I know, I know … lots of radio silence from my end. Hey, it’s been a busy summer, after a busy school year.
But holy crap, the Paula Deen story has brought me out of my writing-and-watching-tennis malaise. Maybe you’ve heard about Deen’s racism, her frequent use of the N word to her employees and her poor treatment of Blacks in her several businesses. In focusing so intently on her use of the N word, however, journalists have ignored the vast bulk of the story which deals with sexual harassment, misogyny, racial and sexual violence, and over five years of ignored complaints about all of the above.
Don’t want to read the full formal court complaint? Let me offer some crucial details as I ask: What’s wrong with our culture that we can’t see this is a case of BOTH racism and sexism?
It would be easy to attack Deen’s public persona, the syrupy-accented Food Channel cook who naughtily put more butter into everything while winking at her viewers. But no matter how you feel about that persona, you have to admit she’s a canny and spectacularly successful businesswoman — a woman who has used gender to her advantage in every way. She has built a multi-million dollar empire on food and her self-portrayal as “The Lady” — her restaurant in Savannah is called The Lady and Sons, for example.
The problem is not just that behind the scenes Deen is a racist. It’s also that she maligns, under-pays, and permits sexual harrassment and violence toward her female employees. Old South, indeed.
Mainstream coverage of the case has focused on racial slurs used by Deen or implicitly condoned by her when her managers or business partner/brother used them. But Deen and her partners were equal-opportunity bigots. They referred to the litigant as “almost Jewish” because of her business acumen — in fact, Deen’s brother Bubba (sigh) called her his “little Jew girl” — while they insisted on a strict policy of paying women far less than men, and refused to promote women to positions that might pay more.
“Women are stupid because they think they can work and have babies and get everything done,” was one such (alleged) pronouncement by Karl Schumacher, the douchebag who oversaw compensation for Deen’s empire of companies. Schumacher was also responsible for taking away the litigant’s annual bonus when she got divorced, because he disapproved of divorce. (Hm. Deen herself was divorced at the age of 23. Oh well, never mind.)
Meanwhile, the court documents reveal that brother Bubba sexually harassed the litigant with sexual and misogynistic jokes, pornography, insulting comments about female employees’ weight or physical attractiveness — all the while skimming profits off the top and wallowing about in a drunken stupor.
All in all — by my eyeballing of the 33-pg court document — the specific cases of gender bias and sexual harassment total about three times the amount of evidence of racial discrimination and violence. This should not surprise us, as the litigant is a white woman and has launched the case based on her own experiences as a manager within Deen’s empire; doubtless a Black employee would have far more evidence of racial crap. Nevertheless, I’m stunned by the fact that the vast majority of misogyny is ignored by the mainstream press in order to focus most of all on the racial slurs used by Deen, Bubba Hiers, and her managers.
The racism is stunning and awful — but why can’t we see that it is of a piece with Deen’s and Hiers’ overall plantation mentality? Why can’t journalists demonstrate that this is not a case of simple racism, but a corporate culture in which white men and a single plantation “lady” reign supreme, all the while insisting on the subjection of all black and female others?
I’m sorry, but I think the American public can grasp that the Old South exemplified in the Deen corporate empire is not simply racist. Leaving the female employees’ stories out of the mainstream coverage is a crime, for it points out the kinds of experiences that millions of women encounter every day in their jobs as well.
Racism and sexism aren’t separate problems in the workplace; nor do they fall in a hierarchy in which one or the other is more important. Racism and sexism intersect in myriad ways, all of which become clear in the court documents in the Deen case. The public is smart enough to recognize that — and smart enough to know that when mainstream media coverage ignores 3/4 of the damning evidence against the Deen empire, it represents an implicit message: “Ladies, your workplace complaints are not important.”
It may be that Deen getting fired from the Food Channel and losing her corporate sponsors results entirely from those accounts of her using the N word to her employees. That would be too bad. I venture to guess that a huge percentage of her support comes from women — women who see her story of a young divorcée building success in a classically American way (bootstraps, gumption, self-made woman) as inspiring and worthy of support. That‘s the public that needs to hear how women of all races were treated behind the scenes. Because Deen’s claim to be “The Lady” has a long history in the United States — a history rooted more in the Plantation Mistress than the Self-Made Man. We need to know this.
8 March 2013
The VIDA count is out — and yet again, men authored 70% of the pieces in highly-respected literary publications.
Produced by an organization dedicated to encouraging women’s equal representation in the literary arts, this annual statistical breakdown traces the bylines in a number of publications (including the Times Literary Supplement, The Atlantic Magazine, and The Nation) and within several categories.
Congratulations are hereby offered to The Boston Review, and Poetry Magazine for getting close to equity, and to Tin House for realizing it. But then there are the rest, including a number of magazines I actually subscribe to:
A few years ago one of my favorite NPR programs, On The Media, did some soul searching on its own gender breakdown — when they ask experts to opine on questions, do they find a relatively equal number of male and female experts? The answer was a resounding no. I’ve long wondered whether they ever followed up on that question to see whether they’d changed their ways.
And yet these stats will likely produce little change. Someone out there is going to argue that men are better writers than women, or that male readers want to read male writers, or that men write about things that are awesome for everyone … of whatever. Jeez, it’s 10:30am and I’m already bone tired.
28 November 2012
Here’s a radical suggestion: let’s keep all the details of rape charges private and out of the media until they have been resolved by the legal system. Because if there’s anything worse than a legal system trying to figure out the details of rape cases within the usually male-dominated sphere of the police and the law, it’s the overtly sexist media trying a rape case without any fucking evidence.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An athlete is charged with rape, and a media outlet essentially pens a dramatic headline asking the public, “Is this Highland Park baseball star a rapist?” (Hint: no, according to the story.) The real goal of the article is to say the girl is lying, and that the male athlete is the real victim here. “If it’s a case of impulsive teenage decisions, remorse and guilt, then no one suffers more than 18-year-old Ryan Romo,” the article concludes.
Using no evidence beyond her own gut feelings, the article’s author (and CultureMap managing editor) Claire St. Amant holds forth about how “kids are supposed to mess up. They lie. They cheat. They get caught. They grow up.”
You might think that St. Amant refers to both the alleged rapist and his accuser, who is under the age of 16. But no. Apparently there’s only one kind of kid who messes up: girls.
A lot of people found this story problematic, such that a defensive St. Amant posted a follow-up story doubling down on her position. Then a freelance columnist for CultureMap named Dan Solomon posted a critical assessment of the story on his independent Tumblr — because, as he explains for XOJane, he’d like to be the kind of guy “with enough credibility to call out people who say or do fucked up things.” He wrote:
I’m embarrassed right now that my name is associated with the Culturemap brand. I’m really disappointed in St. Amant’s judgment and of Culturemap’s choice to publish such offensive — and stupid! — bullshit.
CultureMap asked him to take it down, Solomon refused, so they fired him.
Is Ryan Romo guilty or innocent? we don’t know. Was the sex between him and this under-16 girl consensual? we don’t know. That’s for the legal system to figure out.
Did his accuser lie? we don’t know. Of course we can all think of cases in which accusers have lied, but that doesn’t mean this one did. That’s for the legal system to figure out.
Let it be said that regarding rape cases, the legal system is the worst — because it’s very difficult to prove rape, and the entire process drags the accuser through a series of hoops that, frankly, resemble rape. Scrutiny of her character, her clothing, her behavior, her language. And let’s not forget the gynecological procedures that literally penetrate her in order to garner evidence, then shoot photographs. If you were younger than 16 and you had the least idea of all this invasion by the legal system, would you accuse someone of rape? If you were younger and 16 and had to be accompanied by a parent, how would you feel, going through this process? how would your parent behave toward you throughout the process? how much would you wonder whether they disbelieved you?
And that’s only the start. Then there are the shoot-from-the-hip assholes like Claire St. Amant and CultureMap, who think it’s fine to create yet another courtroom — one without any facts at all, and one in which the jury is whoever decides to log on to offer up their opinions online. But if an employee says publicly that this isn’t, ahem, cool, well — fire him/her.
So that’s why I ask for a moratorium on news about rape charges. Because the media have shown that they are incapable of behaving with any degree of journalistic integrity in reporting those charges. To the contrary, media outlets are now going out of their way to muddy the legal waters even more. In the process, they have the capacity to ruin the lives of the individuals involved.
And because, hey, they need all the decent journalists they can get — people willing to call out fucked up shit when they see it.
27 October 2012
In the film Knocked Up (2007), when Ben (Seth Rogen) tells his stoner friends that his one-night stand Alison (Katherine Heigl) is pregnant, they offer up a wide range of responses — from congratulations to hoots. Only one of them expresses skepticism about the whole thing. And he can’t say the word.
Jonah: You know what I think you should do? Take care of it.
Jason: Tell me you don’t want him to get an ‘A’ word.
Jonah: Yes, I do, and I won’t say it for little Baby Ears over there, but it rhymes with shashmortion. You should get a shmashmortion at the shmashmortion clinic.
That’s the thing, you see: no one’s willing to say it these days. Thus, let me proclaim it loud and clear: WE NEED ABORTION. And I’m really sick of hearing about exceptions. (And watching films in which the woman always chooses to keep it.)
It’s a campaign year, so our politicians are full of new and creative ways to denounce abortion. The latest and greatest, of course, is the Todd Akins and Richard Mourdocks who seek even greater restrictions on abortion by redefining rape as, alternately, God’s gift for impregnating the ladies OR God’s way of preventing pregnancy. (Yes, my head hurts, too.)
As easy as it is for me to get sucked into that conversation, like I did the other day, the real problem is that they’ve succeeded — they’ve skewed the conversation away from a question of “choice or no choice?” to a question of “how many abortion restrictions can we pile on to an America that’s already restricting abortion at every turn?”
What’s really going on is two separate ideological movements– one about eliminating abortion and the other about redefining rape — merged into a single conversation intended to distract us.
We need to stay focused on the fact women seek abortions, whether it’s legal or not. Given that fact, the only way to ensure anything resembling equal rights in this country is to ensure that abortion is safe and legal and private. Women who live in states with radically restrictive abortion practices are already flooding into Mexico to purchase abortifacients even if they don’t understand how to take that medication. One might also say that the only way to raise a healthy young population of children is to ensure that they are loved and wanted and live with families that can afford another mouth to feed. But most of all, women need the abortion option because the men they have sex with are morons — as well illustrated by the aforementioned Knocked Up. Ben’s friends ride him for not wearing a condom:
Jonah: I can’t believe you didn’t fucking wear a bag. Who does that?
Jason: Why did we go to Costco and buy a year’s supply of condoms if you weren’t gonna use ’em, man?
Jonah: I can’t believe you did this. You fucked everything up.
Jason: The real point is not to get yourself into this position, that’s what you have to realize. You gotta know all the tricks like, for example, if a woman’s on top she can’t get pregnant. It’s just gravity.
Jonah: Well that’s true. Everyone knows that.
Jason: What goes up must come down.
ARGH. These are the guys who grow up to become Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin, people. They can’t say the word abortion aloud. But they want to tell you all about their crackpot theories — whether it’s about sex or God or pregnancy. (Their scene, holding forth on pregnancy, floats virtually every one of the Mourdock/Akin theories, BTW.)
The time has come to tell them to stop. This is terrifying — and not just for women who are raped or whose pregnancies might kill them. This is about women’s rights.
24 September 2012
How ironic is it that the very show that purports to give awards for achievements in television is itself horrible?
It started with canned “funny” clips projected above on such themes as asking comedians “what would your high school teachers say about you?” These clips lasted too long and, like the writing for host Jimmy Kimmel and the presenters, was awful. I’m not sure I saw a single line that genuinely made me laugh.
Following these pre-recorded interviews the presenter would immediately announce the winner of … what? “Wait, what category is this? is this best writing for a comedy? or is it best comedy?” I’d ask, completely confused about where we were in the program.
The only funny bits were those invented by the attendees on the fly. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Amy Poehler switching their acceptance speeches — clearly a bit they’d cooked up between themselves — and Ricky Gervais, who obviously ignored what they’d written for him and went off on his own. Thank you, Ricky!
There was a particularly stupid moment when Josh Groban sang a “tribute” to host Kimmel. But that was no worse, really, than when Kimmel asked Tracy Morgan to come up on stage and lie there, as if he’d collapsed, to rein in an audience from Twitter. One might say that by getting Morgan on stage, we saw something other than a sea of white faces. Except that Morgan was prostrate and immobile.
Even worse, they spent so much time on these early-evening canned clips that by the end of the show, when they were getting to the very biggest awards (Best Drama Series, etc.), they had to rush through the lists of nominees so quickly one could hardly pause to consider. Isn’t the whole pleasure of watching an awards show to think, “If Mad Men doesn’t win, I’m going to throw a hissy fit”? I could barely absorb the list before they announced the winner and hustled hir through an acceptance speech. (In contrast to the early part of the show, which allowed winners to drone on incessantly.)
Also, how is it possible Lena Dunham didn’t win for best comedy writing for Girls?
Lest I sound like a big whiner — and lest you say, “well, what did you expect? It’s the Emmys!” — here’s my real point: the horrors of the Emmy Awards Show exemplify what’s going wrong with broadcast television overall. Writers have long noted the growing dominance of cable TV shows over broadcast network offerings, a dominance nowhere more evident than at the Emmys. It’s no longer just The Daily Show that wins an Emmy every year. The lists of nominees are dominated by premium channels like HBO and Showtime, of course, but also basic-cable stalwarts like AMC, TNT, and FX.
Broadcast TV’s ineptitude with this awards show is of a piece with its increasing incapacity to create decent shows. Broadcast TV has largely become, like trying to use the prone body of Tracy Morgan on stage at the Emmys as a “joke,” a tragically pathetic affair.
Which makes Modern Family‘s surprising wins last night in multiple categories all the more impressive. Now, I quite like that show (and especially Eric Stonestreet as Cam), but I have a hard time seeing its many awards as truly deserved given the strength of the competition (again, Girls.) So excuse me while I see Modern Family‘s success as the last gesture of good will to broadcast TV, while it is left behind by cable channels that throw their resources toward the unexpected.
A small moment of enlightenment: Maggie Smith won Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her endlessly quotable role as the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey. Smith disdained to attend the show, so will receive her award presumably by international mail. So perhaps there is a god.
19 September 2012
I’m having one of those weeks. I’ll spare you the details, except that I somehow managed to orchestrate a perfect storm of incoming papers from students, crazy bad news about tenure decisions for important friends, and a long delay in getting reimbursed by my university for moving expenses.
In response, I’d like to direct my rage at Slate.com. Why does this online journal feel it necessary to play such a major role in logrolling the new book, The End of Men, by its own editor-writer Hanna Rosin? Does it feel no conflict of interest considering that Rosin’s husband is the journal’s senior editor, David Plotz? Does this journal, owned by the Washington Post, have no journalistic credentials to uphold?
Here’s how it looks for the past 6 days:
- Friday, Sept. 14: Alyssa Rosenberg (why, Alyssa?) writes “The End of Men, Fall TV Edition.”
- Friday, Sept. 14: Rosin’s friend Emily Bazelon writes “Why Feminists Fear The End of Men,” an angry retort to a highly critical review of the book in the NY Times Book Review by historian Katherine Homans. (That’s right: let’s blame feminists, which is Slate’s bread and butter.)
- Tuesday, Sept. 18: Rosin posts three separate pieces entitled, “What Happens When the Wife Earns More?” drawn from the book.
- Wednesday, Sept. 19: Rosin appears on the Slate podcast, “The Slate Culture Gabfest,” to discuss the book with colleagues who, although ordinarily quite dependably intelligent and critical, refuse to ask hard questions.
- Wednesday, Sept. 19: June Thomas writes “The End of Men, TV Titles Edition.”
That’s right: 6 days, 7 articles. (Two of which appeared before noon today.) If only the rest of us who write books had the ability to transform one’s professional journalistic job into an in-house publicity machine.
Let’s not even mention the many other times Rosin has received logrolling attention from its staff for the same material in the past, including plugs by her husband on the podcast “The Slate Political Gabfest,” plugs for her public talks including a TED talk, plugs for her original and controversial Atlantic Magazine article that earned her the book contract, and on and on.
I can barely stand to read her arguments, which all too often take some kind of anecdote — the story of a couple in Alabama who have seen the husband’s income decline as the wife’s grows — and then extrapolates this as some kind of world-historical shift. Even worse, she cherry-picks hard evidence such as employment figures and ignores other evidence in order to hammer it into the shape of her overall argument. And worst of all, her title: The End of Men, as reviewer Homans puts it, is not a title but a sound bite utterly misleading about her argument.
After spewing all my righteous bile about Slate’s failure to act professionally with regard to one of its own editor/ writers, perhaps I should add one tiny note of relief: at least Rosin is engaging in political-cultural criticism, unlike Monday’s article about how hard it is for women with small waists and big breasts to find a bra. Seriously. Slate: the online journal equivalent of listening to teenage girls’ conversation at the mall. Kill me now.
26 April 2012
Is it any surprise I have trouble telling the difference between satire and true stories? Witness the latest from Rupert Murdoch’s trial for phone hacking in London:
Rupert Murdoch described on Thursday being “mobbed” and “harassed” by journalists and paparazzi, in an exchange rich with irony during his testimony at a judicial inquiry on press ethics prompted by criminal behaviour at one of his papers.
The 81-year-old media mogul was facing a second day of grilling at the Leveson Inquiry, which has heard dozens of witnesses give detailed accounts of being harassed by reporters from Murdoch’s own newspapers.
I’m sorry, but how is it possible this man feels no shame for such a statement? These are the questions that keep me awake at night.
Just recently I was utterly fooled by a satirical story about Ann Romney — a story for which I apologized so profusely that several wise commentators left notes telling me to let it go. “Women apologize too much,” Naomi wrote kindly but tersely. She continued: “Rather, women of conscience do that.” She’s right. But I wonder if the shame differential is not just a gender issue, but also a class matter. Why does my middle-class, female shame button get pushed at the slightest error, and Murdoch’s wealthy male shame button appears to be protected by impermeable glass and Secret Service-protected launch codes?
After all, let’s remember the (true) story about Ann Romney of last month, when she pronounced that she doesn’t “consider myself wealthy,” which prompted the ever-astute Jezebel to offer the headline, ZILLIONAIRE ANN ROMNEY DOESN’T CONSIDER HERSELF RICH. Now, Ann Romney can consider herself in whatever way she likes. But it seems to me that if someone who earns $21 million per year on investment income alone — and pays a minuscule $3 million in taxes (ca. 14%) on it — makes such statements out loud during an economic recession, she might feel shame. There is no sign of such.
Thus, I offer you my Social Science-y Insight Of The Month: the Shame Differential©! (Copyright pending.) Let me explain:
The Shame Differential is the sum total of two separate measures tallied by the Shame-O-Meter® and the Shame Ray®, observable on these two tables (and apologies/ compliments to Jessica Hagy’s blog This Is Indexed, from which I borrow her style of graphics):
You see? As this “scientific” graph shows us, the lower your income, the higher your capacity to experience shame. Since women own only 36% of the wealth in the U.S. (and the stats are significantly more dire for Latinas and African-American women), the Shame Burden falls disproportionately on women at the same time that it hits working- and middle-class men hard, too.
Yet to fully assess the Shame Differential©, this “scientific” finding by the Feminéma Institute for Advanced Study must be paired with the equally “scientific” Shame Ray® Index, which measures the eagerness of specific populations to dish out shame to others:
Now you may be infinitely more enlightened by my research, but perhaps you’re wondering: why does it seem that U.S. Republicans seem so eager to shame women, Blacks, Latinos, and/or the poor? Well, duh! The Shame Differential© explains all! Who do you think the GOP represents: the 99%? Ha ha! Moreover, if you’re a woman, a person of color, or not wealthy, you’ve doubtless become quite skilled in feeling ashamed of a whole lot in your lifetime.
One final note: because Feminéma’s Shame Differential© is not merely an index but a diagnosis of a cultural disease — and therefore a social problem to be corrected — I hereby rename it the Breivik Shame Differential© after the Norwegian responsible for last summer’s massacre of 77 left-wing fellow countrymen and women, 69 of whom were teenagers at a summer youth camp. Now, Breivik is not a member of the GOP, nor is he the consummate ideological media mogul asshole criminal that Murdoch allegedly is, but his utter incapacity to feel shame helps us further understand the sociopathic inclinations of the Shame Differential:
OSLO — The self-described anti-Islamic militant [Anders Behring Breivik] who has admitted killing 77 people in a bombing and shooting spree last July told bereaved families on Monday that he had also lost his family and friends as a result of the massacre.
…“When people say they have lost their most beloved, I also lost my entire family, I lost my friends,” he also said. “It was my choice. I sacrificed them, but I lost my entire family and friends on 22 July. I lost everything. So to a certain extent, I understand.”
So the next time you hear a story that appears so hypocritical as to rattle the teeth in your head, and/or the next time you hear a GOP presidential candidate say that the very poorest in the U.S. are cared for by social services, just remember the Breivik Shame Differential©.