The name Kara Jesella first appeared on my radar when I read an article that she wrote for Bitch (#32, Style and Substance) so, for me, the name connotes a “feminist response to popular culture.” Therefore, I was a bit taken aback when I got to the end of a deeply problematic and non-feminist analysis of girls and college admissions in a recent issue of Teen Vogue (September 2006) and saw that it was penned by none other than, Kara Jesella.
I don’t think the space of a teen fashion magazine necessarily demands that you check your Bitch subscription at the door so I’m left perplexed by Jesella’s incongruous points-of-view. The article, salaciously entitled “Sex Ed,” purports to explain why male applicants are being accepted to prestigious American universities at greater numbers than female applicants. Jesella includes quotes from current high school girls as evidence of the reaction of those disadvantaged by this phenomenon. However, all of Jesella’s sources are students at private, elite (boarding) schools on the east coast including The Chapin School, Miss Porter’s School, and Choate. Apparently, suitable reaction to this inegalitarian practice can only be gleaned from the perspective of privileged, rich girls. Jesella implies, through this editorial move, that these girls are the only students who would have been accepted to the Ivies even prior to the newly sanctioned gender bias. Rich, white girls are the only girls effected because rich, white girls are the only girls who would have gotten in. Jesella acknowledges working class black and Latina girls parenthetically when she mentions that they are doing poorly on standardized tests in comparison with other students, as are black and Latino boys.
Jesella’s proposed solution to this dilemma is equally problematic and makes girls complicit in the gender bias. She suggests that girls should ultimately stop trying so hard. (The co-executive director of the National Coalition of Girls’s Schools maintains that young women should primarily be satisfied with what they’ve achieved in high school.) The tips “to help you find acceptance” (to college? in yourself? it seems intentionally unclear) that tag the end of Jesella’s piece include (paraphrased); forget Yale, Princeton, and Columbia as Northeast “name” schools as they’re too competitive, explicitly, forgo Harvard as well for the same reason, and limit your extracurricular activities because despite everything you’ve ever been told thus far, colleges aren’t all that impressed by them. If you must be extremely participatory, don’t strive for a leadership role in the club, but be content with member status.
Despite the rest of the article’s content, the “tips” section is where I actually began to see red. Girls of 2006/2007, you’re never going to achieve as much as the boys around you so your best bet is to stop trying so hard. I’m sorry, but the hell? Is this really what we’re going to start telling our seventeen year olds? Be satisfied with high school? Your dream of attending Yale will always remain just that? Don’t run for student body president (or assume any other leadership role?) Furthermore, is this Jesella the same woman who convincingly articulated the how and why of the stigma attached to writing for fashion magazines? It’s a bit disheartening to see that following a brief respite from her promotion of dominant ideology, here, Jesella’s contributed the most damning evidence as to why said stigma exists.