Wall Street Journal gets a D in feminism

In two ridiculous recent stories, the paper brushes off women and their college aspirations

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published April 2, 2013 8:11PM (EDT)

        (AP/Richard Drew)
(AP/Richard Drew)

This just in from the Wall Street Journal: It's so cute when girls want to go college. Bonus: That's where the husbands are! The paper of record for rich white men has been taking an active interest in the matriculation habits of females of late, and the impression it would like you to have sure isn't one that suggests anything resembling academic ambition or intellectual qualification.

First, there was the head-scratchingly nonsensical, Liz Wurtzel-level self-indulgent tantrum that the paper ran over the weekend, by high school senior Suzy Lee Weiss. Weiss' qualifications for gaining the editorial real estate for an open letter "To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me" in the Journal? Being the "sassy" sister of former Wall Street Journal editorial features editor Bari Weiss, and having a conniption that she "failed to get into the colleges" of her dreams.

Where did it all go so wrong for the younger Weiss sister? How were her dreams so thoroughly dashed? Weiss has a few theories. For starters, she writes, with a blithe lack of self-awareness, that "I bet if I'd had great SAT scores, they would have accepted me."

She further complains that, had she known better, "I would have gladly worn a headdress to school. Show me to any closet, and I would've happily come out of it…. If it were up to me, I would've been any of the diversities: Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, I salute you and your 1/32 Cherokee heritage." And while she was at it, she would have gone to Africa to "scoop up some suffering child, take a few pictures, and write my essays about how spending that afternoon with Kinto changed my life." If only she had done better on the SATs! Hint: yes. Nah, she just should have been a minority! Or at least touched one at some point!

Four days after it first appeared, Weiss' Op-Ed, written very much in the breezy vernacular of a petulant high school student, remains perched as the most popular story on the WSJ site. It has meanwhile garnered close to 700 comments. Of course it has.

The Wall Street Journal does not lack for contributors. It does not need to trawl the hallways of Taylor Allderdice High School for journalists. And it didn't publish Ms. Weiss because her cri de coeur immediately distinguished her as the voice of her generation. Or even, as Hannah Horvath would say, a generation. No, it published the piece as a calculated hate read, designed expressly to gin up page views. And voilà, soon the Frisky was taking note of Weiss' "piss poor attitude" while Gawker picked up on her "apparent rabid hatred of charity." To be fair to Weiss, several of the Journal commenters praised her for honesty regarding the "politically corrected, ethically shallow, impossibly biased, blatantly overheated admissions process."

But the greater takeaway of the story isn't about entitlement, or admissions. No, it's that it's the tale of a girl who just assumed she could skate right into college, without a single suggestion of what she ever wanted to go to college for. Whether you find the piece whiny or truth-telling, there's no denying that the self-described "underachieving selfish teenager" never once articulates in it what she had hoped to do in those "dream" colleges she applied for. There's zero mention of a thirst for knowledge, a quest to pursue the training needed for some unmentioned vocation. The college acceptance, to Weiss' mind, seems to be an end in itself, not the beginning of a new chapter of challenges. And as a highly selective and quite intentional representation of the female class of 2013, it sure says a mouthful. It says a girl's prestige education is a shiny prize, but that learning itself is optional.

And it's a view that's further been peddled this week by the Journal, in James Taranto's breathlessly "You go, girl!" reaction to the recent Susan Patton debacle. Patton, in case you were lucky enough to miss it, made a splash last week by writing a letter for her alma mater's paper in which she advised "the young women of Princeton" to "find a husband on campus before you graduate" because, as she explained in a later interview, "women have a shelf life." "For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry," she wrote heteronormatively, and "as Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market." It was a view riffed on neatly by Julia Shaw in Slate, who wrote Monday of her youthful wake-up from imagining "myself an independent, spirited sort of woman" and becoming a happily married wife at 23. Well, phew.

Clearly devastated at being troll-scooped by the Daily Princetonian, the Journal upped the ante. "Oops, we forgot all about Women's History Month," Taranto writes. "To make amends to the fairer sex, today we introduce our readers to a feminist pioneer." And there, in just the first paragraph, he's brushed off women's history and reduced a whole gender to "the fair sex" cliché. Then he rolls up his sleeves and really gets into it. Patton, you see, was telling it like it is, unlike "every feminist of childbearing age in America" who "simultaneously arched her back and let out a deafening hiss." Out of her scary feminist vagina, I'd wager.

Taranto explains, for the benefit of women who couldn't understand Patton's piece with the feeble lady brains, that the author wasn't "telling girls to abjure college," she was just advising them "to take advantage of the simultaneity of their own peak nubility and their presence among an abundance of suitable mates" especially because "the female sex drive is hypergamous." And if my ovaries and I were capable of understanding science, I'm sure we'd agree. Thank God Taranto then put it in terms so simple even a woman could understand: "If that is sexist, then Mother Nature is sexist."

What you wouldn't glean from either Journal piece is that there are, right this minute in our country, a whole bunch of young women currently in and approaching college who are in it to learn. Remember learning? I hear universities are chock-full of it! I'm not even talking about what Taranto huffily refers to as "contemporary society's expectation that young women be at least as career-minded as young men." (Imagine! Ha ha!) I'm talking about education. The kind girls around the world fight with their lives to get.

Those of us who had the privilege of a university education know that college isn't just for tests and term papers. It's full of adventures, and, if you're lucky, it paves the way for a meaningful entry into the workforce and all kinds of future relationships. It's not something cavalierly leveraged for bragging rights or upwardly mobile dating opportunities. It's much more than that. It's where we women gain access to the very thing that scares our tirelessly girl-bashing, glass ceiling-enclosed, "mommy wars" battleground culture the most: knowledge. That's why higher education matters so much for women. But you wouldn't know that from reading the writers of the Wall Street Journal. I guess some people never learn.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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