Tolentino and Small Staid

Jia Tolentino’s article for the New Yorker, “Mike Pence’s Marriage and the Beliefs That Keep Women From Power”, is an interesting critique on the way that Pence views women. The quote that caught my eye immediately was, “if he eats alone with a woman, that woman is Karen Pence.” She analyzes the fact that the Vice President of the United States uses his Evangelical Christian values as an excuse for seeing women only as a distraction or vice, rather than an equal. The most interesting aspect of this article is the fact that Tolentino was raised Southern Baptist, which is a point of view that is not assumed to be liberal. As far as intended audience, it is definitely not limited to left-leaning Southern Baptists, but moreso anyone who is reached by the New Yorker, which is a much larger audience. This is generally a more liberal audience, so readers may be more willing to read a piece criticizing a politician than people who support the current cabinet. I am definitely within the intended audience; I love to read about the implications of politicians’ lifestyle so if someone shared this article on Facebook, I would at least skim through it.

The article I read by Mairead Small Staid is entitled “Girl in a Country Song,” referencing the country song that the piece is based on. It starts as a review of a popular song but then turns into an analysis on the gender inequalities of country music. The most specific audience would be feminists who listen to country music, which is way too narrow for someone to actually publish. Because of this, I would guess that the intended audience is more open to anyone interested in the topics of music and social commentary. I think that I am within the intended audience, but closer to the outskirts because I am generally not likely to click on an article about country music if there is no indication of social commentary.


(I apologize for this being so late, I had it written but then realized that I never actually posted it)

Small Staid/Tolentino Discussion


I read her piece called “The Personal-Essay Boom is Over” online in The New Yorker. I found the piece lighthearted and engaging. The piece was most likely ideally for an audience familiar with the personal-essay genre, having read and engaged with the genre previously. Beyond that, I think it could be considered for both people who like the genre and who dislike the genre, since it doesn’t necessarily make claims for or against the genre exclusively. I think I am probably a part of the audience since I have read, engaged with and written personal-essays, though naturally mine have not been professionally published. I enjoyed the piece and would like to further engage with her writing since I find it to be both raw and honest.


Small Staid:

I read her piece called “Pentimenti” online in The Narrative. I found it both hard to follow and above my level of comprehension. Since I am not well-versed in various genres of literacy, I did not find myself a part of the ideal audience. I think her ideal audience would be someone well-versed and highly literate. They would need to be able to understand and be able to engage with her various references in order to fully appreciate her work. I think her work is of high quality, however, I do not find myself itching to further explore her writing.

Toelentino and Small Staid Response

Jia Toelentino

The piece I read was titled “What Should We Say About David Bowie and Lori Maddox?” which was published by Jezebel. The essay explored the controversial story of Lori Maddox, who famously retold her story of how she had sex with David Bowie when she was underage. Toelentino acknowledges the various factors that make this scenario problematic, sensitive, and complex – worth noting as well, the article was published soon after Bowie’s death in early 2016, as a sort of response to the dichotomy between people who wanted to praise Bowie’s work and those who refused to ignore the more scandalous elements of his past. Toelentino is likely targeting a female audience, as much of the paper discusses how women like Maddox may have played a role in defining the contemporary identity of women and how important – if controversial – that is to her. As a man, this section of the essay went mostly over my head, but for the most part I appreciate Toelentino’s analysis of the situation as a whole.

Mairead Small Staid

The piece I read was titled “Girl in a Country Song,” which was published by The Point. It analyzes the lyrics and music of a female country duo who purposefully deflects the stereotypical image of women in country music. She praises these artists while also looking at how few other country musicians are capable of showing the same progressive attitudes, highlighting how even contemporary and popular country songs still fall into defining women as needing to look, behave, and think in a certain way. Like Toelentino, Small Staid seems to be writing to a female audience, perhaps one that had previously rejected country music for the feeling that it had alienated them for its sexist tendencies. She aims to show that there are artists within the genre that are true to the musical roots of country without falling into the pits of it. As a man – and not a huge fan of country – I am certainly out of this audience, but I can respect Small Staid’s respect for these women who are able to defy norm for the sake of their art, and Small Staid’s writing on this is engaging.

Small Staid & Tolentino Response

The first piece I read was a poem titled “Pentimenti” by Mairead Small Stead. This poem was published in Narrative Magazine as one of 2014-2015’s poems of the week. The piece talks about her experiences in Italy — experiences ranging from drinking wine with friends to appreciating the country’s artwork. In my opinion, this piece is written for people who are well-traveled and have experience dealing with different cultures (specifically Italian culture). As someone who has never left the continent, I do not feel that this piece was written for me. I’m unfamiliar with most of the scenes she’s describing and most of the terms/locations she referenced sounded like gibberish to me. As a result, I looked up many of the places she discussed. Although I still feel as though I’m missing out on the bread and butter of the poem, at least the research allowed me to have a slightly stronger understanding of the piece.


The second piece was an article titled “Ivanka Trump wrote a painfully oblivious book for basically no one.” The article was written by Jia Tolentino and was published this past May. The piece blasted Ivanka Trump’s book — ostensibly written for businesswomen — for being tone deaf and valueless. As a result, I think this piece’s audience is businesswomen who see through Ivanka’s charade. As a male, then, the only way I could have an “in” into this piece is to empathize with the struggles that females face in the workforce and put myself in their shoes. As a person of color, I believe it’s a bit easier to empathize with the discrimination women feel, although it still isn’t 100% analogous.

Tolentino and Small Staid articles

“13 reasons why” makes a swarmy spectacle of suicide – Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker, May 10, 2017

I read Jia Tolentino’s review on the Netflix Original Series – 13 Reasons Why, produced by Selena Gomez, published in The New Yorker. While she criticizes the show for exaggerating certain scenes and aspects of the story by comparing to the portrayals in the book, she makes a valid point towards addressing suicidal thoughts and attempts to her audience. I think her audience is people who relate themselves with the protagonist of the show, Hannah Baker, as well as those who might have experienced such thoughts and attempts. Through this review, she highlights how the show depicted certain issues with great complexity, while the book kept it direct and simple. Personally, I have not read the book but willingly watched the show out of interest over two days. Following the show, I read a couple of mixed reviews about the show and how different people took it from different perspectives. So, I found it interesting to note the varied differences between the book and the show, and was convinced by her strong tone of criticism against the show.

Girl in a Country Song – Mairead Small Staid, The Point Magazine, 2014

I read a criticism piece by Mairead Small Staid on the pop song “Girl in a Country Song,” released in 2014. The audience that this is written to, I believe, is the group of country-songs lovers and those who follow music and song reviews. As an outsider, I am not much interested in music in general and do not actively read music critics. However, an important point that she does bring up in this article is the notion that “country music doesn’t take women seriously.” Objectification and stereotyping against women is a prominent theme throughout the article that is touched upon with references from the song video.

Girl in a Country Song

Tolentino/Small Staid Articles

“Louis Sachar, The Children’s-Book Author Who Introduced Me to Style” by Jia Tolentino in The New Yorker

Audience: People who know Louis Sachar is some capacity. Also, possibly those who have had a similar experience with childhood fascinations becoming influences in their adult lives. One might not have to know who Sachar is to be interested in how his stories impacted the writer’s style.

My Location: I was drawn to this article because I wanted to know how a children’s book could influence style. As I read it, i was thinking about which things from my childhood were reflected in my personality as I grew up. Which is why I think the second part of my statement about audience could be true.

“The 27th Letter” by Mairead Small Staid from Poetry Magazine

Audience: People who read Poetry Magazine, and must have a certain level of interest in the English Language as well as its history.

My Location: I do not read Poetry Magazine, but this piece stood out because I am an English major, and so I am interested in reading about a 27th letter. This piece about the ampersands is written to be informative, but it’s also very poetic. I wasn’t expecting to find anything like this.


Small Staid / Tolentino Readings

I began this assignment with research into who these authors were and where their work had been published. I started with Jia Tolentino. She has written mostly on online magazines and is currently a writer at the New Yorker. To find her work, I looked at her LinkedIn and her professional website. The piece of hers that I read was a music review called “Why I Have to Be So ‘Rude'” on This site calls itself a “general-interest site aimed at women.” This site seems to me (and I hope this is not rude) like the kind of website that you stumble upon late at night for hours of mindless entertainment, like Buzzfeed or Tumblr. While Tolentino’s article was a music review of the Magic! song “Rude,” she herself wrote that she “is not a music critic but she is gonna be a ‘Rude’ scholar on Rap Genius.” It is an entertaining article by an unqualified music critic. The language is funny and appeals to the younger generation because of its pop culture references. I find myself right in the midst of that audience, as I understood the references and laughed along with the genuine frustration of the writer, who was trying to see value in an incredibly popular song and failing to, finding herself out of the audience that she was supposed to fit into.

The next author, Mairead Small Staid, is a poet who, according to her credentials, is esteemed within the literary world. She was a graduate of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program and won Hopwood Awards from U-M. She is a poet and essayist and is mostly published in literary and essay magazines/periodicals. I read one of her nonfiction essays, “Girl in a Country Song,” which was only published at The Point Magazine. This, like the Tolentino article I read, is also a music criticism, but unlike Tolentino,  Small Staid includes political/feminist arguments and discusses the serious implications of what harm the country music industry can cause. The Point Magazine’s (where this article was published) founding purpose was the belief that “modern life is worth examining.” This fits perfectly into Small Staid’s article, as she critiques the stereotypes women in country music fall into while praising the few country singers (only female singers were mentioned) that break the mold. This is written for people who want to examine the female figure in popular culture, are familiar with country music, who see the importance of how women are portrayed in that culture and society, and who are interested in other tropes that country music plays into that perpetuate microaggressions and stereotypes within that aforementioned society. As a feminist and a huge believer that we need to change the way women are portrayed in popular culture, especially in mainstream rap and country (and everything, really), I would say I fit into this audience as well. The only caveat is the fact that I am not a country fan and could not recognize some names, but most of them were popular enough that I had a clue what was being discussed.

Tolentino & Small Staid samples

Jia Tolentino

-I read her review of the album White Men are Black Men Too by Young Fathers on Pitchfork (April 9 2015.) I remembered having read this exact review before, and it was surprising to find out that it was written by one of the two UM graduates I was to study for this class. The ideal audience for this piece would be someone who goes out of his/her way to explore critical analysis of popular music from established voices, rather than be content with his/her individual opinion on the music. Also, throughout the review, she references several other musicians in order to help the reader get the gist of what this album sounds like, which implies that the intended reader is somewhat knowledgeable about the types of popular music mentioned. I like to think about popular music analytically and thus probably fall under the category of intended audience, although I wasn’t able to understand all of her references.


Mairead Small Staid

-I read her poem Pentimenti featured as “Poem of the Week, 2014-15” on Narrative magazine. It was my first time encountering this website, which seems to primarily consist of entries of creative writing. The ideal audience would treat reading literature as an enriching experience and an enjoyment outside of academic obligations. Even though I consider myself interested in literature, I was not informed enough to have been included in the real audience group of this work, because I got to know the source of its publication only after I was assigned to do so.


Small Staid and Tolentino

While looking through articles written by Jia Tolentino, I was most intrigued about one titled, “Louise Linton Isn’t Mad. You’re Mad”, published in The New Yorker.  I immediately recognized the picture from an article I had read previously about Linton flaunting her designer clothes and accessories while on a tax-payer funded day trip with her husband, the Treasury Secretary. I believe that this article is broadly written for people interested in politics. However, it goes beyond that by not being focused on the political aspect of the trip that Linton and her husband went on, but rather targets the materialistic and fashion orientated angle that the picture takes. Therefore the audience is somewhat expanded to those who are interested in fashion and how it is portrayed/sponsored through social media. It also targets anyone who buys into the near constant criticism of President Trump, as the wife of his Treasury Secretary and her actions directly affects how the public views him. I think that this article was written for me as an audience, specifically because of the fact that I had read an article similar to this already. I enjoyed Tolentino’s article on this occurrence and thought that she did a good job of not just reiterating what happened, including the post itself and the ensuing comments, but she delved deeper into how this compares to other governmental figures like Ivanka Trump and how she too (in Tolentino’s opinion, wrongly) uses the power of presidential symbols to promote her own brand. She also did an amazing job of not just commenting on Linton’s use of Instagram hashtags in inappropriate forms, but also gave a cringeworthy summary of how this wasn’t the first time Linton’s ignorance and privilege have clouded something she has tried to do, citing her book, “In Congo’s Shadow: One Girl’s Perilous Journey to the Heart of Africa.” If an audience member was unsure that Linton’s Instagram post was really as tasteless as many were making it seem, Tolentino does an amazing job of leaving little room for doubt.

While looking at articles and poems written by Mairead Small Staid, I picked one aptly titled “Girl in a Country Song” in The Point Magazine. I recognized the song title from the same one I had listened to over and over again this summer, and was therefore very interested in hearing what she had to say about it. Ideally, this article is written for people who listen to country music. Without any background with country music, readers might not understand many of the references made throughout the article. More specifically, I think this article is written for female fans of country music, although not exclusively. While it may not be written for male country music fans, it’s not something they wouldn’t understand, although they may not agree with it. I believe that this article was written for me as an audience. As a female country music fan who is increasingly frustrated with the lyrics of songs by artists such as Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line, hearing “Girl in a Country Song” this summer was a refreshing and catchy break from the norm. I also appreciated that Small Staid’s article wasn’t a consistent praise of the song by Maddie & Tae. While it was one of the first of its kind, Small Staid acknowledges that “Girl in a Country Song” wasn’t going to do much to change the country music industry. She also criticizes some of the lyrics, specifically when Maddie & Tae say they aren’t cliché, and then go on to sing a very cliché line. Overall, Small Staid does a great job of both recognizing the importance of “Girl in a Country Song” as well as critiquing it where it needs critiquing, mainly with an expectation that the next song like this one will do more to shake up the country music world.

Tolentino & Small Staid


The piece I chose to read by Jia Tolentino was “No Offense,” published on Jezebel. What I loved about this essay, as was evidently Tolentino’s intention, is that it is easily digestible; despite addressing a fairly niche audience of (ideally) millennial feminists, the diction and content is incredibly comprehensible, and Tolentino’s ironic, self-critical tone makes it all the more appealing. While I do consider myself a feminist, most “feminist” articles tend to lack appeal to me because I often find, as Tolentino addresses in her essay, that they are long-winded rants spurred by personal offense, encouraging others to take offense as well, without pursuing any real action. It’s not to say that I don’t agree with many of these articles, for I often do, but my issue lies with the fact that there is no resolution. While it is important to voice one’s opinions and to discuss such controversial issues, I personally believe there is a line between using the internet to raise awareness/incite action, and simply indulging ourselves in our emotions for the sake of being validated by others. What I really appreciated about Tolentino’s piece is that it is honest; she shows no hesitation is speaking her piece, while simultaneously examining and acknowledging her own faults as a writer, specifically within the community she is addressing. It is this candidness that drew me into her piece, and without which I would’ve likely stopped reading after the first paragraph or two.


Small Staid

The second piece I chose to read was “The 27th Letter” by Mairead Small Staid, posted on the Poety Foundation’s website. This piece was vastly different from Tolentino’s piece, both in tone and content; instead of a colloquial and inviting tone, Small Staid adopts a much more formal and poetic voice, and addresses a much less controversial, and arguably less relevant, topic: the ampersand (“&” symbol). Identifying the nature of Small Staid’s piece, it is evident that her ideal audience is a more literarily advanced audience — one that appreciates language (Small Staid’s prose are incredibly well written), and also likely has some understanding of its history. In other words, this piece is definitely not directed towards the “average, everyday reader.” Because of this, I found myself identifying with both Small Staid’s “out” and “in” groups; while I love to write and could definitely appreciate the beauty of her diction, I simultaneously felt disconnected from her piece based on her content and clear catering to a “literarily-mature” audience — often throughout her essay I felt as though I wasn’t supposed to be reading it.