A friend once asked me to explain why conservatives were embracing Tammy Bruce, who, despite her exposé of the Left, still held beliefs that were not in keeping with some conservative policies or beliefs. I thought about it for one minute and responded that there are two reasons we love Tammy. The first, she gave us an insider’s report of the Left and confirmed things that we either knew were going on, or suspected were going on. The second reason I offered was more important. Tammy Bruce stood up and declared, “I am not a victim, and I am tired of being told that I am.” When boiled down to the bone, conservatism is really about disavowing victimhood, and we welcome Bruce on that core level.
We can now embrace another strong woman who thumbs her nose at victimhood. In Myrna Blyth's newest book, Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness and Liberalism to the Women of America (St. Martin’s Press), Blyth offers us an insider’s exposé of the world of women’s media. As the former editor-in-chief of the Ladies’ Home Journal and the founding editor of MORE magazine, Blyth confesses her own guilt as a former “spin sister” and redeems herself with insightful and witty examples of how their world works. Along the way, we are treated to salacious morsels of gossip about Katie Couric, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Connie Chung and Liz Smith — the doyennes of the sisterhood.
From Blyth we learn that Spin Sisters tell you what to think and how to feel. Spin Sisters are the Girls’ Club of the media elite who lunch, party, and weekend together, support the same liberal causes and think alike. Spin Sisters present their favorite celebrities’ liberal messages with a halo of approval and they try to act like they’re your closest girlfriends. Spin Sisters think all women should agree with them because they are so very sure they know what’s good for you.
The world of women’s media includes the long-standing women’s service magazines, fashion magazines, and network morning shows and magazine journal shows. On top of that, we have Barbara Walter’s daytime chat show, The View, and two television networks for women, Lifetime and Oxygen. Blyth tells us the dirty secret of this conglomerate: it sells itself to American women by telling us we are “perpetually frazzled, frumpy, fearful or failing.”
Blyth starts off the book by laying out the power of women’s media. Five of the top ten magazines are edited specifically for women, and the other five have large female audiences. Women’s magazines have been the topic of numerous academic studies as they “mold the way women think and feel about their lives and the world.” Television news and journal shows are directed to women viewers and advertisers use those shows to peddle their products to women. In fact, most prime time television is directed toward women. Think about the number of sitcoms that portray a slim, sexy, beautiful woman married to a sloppy dufus of a guy who learns in every episode just how lucky he is to have snagged this babe. The formula: the women are smart, the men are dumb, and the kids know it. With that kind of power, women’s media has the ability to really change the way women perceive their lives.
Women’s media has convinced the generation of women, who have more independence and opportunity than their mothers and grandmothers ever dreamed of, that their lives are a burden. With humor, Blyth walks us through the 1970s Betty Friedan-inspired repudiation of the “traditional woman,” through the 1980s exaltation of the working woman, to the 1990s effort to bust the “supermom” myth ushering in the age of hyper-self-indulgence and narcissism. Blyth points to the irony that the same mundane housekeeping tasks Friedan abhorred became the basis of the Martha Stewart empire targeted to the same cohort of women.
Victimhood is sold to us in every headline and every story. We learn from Blyth how to construct the ultimate women’s story: the female fear factor. For Dateline or 20/20 to attract a female audience, the story has to have three main components: 1) fear; 2) a threat that endangers children; and 3) a distraught mother. And the victimhood model of women’s media is intertwined with the victimhood model of politics. Advisors to local TV stations trying to keep women focused on the news tell producers to dress it up in a victim story, including news about politics and governance.
Victimhood has become the badge of honor in both politics and women’s media. To illustrate her point, Blyth shows us how the Spin Sisters created the myth of Hillary Clinton as First Victim, and connects the dots between the overselling of stress to women to the Clintonian “I feel your pain” mantra. Suddenly, every politician is trying to reassure the American woman that he understands her stressful life and seeks to offer remedies to reduce that stress. By selling stress, the Spin Sisters have had a hand in shaping the political landscape even though that wasn’t the motivating factor in the sale.
The funniest chapter in Blyth’s book covers the media queens at work and play. We get to take a peek into their ostentatious and privileged lives and laugh at how silly they appear when they try to tell us they are just like all the frazzled, busy moms out there. Blyth also shows us their political leanings and how and why they will champion the leftist cause of celebrity women. Often, it’s not so much about support in what the celebrity is doing as much as getting the interview no one else can get. If that requires promoting some cause they know little about, so be it.
At the same time, members of the women’s media do chose to support liberal organizations, and then try to backtrack and say they are neutral when that contribution is made public. For example, Hearst magazines, the owner of numerous fashion mags, supports many feminist organizations including the National Organization for Women, and Diane Sawyer is a supporter of the Ms. Foundation. But the board of Hearst and Diane would both attest that they are not biased because of that support. Blyth points out that these groups say that by supporting them, you are supporting “women and their issues.” But the truth is, that support is only about some women and some issues, a distinction lost on a left-leaning Spin Sister who can’t imagine that all women don’t think like she does.
In other cases, the Spin Sisters simply exhibit a deplorable lack of political acumen. Connie Chung sang a parody about getting an interview with Osama bin Laden at the party to announce her short-lived show on CNN. The editor of Marie Claire took up the cause of an African woman who claimed that she was a princess seeking asylum in the U.S. to avoid genital mutilation. As it turned out, the woman was a fraud and the real princess had her name and family destroyed by Marie Claire’s interference. Possibly the most stunningly stupid example is that of Vogue editor Anna Wintour who announced that the magazine’s response to 9/11 would be to launch an historic fashion industry initiative for the women of Afghanistan. In a country where women desperately needed obstetrical care, sanitized water and education, Vogue was going to bring them beauty salons in an effort to boost their self-esteem.
Overall, Blyth tells us that the Spin Sisters operate under the assumption that “our political attitudes should be based on redressing the accumulated wrongs we continue to experience because as women we are a victimized group. And if, by chance, you don’t buy their political line, well then, there must be something wrong with you.” Real women, with their casseroles, scrapbooking parties, working class husbands and religious beliefs are simply too boring and too out of touch with what women should want and should be. Bottom line: they just don’t know anything.
Despite the suspicions of conservatives that female editors and producers join forces with feminist groups and plan ways to get the liberal word out, Blyth contends that there is no “vast feminist conspiracy.” Instead, what we have is a one-dimensional look at the world from the streets of Manhattan. It is simply beyond the comprehension of these women that they do not speak for all women, and that is what makes them dangerous. Blyth writes, “(W)hether in their editorials or in between the lines of their feature stories, they offer you only one opinion, about any and all social and political issues.” With the power of women’s media in the hands of women who are true believers of their own spin, it is unlikely that they will recognize their overt bias.
Blyth finishes her witty look into the world of the Spin Sisters with six ways regular women can protect themselves from their influence. Her goal for this book was not to make the Spin Sisters change their behavior (they won’t) but to offer some insight for regular women as to how they are being manipulated. According to Blyth, it’s okay to read fashion magazines and watch television. She just suggests that women think twice before buying into what the Sisters say. They are not women “just like us”; they are a sisterhood unto their own.