A while ago, I wrote a blog about a book I had the very good fortune to find in a thrift store. Called Where the Girls Are, this book was a dating guide written by the staff of The Daily Princetonian. They had to write the guide! It was published in 1965, before Princeton allowed girls to attend classes in their hallowed halls. Someone had to run recon on what was out there, right? Right? Amirite?
It seems that this book is very hard to come by, short of paying quite a bit for it on ebay. So. I was only a tiny wee bit surprised when I was contacted by one of John Stossel‘s producers; she wanted to know if they could use the scans from the book that I posted to my blog for their show, because Stossel went to Princeton and he wanted to talk about Where The Girls Are. And they couldn’t find a copy of it anywhere.
Ummm. OK, sure. Weird. Really? But yeah, OK.
Of course, I had to watch the episode. Or, rather, I had to watch the segment of the episode that featured the images I’d scanned from the book.
This episode focused on business-related “risk taking”. Stossel talked to people who put their time, money and energy on the line to launch a new idea, which, sure, he’s on a business channel, it’s not unreasonable. What I didn’t understand was where Where The Girls Are would fit.
Then the final segment, “Stossel’s Take”, aired.
During “Stossel’s Take”, JS (you don’t mind if I call you JS, do you?) talked about his time at Princeton, and on the staff of the Princetonian. He remembered Where The Girls Are fondly; it was a big seller, a huge success, he said. So he proposed they do a sequel.
Now, I had heard rumors of but have never seen the follow-up book. In the scant references to the follow-up (and though I’ve seen Who… mentioned in the past, currently, I’m having a hard time finding anything that indicates this book ever existed, except for one brief entry on a Mount Holyoke webpage and the words of JS himself), Who The Girls Are (1968) was generally regarded as a colossal failure, the blunder that tanked the WTGA franchise. And JS even admits to as much on his show. He took the “dating guide” idea and upped the creepiness factor, requesting (and receiving!) permission from colleges to publish photos of the women of their incoming classes, along with (and I quote), “…short, obnoxious generalizations about certain girls’ schools, followed by pages and pages of freshman pictures.”
Yes, I had to take the cover shot off my TV, because I can’t find any images of it anywhere on the internet.
Now, here’s the thing. This book did so poorly, it busted what had been a successful start to a brand. I can’t say for sure why it did poorly (see: almost no information about this book existing, anywhere), but I can hope that it failed in large part because it was a little too creepy to hold appeal…to anyone except creepers. And JS, fifty years later, hasn’t learned anything. The schools he received these books from have learned and amended their approaches to their students’ privacy. You’d better believe they wouldn’t agree to let him publish anything like that today (and…do colleges even do a book of incoming freshmen? I’ve never seen one). Why? Because in the last FIFTY YEARS they have learned things and now they know better. Because it’s wrong and weird and creates an uncomfortable dynamic centered around these women. Where The Girls Are, despite its snarky anti-intellectualism and overt sexism, was arguably, theoretically, tongue-in-cheek that missed the mark. It’s an argument I wouldn’t buy, but I could see how someone would make it. But Stossel and Co. made Who… far too personal. He created a inventory of Co-Ed-Bots, like you could just order one like you were ordering a shirt from the Sears catalog.
Instead of taking an opportunity to use his public platform and apologize to every single woman who appeared in The Stalker’s Handbook: Ivory Tower Edition…I mean, Who The Girls Are…JS rather chooses to chirp on about his bold, risk-taking, entrepreneurial spirit, which has allowed him to fail, and fail, and fail again (interestingly, citing “failures” like publicity stunts for Fox and, of course, the aforementioned failed book, all footed by other people’s money, which I don’t think “counts” in terms of daring entrepreneurism, but I digress), only to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. And why wouldn’t the premise of an apology occur to him?
Because these women don’t matter. They were featured in his book, their pictures were exploited for his (and the Princetonian’s, and any other reader’s) benefit. These women were packaged and commodified without their personal, “Hey, aren’t we adults too?” consent (though, with the consent of the institution with which they were associated at that time, which was weirdly parental and apparently good enough). Fifty years later, John Stossel hasn’t learned a thing about women, boundaries, personhood, or being a creeper. He would re-package these women–or any women, I’d wager–again and again, if he thought it could stoke the furnace of his ego and/or put some money in his pockets.
This? Is exploitative and, as this show aired in May, 2014, obviously still relevant. This is why #yesallwomen matters.
Here’s a link to the full episode. Go to 37:25 to see the segment in question.