Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Separate But Equal?

Ann Friedman has written an interesting article about the new political/social/cultural websites intended largely for women: Jezebel, Double X, and so on. Here's a spoonful from Ann to get you salivating:

Earlier this week, Slate launched Double X, an online magazine "founded by women but not just for women," which bears an eerie resemblance to the women's pages of yore. It is the latest in a series of women-focused online magazines to split off from general-interest news and politics sites. Gawker Media has Jezebel -- a blog founded as an explicit rebuttal to glossy women's magazines that both counters and falls into many of the same traps. Yahoo's Shine and AOL's Lemondrop focus on the traditional women's mag topics of fashion, sex, and celebrities.

Double X began as The XX Factor, a blog written by Slate's female contributors. Several other news and politics sites have created separate blogs for women's issues -- such as Broadsheet at Salon and Woman Up at AOL's Politics Daily -- which have yet to be relaunched as separate sites. And I'm sure there are many more gendered niche sites in our future, as Internet advertisers and publishers alike seek to target specific groups of readers. (Slate publisher John Alderman told Advertising Age in January, "We are doing what hasn't been done, which is focusing on the top of the women's market.")

The proliferation of woman-centric sites raises the sorts of questions that keep a feminist editor up at night. If Slate saw a demand for more content about women, why didn't it start publishing more articles for and by women on its main site? The decision to devote micro-sites to groups that aren't white men -- The Root for black readers, Double X for women readers -- implies that Slate recognizes the need for more coverage that caters to women and people of color. But it doesn't want that coverage mucking up its main product.

The big question naturally is whether this development is good for women or not. The answer depends on what the alternative might be (women equally represented everywhere, no woman-focused news anywhere etc.), and what the ultimate objective of these sites might be (to give women a place for news only they are interested in? to make men read those same news? to give more power to women-focused news?)

The ultimate question is naturally why women can't be mainstreamed.

I feel funny even writing that last sentence, given that this is a feminist blog or a quasi-feminist blog or a feminazi blog or whatever, but never a general political blog, never! To write one of those I need to pretend that women don't matter except when it comes to abortion.

Let's calm down and stop clutching our pearls as the big boys say. Let's think about the academia and how it solved that pesky problem of the 'proper place' of women's studies. In most places they were ghettoized, for both good and bad reasons. Whether this slowed down the insertion of women into various mainstream courses is unclear to me, but I do think that it's much easier to get rid of Women's Studies departments than women in all the various curricula.

On the other hand, if we didn't have those separate departments perhaps we'd have no women in most of the curricula? Who knows. Perhaps this isn't even pertinent when thinking about the journalistic problems or benefits of 'separate but equal'.