Rolling Stone’s Female Trouble

Rolling Stone tragically misreported a rape story at University of Virginia. Even the magazine admits that. But their trouble around women’s issues goes way beyond this one story. It’s a problem as deep as the magazine’s roots in 1960s counterculture. Rather than embracing the feminism of that era, Jann Wenner turned the music magazine into a men’s magazine, focusing on male artists, male critics, male interests. Just peruse the magazine’s mastheads and bylines for the last five decades; except for a brief period in the late ’70s, female writers and editors have been marginalized and tokenized.

Musicians have long complained about the way the magazine has depicted them  — if it depicts them at all. Joni Mitchell refused to talk to Rolling Stone for years because she said the magazine had focused on her romantic relationships, not her groundbreaking music. Heart’s Wilson sisters write disparagingly of the magazine in their memoir.

What’s particularly sad about the UVa story is that it seemed like the magazine was finally making an effort to employ a woman writer writing about a serious, real issue for college students. But it was clear from the first, sensational paragraphs of this story — almost pornographic in their violent and unlikely detail — that the culture at Rolling Stone just doesn’t get it, still.

That said, I hope they keep trying. I hope that rather than backing away from learning to get it right, they hire women top editors and writers, give the guys there some sensitivity training, particularly Wenner. I loved Rolling Stone when I was a teen, and it broke my heart when I banged into its glass ceiling. If the magazine misreads its screwup as caused by being too sensitive to a woman’s voice, instead of culture-blind editorial bungling, this tragedy will just be deepened.

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