Saturday, July 14, 2012

Adding “Wow” to Wonkery

It’s amusing to read about the social-media foofrah kicked up by a photograph Washington Monthly used to illustrate a fine piece in its current issue about the shortage of women at D.C. think-tank events. The article’s author, Anne Kim, doesn’t seem to share that outrage, though. She writes in the Monthly’s blog:
The photo isn’t inappropriate; it’s provocative. And it directly challenges people to confront their own biases about how beauty (or the lack thereof) affects the prospects for a woman’s success in ways that men don’t have to deal with. No one wants to admit that they take a woman's looks into account when they make judgments about her intellect, and that’s why this photo makes people uncomfortable. Let's face it--how many of us assumed that the woman in the picture had an IQ lower than her bra size?
Having spent years in the editing trenches of magazines, I certainly understand--and agree with--the Monthly’s choice to use this (stock?) image of a dark-haired and bespectacled young woman in a tank top with the exhortation “Think” stretched across her chest. It’s always challenging to convince readers to pay attention to stories, especially those of a manifestly serious nature.

Yes, it could be argued that people who pick up Washington Monthly do so because it’s a serious chronicle of national politics and policy. But a little eye candy never hurt sales any. And wouldn’t you really rather be greeted by this photo on a magazine spread than one of frumpy male wonks behind a debate table?

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