Yesterday morning, this Tweet popped up on my timeline:
It caught my attention not only because news of an outwardly successful person allegedly taking her own life is always shocking, but because I didn’t realize L’Wren Scott still modeled, much less was apparently so invested in modeling that it had come to overshadow her career as a designer (it turns out that: no, she was still, at the time of her death, a fashion designer of note and had not returned to modeling). I also had forgotten that she and Mick Jagger were dating, but did remember that we live in a world where women, accomplished women, have their work overshadowed by their relationships in 140 characters or less.
And so I wrote a bunch of things, including this:
Several people seemed to agree with this take, but there were a couple who very much did not:
That Dude was helpful in proving my point, and for that I thank him.
This Dude had a fair point, even if adding a "no duh" sort of fudged the landing. In his Tweet, he sought out several writers and journalists, all female, who had written critically about coverage of L'Wren Scott's death. This is curious because I, at least, hadn't been talking to these other women, and I'm not sure whether they had been talking to one another. I am also not sure whether This Dude simply did not notice the various male journalists and writers who were tackling the same topic. I mean, I don't know This Dude's life (no duh), nor the thought process behind which Twitter handles he chose to copy and paste.
His fair point aside, he asked the wrong question. I don't think any of the women he addresses was surprised over the coverage of her death — at least, I wasn't. I suspect, if I can make an assumption, that he was attempting to ask us why we cared to pursue this and talk about this. And I'll answer that. In two parts:
But, Like. She *Was* Mick Jagger's Girlfriend And That's Click-Worthy, No Duh?
Yes, it stands to reason that most people are more aware of Mick Jagger than of L'Wren Scott. It is a fair assumption that they might not recognize her name alone in a headline and, thus, might not be moved to click on a story about her alleged suicide.
But the reality is that L'Wren Scott is not an unknown. She had her own fashion line. She had styled the likes of Nicole Kidman, Christina Hendricks, and, yes, Mick Jagger. She'd worked alongside fashion world icons like Herb Ritts. She'd been a model, known by designers for her 42 inch legs, cutting a striking figure down the catwalk. She had been interviewed and photographed and lauded independently of the famous rock star she had been dating. Indeed, she had forged her own career in fashion before having met him, and this career had already made a name for her. Perhaps it was a name you might not have recognized, sure. But she was not an ingenue who rose to fame because of her relationship.
It paints an incomplete picture, then, and a misleading one, to describe her solely or primarily as "Mick Jagger's girlfriend," with her identity defined by her proximity to someone else, despite the fact that this story, her death, her obituary, is about, well. Her. So when The New York Post describes her as a "model" and "girlfriend" in a Tweet, it's a failure on their part. It is incomplete, misleading. When The New York Times originally choose to not even use her name in its Tweet about her death, it undermines her work, her accomplishments and the facts of her life. This is not simply sexism, it is shoddy journalism.
But, yes, it's also sexism. And that can't be downplayed.
But. Why Do You Care?
We live in a culture where, for example, The New York Times' obituary of rocket scientist Yvonne Brill kicked off with a line about her cooking skills and role as a wife and mother, in turn inspiring a a fun/sad Twitter hashtag.
A culture is made up of patterns. If a good portion of those within an existing culture happen to feel that these patterns are Just No Good or can stand to be improved, then it's up to those participating within it to call for and create change. A question I have, actually, is why This Dude and That Dude care, what the root of their respective concern is, and why they chose to couch that concern in language like "no duh" and "grow up."
The desire to get many clicks on a write-up about a person's alleged suicide is one facet of this story, but the way in which we write about people — female people — does not exist within a vacuum. The way big-name publications — publications with influence and wide readerships, publications that can set the tone and the talking points for a national discussion — describe a person matters. The manner in which a person's life and accomplishments are remembered or misremembered matters, particularly if there is a pattern where this is concerned.
L'Wren Scott's relationship to Mick Jagger is certainly one big, attention-grabbing portion of her life. It is absolutely worth noting. But it should not define a person who was — both personally and publicly — much more than someone's girlfriend, and there is a subtle but important difference between a woman being described as "X's girlfriend" and noting that, among other things, X was her boyfriend.
TL;DR version: "GROW UP. (No duh.)"