Not So Fresh Air*

Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine included an interview with NPR’s “Fresh Air” host, Terry Gross.

Photo by Will Ryan, via NPR’s website

Terry Gross, host of “Fresh Air” for 37 years, has probably seen and heard it all, but I am incredibly curious to know her reaction to the questions posed to her for this week’s NYT Magazine‘s profile. A seasoned and skilled interviewer herself (who consistently uses intelligent, insightful questions to draw unique stories from her guests), I was curious to see what we could glean from Gross via Andrew Goldman’s questions. Sadly, instead of being treated to questions on par with Gross herself, Goldman decided to pull ones out of the “Questions That Should Never Be Asked Of Anyone Ever” playbook:

Did you choose “Fresh Air” over having children? 

I imagine you don’t particularly like kids. 

I gather that people frequently assume you’re a lesbian.

Listen, I grew up in a household that religiously read the Sunday Times each week. My father still saves the occasional NYT Magazine for me when he thinks I might enjoy something within its pages.  So I get that these profiles are less hard-hitting than most interviews, and usually fall to the side of light-hearted Q&A’s that include a few amusing or surprising anecdotes. And sure, sometimes they even get a bit saucy. But when did “entertaining” become synonymous with disrespectful, sexist and down right rude?

As to be expected, my smart-as-hell Twitter feed was filled with folks commenting on the interview, equally aghast at the audacity of these questions. I posed my own question to those who were discussing the profile:  I dare somebody to find any male host being similarly questioned. 

Really, I could have just said “Find me an interview of any man, that asks similar questions.” Nobody could come up with any. So, I went back and sifted through a few more of Goldman’s profiles and happened to stumble across this one with author Richard Ford. In it, Goldman poses to Ford: You don’t have any children. In fact, you once said, “I hate children.” 

Now, despite favoring questions surrounding child-hating (and why, oh why are child-free people always accused of hating children?), I also noticed that Goldman only follows up with a question about career versus family when Ford mentions his own personal views on the subject. Goldman also phrases these questions in a much different way – i.e. commenting on a previous quote of Ford’s, versus making half-assed assumptions about Gross based on her childlessness.

I guess I disproved my own point by finding an interview where Goldman asks a man about kids. I’ll own up to that. However, comparing the two interviews and the respective questions about children only further proves my point, rather than weakening it. In Ford’s interview – the questions are actually legitimate. Ford writes fiction that include characters with children. It makes sense that one would want to question how he writes a parent, never having been one himself. But, Gross? How does her child-free status anyway impact the work she does on air? And why assume that she would have to give up one aspect for the other – it creates the assumption that Gross was only able to succeed at one thing, instead of perhaps making the conscious choice not to have children apart from the choice to have a career.

Why is there this unspoken pass given for people to question and comment on a woman’s childless/child-bearing status when it has little to no bearing on her work? The immediate assumption that a. every woman wants to talk about her reproductive choices and that b. she wants to tell you is pretty arrogant. The follow up statement that notes that many people think Gross is a lesbian is both out of place and again, irrelevant. I’d be hard pressed to believe that Gross would ever lead her own interview down a set of questions like these.

*Yeah. I know. You’ll have to excuse the not so punny post title. But when a situation gives you the obvious, you sort of have to roll with it… 

2 thoughts on “Not So Fresh Air*

  1. Wow. How infuriating! Your last paragraph is right on point. Why should women share otherwise irrelevant info on their reproductive choices? And, that’s right, Gross would not have conducted an interview in such a way. I love that she is the standard for quality journalism, esp since Goldman brazenly missed the mark here.

    I hadn’t seen this, so thanks for the eloquent heads up.

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