New Media

Want To Be Taken Seriously? It’s Up To You, Tweetheart.

Let me start this one by saying first off that I don’t consider myself a feminist. There. We got that out of the way.

I have spent the majority of my career in male-dominated professions. I’ve been the only female camera operator in media scrums (elbows up!), the only woman on the web development team, and the only woman in the boardroom more times than I can count. I’ve been mocked, teased, and patronized for being the “girl”, “young lady”, and “sweetheart” in all-guy situations. It’s given me a thick skin and some great lessons about how to earn and keep the respect of my peers.

Which is all the more reason why the recent uprising against the Vanity Fair Article “America’s Tweethearts” gets way, way under my skin.

Here’s a brief synopsis, in case you had something better to do. Vanity Fair published an article featuring “The Women of Twitter”, starring Internet celebrities Julia Roy , Sarah Evans, Stefanie Michaels, Felicia Day, Sarah Austin, and Amy Jo Martin. All of these women are successful entrepreneurs, actresses and marketing professionals in their own right. The article was definitely not spun to be an in-depth look at this group of savvy, professional, up and coming young women. It read more like a high school gossip column with a few dippy head bobs thrown in for good measure (like, ok, ok?).

Flash forward to actress Felicia Day (she’s featured front and centre in the sexy photograph heading up the article) posting on her blog entitled “Disappointment”, her utter shock and dismay at what a lousy and unfair portrayal this article was of these six high profile and successful women. “But what really ENRAGED me what [sic] the general tone, which artfully made intelligent, articulate women sound vapid and superficial.”, said she.

Day is in utter disbelief that Vanity Fair writer Vanessa Grigoriadis “…obviously wasn’t well-researched about the service, or the internet in general, really.” She’s in shock that this writer chose to paint her and her friends in a less-than respectable light, making them out to be bimbos getting by on looks alone and not for their actual smarts in the ways of the Interwebz.

And herein lies the problem.

First, Ms. Day is expecting that Vanity Fair is going to do a smart, insightful, in-depth article on the intelligent, savvy women that are “leading the charge” in the online world. Ahem. It’s Vanity Fair. Not sure if you’re read it recently, but “in-depth” and “insightful” are not the first things that come to mind. Vanity Fair is in the business of selling magazines, and to do that they put shirtless Tiger Woods on the cover and photos of trenchcoat-only wearing Web Grrlz on the inside. Sex sells. If these women wanted to have a serious and insightful look into what it takes to be a young, up and coming female entrepreneur in the Internet Age, then getting a spread in Vanity Fair was probably not the way to go.

Second, they should have been tipped off during the “dream come true” photo shoot that something was up. Especially when they had to put on trench coats and nothing else. I don’t know about you, but the last time I was taken seriously in a board room I was clothed on the lower half of my body. Oh, I can hear it now. “Prude!!!”. Nope. I’m not a prude. I’m all for being well turned out. I like to look nice. That’s why I get my hair done and wear eyeliner and buy nice clothes. But if you want to truly be taken seriously as a “businesswoman”, then being naked under a trenchcoat for a magazine article is sending mixed signals, and that’s that.

Finally, being popular in social media is not automatically a sign that you are a successful, career-oriented woman. The one thing I vehemently disagree with in the article is their portrayal of success being directly linked to the number of followers one has. The reporter seems really hung up on the numbers thing, and makes it seem like the only reason these women are successful is because they have lots of people hanging on their every word. Well that may be partially true, but I appreciate that these women probably work very hard and would likely be having success even if it wasn’t for their self described “Twitter addictions”.

In the end, it’s really about self respect. If, as a woman, you want to be successful in business, then do good work, and earn the respect and trust of others. It’s okay to be attractive. It’s totally fine to be feminine. In fact, those are endearing qualities. But don’t put yourself in situations where people will be enticed to look at you as a sex object if you don’t want to be perceived that way. And don’t be disappointed if a magazine famous for doing fluff pieces doesn’t take you seriously.

Your turn. Have at it in the comments. I’m ducking!

25 Comments

  1. Suze,
    Could not have said that better myself.

    I hope you HAVE started something. Successful business women in trenchcoats and nothing else – next thing you know Vanity Fair will show a Spice girl who needs to gain about 20 pounds, a super model who can’t smile cause all of her teeth are rotting out because all she does is throw up….oh wait, they already do that.

    Women – what are we teaching our girls?

    @debworks

  2. From start to finish, I agree with your whole post and all of the sentiments. I grew up with five brothers. I prefer to work with men over women (just a personal thing with me) and I see women doing great stuff everywhere on and offline. This is what gets me, this sort of VF crap “reporting.” It tears down everything those women work hard to accomplish. But, being that it’s VF doing the tearing down, I accept that. But, what I don’t is the women volunteering or giving permission to have this happen to them by simply participating in the article and the photo shoot, and then crying foul. You can’t have the exposure and the cupcake. That sends mixed image messages. D-uh! (If I get that concept, it’s not that hard to grasp, ladies.)

  3. I haven’t read the article yet, but I do read VF regularly and will probably read this article shortly. If your summary is bang on (which I assume it is as I trust your judgment) then I am disappointed in VF. While they do do fluff pieces, they also often do in-depth articles analyzing trends or happenings. If they chose to turn this into a fluffy piece, they missed a big opportunity. Then again, if Vanessa Grigoriadis was the author, you’re right: The subjects should have known better.

    However, I do get frustrated by the fact that if women are the subject matter of an article, that the trenchcoats are offered at all, if you get me. If the article is about twitter, why is a skanky pic even in the realm of “possible”?

  4. Yep, I can see your point for sure. It is all up to us!

    As I take a step in a totally new direction for Halyma’s Belly Dance this weekend by taking the group to the trade show happening at Lansdown Park, Sexapaloosa, I wonder if I am taking a huge step backwards with the image I have been working at conveying with regards to belly dance for over 10 years.

    I teach elegance, self esteem, body awareness, fun, and respect in my dance classes. Loads of laughter occurs as I try to redirect students away from the grey area of it being a “sexy” dance, and into the light of a family friendly dance form. It requires control, dignity and a sense of personal strength to dance with confidence, especially in public.

    And we [Belly Dancing For Fun Dancers] do it all the time! We dance for fundraisers, festivals, races, and in malls to raise awareness that it is okay, comfortable and fun to perform and watch belly dance!

    So, when I was contacted about providing dance shows as part of the upcoming weekend, I had to think about it. I am comfortable in the constant message I project about my favourite dance form, and the ladies I dance with, are all different sizes, styles and levels of dance, but we are all of a similar mind set.

    After checking to see who could come out to play, I said yes. We’ll be there on the main stage and in the Halyma’s Belly Dance Booth, sharing our passion and still reminding people that even though there won’t be kids at this event, we are family friendly, fun and yes, SEXY!

    I have spent so long fighting against the image of the sexy 70s belly dance album covers and titles like “How to belly dance for your man” and the like…

    It is a real concern to put ourselves in a position where we will appear on the same stage as other presenters who are defined by their overt sexuality. Different dance forms, different exercise forms, but that grey fuzzy area will get a bit deeper after this weekend I am sure…

    But I am going to embrace the opportunity to educate and have some fun! And if folks get the “wrong” impression, then I won’t post on my blog about how unfair it is that belly dance gets compared to exotic dance and how comments like “shake it baby” and “take it off” should never be uttered in my presence! I have already heard them before and have a pretty powerful withering look to put those silly folk in their place!

    I suspect there will be some back chatter amongst my own belly dance community, but I think we need to explore both sides of the coin, especially as it hangs from our hip belts :-)

    Thanks for the thought provoking post Sue!

  5. Anyone who thinks Vanity Fair is a news magazine deserves what they get. One of the reasons I like it (although I don’t read it much anymore) is that it is like People magazine for the well-read set.

    Like you, I have often been the only woman in the room in my professional life, but that never got in the way because I acted as a professional, not a woman.

    If the women profiled in this article didn’t figure it out at the trenchcoat only photo shoot, then maybe they aren’t the savvy business women they think they are.

  6. You had me at Tweetheart (literally. Our mutual friend Julie posted this, and had to come read it.).

    You make excellent points Suze:
    ~ When people contribute to an article, often they are surprized by the spin given to those ‘facts’. But, the semi clad photo shoot should have been a real hint. Plus the magazine itself.
    ~ Can’t wait for CIO or CFO to do the same thing – think the guys may be less conditioned to such a ‘photo opp’? That would make the readers call in & complain, no doubt.
    ~ There does seem to be a correlation between the photo qualities and the number of followers on Twitter. Not for all, but some have milliions with very fluffy content.

    Thank you for the morning insights!

  7. Amen…especially about the photograph. I wrote a blog post a few days ago with a similar take. Here’s a link:

    http://strategicguy.blogspot.com/2010/01/thats-one-naive-social-media-valley-gal.html

  8. “Feminism” in Merriam-Webster (their definition dates from 1895) “1 : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes 2 : organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests”

    I have no problem with either of the above, and support both. I’d like to chicken-choke whoever managed to make “feminist” a word that people tack a “….I’m not a….” in front of.

    That said, yep, the trench coat photo shoot would be a clue. :) I think too many younger women really don’t see the world as it is; some battles are by no means over. That doesn’t mean that we have to run around being all defensive, just be aware.

    Signed,

    Yeah, I’m a Feminist and So Are You

  9. Kate Robins

    Exactly.

  10. THANK YOU! I thought I was crazy, or a woman-hater, because this is the exact same way I feel. I posted about this last night and was stunned to see how many angry posts there are flaming Vanity Fair for “doing these women dirty.” How is this Vanity Fair’s fault? Something nobody seemed to mention in any of their articles flaming Vanity Fair was Adventure Girl’s website, which features an online store where you can purchase posters and mugs of her basically looking like a centerfold. Is THAT Vanity Fair’s fault too?

  11. Ellen Rossano

    There is no need to duck, my friend! I think you said out loud what a lot of women are thinking. I’m pretty sure the trench coat should have been a clue that this might not be the most serious portrayal of women in business.

    I grew up with a brother, wrote for the sports department of the local paper, and served on active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard. The “thick skin” has a lot of dings and dents in it!

    Thanks for writing so eloquently about this issue. And if anyone takes a swipe at you, trust me, you’ve got lots of women and men who have your back!

  12. …And let the church say amen! Well said.

  13. Oh wow, what an awesome post. I came over here via Amber, glad I found your blog!

    Honestly, I heard about the Vanity Fair “Tweethearts” thing, but didn’t give it much more thought after I saw the trenchcoat picture than “whatever” and got on with my day. Thank you for pointing this out.

    Like you, many times I’ve been the only woman in business situations (and especially sports situations – I grew up doing martial arts and competition water skiing) and I became respected not because I was a woman but because I played just as hard, if not harder, than the boys. I learned early to recognize if and when I was being objectified in any way and to call it out as shenanigans … which is why I am in utter disbelief that it wasn’t until WAY after the fact that Felicia Day realized that the whole thing would make them seem “vapid and superficial.” Really? There was no point in the photoshoot where anybody told to be naked under a trenchcoat said, “Wait a minute …”? Give me an effing break. They knew what was up, and if they didn’t … then perhaps these “intelligent, articulate women” deserve to be portrayed as “vapid and superficial.”

    @damnredhead

  14. There were better ways to respond to the article than outrage. Media savvy professionals should know that. The web is an amplifier; full stop. These gals have microphones. Any smart entertainer knows not to give the mic to the hecklers in the crowd but I suspect they were taken with their own sense of glamour and expected VF to be the same except they didn’t see the oxymoron of geekDivas as VF glamour girls. It isn’t that they aren’t glamorous but not in the sense or for the demographic VF sells to. I sense their outrage is fueled in part by a realization that they have hurt their own brands and in part that they believed they fit a mold to which they are ill suited.

    Still, those misperceptions aside and with a good dose of “Get Over Yourselves” a serious discussion of the phenomena that leads up to this can start with the book “The Lolita Effect” by M. Gigi Durham. The sexualization of ever younger women and girls for the sake of product placement and sales is a trend that even the most liberated, new and important women and men should be aware of. It isn’t about prudishness; it is about respect. We need more and we need to be aware that the role models of the near anorexic teen girl does more damage to culture than any puff piece about 30 somethings taking their Twitter following a little too seriously.

    The depressing part is the damage it does to women such as Day who alone in the crowd is close to being a household name for her incredible work producing, writing and acting in the most successful webisode series, The Guild. As a writer, musician, actress, commedienne and mathematician, she IS a role model to be emulated. It was hard to see her sucked into this and slamming the door behind her with her disappointment. Given her shift back to her strengths as geekDiva with her blog on sci-fi, I think she is smart enough to get the point.

  15. You have touched on a subject that is always bubbling in the background whenever women are successful. This idea that we must be ‘seducing’ our way to the top. Somehow, it is acceptable to imply that when a woman is talented and creative and (yes) smart in business she must be a real b*tch or must have used her femininity to ‘flirt’ her way to success.

    Completely maddening and complete BS.

    To be a ‘doer’ and to be capable of making a change in this world shouldn’t invite the idea of promiscuity or a lack of commitment, or the absence of the necessary requirements to be treated fairly by men or other women in the business world.

    We are all people. We are all responsible for our own actions and how we are portraying ourselves may be worth considering. Sometimes sex sells. Sometimes intellect sells. Sometimes there is a complete package available and to misjudge what the value is in that is a reflection on the critic not the woman.

    fg

  16. Your post inspired me to do some investigating, and I agree with you 100% as I stated on Ms. Day’s blog “I don’t recall ever being taken seriously while flaunting my good looks. My brains have always been considered the sexiest part of me – and I like it that way.” okay now back to do some real work like applying make -up ;)

  17. When I first saw the VF article online, my initial reaction was to wonder how many brilliant and successful women they had to pass over before finding ones who fit the physical requirements. That irked me like so much else in our skinny-obsessed, hyper-sexual world. But I got over it because it’s Vanity Fair. They have to please their target audience, which is not me. I’m too busy reading blogs by brilliant and successful women who would probably turn down an offer to be featured in Vanity Fair. It would damage their brand.

  18. Though I agree with your post Suze, I can’t help but understand how Felicia Day must feel. I probably would have thought the same thing just as naively (her words directly) as she had. My thought process: “They’re going to do a good piece on women and social media, but it’s Vanity Fair and they need to spice things up a little, so hence the sexy photo in the trench coats.”

    Personally, I like being considered pretty AND smart. There’s a reason I’m also a Mary Kay rep.

    All that said, I think the VF article is absolute trash, but if I had been in Miss Day’s shoes, I probably would have been jumping up and down at first going “OMG! I’m going to be in Vanity Fair.”

    I completely understand her disappointment.

  19. Haven’t read the article yet. Like many of the mags we subscribe to, the issue is in a growing stack that will get sorted through eventually; and yes, we still like to get the paper copies just for that reason — lazy reading later.

    But I did have to say a big “way to go” to Sheila’s comment. I am a feminist. I am old enough to remember when that word became a touchstone to me and other women coming of age in the 60s & 70s. Every person who hasn’t benefited from a feminist movement, ranging from the right to vote to reproductive control of our bodies to getting into a workplace to still trying to get equal pay for equal work is a feminist, too.

    Thanks, Sheila, for standing in there, loud and proud, with me and other feminists!

  20. Well done Sue. You seem to write your best articles when you are a little ticked off about something. For the most part I agree with you and all of the other excellent comments above.

    But.

    I agree that Felicia Day et al got totally sandbagged by Vanessa Grigoriadis and/or the Vanity Fair editors. I also believe that Ms. Grigoriadis was probably careful not to tip her hand. Ms. Day has a right to complain about it. Hopefully everybody learns something.

    IMHO I don’t think the photo-shoot was a sign of things to come. So they are wearing trench coats. That is a classic symbol of journalism. I will assume that they have clothes on because the coat is buttoned, and no woman would be caught dead wearing a skirt longer than her coat.

    And finally a little side note to SuzeMuse and FenderGurl:
    For most of my 30 year broadcasting career, I have worked at “startups” that were often run by women and had anywhere from 25 to 75% women staff. I consider myself very lucky in this regard. My experiences with more established stations was more of a locker-room atmosphere similar to what you have observed. I did not care for it.

  21. Hurrah! I agree with all that you said. Looking pretty and attractive and ‘nice’ is fine. Looking like you should be the feature attraction on boob night at The Watering Hole? Who would take that seriously? Duh. You can’t have it both ways.

  22. I came over from Amber’s FB post of your blog, so forgive me if I’m missing something.

    But I don’t understand why it was necessary for you to start this post with a disclaimer that you’re not a feminist. Perhaps because your subsequent statements reflect a view that directly contradicts the claim?

    A feminist is a person who believes in equality of the sexes. That’s all.

    I found the rest of your post very well-thought-out but have to admit I was turned off from the start. Why would being a feminist preclude you from developing a thick skin and understanding the need to gain the respect of your peers? Don’t all workers need to gain the respect of their peers?

  23. Brigitte – thanks for your comment. A valid point and one that a few people have mentioned.

    Over the years, in my opinion, the word “feminist” has lost much of its original connotation of being about equality. I hear more and more women who identify themselves as feminists doing nothing but complaining that they aren’t given a fair shake in life because they are female, yet are unwilling to do anything about it.

    The “feminism” that I don’t want to be associated with have to do with the beliefs that women and men have to be 100% equal *at all times*. (Pay equity, yes. But having to have an exactly equal number of men and women represented at an event, or in government – these things I don’t think are possible or necessary.)

    I am an advocate for equality, and respect *between* the sexes. In other words, men should be fairly represented and treated well too – and not be excluded from things just because they are men – this happens all the time and nobody bats an eyelash.

    Feminism is a label I choose not to be associated with, because I feel it has a negative connotation now. Does that mean we should work to take it back? Perhaps a marketing campaign is in order. Does it make me a hypocrite? I’m not so sure about that.

    I am proud to be a woman, but I earn respect because I’m a human being, not because of my gender. And I think that distinction puts me more on the side of being an advocate for humans first rather than being a feminist.

    Hope that clears it up.

  24. Come on. That piece reeks of ambush. Do you honestly believe these people would volunteer for contemptuous character assassination? These women are not attention whores in the vacuous manner of “celebutards” like Heidi Montag or Paris Hilton. I am sure they were approached with an entirely different spin on the article, focusing on the power of new media and their position as vanguards of its use.

    I know Felicia Day, for example, has said that there were multiple photo shoots from the demure to the risque and that her interview was extensive and covered many substantive topics. In light of that, it is not so unbelievable that it was surprising to see the final article and its complete disdain for and belittling of its subjects, their intellects, and the whole concept of Twitter itself.

    With multiple decades of experience in media and communications, you HAVE to be aware of journalists who selectively edit to serve their purpose. This piece was nothing more than a written middle finger aimed by a journalist frightened at the uncertainty of old media’s future.

  25. Although I agree it was a bushwhacking and the topic of should they have known better has been debated to death, I think, Jonathan, you are wrong about the middle finger aimed at new media. There is an article by Vanessa Grigoriadis called “Everybody Sucks” that you should google and read. It explains in depth how the NY blogging scene and now the print press scene has devolved in a race to the bottom of snark. The VF6 were not victims; they were ‘next’.

    That said, I am still mystified that creatives with access to so much gear and distribution would choose to repond to this in such an uncreative way. They could get a lot more altitude with a bit more entertaining response. Do it the SNL way. They are blowing off a very interesting opportunity with hurt feelings instead of handling it the way professionals can and often do when they realize that a sense of humor goes a lot further.

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