Katie Roiphe’s Click Bait Win is a Discourse Fail

The inflammatory essayist angers the feminist twitterverse but doesn't add any value to public discourse

Among the clusters of folks I follow on Twitter—media critics, yoga bloggers, friends—the group that’s consistently most entertaining is the feminist journalists (sorry, friends). One of my favorite Internet things is their reaction to any public assertion that can be construed as anti-woman. The feminist journos commence intelligently snarking the original comment until they overtake the original narrative (disclosure: I usually agree with them). Much of the news I read nowadays I seek thanks to a desire to understand the Twitter jokes.

Recent examples have been the Ann Romney/Hilary Rosen flap—which turned from GOP tsk-tsking at a liberal commentator for saying stay-at-home mom Ann Romney has never worked into a conversation about how Romney’s wealth enables her the luxury of choosing not to seek employment—and the Virginia bill that would have mandated invasive ultrasounds prior to abortions. Then, this morning’s Newsweek cover story appeared, and it was by Katie Roiphe.

Roiphe, a professor at NYU’s journalism school, likes to write pieces arguing about things like how the book “Go the F**k to Sleep” reflects the sexual frustration of modern parents and how sexual harassment is pretend. Gawker’s reaction to new Roiphe pieces is often some incarnation of “why won’t she shut up?” Her latest piece asserts there is a cultural obsession with female sexual submission stemming from women’s discomfort with their power in the workplace. (It was published by Tina Brown, one of the most powerful women in any workplace. Let’s leave that one alone, since Brown’s propensity for publishing attention-grabbing work likely overrules the “I’m asking for a friend” thing.)

Enter the tweeters!

When these tweets appeared in my feed, I sought out Roiphe’s essay, “Spanking Goes Mainstream.” She uses the old “three examples makes a trend” newspaper trick, arguing that a popular erotic novel, a sex scene in a new TV show and a forthcoming film with a spanking scene prove that young women, uncomfortable with power in the public sphere, crave domination in the private one. “It may be,” Roiphe writes, “that, for some, the more theatrical fantasies of sexual surrender offer a release, a vacation, an escape from the dreariness and hard work of equality.”

Those three cultural instances, along with allusions to related writing penned in past decades, don’t add up to a supported argument that today’s young women can’t handle gender parity. But the story, along with the cover photo of a topless, blindfolded woman, does create a tabloidesque sensationalism which does a disservice to the storied newsweekly. There’s plenty of women’s issues bubbling in US political life that could use more analysis, rather than this inflammatory click bait.

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Kira Goldenberg was an associate editor at CJR from 2012-2015. Follow her on Twitter at @kiragoldenberg. Tags: , , ,