August 3, 2013

Feminist blogger suspects that the AP meant to say "this smoking slut totally had it coming."

You may remember this story from yesterday, which I blogged here, about the NYC ad executive who leaned against her balcony railing in a way that made her date say "You know, you shouldn't do that." She said "I do it all the time," and then the railing collapsed, and she fell 17 stories and died. When should a death make the news and why? I know why I chose to blog that one: It was such a striking reminder of the way death might come at any time, and one's confidence that death won't come because it hasn't come yet — I do it all the time — is a delusion we live by and might die by.

I'm not afraid to lie down at night and sleep — I actively seek the loss of consciousness on those occasions — because I always wake up in the morning. That's happened every time so far anyway. And yet, every day, there are — lying in beds all over the world — dead bodies of human beings who surrendered consciousness to sleep the night before, assuming it would work out the same way it did all those other times.

How many will get AP stories written? None, unless they happen to be famous. The railing giving way is dramatic, especially because it happened to someone we can see did not expect it, who had that youthful sense of invulnerability, and the fall came from a great height, the death was instant, and there was an onlooker to make the experience come alive for us vicariously.

Like any blog, a feminist blog must feed on the available news stories or die of starvation, but a feminist blog is committed to chewing things into a bolus of feminism. So here's the Slate's XXfactor blog, and the determination has been made that the falling woman story is bloggable, which has to mean that it's fodder for feminism. Extracting 4 facts from the opening 2 paragraphs of the AP story, L.V. Anderson writes that the "implication" is that "this smoking slut totally had it coming."
A reader is left with the distinct impression that if [Jennifer] Rosoff hadn’t invited her date inside, hadn’t gone outside to smoke a cigarette, and hadn’t defied the advice of the wise and logical man she was with, she would still be alive. According to the AP story’s subtext, the problem wasn’t that Rosoff’s balcony railing was shoddy and unsafe—it was that Rosoff defied gender norms by being unmarried at 35, by being sexually liberal, and by insisting on making her own decisions instead of deferring to men’s logic.
Defied gender norms! Oh, come on.
You may accuse me of overreacting...
Anderson knew readers would call bullshit, but what's she supposed to do? Her assignment is to find feminist fodder and chew it up into a bolus of feminism, something we're supposed to swallow. She switches to I know this sounds like bullshit mode because she knows it sounds like bullshit.
... but the minor details that journalists choose to include or exclude from their reporting are one of many subtle ways that oppressive gender norms are perpetuated. 
Is that straight out of her notes from a Women's Studies class? This platitude is the platform for many a feminist blog. Scan stories for minor details relating to gender, then highlight them, and make grandiose statements about the perpetuation of oppression. When the evidence is flimsy, lubricate the bolus with the notion of the subtlety of the oppression. It might be swallowable.
Do I think the AP reporter assigned to this piece (incidentally, a woman) intended to undermine the reader’s sympathy for Rosoff and suggest she was asking for it? Of course not. But the fact that totally irrelevant details about Rosoff’s love life and cigarette habit made it into the lede and nut graf of an ostensibly unbiased news article—and that no editor stopped to ask, “Hmm, why is this information here?”—just goes to show how deeply ingrained sexist attitudes can be, even among professionals who pride themselves on their objectivity.
Bloggers don't have editors. A blogger has to self-edit. And Anderson is sort of self-editing here by imagining the readers' skepticism. But she counts on us accepting that the details are "totally irrelevant" and therefore only evince sexism. And that just goes to show how deeply ingrained the belief in deeply ingrained sexist attitudes can be. The railing against which Anderson has leaned so heavily — which feminist blogging calls upon her to do all the time — gives way. It's so shoddily constructed that any alternative explanation for the inclusion of the details pulls out the railing and sends Anderson tumbling.

And here the details create a vivid picture of a young woman in the midst of life who isn't thinking at all about death, and death suddenly takes her. She's on a first date, she's having a smoke, she's enjoying her luxurious abode looking out on the big city, she's openly dismissive of the man's fear of death, and she's inviting that man into her style of being truly alive, and that's when she dies. It's a stunning story of life and death. Yes, there's some "victim-blaming" here, but that's not necessarily a feminist problem. That cuts straight to everyone's fear of death: Would I have leaned on the railing? Have I ever leaned on railings at great heights? I don't want to die, so not leaning on railings must go on my How not to die checklist as I go forward in my life which, thus far, has not included my dying, and yet, somewhere, up ahead, there's that railing that's going to give way for me, and I too will plunge, headlong into the eternal unknown. 

I laugh out loud when I see that Anderson chides reporters for not "scanning one’s writing for traces of chauvinism," which, she says, "requires a little time and humility," but is "not exactly hard." Instead of seeing how she might take the time and have the humility to scan her own writing for traces of bullshit about chauvinism, she offers her idea of how AP should have put its opening paragraphs. Even though she admits that her version is much duller — "less salacious" — she's pleased that "it conveys the fact that Rosoff’s death was a tragic accident, not an instance of cosmic justice."

If you don't want the theme of cosmic justice, don't use the word "tragic." As we human beings tell each other stories — in theater or in the news — we experience depth of feeling when the details seem to tie together and have meaning. Why do we read about things like this at all? Anderson meant to say that her version of the story is better because it conveys the fact that Rosoff’s death was a random accident, which makes it a worse story. It's more of a police report, or notes for the tort litigation against the owner of the apartment building.

But Slate's feminist blog isn't about random accidents and building design defects. It is committed to getting us excited about the subtle perpetuation of the oppression of women. Ironically, Anderson herself fully intends to do what it is the feminist blog's mission to do: Take the stories of the day and retell them in terms of cosmic justice.

47 comments:

Bill R said...

"....but the minor details that journalists choose to include or exclude from their reporting are one of many subtle ways that oppressive gender norms are perpetuated"

I lost consciousness between "gender" and "norms" but was lucky enough to wake up so I could rake pleasure at "lubricate the bolus".

Most excellent, Professor Althouse.

David said...

Like any blog, a feminist blog must feed on the available news stories or die of starvation, but a feminist blog is committed to chewing things into a bolus of feminism.

Now there's a sentence! Move over H. Scott and make room for another.

Inga said...

It's Karma, no just kidding. It's stupidity, recklessness and showing off for the date. If I a woman would've been on that balcony with her, I would've told her she was being a dumbass. I don't understand the need to turn this event into a national story. Do children falling out of second or third or higher storied windows become nationalized stories?

TML said...

I'd wager not one in 10,000 rational humans of both sexes would sniff even the faintest molecule of sexism in the article. I wonder how miserable one's life must be to be constantly monitoring the news for perceived slights like this. Who, other than the community of feminist bloggers and grievance nurturers, does her column benefit anyway? Most of all, her piece isn;t even really interesting. It's just sad and transparent. Like you said, cut and pasted from a textbook. I

Xmas said...

I don't even think she was leaning against the rail.

She had her leg up on the railing and was stretching, which sounds more like the picture in this article:

http://www.nextavenue.org/article/2012-05/how-keep-limber-while-vacation

The Godfather said...

Your comment that you aren't afraid whenever you go to sleep that you'll die, reminds me of the bedtime prayer I was taught as a child, that included the line ". . . and if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." I wasn't bothered by it as a child, but now I wonder why not. It's a pretty scary thought to put into an impressionable mind.

West Texas Intermediate Crude said...

I'm speculating that since she was an ad executive, she majored in an area that required her to have zero knowledge of how stuff gets built. The fella statistically would have been more likely to have been a Boy Scout, built something in his life, or actually studied science, engineering, or some geometry at some point.
Ignorance kills without respect to gender.

bpm4532 said...

Coverage of this is a contribution to our progress (or stopping our decline) as a species. Too many important feedback loops crucial to the process of natural selection have been severed by society.

Jimmy said...

There were no eyewitnesses other than her "date". The investigation is still ongoing.

What a twist to the feminist narrative if it turns out she didn't fall, but rather was pushed.

DrMaturin said...

I think this writer would find subtle sexist bias in a newspaper article warning about upcoming road construction delays.

Big Mike said...

Some people do dangerous things and die in bed of old age. Other people do dangerous things that wind up killing them. The former typically ascribe the difference to superior skill but it's really just luck. (Military seems to be the biggest exception.)

And some people do things that they don't realize are dangerous until too late.

Apparently when the person who doesn't realize the hidden danger dies, and she lacks an X chromosome, it's a cause celebre for feminist bloggers. Nice of you to try to be understanding, Professor, but the ladies who blog at Slate should get a life.

Deirdre Mundy said...

It must be really exhausting to be a feminist blogger. I read the story as "Gee, there are a lot of balconies in cities across the US, and any railing could give way at ANY MOMENT."

The story resonates because it's something anyone could do. We trust railings. We lean on them. We expect them to hold us.... and then, without warning they give way, and we plummet to our doom.

Actually, there's a distinct libertarian undertone to this article. She had little freedoms like smoking and sex. And she was able to enjoy these freedoms because she trusted that the landlord (read 'Uncle Sam) would provide her with an invincible railing (read social safety net.)

But the railing was inherently unstable. What cannot go on forever will not. And so she plummeted to her doom, just like we all will plummet without entitlement reform.

Hey, actually that wasn't hard at all! Maybe I can make it as a Slate Blogger!

Craig said...

Twain's finest sketch ever is called The Danger of Lying in Bed.

Big Mike said...

@West Texas, you could be onto something. We don't know why he warned her it was dangerous, do we? Did he see the balcony flex on a loose bolt? Did he notice rust? We don't know and AP doesn't tell us.

navillus said...

LV Anderson writes that the AP included the following 'totally irrelevant details' about the dead woman: "1. She was 35 and single.
2. She was a smoker.
3. She invited a man back to her apartment late at night on a first date.
4. The man warned her not to lean against the balcony, but she did it anyway."
In fact, the AP article never mentions Rosoff's marital status & Anderson is guilty of the hetero-normative assumption that she was single. Rosoff could have been married in an open marriage or involved in a long term polyamorous relationship, for all the AP article tells us. Similarly, the AP never passes judgement on whether 12:50AM is 'late at night'- that's all coming from the fever swamp of LV Anderson's brain. Why does the Slate writer assume that 1;00AM is some slutty witching hour during which only fallen women are awake?
In other news, numerous stories have said she fell backwards off the balcony- it's hard to imagine falling backwards off a collapsed balcony corner when it's only your foot up on the rail while stretching. Much more likely her rear end was up on the corner & the extra weight shift when she stretched her leg along the railing caused the railing to give way. I'm actually surprised LV Anderson didn't accuse the AP of insinuating that the dead nicotine-stained slut was too fat, too.

William said...

She died because of bad luck. That kind of death is very difficult to comprehend or contemplate. It's better to embed such an event into a moral tale: Don't smoke. Don't do yoga exercises at great heights. Make the death a cautionary tale. Or alternately make it an exemplary tale: Here was a brave, free spirit who wasn't afraid to trust in balcony railings in pursuit of a litheness.....Any tale will do just so long as it gives her death significance and meaning.........I occasionally weigh the pros and cons of being old. The biggest advantage of being old is that you know for a fact that you won't die young.

ironrailsironweights said...

The balcony in question was 71 years old, and used un-welded rivets,a practice that was banned decades ago.

Peter

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Sex and the City did this story years ago.

PWS said...

This post made me wonder: If a feminist blog is committed to chewing things into a bolus of feminism, what is the Althouse blog's bolus?

Hari said...

There is an alternative sexist explanation: In the absence of these details, it would have been assumed by many that the woman's death was a murder. What was this man doing in her apartment? Had he just broken in? Was he a rapist? How did he know her? What was he doing there? Why did she go out there?

If the story simply said that a woman fell off her balcony, and that police found a man in the apartment, wouldn't most people jump to some sort of alternate conclusion?

The details don't provide an indictment of the woman, so much as they provide an alibi for the man.

Kirk Parker said...

Godfather,

My take is that dying before one wakes is right up there with cradles in treetops -- completely outside my experience, for sure.

acm said...

Meh. This is just job security. As long as there is "sexism" under every stone, LV Anderson on Amanda Marcotte get paychecks. Keeps the poor dears busy, I guess.

Ralph Hyatt said...

The facts that Anderson are irrelevant are the ones that are needed to narrate what happened.

If those facts are left out, what is left?

"A person who was not a child fell 17 stories after a railing she was leaning on gave way. Police are investigating."

Like you said, police blotter. No one is going to care about the person who was not a child.

The details are there to humanize the victim, so that you will care about her.

Anderson wants to dehumanize the victim.

No wonder increasing numbers of women refuse to identify themselves as feminists.

dbp said...

The only way we "know" about the warning and blyth dissmissal of same, is that the guy says it happened. Maybe he pushed her through the railing.

Any way, I don't understand the problem with her being considered "fallen" . This is what happened. No?

cubanbob said...

Too much over-analyzing here. The railing gave way. It shouldn't have given way. That's the real story.

Bill said...

I would have loved to have seen Ms Anderson's face when she saw the front page of the NY Daily News.

Ann Althouse said...

"Sex and the City did this story years ago."

LOL. They could have used more foreshadowing.

Krumhorn said...

As I was digesting this piece, my little niblet of retained custard was that the story wasn't that the woman fell to her death. That was just environmental...the reason the story got published in the first place

The more I turn it over and roll it around, I'm nourished by the image of a successful, single well-off woman bringing a guy to her apartment after their first Internet date, and I savor the aroma of sex. Was this stretching in preparation for the sex? Or was this the cigarette after?

The reporter didn't tell us what she was wearing when she fell. That would have unified the flavor of the other spices for me.

Some excellent writing today, Ann. I loved how you tossed Anderson and the HuffaPo blogger over their own railings in the most artful way.

- Krumhorn

Alex said...

Yeah where are the Slate stories for the people who died in their sleep? Oh it doesn't fit their demos to talk about old people.

Michael said...

I am not sure that Anderson is all wrong here. She was smoking after all. Confirmation of sluttiness would come from the deceased's ownership of a Corvette.

madAsHell said...

She was enjoying a post-coitus cigarette on the deck when she realized a cramp in her leg.

I blame the home-owners association no smoking rules.

Anthony said...

Dr. Maturin: nothing subtle about it. Such an article would be overvaluing traditionally male work over the vital and necessary contributions of women, and over emphasizing the dangers of work at which not very many people are injured, after all.

fivewheels said...

A side note to all of this: It's another indication of the massive cultural bias in the media.

Anderson is Slate's food writer. Among her recent articles in her main job is a piece entitled: "A Revolutionary New Way to Chop Parsley".

And even in that job, there's pretty much a 99.44 percent chance that the person who fills it will be the kind of far-edge nutjob who would write and possibly even believe something this stupid.

John Orzechowski said...

This story reminds me of a "Famous Last Words" thing Scott Adams had on the Dilbert Blog a few years ago.
http://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2007/05/famous_last_wor.html

Moneyrunner said...

navillus, that was so good I made a blog post titled "... the dead nicotine-stained slut was too fat, too. " you have a future in analysis.

Ann Althouse said...

"This post made me wonder: If a feminist blog is committed to chewing things into a bolus of feminism, what is the Althouse blog's bolus?"

I choose my "food" based on how interesting it is to me, and I try to slice away the boring and add more interesting. There are infinite ways things can be interesting and can be made more interesting. I don't limit myself to an agenda, so things are always fresh and alive, at least to me.

roadgeek said...

"Bolus" must be some sort of medical term. I was in the hospital briefly last year, and was administered, by IV drip, a "bolus" of some magic substance that stopped the bleeding in my colon. I heard the nurses refer to it as a bolus several times.

It seems to have worked.

pduggie said...

a friend of mine used a phrase the other day which highlighted the problem of such miserabilists who have to find the subtle -ism in any story:

They're trying to keep alive by eating medicine, not food.

(nice segue from bolus, eh?)

DWPittelli said...

I think if a man said, "no problem, I do this all the time" and then fell, it would have been an even bigger story, picked up by more news sources, showing, as it did, the arrogance of men, who refuse to listen to women.

jr565 said...

"You may accuse me of overreacting..."


Er, yeah.

jr565 said...

This has as much to do with feminism as Trayvon Martin's death has to do with racism.

In this case it's a woman involved, so I suppose you can apply a feminism template to something that has nothing to do with feminism, but really only the most die hard feminist would think this has anything to do with the article (and even a feminist like Althouse is crying bullshit).

Some writers or newscasters just want to have conversations about -isms and are pushing stories they think further that conversation.
And sometimes they are so far off the mark you have to wonder about the conversation to begin with.

jaed said...

The most revealing passage in that story:

"This is obviously horrifying and tragic. Rosoff was a media executive with stints at The New Yorker and Cosmopolitan on her resume."

Noooo! Not someone with stints at Cosmo on her resume!

Mike said...

I think it's interesting the only place the words 'superhot slut' appeared were in the feminists mind and then her blog. What does that say about her and her imagination?

RebeccaH said...

This is precisely why feminism is fast losing whatever credibility it had. A good idea (equallity of women) comes along, and then idiots take over and ruin it for everybody.

tom swift said...

The news story is actually about the railing, not the victim.

It is of interest because railings are something most of us rely on every day. And there's nothing controversial involved; the structural problems are relatively simple and were solved centuries ago. Unfortunately, the story has little useful info about the railing and doesn't tell readers anything about flaws in similar railings found elsewhere. The gratuitous details about the victim are, however, relevant. We have some reasonable confidence that the problem wasn't that she was doing something deliberately stupid - one of those "hey y'all, wath this!" things familiar from the Darwin Awards. She was leaning on it, not trying to climb over it or dismantle it (at least according to the only surviving eyewitness). The details also imply that the problem wasn't lack of maintenance due to inadequate funding, as it seems that the victim would have had the means to live in a place which wasn't so cut-rate that it couldn't afford minor repairs.

All of which is logical and self-evident. The blog author is right, I suppose; it would never have occurred to me to try to sniff out any misogyny behind it all.

William R. Hamblen said...

She should have been safe. Railings are supposed to be made to resist a force of 200 pounds (890 newtons for the metrically inclined) and I think she couldn't have put that much force on the railing.

DoctorG said...

Would she of been a 'vaping slut' if she was using ecigarettes?