• Mon, Oct 17 2011

The (Possibly) Last Thing We’ll Say About XOJane

Gloss EIC Jennifer Wright suckling a writer to her teat.

We’ve gotten a lot of different responses to this piece – which we wrote in response to a piece by Cat Marnell–health and beauty director at XOJane–in which she describes using Plan B as her primary form of birth control. To make a long story short, we called Cat Marnell a reckless idiot and implied XO Jane was some sort of experimental part of the infinite monkey theorem. We apologize to anyone who interpreted this to mean that immortality drugs have finally been developed for literary monkeys, especially when funding for such a program is still so far off. Our coverage has been called hateful, sometimes more rationally than others. To which I think we’ve all agreed – at TheGloss, we may be jerks, but we are never ambivalent.

Finally, after much debate, XOJane EIC Jane Pratt deigned to respond (I know about this piece because her publicist keeps writing to make sure I saw it). It goes like this:

At xoJane, we’re into bias. We like dissent. We’re down with conflicting opinions. We dig on people who have different positions and different politics and who own them. We want folks to tell their stories and explain how those experiences have shaped them. And we also want you to make up your own minds about stuff.

We want all this to happen even at the expense of having a predictable, identifiable, unchallenging “voice” that we all attempt to share, because that’s all it can ever be: an attempt. It’s impossible to ever be truly free of the little details that make us who we are, and at xoJane we believe that these differences are valuable, and we want to see them.

At TheGloss, we’re into bias. We like dissent. And we’re down with conflicting opinions (as long as they’re not opinions from people who don’t like our articles, those people are haters). We also dig on people who have different positions and politics and who own them.

Insofar as that is reasonable and responsible.

Because we do not believe that every opinion is equally valid.

That’s why, when, each week our culture editor pitches me an article entitled “Jews: The Inferior Race” I always say “Leni, you’ve got to cool it with that. Because 70 years later you still have no medical evidence, and this article is just you saying ‘get it together’ and talking about how you think seeing Jews makes you fat. And that you only need condoms if you have sex a lot. It’s really irresponsible.”

I do that because as an editor it would be incredibly immoral for me to let that sort of unsubstantiated nonsense run on a site under the guise of someone being a health editor. I don’t care if Leni is “spunky” and “has a great voice” and “makes awesome video content.” If a site influences the opinion of even one person, you have a social responsibility to try not to tell people things that are factually inaccurate (like, for instance, the pill will make you fat, or suggesting that condoms are only necessary if you have sex really often). On a more selfish note, I do it because it would be personally embarrassing to run that article if that site bore my name on the masthead.

Now, I realize that no one on the Internet has the fact checking team that exists at the NY Times. I wish we did. I have no doubt that, at TheGloss, we’ve inadvertently published things that are in error. But any kind of journalism – whether it’s on the Internet or in print – necessitates some sense of responsibility to your readers.

When Jane Pratt writes, before talking about how they love unique voices:

“Real” journalism — although what does that even mean these days? — demands a voice that attempts to be free of bias in the interest of bringing you the bare facts and letting you make up your mind about them.

No, it doesn’t. Op/Ed sections are standard. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever written for a print publication that hasn’t let me use my own voice to a reasonable extent. That’s generally why they hire you – because they like your voice. Much though they seem to like to believe so, XOJane is not doing something new and edgy in allowing writers to have a voice, because plenty of publications do that.

However, actively and knowingly lying to readers – as you do when you let an article run that says birth control makes you fat – is the reason people doubt that “real journalism exists on the Internet.”

Once you do that, you should expect every other publication online to attack you. Because you gave someone a title of health editor and then allowed her to publish egregious misinformation. People are not hating on the staff at XOJane because they want to hurt them or because they’re haters or because they hate feminism, choice, voices, individuality, etc. People are hating on the piece – and yes, the site – because the editors at XOJane did something stupid. That is okay. We all mess up sometimes. If that happens, you apologize, and you try to do better tomorrow.

Or not. Or you could take no responsibility for what you’ve published and instead congratulate yourself for “giving each woman the agency of her own story, and the freedom to be whatever kind of woman she wants to be. We don’t ask our writers to change themselves to fit any mold.”

God. Sound and fury.

If you’re an editor, you don’t have to get your writers to fit a mold, but many of us do feel some sense of responsibility to our writers. I can’t speak to every editor, but I like everyone who writes for TheGloss. That is to say, I want them to have happy lives and promising futures. I think we’ve run some pieces that have been pretty controversial, for instance, Jamie’s piece about being sexually harassed by Terry Richardson (which I realize the people at XOJane think is LOLFUNNY!) and, before we’ve done so, we’ve talked about possible outcomes, considered publishing them anonymously (in Jamie’s piece it seemed important not to do so as there were already copious anonymous allegations) and, at the very least, edited them to make sure they presented the writer in a fair and rational light.

We did it because it’s our job, and because the Internet never forgets. Any time Cat Marnell applies for a job in the future, someone will Google her, and this will be the first thing that comes up. Sure, she might be able to get a job writing someplace else. Crazier people have done it (hi, Liz Jones!) but she will only be encouraged to write more and more incendiary posts wherein people will laugh at her. That will be her value. Writing a post like this and publishing it is the kind of thing that every editor should know has the potential to destroy a writer’s career, and certainly the potential to keep them from being taken seriously ever again. Sometimes, an editor’s job is… is like being a catcher in the rye!

God, that was awful. Sorry. But the fact that Jane Pratt saw a post from a girl half her age talking about habitual drug use and multiple abortions and didn’t at least think to edit it into some semblance of coherence, well, that is flat-out evil. Publishing a response accompanied by an incredibly manipulative photo of yourself clutching a child does not change that. Because making some attempt to look out for people they’ve employed is not just what a good editor does, it’s what a good person does.

But then Jane claims:

Even feminists live in the real world, and sometimes feel bad about our bodies or make irresponsible choices. We are products of the same society we may not always agree with. We are ambivalent. We don’t want to censor that ambivalence out of writers’ lives or work.

I know that when you grow up your heart dies and seemingly gets replaced by Michael Stipe’s phone number, but really? For all the crowing they’ve done about standing behind Cat Marnell, XOJane has never once addressed the astonishing inaccuracies and blithe irresponsibility in her post. For all they’ve done to deflect this controversy with a load of sanctimonious bullshit about encouraging “different opinions,” they’ve sure been hostile to ours. And in all of this, the justification has been… “At XOJane, we’re ambivalent?”

Well, at TheGloss, we’re not.

We care.

And now, that really is all.

But wait!

P.S. Remember this?

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  • Ashley Cardiff

    GOD YOU LOOK SO NURTURING IN THAT PHOTO.

    NO ONE WHO POSES WITH CHILDREN FOR PHOTOS IS CAPABLE OF WRONGDOING.

    • Jennifer Wright

      GOD OUR FRIENDSHIP IS WEIRD.

  • Eileen

    Jennifer, I want your blouse.

    • Jennifer Wright

      Not now that Ashley has gotten her spittle all over it you don’t.

  • Liana

    “These intellectual guys don’t like to have an intellectual conversation with you unless they’re running the whole thing. They always want you to shut up when they shut up, and go back to your room when they go back to their room.”

    • Jennifer Wright

      Catcher in the Rye: relevant to our interests!

  • justsaying2

    I seriously doubt this will be your last post about xojane, Jennifer. You seem to be a bit obsessed–since this is your third xojane post since they launched in April. Do you have a fixation on xojane because its the only topic you write about that actually manages to get more than a handful of comments from TheGloss audience? Are you just jealous that even a service-oritented piece about fragrances by Cat generates more audience discussion than any non-xojane post in your oeuvre? Or are you just bitter that you haven’t come close to accomplishing the things that Jane did at your age? You certainly bring Jane’s age up enough — seems to be far more of a problem for you than it is for her. Its admirable that you seem concerned about Cat’s professional future. But, have you considered the future of your own journalism career when a potential employer Googles your name and up pops your multiple screeds about xojane? Just saying….

    • ginandjudgment

      I don’t think it really has anything to do with compeittion between websites. I personally am enjoying getting the updates on the situation, as I blogged about it myself on my fledgling advice column. There’s too much going on with women’s reproductive rights in legislation right now to let something so completely innacurrate stand without challenge.

      Bravo, Jennifer.

    • MR

      From a guy’s viewpoint, if Cat’s a sample of XOJane, than it’s a childish publication. I dated high school girls in high school. Hope that doesn’t sound to sexist.

      Tally. Jennifer posted, and then Jamie followed up on XOJane’s response to Jennifer’s posting – that was four days ago. But Jennifer’s is still getting responses. Why? Cause it’s a big deal.

    • Alle Malice

      Disagree. If you’ve got a publicist who keeps emailing to MAKE SURE THIS GETS SEEN, I think you care quite a lot.

      Also, this is not a screed. This is an articulate response to a response. Everything Jennifer has written was relevant, substantiated and appropriate. What you’ve written, o troll, is a screed. And one that doesn’t refute any of Jennifer’s points, for that matter; you just default to OMG U JEALIS? bullshit.

    • aya

      @Alle: couldn’t have said it better myself. thegloss’ whole take on this has been rational… but they do not suffer fools.

    • Sam

      No offense, but you sort of come off as somebody who is obsessed with trolling TheGloss in order to criticize their critiques of xojane. Commenting on responsible journalism is not the same as just saying, “xojane writes dumb articles omg.” One of the reasons I have thegloss on my toolbar and check it all the time (compared to my occasional wandering over to xojane, though I really hate their website’s formatting and guess-what-famous-people-we-know! stories) is because it cares about its audience.

      Let’s be honest: the only people who use the “OMG YOU’RE JUST JEALOUS AND BITTER AND THAT’S WHY YOU’RE SO MEAN” argument are the sort depicted by Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert, and Amanda Seyfried…i.e., people whose brains can’t wrap around the concept of “sometimes, people just won’t like you or your idiotic nature and it’s not because they’re jealous.”

    • Melissa

      Goodness. Are we back in high school? If the “I’m so irresponsible about my sex life, ha ha aren’t I cute?” article on xojane wasn’t bad enough, now we have their minion justsaying2 claiming “you’re just jealous!”

      Ugh. Somehow I bet you had use Roget’s to find oeuvre and you haven’t a clue how to pronounce it. Though on second thought, it would be worse if you did know the word. Because that would mean you have a semi-decent vocabulary yet cannot recognize, and in fact are willing to defend bad writing that is also incredibly irresponsible “journalism.”

      Anyway to “like” posts here? ‘Cause I sure do like ginandjudgment’s post!

    • Oh ladies

      You’re ridic.

    • Brenda Kilgour

      Whatever she’s doing, it must be working, as thegloss.com’s traffic numbers put xoJane’s to shame, even without the incessant posts about Courtney Cox and Michael Stipe.

      Just saying.

    • Lora Turner

      Wow! Who knew that Jane Pratt read The Gloss. Thanks so much for sharing with us.

  • BeHeard

    I 100% agree with your response to XOJane. I have visited that website a few times, and will admit that I am appalled by the things they are allowed to post. I would assume that the number one or at least number two rule of journalism is RESPONSIBILITY. It doesn’t get more irresponsible by stating that your main form of BC is the Plan B pill. Be an individual. Be your own person. But i draw that line at one admitting that PLAN B, an EMERGENCY contraceptive is your form of birth control. Congrats Cat & XOJane for essentially giving Women’s Reproductive Rights a big F.U.

    • MR

      Nice. Make’s my defense of Jennifer look pretty lame. :)

  • Eireann

    Hilarious and poignant. Thanks for writing :)

  • August S.

    Daria!! I loved that show! My friends and I have a book-club called The Fashion Club…which would disgust Sandi and horrify Quinn if they were real people who knew about my leisure time activities.

    Also yes, XOJane behaved ridiculously re:reply and original “safe sex is for looooosers haha cute!!1!” post. My response is going to be continuing not to read that site. That’ll show them! (I’ll probably continue to not-read Jezebel too, but that’s less ideological and more about their confusing site design.)

  • Liana

    Your Leni comment. Genius. I love thegloss.

  • MM

    Godwin’s Law!!

  • Kala

    This article/response was absolutely awesome… then was catapulted into phenomenal with the addition of the Daria link. This is the best thing I’ve read in a really long time! I’m going to have to start reading The Gloss now. Glad I came across this site!

  • Jamie Peck

    That’s true, we did do those things. I am glad you give a shit about me and the website you LOL edit! I feel so ~special~.

  • Brenda Kilgour
    • Ashley Cardiff

      THEY ARE WRITING THE JOKES FOR US.

  • eunice

    great post! i thought i was the only one getting the heebie-jeebies from that xojane Plan B article. i went to Ms. Pratt’s new endeavor and never came back. it is confirmed; after Sassy, J.P went downhill. xojane is required reading for Manic Pixie Dream Girls i suppose. i am definitely going to read The Gloss from now on.

  • Wray

    This is AWESOME