Update: Women of Wired Respond

This morning I posted this piece in response to two separate actions by Wired Magazine. There has been quite an angry response on the part of those associated with Wired to both, so I’ll take them one by one.

The first issue is Wired’s decision to use a photo of two shapely, whole breasts on the cover of their November issue to advertise what is a truly wonderful, smart, and serious piece on tissue regeneration as it pertains to breast cancer survivors. It’s my opinion that using this very sexualized image of breasts to draw buyers to the magazine on the newsstand undermines the importance of this story and trivializes the trauma experienced by the women whose breasts are disfigured due to cancer treatments. If the editors truly wanted to convey what regeneration technology could do for breast cancer survivors they could have chosen an image of an “aesthetically irreparable breast,” which is what researchers say is what current technology has to offer most women who undergo lumpectomies. The editors could have placed this next to a Photoshop version of what the scientists hope they could achieve for that woman’s breast with their new technology.

But, disfigured breasts don’t do so much to lure in male readers and they scare away a female readership that’s already trained to be terrified first of losing a part of their body to cancer and, sometimes secondarily, of dying of the disease. The same line of thinking underlies much of the pinksplosion during October: breasts are sexy to men, women need breast to attract men, breast cancer maims breasts, let’s all focus on saving the breast. Many times, but of course not always, the actual woman attached to those breasts is an afterthought. So it seems with the disembodied image of boobs with no head on the front of Wired’s cover.

Agree or disagree, I take issue with this. Chris Anderson is the Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine and therefore the person to whom to direct complaints. Even if he didn’t personally choose the cover, he signed off on it and I therefore have no qualms about naming him here on my blog and sending those who have similar issues to his Twitter feed.

The second issue is this photo that appeared both on the Wired Yourself tumblr and on a blog called ‘Not So Serious’, although the post on the second site has been taken down:

The ‘Not So Serious’ blog named the young women in the photo as “interns, staff, and freelancers.” I’ve since been contacted by several of the young women in the photo who feel maligned by my earlier post. In addition to several personal emails, I received this comment on my blog, which was also posted on the Wired tumblr site:

I understand your frustration. Wired Yourself was conceptualized, produced, and maintained by we, the women posted in its inaugural pictures. Not our bosses. And certainly not by coercion, prompting, or suggestion. To assume so would miss the perhaps-too-subtle-for-the-internet-when-boobs-are-involved point. Also, it hurt our feelings a little. Our intent was to stand behind (literally) the magazine cover by reclaiming the anonymous image as our own, in celebration of the idea that she is all women and we are all her. The breasts on Wired are emblems of an era when post-masectomy reconstruction won’t mean the choice between an artificial implant and scar tissue. So, read the article, and learn about the amazing, liberating future for breast cancer survivors. If you’re like us, it’ll make you want to stand up and cheer.

-The ladies of WiredYourself, acting, as always, on their own volition. (Here’s the link: http://wiredyourself.tumblr.com/post/1398796500/a-clarification-necessitated-by-angry)

In my original post, I said that if the women were told by their bosses to do the Wired Yourself shoot, it would be a form of sexual harassment. It would be. I’m glad to hear that it was not, in fact, the result of coercion and I do apologize to the women in the photo for assuming they have less agency than they actually do. This was NOT very sisterly or feminist of me, I agree. If there is any defense for my mistake, which there really isn’t, it’s that I usually find when women and sexualization and selling things are concerned, there’s a man in the background driving it. I apologize to Chris Anderson on this point because he had nothing to do with the picture of the female staff. However, my criticism about the cover and suggestion similar criticism be directed to him still stands.

BUT. I am not one of those feminists who believe that just because a woman does something out of her own agency it is automatically feminist or good for other women. Even if the breasts on the cover are supposed to be, “emblems of an era when post-masectomy reconstruction won’t mean the choice between an artificial implant and scar tissue,” I still believe sexualizing breasts in the context of breast cancer minimizes the reality of the disease as experienced by a whole woman. Since the women of Wired and I disagree on the message of the cover, it would be hard to agree on an appropriate response to it.

We do agree that the Wired Yourself contest might be “perhaps-too-subtle-for-the-internet-when-boobs-are-involved.” Sadly, we live in a world where 99% of the time you see a young woman posed suggestively, boobs bared, it’s not about solidarity or raising awareness or anything other than selling her sexuality. I personally don’t believe we’re at a point at which playing into this very harmful, alarming pattern for any reason can be subversive. This is where the women of Wired and I see feminist activism differently and since it’s a big tent with no membership office, that’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’s a good thing!

My apologies for offending and, as some claim, maligning my sisters at Wired. No such harm was intended at all – if any of the women of Wired would like to have a private convo, please email me. If you’d like to do a Q & A about the activism behind Wired Yourself, even better!

In solidarity,

SK

24 Comments

Filed under Feminism

24 responses to “Update: Women of Wired Respond

  1. WiredYourselfWoman

    Most importantly, please extoll your Twitter followers to desist sending any anger, vitriol, and accusatory sentiment to Chris Anderson. His reputation has been attacked today. And that makes us sad beyond measure.

  2. Confused

    You wrote, to an audience of over 5,000:

    “Turns out it’s @chr1sa who deserves to be shamed for @wired’s disgusting sexualization of their female interns: http://ht.ly/2YQ60

    • And I just wrote to an audience of over 5,000:

      I apologize to @Chr1sa for accusing him of sexualizing @Wired staff. But he owes an explanation about objectifying cover: http://ht.ly/2Z9mf

      I’ve apologized in this post, over email, on Facebook and on Twitter. Short of trying to get on national TV to do so, I’m not sure what else I can do. I am sincerely sorry for the pain I have caused the Wired women, Chris Anderson, and anyone associated with the magazine.

  3. Pingback: Wired Mag Has Interns Show Off Breasts « The Ms. Education of Shelby Knox

  4. pennygirlpearl

    Agree, “Sadly, we live in a world where 99% of the time you see a young woman posed suggestively, boobs bared, it’s not about solidarity or raising awareness or anything other than selling her sexuality.”…and I see this point blatantly represented on the cover of Wired!

    When women are not used as “sound bites” and “fragments” to sell a product then it is possible that the article will be read for what you intended it to be read for. But the “subtle for the internet” image of “boobs” is an image used too often and is well deserved of a critique of women’s bodies being objectified for the sake of selling.

    As I contemplated my response to you and to the women of Wired (if I had the chance) I found myself referring back to my fine art education (with a dash of Women’s Studies) and the reading of John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing”. I’m remembering it goes something like this; “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. . . . The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object.”

    I commend you for your diplomacy.

  5. Celeste

    I’m gonna go ahead and disagree with your apology, Shelby, though I, too, commend you on your diplomacy. Those women are standing there like a bunch of tittering, sexualized objects. There’s nothing about their pose that is at all inspiring to women or girls, and I certainly wouldn’t want my young daughter to emulate that posture. The “…she is all women and we are all her” statement is particularly flawed in that those young women, beautiful as they all are, don’t match the Photoshopped breasts on the magazine cover.

    I don’t know Chris A. personally, and it very well may be he’s just a heck of a nice guy who claims to go to Hooters for the wings and reads Playboy for the articles, but until an apology comes from him, he’s (at least for me) in the same category as Brett Favre and Ben Rapistberger.

    • ReaderGrrl

      Oy. And, woefully, rape is invoked.

      A sad day for these statement-making women, who, as branded by unintentionally [I hope] Reverse-Sexist Celeste, are “a bunch of [shudder] tittering, sexualized objects.” Oh, irony. You continue to evade the grasp of the internet commenters.

      Celeste – alchemist of photoshopped mountains from molehills, rape-whistler into the abyss, future posture-critical mother – please be careful. Call me a post-feminist, call me a skeptic of any form of rigid ideology, but please be careful with the way you label women and promote stereotypes about men. As good as your intentions may be, they sting the un-retouched pores of ladies who laugh.

      • Celeste

        @ReaderGrrl. C’mon. You just sound pedantic. This forum is not your English lit thesis.

      • ReaderGrrl

        English Lit thesis? I think you’ll be happy to find out that books were mentioned! I took to the forum to voice a counter argument. Your response is “C’mon?” In the immortal words of Liz Lemon, “Blerg.”

        Do you hear what I’m saying about crying “rape” in a crowded theater? About false incrimination as a way to discredit your argument (and the movement you invoke)? C’mon, to you madam. C’mon to you.

  6. Suzanah

    Thank you for your thoughts and post. They make fabulous sense to me.

    Not that you need it, or that I’m qualified to give it, but you are ABSOLVED.

  7. I have only one point that has not already been made by other commenters or by Shelby Knox herself, and that is that to say “She is all women” rings as pathetically disingenuous when “she” is a large-breasted white woman.

    All of the pinkwashing, all of the “awareness,” and in this case, all of the breasts on the newsstand focus on white women. In fact, Black women, who have a lower overall incidence of breast cancer than white women, are less likely to be diagnosed at early stages and more likely to die of the disease.

    Neither the group of interns nor the breasts on the cover come anywhere near representing “all women,” so leaving aside whether the impulse to ham for the camera was feminist or not, it was definitely indicative of a high level of unexamined privilege.

    • ReaderGrrl

      This sort of comment saddens me. If neither metaphor nor irony nor visual synecdoche can reach you, I worry we’ll descend into a dark age where “feminism” means knee-jerk reactionary Opposition without intellectual consideration. The article is not about “women.” Having a “full woman” on the cover would have been an ill-fitting editorial choice. The article deals with breasts as the primary loci for a new sort of stem cell regenerating procedure. The cover, brazenly, sure, is breasts. Big, natural, head-turning breasts. The breasts are “all women” (and this seems obvious to me) because they are “of” all women, not literally, not whitewashed-ly, just breastly.

      As the daughter of a breast cancer patient, this image is resonant. My mum and I photographed ourselves just like these women. Before Ms. Education’s take on it, we hoped the meme would catch on. Le sigh.

  8. Susanna I Astarte

    As a proud feminist, I am glad you stood your ground. I don’t think any apology is needed.
    Women are TOO OFTEN turned into nothing but body parts. And as you mentioned- we are WHOLE people, not just the sum total of female parts.
    It’s a sad day when young (straight) women don’t mind being objectified and see no harm in it.
    Maybe it doesn’t bother their clueless heads. It bothers me. Not sure who first said it but breast cancer is the ‘sexy’ cancer to the straight community.
    Not all lesbians are feminists but I think more of us are awake and aware of the patriarchy at work than our ‘asleep at the wheel’ straight sisters.
    Ovarian cancer is more rare and actually more deadly. But there are no ‘pinkified’ items about that – are there ?

    I’m just tired of women ( and men) acting as if it’s ok to objectify women.

    • PeggyOlsonEyeRoll

      Susanna,

      These women are pretty clearly being tongue-in-cheek about the cover. Those poses aren’t…actually…sexy. Nobody’s wearing a slutty outfit or posed in an…actually…sexy…pose. It’s oblique. It’s ironic. It’s wink-wink.

      Also, why do we assume they’re straight? Why do we call women “clueless?” Why do you ghettoize these women as “objects” when it’s clear they’re *giving* whole bodies to the cover’s body parts, and commenting on exactly that knee-jerk assumption.

      Can we laugh? Can we please?

  9. Pingback: Wired, breasts, interns and the sexualization of science | Women's Views on News

  10. Lokto

    These two blog entries are great arguments for why web ‘journalists’ rarely should be taken seriously. Had a bit of research been done before hand, or had there been an attempt at communication with WIRED before posting (the professional thing to do), most of this could be avoided. Instead, bloggers go for the early scoop, knee-jerk sensationalism and outrage first; fact checking second.

  11. Natalie

    Went Rogue: I felt exactly the same regarding the comment: “She is all women and we are all her” – so we are all white and big breasted? That message should have been thought through a little more if that’s really what they were trying to say. And if that can occur even to this non liberal-arts educated white woman like me, I think it can occur to others.

    Shelby, although you certainly royally messed up your fact checking (we’ve all been there) I do agree that using this image to illustrate an important and well written story about breast cancer survival seems to be trying to make this issue more palatable or publicity friendly by using classic, idealised and sexualised depiction of a headless woman, which as you say, trivialises the issue. Also, one of the reasons breast cancer and breast reconstruction is so devastating, beyond its essential threat to the woman’s life and health, is that it “defeminises” the woman because breasts are such a strong marker of gender. This is something that we should try to work against, and I think this cover undermines that. The same goes for the photo of the interns, staff and freelancers – sexy or not, pouting and posing in front of a picture of large breasts doesn’t make you look like you’re promoting awareness-raising about the trauma of breast cancer and new developments that can help reduce that. It’s insensitive (and looks more like “breasts are sexy to men, women need breast to attract men, breast cancer maims breasts, let’s all focus on saving the breast” message you say is all too common). The more awkward pose of two of the women perhaps reflects that (although I’m not going to start ascribing motivations!). Anyway, it’s just too bad this is overshadowing the great work they did on the article.

    Reader Grrl – “this article is not about women” is kind of a dubious thing to say because it buys into this notion that breast > woman. As a daughter of a breast cancer survivor I am surprised you would say that. When my mom died of cancer I pretty much felt is about “the woman.” The human.

  12. Natalie

    Went Rogue: I felt exactly the same regarding the comment: “She is all women and we are all her” – so we are all white and big breasted? That message should have been thought through a little more if that’s really what they were trying to say. And if that can occur even to this non liberal-arts educated white woman like me, I think it can occur to others. And as you say, it’s particularly insensitive given that a lot of non-white women (I’m thinking especially of those outside high income countries but as you say within the US it’s the same) won’t get the same access to this treatment.

    Shelby, although you certainly royally messed up your fact checking (we’ve all been there) I do agree that using this image to illustrate an important and well written story about breast cancer survival seems to be trying to make this issue more palatable or publicity friendly by using classic, idealised and sexualised depiction of a headless woman, which as you say, trivialises the issue. Also, one of the reasons breast cancer and breast reconstruction is so devastating, beyond its essential threat to the woman’s life and health, is that it “defeminises” the woman because breasts are such a strong marker of gender. This is something that we should try to work against, and I think this cover undermines that. The same goes for the photo of the interns, staff and freelancers – sexy or not, pouting and posing in front of a picture of large breasts doesn’t make you look like you’re promoting awareness-raising about the trauma of breast cancer and new developments that can help reduce that. It’s insensitive (and looks more like “breasts are sexy to men, women need breast to attract men, breast cancer maims breasts, let’s all focus on saving the breast” message you say is all too common). The more awkward pose of two of the women perhaps reflects that (although I’m not going to start ascribing motivations!). Anyway, it’s just too bad this is overshadowing the great work they did on the article.

    Reader Grrl – “this article is not about women” is kind of a dubious thing to say because it buys into this notion that breast > woman. As a daughter of a breast cancer survivor I am surprised you would say that. When my mom died of cancer I pretty much felt it was about “the woman.” The human.

  13. AW

    So what about male breast cancer? Or do we not count? (not trying to pick a fight, but just saying…Talk about 0% representation)

  14. Michele

    Well stated. I have to say this echoes some of the problems I see with a lot of breast cancer “awareness” things. Breast cancer isn’t the #1 killer of women, but it gets the most attention (and astronomically more than any other cancer) because people get to be sexist for a month and wear shirts that say “save the tata’s” and claim it’s okay because it’s for a good cause. It projects the idea that what’s at stake here are breasts. Women who defeated cancer by having mastectomies aren’t survivors, they’re victims by this standard. The focus should be on helping and saving women, not the body parts we love so much because they bring US pleasure.

  15. “But, disfigured breasts don’t do so much to lure in male readers and they scare away a female readership that’s already trained to be terrified first of losing a part of their body to cancer and, sometimes secondarily, of dying of the disease. ”
    …and thirdly, losing a part of their body that’s been given so much importance in our society that without them they wouldn’t feel whole or attractive (which spawns many more arguments about why the need for feeling attractive is given so much importance, etc etc)

    “BUT. I am not one of those feminists who believe that just because a woman does something out of her own agency it is automatically feminist or good for other women. Even if the breasts on the cover are supposed to be,”
    totally agree. Just because you’re a woman ut doesn’t automatically make it ok. They purposely chose to use that cover to sexualize themselves.

    I agree that WIRED could have chosen many other non-sexualized images to talk about advances in breast cancer treatment, but you don’t get that impression from the cover at all, in fact you don’t know that it’s about breast cancer until you get to the actual article. (at first seeing it I thought it was going to be about breast implant alternatives for people seeking plastic surgery purely for cosmetic reasons) As a graphic designer I would have chosen maybe a picture of a mammogram (the x-ray) or maybe a picture of a woman taken in HDR from the neck up but obviously wasn’t wearing a shirt. Maybe she was wearing one of those paper gowns they give you at the doc’s office (can’t think of their name right now). And I wouldn’t pick a “model” for the shot either, I would find out the statistical average age of women diagnosed with breast cancer and pick a woman from that age range and use her. (just one idea)

  16. VZ

    As an intelligent woman, I have a real problem with posts like this.
    First of all, these “feminist” arguments seem to constantly insinuate that all women are being pushed around by evil men that we just don’t know how to say no to. But we aren’t. Guess what, if I were politely asked to pose my breasts for this article, I would.
    Not because some man is somehow fooling me into it or tricking me, but because I love my breasts. They aren’t perfect, but they are a part of me. They feed my children. They my husband finds them appealing (as he is biologically set up to do). And I would fear losing them to cancer, and would be pleased to know that there was technology to help me not me maimed after losing a brest if need be. Not because I’ve somehow been duped by society into to fear it, or because I feel like I can’t be a real and whole woman without big gorgeous breasts, but because it’s a piece of MY body.
    I’m just as scared of losing an arm or a leg or a hand or an eye in a car accident.
    So many of these “feminist” posts and view points are so offensive. Woman are not silly stupid little sheep always about to be somehow screwed over by a big bad wolf of a man.
    We’re intelligent, we’re strong, we’re beautiful.
    I think many “feminists” need to learn to truly love and appreciate women , the characteristics of both our minds and our bodies. Stop assuming most or all of us are being unwittingly objectified. Learn to appreciate the beauty of our bodies, as well as the intelligence of our minds.

  17. VZ

    and please excuse the typos on my previous post.
    Does little for my argument, huh?

    As an intelligent woman, I have a real problem with posts like this.
    First of all, these “feminist” arguments seem to constantly insinuate that all women are being pushed around by evil men that we just don’t know how to say no to. But we aren’t. Guess what, if I were politely asked to pose my breasts for this article, I would.
    Not because some man is somehow fooling me into it or tricking me, but because I love my breasts. They aren’t perfect, but they are a part of me. They feed my children. My husband finds them appealing (as he is biologically set up to do). And I would fear losing them to cancer, and would be pleased to know that there was technology to help me not me maimed after losing a breast if need be. Not because I’ve somehow been duped by society into fearing it, or because I feel like I can’t be a real and whole woman without big gorgeous breasts, but because it’s a piece of MY body.
    I’m just as scared of losing an arm or a leg or a hand or an eye in a car accident.
    So many of these “feminist” posts and view points are so offensive. Woman are not silly stupid little sheep always about to be somehow screwed over by a big bad wolf of a man.
    We’re intelligent, we’re strong, we’re beautiful.
    I think many “feminists” need to learn to truly love and appreciate women , the characteristics of both our minds and our bodies. Stop assuming most or all of us are being unwittingly objectified. Learn to appreciate the beauty of our bodies, as well as the intelligence of our minds.

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