Misogyny at Vanity Fair

Full disclosure: I do not regularly, or even semi-regularly, read Vanity Fair. I've read an article here and there, but honestly I tend to think of it as a fashion magazine more than the self-described "cultural catalyst that drives the popular dialogue globally." (Seriously, google "Vanity Fair" and that's part of their search engine description.)

That being said, I do expect a certain level of intelligence and professionalism from such an established magazine, and I was horrified by Vanity Fair's coverage of "America's Tweethearts". (Ugh!) It pains me to even type that insipid title knowing that the article itself is full of such gag-inspiring terms as "twilebrities" and “Twitformation Superhighway”.

Clearly the author is not on Twitter herself and her use (overuse) of pseudo-clever terms like "tweeple" comes across as well as your grandpa saying "fer shizzle". Instead of recognizing the quick communication and marketing opportunities that can be accomplished via Twitter, this author has decided that Twitter's 140 character limit means that only stupid people would use it.

In her world, it seems intelligence in the written word is based on its length, not in its ability to get the job done. (And you thought size didn't matter!) As her article derisively says, "For tweeple, e-mail messages are sonnets, Facebook is practically Tolstoy."
I take the opposite stance: I'm often amazed at how much can be expressed within 140 characters. As a writer, I find that it takes more skill to write concisely than to openly blather on. Some of my best work has come from assignments with lots of requirements and very tight word counts.

Though the author's ignorant and condescending approach to this topic reminds me of the puffed-up cavemen who declared TV to be a passing fad, what bothered me most was her dishonest treatment of the women featured (or should I say, barely mentioned) in the article. These are successful, self-made women whose years of hard work were completely disregarded.

The author, who seemed to have only researched her subjects as far as their Twitter follower counts, implied that these women are famous merely for their Twitter presence. She actually had the nerve to make the following statements:

Twittering all the time—the act of text-messaging the world (why wouldn’t you talk to everyone, if you could?)—is the essential feat of a twilebrity. And because Twitter uses simple technology, it’s a utilitarian vehicle for ambitious extroverts, without any previous distinction, to become digital superstars.

But when it comes to listening, well, that’s where these twilebrities shine. It so happens that they are nice girls—the Internet’s equivalent of a telephone chat line staffed by a bunch of cheerleaders—and it’s all free.
Misrepresenting these women in this way is a misogynist act in my book. This Vanity Fair author had an opportunity to shine a light on New Media and the doors that are opened to those who are willing to work hard to create their own careers. Instead, she chose to promote an ignorant and insulting stereotype.

Why spew venom on successful women who Twitter? I can only assume this author, and others like her, are threatened by strong women who are able to make something of themselves and achieve their goals without the endorsement of the mainstream media.

Take Felicia Day for example. The Vanity Fair article, when it bothers to mention her at all, refers to Felicia only as "
a geek-Webisode actress". In reality, Felicia Day is an actress, but also a webisode pioneer who created her own successful web series, The Guild. She writes, produces, and stars in this award-winning web series, and her hard work has led to its well-earned success. The Guild was originally funded through fan donations, but is now sponsored by Sprint and distributed by XBox and Microsoft. Its popularity has inspired many others to create their own web series, bypassing the Network mass-appeal/sociopolitical filters to directly deliver content that appeals to niche viewers.

Felicia has posted her own response to the Vanity Fair article on her blog, where she admirably contains her outrage enough to explain just what was so disappointing about the experience. I think she sums it up nicely by saying, "I feel like an opportunity was missed to celebrate a new kind of independent and liberated woman."

I agree and hope that there will come a day when independent women can be successful without anyone insinuating that they have merely traded in on their good looks.

2 comments:

  1. I hope a day will come when successful women who trade on talent AND their looks quit being so thin skinned about it. Something in that article is sticking like a burr. I suspect it is the clarity of the 'less than serious use made of Twitter' in most of the tweets. The writer trivialized them but only because she could and anyone could look at those tweets and see instantly they are trivial.

    There is a reason Lady Gaga is doing well at the same time Susan Boyle is.

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  2. Len, I think you've missed the point of my post.

    Some aspects of Twitter are trivial. The same could be said of the Internet, TV, radio, magazines, and other communications media.

    If an author chooses to trivialize Twitter, that's one thing. But trivializing independent, successful women by disregarding their hard work, equating them to cheerleaders and phone sex workers, and implying that their only success has been in attracting Twitter followers is not okay.

    And, by the way, the author of the Vanity Fair article uses Twitter herself, but has restricted her account to only the followers she allows. Perhaps her article speaks more to her own social experiences with Twitter and not to the millions of people and businesses (including CNN & NPR) who use Twitter as a valid communication and networking tool?

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