Last Tuesday, I posted about an article in the Washington Post on college students and the HPV vaccine. The article was written by everyone’s favorite kids-these-days (or, really, girls these days) hand-wringer, Laura Sessions Stepp. I started off the post intending to make the point that sometimes I think reporters on teens and young adults deliberately set out to make our generation as ridiculous as possible, but by the end of my post, I’d pretty much just joined in the snarking on those quoted for making statements like these:
There will always be something else out there, some other disease discovered, or a drug that doesn’t work anymore,” (Mallory) Kirsh says. “We’re always hearing about STDs becoming more prevalent. This is the time of our lives when we’re supposed to be carefree. Now there’s always some danger hovering above.”
Male partners are one reason protection is not more common, says GWU senior Adrian Tworecke from her perch in a wing chair at the Sigma Kappa sorority. “They’ll ask if you’re on birth control, and if you are, they’ll say they’re not going to use a condom.” And if a woman brings up the fact that a man can be infected with HPV and pass the virus to her?
“You’re going to offend him,” (Sierra) Strattner says. Or, senior Mallory Kirsh says, “He’ll say, ‘Do I look like someone who would have an STI?’ It’s so hard. It makes it look like you don’t trust him.”
Wow. Are college women out there really so vapid and desperate for male attention at any cost? Maybe not …
“Just so you know the quotes used in the article were taken out of context,” Adrian Tworecke commented here. “Ms Stepp took things that were said and twisted them for the sake of writing an article people would want to read. Your post makes it seem as though our generation is ignorant to the whole HPV siuation and we are not.”
“I was also interviewed for this article,” wrote Mallory Kirsh, “and my quotes were vastly taken out of context. What Stepp also failed to mention was that this past summer I interned at a major pharmaceutical company researching HPV and working on a soon to be launched vaccine. I was lead to believe she wanted to interview me because of my knowledge on HPV, but instead I was portrayed as an ignorant and promiscuous college students, both of which I am not.”
And, via e-mail, Strattner weighs in: “After talking to my friends and reading the washington post comments page (a HUGE mistake) I became really upset. I felt that even though my comments were correct they were taken out of context. Also, they were comments I made in the context of talking with my girlfriends that were actually generalizations about college students that i am around. I said things that were in relation to something else which unfortunately was not conveyed in the article. Also, a lot of what we discussed was missing, especially our more thought out and articulated concerns regarding the vaccine. The article came across as a bunch of vapid shallow sorority girls who dont want HPV to interfere with their sex life. This could not be further from the truth. While I don’t really fault Laura Sessions Stepp, I am disappointed that she portrayed our weaknesses instead of our strengths.”
I just thought this was interesting. Obviously, reporters have angles on stories all the time, and you can’t include all context and all angles in all stories. Strattner points out that the women interviewed were trying to relay how some people they knew felt about sex and STDs, so its not as if the observations were completely unrepresentative.
“I think the article accurately represented how college students feel, and if that worries people then its obviously a bigger issue,” she said.
But what’s a shame is that the article made it seem as if these particular girls were the ones that felt and acted in this way, and that’s not really fair to them.
Tworecke noted that it’s been difficult for them dealing with “the backlash from our friends and family about the mis-quotes in the article.”
And maybe I’m just being biased, but I think that articles about young people generally tend to take this angle as opposed to the “hey, young people do know and care about some stuff!” angle. Which makes sense, I suppose, since ignorance is more inherently newsworthy than knowledge. I mean, considering the nature of news and news production and all that, it’s not hard to see why this angle is appealing. But while it would seem irresponsible not to include this narrative, it’s irresponsible not to include the other side as well. And knowing Stepp’s previous work, it sort of makes it seem just all the more egregious that she only went with the young-women-are-getting-hurt-because-they’re-too-pressured-by-nasty-college-boys angle, and didn’t present the other side of the story.
This wasn’t an editorial piece she was writing; this was a health feature. And it feels like Stepp was using a health feature to advance her girls-are-fragile-flowers-who-are-hurt-by-feminism,-sex,-and-today’s-“hookup”-culture agenda.