The Fem Spot

The New York Times lament

Posted in media, Personal Essays, Politics, Sexuality by femspotter on August 26, 2009
Shark at the Jersey Shore? Hardly!

Shark at the Jersey Shore? Hardly!

August 26, 2009

Several weeks ago, The New York Times surprised me with a smug Saturday morning edition that bashed New Jersey in every way it could. The front page depicted a large photo of a junk yard in Hackensack – not attached to any story I could find. Another trash dump adorned one internal section, while still an even greater horror awaited readers on the cover of one of the Arts sections: a great white shark, mouth open under a headline that read “Ah, That Jersey Shore: The Fish Are Really Biting.”

That’s irresponsible journalism in my book. The article (online 7-31-09, in print 8-1-09) was announcing Shark Week on Discovery Channel and, though it alluded to the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 which were to be covered by programming scheduled for Shark Week, the photo (right) was taken off the coast of South Africa rather than New Jersey. Nonetheless, the editors at The Times decided they have the right to mock the people of New Jersey – 127,101 of whom subscribe to The Times daily edition, 182,557 to its Sunday edition, according to the New Jersey Press Association – with an incessant flow of visual insults in the wake of the great corruption scandal of 2009: 44 elected officials – the mayor of my town among them – and rabbis indicted for taking bribes and other corrupt acts in one sweep of the judicial net over the state that many already consider to be “the armpit” of the United States. I even got a letter from a relative in a seemingly moral part of the central U.S. remarking about what a corrupt part of the world I live in. (Ah, the Midwest… That’s where they kill abortion doctors, isn’t it?)

Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty?”

I love my state! Sure, we have potholes and insane drivers – nobody knows what a yield sign means – and 4-inch acrylic nails and discordant accents galore. But we also have Victorian Cape May, beautiful beaches, great public education (including Rutgers University, my alma mater) and the Statue of Liberty. Many a talented celebrity has emerged from the smelly bowels called Jersey: Frank Sinatra, Judy Blume, Jack Nicholson, etc.

But, in reality, New Jersey doesn’t smell bad…at least, not outside of Hudson County.

My husband and I chose New Jersey over the cardboard box we could have afforded in Manhattan or neighboring Brooklyn, or the the relatively cheap spaces in the other three boroughs of New York City. In New Jersey, we’re property owners living close to jobs in Manhattan. We’ve lived in historic downtown Jersey City and loved it! We got married in Liberty State Park facing Lady Liberty herself. And if that weren’t enough to convince you that New Jersey is a fantastic state, check out this photo I took outside my condo – less than five miles from Manhattan – in the middle of August, 2009 – also known as just two days ago:

Canadian Geese Visit Beautiful New Jersey; Who Wouldn't Want to Be Here?

A New Jersey River Near New York City at Night: Who Wouldn't Want to Live Here?

So, suck it TNYT!

Your biased portrayal of New Jersey on Aug. 1, 2009 was at best pert and at worst cruel. A corrupt government does not a corrupt population make. We good citizens of New Jersey are the victims of this corruption, rather than the perpetrators of it!

I was just on the verge of canceling my subscription when I picked up the following week’s edition. There, a couple of pages in, was an Op-Ed piece by Bob Herbert entitled “Women at Risk.” In the wake of all of the critical and academic silence about misogyny in our culture during the Hillary Clinton campaign for President and the Sarah Palin campaign – such that it was – for Vice President; in the aftermath of a tremendous victory for the black man Barack Obama, who won our nation’s top office; on the footsteps of the Henry Louis Gates arrest fiasco in Boston that prompted the historic beer bash at the White House…here was a black columnist writing about sexism instead of racism. Did he miss the band wagon? Reacting to the recent slaughter of three women and the wounding of nine others by sexually frustrated assassin George Sodini in a Pennsylvania gym, Herbert had this to say:

We’ve seen this tragic ritual so often that it has the feel of a formula. A guy is filled with a seething rage toward women and has easy access to guns. The result: mass slaughter.

Back in the fall of 2006, a fiend invaded an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania, separated the girls from the boys, and then shot 10 of the girls, killing five.

I wrote, at the time, that there would have been thunderous outrage if someone had separated potential victims by race or religion and then shot, say, only the blacks, or only the whites, or only the Jews. But if you shoot only the girls or only the women — not so much of an uproar.

According to police accounts, Sodini walked into a dance-aerobics class of about 30 women who were being led by a pregnant instructor. He turned out the lights and opened fire. The instructor was among the wounded.

We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected.

We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment.

The mainstream culture is filled with the most gruesome forms of misogyny, and pornography is now a multibillion-dollar industry — much of it controlled by mainstream U.S. corporations.

One of the striking things about mass killings in the U.S. is how consistently we find that the killers were riddled with shame and sexual humiliation, which they inevitably blamed on women and girls. The answer to their feelings of inadequacy was to get their hands on a gun (or guns) and begin blowing people away.

Well, thought I…I can’t give up my subscription now. It’s true that The Times has much to make up for. After all of feminist Maureen Dowd’s lazy and pointless columns and the make believe feminist insights of film critic Manohla Dargis – who criticized Pixar for taking until now to hire a female director (yeah, because Pixar is the real problem for feminist filmmakers in Hollywood, right?) and chastised people who point out that Kathryn Bigelow is a female film director who makes man movies (I think that’s noteworthy, don’t you? We expect women to make sappy, romantic movies. They do, but they also direct stylish horror films like Ravenous and visceral dramas about sexuality like The Piano.) – The Times owes all of its feminist readers, from New Jersey to Timbuktu, a real feminist thought or two to chew on. As it turns out, the best feminists over at The Times are men: A.O. Scott, Nicholas D. Kristof and Bob Herbert, to name a few.

Herbert’s column is opinion-based and he alludes to statistics that he doesn’t provide, which bothers me. I want him to make an argument about misogyny supported by facts rather than rantings. He writes “A girl or woman somewhere in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so.” Is it one every two minutes…every three minutes? That makes a big difference.

Still, I’m glad that somebody is getting angry about this besides the women who’ve been complaining to deaf ears for years. There are those haters out there who jumped all over Secretary of State Clinton a few weeks ago after she flew off the handle in the Congo when asked by a male student what Mr. Clinton thinks, “through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton,” about the World Bank tampering with Chinese contracts. The incident was met with eye-rolling from CNN “news” correspondents and a heap of criticism from columnists and comedian’s alike. But as this Times news blog points out, Clinton may have gotten a raw deal. She was, after all, standing up for herself and her position at the top, one she’s worked toward for many years. Additionally, she did what Herbert and others have done when something is wrong with the world: she got mad. It is unjust to be asked to speak for your husband when yours is the opinion that should really count. And we won’t right the world’s injustices if we don’t first get mad about them. (To be fair, however, a woman who once did cooking demonstrations on television, posing as Suzy Homemaker to get her husband reelected to the Presidency, doesn’t have a sturdy leg to stand on when it comes to declaring an independent, emancipated status!)

While I am angry at The New York Times, I forgive it because of its forward-thinking feminism. The Aug. 23, 2009 issue of The New York Times Magazine was centered on women’s rights with five major articles pertaining to the current status and potential advancement of women’s rights. “In many parts of the world, women are routinely beaten, raped or sold into prostitution. They are denied access to medical care, education and economic and political power,” it’s cover boldly reveals. “Changing that could change everything.”

Inside, “The Women’s Crusade” by Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn tells us that “(t)the oppression of women worldwide is the human rights cause of our time.” Hey, if that’s the case, then why is Obama drinking with Gates at the White House instead of with Saima Muhammad of Pakistan, who “was routinely beaten by her husband until she started a successful embroidery business;” or Goretti Nyabenda of Burundi, who was also routinely beaten by her husband but who turned a $2 microloan into a crop of potatoes worth $7.50 and her resulting salvation. In fact, Nyabenda is a banana-beer brewer as well as a potato farmer. That would have been a better beer to choose than Bud Light, which, though American, is also the product of a large corporation wielding perhaps unfair tax breaks. Again I ask, why is Obama having drinks with cops and professors when he could be uplifting the impoverished, abused and uneducated women of the world?

Racism is a serious problem; but the cause to abolish racism isn’t helped when an affluent academic screams bloody racism and the media turns the spotlight away from the real injustices of the day to watch the President booze with the battered egos of the world. As far as I know, nobody at that round table has ever been raped or had their genitals removed because of the notion that their sex is inferior to the alternative.

Sharks don’t discriminate between men and women, but Peter Benchley did. He allegedly based his 1974 pulp novel Jaws on the 1916 shark attacks at the Jersey Shore. In reality, there were four victims of the attacks: all male. In the book, and subsequently the 1975 Steven Spielberg film of the same title, the first victim of the man-eater is instead a woman, and she is horribly de-sexualized in the process of her slaying. In the first place, she is swimming naked after dark as part of a sexscapade. Later, when her body is found, it is shredded in all the parts that physically distinguish the girls from the boys: namely her breasts and her womb. Benchley had said in interviews that he regretted writing this novel because it instilled a previously unfounded fear of sharks in the masses. Perhaps, he should have regretted his own misogyny and stuck to the facts: in 1916, three New Jersey men and one boy went into the water and were killed by a beast that didn’t seek to hurt or humiliate women. It was just hungry.

While The New York Times and I have made peace with each other for now, and I still get to look forward to reading the newspaper on Saturday and Sunday mornings in my bathrobe with a big mug of steaming coffee; I am forever wary of the verbal and printed slights marring my beautiful Garden State…just as I am of the general misogyny that pervades our culture.

That’s right: I’m a Jersey Girl now. And you don’t wanna mess with no Joysey Girl! POW!

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