Selling Anxiety: How the News Media Scare Women

By Larschan, Richard J. | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), December 2007 | Go to article overview
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Selling Anxiety: How the News Media Scare Women


Larschan, Richard J., Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Selling Anxiety: How the News Media Scare Women Caryl Rivers. Hanover: University Press of New England, 2007.

In Selling Anxiety, Boston University journalism professor Caryl Rivers argues convincingly that books and articles seeking to undermine high-achieving women's self-confidence have become a growth industry: "The news media today sell anxiety to women the way that advertising sells insecurity about their faces, bodies, and sex appeal" (1). Rivers' analysis falls somewhat short, however, of demonstrating that women actually are buying what the media is attempting to sell.

Her objective is to counteract insistent media hype about economically successful women becoming "twitching wrecks" with doomed marriages and permanently damaged children: "The more that women advance in the world of business, academia, medicine, law, economicsthe more desperately gloomy the news about women and achievement becomes" (1). And, as she persuasively demonstrates, the doom mongering is most often based on poorly designed or inadequately documented research ("dismal science"), which then gets further distorted by the press.

Why does this happen? Rivers suggests a number of interrelated causes, starting with concerted efforts by antifeminists to undo women's hard-won gains over the past four decades. Add market forces that embed advertising in news stories, and "Infotainment" aimed at the allimportant demographic of women with well-paid jobs, and resulting fears can produce a lucrative return.

But even allowing that commercial interests have joined with right-wing ideologs in an attempt to undermine women's self-confidence and promote sales of "cosmetics, diet pills, nose jobs, workout tapes, etc." (7), Rivers herself often qualifies her claim that such efforts are actually working. Selling Anxiety is punctuated with numerous "could be's," "maybe's," "probably's" (31, 35, 48), as well as cautious qualifiers like "some" (46). Nor can she resist gloating that gender-traitor Sylvia Ann Hewlett's book, "Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children" "wasn't selling" (32)-even though that very fact actually undermines Rivers' own claims.

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