How feminist blogs like Jezebel gin up page views.

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
July 6 2010 1:28 PM

Outrage World

How feminist blogs like Jezebel gin up page views by exploiting women's worst tendencies.

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Instead of mimicking the old directly anxiety-making model—for example, by posting weight-loss tips and photos of impossibly thin models like a traditional women's magazine—Jezebel and the Slate and Salon "lady-blogs" post a critique of a rail-thin model's physique, explaining how her attractiveness hurts women. The end result is the same as the old formula—women's insecurities sell ads. The only difference is the level of doublespeak and manipulation that it takes to produce that result. Recently, Broadsheet's Tracy Clark-Flory elicited 32 mostly sycophantic comments by closing a post that rehashed a news story about a controversy over a model's age by saying that it was "skin-crawling" that a mother of a 15-year-old model was quoted as saying that "age is irrelevant if you're beautiful." And XX recently got in on the Olivia Munn debate with a post about how Munn isn't funny enough to be on the show. The writer cited an interview with Munn but no examples from any of the 374 episodes of G4's Attack of the Show that Munn hosted between 2006-10.

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 (except the ones canny enough to use gently lit, slightly rounder, older, or more ethnic examples of "true beauty"). But it may just be that it's not possible to have these conversations online. On the Web, writers tend to play up the most jealousy- and insecurity-evoking aspects of controversy, and then anonymous commenters—who bear no responsibility for the effects of their statements—take the writers' hints to any possible extreme. It's just how the Internet works.

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At the same time, many posts on these sites aren't consciously written with the twisted mess of intentions I just described. Probably many of the writers feel that their work is helping women by exposing sexism and getting important women's issues onto their radar. But especially for Jezebel writers, whose page-view-generating skills are a matter of public record, and whose careers are dependent on maintaining their stats, the pressure to continuously hit "outrage world" topics must be intense. As I write this, two of the five top stories on Jezebel have to do with weight loss: "Isn't It Time We Called 'Curvy Models' Simply 'Models?'" and "Lily Allen's Face Not Thin Enough For British Elle?" In the comments sections, readers are responding with naked bitterness: "The thin and pretty are like rich people. They are freely given advantages they already have," says sensitivitycop. NewWaveBatMitzvah chimes in with "I'm just glad that finally someone is paying attention to skinny women with large breasts. It's high time they get out from living in obscurity in the shadows where they cry themselves to sleep with tears of sorrow and loneliness."

On and on it goes, as commenters click again and again on the same post to follow the conversation, generating the traffic that enables the site to sell ad space. Right now, the ad alongside those headlines is for Cheetos.

Disclosure: Emily Gould worked previously for Gawker Media, which owns Jezebel.

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Emily Gould is the author of the new book And the Heart Says Whatever.

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