I’m surely not the only girl with literary tendencies to have come of age in the 1980s assiduously following Anna Quindlen’s journalism career — reading her columns in The New York Times and pretty much wanting to be her when I grew up. Back in the Stone Age, before the Internet, before blogs and their informal, chatty tone, Quindlen’s combination of reportage, observation and personal insight felt exciting, fresh and new. I admired her so that I didn’t even resent the fact that she was able to waltz into The Times at age 25 with no previous journalism experience and land a job, an accomplishment she credits to affirmative action for women.
Reading her on the Times Op-Ed pages, as she offered her pointed views on current events and trends seen through the lens of her own life, she was like the older sister I never had — stepping into the minefield of combining career and family, sending back dispatches on what lay ahead and where to be careful.
And then, in 1994, she stopped writing her column. I took it as a personal betrayal when she walked away from her career at The Times to write fiction from home. At the time, I was an ambitious 20-something launching my own journalism career. How could she abandon ship just when I needed her the most? It also felt like a surrender, a tacit admission that you couldn’t be a fully engaged mother and head out the door to the office every day.
I continued to seek out her writing wherever I could get it. I dutifully bought and read every novel she wrote. Sure, they were good, but I was still mad that I had to navigate my own work-life balance in the new century without her reassuring pearls of wisdom to guide me.
Now, finally, I can say that she’s redeemed herself. I’d like to say that it’s because I’m older and wiser and understand that not everything revolves around me. But the real reason is, that she’s offered me some of her wisdom at another key juncture in my life. Just as I’m facing down middle age comes her new book of essays “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.” For me, the timing is perfect. Quindlen, nearing the threshold of 60, has offered younger women a road map for the upcoming decades, just as she did for young womanhood.
Sarah Hepola, in a recent — and ill-headlined — New York Times article explored whether feminists have and/or need a another leader like Gloria Steinem. Hepola writes that nobody has emerged to take Steinem’s place as feminist team captain, and she arrives at the conclusion that feminism has been replaced by feminisms — that feminism is now a diverse movement with diverse leadership. The Times titled the piece “Gloria Steinem, a Woman Like No Other,” but a much more indicative headline would have been something along the lines of “Does Feminism Need Gloria?”
I agree that the fact that no leader has emerged is, in many ways, a good thing — a result of a much more collective, and inclusive, approach to the women’s movement. The concept of liberation has become murkier ever since feminists fought against discriminatory laws — and won. With no central feminist agenda, we lack the need for a central spokeswoman, Hepola writes.
I like this read, but I worry it is a little too idealistic. A more depressing explanation as to why the era of name-brand feminists has passed can be found in the placement of the story.
This weekend, The New York Times profiled four prominent young, mostly progressive bloggers: Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Dave Weigel and Brian Beutler. The hook? They are all friends, they hang out together in DC and they have all emerged quite quickly in the media world — moving from bloggers to serious members of DC’s pundit class. Not surprisingly, they were largely white and all male.
I happen to admire the work of many of the guys profiled. And I admit, when the New York Times calls up for a profile, there are very few people who would stand up and say, “You can only include me if you include XX person too.” I highly doubt I’d be able to do that. Still, like many of the article’s readers, I was turned off by the lack of women (except girlfriends and fiancées), people of color and bloggers with a more aggressive or activist bent in this piece. It was troubling particularly in light of this Times Style article published a few years ago, which profiled a similar group of bloggers with several overlapping members who, at the time, lived together in a house in DC. The previous article wasn’t exclusively male, although it was male-centric. So it almost felt as though the original story, problematic to begin with, was whittled down to its white male core for this unofficial follow-up.