In the recent past I have twice opened articles on Major Famous Website because the title promised to give me information or ideas that were genuinely worth my time; in both cases the actual piece was best categorized as “Whining about White Girl Problems.” I do understand the need for editors to get eyes on pages, and the associated push to come up with catchy titles. A busy reader is not as likely to stop and read “Young Women Protest Circus Acts on Behalf of PETA with Public Nudity” as he is to drop everything for “Hotties Bare for Bears!” Whole publications have succeeded for years based mainly on sensationalizing everything from elections to salmonella outbreaks. On the other hand, a thinking person might be willing, and even prefer to have some idea about the actual substance of an article before deciding to take the time to stop, drop and read.
The first story promised to tell how the writer paid off her “secret, hidden debt” in only two years. When I began to read and learned that the debt was largely student loans, I was excited. I have struggled with my own student loan debt for twenty years, and I imagined that I was about to read a step-by-step description of money snagged from weekly paychecks and stashed in a mayo jar, then moved to interest-bearing accounts, and finally used to pay off the lenders in a moment of transcendent glory.
The article was, in fact about this: the writer had a lot of debt. She decided to use the money she had been blowing on high-end shopping and travel towards the systematic paying down of her debt. There is nothing wrong with what she did, and I am happy for her, but here’s the thing: if I had discretionary money after the bills were paid I WOULD PAY OFF MY LOANS, TOO. Or, as we like to say here in the unsophisticated Midwest, “Duh.” If I had enough money to spend a month seeing India, but couldn’t answer my land line because of bill collectors, I would pay my bills. Many of us do not have thousands of dollars in discretionary income to divert towards major debt incurred in better days. Not in this economy, not no-how.
A story about spending two years without overseas travel or Gilt Groupe in order to be free from debt is not particularly moving to me, and is definitely not useful or inspiring. It is, dear reader, a White Girl Problem disguised by a title calculated to reel in those of us struggling to stay afloat in tough times.
The other article promised to reveal whether or not men and women can really be friends. This is a topic that has interested me forever; I think it interests a lot of people. My husband and I have discussed it possibly 500 times, and I will just say that one of us thinks such friendships are possible, and one of us remains skeptical.
The actual piece turns out to be about a young woman who is stricken because (and I paraphrase) she is “so hot that no straight men want to be ‘just friends’ with her.” Awwwwwww. Her White Girl Problem is that when she meets men to whom she is not sexually attracted, but who find her sexually attractive, she can’t just keep them as friends because they are apparently sufficiently tormented by her inaccessibility that they are figuring out the whole carbon monoxide asphyxiation thing instead of hanging out with her. There is no discussion in her article about the possibility of friendship between men and ordinary women, like me, to whom every man in the room is not sexually attracted. Can we be friends with the testosterone-y crowd? Most important (to me anyway) where is the answer to the question posed in the title? If I cared about the problems of the fatally beautiful and friendless, I would watch “Gossip Girl.” When I open an article that promises some mature exploration of a complex and compelling issue, I expect something other than the narcissistic, first-person ramblings of an ingénue. I want experts. I want a seasoned view from a mature person. Otherwise, I want it titled “Don’t Hate Me ‘Cause I’m Beautiful” so that I can easily make the decision not to read it.
In some ways, this piece is a White Girl Problem rant about White Girl Problem “journalism.” I get that. At least I didn’t overpromise, and if you are reading this you are not, I hope, disappointed because you expected something different. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go smooth the knots out of my impossibly long eyelashes and polish my collection of vintage ingots.
*As you undoubtedly know, I did not make up the term "White Girl Problems." I learned it from Babe Walker, whose hilarious Twitter feed can be found here: https://twitter.com/#!/whitegrlproblem. I don't know if she made up the term, but I felt like I should make ir clear that I did not.