A Feminist Exploration Into the Past, Present, and Future of The New York Times
On October 18th, 1851, The New York Times published an article entitled “Women’s Rights.” The text explicitly notes:
“We are clearly of the opinion that the time has come for the organization of a ‘Rights of Man Association,’ to withstand the greedy appropriateness of womankind; and if that does not serve, we must resort to dissolution or secession. Anti-masculine agitation must be stayed by some means.”
Fifty-six years later, a similar creed was shouted in The Times’ article “The Feminist Movement.” After a blurb detailing the inside of Queen Alexandra’s bedroom, a male writer shared his views:
“Under the efforts of free thought the emancipation of woman is no longer based on the aspirations, the character, or the ordinary functions of woman. On the contrary, the so-called Feminism tends in reality to the defeminization of woman. There is no longer any question of liberation, or even of emancipation, but there is an organizing of the defensive action of one sex against the other.”
Changing their stances, The New York Times, within only the past week has posted tens of articles highlighting feminist strides globally; including, but not limited to: What #MeToo Means to Teenagers, Ten Women Whose Tongues and Pens Were as ‘Sharp’ as Knives, Did These Women See #MeToo Coming?, Emboldened by #MeToo,’ Mad as Hell’ Women Take Spotlight at Cosby Retrial, and Gender and #MeToo in Australia: Where Do We Begin?.
Whereas a lackluster analysis would claim this stark discrepancy can be chalked up to changing Times (pun intended), a closer inquiry posits that this transition can be explored in an intently dissecting manner that has the capacity to both compliment and criticize the publication in question. For, quiet surely, it is unendingly vital that we not lose appreciation for revolutionary good occuring in the present because of the wrongdoings of wholly different humans in the past. Nevertheless, scholars of all disciplines can still pose the questions: Why does media change over temporal spheres? And, do the people incite such change? The following words attempt, in a no way comprehensive manner, to deduce the beginnings of these answers.
Before any potential praise is given to The Times, it is beneficial to give a substantial amount of notice to their downfalls throughout the not so distant history. In order to sufficiently do so, a typifying example of The Times’ inadequate response will be given: their previous evaluations of sexual violence and the law. Found in the 1871 article “The Money Salve for Women’s Honor,” another male writer exclaimed:
“We do not know what may have been the merits of the case of RIEHUL VS BARNES, recently tried in Indiana, in which an old man of seventy was sued by a girl of twenty-one for seduction, the damages being laid at 30,000. It is impossible, however, to avoid a feeling of satisfaction at learning that the jury has found for the defendant, because it shows that juries are at least beginning to feel that in a dispute between a man and woman about the ‘honor’ of the latter, the man is not always in the wrong.”
His sexist ideology allows for generations of rhetoric to spout from the mouths of men who choose to view women as liars, regardless of statistical actualities. These statutes are so contradictory in nature to The Times’ current projection of morality, one could nearly not recognize the publication at all.
There is a clear argument to be made about the objectivity of news and, by asserting such, a contender dually claims that the media should report what is going on in the world, in line with any and all prejudices that monopolize popular culture. In other words, it is commonplace to assume journalists be wholly unbiased, and in such, not push what are often deemed “personal agendas.” However, such a logic altogether disregards the intersectionalities that individuals experience in their every day walks of life. To assume complete metaphorical anonymity from a reporter is akin to stripping a therapist of their relatable pool of human experience- ridiculous and nonsensical. Now, this is not to advocate for only partisan news that paints scenarios based solely on their own opinions. Rather, to better benefit the causes of the voiceless, it is paramount that journalistically bound individuals are able to engage with their writing in a way that sheds light on the darkest areas of society. More specifically, women, especially women of color, queer women, and transgender women, need to be given a pen to write and a platform to infuse the media with the fresh perspectives the people lack. Such an outcome is deeply dependent on an aggressive refusal of the myth of complete objectivity.
The New York Times, fortunately, has begun to take this step.
This past year, The Times has worked tremendously to acquaint the public with the women of the #MeToo movement. From breaking the story on the media menace Harvey Weinstein, to following the Cosby trial, The Times is raising the voices of women in ways unheard of in past decades. Without applauding a fish for swimming, their strides have been essential in sparking a long overdue conversation. On a similar note, The Times just published an article focusing on Black women and reproductive health: Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis. The author, a queer woman of color, Linda Villarosa, delves passionately into the intersections of race, class, and gender to illustrate the heartbreaking disparity between white women and women of color, regarding reproductive justice:
“Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants — 11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data — a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were considered chattel. In one year, that racial gap adds up to more than 4,000 lost black babies. Education and income offer little protection. In fact, a black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education.”
Although The New York Times has plainly failed women in their past, their transition for the future must have less to do with how culture is perpetuating and transforming itself, and more to do with employing more empowered women to shape their voice.
Cave, Damien. “Gender and #MeToo in Australia: Where Do We Begin?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/world/australia/gender-and-metoo-letter53.html.
Villarosa, Linda. “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/magazine/black-mothers-babies-death-maternal-mortality.html.
Reuters. “Emboldened by #MeToo,’ Mad as Hell’ Women Take Spotlight at Cosby Retrial.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/reuters/2018/04/18/arts/18reuters-people-cosby-metoo.html.
Stark, Samantha, and Kassie Bracken. “Did These Women See #MeToo Coming?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000005821236/did-these-women-see-metoo-coming.html.
Jacobs, Laura. “Ten Women Whose Tongues and Pens Were as ‘Sharp’ as Knives.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/books/review/michelle-dean-sharp.html.
Lu, Wendy. “What #MeToo Means to Teenagers.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/04/19/well/family/metoo-me-too-teenagers-teens-adolescents-high-school.html.
Kantor, Jodi, and Megan Twohey. “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Oct. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/us/harvey-weinstein-harassment-allegations.html.
Tuerkheimer, Deborah. “#MeToo Comes to the Cosby Courtroom.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/04/09/opinion/metoo-bill-cosby.html.