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.