Writing about feminists? Just make stuff up

The Gray Lady won't mind!

Published February 15, 2006 12:53PM (EST)

I missed this one while I was away; fortunately, a Broadsheet reader wrote to tell us it's been bothering her for a week. And rightly so! Here's the first sentence of Virginia Heffernan's New York Times review of the PBS documentary "Sex Slaves": "While feminist pundits in the United States continue to concern themselves with dating, body image and guilt over nannies, issues that urgently warrant political attention -- the social annihilation and 'honor killings' of women in many Middle Eastern countries, say -- seem to pass without their notice. Among these issues is sex slavery."

OK, this makes me crazy. CRAZY. People -- reporters! -- clearly feel free to just make shit up about feminists. Really! They just Make. It. Up. There's no truth, or even truthiness, to what Heffernan says here. She might as well have written, "While feminist pundits in the United States continue to concern themselves with rodeos, macaroni and cheese, and the cast of 'The OC' ..." Or she might as well have suggested -- as William Saletan, who I thought was smarter than this, recently did -- that feminists should "start" agitating for access to birth control. Thanks, Sparky, we're on it. (Hence the "Planned" in "Parenthood.")

So, Ms. Heffernan, can I take a peek at your browser history from the day you wrote that piece? Did you visit NOW.org and see its condemnation of sexual slavery in Darfur, or where it gives Lifetime props for its attention to the issue of human trafficking? Or its concern about the dangers of honor killings under sharia law in Iraq? Or how about the Feminist Majority Foundation, where a search for "nanny" returns one result (a random article from Working Mother from 1999) but a search for "sex slavery" returns 220. Sistah friends have been making noise about this for years.

I can't even figure out why this gratuitous sarcastic swipe seemed necessary or relevant, why Heffernan's editor didn't just red-line it right out. And by the way, how come the maker of this documentary doesn't count as a "feminist pundit"? We aren't perfect, nor are we all of one mind. But maybe if reporters would start reporting on what feminists are actually doing, we'd be getting somewhere.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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