Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sexism, Self-Policing and the Unequal Shock of Bias

"One of the most sexist, chauvinistic articles in the history of respectable periodicals." -Gawker

When Forbes writer Michael Noer's story entitled "Don't Marry Career Women" was posted up on the website, within 48 hours major iMedia outlets covered the "heated response" from inside and outside Forbes headquarters. It started with Forbes' own message boards, jumped to a surprisingly sober Gawker analysis that raised the question of why Forbes reposted the article as half of a Point-Counterpoint piece, and by the wee hours of this morning, made it the focus of extended negative and posi-neutral dissections on Salon and Slate, respectively.

In just 48 hours! The power of the blogosphere is unmatched.

Putting aside the content of the article for a second - which I personally believe was an interesting study of sensational data shrouded and delivered in a poor message, starting with that headline ("Scientists: Don't marry career women" could have better helped Noer stay out of the doghouse) - this is a fabulous case-study of the "digisphere's" (that is, blogs, internet magazines, and message boards) power to offer immediate reaction/response and, even moreso, checks and balances on its own writers.

Much like Wikipedia, blogs, message boards and the like police themselves to a limited extent. While there's more leeway with this set of rules, the most egregrious examples are always jumped on with incredible fervor and taken down faster than Stinger missles take aircraft out of the sky.

The traditional press polices itself from time to time, too. But while traditional media have limited space to do so (only on the editorial pages do things really surface on a regular basis), the 24/7, write-until-you-bleed copy flow gives ample space for journalists (both professional and citizen) to discuss the products of their craft.

While I hope this situation doesn't blow up to the point where colleagues call for Noer to lose his job, I do hope that it encourages people to discuss why his largely data-based article is such a big deal, both on its own and compared to the limp, all-opinion feminist piece it now stands by. Is it because it's wrong? Is it because it's written in Forbes? Is it because it's pseudo-strongly opinionated? Each article is being interpreted like affirmative action for the sexes applied to life. So why isn't Elizabeth Corcoran's arguably just as slanted, equally as generalizing piece (right or wrong) just as shocking? Isn't it just reverse-discrimination?

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