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Courtney Martin: A Woman Making History

March 5, 2010

30 Women Making History In recognition of the 30th anniversary of Women’s History Month, Women’s Media Center is profiling 30 extraordinary women making history.  Our goal is to raise $10,000 to support WMC Exclusives — every dollar raised will go directly toward hiring women writers to comment on major news stories and report topics often neglected by the mainstream media. Will you contribute $30? Click here to donate: or text WOMEN to 50555 to make a $10 donation. Courtney Martin: A Woman Making History by Catherine Epstein The first time I heard of Courtney Martin was in 2007, at the Women, Action and the Media (WAM!) conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  In a classic move for Vassar students, four friends and I drove northeast in a less-than-reliable Saab, embarking on a feminist road trip to fill our minds with women's wisdom.  The panelists at the conference ranged in age, with a fair number of women in their 20's, but Courtney was the one we all remembered not just for her eloquence, but as "that woman who looked like she was our age." I don't think we felt camaraderie with her just because she was young, but because her demeanor was so inviting; so completely not holier-, hipper-, or wiser-than-thou. And despite her many credentials, including her book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, her ascension to the Final Three in a Washington Post pundit contest, and her recent feature in The New York Times, her writing still retains that welcome. Rather than an elevated Voice of the Media, Courtney's articles and essays feel like reading an email from your smartest and most well-read friend. In a piece for The American Prospect titled "Questioning Journalistic Objectivity," Courtney outlines what she believes are the weaknesses, both of one's writing and one's humanity, in maintaining standard journalistic distance from your subjects: "...there's a rarely talked about but very powerful reason that journalists hide behind this convention. It's not just that we want to uphold Truth. It's incredibly frightening to think that you're going to have to be accountable to real people in the writing process. It's much easier to pretend that your master is Fact (with a capital 'F') and call it a day...Your effectiveness and credibility, not your humanity, is at stake." An earlier piece, "Lessons from Sarah Palin" (the title alone is near-heresy in a progressive outlet) asks similarly uncomfortable questions. Can feminists learn from Sarah Palin? What do we mean when we "defend women"? What has Palin taught us, and what do we owe ourselves in light of those lessons?  What I admire so much about Courtney is her willingness to tread murky waters, and invite us along. She works to put herself in others' positions.  Maybe that's why my friends and I found it so easy to see ourselves in her.