Every urbanite’s worst nightmare came true for one New Yorker this week: Jennifer Rosoff, leaning against the railing on the balcony of her Upper East Side apartment, suddenly fell 17 stories to her death after the railing gave way. This is obviously horrifying and tragic. Rosoff was a media executive with stints at The New Yorker and Cosmopolitan on her resume. It’s outrageous that the owners of her building were so remiss in their balcony inspection duties. But if you skimmed the beginning of the Associated Press’s account of Rosoff’s accidental death, you wouldn’t get much information about Rosoff’s promising career or about the structural inadequacies of her balcony. Here are the first two paragraphs of the AP’s article about Rosoff:
A 35-year-old media executive on a first date plunged to her death Thursday after the railing on her 17th-floor New York City balcony gave way, police said.
Jennifer Rosoff went outside for a cigarette around 12:50 a.m. when she either sat on the railing or leaned on it. Her date told her that she probably shouldn’t do it, and then moments later, she apparently fell backward and landed on construction scaffolding at the first floor, authorities said. Police spoke to the man and no foul play was suspected.
Let’s break this down. According to the AP, the crucial facts you need to know about Rosoff right off the bat are that:
1. She was 35 and single.
2. She was a smoker.
3. She invited a man back to her apartment late at night on a first date.
4. The man warned her not to lean against the balcony, but she did it anyway.
The implication being that this smoking slut totally had it coming. A reader is left with the distinct impression that if Rosoff hadn’t invited her date inside, hadn’t gone outside to smoke a cigarette, and hadn’t defied the advice of the wise and logical man she was with, she would still be alive. According to the AP story’s subtext, the problem wasn’t that Rosoff’s balcony railing was shoddy and unsafe—it was that Rosoff defied gender norms by being unmarried at 35, by being sexually liberal, and by insisting on making her own decisions instead of deferring to men’s logic.