In a previous blog post, “Esteemed journalism publication mocks single people,” I criticized journalist Dannagal Young for a remark she made about single people in her cover story in the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review. I sent her a heads-up about the story the day I wrote it, September 1, 2013.
A few days ago, she sent me an email complaining about my post. Then she published the same email here, only adding a final line in which she called me an ass. Her friends have also been sending me emails and, as you can see, posting comments to my original post. One or two were thoughtful, the others nasty.
Young offers a piece of biographical information: At the time she made her singlist remark, she was a widow. She’s right that I did not know that. I’ll even add to the basic biographical info I did not know about Young: I also thought she was a he until I searched for her email address.
If you read Young’s response to me, you will see that she has a lot to say about her previous status as a widow. She describes the time she spent caring for her first husband while he was dying. She tells us how brilliant he was and how wonderfully good-natured he was even as he lay dying a terrible death. She tells us about how hard it was for her to visit him and do her job and care for her young son. She also lets us know how difficult it was for her financially after he died in 2006.
Young also said, “It was never my intent to insult someone who is single.” I believe her. At least one person writing in her defense said that she described her experiences with her dying husband, and then as a widow, to make the point that she could not possibly have intended to insult or offend single people. I believe that person, too (and others who may be thinking the same thing).
But here’s the problem: In the CJR article, there is no context, no explanation – just a dismissive remark about single people.
No matter how awful Young’s experiences were 7 years ago, and no matter how pure her intentions are today, that doesn’t change the fact that the singlism still remains there in the article. That’s what I object to.
Remember that the Columbia Journalism Review is, as I mentioned in my original post, “an acknowledged authority on the journalism business… [and] among the most important reads in the industry.” The journalists who write there are among the media gate-keepers and norm-setters. I think CJR should be in the business of challenging those who perpetuate stereotypes of single people, not publishing singlist remarks. That was the main point of my original post and it is still the essence of what I want to convey here.
I have the same response to all the bad things Young and her friends have to say about me. No matter how horrible they think I am – and even if they are accurate in their assessment of my awfulness – that still does not make it acceptable for CJR to practice singlism.
I will let the personal attacks stand unanswered except for one kind of accusation that can be addressed with data. One person who knows Young said she thinks that what Young went through was worse than anything I could ever imagine or handle. In another email that was not particularly hateful, I was urged to put myself in Young’s shoes.
Here’s what’s interesting about those kinds of comments: They presume to know my life (and in some instances, the lives of other single people who are complete strangers to them). They never seem to consider the possibility that I, too, have cared for someone I loved deeply, who was disappearing before me, day after day, month after month. They also assume I never did such a thing while juggling the rest of my life – let’s say, hypothetically, a full-time job that was not even in the same state. They do not wonder about how single people manage such care work – or the life that follows – when they do not have a spouse’s salary or benefits or insurance to fall back on.
But many single people actually do have long-term caring experiences. In fact, when Ursula Henz analyzed the responses of a nationally representative sample of more than 9,000 British adults to the question, “Do you currently or have you ever regularly looked after someone, for at least three months, who is sick, disabled, or elderly,” she found that singles had done so more often than married people.
If my nod to personal experiences comes as a surprise to long-time readers, maybe that’s because I do not often refer to it. Maybe it is something I should write about. Maybe all singles should write more about their care-taking experiences, so we could help dispel the notion that we could not ever imagine or handle anything so difficult.
It seems clear from Dannagal Young’s post, her emails to me, and her comment posted to my original post (as well as from the remarks offered by her friends) that she feels hurt by my criticism. I have received several requests (or demands) that I apologize. So to Young, yes, I am sorry that you were hurt by my critique.
If you think that’s one of those qualified apologies, you are right. I am not going to apologize for pointing out the singlism in your article. Perhaps I should have written my criticism more gently. That would have been easier on you and your friends. In the big picture, though, journalists such as yourself are putting their work out there in the public eye, and bloggers (which you are, too) are writing in a space where directness and attitude prevail. Even if you and others had succeeded in cowing me, that might not be the end of the criticism you will get in the future as you practice your chosen profession. Nonetheless, I hope I am wrong and I wish you the best. [Correction: Young is writing about journalism in the Columbia Journalism Review but she self-identifies as a social psychologist, not a journalist.]
Some of your friends seemed intent on insulting me and inflicting all the pain they could muster, yet I have to admit that I kind of admire them. I’m glad you have fiercely protective friends. I always love it when my friends rally around me when I am feeling attacked. One of your friends actually persuaded me to tread lightly, not by piling on, but by empathizing.