Jon and Kate, Plus Millions of Female Tabloid Readers

Even if you don’t watch reality television, or television at all for that matter, you’d be hard-pressed to avoid the recent controversy over Kate and Jon Gosselin, and their eight children. The stars of the beloved reality spectacle, Jon and Kate, Plus Eight, are divorcing. Despite salacious rumors about infidelity, they claim that it is just a gradual growing apart and, they add, the media spotlight certainly did help matters. It’s hard to feel much empathy for a couple complaining of overexposure when they signed the contract that would expose their entire family, eight little children included, to 24 hour cameras.
But perhaps it’s not just the media, or Jon and Kate, that are to blame. Kiri Blakeley, of Forbes.com, argues that female consumers are also culprits in this family dissolution. We’re the ones hungrily scavenging for every last juicy morsel about the couple’s demise, particularly the stories about what Kate did wrong, Blakeley argues. We’re feeding the sexist media beast. She writes:

It’s obvious who is devouring the Monster Mom headlines: Women. Research firm Mediamark estimates 73% of US Weekly’s, 83% of In Touch’s, and 77% of Star magazine’s audience are female.

It’s complicated. One of the most powerful ways in which we can practice our feminism is in our consumption choices. This can mean everything from where we buy our food to what kind of tampons we use to, yes, what magazines we read. The editors of feministing aren’t afraid to admit that we’ve got some of our own guilty pleasures (All My Children, horror movies, reggaeton etc.), but they induce guilt for a reason–we know that our consumption of these things contradicts our values on some level.
No one’s perfect. At the same time, I get incredibly sick of hearing everyone complain about the quality (or lack thereof) in the magazines marketed at women, and then turn around and support these same magazines by buying them at the airport kiosk. If we really want television programming or print media that speaks to our issues, then we need to tune into shows that reflect our desires, write letters to the magazines that don’t.
It takes some self-discipline to avoid some of the more salacious crap on television and in print, that’s for sure. But if we really want the media world to change, then we’re going to have to start taking responsibility for our consumption choices. A guilty pleasure here or there makes us human. Blindly consuming “monster mom” stories about Kate Gosselin, celebrity weight loss exposes, or the latest Real Housewives series threatens to keep the sexist status quo very much in place.
I’m wondering how the feministing community draws the lines when it comes to television and media consumption. Do you allow yourself People magazine at the airport? Do you watch reality television that degrades women? Have you ever written a letter to the editor when a magazine did something you either loved or hated? Why or why not?

See community blogger crazyface8d on the topic.

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80 Comments

  1. lyndorr
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    Is there really something wrong with watching though? Now I feel less inclined to want to watch the show because I know the problems it has caused their marriage. But the problem seems to be more the way people talk about Kate, as you showed examples of. The producers tried to show reality. I don’t think they tried to make Kate look bad though people interpret things in a certain way. In the beginning, I’m sure they were both really hoping people would watch and thus help with their financial struggles. I don’t have TV but when I go where there is cable, I might watch it because I think the kids are cute.
    Personally, I hate those magazines, especially certain ones, because I don’t think having lies and speculation about you publicized should be part of the job description of being a famous actor or in a reality show. So my reason isn’t focused on feminism except that these “shocking” headlines seem to focus on and demean women more often than men.

  2. Interior_League
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    You say you love her
    as if you knew her. But you
    don’t know her, do you?
    I don’t think they’re real.
    Jon and Kate plus billions
    of ones and zeroes.
    Computer contrived
    simulacra, an endless
    digital buffet.
    Their non-existence
    exists to feed appetites
    for entertainment.
    The same is true of
    your facebook “friends” that you so
    blithely deleted.

  3. rileystclair
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    are they really getting 50k an episode?
    that strikes me as high. i don’t know how popular the show really was pre-scandal, so i guess it’s possible, but unlikely in that market.
    anyway i quit the celeb gossip habit over a year ago and i’m much better off for it. it’s hard because this is an industry town and i work in the industry and all, but i only tangentially keep up with any gossip these days, and i no longer read the ‘bloid-blogs or buy US weekly or anything like that. i rarely watch television to begin with (not having had cable until very recently helped a TON), so i try to avoid all the vh1 reality schlock. not that i’m condemning anyone whose particular guilty pleasure that stuff is–i certainly have my guilty pleasures. reality tv just doesn’t happen to be one of them, and i AM kind of proud of myself for kicking the habit of celebrity gossip, because i recognized that it’s damaging to women, to society as a whole, and i just plain felt icky after wasting an hour on defamer/thesuperficial/etc.

  4. Alessa
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 2:28 am | Permalink

    Not only is your point completely valid, but in addition I can’t help but want to take a black marker to every single one of those covers about them. They are all shaming HER! I saw one today along the lines of “Jon driven away by Kate’s controlling attitude” on People or something like that – and yet HE’S the one who CHEATED. Every single cover I have seen goes along the lines of HER PERSONALLY DESTROYING HER OWN DREAM and BEING A BAD MOTHER.
    What the hell?!!?! We are blaming her consistently for this whole damn thing, when HE cheated!! And it’s not to mention that it’s NOBODIES business.
    God but beyond everything this crucifixion of Kate has been driving me crazy. I just want to send her a letter of apology for the entire human race.

  5. gwen
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    Totally agree, Courtney. And funnily enough, these mags DID used to be my guilty pleasure at the airport – but I had to draw the line when ALL of them covered the Rhianna/Chris Brown affair so despicably. A girl’s gotta draw the line somewhere, and a photo of a domestic violence survivor’s face posted without her permission is mine.
    Guess I’ll no longer know what’s going on with Brangelina or Lindsay and Sam. I’m okay with that.

  6. Honeybee
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    I don’t think there is a single answer to this question, but I know alot of women who are into celebrity gossip and such (this is my interpretation at least) because it makes them feel better about themselves.
    They see these super good looking women, famous women with tons of money and perfect bodies having all these troubles with men and drugs, etc. and then they feel better about themselves, either because they have similar problems or it helps to show that these people are NOT perfect, and to a certain extent it makes them think that men will like these women less because of their problems. I don’t think men actually care though, but some people think they do.

  7. Honeybee
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    I don’t buy these magazines but I do read the headlines when in line, and I do sometimes read gossip sites online. Not because I really care about it – just because so many women I know love to talk about this stuff that I feel I should maintain at least a passing interest/knowledge in it so I can share in their discussions. It’s kinda like sports for men in a way. I know guys who maintain a passing interest in sports so they can talk with other guys about it (especially guys they don’t know that well). It’s a similar thing for me with this. Plus the odd the story is actually pretty entertaining. But most are not.

  8. Honeybee
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Do we know for sure that he cheated? I actually watched the new episode last night where they talked about it, and neither one of they said anything about anyone cheating, they just kept saying how they fight all the time and it’s not good for the kids.
    I guess I should thought the tabloids were making that up. Because they also say that she cheated with her bodyguard and maybe some other guy. So I just wrote off all the stories as unfounded rumours.
    But did he cheat? Did she cheat? How do we know for sure?

  9. insomniac
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Have you seen Sarah Haskin’s episode on Charm school? I don’t know about how much the show helps those women if what she showed was an accurate representation.

  10. Hypatia
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I don’t mean in anyway that feminists, or any other type of activist, must be “perfect” people in order to get what they want. I just meant that we shouldn’t justify and compromise our values just so that we may indulge in a “guilty pleasure” guilt-free. Everyone contradicts themselves–its part of being human. But it is also human to take responsibility for our actions, not find a loop-hole in our integrity that allows for us to break our own rules.
    So I don’t condemn the vegan who decides to eat an egg one day, or the feminist who spontaneously picks up Us magazine. But what if the vegan decides that they secretly enjoy the taste of eggs, and to make up for the self-contradictions, decides to call it a “guilty pleasure” so that they may still call themselves a vegan and continue to indulge their taste without restraint. I think there is something wrong with that.

  11. Liza
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I really think we should stop rewarding people with TV shows when they crank out too many kids.

  12. Feminista_84
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I’m chafing slightly at the tone of some of these posts. I’m really happy for everyone that can cut TV and some pop culture out of their lives. But, sometimes a girl is tired and needs a break. And sometimes I watch John and Kate and I find them fascinating and I don’t feel the need to justify it.

  13. Ruby
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    It’s actually 75K an episode.

  14. Athenia
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Women are socialized to be “relationship experts” so I feel that’s the reason why more women tune to see the drama or simply, see how another family runs their family.
    I think Tabloids suck, not because they exist, but because of their content. I feel it’s completely fair to talk about Jon and Kate’s private life because, well, they have opened their family to it. I feel the question is–why can’t tabloids provide interesting commentary (i.e. like Bitch, Feministing).
    I mean, one tabloid had the whole “spanking” thing on the cover—how is that scandalous?
    I’d kinda like to work for one of these magazines to see which covers sell and which don’t.
    My favorite tabloid (or magazine) is People, I rarely buy it, but I’ll read it at the doctor’s office, or hairstylist’s or something. I feel at least for that magazine, they actually don’t make up stuff, they have a little bit of everything–fashion, gossip, reviews and articles about relatively important issues or stories.

  15. blissed0and0gone
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I read gossip mags in the checkout line too, or at least the covers. For me its more like watching a freak show. Usually I’m grocery shopping with my husband and we cause a scene hollering “what the fuck is this?!?” at the cellulite articles or the love triangles. But at the same time, using others for my own freak-show entertainment is pretty bad. These are real actual people with a career that commoditizes them for our viewing pleasure. I think we tend to see them as empty shells of a human, just pretty faces on the red carpet, and forget that there’s a real person in there. That makes it easy for us to see others as less than human and treat them accordingly.

  16. Cicada Nymph
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Yes! Why are we rewarding people for being environmentally and socially irresponsible? It isn’t cute. Jon and Kate are bad enough, but every time I see the media fawning over the Dugger family I feel like throwing up.

  17. Rachel
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    As someone who has struggled with eating disorders and body image issues in the past, I avoid any kind of publication that seeks to make women feel bad about their bodies and themselves. This is somewhat difficult considering that I am a news junkie and this kind of drivel is regurgitated even in respected mainstream media outlets, but it’s done a world of good for my personal sanity.

  18. concrete_queen
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I heard that Kate said it was $60K an episode.. but whatever the number is, I would have done it. I used to love watching Jon and Kate and their 8 adorable children, but now the show is super sad (however, I will admit that I still watch it). I dont think there is anything wrong with them agreeing to do the show. When they had the twins (I think), they were so broke they moved into a Habitat for Humanity house and then they had sextuplets! I dont think they should be compared to Octo-mom either. Like many couples, they had trouble conceiving and sought medical help. With that help comes the possibility of multiples. The first several seasons of the show were just the lives of this family and their everyday struggles. It was great! It makes me crazy that people blame all of their problems on doing the show. Life is hard. Having 8 kids is hard. Money helps, but people are still people and they grow apart. I just really hope the children get some sense of normalcy @ some point in their lives!

  19. concrete_queen
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    thank you. I enjoy my fair share of reality tv and dont think I should feel like less of a feminist for it!

  20. Kathleen6674
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Especially since the only times I tend to read those types of magazines is at airports/train stations/doctor’s offices! Those are contexts in which I’m likely to be sitting around bored waiting for someone/something else to get around to me. I prefer reading fluffy crap in those situations because I don’t mind being interrupted and/or having to look up and check the clock every 5 minutes.

  21. Kathleen6674
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Good point. I’ve been on exactly two airplane trips in my entire life (both with dirt-cheap Priceline tickets) because I just don’t have the money to travel much.
    Now, bus stations I know my way around. Anyone who has had to sit on her luggage at Port Authority lest someone snatch it knows you probably aren’t going to be reading “War and Peace” under those circumstances.

  22. Alessa
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Fair point. Regardless, I’m sick of her being constantly put down by the media. Honestly I’m disgusted with all of this.

  23. BackOfBusEleven
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    I just watched the Target Women video, and I think it really does sell the show short. The women who aren’t progressing get eliminated from the show. Violent acts result in an automatic expulsion, which happened in the first episode. Ashley, who shares her fears in the clip, is probably the most reprehensible person who’s still on the show, and I’m just waiting for her to be sent home. The others have made great progress, especially in the episode where they share their fears. They shared experiences of abuse, molestation, and stalking. Those women weren’t represented in the video at all. I do disagree with VH1′s decision to provide alcohol, since most of the women there have binge drinking problems. Many of the women who did drink in excess have already been eliminated. The woman with probably the worst drinking problem, Marcia (the one in the video who’s sporting a mohawk), has addressed her drinking problem by making a vow to not have a single drink for the rest of the show, or else she’ll kick herself out of Charm School. So I just don’t the video really gives the show credit for giving these women an opportunity to make big changes in their lives.

  24. artdyke
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    My guilty pleasure at the airport would never be People. It was always Weekly World News… you know, the black and white one with Bat Boy on the cover. FAR more entertaining. Too bad they more or less went under… now they are an insert in some celebrity tabloid. :(
    I never understood how people can stand to read celebrity news/gossip. It’s soooooo boooooring… nevermind whether it’s anti-feminist or not. If I was gonna listen to gossip, I’d want it to at LEAST be about people I know…

  25. nella
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    The worst thing I used to read was the Superficial.com It started out quite funny, but descended into being the most obnoxiously sexist site I have seen (its a celebrity gossip site from the misogynistic male’s point of view). I would love to wage an unholy internet war on that site. Seriously that site makes me sick.

  26. blissed0and0gone
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    My roomate and I used to get that every week.. did the crosswords and everything :) Aside from the page 5 girl I think WWN was pretty cool. I wonder what’s happening with batboy these days…

  27. ShifterCat
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    This isn’t a “my media is superior” statement, just throwing my vote in.
    The only reality TV show that’s ever held my interest is Canada’s Worst Driver. The first I heard of Jon & Kate was a brief joke on The Daily Show. I always look at gossip rags and think, “Why do I care? I don’t know any of those people.”
    I do sometimes follow the blogs of writers I’m interested in, but even then I try not to engage in the “tabloid culture” thing of presuming more familiarity than I have. If I met Neil Gaiman in real life, I’d call him “Mr. Gaiman”, not “Neil”, unless told otherwise.

  28. marissafromboston
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    i always look forward to your poem comments.

  29. jruka
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    I have given up on feeling guilty a long time ago. When I was a third year soc student I had a breakdown about being a “hypocrite.” I wore mascara but identified as a feminist, despised capitalism but still got off on Marc Jacobs, believe in arts for cultural impact–beyond art for art’s sake–but watched shows like JK+8, The Real Housewives. Furthermore hated WP but felt in constant battle of my skin color. After that, I decided to stop being so hard on myself, work on identity transformation when and where possible, and begin the work that wouldn’t be finished within my life’s time.
    I do not mean to say that I felt if I hadn’t watched the show, the outcome would have been different. I just meant to communicate that it is always good to be reminded that by tuning in, I am, in a very muffled way, using my voice.
    Sometimes I think to be enlightened on the social matrix (race, gender, class, citizenship, and sexual orientation) can be alienating. When I return to my hometown in Minnesota it makes me sick that I have to seek out outlets like feministing.com to get a real look at the news and be reminded that there are people that see the world through the lens that I do. Through this alientation an uppitiness can develop…”I never read THOSE Magazines..” “The only shows I watch are…” “She had HOW many kids?” It is nice to be put in check, to be reminded that the way I live (regardless of the invisible lens I can’t take off) is not perfect.
    Sadly, I play into my own hegemony everyday.
    And yes, I love Kate, and No I have never met her. She reminds me of my mother (who has an army of small children and me) in endless ways. And although Kate would probably never identify as a feminist (Why are women so afraid of this word?!), I find inspiration in her womanhood. Rarely apologetic, the head of the house, and a very creative woman who impacts the world (i.e. child rearing choices, food choices) in positive ways that I believe some women are too quick to discredit. Long before she became famous and part of a media frenzy, she was a woman making compromises and choices everyday. And now that she is famous and the nucleous of this media frenzy she carries the same responsibility.
    A woman’s work, is never finished…her children are only eight and five.

  30. lilacsigil
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    I used to read some gossip magazines and go to gossip websites, but I stopped doing it because I felt complicit in the paparazzi’s stalking of celebrities and their families – plus I don’t like the “too fat! too thin!” shaming. It made me really uncomfortable. The other day I was waiting at the dentist and picked up a magazine and I was really glad that I don’t read them any more, because it was even more vicious and punishment-oriented. Next time, I will try not to forget my book.

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