If you were on the internet at all last week, you likely read Kate Menendez’s nose dive of a 20-something manifesto, “Being Privileged Isn’t A Choice, So Stop Hating Me For It.” No matter where I went, people asked me about it — and about my response, in which I gave Ms. Menendez a dosage of real talk. I stand by my critique of Kate Menendez and her writing, because that article made her come off like a self-obsessed douche who thinks her doorman seriously gives a shit about what she does. It played into the worst stereotypes of my generation, and I like to believe we’re better than that. I believe in us.
However, I was surprised that the post got the wide amount of circulation it did, a deafening amount of criticism for someone who seems barely out of high school. Of course, this is a bit of pot calling the kettle black, but outlets as vast as Slate, The Atlantic, Jezebel and CNN were all covering what amounted to graffiti on the wall of a bathroom. The internet was suddenly very interested about what Kate Menendez thinks about the world.
This is mostly because taking her down was easy, like shooting a privileged fish in a J. Crew barrel, and taking her down requires less brainpower than trying to get people to care about Syria — and failing. Of course, it also drives traffic.
Even as one of Menendez’s biggest critics, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the fury over the “deranged” sorority girl email published on Gawker and Deadspin in April, the subject of a million internet parodies. If you’ve been in some sort of media deprivation chamber for the last six months, the email chastises the sister’s fellow housemates for being “so fucking awkward” and “so fucking boring” while mingling with their partner fraternity. It’s amusing that she cares so much about something so trivial, and the term “c*nt punt” was never the same again.
But why did it matter to begin with?
Our media is always obsessed with what white women do — whether it’s have sex or whatever else happens on Pretty Little Liars — but never more so than when we can tear them down. Rebecca Martinson surely had the criticism coming, because she sounds like a character from a David Mamet play, but I wondered if she would have attracted the same amount of attention if she were anyone else. If you read her email as having been written by a man, it simply doesn’t play the same — or have the same comic bite. It’s because if the writer were male, he wouldn’t be funny. He’d just be a jerk — and a potential serial killer.
Similarly, I wonder how Kate Menendez’s article would have been received if it were penned by a male writer. Would we have just rolled our eyes and clicked away, dismissing it as just another tool in the shed? Would we have tweeted about it or posted it in the same way, expressing our shock and disbelief? I have a friend who writes about his experiences with wealth on the internet frequently, showing the same casual relationship to extraordinary privilege as Kate Menendez, but he has yet to be criticized for it. He even writes about his doorman, but no one seems to give a shit what he does.
My friend is allowed to be privileged in a way that Ms. Menendez isn’t, because her essay can be easily categorized as the rant of a “rich b*tch,” which is how many described her. It’s not just that she’s wealthy; she’s a wealthy woman. This plays into both the way we gender excessive consumption and a culture where women are attacked in a way that men are not. Remember when America got upset with Janet Jackson for having a boob but not Justin Timberlake for exposing it? Welcome to the gender divide.
I’ve written before about my experiences writing under a gender-neutral name on the internet, where it seems to actively anger commenters that they can’t figure out my gender. On my Kate Menendez piece, a man responded to me by angrily interpellating me as “he/she/it,” as if it should embarrass me to have a woman’s name. I just don’t think that there’s anything embarrassing about being a woman.
However, the opposite almost never happens. No one ever tries to shame me for being a man. I’ve been called “that girl,” “some girl,” “this bitch” or “a c*nt” before, but I have yet to ever be taunted for my maleness. It just doesn’t happen. Have you ever heard someone say “Stop being such a guy” or “You throw like a boy” to make fun of someone? Do we ever laugh at women for wearing men’s clothing — or do we find it kind of sexy, like when a girl wears basketball shorts?
Being a man isn’t a put down, but there’s nothing more telling to me that in the gay community when a guy starts acting like a jerk, you might hear his gender get swapped: “She’s being a bitch tonight.”
Although we don’t always realize it, Kate Menendez’s gender is a major factor in the way we’ve been educated to unpack her writing, whether it’s conscious or not. The authorial voice is important to the way in which we read a text, and female voices have long been dismissed — whether that’s in print or elsewhere. It’s why documentaries rarely have female narrators and movie trailers rarely feature a female voice of God.
Research has shown that audiences “trust” male voices more than they do women’s and that female voices lack “authority” and “credibility.” The same studies also showed that subjects believed deeper voices to be “smarter,” although women were kinder to higher-pitched voices than men were. When we want to mock women for being dumb, we don’t give them a low voice like a man. We make them sound like a screechy Valley Girl, what Kate Menendez likely sounds like in your head.
Writing in the 19th century, George Eliot worked under a male pen name to escape the criticism that comes from simply being female. However, in the age of the internet, that kind of scrutiny is inescapable, whether you’re posting pictures from an Eminem concert or giving a speech while being named Anne Hathaway. The parody of deranged femininity becomes perfect hate click bait, giving Kate Menendez enough rope to hang herself in public for mass spectacle. Whether it’s on Revenge or on our monitor, we love seeing women ripped apart for sport — or else no one would be paying attention to Miley Cyrus anymore.
Kate Menendez and Rebecca Martinson only matter because of what they give us: something to laugh at. Society loves an easy target, especially if the target has a vagina.