So yesterday when BITCH Magazine posted a link to xoJANE’s new series “Getting Pregnant with Michelle Tea” on its Facebook page, it also listed a disclaimer that “xoJANE is emphatically not awesome”. Several followers asked why, so I posted the link to Cat Marnell’s article on using Plan B as her primary birth control option as one reason lots of people aren’t so psyched about Jane Pratt’s new site. About a month ago the post created an uproar in the feminist blogosphere, and ignited a war of words between THE GLOSS and xoJANE. Personally, I was shocked and dismayed by the piece, but so many people were writing about it and it received so many comments on the site that I didn’t feel the need to put in my two cents. There was a fairly wide range of opinions. GIRLS LIKE GIANTS, a blog run by fellow media scholar Phoebe Bronstein, posted a response I appreciated on the difficulties of “fair” critique on the Internet. Pratt herself wrote several revelatory responses, including this statement on the site’s philosophy toward its writing:
“We believe in giving each woman the agency of her own story, and the freedom to be whatever kind of woman she wants to be. We don’t ask our writers to change themselves to fit any mold. We do ask them to be honest, and willing to expose their own mistakes and flaws. We have no ‘expert’ perspectives. Every story is a personal story.”
This emphasis on freedom of expression was especially important as many questioned how Marnell could have a position like “Health Critic” when she appeared so irresponsible and unknowledgeable. Pratt explained that
“I was looking for someone to write about Health issues from a non-healthy perspective. I personally find it more interesting to read about someone trying/struggling to be healthy than someone who has it all together (plus there are plenty of those awesome experts out there already and I turn to them when I want sound Health advice). The title I gave Cat was ‘Health Critic’. She does not give health ‘advice’.”
Now there’s this.
So more back story is that Marnell seems to have a history of problems with substance abuse and mental health. She still uses on a regular basis, and she still writes about it on a regular basis, even though it seems that she’s been warned not to. Now Jane Pratt is actively inviting readers to weigh in on what they would do in her position.
Admittedly I’m not very sympathetic to such issues, and I’m not a fan of the Hunter S. Thompson School of Journalism, so here’s my stance: enough is enough. I get that freedom of expression is valuable, and I get that women’s stories are valuable. But Marnell’s stories don’t seem to be contributing much except controversy. I don’t think I’ve seen one piece by Marnell that made me think, “Wow, that really opened my eyes to an important issue facing women today”. All of her articles ultimately end up being about her, in really unnecessary and disturbing ways. For example, this piece was supposed to be about making your bed sexy smelling. Alright, not a Pulitzer Prize-winner, but enticing enough to draw me in. Suddenly however, I’m not reading an article about sexy-smelling beds but instead reading a workplace drug drama.
And that’s the truth of this situation. This is a WORKPLACE issue. Jane Pratt is an editor, not a counselor. She’s obviously a caring woman, but she seems like she’s also one whose care is being abused by a troubled woman using the forum of xoJANE to air her issues.
Let’s be frank about that forum too. xoJANE is comparable online to JEZEBEL, CRUSHABLE, or THE GLOSS, and in print to GLAMOUR or MARIE CLAIRE. It’s a nichecasted, profit-driven enterprise. It’s designed to draw certain readers to sell certain products. It’s not hard-hitting investigative journalism or in-depth personal think pieces. I didn’t design it that way; Jane Pratt did. Most of Marnell’s writing involves beauty products. Her role is not to blow the lid off drug addiction or detail personal experiences of rehab. It’s essentially to recommend creams and powders, just not the ones she seems to be getting the most attention for writing about.
As another respondent commented, Marnell is a liability. She’s a liability because she’s making her problematic personal (and illegal) behavior so central to her work to the point of admitting that she’s writing coked up. She’s also a liability because she detracts from so much other good writing on the site, from people I’ve enjoyed and admired like Lesley Kinzel. From this point if I read Marnell it will be out of curiosity for her current level of crazy, not out of any interest in her topic or trust in her voice. She’s not an attraction; she’s a distraction. If she gets her act together she might write some really interesting stuff some day. In the meantime let her write it someplace else.