The News Sorority

April 11, 2015 Biography, History, non-fiction 12 ★★★★★

The News SororityTitle: The News Sorority
Author: Sheila Weller
Source: NetGalley
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: Thoughtful, even-handed, with lots of great quotes, this book brought to life three fascinating women and highlighted the state of women in journalism today.

Like really great historical fiction, this biography did a wonderful job bringing to life not only individuals but also a larger setting. I found Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, and Christiane Amanpour’s histories and inspirations fascinating. They’re all incredibly interesting women with many unique life experiences. Although I probably would have described this as narrative nonfiction, the author explicitly states that she thinks of this not as narrative nonfiction, but as journalistic nonfiction, told largely through quotes from primary sources. I’m not sure those two genres are mutually exclusive, but I did notice and appreciate all of the direct quotes the author used. Most flowed smoothly with the narrative bits she’d written. Together, they presented what seemed to be an unbiased and well-rounded view of each woman. Despite obvious similarities, particularly their success in a male-dominated profession, the author also clearly highlighted their individual personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.

The author also occasionally digressed from their individual stories to discuss other female journalists and the overall status of women in this profession. I wasn’t sure I liked this at first, in part because I have a strong preference for chronological storytelling in the absence of clearly labeled time jumps. At the end of the book though, this turned out to be one of my favorite parts. It put the stories of these individual women into a greater context. It also brought the time period and experience of being a woman in news reporting into focus.

Another part of the book I wasn’t sure about was the focus on the clothes each woman wore and the romantic relationships she was involved in. The obvious question was whether or not the author would include such details if we were reading about men. I think the answer is no. However, I ended up feeling as though this wasn’t sexism on the author’s part, but a deliberate choice to include information about facets of these women’s lives that influenced how the public perceived them. The author’s tone was always neutral, without judgement of her own. She factually conveyed the way the public judged these women without inserting her opinion. In fact, this initial concern ended up feeling like one of the book’s strengths as well. The author captured a lot of detail about each woman’s life and discussed every issue, from possible sexism to any controversy surrounding each woman, in a very even-handed way.

After reading this, I would definitely look for more books labeled as journalistic nonfiction. This depends a bit on the topic, but I almost always prefer an author who can approach their subject in a neutral way. Direct quotes are also something I enjoy seeing. It’s fun to get a first-hand perspective on a story and also can help keep the story free of the author’s biases. The section labels helped me keep track of who was who, as did the author’s ability to bring these women to life through incredibly detailed descriptions. I think she did these women proud.

I’m curious what you all think of a book like this including details about a woman’s clothing choices. It might be hard to judge without having read this particular book, but in general, do you think the fact that people may judge a woman based on what she wears makes those details worth including? Or does it just support continuing to judge women based on their looks?

12 Responses to “The News Sorority”

  1. Jancee @ Jancee Reads

    That’s an interesting question. I think, if the author makes it clear that she’s including things such as clothing and relationships as an example of how those things affect the public’s perception of a woman, it could be ok. But I’m very wary of doing that, because continued focus on things like clothing, relationships, and personal choices just add extra scrutiny to women. If a male were in the same position, no one would think twice about it. So it’s a very gray area, I think.

    • DoingDewey

      In this case, I decided to give the author the benefit of the doubt on the inclusion of information about what each woman wore and her relationships and assume that she included this information because other people paid attention to it. However, I agree that the author could definitely be contributing to the problem. I think some thoughtful assessment of her choice to include those details would have made the book a lot better.

  2. TJ @MyBookStrings

    Like Jancee, I generally object to the fact that successful women usuallhave to discuss or justify their wardrobe. When Germany successfully played in the soccer World Cup last year, the team’s game were as much discussed as the fact the German chancellor Angela Merkel carried a soccer ball-shaped purse in black-red-gold colors. However, I would like to know more about how much fashion influences or has to be considered by a powerful woman. I admire Christiane Amanpour, so I will look for this book, especially since we often like the same non-fiction.

    • DoingDewey

      I know! I really like Caitlin Moran’s easy way of recognizing sexism – by asking “do the men have to worry about this?”. If not, that’s sexism. It’s true though that if this topic were approached in a thoughtful way, it could be very interesting. How much do famous women think about what they wear and why do other people think so much about what they wear, for instance. I thought overall this was a really great book, so hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I did 🙂

  3. Heather @ Book Addiction

    Having not yet read the book, I can’t really answer your question except to say that I would think it just perpetuates the sexism that is already there. Like you said, what a man wears would never be included in a book about that man’s life, so why should it be in a book about a woman? (Unless it’s a fashion icon or something, of course.) But I do want to read this book so I can form my own opinion! I keep seeing it and passing it up – I think I’ll grab it next time I’m at the library.

    • DoingDewey

      In this case, I was torn about whether or not it was relevant, because I do think that women on TV are probably judged on the basis of their appearance to the point where it can affect their career. I don’t think they should be though, at least not so much more than men. I really wish that the author had discussed the role of fashion in these women’s careers and explained why she was talking about it, instead of leaving me to guess.

  4. C.J. @ebookclassics

    Wow, I think I want to read this book now too. I agree, I think I need to read the book to make a more informed comment on your question. Part of me thinks it does play into the sexism these women already face and have probably struggled with their whole careers, but on the other hand I love fashion and pay attention to what famous women wear because I like to admire them. I like to see how they express their personality and individuality through clothing.

    • DoingDewey

      I know what you mean! I feel like for women, and for men as well, clothing can be a reflection of personality. It’s not uninformative to know how someone chooses to dress. Here, I felt like I could give the author the benefit of the doubt and decided that she was including this information because it was part of how these women were judged, not because she was judging them on that basis. However, talking to people in the comments has made me realize that I do wish this was an issue that the author explicitly addressed.

  5. Allison @ The Book Wheel

    Rebecca recommended this book to me and I have yet to read it. It sounds like some of the things you weren’t sure of would make me pause, too, so I’m glad it’s worth pushing through it.

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