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Youth, Women, and Bias in the Ideas Industry

teen-vogue

Last night’s exchange between Tucker Carlson and Teen Vogue‘s Lauren Duca is getting a fair bit of play in my Twitter feed and across the blogosphere. I’ve never taken Carlson particularly seriously and had never heard to Duca until an opinion piece she wrote accusing President-Elect Donald Trump of “gaslighting” began going viral under the notion that Teen Vogue is doing better political commentary than the mainstream media.

As to Duca’s essay, I don’t find it particularly novel. She misuses the term “gaslighting” even by her own definition of it. Stripped of that particular term, we’re left with the notion that Trump has been uniquely oblivious to truth and has been seemingly immune to fact-checking, getting away with lie after lie after lie. That’s both true and something that has been covered ad nausea by the mainstream press since the campaign began.

As to last night’s exchange—which I’ve only read about, not watched—Duca’s charge that Tucker is obnoxious, “a partisan hack,” and tries to talk over people rather than engage them in honest debate is on par with the charge that water is wet and the night is dark.

I wouldn’t have bothered to post on this at all but for some interesting comments on Twitter from Torie DeGhett:

DeGhett is of course right here.  There’s no reason someone can’t make intelligent political commentary in the pages of Teen Vogue or that teenage girls who are interested in beauty tips can’t also be interested in politics.

That said, while my going-in presumption is that Tucker was simply being a smarmy jerk, it’s possible that he wasn’t being sexist. I had an interesting discussion earlier in the week with Kathleen Hicks after she tweeted this:

There’s a natural bias in wonkish circles against youth. I’m certainly guilty of it myself. Whether it’s an academic panel discussion, TV talking heads, or a conversation on Twitter, I presume that people with white hair have earned the right to be taken seriously, whereas I wonder why someone in their 20s is at the table. They can win me over, of course, but they have to work harder to do it than they would if they were in their 40s.

Obviously, part of it is that I’m no longer particularly youthful. But human beings naturally assume that wisdom comes with age. Indeed, I’m only a couple years older than Carlson and recall him emerging on the scene as a talking head and wondering what that kid was doing on my TV screen. Carlson was probably 30 by then, but looked much younger than he was.

Similarly, while part of the reaction against Teen Vogue is surely that it’s aimed at girls, we naturally ridicule people and institutions as they begin stepping outside their lane, especially if we’re used to thinking of them as lightweights. So, for example, when Buzzfeed went from being mostly listicles and cat memes to a news organization, it took quite some time for them to be taken seriously. Ditto The Daily Beast.  Similarly, Sonny Bono and Fred Grandy never completely shed their goofball reputations when they transitioned into politics. Making fun of the fact that Duca writes for a magazine that viewers will associate with makeup tips for teenagers is an easy way to score cheap points.

Even absent overt sexism, though, these biases can create unique challenges for women trying to establish themselves in the ideas sphere. This is especially true if they’re attractive. While women have made huge strides, the national security community is still male-dominated, partly because of the oversized role former military officers play in it. While a pretty 20-something woman is likely going to be more socially confident than her male cohorts and be seen as less of a direct competitor by senior men in the business, both of which can be decidedly advantageous, they tend to be seen as women (or even “girls”) first and professionals second.

Being aware of our biases is the first step to getting past them. But I fear these particular biases are sufficiently hard-wired that we’re unlikely to completely overcome them.

 

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Slugger says:

    Mr. Carlson is a part of our entertainment/journalistic complex. He competes for viewers using glib ideas and slogans. He famously dressed in bow ties as a visible manifestation of his entertainment industry membership. I think he was on Dancing with the Stars once. His ability to attract viewers is threatened by the fact that a segment of the public would prefer to look at pretty young women. In our culture, if you have a bit of an advantage over someone, you leverage that by producing insults on Twitter; some prominent Americans use this method. Mr. Carlson, welcome to 2016.

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  2. Pch101 says:

    It’s not a metaphor that I would have used, but gaslighting is an appropriate way to describe one who attempts to distort the reality of another by lying constantly and then doubling down on those lies when caught.

    What Duca is describing is also referred to as the Big Lie: If you lie big enough and often enough, many people eventually begin to believe it. We are all familiar with the guy who coined the phrase (dead Austrian dude with bad attitude, funny moustache, and hair parted on the wrong side.)

    The chilling part is that those past practitioners of the Big Lie also believed that opponents who would attempt to inform the public about this deceit must be oppressed, because the lie has to be believed if it is to be effective. Let’s hope that the current batch of propagandists missed the part of the lesson.

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  3. gVOR08 says:

    @Pch101:

    past practitioners of the Big Lie also believed that opponents who would attempt to inform the public about this deceit must be oppressed

    I fear much of the press will cheerfully oppress themselves. Profit and careerism are powerful incentives to conformance. Duca’s point, that we must call out the press over any normalizing of Trump’s lies, is well taken.

    We must also help focus the press on Pence, Ryan, and McConnell. They’ll be using Trump’s nonsense as a smoke screen while they do the real dirty work.

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  4. michael reynolds says:

    I’ve thought since election day that the right-left split in this country would become government-culture. Trump has the government, we’ve got the culture. Trump is an indigestible mass for the culture, and the culture is alien to the Trumpies.

    The closest analogy I can think of is Nixon and the 60’s counterculture. That ended with Nixon in disgrace and everyone loving the Beatles and smoking pot. (Though of course it never quite ended.)

    Unlike Nixon, however, Trump lacks the maturity to endure cultural taunts which makes the culture even more powerful, but also will cause Trump and his deplorables to retaliate against the culture by whatever means they have – government power. They’ll look to harm media companies in hopes of the pressure transferring to the artists. And that might have worked 20 years ago, but now?

    American culture is world culture, and increasingly the profit-seeking portions of the culture are eyeballing 1.5 billion Chinese, ditto India and a couple hundred million Europeans, and giving far less than a complete sh!t about red state America.

    Broadly speaking the world is dividing into past and future. ISIS, the Taliban, UKIP, the oil industry, the Philippines, Putin and Trumputin, are all anti-progress, anti-science, anti-art, anti-enlightenment, anti-freedom forces trying desperately to drag us into a new dark age. Blue America, the tech industry, most of Europe, scientists and artists, are pulling for the future. And of course China pulls for China, a sort of alternate iteration of the future – sort of future but at a crawl.

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  5. Gustopher says:

    One part of great journalism is reaching an audience, and being able to actually impart ideas and information to them. Teen Vogue is trying to do this — using language and anchor points that the target audience understands. I have no idea if they are successful at it, since I am so far from the target audience and the news contained isn’t new to me at all.

    The media doesn’t try to reach young women — newspapers are slowly dying because they cannot reach young people at all, for instance. So, good for Teen Vogue for trying. I would be surprised if a lot of young women didn’t already know that Trump was a racist carnival barker and a fraud, but apparently a significant minority of Americans of voting age failed to figure that out, so what do I know?

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  6. Gustopher says:

    I presume that people with white hair have earned the right to be taken seriously, whereas I wonder why someone in their 20s is at the table. They can win me over, of course, but they have to work harder to do it than they would if they were in their 40s.

    I assume that many of the white hairs have failed upwards, or have no particular expertise other than telling people what they want to hear. The rug rats are in way over their heads, of course, and have no idea what is going on (it’s so cute they think they understand these things). Really, it is only people of about my age who have any clue, and most of those only have about half a clue.

    It’s kind of shocking that the institutions and organizations in our society can function at all with the level of staggering incompetence at all levels. It gives me hope that we will somehow manage to continue muddling along.

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  7. Gustopher says:

    So, for example, when Buzzfeed went from being mostly listicles and cat memes to a news organization, it took quite some time for them to be taken seriously.

    That seems fair though. We don’t evaluate each and every idea in isolation — we use heuristic shorthands to cut the decision space to something manageable, and past behavior is a very good filter. The blithering idiot might be saying something important now, but it’s probably just idiocy.

    It’s why we don’t trust Newt Gingrich on anything. And that’s a good thing.

    Being aware of our biases is the first step to getting past them. But I fear these particular biases are sufficiently hard-wired that we’re unlikely to completely overcome them.

    Maybe you have the wrong goal. I don’t know if individual people or society as a whole can ever get past all of their biases, but I do know we can can be less biased, and that’s a good enough goal, at least for now.

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  8. Gustopher says:

    @Pch101:

    hair parted on the wrong side

    There’s a correct side to part your hair on? I’m just happy when my hair parts at all, and doesn’t just hang straight down and get in my way.

    Have I been signaling white supremacy with my hair half the time by accident?

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  9. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Probably not. To really signal white supremacy, you should shave your head and tattoo a swastika on the shaved part somewhere.

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  10. EddieInCA says:

    Tucker Carlson is one of the true azzholes in media. To label him a smarmy, partisan hack is to insult smarmy, partisan hacks. I’ve had the unfortunate experience to “work” with him on a small project.

    But he’s within the absolute mainstream of the GOP Infotainment bubble. We have Trump as President elect because of people like Carlson, Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage, Boortz, Gallagher, Ingraham, O’Reilly, et. all, lying to Americans for the last 8 years plus.

    It’s as if 2000-2008 didn’t exist. Blame Obama for everything, yet keep him from trying to make changes that would help. But the GOP got rewarded for their obstructionism.

    So now we’re in bizzarro world where a guy like Carlson, who, in a real society would be shunned for his mendacity, gets rewarded with his own prime time show on the biggest cable news network. We get what we deserve. How the country looks in four years is anyone’s guess..

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  11. michael reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:

    Try being bald. I was in the eastern part of Germany not long ago, wearing my inevitable black leather jacket and shades and I was outside a head shop slash tattoo parlor and gradually realized people were eyeballing me and sidling away. It occurred to me I was practically the illustration for, ‘retired Stasi.’ When I’m in the UK I look like a UKIP voter. Skinhead = fascist, even when it’s not a deliberate fashion statement.

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  12. michael reynolds says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: @Gustopher:

    I rest my case.

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  13. Tyrell says:

    It is my observation that most guys are intimidated and avoid beautiful women.

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  14. Paul L. says:

    Tucker Carlson is just stealing the tactics of John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore.
    Invite a guest on and hit them with all the opposition research that your staff can dig up about them.
    Progressives just do not like it when the shoe is on the other foot.

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  15. Paul L. says:

    Blame Obama for everything

    Not Obama fault or responsibility in any way.
    DOJ/ATF lies about walking guns to Mexico.
    IRS lies about targeting Conservative 501c3/c4s
    State Dept lies about Iran talks and deletes video of them lying and and being questioned when caught.
    Bush completely at fault for Abu Ghraib.
    Lynndie England and crew was under direct orders from Booooosh.

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  16. Hal_10000 says:

    I don’t see what the problem is with Teen Vogue. They can be just as right or wrong as anyone else. As we’ve seen in the last year, the supposed Serious Journalists can’t seem to get out of a week without beclowning themselves in some fashion.

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  17. EddieInCA says:

    @michael reynolds:

    American culture is world culture, and increasingly the profit-seeking portions of the culture are eyeballing 1.5 billion Chinese, ditto India and a couple hundred million Europeans, and giving far less than a complete sh!t about red state America.

    What Redstate America doesn’t understand, or refuse to wrap their head around, is that the USA is 300+ million people.

    China has 1.4 Billion
    India has 1.3 Billion

    The large studios in my business (Film and TV Productions) – the smart ones – are looking at who can buy their widgets, regardless of what the borders say. Why do you think there are so many superhero movies being produced? Because China and India LOVE them. Why do you think TV Series like “Narcos” on Netflix and “Orphan Black” on the BBC do so well? Because Latin America and Europe have huge television audiences. Trump voters still think it’s 1950, or wish it to be. It’s not.

    Another 10 years – as automation continues – more jobs will be lost, never to return. Who will the Trumputins blame then?

    I’m fortunate I’m in a field that still allows me to make a really good yearly wage, while allowing me to live in some of the best cities in the world – with the companies paying my housing. I know how good I have it. I don’t take it for granted. I’m also fortunate that I am closer to the end of my career than the start of it, and I know I’ll be fine when I decided to stop working or when I age out. I’ll sit on a beach somewhere, golf three days a week, and enjoy the theatre, movies, concerts, and comedy clubs as much as possible.

    In the meantime, you Trump supporters can keep blaming people like me for your problems. I’ll have another bourbon in your honor. Actually, I won’t. I have a bourbon in the honor of the people of Planned Parenthood, NAACP, or any LGBT Organization. I won’t waste good bourbon on you.

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  18. EddieInCA says:

    @Paul L.:

    Tucker Carlson is just stealing the tactics of John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore.
    Invite a guest on and hit them with all the opposition research that your staff can dig up about them.
    Progressives just do not like it when the shoe is on the other foot.

    You do realize the the four guys you mention are all COMEDIANS! When Tucker Carlson decides to host a Comedy show on a network called COMEDY CENTRAL, your comparison will make sense.

    Until then, it makes you sound like too many right wingers: devoid of a logical or consistent argument.

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  19. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: It’s why I avoid cutting my hair more often than about every 3 or 4 months. Fortunately, I have so little hair anymore and it grows so slowly that hardly anybody notices that I haven’t cut it recently.

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  20. Franklin says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Why do you think there are so many superhero movies being produced? Because China and India LOVE them.

    This is actually a revelation to me. I stopped seeing them quite a while ago now, and was sort of wondering who was.

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  21. Franklin says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: Yup. I *wish* I could part my hair the wrong way.

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  22. EddieInCA says:

    @Franklin:

    Most of the revenue stream from major movies from the studios comes from China, South American, Europe, and the rest of Asia. US Box office is a minority percentage.

    The little movies that win awards (Moonlight, La La Land, etc) do miniscule box office and are loss leaders in hopes of winning awards.

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  23. MBunge says:

    We keep getting super-hero movies because Marvel keeps making good ones that make money in America before even considering global box office. China and the foreign markets are why we keep getting atrocious crap like the Transformers flicks even after US audiences tire of them.

    I also think it’s more than a little silly to proclaim that Donald Trump is somehow alien to the culture when he’s probably the most pop culturally famous candidate to ever win the White House.

    And the whole gaslighting discussion is a fascinating example of how male-centric contemporary white feminism has become. It’s one thing to insist that women not be oppressed by the physical advantages given to men by nature. It’s quite another thing to insist that women are marks who must be protected from the superior cleverness and insight of male emotional con artists. The latter would seem to be something best dealt with by ending the pathologizing of women done by cultural institutions like Teen Vogue.

    Mike

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  24. Tony W says:

    It is my hope that Teen Vogue will take the lead in helping young women move away from a cynical advertiser-sponsored focus on being cool and fashionable, and toward STEM and career and building meaningful lives for themselves. Probably too much to hope for, but we must also remember that Vogue enjoys the audience it has largely due to this culture of consumption. I applaud Duca for noticing her power to do something good. Hope she follows through.

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  25. Guarneri says:

    “There’s no reason someone can’t make intelligent political commentary in the pages of Teen Vogue or that teenage girls who are interested in beauty tips can’t also be interested in politics.”

    That’s true, it’s just unlikely. There is a reason TeenVogue focuses on lipstick and hair, The Absolute Sound reviews electro stats vs dynamic speakers and Guitar Player discusses drop G tuning. Others may go to ESPN for political commentary, but it’s probably not going to be particularly fruitful. To deny this is just a form of virtue signaling.

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  26. Lynn says:

    “But human beings naturally assume that wisdom comes with age.”

    I think it’s actually a U-shaped relationship … some age adds wisdom, too much age subtracts.

    Try being a 70-year-old woman, and just see how much wisdom you’re assumed to have.

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  27. Paul L. says:

    @EddieInCA:

    You do realize the the four guys you mention are all COMEDIANS!

    That does not stop progressives from citing then as pure truth tellers.
    They can not hid behind the COMEDIANS labels when they get any push back.

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  28. MarkedMan says:

    @michael reynolds: They’ll look to harm media companies in hopes of the pressure transferring to the artists.

    They may try but there is a ‘careful what you wish for’ quality to all this. Back in the 70’spublic radio in the US was largely about classical and jazz music and a crucial portion of there budget came from government arts programs. When NPR’s All Things Considered started to grow in popularity there were loud and bitter fights about how much of the schedule should be devoted to a news show and vs the true purpose.
    Then Gingrich and the other politicians concerned about what truthful reporting made them look like decided that NPR was their enemy and successfully went after their budget. But ironically it turned out that the ATC fundraising segments generated an order of magnitude more funds than the music shows. The stations couldn’t afford the music any more and instead added more and more and more news shows.

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  29. EddieInCA says:

    @MBunge:

    We keep getting super-hero movies because Marvel keeps making good ones that make money in America before even considering global box office. China and the foreign markets are why we keep getting atrocious crap like the Transformers flicks even after US audiences tire of them.

    Wrong. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Stick to kissing Trumps feet and stay out of conversations of which you know only little enough to make yourself look foolish. China, India, Europe, South America and Asia combined, are the targets for most major motion pictures, not the USA. \ In fact, many of the major movies open overseas now betore they open in the USA. Whereas Americans are going to movies less, citizens of China, India, Germany, etc are going to more movies than ever.

    “Dr. Strange” had 66% of it’s revenue from foreign ticket sales.
    “Fantastic Beasts” had 70% of it’s revenue from foreign ticket sales.
    “Jack Reacher, Never Go Back”, 66% foreign
    Even a small drama like “Girl on the Train” did 57% of it’s business foreign.

    I was just privy to a huge deal where a new network series (ABC) was just renewed for two years, which is somewhat rare. Why? Because they signed a deal with Netflix for the international rights. So even if ABC decides to cancel it, Netflix will continue producing it for the international value of the series.

    Let me put it another way. We are only 300 million people. The world is a big place. Everyone is catching up to us, some faster than others. 1950 is never coming back.

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  30. EddieInCA says:

    @Paul L.:

    Can you please rewrite that post so that it has a point, please? I have no idea what you’re trying to say. Who are the two “they” to which you refer in your second sentence?

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  31. michael reynolds says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Even I as a mere book writer make probably a third of my income overseas. In fact, I sell better proportionally in the UK and ANZ than in the States. Coolest thing ever, by the way. What’s better than getting a check for work you’ve already been paid for? It’s like having someone show up and say, “We were a bit light on the tip we left you in 1986, here’s another ten bucks.”

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  32. dxq says:

    . And of course China pulls for China, a sort of alternate iteration of the future – sort of future but at a crawl.

    You know china has moved more people out of poverty faster than any country in history, right?

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  33. michael reynolds says:

    @dxq:

    Yes, but they have no representative democracy, no political freedom, no freedom of expression or religion. Economically quick, but otherwise quite backward.

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  34. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @dxq: Would that be raw numbers or on a percentage basis? They do have a significantly larger population pool to lift out of poverty.

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  35. bill says:

    it’s probably not good to put some bubble headed idiot on a semi-serious political show but wth, they deserve to be outed as such and what better median?
    sure, you can blame the schools for making the first 2 years of college a refresher course for what the last 2 years of high school were supposed to teach them, but why bother now- the country punted on kids education long ago when they “thought” they could solve all the problems by throwing money at it instead of holding all involved accountable for it.
    so back to the point, we get these yappy kids acting all serious about childish things they never learned when they should have- adult-hood has been postponed again as the kids can’t seem to adjust to it…..because they don’t have to. anyone who tells a kid to just grow tf up is vilified for making said kid cry.
    one of the misconceptions of relying on “the youth” vote is that some day they will grow up and see what idiots they were – and try to right themselves and be more responsible and such.
    it’s funny to hear young ones tell us “we don’t understand”…..because we do, we’ve been there/done that and know eventually age will trump youth. no pun intended,

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  36. Barry says:

    “I presume that people with white hair have earned the right to be taken seriously, whereas I wonder why someone in their 20s is at the table. They can win me over, of course, but they have to work harder to do it than they would if they were in their 40s.”

    Tucker Carlson is one of many data points which show that being in one’s 40’s (or 50’s) in the media doesn’t have any bearing on being correct.

    And ‘gaslighting’ is a great description of Trump. Start with Trump’s claim of a landslide popular vote win. He’s trying to rewrite history.

    Heck, start with the entire right’s behavior during the Obama administration, and you have a clear case of people who looked at ‘1984’s’ view of history as a desirable thing.

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  37. Pch101 says:

    @Guarneri:

    Teen Vogue is several rungs up the ladder from your favorite “news” source, the Soviet birdcage liner Zero Hedge.

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  38. grumpy realist says:

    Actually, if you read the non-English editions of women’s magazines you’d be surprised at the difference between the slop that gets ladled out here in the US vs. the intelligent stuff elsewhere.

    We still have the assumption that women who are glamorous are nitwit bimbos. I’ve noticed that this is a stereotype found only in the U.S.

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  39. DrDaveT says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Who will the Trumputins blame then?

    Obama. Duh.

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