Thursday, January 18, 2007


Times Trend Trouble

You are not going to find a better deconstruction of the media elite's cultural bias than this analysis by the Columbia Journalism Review, looking at the New York Times trend story on unmarried women that I did a post on earlier this week.

As you may recall, the Times reported that, according to new census data, unmarried women now outnumber married women for the first time in American history. In 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000.

Gal Beckerman of CJR dug deep below the numbers to scrutinize how the Times interpreted and framed the data, and came away distubed by what she found, noting that the piece "had a tone of exuberance that spun the numbers as an unambiguously positive piece of progress for women." Beckerman went on to write:
A quote from William H. Frey of the Brookings Institute captured the mood of it. The shift away from marriage, Frey said, represents "a clear tipping point, reflecting the culmination of post-1960 trends associated with greater independence and more flexible lifestyles for women."

But America is not a monolith. As much as we would like to persist in thinking that we are a classless and race-blind society, the Times, of all papers -- having run groundbreaking series on both race and class -- should realize that a phenomenon that might bode well for middle-class white women might be absolutely disastrous for poor black women.

Apparently, though, we are the only ones to see it like this. Because apart from a tossed-off paragraph that reminds us that, buried within these statistics, seventy percent of African-American women are single, there is nothing to indicate how the epidemic of single parentage in the black community contributes to this statistic. We imagine -- though aren't told -- that many of these women are raising children alone and being dragged deeper into poverty because of their unmarried status.

Instead the rest of the article is completely about those middle class white women who insist they have chosen to be without ball and chain. We meet Emily Zuzik, a 32-year-old musician and model who lives in the East Village of Manhattan, and Linda Barth, a 56-year-old magazine editor in Houston. We hear about how happy Sheila Jamison, who also lives in the East Village and works for a media company, is and about how Shelley Fidler, a public policy adviser at a law firm, has "sworn off marriage."

The rest of the CJR piece raises several similarly thought-provoking questions and is well worth the read.

does it matter that Ms. Jamison quoted in the article is black?
To Victoria: Yes, I would say it matters somewhat, in that it shows a modicum of racial diversity in the Times interview subjects. But I don't think it undercuts the primary point of the CJR about the lack of socio-economic diversity in the Times piece -- or its failure to consider the implications of this trend for low-income women of color.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?