Selling Anxiety: How the News Media Scare Women
by Caryl Rivers
Reviewed by Jennifer Pozner
Are you frustrated by the endless parade of "chain reaction" stories that jump from network and cable TV to newspapers, magazines and the blogosphere, claiming that the nation's female politicians are not fit to lead, the children of working women are terrified by day care and a woman's brain is innately hardwired to be worse at science and math than a man's?
If the sheer mass of hostile headlines manages to make women feel as anxious about our achievements as advertising manages to make us feel insecure about our looks, Caryl Rivers explains why. With wit, ire and in-depth social-science research, she exposes how corporate media conspire to convince us that despite -- or precisely because of -- women's professional, political, academic and cultural strides, most of us are thoroughly miserable, the cost of all that uppity ambition.
Obsessed with ratings-generating "buzz," Rivers writes, profit-driven media lure the lucrative female demographic by framing news about women to inspire nail-biting angst. In ubiquitous trend stories, failure and despair cling to women as tightly as product-placement panties on America's Next Top Model.
Ad nauseam, we're told that women can't balance work and family ("The Working Mother's Dilemma," Ebony) so we "choose" to abandon our jobs ("The Opt-Out Revolution," The New York Times). If we have careers, we're too tired to get laid ("The Wifely Duty," The Atlantic Monthly) -- just as well, since independent straight women can't find mates ("What's a Modern Girl to Do," The New York Times Magazine). We'll wake up barren and bereft if we don't get pregnant by 27 ("Sorry: Too Late," The Independent, London). Stay-at-home moms hate employed mothers ("Revisiting the Mommy Wars," The Christian Science Monitor), and feminists are different from "regular" women. In fact, feminists are often demonized: According to a 2002 study of major electronic media cited by Rivers, the most common words attached to them were "radical, militant, raging and masculine."
You've probably heard bosses, boyfriends or best friends uncritically accept these biased notions as "just the way it is." Rivers wants you to know that this is bunk. Continuing where Susan Faludi left off with Backlash, she illustrates how specious pseudoscience, faulty "facts" and institutional sexism permeate news about gender issues, with negative consequences for public policy.
Selling Anxiety does a great service to public debate by debunking the erroneous data upon which such shoddy journalism is based, and providing accurate information to counter sexist narratives. To wit: Workplace discrimination (not "women's choices") causes pay disparities, science doesn't prove men are biologically smarter, and research shows mothers with rewarding jobs have the hottest sex! The news just got a little less gloomy.
Jennifer Pozner is executive director of Women in Media & News. She blogs at www.wimnonline.org.