Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Every few years, I stumble upon an issue of Ms. magazine and leaf through it. And every single time, I’m always disappointed.

This time, I didn’t have the opportunity to roll my eyes at the cover, because I’m reading an outdated and unsold discard (which also means it’s too late to write a letter to the editor that could potentially be published). My disgust begins instead on the very first page of content. A line graph that is intended to illustrate that women are not "pushing men out of college" was apparently inserted by someone who SHOULD have pushed for a better education, because it graphs enrollment in numbers rather than in percentage of the population. This is ambiguous because it does not in fact "prove" that men’s university attendance is not declining, since the percentage of college-aged men attending could indeed be falling even as numbers increase (because of population changes).

Just below, a bar graph compares the salaries of men and women, but does not control for important variables such as years in the workforce. This grossly exaggerates the differences to reach the expected conclusion.

What irks me the most about these graphs is that I suspect their conclusions are correct; I have read carefully-controlled studies of salary differentials and a real wage gap does exist. But putting these meaningless statistics out there weakens the message because to those of us who pay attention (and don’t think "math is hard" as the editors of Ms. apparently do), it looks like they’re trying to trick us with improperly-applied data. It makes doubters assume that the conclusions are false, because if they were true, why wouldn’t they prove them to us, instead of distracting us with truly pointless graphics?

On the next two pages is an article on NOW’s 40th anniversary, which lists all of the nice things NOW has done for our country. I didn’t read it closely because I find such articles boring. I find at least one such retrospective in every issue of Ms. that I read, and while that may just be chance and they’re really not in EVERY issue, I still don’t understand what purpose they serve. Perhaps in an attempt to justify itself, the article concludes: "Numerous battles have been won, but skirmishes for women’s rights always lie ahead. We still need NOW, as much as ever." Which sounds so much like the pat conclusions I used to finish all my essays in high school that I’m tempted to run out and buy an issue of Playboy because the writing is so much better.

Next up is a report on a woman suing a doctor for refusing to perform artificial insemination because of the doctor’s religious objections to homosexuality. The problem is, the reporter is (intentionally?) not clear whether the entire medical PRACTICE refused care, or if the doctor basically said, "I need to step down as your primary provider, but Hal in the next room can work with you." It is apparently too much to expect clear writing and reporting from a national magazine.

On the next page we learn that, thank God, "Michelle Selden won’t have to practice changing diapers any time soon." The item is about ending a school’s sex-segregated curriculum, which I’m all for (in part because the boys’ curriculum apparently focused on "pursuing and killing prey," which I feel they need rescuing from much more than the girls do from their classes). What I object to is the writer’s clear relief that Selden be spared the indignity of a class related to child care. The article points out that Selden is a certified scuba diver, firefighter cadet, and kung fu purple belt, apparently to imply that such a demeaning activity is completely inappropriate for her. In New York, both boys and girls are required to take home economics and shop. Given the tone of this article, I’m surprised there hasn’t been a huge outcry about the Board of Regents’ audacity in assuming everyone wouldn’t be hiring nannies to do all that stuff.

Later is an item addressing a Chinese bill to criminalize sex-selective abortions, which is an interesting turnaround given Ms.’s stance (articulated for the next EIGHT pages) that abortions should be freely available to all without social stigma.

Buried in the back with the book reviews (where the NOW article belonged), there is one fascinating article about how wage differentials can arise because women rarely negotiate salary during the initial hiring process or annual reviews. While my post-college work experience is pretty limited, it never actually occurred to me to negotiate my salary or raises- I always took what was offered. Whether this is actually "discrimination" as the headline claims is an interesting philosophical question.

Ms. is clearly not aiming for my demographic, though precisely WHAT demographic would find the magazine appealing is not clear. (Advertisers may feel the same way- while Ms. clearly accepts advertising now, there’s not much of it, and I doubt that the publishers consciously chose to limit it.) Are there any feminist magazines that include real reporting (unlike Bitch or Bust), good writing, and articles that don’t rehash the same topics endlessly?

Perhaps I should start my own. Because I’d want it to be really deep, the first issue would include a discussion of Maureen Dowd’s book jacket photo. I glanced at it when I was reading her book and did a double-take. I THOUGHT the book had implied that she graduated from college before I was born, but there was no possible way this woman could be more than ten years older than me.

Google Images soon provided me with a different picture, and I saw that while Dowd is indeed attractive, the book jacket’s photographer is also quite skilled at taking flattering shots. I thought black thoughts about the beauty culture we live in, about Dowd and/ or her publisher who chose the photo which really doesn’t look like her, and about my own insecurities which I suspect are part of the reason why I even noticed the photo in the first place. I thought kinder thoughts, realizing that if my image were going out to thousands of people, I’d want the most flattering picture possible, even if it- nay, BECAUSE it- conformed to the American standard of beauty, despite my disdain for it. How to fight the idea that women should all be young and thin and well-groomed when we all want to be?


shannon said...

Ah! The magic of Photoshop! The blend brush just whisks those lines and bags away...

shannon said...

Here you go! Start your own magazine!