Why Feminism Is the Third Rail of Blogging


Feminism is the third rail of blogging. This is because if you don’t say the right thing or say it the right way, you’re going to get zapped.

I reached this unhappy conclusion while following the latest kerfuffle in the feminist corner of the blogosphere, a silly debate over this photograph of Suzanne Swift that accompanies a New York Times Magazine article on how women returning home from the Iraq War have had to struggle with the violence they experienced, sometimes in the form of sexual assaults.

Swift says that she went AWOL after she was ordered to return to a unit where she was repeatedly sexually assaulted. She was photographed by Katy Grannan in a pose you might see in a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. This, claim some feminist bloggers and their posses, is shameless cheesecake and sexually exploitive. I dunno. Suzanne is fully clothed, so maybe it’s because she’s out of uniform.

I’m inclined to tell these scolds to get a life, or better still to focus on the problems so powerfully elucidated in the article, but that would be violating a canon of hard-core feminism.

You see, card-carrying members of this variety of feminism set the rules of political correctness when it comes to all things women, and those who do not play by their rules do so at their own peril. This includes even testosterone-driven old farts such as myself who have worked tirelessly to level the playing field for women during a long career in journalism and blogs about women’s health issues that the mainstream media often ignores.

Incidentally, my own blog featured Suzanne’s story way back in November, long before it reached critical mass in the feminist blogosphere for all the wrong reasons. You’d better better believe that I made sure the photo I used was PC.

  • http://www.iconicmidwest.blogspot.com Rich Horton

    Well, it is sort of a silly pose for a hard news story.

    Maybe we will see one of John McCain like that?

  • http://majikthise.typepad.com Lindsay Beyerstein

    Who got zapped here?

    I praised Katy Grannan’s skills as a photographer and offered a critique of her work. Grannan is famous for “quoting” fashion photography and various kinds of erotica in her work. It’s an integral part of her distinctive artistic method.

    As I said in the post, I like these photographs as art. I just don’t think they work as photojournalism or editorial illustration for that particular NYT article on women and PTSD. Whatever point Grannan was trying to make didn’t fit the story.

  • http://kikoshouse.blogspot.com/ Shaun Mullen


    I stand by my post after rereading yours and most especially because of the comments it generated.

    Of all of the issues that this fine piece of investigative journalism raises, why is it that you and many of your commenters focused on a single photograph? And that you returned to this “issue” a second day?

    I read a fair number of blogs written by self-described feminists and I cannot recall the treatment of woman soldiers in Iraq to have been a talking point of any substance or regularity. This is a hedge because I don’t remember a single post. Had there been one, I probably would have linked to it from my own blog.

    You and other bloggers are, of course, free to write about whatever you choose and you’ve done some outstanding crusading on issues that are being ignored or underreported.

    That said, do you have any idea about why there is an apparent blind spot on so-called feminist blogs about the hell that many woman soldier are going through?

    That, it seems to me, is a far weightier issue than Katy’s photograph.

  • http://leatherpenguin.com/wordpress/ TC@LeatherPenguin

    Sorry, Lindsay, but your “art” defense is bunk. Every picture in the collection, in one way or another, presented its subject as “victim.” If that passes as art, gimme velvet dogs playing poker with Elvis mounted on the wall in the background. The imagery tore away the seriousness of the story; the photos imaged these armed services vets as hapless and/or pathetic detritus of the “Patriarchy.”

    That word’s still cool in your world, right? And what do you say about a chick who flies by the name of “Majikthise”? When Doug Adams penned it, it was funny; when a woman–especially a feminist–uses it as her nom de cyberplume, am I supposed to take it as “irony,” or an implicit, subconscious, sexual intimation of Wasserstein-inspired power?

  • Stacy

    Thank you for bringing this up.

    It seems like some much of feminist blogging is ghettoized to particular blogs. Blogging politics or culture with a feminist identity is difficult and rare.

    Oddly, this seems to be a problem throughout the “progressive” blogosphere. On Dailykos there are plenty of women, but few see things in terms of a gender dynamic.

    And I’m so conflicted by the culture of the progressive web. Things like this, from just about everywhere this week: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-FcX0tVf7E Funny satire yes, but as a feminist I take exception. I’m just surprised few others do.

  • http://kikoshouse.blogspot.com/ Shaun Mullen


    You’re welcome.

    I cannot stress enough that Lindsay has the right to blog about whatever she chooses and is a damned fine reporter and writer. She also has an awesome eye for visuals, which I have occasionally picked up and used (with due credit, of course) on my own blog.

    I don’t want to dump this entire matter on Lindsay, but do find it kind of weird that Suzanne’s situation caught my attention last fall, I contacted her mom and used something that she wrote as one of about a dozen posts I put up at my own blog in honor of Veteran’s Day. Lindsay, in fact, wrote a nice guest piece for me about how Canadians celebrate that holiday in a far more reflective way.

    My issue is more generic: While I cannot recall a single post on the agonies of women soldiers in Iraq on a feminist-centric blog, nor can I recall any of them doing anything about Veterans Day. Kinda strange when you consider that the military is, to an extent, one of the few places in society where there playing field isn’t quite so skewed.

  • Entropy

    Well, as a heterosexual man, I don’t see anything suggestive in that picture. Is everyone woman laying horizontally in an inherently sexualized posed? The first thing I thought of when I saw the picture is that it reminded me of WA state – the rocky beach looks like so many I’ve walked on in the Puget Sound area.

    I haven’t read any of the accompanying posts, but I agree Shaun – what’s the big deal? I’ve encountered much of the same ultra-PC attitude when I occasionally visit some of the feminist sites. I think the really need to reexamine their priorities on what’s important to women’s rights and what is not important or not as important.

  • Sam

    So this woman got raped mulitple times while serving in the armed forces and they choose to pick on the picture selected for the article. Sounds pretty freaking retarded to me.

  • http://kikoshouse.blogspot.com/ Shaun Mullen


    All of the photos with the article are “atmospheric” for want to a better word: A woman staring out of her kitchen window. A woman slouched on a couch. A woman sitting in the drivers seat of a snow-covered pickup truck. A on a playground swing with her toddler. And so on and so forth.

  • http://www.polstate.com Temple Stark

    My two cents go full circle back to the original couple of comments; it’s an extremely odd choice for a photo to go with a news feature.

    The photo is fine, and I don’t view it as non-PC. But it’s wrong for the subject of the article.

    – Temple

  • http://araratscrolls.blogspot.com zed

    Well, if you want to see sexist, follow the link in the subsequent post on the “carnival” of divided government. “Divided and balanced,” that is…

  • http://suzanneswift.org Sara, Suzanne’s mom

    Well, there is a long story behind this picture. Suzanne was threatened with ANOTHER court martial if she went through with this photo shoot and restricted to base.

    I agree that it is a weird pose for them to use, let alone take in the first place for this type of story. It has nothing to do with feminism for me, it just does not reflect the issues at hand, or does it?

    As a mother, it frustrates me the way people criticize Suzanne for her tattoos. Like girls that have them are asking to be raped. People need to remember that she was wearing her UNIFORM in Iraq covered in sand and dirt.

    Sorry, I was just getting over this stuff then this picture came out and I feel as if I have to defend her all over again.

  • domajot

    Boy, this has been an education. I was born a feminist before the word was invented but never felt the need to join a movement. I saw it as an attitude expressed in my daily life, and that’s all.

    Reading the comments on the post, I think I made the right choice. There were comments discussing her lips, where her hands where, and on and on. Much too flaky to be really feminist. I had visions of armies of women with magnifying glasses pouring over the photo!

  • George Sorwell

    You’re at your best when you prize clarity. When you just settle down to make your point or (better) to tell the story, you’re often quite a wonderful writer. The details line up as if they’d selected themselves.

    But when the big thinker shows up, he tends to muscle common sense out of the way. For example, you refer to those you disagree with as “scolds”. But, really–you’re nothing but a tedious scold in this post. Seriously–isn’t your prose here a lot more screechy and strident than Lindsay Beyerstein’s over there?

    It seems to me that Lindsay Beyerstein’s piece, though critical, was mild in its tone and reasonably generous in its praise of both the photographer and newspaper.

  • http://flickr.com/photos/carpeicthus carpeicthus

    Shaun: I haven’t delved into her comments much, but you’re definitely misreading her post.

  • http://www.cosmoetica.com cosmoetica

    Both Lindsay and Shaun are a bit off in mis-taking each others’ POVs, but, as an avid defender of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, Ms. Grannan would never be invited to appear, not because the photo is too cheesecake, but because she likely eats too much of it.

    There’s some sexism for the Feminazis to chew on.

  • Dale Thomas

    I think what bothers me the most about this, is that some feminists are in an uproar about a photo, but are not in an uproar about the sexual assault and sexism this woman received as a result of being in the military.

  • SteveK

    HTML fix only.

  • SteveK

    Pardon my post… It was only to close the open BOLD tag.

  • http://www.cosmoetica.com cosmoetica

    Dale: You hit the nail on the head. Seriously, seeing that photo, out of context, I did not think SEXY, but actually thought of the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World. The woman looks injured, not arousing.

  • http://majikthise.typepad.com Lindsay Beyerstein

    Shaun, I hadn’t really blogged about male or female soldiers in Iraq by gender until Grannan’s NYT Magazine series prompted my comment. By the same token, I hadn’t blogged about the photography of vets in the media until this month, either. Do you want to address anything that I wrote in the comments at Majikthise, or anywhere else? Or are you just talking about stuff folks said on by blog? If it’s just things people said, it’s only fair to mention that two of our most vocal commenters are feminists defending Grannan’s images.

    Your comment prompted me to go into TypePad and do a full search on my archives.

    I found that I’d blogged about Iraq 27 times in 2007 alone. Admittedly, most of those posts were about the non-gendered politics of the Iraq war, or the larger non-gendered military strategy.

    I did publish an interview an article in Salon this month with Nina Berman about her prize-winning photograph of a wounded Marine veteran at his wedding and her larger project of doing portraits of wounded Iraq vets.

    Also, during the same week as the posts about the NYT Magazine article, I revisited the suicide of Col. Ted Westhusing (an officer serving in Iraq) and an Iraq Slogger article by a psychiatrist addressing the elevated incidence of PTSD in combat photographers compared to print journalists covering wars.

    So, I’m really not sure what your point was.

  • Kim Moon

    Part of the problem is this: Internet communication is very good at enabling like-minded people to find each other and talk. It is even better at enabling like-minded people to find each other and talk to no one else, filtering out conflicting views. And it is even better still at producing so much bandwidth of communication that any one person cannot read and respond to it all and so begins to select only what produces an immediate, visceral response.

    Some topics of online discussion (especially those that produce heavy emotional investment, such as feminism) go through this process at an accelerated rate. The tedency to select material that produces an immediate, visceral response selects against thoughtful, nuanced discourse and prompts quick, rash, emotional responses. This raises the temperature and sharpens the tone of the forum, which tends to drive out people who are uncomfortable with vitriol, who as it happens tend to be thoughtful, considerate, long-sighted people, and a vicious cycle arises in which anger and self-righteousness become the dominant emotions and the level of thought and craft put into submissions plummets.

    Worse, as the bandwidth of the forum increases and takes up more and more of the participants’ available time, less and less of the participants’ time is available to consult other forums, and the community of participants begins to close itself off from outside sources of ideas. This easily leads to a group form of impaired reality testing in which small differences of opinion among the participants become magnified out of all proportion and new ideas (the products of this heated, closed community) are embraced without critical examination (because an ideological bubble has been formed that prevents testing ideas against external reality).

    Mind you, none of this is unique to feminism — it’s a chronic, systemic problem that dates to the beginning of Usenet — and maybe to the invention of the mimeograph machine. Feminism merely seems to be particularly prone to it because it inspires such passion.

  • Kim Moon

    My apologies, I just noticed that I entered an incorrect email address on that comment.