The inter-generational image here is of six women staffers at Newsweek: three young women (Jesse Ellison, Jessica Bennett, and Sarah Ball), and three older women who pioneered awareness of sex discrimination at the magazine by bringing a suit against it forty years ago. Their story, "Are We There Yet?," is told in what writer Nona Willis Aronowitz calls "a long, thoughtful, and brave article written by three young Newsweek reporters, calling out their own publication for a kind of lingering sexism that’s hard to pinpoint."
The historical piece has several supplements: a library of Newsweek images called "The Visual Language of Liberation," Jesse Ellison's personal essay "My Parents' Failed Experiment in Gender Neutrality," Jessica Bennett's article "Feminism or Bust," and a photo collection called "Have Women's Rights Paid Off?"
"What's wrong with this Feminist Picture?" though, Aronowtiz asks at her blog, GirlDrive. Her criticism is mindful of the risk of feminists calling each other out, yet it is pointed and specific about one thing: "In the 3500 words total that Newsweek devoted to the future of feminism this week, amid the 10 people who are quoted in these pieces, not one woman of color shows up."
Eleanor Holmes Norton. She appears in a photo of that 1970 press conference when the forty-six female Newsweek employees become the first group of media professionals to sue for employment discrimination based on gender, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Where is she now? Norton is in her tenth term as congresswoman for the District of Columbia. (Her very impressive biography is here.) She wasn't contacted for the article, though.
Aronowitz, whose own writing is always what she calls "intersectional" regarding race, gender, sex, age, class, ethnicity, and religion, makes the astute observation that:
This happens constantly when the mainstream pubs try to cover feminism. It happened in a CNN news segment last June, where the network’s definition of feminism was Angelina Jolie, Hillary Clinton, and Gloria Steinem. It happened at a highly publicized Planned Parenthood event a few months ago called “Voices on Feminism,” which consisted of, yep, three white women.
She makes the point that there were plenty of diverse young feminists who could have been called for quotes in these stories:
Young feminists are trying not to make the same mistake that some Second Wave white feminists made of being blind to race issues. But places like Newsweek, CNN and other mainstream outlets make that a frustrating uphill struggle by painting a whitewashed, monolithic picture of feminism.There has been some interesting fallout around this call-out. Jezebel's Irin Carmon wrote a piece called "On Looking Back and Newsweek's Incomplete Picture" picking up on Aronowitz's critique:
There is a space for media criticism in all this, and for self-criticism, and for self-revelation. And yet to have your entire, extensive editorial package focus on your magazine and its past covers, and your childhood, and your issues with the F-word — well, it's all too easy for something like this to happen. If the actual staff of Newsweek doesn't include much in the way of diversity, isn't it time to utilize those reporting skills of which the traditional media is supposed to be the last guardians?Irin puts her faith in the Internet, if not in traditional media:
Luckily, the authors have launched an entire blog, Equality Myth, where they will have ample opportunity to present a fuller picture of what women beyond their ken are dealing with. Once again, the Internet saves us all.
in line with their earlier life experiences as high achieving valedictorians. They're hurt and under-appreciated – by women this time. "We thought that you, like Salon, and New York Magazine, and even the Women’s Media Center, would see our piece as a brave weapon in a struggle that’s not over."
I was surprised and disappointed to see this response: "Turning the story into a statement about race is simply, well, beside the point." It seemed so completely unreflective regarding what Aronowitz and Irin had to offer by way of constructive criticism. As Aronowitz put it: "It’s not racism – it’s colorblindness. It’s failing to realize the bigger picture of what feminism means today."
Eleanor Holmes Norton is clearly one of the enduring heroes of the 1970 case, despite the fact that she was not a plaintiff. (She was the lawyer!~ giving this story a remarkable twist.) Photos at her website show her at the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, welcoming same sex couples to a marriage equality event, and standing with her first Latino congressional council.
Tell me why Norton's voice in the Newsweek piece, her memories of the 1970 moment, and her reflections on intersections of race, class and sexuality around "the equality myth" would have been "beside the point."