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April 19, 2012

Newsweek Cover/Story: Working Women Just Want to be Dominated

Good news, ladies. Tired of being on the front lines in the War on Women? Newsweek just announced that what women really want to do is “surrender.”

For those of you who thought that professional women might be fantasizing about earning the same salaries as their male counterparts, grabbing the reins at more Fortune 500 companies, achieving gender parity in Congress, or sitting at (rather than under) the desk in the Oval Office, think again. Newsweek leased its prime real estate to (post)feminist gadfly Katie Roiphe, who presents the (alleged) feminine fetish for sadomasochistic domination as feminism’s inconvenient truth.

Predictably, the blogosphere has taken Roiphe to task. Should we assume—based on her article—that this is punishment Roiphe (secretly) likes? If so, is Newsweek editor Tina Brown also “asking for it”? And what about the anonymous woman gracing Newsweek’s “link bait-y” cover?

The “working woman” getting so much attention as Newsweek’s eye candy looks more like a working girl (high class—of course). Her financial privilege is suggested by her carefully coiffed hair (note the salon quality backcombing), her elegant bone structure (a sign of good breeding), and the exaggerated bow on her silky onyx blindfold (S&M gear goes haute couture). Although she favors a power color for her lips, her open mouth and the vaguely contorted posture of her body (which leads the viewer to imagine her hands tied behind her back) signals a supposed desire to relinquish that power. Her naked body intimates that this persona is more authentic than her workday self. She is the elemental woman–stripped of pretense and relieved of power.

Ironically, the pesky power from which Newsweek thinks today’s working women needs to be unburdened is the real fantasy. Women still lag in salary, representation, and political credibility. But stereotypes about women (as citizens, voters, and workers) are often enforced visually, which is why the S&M aesthetic is used to sell everything from shoes to suits to booze; it’s even a go-to meme in politics, deployed to try to convince people to vote, go vegan, and stop patronizing circuses. Roiphe and Newsweek would have us believe that this “trend” represents a complicated and conflicted new feminism, but really it’s just the same old patriarchy at work. To be sure, women can be (and often are) participants in and perpetrators of patriarchy (I’m looking at you, Tina Brown). If Newsweek wants to contribute to cultural understanding of the challenges “working women” face, they should focus on the real battles women wage every day for physical safety, economic security, political representation, and personal autonomy. That’s the war in which women cannot afford to surrender.

–Karrin Anderson

(photo credit: not attributed online)

  • bks

    Preparing us for the GOP worldview.  When are feminists going to interrogate Romney about the place of women in the Mormon church?


  • Ande Lyons


    Thank you for keeping the spotlight on continued inequality women are faced with both in the workplace, politically, and the outdated stereotypes.

    The good news is 50 Shades has provided a much needed dialogue around women’s sexual desires… from the woman’s point of view. In my work, I see it every day … so much shame around sex… and not willing to speak about what turns a woman on… and that’s if she isn’t too exhausted to talk about what can often be seen as “one more chore.” We’re bombarded with men’s sexual desires and the pills they can take, but look at the uproar over a woman wishing to surrender in the bedroom.

    Heads up folks: women deserve to be worshiped and pleasured by their man in the bedroom… men are wired to provide… and that includes sensual pleasure to their woman. We gals just need to figure out what’s on our menu… and books like 50 Shades and the ones I curate at provide lots of delicious ideas for one’s sensual menu.

    ennifer Hunter’s quote does a nice job encapsulating why women are seeking someone to take over their sensual pleasure:

    “Every good dominant knows that the submissive is really the partner in control,” she says. “All a submissive woman has to do is relax and enjoy the ride while delicious sexual acts are visited upon her. She’s the star of the proceedings. Someone is ministering to her needs for a change. Master is choreographing all the action. The book seems to have resonated with so many women because, after a long day of managing employees, making all the decisions and looking after children, a woman might be exhausted about being in charge and long to surrender control.”

    I LOVE all the articles, posts, and discussion taking place thanks to 50 Shades. Your post is equally fabulous – thanks so much for adding to the conversation!

    Ande Lyons

    • Catherine McCallum

      Erm. Fuck off?

    • Loki Iago

      THANK you.  The subs totally are the ones in control, and the proceedings are for their pleasure!  It’s like getting head–sure, you’re the “passive” one, but it’s something you like being done for your benefit.  And in terms of BDSM, subs provide the safeword, the exact guidelines of what is okay/not okay, and they say when to stop :)

      But I agree with someone down there in the comments–this article wasn’t about how some feminists reconcile their submission with their feminism.  That would have been too classy for Newsweek /grumble grumble/

    • gayle


  • Pamela Madsen

    This has nothing to do with the work place. This is about sexual desire.  This is about people getting off women’s backs so they can stretch out, claim and integrate their unfettered sexuality.
    Why does this conversation prick at the very core of womanhood? Because
    we’ve been taught to tear ourselves into little pieces in order to
    function. The big bad sexy piece gets put in the vault and taken out
    every so often. When? Damned if I know. It seems to be when nobody is
    looking. I’m not saying women don’t have sex. But too many of them
    aren’t enjoying it as much as they could. I don’t care what the rap is
    on the liberated female, too many are not having fun. Check out my recent blog on Psychology Today, “Even Feminists Enjoy Sexual Surrender”  or my book where I tell a true real woman’s story about this. MINE. “Shameless: How I Ditched The Diets, Got Naked Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time to Cook Dinner”.  It’s time we stopping lying about sex.
    Pamela Madsen

    • Catherine McCallum

      And you, too.

    • KVA

      It was Roiphe and Newsweek that made it about the work place. They could have addressed the issue you’re talking about without tying it to women’s economic empowerment. Conflating the two is problematic.

    • Loki Iago

      Erm I’m not sure anyone’s “lying about sex” here.  Sex just doesn’t work that way for every woman and bondage just doesn’t work that way for every sub.  Some women are tops, some men are bottoms.  And the majority of subs don’t enjoy “rape” fantasies, they enjoy consensual, respectful dominance play with limits.
      Let’s not stop saying we know what every woman wants–only ONE woman can tell us what SHE ALONE wants.

    • outsider

      Try reading the article (wait, it’s in the title) before you say this doesn’t involve work/economics.  Karrin’s point is that women aren’t trying to give up some mythical power they have in the workplace in the bedroom because that power doesn’t exist.  Geez.

  • caraf

    I hope it’s okay for me to comment because I’m not selling anything! ;) I invite BAG readers to compare/contrast the cover Karrin so aptly engages with this one from March 1970:

    • Catherine McCallum

      Women are always naked to the corporate press. 
      It appears to me that no matter how high in the hierarchy of media the wags go, their little brains rule when the subject involves women.

    • Michael Shaw

      Your line is too funny. Is there a particular correlation between the subject matter and the inclination to use one’s comment as a product placement?

  • Catherine McCallum

    This is offensive on so many levels that I’d cancel my subscription to Newsweek if I hadn’t already done so years ago.

    • Zilkerette


    • outsider

      I’m sending my copy back to Tina Brown with my custom made “This Insults Women” sticker plastered across the front page photo.  I hope others who, like me, have 2 years left on their subscription, will do the same.

  • Loki Iago

    Can I have this author’s child?  I was so disgusted by Newsweek I felt physically sick, but you have given me so much hope that the world hasn’t entirely lost its mind.  Thank you so much x0x

  • Outsider

    I think Karrin’s respons was dead on accurate.  This post-feminist crap we are fed on a daily basis (through advertising, television, music videos, etc.) is getting old.  Stop packaging patriarchy as empowerment.  It never will be.  And, as usual, we get the cover with a white woman on it.  No discussion about race, class, sexual-orientation.  Even if this WAS true for ALL upper-class heterosexual white women (and I’m sure it’s not), post-feminism is here once more to tell us what women want, while excluding the perspective of the majority of women in America.

  • acm

    It also looks like they’re calling for a return to the time when women in the workplace were mostly the object of male coworker fanatasies — here she’s stripped and blindfolded, and he’s told “she wants it.”  So much for female safety and self-determination!  I’m shocked at the irresponsibility here.

    • gayle

       Great point!

  • gayle

     Katie Roiphe has made a good living bashing women in general. 

    Nice article.  One of the few clear minded critics I’ve read on this picture and subject.

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  • Loki Iago


  • gayle

     Subs are NOT in control.

    That’s another lie pushed by Kink culture.  Domination of women is key to patriarchy and male supremacy. 

    There is no liberation in it for women- sexual or otherwise.

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