Bitches

Bitch Fight

Who doesn’t love a good cat fight? Nails and hair flying, women on their knees, beating each other mercilessly, ripping out earrings, bleeding scratches, possible nudity — BUT. We intellectuals are above all that, right? Liberal men and liberal women use their brains and don’t succumb to such debased antics tinged with “lower class” heart-on-the-sleeve anger. As Ms. Mary J. Blige sings, “No more drama in my life…

Except we do enjoy a taste of the green-eyed monster now and then. She secretly sharpens her claws and couches her hate in catch phrases and feminist jargon that is meant to portray an awareness and sophisticated awareness that couldn’t possibly betray a cut-throat misogyny. Even our beloved liberal intellectual rag, THE NEW YORK TIMES, is not immune.

Catch a few of these excerpts from BITCH Magazine’s latest article by Sarah Seltzer, “HARD TIMES: At the New York Times Book Review, all the misogyny is fit to print” as she examines and explore the surreptitious blows and betrayals feminists continue to endure in our “enlightened” times:

Despite the fact that women constitute a majority of book buyers, the Times has made merely a passing effort to achieve parity on its pages. For instance, none of the paper’s “Top five novels of 2007” were written by a woman, and only 13 of 50 on its short list were female-authored.

[Not unlike the fact that women make up about 50% of the world’s population, and yet, the top 500 most powerful companies — FORTUNE 500 — women CEOs remains 10, and FORTUNE 1000 women CEOs is 20. Ahem.]

Beyond this, though, books that take women’s issues in hand are rarely taken seriously. It’s not just that they are criticized, which they are, but rather that the books, their authors—and heck, the whole feminist movement—are routinely treated with a mixture of giggly naïveté and barbed antifeminist prejudices. In a 2007 op-ed for In These Times, media critic Susan J. Douglas noted that there’s “a robust tradition in the Times Book Review to stereotype feminists as single-minded, humorless ideologues who march daily to some shrine where we all genuflect before images of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.” …

What’s particularly devious about the Times’ repeated use of such outdated stereotypes (besides the brazenness of including them to begin with), is that none of these arguments would be accepted from male reviewers; their words would be more easily identified as sexist tripe.

Pollitt reflected on this on the political blog Talking Points Memo soon after Bentley’s review of Learning to Drive was published. “It’s a strange experience to be attacked in virulently misogynistic language by a woman. I’m used to ‘shrill’ and ‘rant’ and other gender-coded terms.… But ‘vagina dentata intellectualis’? That’s low. If a male reviewer described a woman writer that way we’d never hear the end of it.”

By spouting these insults, the reviewers are trivializing the books’ issues rather than grappling with them. And by regularly publishing snarky, surface-skimming reviews under female bylines, the Times further undermines women’s status in the intellectual arena. …

To sum it up, the highbrow catfight is a specialty of the Times publishing. And hiring writers like Cox and Bentley, who are dismissive of feminism, is a surefire way to keep the catfights coming. It’s also a way to make sure that feminist tomes aren’t put in the same arena as the “important” history books, biographies, and philosophy the Times so adores. …

The Times’ hit squad of reviewers doesn’t go so far as to reject feminism entirely. Each piece includes a wisp of pro-feminist rhetoric. Bentley wonders why Pollitt abandoned her “brilliant” political writings to write about her own mottled love life. A year earlier, Cox, in the course of panning those very “brilliant” writings that Bentley so admires, calls herself a feminist—but adds that “strident” feminism seems “preserved in amber” or perhaps in anger. Either way, she thinks it’s “tacky.” …

Significantly, this pattern of negative reviews appears in a newspaper section where women’s names still remain too scarce, and at a time where book reviews themselves are being cut from major newspapers about the country. In 2006 and the first half of 2007, the mystery writers’ group Sisters in Crime monitored book review sections of major papers. They compared the number of female- and male-penned books reviewed across genres. In 2006, the percentage of male to female authors reviewed in the Times was 62.5 to 37.5; in the first six months of 2007, it was 65 to 35.

In my own informal accounting of three New York Times Book Review Sunday sections in late 2007, I counted 27 male-penned books to nine female and 26 male reviewer bylines to 11 female. All three covers featured male authors and male reviewers. …

The point isn’t that feminist authors should be immune from criticism; it’s that the playing field should be level. Why not hire someone like Barbara Ehrenreich or Linda Hirshman—women who have written for years on feminism—to grapple seriously with these books? Why not look for an angle that goes deeper than “These crusty old feminists just aren’t with it”? If the Times wants to remain the paper of record, it should stop seeking out hostile reviewers whose main critical thrust is one of self-aggrandizement (“Don’t worry, boys—I’m not strident like her!”) and intergenerational antagonism.

–Continued in BITCH Magazine’s latest article by Sarah Seltzer, “HARD TIMES: At the New York Times Book Review, all the misogyny is fit to print“.

3 thoughts on “Bitches

  1. It’s actually taking pride in such
    therms as ‘vagina dentata’
    that’s so peculiar. Anthropologically,
    it refers to the most peculiar myths
    of the ‘men’s lodges’. But note the
    men’s lodge power systems have a
    master/blaster relationship with
    grandmothers, who ride the
    brutes as stalking horses (and cut at
    younger women in power). And they
    are grandpa’s mask. So very creepy to
    see the modern revival.

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