In April, Beyonce released her single “Girls Run the World” and was quickly “called out” by the blogosphere.
“I don’t think it’s right that she’s promulgating historical inaccuracies to impressionable young women,” video blogger nineteen percent said in a YouTube rant that went viral. “[Beyonce is] imparting the false belief that they run the world by lulling them into a false sense of achievement and distracting them from doing the work it takes to actually run the world.”
Now New York Times columnist Frank Bruni is having his own “Girls Run the World” moment. In his column titled “Celebrating the Girls of Summer”, Bruni writes that while women were sidelined in the debt ceiling debate (he cites a Politico slideshow), beyond the Beltway they "more than held their own this summer, and gave us reasons to rejoice.” He goes on to praise the success of Bridesmaids, pop singer Adele, the US Women’s soccer team and the yet to be released film The Help.
Never mind that Nancy Pelosi was the one who took entitlement cuts off the negotiating table, facilitated enough Democratic votes to pass the debt deal and will have the power to appoint three house Democrats to the “Gang of 12.” Blinded by his disgust for the debt deal, Bruni argues that women are doing well everywhere except Washington.
Actually, the opposite is true.
The biggest victory for women this summer— the Obama administration’s decision to require health insurance plans to cover birth control— came from DC, not Hollywood.
Meanwhile a slew of reports released over the past month expose the devastating toll the economic downturn has had on women. On July 6 the Pew Research Center reported that in the past two years men gained 768,000 jobs while women lost 218,000 jobs— making this "the first recovery in which the unemployment rates for men and women have gone in opposite directions."
A week after the Pew report, Time magazine released a survey showing that only 27% of unmarried women had enough money saved for retirement. And earlier this week the Huffington Post reported that 280,000 students, most of them female, had signed up online for "sugardaddy” arrangements with older men to help pay off hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt. Amid these economic losses, conservative lawmakers are redoubling their efforts in statehouses across the country to effectively ban abortion.
“The Girls of Summer” ignores this grim picture. And while it’s important to applaud positive media portrayals of women, Bruni seems more interested in Kristen Wigg or Emma Stone than the women sitting in the audience or working at the movie theater.
There’s a different, and better way, to write about media coverage of women. In this week’s issue of The Nation, the University of Minnesota’s Mary Jo Kane also writes glowingly of the coverage of the US Women’s soccer team. But Kane’s piece doesn’t just start or end with the World Cup. She discusses the economic pressure women athletes work under, the context of the coverage and the work still to be done. Her piece stands in stark contrast to Bruni’s column, which suggests that the feminist revolution is here because a few films have portrayed women fairly.
Frustrating too is Bruni’s narrow reading of American pop culture. In a time when the average movie ticket costs far more than the minimum wage and social media is free, why would you write a piece about cultural progress by only citing two films, a novel and a sports tournament? Maybe if Bruni had went on YouTube he would have seen nineteen percent’s video— and re-written his column. “But a simple survey of reality is we don’t run anything,” she passionately tells the camera. “These messages of girl power in art, media and music are useless unless there is actual work being done behind them.”