Speaking of Women's Rights: Got a soapbox? Use it wisely.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Got a soapbox? Use it wisely.

Look at this horrible, horrible advice.

A woman is raped by her boss on a business trip, decides to have the baby, her husband leaves her. Years later she wants to reconnect with her ex, and writes to Lesley Garner (an advice columnist for the UK’s Daily Telegraph) for guidance.

Garner’s reply: You weren’t raped, you should’ve had an abortion, and your husband’s awful reaction is completely understandable.


Writers with access to large audiences have a responsibility to talk about women’s issues in a way that makes sense and doesn’t reinforce hundreds of years worth of oppression and stereotypes.

An advice columnist is uniquely positioned to A. set a graceful example for handling tough situations by showing a true grasp of what someone is going through, and B. make an important introduction that feminists have advocated for decades – “Hello, Personal, I’d like you to meet Political – I think you’ll find you have a lot in common!” There’s an opportunity in this column to bring awareness to all kinds of political issues (workplace harassment and assault, a woman’s right to choose, single motherhood...), but what does Lesley Garner do? Blame, scold and shame the victim.

Ignoring the bad apple for a moment, I’d like to point out some people using their soapboxes for good, not evil: The Sexist , who tipped me off to Garner’s faux pas. Also, Bitch Magazine (especially in a recent article pondering what the world would be like if we reacted to rape the way we are to H1N1.)

If you’d like to advise Lesley Garner on better ways to use her column, you can contact the Daily Telegraph here and comment on the original article here.

Here’s an opportunity that hasn’t yet been missed: The Seattle Times recently covered a story about a man who disappeared suddenly last year. (He was found sometime later living in another state under another name.) The article points out the extraordinary attention the case garnered – anonymous tipsters called in with their theories, guesses, and offers to assist.

How often do you see a “woman goes missing” story get that kind of response? I think it’s a point that deserves to be raised in a public forum by a reader. Original article here if you’d like to comment.

Photo credit: visual.dichotomy