Women We Read This Week

Ana Defillo’s “A Bustle.com Writer Responds to Its Critics” in Flavorwire

While there’s certainly a lot of bandwagon riff-raff that comes along with the Twittersphere, here’s an example of the way social media can enable productive discourse. Ana Defillo’s response to the maelstrom of criticism Bustle.com received is balanced, articulate and insightful. While I’m not 100% swayed, she makes a lot of excellent points about the unjust nature of the criticism while still valuing it and taking it seriously. I think the best defense of Bustle is Defillo’s argument itself; if Bustle is fostering the development a voice like hers, it makes me feel much more kindly towards the site. (But of course, in my ideal world a woman like Defillo would be Bustle.)


Sarah Hepola’s “A Good Angle Is Hard to Find” in The Morning News

Almost as ubiquitous as the selfie, it seems, is the thoughtful (or not-so-thoughtful) article about the selfie: “Is it a harmless fad or a dangerous sign of western society’s growing narcissism?”, “Self-expression or a malady of the techno-savvy world?”, etc.

This one, though, is good. Sarah Hepola manages to maintain a tone just flippant enough that her musings and insights – on celebrity, vanity, self-image, self-containment – hit harder. Midway through the piece I found myself feeling weirdly deep sympathy for Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber: “Bieber’s selfies (10.5 million followers) tell a specific narrative, too. He often looks surprised, as though someone just wrested him from a nap, and he shoots pictures of his tattoos and his six-pack abs. Look how unscripted I am. Look how tough.” – quite an accomplishment.

Hepola looks out at the world – the world in which to take a self-portrait by the side of the road, to pull funny or faux-sexy faces at your phone in ill-lit nightclub bathrooms, to sit at your laptop awaiting validation in the form of a like or some badly-punctuated praise, is de rigueur – and captures an overriding sense of vulnerability. The selfie is no different, really, than the tweet or the carefully maintained blog or the series of photos you take of your neighborhood, the eggs Benedict at your your favorite cafe, the shaft of sunlight hitting the untreated wooden floorboards in your living room. It’s all about editing, curating, controlling a narrative. We’re all politicians in our own lives, anxious to win the affection of others, anxious to seem a certain way. Some of us take pictures of ourselves; some of us write about ourselves; some of us even do both.

Recently, a friend told me she didn’t like pictures of herself because she never looked the way she thought she did in her head. I think this pretty much describes the universal horror that is looking at your own photos, and that’s why I love the selfie so much. It gives you all the controls to the story you are telling. You can delete the unflattering moments. You can crop and flatter in umpteen ways. The cruel world never gave us the option of editing our own flawed human selves. Can we really be blamed for wishing we could?


Nell Boeschenstein’s “I Want You to Want Me” in The Rumpus

Nell Boeschenstein chronicles the way that online interactions mediate our lives via her virtual relationship with artist Jonathan Harris. In an age where so much interaction is virtual, I think she captures the yearning produced, the I-Want-You-to-Want-Me feeling that we experience as we find ourselves living more and more in a virtual world. Boeschenstein writes:

On a basic level, the impulse to watch each other is not creepy. Sometimes we watch each other voyeuristically, sometimes we watch over each other protectively, sometimes those lines are blurred. When it comes right down to it, we are all armchair anthropologists, watching each other and hoping to learn something in the process. The Internet simply facilitates the impulse. The range of things you can learn about a person on the Internet are so different from the range of things you can learn about someone by watching them eat lunch at the table next to you for an hour. One way is a socially acceptable way of watching someone, the other is not.

More virtual knowledge about a person doesn’t necessarily lead anywhere, leaving many of us lonelier than we expected.



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