magazines.” I think where Gould is really outraged is that for these websites, these conversations are tied to page views and many comments.

Gould admits that the internet is not necessarily the place to have these arguments. She may be right. Here’s the bottom line I’m seeing in her article. At times, in this “outrage world,” feminist blogs have ads, and to keep those ads they need readership, so sometimes these blogs post stories related to celebrities, related to things like their body represents a poor ideal for young girls, or how the Daily Show may be anti-women.

Okay, but shall we think about the average feminist that is most likely looking at feminist blogs? They may not be cracking books about feminist theory, they may not know who Judith Butler, Simone de Beauvior, or bell hooks are, and they probably are most comfortable discussing the feminist issues that are covered in the introductory course of women’s studies at their college. (They’re also probably not ready to read my rant about how in a capitalist society under our current global economy it is impossible to change things like the necessary evil of needing ad sales and needing to make certain numbers to keep their companies afloat, which is related to feminism / ending patriarchy.)  The fact of the matter is, these feminists may or may not be ready for websites that rely mostly on third wave feminist theory and take on issues like most of today’s popular cultural and societal ideals. So yes, feminist blogs like Jezebel write stories about beautiful women that aren’t necessarily positive. I think Olivia Munn is gorgeous, that Samantha Bee is absolutely hilarious, but I also think that the Daily Show and other shows of its kind could use more women, be they gorgeous or not.

Gould may not think that the internet is the place to discuss important issues like rape and body image, but that’s where these conversations are happening. And sometimes these conversations happen on websites the feature articles about pop culture issues that relate to women. These articles generate interest, and that interest generates ad sales. In the long run, I’m not so sure that this is a bad thing. Sure maybe the most commented on articles are pop culture/hot lady/lame stuff related, but maybe this will also make these readers check out articles about being an activist in their own community, or the ways that limiting women’s rights limits human rights. Then readers can be outraged at pop culture and some more important issues. But in the meantime, take a breather everyone and watch a couple of episodes of Amy Poehler’s brilliant Smart Girls at the Party.

–by Sam Howard