Archive for category Reading Material
Facebook and Twitter feeds along with email in-boxes have taken the place of the old newspaper front page, except that the consumer is now entirely in charge of what he or she sees each day and can largely shut out dissenting voices. It’s the great irony of the Internet era: People have more access than ever to an array of viewpoints, but also the technological ability to screen out anything that doesn’t reinforce their views.
“The Internet amplifies talk radio and cable news, and provides distribution for other sources like Newsmax,” said Trey Grayson, 40, the former Kentucky secretary of state and the current head of Harvard’s Institute of Politics. “Then your friends, who usually agree with you, disseminate the same stories on Facebook and Twitter. And you assume that everyone agrees with you!”
Grayson continued: “It’s very striking for me living in Cambridge now. My Facebook feed, which is full of mostly conservatives from Kentucky, contains very different links to articles or topics than what I see in Cambridge. It is sort of the reverse up here. They don’t understand how anyone would eat Chick-fil-A, watch college sports or hold pro-life views.”
“Social media has made it easier to self-select,” added 45-year-old GOP strategist Bruce Haynes. “Who do you follow on Twitter, who do you friend on Facebook? Do they all look the same and say the same things? If so, you’ve created a universe for yourself that is wedded to its own self-fulfilling prophecies.”
John Stuart Mill, 1859:
Unfortunately for the good sense of mankind, the fact of their fallibility is far from carrying the weight in their practical judgment, which is always allowed to it in theory; for while every one well knows himself to be fallible, few think it necessary to take any precautions against their own fallibility, or admit the supposition that any opinion of which they feel very certain, may be one of the examples of the error to which they acknowledge themselves to be liable. Absolute princes, or others who are accustomed to unlimited deference, usually feel this complete confidence in their own opinions on nearly all subjects. People more happily situated, who sometimes hear their opinions disputed, and are not wholly unused to be set right when they are wrong, place the same unbounded reliance only on such of their opinions as are shared by all who surround them, or to whom they habitually defer: for in proportion to a man’s want of confidence in his own solitary judgment, does he usually repose, with implicit trust, on the infallibility of “the world” in general. And the world, to each individual, means the part of it with which he comes in contact; his party, his sect, his church, his class of society: the man may be called, by comparison, almost liberal and largeminded to whom it means anything so comprehensive as his own country or his own age.
It’s just not that common to see such a blunt obituary. Normally people are a little tactful.
The writer who passed away a few days ago is Alexander Cockburn, and the piece by Colin Moynihan says that he became known as an “unapologetic leftist, condemning what he saw as the outrages of the right but also castigating the American liberal establishment when he thought it as being timid.” He is described by a former colleague at The Village Voice as having “a remarkable mind.”
One could say his mind was remarkable, if one chooses to use that word to describe someone who once wrote that the Soviet Union in Leonid Brezhnev’s day was “the golden age of the Soviet working class,” and who regularly reprinted Soviet and Cuban disinformation from its intelligence agencies as unadulterated truths.
From what Radosh was saying, Cockburn spared no punches against Radosh while he was alive — so I guess this is Radosh having the final word.
Not that I disagree with Radosh at all, but… ouch.
He drew a circle that shut me out–
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
Markham highlighted something that seems obvious, but everyone who claims to fight intolerance constantly seems to miss. Intolerance cannot be defeated with more intolerance, convincing people to be more tolerant of you requires being tolerant of them. The debate will not be won until you understand where the other side are coming from and recognise that they are not bad people and they have a valid perspective.
The best way to not win a debate is to start shouting “BIGOT! RACIST! SEXIST! HOMOPHOBE!” or whatever it may be, based solely on their being against a policy that you are in favour of and without actually listening to what the person is saying.
Don’t draw your own circle and shut him out the way he shut you out, draw the circle that takes him in.
Americans seem to want laws expressing high ideals but they seem also to want the convenience of ignoring or violating many of them with impunity.
Currently reading: Equality by Statute by Morroe Berger.
Berger argued that law can change society, yet this seems to be in stark contrast to the message from the history that he gives (I’m only about 1/10 into the book, so that may change). He even pointed out these two laws, passed almost a century apart:
Civil Rights Act of 1875:
… all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude.
Civil Rights Act of 1964
All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.
The law was changed before society was ready. State intervention did not successfully end discrimination, racists simply found ways around the legislation and everyone else didn’t care enough to stop them.
This leads me to a second thought:
Berger traces the flight of “the Negro” from, as he puts it, “rural poverty and exploitation in the South to urban misery and discrimination in other regions”. The Black Americans* were essentially one step behind the Whites and were moving into industries like manufacturing and mining just as the Whites were moving into the more lucrative trade and finance.
This story is rather familiar to many other groups of people in many other countries – urbanisation has been growing across the world for the past century, however the prosperity that comes with it seems to left behind the traditionally disadvantaged groups. Except for one.
Looking at the biggest law firms in America and you will see a long list of old European Aristocracy-sounding names like ‘Baker and McKenzie’, ‘Jones Day’ or ‘Latham and Watkins’. But then you get to the occasional one that doesn’t quite fit the mould – ‘Greenberg Traurig’, ‘Weil, Gotshal and Manges’ or ‘Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton’. And then of course there’s Goldman Sachs, holding its own with JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley.
The Jewish immigrants into New York in the late 1800s/early 1900s were not the highly-educated metropolitan elites from Vienna and Berlin who thought they had integrated well into European society and were about to get a nasty surprise (if that phrase comes even close to describing the horror of what happened). No, these were rural farmers from shtettles in Poland and Russia. They also were not at all free from discrimination – the universities all limited their ‘Jewish intake’ through quotas and the chances of a Goldberg or a Rothstein being hired by any of the top firms were slim to nil.
So what did they do? They worked. Hard. The poor Lower East Side of Manhattan became full of sweatshops where Jews worked in conditions worse than those in Foxcomm factories. They saved money and sent their children to school and university. The children then found that the old WASP establishment had no interest in employing Jews and so they were locked-out from all of the most esteemed industries. So what did they do? They came together and hired each other, they built their own firms and did it so well that within a few decades they were buying-out the firms that used to refuse to hire them.
As with the Black Americans, that story was similar across the world in the new immigrant nations that were forming. A few things come to mind when I ask this question, but none of them really give a definitive answer: why are we so different? Why were Jews able to impose themselves on the White establishment until there was no choice but to accept them, where other disadvantaged groups just seem so… complacent?
Although the exception, as we’re seeing, are immigrants from East Asia – who look set to replicate the Jewish success of earlier generations.
*I consider “African American” to be quite an offensive term, not to mention a misnomer. Millions of “African Americans” have no African heritage whatsoever. Many more Americans do have African heritage, but are not Black.
As you may have guessed by the infrequent posts recently, for a number of reasons I have not had the time to read/write like I usually would (and won’t for a while). Catching-up on the New Yorker from two weeks ago, I just read this article by Michael Specter on geoengineering.
I was going to provide excerpts and commentary, like I usually would, but that really wouldn’t do this article justice. Specter manages to succinctly cover almost every relevant piece of information about climate change: the history of the science, the current state of knowledge, the different options available, the possible economic costs, the political will etc.
The article shows that there is potential for catastrophe and there are a lot of horrible-sounding predictions, but these are all unreliable and we have historically been very inaccurate when trying to predict weather patterns. Similarly, the most coveted option (of cutting carbon emissions entirely) is completely unrealistic and probably more insane than the geoengineering options described in the article, all of which are a insane to some extent.
The one point that I want to concentrate on came close to the end, it concerns the lack of an international legal system to deal with activity that alters the climate. I have not finished processing the repercussions of this, but I will probably write a post once I have thought it all through.
In the meantime, I strongly recommend clicking through and reading the full article. It makes Mark Latham’s attempt look like a primary school science project (if it didn’t look like that already, that is).
The most environmentally sound approach to geoengineering is the least palatable politically. “If it becomes necessary to ring the planet with sulfates, why would you do that all at once?’’ Ken Caldeira asked. “If the total amount of climate change that occurs could be neutralized by one Mt. Pinatubo, then doesn’t it make sense to add one per cent this year, two per cent next year, and three per cent the year after that?’’ he said. “Ramp it up slowly, throughout the century, and that way we can monitor what is happening. If we see something at one per cent that seems dangerous, we can easily dial it back. But who is going to do that when we don’t have a visible crisis? Which politician in which country?’’
Unfortunately, the least risky approach politically is also the most dangerous: do nothing until the world is faced with a cataclysm and then slip into a frenzied crisis mode. The political implications of any such action would be impossible to overstate. What would happen, for example, if one country decided to embark on such a program without the agreement of other countries? Or if industrialized nations agreed to inject sulfur particles into the stratosphere and accidentally set off a climate emergency that caused drought in China, India, or Africa?
“Let’s say the Chinese government decides their monsoon strength, upon which hundreds of millions of people rely for sustenance, is weakening,” Caldeira said. “They have reason to believe that making clouds right near the ocean might help, and they started to do that, and the Indians found out and believed—justifiably or not—that it would make their monsoon worse. What happens then? Where do we go to discuss that? We have no mechanism to settle that dispute.”
I’ve previously proven the awesome power that this blog has over the media, and today has brought yet another feather to add to the Major Karnage cap.
After my little attack on Vogue the other week for being completely ignorant of the world that regular people live in and giving disgusting justifications for profiling a “thin, glamorous” mass-murderer, I’m told that the magazine has re-evaluated its policy and is now including things like this John Powers profile on Katie Beirne, a Democrat spin doctor.
Sure, a lot of people may be thinking “there are like 100 people reading this blog post and they’re mostly Australians in their mid-20s, why the hell would the editors of Vogue care what you think?” or “yeah right, like a massive shift in editorial policy would have been made between your post and now”, but I don’t listen to them. I know it was because of me.
Where some political strategists (think James Carville or Karl Rove) revel in playing the garrulous genius, Beirne is allergic to the self-aggrandizement that is the D.C. lingua franca. Her power comes from resisting the limelight. Over lunch at the Monocle, the famous old Capitol Hill restaurant, I try to get her to promote herself, just a little. In vain. She pointedly won’t talk about what goes on behind closed doors. “Our work,” she tells me with her lovely, Vera Farmiga–ish smile, “is largely behind the scenes.”
Which doesn’t mean it’s not exciting.
“I so, so love politics,” she says. “I like the idea of fighting for something. Especially this year. There’s a big question whether we are going to keep the Senate. And what drives me is that we can only keep the Senate if we elect more women. This is the year of the woman.”
This does not quite sum-up exactly what it means to be a party hack like Beirne, but it does a pretty good job of making the world of a political insider seem much more glamorous than it really is — which is definitely a step up from making a brutal dictator and his wife seem much more humane than they really are.
Even more positive is the news that Vogue editors have committed to stop using underage models with eating disorders. After decades of encouraging teenagers to develop a “super chic” body dismorphic disorder, the fashion world’s top opinion maker has finally decided that “health” is in this season.
Of course, the fashion world is notoriously fickle and it could well be that poor health makes a “retro” comeback in a season or two, but this is a positive development for now anyway.
The 19 editors of Vogue magazines around the world made a pact to project the image of healthy models, according to a Conde Nast International announcement.
They agreed to “not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder,” and said they will ask casting directors to check IDs at photo shoots and fashion shows and for ad campaigns.
American, French, Chinese and British editions of the fashion glossies are among those that will start following the new guidelines with their June issues; the Japanese edition will begin with its July book.
“Vogue believes that good health is beautiful. Vogue Editors around the world want the magazines to reflect their commitment to the health of the models who appear on the pages and the well-being of their readers,” said Conde Nast International Chairman Jonathan Newhouse in a statement.
Overland editor Jeff Sparrow is one who has often flirted with the lunatic fringe. But then, I guess that’s to be expected from the editor of the self-proclaimed “most radical of Australia’s long-standing literary and cultural magazines”. Interestingly, the Overland website indicates that the journal is supported by – you guessed it – public money. The key sponsors are: the City of Melbourne, the Federal Government, the Victorian Government, Melbourne University and – oddly – UNESCO.
Let me dwell on that last one for a second. The UN body tasked with promoting education and social/cultural rights throughout the world is spending money every year supporting some crackpot quarterly journal whose website, according to Alexa, gets less Australian hits than this one (which, by the way, gets substantially less funding. Meanwhile, if anyone wants to fund Major Karnage, I’m very open to the idea…). Don’t they have better things to spend their money on, like recognising Palestine as a state? Oh, never mind.
Point is, given the amount of public funding flowing into Sparrow’s journal and thus allowing him to keep his job, it is not surprising that he is so devastated at the idea of public funding for the arts in Australia being cut:
Note: I feel the need to “fisk” the article a little.
When right-wing parties win elections, arts administrators generally repeat to each other a piece of consolatory folk wisdom, along the lines that conservative governments fund culture more generously than their Labor counterparts. But if that were ever true, it rested upon a patrician sensibility in which certain manifestations of high culture (opera, ballet, etc) were understood as ritualistic reinforcements of class power: thus an orchestra, say, might be subsidised because its performances featured on the social calendar of those people who traditionally bankrolled the Liberal Party, even as experimental poetry might be allowed to wither.
What is “experimental poetry” anyway? What findings come from these experiments? Can experimental poetry pack opera houses full of people? Because if it can’t, I can definitely understand why an orchestra would get funding instead.
In any case, Tony Abbott’s a politician of a different stamp. … Like many of the new generation of Liberals, he’s spent his career chasing the Left out of what he sees as its institutional footholds. That seems to be at least part of the reason why Newman shut down Queensland’s awards – as the Oz helpfully reminds us, they “attracted controversy last year when former al-Qa’ida trainee David Hicks was shortlisted for the non-fiction award for his Guantanamo Bay: My Journey.”
Remind me again why Hicks’ book was shortlisted for the non-fiction award? By most accounts, it was a horribly written and only arguably a work of “non-fiction”. I’m extremely uncomfortable with this glorification of Hicks anyway. Even accepting that he was mistreated, he is still a man with an extremely racist and hateful worldview who supports the use of violence against innocent people (who aren’t him).
But he is hated by Bush and Howard, so I guess what does a little support for al-Qaeda matter? We can put aside the odd call for the slaughtering of the “Jews, non-believers and Americans”, right?
We need to build popular support. That seems obvious, but too often the responses to looming cuts in the sector begin and end with attempts to convince those making the decisions. What we need, instead, is public recognition of the value of culture, sufficient that ordinary people will rally to defend it.
That might seem like a tall order but there are reasons for optimism. Reading is, according to the ABS, a favoured leisure activity for about 60 per cent of Australians over the age of 15. The recent Books Alive survey claimed that in the week before the research, some 67 per cent of adults had read for pleasure. Writers’ festivals draw extraordinary numbers and are popping up all over the country, while creative writing courses are one of the biggest growth areas in Australian universities.
The people who care about books are out there. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they can articulate why literature is of importance or why reading is more than simply an enjoyable pastime.
That’s the challenge for those who work in the field. There’s an urgent need for a new defence of literature, arguments that are neither philistine populism nor patronising elitism, but instead make the case why writing should matter to ordinary people.
It’s something we’ve traditionally been very bad at. We need to get much better, very quickly.
Ok Mr Sparrow, want to build popular support? Here’s my first suggestion: stop apologising for David Hicks.
In fact, there’s something deeply troubling about this whole discussion. We are treating the axing of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards as if it is simply an attack on the arts, but they very nearly gave $15000 to a man who has been forbidden to profit from his conviction for supporting terror. The Sydney Writer’s Festival hosted him last year as well. What are publicly-funded institutions doing promoting David Hicks?
Yes, people who care about books are out there, but pouring taxpayer dollars into Overland is not going to help the situation. I find it incredible that Sparrow was so snarky about Conservative support for the orchestra when his journal is propped-up to cater to an even smaller group of cultural elites than the ones going to see the Sydney Philharmonic play Chopin. In fact, once a vaguely right wing government takes over in Melbourne or federally, they would have every right to axe their funding to an establishment as openly partisan as Overland. We’re not talking the ABC here, which at least has the pretence of aiming to be balanced – Overland has an agenda that it makes very clear. Why should governments fund organisations that publish anti-government propaganda?
The literary magazines that do well are not funded publicly, they have to find advertisers and buyers like everyone else. Similar for literary awards – there are a lot of people and organisations that would love to brand themselves as supporting literature to appeal to educated Australians. They would not, however, want to be anywhere near David Hicks and many of them wouldn’t touch Jeff Sparrow either. Arts communities in Australia need to start finding ways to both solicit philanthropic donations and appeal to a broader audience. This will never happen if success continues to be determined by whoever impresses the Mayor of Melbourne more, rather than whoever sells more books.
“Though we can condemn … the persecution of writers, acts of censorship, the burning of books, we are powerless when it comes to [the worst crime against literature]: that of not reading the books. For that … a person pays with his whole life; … a nation … pays with its history.”
Poet Joseph Brodsky in his 1987 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, cited by Maura Kelly, who was writing about how in a fast-paced ADD world it is important to take time out and read slowly:
In our leisure moments, whenever we have down time, we should turn to literature—to works that took some time to write and will take some time to read, but will also stay with us longer than anything else. They’ll help us unwind better than any electronic device—and they’ll pleasurably sharpen our minds and identities, too.
She goes on to list the proven benefits of reading literature: it improves your memory, your learning capability; it helps you put yourself in another’s place and understand their perspective.
A very close second to this week’s quote was from a piece by Liel Leibovitz on the same topic:
Of course, the genre of self-ascription as such should not be altogether dismissed. If one, say, happens to be the Right Honourable Sir Winston Churchill, and had fought the Second Boer War, and had sponsored the campaign in Gallipoli, and had rescued the world from the jaws of tyranny, and had written the definitive history of the English-speaking peoples, and had won the Nobel Prize in literature for his efforts, one should most definitely sit down to write a memoir. Heck, make that two. But if one’s designs on posterity involve writing an inane and intermittently amusing account of traveling somewhere banal and meeting some, like, really crazy people, one ought to take a cue from Sir Winston and first live a life truly worth writing about.
Leibovitz also made some great observations about the Jewish tradition of reading and how our culture has always been centred around text:
The People of the Book, of course, realized this about books a very long time ago. At the core of our being is a shared text, which we spend eternity debating. Our discussions, our disputes, our creative feats—all stem from it. Take away our common canon and we’re left with that most debased and meaningless of commodities: opinions. In some strange way, that old chestnut about two Jews having three opinions gets it all wrong. What Jews excel in aren’t opinions—the carefree and baseless expression of personal sentiment—but responsa, attempts to make sense of life that are rooted in a distinct tradition and a strong commitment to exploring and understanding its intricacies.
I’ll admit that I struggle to do this and spend far too much of my time reading blogs, newspapers and magazine articles rather than books. Books are important, some things can only be said at length.
So the lesson for the week? Pick up a novel for 30 minutes every day. I’ll try to do it too.
Jordan Chandler Hirsch has given the best review that I have seen yet of Peter Beinart’s new book The Crisis of Zionism (UPDATE: except this one) (disclaimer: I have not read the book myself). For those who don’t follow these things, for the past couple of years, Beinart has been trying to pioneer some new form of “liberal Zionism” that, for reasons explained below, I find deeply flawed.
Before I get into that, I would just like to highlight one important point that Beinart has backtracked on. In the New York Review of Books essay with which Beinart originally launched his campaign, he had a premise that was very popular with quite a few of the Jews who were inclined to agree with his position anyway (hi Liam): that the reason American Jews have become increasingly alienated towards Israel is that they cannot “blindly support” Israel the way AIPAC does (which AIPAC doesn’t actually do).
This is understandably an attractive prospect for Beinart and his followers — who wouldn’t want to believe that everyone naturally agrees with them and if only the establishment were different, they would be super popular. Unfortunately for Beinart (and Liam), this assumption is not grounded in reality. He has since been proven wrong and quietly moved away from this position:
Beinart—though he doesn’t explicitly admit to it—largely walks back his theory of political distancing in The Crisis of Zionism. In fact, in direct contradiction to his article in The New York Review of Books, he endorses Cohen’s argument that, for the vast majority of American Jews whose ties to Israel are weakening, intermarriage is a more important factor than politics. Noting that the intermarriage rate among Jews today is “roughly 50 percent,” Beinart admits “the harsh truth is that for many young, non-Orthodox American Jews, Israel isn’t that important because being Jewish isn’t that important.” Later, he states, quite rightly, “it would be wrong to imagine that young, secular American Jews seethe with outrage at Israel’s policies.” “For the most part,” he writes, “they do not care enough to seethe.”
Hirsch goes on to explain the important flaws in Beinart’s thesis. He more-or-less describes my point of view as well: rather than addressing the problem, Beinart is just presenting Read the rest of this entry »
A post in the Jewish Daily Forward by Sarah Seltzer led me to this study done by VIDA – an organisation aimed at increasing female representation in literary arts – of bylines in major literary-focussed magazines and book review sections that were written by men and women. The results, shown in a series of piecharts, make for quite bleak viewing:
Before I discuss the results, I have to be annoying and discuss the study methods. As regular readers will know, I generally follow the Tuftian theory on data presentation, meaning that I absolutely hate pie charts and anything else that you can make with Microsoft Office. This is a very ineffective way of showing data, what I want is a nice spreadsheet and maybe a scatterplot – that would mean that I could find trends, averages, standard errors and all of the other things that nerds like me like to look at.
I’ll also note that bylines are just a small part of the picture, the study did not include important factors like the breakdowns by gender of: the number of submissions received; the editorial board members; the pool of potential writers; and — especially important — the readership.
Note: gender scholar Danielle Pafunda has written a relatively compelling argument for other factors being less important than they would seem, noting that much of the result still comes down to editorial policy and that the selection process is far from passive (i.e. editors actively source their writers). I am not entirely convinced by this (especially where she claims that the superior quality of women’s submissions counterbalances the lower volume), but there is something to it.
Looking at the wrong magazines?
This point was raised in one of the comments on the VIDA site:
Many of the largest-circulation magazines in English are primarily written by and read by women. What you’re saying is that if you ignore magazines aimed at women and focus on much smaller magazines that don’t tend to be written by and read by women, there are more men. OK.
My question: why are magazines that focus on women uninteresting, unprestigious, and ignored?
What would happen if you analyzed these magazines, instead of the smaller ones you picked?
This is a valid point, what is also not explained by VIDA is what led to the choice of these particular magazines and the list feels quite arbitrary.
Some of the magazines are dedicated book review journals, some are academic literary journals and some are just highbrow magazines with book review sections, including feature-based magazines (The New Yorker, The Atlantic) and political commentary (The New Republic); all of these are left-leaning, all but one are published in the UK or the USA and some that to me would be quite obvious choices have been left out (e.g. Vanity Fair, The New Statesman, The Spectator).
Also, none are web-based magazines, ignoring important publications like Slate and The Daily Beast, and it has included the literary supplement from The London Times, but not from other similarly regarded/circulated newspapers, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian etc; all of which have literary supplements. This is not to say that these publications would necessarily be any different (although some probably would — Vanity Fair comes to mind in particular), but it would be good to rule that out, or at least to explain the reason some were chosen but not others.
Maybe the topics are the problem?
Some interesting thoughts on this issue come from another Forward blogger, Elissa Strauss (my bold):
I never bothered to pitch any of the magazines on the VIDA count last year. This wasn’t because I didn’t think they would pay attention to me because of my gender, but rather because they don’t seem to be much interested in covering the things I like to write about. I am talking about topics like gender, sexuality, culture and the intersection of the three.
In the world of the “thought leaders,” these “lady issues” are all still largely niche topics. We get an occasional bone thrown at us, like Kate Bolick’s piece on single ladies in The Atlantic, but these stories always seem to require a strong first-person angle in order to make them newsworthy. Overall, however, women’s issues and gender equity, are just not important or interesting enough to the editors.
There are those that argue that in order for more women to appear on these mastheads, we must leave our comfort zones and take on the “big” stuff like politics and money. I agree, but I also think that it has to go both ways. Sure, more women should, and do, try to inch their way into these beats. But we should also stay determined about the fact that the things we like to read and write about are important, too, and that they don’t deserve to always be relegated to an occasional feature or culture piece.
Essentially, she is suggesting that these magazines need to make an effort to have more “female-focussed” content (i,e, publish more stuff that she writes about). As a subscriber to several of these magazines (though admittedly not a woman), I find this a little absurd. As the comment above pointed out, there are already many magazines aimed at women which speak about these kinds of issues – presumably, these are the ones Strauss pitches to – so why change the subject matter of the ones that have other foci? There is a reason that I subscribe to The New Yorker and not Cosmopolitan (or GQ, for that matter).
These are magazines that publish articles on what Strauss refers to as “the ‘big’ stuff”. They are not the most highly-circulated magazines, but they are the most highly regarded magazines amongst left-leaning, English-speaking “intellectuals”, which seems to be the market that everyone mentioned in this post is going for. It’s not that issues related to gender or sexuality are overlooked in these magazines; they get the occasional feature, but they are not the general focus and nor should they be.
I also don’t understand why women can’t write on the issues that these magazines do cover: politics, science, culture, the arts and assorted human interest stories; in fact, many women do – maybe not most women, but then neither do most men; again, these are niche publications.
That said, I would really have no idea about this, not being a woman and all. So I would like to pose the question to anyone who made it this far: are the issues that I care about (i.e. the ones I read/write about) really not things that women are interested in? Thinking about it, this does seem true to me anecdotally; I find that I have more male friends with whom I can engage with on these kinds of issues than female friends. What I do not understand is why.
On a similar note, the other common explanation that I found was the theory that women are somehow conditioned in ways that make them less apt for this type of writing. The best example came from the New Republic‘s Jonathan Chait, responding to Elissa Strauss’ article on last year’s near-identical list (my bold):
My explanation, which I can’t prove, is socialization predisposes boys to be more interested both in producing and consuming opinion journalism. Confidence in one’s opinions and a willingness to engage in intellectual combat are disproportionately (though not, of course, exclusively) male traits. I’ve come across several writers in my career who are good at writing in the argumentative style but lack confidence in their ability. They are all female.
Now, a magazine can try to encourage women to have more confidence in their opinions and their right to engage in debate and challenge others. I like to think I’ve done my part here. But overwhelmingly, by the time they reach this stage in their career, the battle has already been lost.
I also have trouble dealing with this argument for the simple reason that most of Chait’s response was describing the soft affirmative action at the New Republic and how many women seem to be around the office, if not writing the bylines. I feel like there must be something else going on.
This post is getting much too long, so here are some more responses that are worth reading for anyone still interested: Roxane Gay wants affirmative action; Robin Romm notes the cycle of literary awards and accolades; Ruth Franklin shows that the problem may not be the magazines, but the publishing houses.
And for the record, my favourite female writers:
- Alana Newhouse: editor-in-cheif, Tablet
- Jennifer Rubin: columnist, Washington Post
- Maureen Dowd: columnist, New York Times
- Dina Rickman: assistant politics editor, Huffington Post UK
- Diaa Hadid: Mid-East based Associated Press reporter
- Sally Neighbour: prolific Australian freelance reporter
- Latika Bourke: ABC (Aust) political reporter
Again, I am quite puzzled by the issue and would appreciate any thoughts on it. You can reply in the comments section, by email or on Twitter (see the “About” section on the right of the page).