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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sexism at Work: Young Women, Newsweek, and Gender...and Race

I'm joining the Ms. Blog in its hearty hoorah to female Newsweek staff (and to Newsweek itself!) for publishing "a brave and candid piece calling out sexism at the magazine and in the publishing industry as a whole"...and also want to include Allison Martell's response piece pointing to the issues of race not addressed by this article.

I'm impressed that instead of silencing or punishing the authors, Newsweek is running a story that at first glance doesn't make the magazine look too great.  (At second glance, of course, running the article is a hip, face-saving way of not having this expose printed *about* them somewhere else.  But still!  Let's commend honest media.)

However, it's painfully true that, despite representing a cross-section of age (kudos for making women past 35 visible!), there are no women of color in the photo.  Does this reflect a creative oversight or the larger fact that in a more just society, Newsweek would have more women of color on its staff? 

Newsweek's sexism authors Jessica Bennett, Jesse Ellison and Sarah Ball are blogging at Equality Myth, and are upset that discussions of racism divide feminism, diminishing the power of women's efforts in an already-anti-feminist mainstream culture.  Martell replies to their call for feminists to "stick together": 
"I just don’t accept the premise that feminism is an easier sell without anti-racism. All of the major outstanding feminist issues are deeply entwined with issues of race, in ways that I think a broad, mainstream audience understands. By ignoring race, we only make ourselves more irrelevant." 
If Newsweek had added women of color to "correct" their photo, is this not just a form of tokenism?  Isn't it offensive to think that all minorities should be satisfied by the inclusion of a few (or as often happens, only one) in a photo?

I agree with Martell that pretending that race issues don't exist to show a veneer of unity only creates resentment and more reluctance to take part in a feminist movement.  I also believe in the virtue of critique and speaking up as pointed out by another blogger, Doree: "feminism can only get stronger when we allow ourselves to think critically about what it means and who it represents." Surely debate is the enactment of democracy and many horrifying historical events could have been stopped by louder dissent.  But, speaking from personal experience, I also resonate with the Newsweek authors' point that women fighting women--no matter what age, class, race, or background--negatively impacts our larger fight for common goals. 

With these issues being as complicated as they are, how can we truly address racism and sexism at a deeper level?  And how can we do so in a way that builds strength, rather than more division and disenchantment?  I would love to learn how, without glossing over or ignoring the various issues at hand, we can support each other and continue to make progressive change.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Julia – you ask such good questions here. I wrote something, too: