Vagina, Male Style?

The Economist carried a review of Naomi Wolf’s new book, Vagina: A New Biography, and I remarked to my honey that the British news magazine has a male voice.

How can you tell, he asked?

You can just tell, I said.

The discursive style is male: crisp, clean, exact. Like Ernest Hemingway’s writing.

Being a social scientist, honey’s question forced me to return to the review and uncover empirically what evidence I could muster to support my claim.

The first thing you notice is the photograph that accompanies the review: a naked female, cut belly to knee, with hands folded over her private parts.

Photos that crop a woman’s face objectify women by removing such personal or subjective features: identification–like a face.

Scholars call the perspective the male gaze.

As for the review, author Wolf is described as “a practiced provocateur”—a relatively harmless label yet potentially disparaging–whose book is an “ambitious and sprawling lament for the female sex organ.”

The word lament suggests whining. The Collaborative International Dictionary equates lament with mourn, bemoan and bewail.

The Economist puts in quotes Wolf’s “journey” to understanding the female body, as if “journey” is somehow fake, hence the quotation marks.

The writer implies the new book is subject to artifice in the statement: “The fashion today is to shore up most theories of human behavior with a bit of neuroscience.”

I happen to agree that neuroscience is a fad in journalism but I have also seen it rolled out in peer-reviewed journals like Science and Nature.

Bottom line is the review is well-written yet measured, damning yet praising Wolf in begrudging ways: “But there are also some worthy ideas to salvage here.”

Sounds like salvage means it’s worth picking through the book like a rubbish bin.

Most of the articles in The Economist carry no bylines, so I cannot confirm whether the pieces are penned by women or men.

Journalism theory supports the notion that an author’s gender doesn’t predict the story’s frame and tenor.

Better predictors are the values and editorial styles of the organization, typically funneled through the editors who serve as gatekeepers of story content.

Writers exchange their individual voices for the voice of the organization: a different sort of male gaze. And The Economist exudes male.

That said, perception is a function of the reader, and your reading of The Economist may differ from mine. Read the review and let me know:

Photo credit: Getty Images, from the 8 September 2012, The Economist.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, censorship, framing, journalism, news bias, science, science communication, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Vagina, Male Style?

  1. chuk says:

    Oh, the policy seems to be intentional. Part of how they keep the magazine entertaining.

    funny to imagine women authors learning this voice and writing in it.


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