April 19, 2012

Newsweek Cover/Story: Working Women Just Want to be Dominated

Good news, ladies. Tired of being on the front lines in the War on Women? Newsweek just announced that what women really want to do is “surrender.”

For those of you who thought that professional women might be fantasizing about earning the same salaries as their male counterparts, grabbing the reins at more Fortune 500 companies, achieving gender parity in Congress, or sitting at (rather than under) the desk in the Oval Office, think again. Newsweek leased its prime real estate to (post)feminist gadfly Katie Roiphe, who presents the (alleged) feminine fetish for sadomasochistic domination as feminism’s inconvenient truth.

Predictably, the blogosphere has taken Roiphe to task. Should we assume—based on her article—that this is punishment Roiphe (secretly) likes? If so, is Newsweek editor Tina Brown also “asking for it”? And what about the anonymous woman gracing Newsweek’s “link bait-y” cover?

The “working woman” getting so much attention as Newsweek’s eye candy looks more like a working girl (high class—of course). Her financial privilege is suggested by her carefully coiffed hair (note the salon quality backcombing), her elegant bone structure (a sign of good breeding), and the exaggerated bow on her silky onyx blindfold (S&M gear goes haute couture). Although she favors a power color for her lips, her open mouth and the vaguely contorted posture of her body (which leads the viewer to imagine her hands tied behind her back) signals a supposed desire to relinquish that power. Her naked body intimates that this persona is more authentic than her workday self. She is the elemental woman–stripped of pretense and relieved of power.

Ironically, the pesky power from which Newsweek thinks today’s working women needs to be unburdened is the real fantasy. Women still lag in salary, representation, and political credibility. But stereotypes about women (as citizens, voters, and workers) are often enforced visually, which is why the S&M aesthetic is used to sell everything from shoes to suits to booze; it’s even a go-to meme in politics, deployed to try to convince people to vote, go vegan, and stop patronizing circuses. Roiphe and Newsweek would have us believe that this “trend” represents a complicated and conflicted new feminism, but really it’s just the same old patriarchy at work. To be sure, women can be (and often are) participants in and perpetrators of patriarchy (I’m looking at you, Tina Brown). If Newsweek wants to contribute to cultural understanding of the challenges “working women” face, they should focus on the real battles women wage every day for physical safety, economic security, political representation, and personal autonomy. That’s the war in which women cannot afford to surrender.

–Karrin Anderson

(photo credit: not attributed online)

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Karrin Anderson
See other posts by Karrin here.

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