Well, I had my quotations all queued up this week for a post about racism and imperialism in Victoria Press publications. One could argue that the eve of a historic election is a great time to talk about systemic oppression and how it manifests in the media over time. But reader, I just couldn’t do it to you, and I couldn’t do it to myself. Election anxiety is pressing very hard. Next week I will devote some serious thought to the pitfalls and promises of a white feminist like me studying white feminists of the past WITHOUT excusing or eliding their perpetuation of racial injustice.
This week, enjoy some unapologetic CLICKBAIT.
“Clickbait” headlines on articles are not a new thing. Since before the time of clicking, periodicals have been trying to attract your attention and your money. The more controversial or unbelievable something seems, the more likely you’re going to read it, or at least the first couple of sentences until you realize YOU’VE BEEN DUPED. The English Woman’s Journal wants to dupe you too. Here are a few headlines (which they actually did set in ALL CAPS, so it’s not just me, you guys):
WHY BOYS ARE CLEVERER THAN GIRLS
RIGHT OR WRONG?
A WORD TO THE WISE
WHAT CAN EDUCATED WOMEN DO?
A RARE OLD LADY
THINGS IN GENERAL, BY NOBODY IN PARTICULAR
WHAT ARE WOMEN DOING?
FACTS VERSUS IDEAS
GLIMPSES INTO A RURAL HOUSE OF BONDAGE
BY A DEATH-BED
A STRANGE CHANCE
THE DYING CHILD
A CARGO OF FIGS
THE WHITE GHOST OF BERLIN
A WELL-AUTHENTICATED GHOST STORY
SECOND ANNUAL REPORT OF THE LADIES’ ASSOCIATION FOR THE DIFFUSION OF SANITARY KNOWLEDGE
Ok that last one might not qualify. And some of them are only startling because the connotations of words have shifted (I don’t know about you, but I think I’d prefer an urban house of bondage to a rural one.) But there are certainly a lot of ghosts, “strange” occurrences, and “rare” sights. Now, this is pretty tame stuff for the period. Victorian newspapers delighted in discussing (and illustrating) brutal crimes and bloody accidents. What’s interesting is that the English Woman’s Journal, unlike those newspapers, is by no means a sensational publication. As I mentioned in my last post, it had strong ties to the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, and erred on the side of facts and figures. Its tone is often sober, and sometimes so painfully straightforward that it is actually hard to read.
So in the case of EWJ clickbait, articles with flashy titles turn out to be earnest, fact-based examinations of issues related to women’s rights. “Why Boys are Cleverer than Girls” (October, 1858) for instance, is actually a piece about the poor quality of female education in England. Even though they’re paid lower wages and are thus a tempting source of labor, women aren’t competitive in many jobs (as shop assistants, for instance) because they’re not educated enough to be competent. The article even advocates for several solutions, some of which can happen at home:
Persons of education who have leisure cannot employ it more usefully than in teaching the girls arithmetic in parish schools, where but too often they learn only reading and writing, and are then sent out into the world to compete for their livelihood with boys who have been well instructed in arithmetic and book-keeping.
EWJ headlines aren’t written to shock, so much as to suggest that what’s in the article might be shocking (when it usually isn’t).
What would this look like today? Perhaps:
THIS WOMAN GETS AN EDUCATION…YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT SHE DOES NEXT!!!
Or ~~*@****SINGLE MOMS EARN £200/HR WORKING FROM HOME****~~*@.
Or 12 GIFS THAT WILL GIVE YOU HOPE YOU MIGHT BE ABLE TO VOTE SOMEDAY.
These are so fun to make up. This is how I should title the chapters of my dissertation.