When Sarcasm Attacks: A Message to the Writers of Jezebel

Dear Jezebel,

We love your site. We love the way you take down obnoxious people like this guy with mockery while at the same time articulating exactly what is wrong with their viewpoint. We love your sarcastic brand of humor which tempers the boiling rage that such people inspire. We like a lot of your other articles too, those that might discuss a slightly more serious problem or discuss issues many people might have.

But sometimes, you can be really fucking annoying.

It’s not often that this happens, honestly. Most of the time we read your articles with glee. Every now and then, however, you attempt to tackle a very nuanced, complex situation by using the same techniques employed so effectively to destroy MRAs.

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Take your article on the U.S. government shutdown for instance. Your headline calling it a “slutdown” implies that the whole controversy is over one provision in the health care law dealing with birth control access. The rest of your article supports this initial impression.

However, this idea that it is one paramount provision leading to the shutdown is incorrect. The (admittedly really stupid) conflict is over the whole healthcare law, including provisions that have nothing to do with birth control. Among other things, conservatives don’t like the individual mandate, they don’t like the healthcare exchange, and yes, they also object to requiring employers to provide insurance that covers birth control. Some of the conflict and subsequent shutdown is even simply due to pure obstinance and political maneuverings that have very little to do with healthcare and much more to do with the overall political climate in the U.S. government. The conservative tea party wing of the Republican party is holding much of the rest of it hostage, trying to defund a law (NOT a bill; the health care mandate has been a law for some time) that was upheld by the Supreme Court last year.

You wouldn’t know that from the Jezebel article though, mostly because it’s too busy trying to make a reason to call the shutdown a “slutdown.”

Yes, this is a fun play on words, but it also obscures the deeper issues. Now, there is no way the issue of the healthcare crisis and the shutdown can be adequately covered in a single blog post, by Jezebel, us, or any faceless person on the internet. However, there is a difference between choosing to focus on one aspect of an issue and constructing that aspect as the MOST important.

It's a balancing act, Jezebel.

It’s a balancing act, Jezebel.

There is no reason Jezebel shouldn’t focus on birth control and the conscience clause; it is a blog about women’s issues. But why not acknowledge that you are discussing ONE aspect of a conflict? That it is not the only issue, it is simply the one more important to you. Acknowledging some other factors and then going on to discuss birth control does not seem that hard a task to achieve. This article is a perfect example.

Now, Jezebel backs up its thinking with some quotes from U.S. Congressmen.

A spokesperson for Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp told CNN on Saturday night that he’d been “pushing for the (conscience clause) since he entered Congress” and that was a “big deal.” Rep. Trent Franks told reporters that he was super stoked about the conscience clause, as a mandatory birth control benefit was “one of the worst things” about Obamacare and implied that a lot of Republicans were totally stoked about shutting down the government over fear of unbridled whoredom.

So. Two of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives believe that birth control is a big deal. Maybe it is for them. However, that still leaves hundreds of other members who emphasize a wide range of issues. For example, here is a National Review article arguing about problems in implementing the health care mandate, and here is the transcript of Ted Cruz’s marathon speech against the mandate. Neither claim that birth control issues drive their deep opposition.

Even ignoring the fact that Jezebel chooses to paint birth control and the conscience clause as the deciding factor in the shutdown, there is still the need for a little less comedic hyperbole and a little more nuance. Take this paragraph for example:

[T]he House passed a spending bill that attached to it several whackadoodle provisions, including…a year-long “conscience clause” that would allow women’s bosses to declare certain types of birth control icky and deny women who work for their companies the ability to use their company benefits on whore pills. This is a tactic that makes about as much sense as refusing to pay your mortgage unless your banker agrees to start getting bikini waxes, but WEEEE! It’s a wingnut free-for-all!

The basic idea is fine; these are idiotic provisions and need to be called out as such. Further, there IS a real issue with the conscience clause, and it is very problematic that employers can potentially have such control over women’s reproductive rights.

But here, everything simplified to employers “declare[ing] certain types of birth control icky.” We haven’t heard someone use icky as a real word since elementary school, and it’s clearly used here as a method of satire. But what if we wanted to know more about this important issue? What exactly do employers declare them, because we certainly doubt they declare “We deem this pill icky!”.

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Do they ban it? Can only certain types of birth control be used? How will a company designate birth control as not covered in its insurance? These seem like important issues readers would be interested in hearing more about.

Let’s look at another short passage:

Congress, for all the important post office naming and symbolic grandstanding they do, will continue to be paid. But what about Obamacare? What about birth control? WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE SLUTS WE SO FEAR?

Beneath the language used, this excerpt is simply saying that Congress has become an often ineffective instrument when dealing with important policy areas, and they are demonstrating that the effects of the shutdown will be felt by ordinary Americans forced to forego paychecks, not the health care mandate or its birth control provisions. Again, why is it so difficult to explain this in adult language? Satire and exaggeration as is used here is an important tool, but sometimes serious issues need to be talked about seriously. People should understand the myriad of problems the Republicans have with “Obamacare” and how their refusal to budge on these issues led to the shutdown.

Think of it this way. Both of us are firmly on the side of the mandate, believe it is a good thing, and think that the majority of blame in this case falls firmly on the House Republicans. We also happen to be very knowledgable and conversant on U.S. politics.

But maybe we didn’t have the understanding of the issue we did; maybe we just know we are liberal Democrats who should support the mandate but largely don’t pay much attention to politics. Maybe we read Jezebel more than we read the New York Times. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were offered a good, brief summary of the mandate and the shutdown? We certainly wouldn’t fair well in an argument if we thought the “slutdown” was all about “whore pills” and employers’ ability to declare birth control “icky.” I don’t know about Jezebel, but I’d want my readership to be informed on the issues and able to hold their own in an argument against those who support the “drunk old men running Congress,” not simply laughed at for their simplistic view of a wider range of problems.

We like you Jezebel. We really, really do. We just wish you could give your readers some more information to stand on sometimes.

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