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"Sexism is over!"
April 10, 2013 1:12 PM   Subscribe

An Orange Prize nominee speaks out about her experience as a woman in literature: weakened titles, pink covers, snubbed for reviews.

In other industries: the developers of Last of Us had to specifically request that women be used in focus group testing, which strongly suggests it's a routine practice in the industry. In TV, Matt Lauer has reportedly nixed hiring female producers because he doesn't want to feel like he's "at Lilith Fair."

An attempt to address the gender disparity in the board room may be stalling.
posted by Andrhia (62 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
But hey, maybe this can cheer you up.
posted by Andrhia at 1:13 PM on April 10, 2013


That was incredibly depressing, thank you.
posted by psoas at 1:32 PM on April 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think I might have to confine my reading to women authors only for the next year or five.
posted by Currer Belfry at 1:33 PM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Great essay; enviably economical and very forceful style, extremely convincing-- not somebody I'd want to get in an argument with.
posted by jamjam at 1:34 PM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


So... anybody read her books?
posted by Going To Maine at 1:35 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, it's probably worth noting (a) that the Orange Prize is now called the Women's Prize for Fiction ("three cheers for the transparency of its new name") and (b) that "the nominee" is named Deborah Copaken Kogan, whose entire point in writing this is how marginalized women are in the publishing world.
posted by psoas at 1:35 PM on April 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have never been more ashamed of my full-back tattoo of Matt Lauer.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:37 PM on April 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


Her description of attempting to privately contact writers to discuss how women get reviewed was especially discouraging. I am a critic, and have interacted with people I have written about, and, by the way, it is no surprise to have people you have written about contact you to discuss it; goes with the territory. But the circumstance she describes seems to have played out this way: She contacted the publication, was told the author was a freelancer and she should call him to get his email address, which she did, was rebuffed and told to write directly to the publication, which was then thrown out. Salon reported it this way:

Judging by other letters Kogan has sent to other book-review editors, the missive was a classic ABM, the kind that details disagreements with the review under the guise of “concern” over the publication’s reputation for accuracy; we’ll never know, though, since, after having the first sentence read to him and judging it inapropriately (sic) personal, he had the letter thrown out.

The title of the piece is "When authors attack."

She describes the bizarre responses she has gotten -- this certainly confirms one of them.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:40 PM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's also an interesting rider that two of the Salon articles mentioned here - "When Authors Attack", the pan of "Shutterbabe" - were themselves written by women. It's not a new thing to observe the patriarchy is complicated, but patriarchy is complicated.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:44 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


So... anybody read her books?

Never heard of her before, but she tells a hell of a (incredibly depressing) story. She's certainly on my list now.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:44 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, that was a bleak but necessary read. I mean, I know that patriarchy is rampant and maybe always will be, but sometimes I want to believe otherwise, you know?

Oh, and Matt Lauer is a douche. That is the best word that isn't an expletive that I can use to describe that guy.
posted by Kitteh at 1:47 PM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. It was indeed incredibly depressing, as psoas says, but it's something we need to be reminded of regularly. And fuck sexism, it's like a guest who stays drunk all the time and pisses in your closet but just won't go away.
posted by languagehat at 1:58 PM on April 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


All of the greatest writers were men:

George Eliot
Isak Denisen
George Sand
James Tiptree

Okay, I will grant that Evelyn Waugh was pretty good.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:02 PM on April 10, 2013 [31 favorites]


I have never been more ashamed of my full-back tattoo of Matt Lauer.

Just tell everyone it's Kurt Loder... or have the tat artist put "NKOTB" on his forehead. Or both.
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:04 PM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also notable, regarding that "When Authors Attack" Salon article: they don't hesitate to name Kogan, but decline to name either the reviewer she contacted, or the publication that he works for.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 2:07 PM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think I might have to confine my reading to women authors only for the next year or five.

I find that I tend to do this anyway, because I got tired of getting halfway through Important Male Writer books and then throwing them across the room. (cough Franzen cough).
posted by emjaybee at 2:07 PM on April 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


they should put little glider wings on Franzen books so at least they do something fun when you chuck them across a room.
posted by sweetkid at 2:26 PM on April 10, 2013 [15 favorites]


This sentence bears repeating:

This is what sexism does best: it makes you feel crazy for desiring parity and hopeless about ever achieving it.
posted by Corvid at 2:37 PM on April 10, 2013 [34 favorites]


So... anybody read her books?

Well, I read Shutterbabe. I thought it was an embarrassment to women.
posted by grounded at 2:46 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, I can't say how she is in published books, but that was a good essay.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:53 PM on April 10, 2013


Well, I read Shutterbabe. I thought it was an embarassment to women.

One of the awesome things about feminism is that one woman is no longer expected to represent all women.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:56 PM on April 10, 2013 [60 favorites]


I applaud her for connecting the dots and writing this article. To put this stuff out there takes guts and is not rewarded. It's always very difficult to point this kind of treatment out because you think others will think you just have sour grapes.

I've been jealous from time to time of the "nom de plume" afforded to writers. I've sent out a few resumes recently with my first initials but it feels so weird and forced. I have been getting a better response but who knows... economy or patriarchy? What a slippery fish.
posted by amanda at 3:16 PM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think not reading male authors for "revenge" solves anything, but if you want straight-up good books get anything and everything by Sarah Waters.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:51 PM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I decide to Google my rapist's name, something I've never done in the quarter-century since the crime. His promise, I note, has been duly fulfilled. He's successful. He's married—to a woman who recently spoke on a "Lean In" panel with Sheryl Sandberg.

Well, that makes 3 pieces of media I've encountered today that took my breath away.
posted by bq at 4:32 PM on April 10, 2013


He's successful. He's married—to a woman who recently spoke on a "Lean In" panel with Sheryl Sandberg.

That description probably matches a small group of men, the count depending on how many female Lean In panelists have Harvard husbands of the right age.
It would be fairer to the innocent and the guilty if if she actually said who she was accusing.
posted by w0mbat at 5:18 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


So... anybody read her books?

I've read her latest novel, The Red Book, and it's good! I may not be the most unbiased source, since a) I am a Harvard alum approaching middle age, which is what the book is about; and b) I went to high school with DCK.
posted by escabeche at 5:32 PM on April 10, 2013


From the Kogan article:
One such article is entitled "Battlefield Barbie," which calls me a "soccer-mom-in-training." I look nothing like Barbie. My kids don't play soccer. The general consensus is that the book is good, but I suck. The character assassinations are intense... New York thinks I'm an insult to feminism for having left a promising career behind....

I write to the publications who called me a slutty Barbie stay-at-home mom and/or an insult to feminism, not to ask for a public retraction, but to request privately—privately! I don't want to get smeared—that they carefully reconsider how they're reviewing women. "Would you call a male author a stay-at-home dad?" I ask, among other rhetorical questions.
The New York review -- titled "Battlefield Barbie" can be found here. I have to say, maybe it's just me but it just doesn't read anything like her description of it.
posted by leopard at 6:21 PM on April 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


So... anybody read her books?

I read The Red Book and thought it was very potboilery, and the writing was (in my opinion) just awful on a sentence-by-sentence basis. I can see how someone might enjoy reading it but am surprised to hear it was nominated for what is, indeed, a prestigious award.
posted by BibiRose at 6:32 PM on April 10, 2013


Yeah, I'm with Leopard. That review is careful and thoughtful. That it's titled "Battlefield Barbie"? A) not the reviewer's fault; reviewers don't title their own pieces, and B) it's drawn from a line in which the reviewer QUOTES KOGAN:

You zip through the first two thirds of Shutterbabe cheering for the diminutive and (what else?) feisty heroine who once resented having to hide her "inner Pippi Longstocking under a lacquered Barbie mask," only to find, at the end, what seems suspiciously like a paean to Barbie-hood.
posted by kestrel251 at 7:23 PM on April 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have to say, maybe it's just me but it just doesn't read anything like her description of it.

Indeed, the Salon review which she describes as "slut-shaming and libel" is also, in my opinion, mischaracterised in a quite reductionist way. It certainly is a negative review, but a qualified, well-researched negative review that actually includes multiple quotes from different women working in the field (which like, never happens in review).

I must say I came in swinging for her, but in light of reading the actual reviews and her descriptions of them, her examples seem clouded by a little narcissim to me.

This is not to deny the chauvinism of the entire publishing edifice, of course - that's undeniable, but I'm not sure this is such a clear cut example of it.
posted by smoke at 8:37 PM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Amazon reviews of Kogan's book are also critical of her in consistent ways -- she is described as self-absorbed and uninformed about the events she is covering. She is also criticized for naming book chapters after the men she sleeps with and for the banality of the end chapters regarding married life.

It could be that the patriarchy distorted everyone's perception of her, or maybe these are legitimate criticisms and she doesn't handle those well. As hydropsyche wrote above, feminism means that one woman doesn't have to represent all women, so maybe her experience isn't necessarily a referendum on the treatment of women in our society.
posted by leopard at 9:08 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have no doubt that Kogan has experienced sexism in her career. The publishing industry is sexist and women absolutely are subject to sexist treatment when it comes to reviews. (They get fewer reviews, for one thing.) The fact that you are not "supposed to" respond to reviews-- at least it is very rarely done, and when done often exposes the author to ridicule-- seems like a significant silencing to her. I can believe that. I don't know why it is that this piece nevertheless seems somewhat disingenuous to me, or else willfully naive. Not only does she seem to distort what people have said about her, but does she really think that (for example) firing off a letter to the New York Times complaining that your books weren't reviewed is some kind of activism?
posted by BibiRose at 9:40 PM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought both of the reviews were pretty sexist and as she described them even if they were well-written. The Salon review sure read like slut-shaming to me. Only she would know if it was libelous (although describing Kogan as having slept through "half the foreign press corps along the way" is a nasty bit). The review casts her as someone who tried to sleep her way to the top and thus a detriment to women everywhere. This is slut-shaming. The reviewer notes that male photojournalists have sex too but it's different when a woman does it and talks about it. Worse...somehow. Sounds like slut-shaming to me. And why is "victim" put in quotes when we're talking about someone describing their rape? Why is talking about the sexism one personally faces framed as "casting oneself as the victim"?

The New Yorker review is rather directly arguing that her choice to leave photojournalism for a time to raise children without feeling "conflict" is part of a dishonest "post-feminist" narrative. The reviewer asks "whether she wasn't always more interested in the "babe" aspect of her life than the "shutter" part", a question which is A. sexist and B. probably very frustrating for an author who fought against titling her book "Shutterbabe". Just goes to show the problem with that bit of sexism on the publisher's part. I also thiink Kogan makes an excellent point that she is an author, a writer, doing work that produces outside the home and a male author wouldn't be described as a "stay at home dad" even if he does nothing but write. Nor be said to have "abandoned an interesting career for domestic bliss" when he writes his memoirs.

It may be true, as insinuated in the Salon review, that no one mentored Kogan and encouraged her to remain in the photojournalism profession because "maybe no one liked her". Her books may be nigh unreadable, I don't know. I've never heard of her before so I've never read her books. I just know that often when a woman speaks up about the sexism she has experienced a lot of effort is expended to prove she isn't likeable and thus not worth listening to. I see "narcissist" is already being tossed about.

Sexism is in the patterns that repeat over and over again and I'm glad she came forward and shared her story. I thought the Salon review in particular had a strong a professional woman does her job with her legs closed and stops complaining about sexism vibe to it, a call for silence. I'm glad that after all these years and all the sexist attacks Kogan wasn't silenced and didn't do the "professional" thing.
posted by Danila at 10:39 PM on April 10, 2013 [25 favorites]


Yeah, this is the second time in a recent discussion about sexism that the woman in question has been labeled a narcissist. It's an unbecoming trend.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:26 PM on April 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


Adding on to that, I just did some quick research, and it seems that accusations of narcissism are a pretty common response to women who engage in any sort of public discussion of themselves, or, for that matter, just about anything at all:

"Narcissistic” and “selfish” are, for some reason, particularly potent insults to aim at women. Narcissism or selfishness have been offered as an explanation for lesbianism, female masturbation, “frigidity” and/or clitoral orgasms (yes, ladies, if a dude is not getting you off, it’s because you don’t care about his feelings), women not wanting to get married, women not wanting children, women wanting jobs, women wanting children without marriage, women wanting marriage without children, women wanting children and/or marriage without jobs, women wanting marriage and/or children and jobs, women being successful at their jobs, and basically anything else that even slightly resembles self-esteem. Dudes can get the “selfish” label, too, but they actually have to work at it (in spite of the fact that actual narcissism, the kind that is a personality disorder, is diagnosed mostly amongst men): all a woman has to do is think about or talk about or act on behalf of herself even a little, and the whole stereotype of the self-absorbed, self-obsessed, self-enthralled ladyperson comes down instantly upon her head.

Considering this history, it's a sort of criticism that we might want to be cautious about applying.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:36 PM on April 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah, this is the second time in a recent discussion about sexism that the woman in question has been labeled a narcissist.

I see "narcissist" is already being tossed about.

What. The. Fuck. As the only person who brought up the "n-word" in thread, I'll presume these remarks are directed at me.

Note: I did not call her a narcissist. What I actually said, " her examples seem clouded by a little narcissim to me. "
posted by smoke at 11:52 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ugh hit submit too too soon.

I submit there is a distinction between that, and calling her narcissist, and frankly what I think is un-frigging-becoming is putting words in my mouth, and then branding me and my arguments as both ill-considered, ignorant and chauvinist.

But thanks for the patronising wiki-lecture, Bunny. Tell me, do you need oxygen assistance on top of that horse?

Far out, at least Danila had a substantive opinion that addressed the argument I made.
posted by smoke at 11:58 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The gaming piece can't be what it looks like - that's just not how market research works. To get the job, the research company would have had to submit a proposal to the gaming company, either for this single project or for an ongoing commitment on research for all of their games, based on some sort of RFQ from the company. In the proposal, the research company would have to describe the sample - how they are getting it, how it will be composed, whether there are any demographics that will be particularly hard to get to participate using this particular methodology, etc. Usually, before these proposals are finalized, there's a lot of talk about the methods and the desired sample between the research firm and the client. The person who wrote this article is confused about this, and about the meanings of basic market research terminology, too (focus group =/= poll, for example)

In this case, it sounds like the researchers might have been doing a "hall test" (or recruiting for later focus groups) at or near a gaming event or location (they are doing a convenience sample, "rounding up" gamers to interview when the gamers already are someplace specific for other reasons). The proposal apparently was accepted without any guarantees that there would be women in the sample...and that makes sense if its a convenience sample in a situation heavily dominated by men. The researchers can't guarantee women in that situation - what if only a handful show up, and none of those few agrees to participate in the research? If the original brief had specified that the research needed to include both genders, this probably isn't a methodology the research firm would have chosen.

It sounds like someone from the gaming company actually bothered to read the already-accepted proposal, was shocked, shocked, I tell you!, and then blamed the research company for the fact that the entire initial brief had been formulated on the assumption that the target consumers for the product were men. Unless something really strange happened here, that assumption probably originated with the client.
posted by Wylla at 11:58 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


But thanks for the patronising wiki-lecture, Bunny. Tell me, do you need oxygen assistance on top of that horse?

Amateur diagnoses of narcissistic behavior seem to be popping up with some frequency in threads about women -- looking at the Margaret Cho thread, there is also a strong implication that she was merely seeking attention. I find this troubling, and spoke up here, and linked to a discussion on why I find this troubling.

As you were the one who brought the accusation of narcissistic behavior into this thread, I understand that you might be troubled by me mentioning that this seems to be a trend, and not one that I think is a good one. And it's your prerogative to ignore my concerns, if you like. But I am genuinely disturbed by how often this accusation comes up -- not just here, but in general -- and if that's getting on a high horse, then I suppose I shall have to name this horse and find a carrot for it to eat.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:45 AM on April 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


It's really troubling how often women are forced into narrow margins within a narrative of us always fighting each other (the "mommy wars" are particularly noxious) so that we can be under-represented in other areas.

It's all completely reasonable each time it happens, though, so many people keep assuring me. Each woman has some fatal flaw - too much sex, is narcissistic, was raped - which means we really shouldn't listen to her.

She might be wrong, after all.

Can't be too careful.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:55 AM on April 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's really troubling how often women are forced into narrow margins within a narrative of us always fighting each other (the "mommy wars" are particularly noxious) so that we can be under-represented in other areas.


Kogan herself plays along with this as much as anyone else, though. Witness her absolute horror at being portrayed as one of those icky part-timers/SAHMs, her nastily specific focus on the views of the wife of her accused rapist (why focus on the supposed rapist when there's a woman with unpopular views - a juicer target - nearby?), and her rage over her own "whore" title being replaced with someone else's "babe" title (presumably done to remove the potential association between her professionally-rewarding sexlife abroad and actual prostitution.)
posted by Wylla at 2:15 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Witness her absolute horror at being portrayed as one of those icky part-timers/SAHMs

I don't read what she said as finding SAHMs icky -- it's more a question of what her primary identity is assumed to be. She's right to point out that if a man who had kids wrote from home he would be identified as a writer first and the fact that he has kids might be mentioned in passing, but he would certainly never be identified as a SAHD.
posted by peacheater at 5:26 AM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, in a world where women are held to a "damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't" standard, Kogan seems to have performed the nice trick of casting all criticism of her as sexist. I mean, if you weren't sexist why would you criticize her books?

In Salon, Janet Reitman writes "Shutterbabe is not about war, nor is it about photojournalism. It’s about sex — or, rather, sex as sport, an integral part of boys-club culture that Kogan, a Harvard graduate, embraces as just as much her privilege as theirs." If the book chapters are named after men the author has sexual interest in, I'm not sure that this criticism can be purely reduced to "slut-shaming." There's an undercurrent here that the book is totally phenomenal and the only problem with it is that the author is a woman who had sex and dared to write about it.

The New York magazine review contains the snippet "What makes Shutterbabe disappointing isn't that it's about how the author abandoned an interesting career for domestic bliss but rather that it so glibly suggests that being a mommy is so self-evidently superior to winning an Emmy." Again, it may be that the contrast between photojournalism and motherhood is introduced by the sexist reviewer... or maybe the author draws this contrast herself, and does so in a way that can be legitimately criticized.

It should be noted that the New York magazine review does not contain the expression "stay-at-home," so the wry observation that no male author would have been described by the reviewer as a stay-at-home dad is a bit off base. (The closest expression is "Kogan wasn't always a soccer-mom-in-training.") And I do think that a man who traveled to war zones all over the world and then settled down to focus on his spouse and children would indeed be described as having "abandoned an interesting career for domestic bliss."
posted by leopard at 6:23 AM on April 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wylla, I've read the accounts of the Last of Us survey affair as "the research company sent over their standard-op gaming proposal and when the studio read it they asked for women to be explicitly added into the plan." The problem isn't that the testing happened without women, because it didn't; the problem is that the research company started out with the assumption that no women were necessary in the first place when they drafted their proposal.
posted by Andrhia at 7:28 AM on April 11, 2013


It's now 2012. My fourth book, The Red Book, future nominee for the prestigious yet controversial Women's Prize for Fiction and New York Times bestseller, gets passed over for a review in The New York Times Book Review, just like its predecessors.

This is an example of how strangely slanted this piece seems to me-- in minor things, and unnecessarily. No, The Red Book did not get a NYT review but it did get this piece by James Atlas. I've seen pieces like this in the Times before for books that they haven't reviewed. It probably feels like being tossed a sop, if you were expecting a real review, but it's a hell of a lot more than most people get. Was Kogan being dishonest by not mentioning the piece? No, but it adds to my sense that she is cherry-picking a little. Paradoxically, I think she could even make use of the lifestyles piece she got in the Times if she dug a little more. I wonder if these go more often to female authors, or if they treat female authors differently in the writing? But for whatever reason, she just left out any mention of it. And honestly, I often hate the NYT but I think that Atlas column was appropriate coverage. A large part of the book's interest was that Kogan went to Harvard and that it refers to a real-life phenomenon. It just wasn't that interesting as a novel.

What bothers me is that Kogan doesn't have to slant her argument. Publishing is absolutely sexist.
posted by BibiRose at 9:35 AM on April 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't read what she said as finding SAHMs icky -- it's more a question of what her primary identity is assumed to be. She's right to point out that if a man who had kids wrote from home he would be identified as a writer first and the fact that he has kids might be mentioned in passing, but he would certainly never be identified as a SAHD.

Having read some reviews of Shutterbabe, I strongly suspect that the description of Kogan as being primarily a SAHM comes directly from Kogan herself -- the book seems to culminate in her becoming a full-time mom and a number of reviewers complain that she's too saccharine about the joys of motherhood and too dismissive of the importance of having a career. Now obviously she has gone on to have a very successful writing career, but the reviewers seem to be responding to what she specifically wrote in the book.
posted by leopard at 11:11 AM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


"the research company sent over their standard-op gaming proposal and when the studio read it they asked for women to be explicitly added into the plan." The problem isn't that the testing happened without women, because it didn't; the problem is that the research company started out with the assumption that no women were necessary in the first place when they drafted their proposal.

Research firms generally do not work this way. Market research is not academic research - projects are put together to meet the client's needs and specifications, not to answer the MR firm's idea of what questions should be important to the client. Maybe there was a misunderstanding (the client's RFQ and/or discussions with the research firm all assumed that their potential customers were male or used male pronouns to describe them and the firm wrote a proposal based on that without specifically asking? The research firm sent over an example of a past project aimed only at men and the client thought that was their 'standard ops' proposal?). Who knows?

Regardless, I doubt that there is an epidemic of research agencies shopping female-free standardized pre-prepared proposals to gaming firms.
posted by Wylla at 1:35 PM on April 11, 2013


I understand that you might be troubled by me mentioning that this seems to be a trend,

Really, I'm just troubled by the fact that your - or at least your arguments as they pertained to my comment - didn't demonstrate any evidence of having read either the OP article, or the review in question, and elided my argument/interpretation, favouring instead some kind of "gotcha" bingo based on a mild and qualified use of a particular word, then presumed to lecture me about feminism and what is and isn't "becoming" to say in relation to it.

Danila disagreed with me too, but she read the article and brought up legitimate and eloquent points as to why she disagreed. In short, she actually responded to what I was saying.
posted by smoke at 4:33 PM on April 11, 2013


Really, I'm just troubled by the fact that your - or at least your arguments as they pertained to my comment - didn't demonstrate any evidence of having read either the OP article, or the review in question, and elided my argument/interpretation, favouring instead some kind of "gotcha" bingo based on a mild and qualified use of a particular word, then presumed to lecture me about feminism and what is and isn't "becoming" to say in relation to it.

You know, if this is bothering you so much, perhaps it should go to MeTa. I have said my piece, it was a generalized comment about a trend I don't like on this site, you're taking it personally, and it seems to me that it is becoming a derail.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:10 PM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Kogan herself plays along with this as much as anyone else, though

As near as I can tell, the "Mommy Wars" were invented by the news media covering women who work and women who don't. Every time I've read about a woman who was supposidly anti-stay and home mom, or anti-working mom, or anti-being a mom, they have always emphasized their choice was their own and often stated they appreciated women who made different choices. And yet, time and time again their statements are simplified to pro/anti "mommy" role and then that message is the meme that travels, not that many women make many different choices, often put a lot of thought and effort into them, and that a lot of factors influence their decisions.

This is highlighted in one of the quotes above critiquing her book as not good.

"What makes Shutterbabe disappointing isn't that it's about how the author abandoned an interesting career for domestic bliss but rather that it so glibly suggests that being a mommy is so self-evidently superior to winning an Emmy."

Notice how the reviewer sets her two roles at odds with each other, as if one of the other MUST be superior (with the implication that winning the Emmy is that). In another set of hands, there could bemoan that she focuses so much on her career and presents motherhood as a (literal) afterthought and something to be hidden; notice how below the interpretation is that she doesn't want to be an "icky part-timers/SAHM."

As near as I can tell, a woman cannot be in public and a mother without being put on one or other side of the "Mommy Wars" and often, depending on her career track, on both sides at different times (and sometimes, as in this case, on both sides at the same time depending on who is talking).

Witness her absolute horror at being portrayed as one of those icky part-timers/SAHMs

I read no horror at beign a SAHM in the article, but rather her rightly pointing out that being a writer at home is described differently when one is a mother rather than a father. Likewise, having sex in the context of one's job is described differently when one is a woman as opposed to a man. Likewise, attempting to communicate with a reviewer is described differently when one is a woman and not a man. Behaviors that are unnoticed - or even admired - in men become behaviors which indicate the woman is an embarrassment to women, is clouded by a little narcissim, is self-absorbed and uninformed.

I mean, look at the phrasing of one of the reviews cited as evidence there is no sexism because of course these are indications her book must be bad:

"Shutterbabe is not about war, nor is it about photojournalism. It’s about sex — or, rather, sex as sport, an integral part of boys-club culture that Kogan, a Harvard graduate, embraces as just as much her privilege as theirs."

Notice the assumptions. 1) There is a 'boys club' culture. 2) That 'boys club' culture includes sex as sport. 3) Kogan embraced that 'boy's club' culture. 4) Her embracing it is notable in a way the "boys" embrace of it is accepted. 5) This book should have been about war or photojournalism, not the life of a female photojournalist. 6) Writing as if she chose to be part of a 'boys club' makes the book bad.

That a bias against women exists is not new, shocking, or even surprising information. The unconscious bias against women - perpetrated by all people - is pretty well established. There are lots of studies on it and its effects on women's efficacy in the world - both in terms of our sense of self-agency, our accurate assessment of the negative effects of being visible, and how other people will respond to us.

And yet, each woman is still held as somehow not part of this general trend. There is some individual reason why we should ignore her, why it's her fault how she's percieved, how she should behave differently in order to be given more credit - and that is part and parcel of the problem; each woman is an exception and a reasont to ignore the trend.

When it can be shown that there is a substantive inaccurate bias against women but people still claim each individual woman is rightly devalued, that is when the bias can and will persist.

I'm not saying anyone is willfully doing this. The issue is implicit bias, not conscious prejudice.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:21 PM on April 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


"women who work and women who don't" should read "women who are paid for some of their work and women who solely do unpaid work in the home". It's inaccurate to conflate "don't work" with being a homemaker.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:48 PM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Notice how the reviewer sets her two roles at odds with each other, as if one of the other MUST be superior (with the implication that winning the Emmy is that). In another set of hands, there could bemoan that she focuses so much on her career and presents motherhood as a (literal) afterthought and something to be hidden; notice how below the interpretation is that she doesn't want to be an "icky part-timers/SAHM."

Yeah I'm sorry, but almost every review of this book indicates that the *author* sets the two roles at odds with each other, concluding that nothing in the world compares to motherhood. What a sexist!

I guess one of us should actually read this book before analyzing this to death, but she writes as if the reviews are all driven by this clueless sexism that make it impossible for a woman to succeed in this world, and all of the ones I've read, while not necessarily "correct" in their criticisms, are thoughtful and present legitimate points of view.

Look, I would be absolutely amazed if Kogan had managed to get through her life without encountering ridiculous amounts of sexism. If you want your head to explode, compare how male and female authors are treated in any discussion of "serious" writers. That doesn't mean that every bit of criticism that she's ever received is sexist and hateful of women.

Notice the assumptions. 1) There is a 'boys club' culture. 2) That 'boys club' culture includes sex as sport. 3) Kogan embraced that 'boy's club' culture. 4) Her embracing it is notable in a way the "boys" embrace of it is accepted. 5) This book should have been about war or photojournalism, not the life of a female photojournalist. 6) Writing as if she chose to be part of a 'boys club' makes the book bad.

Why are these best described as "assumptions"? To me it sounds like a point of view and an argument. Are you going to take issue with any of these "assumptions" or does the mere labeling of them as assumptions enough for you to dismiss the review? What exactly do you think book critics do?

Let's turn this around: Janet Reitman is a veteran journalist who wrote a long review of Kogan's book, including quotes from other women in the field. Why do you call her description of the culture an "assumption"? You don't think she knows what she's talking about? Kogan was finished with her photojournalism career when she was 26, why do you "assume" that she has more credibility in a debate between these two? Is it because you're sexist? Maybe you have some unexamined assumptions about women. It doesn't matter if you're a woman or not, in fact if you're a woman you're probably more likely to have this false consciousness. Why else would you criticize Reitman?

Kogan's Nation piece is framed by a debate about the need for a book prize offered only to women. There is so much sexism endemic in the publishing world that this argument should be a slam dunk. But to validate such a prize, she runs through her personal history encountering sexism, including complaints about how the NYT Book Review hasn't reviewed any of her books and how she's faced a "lack of respectful coverage." I guess that's not how I would have done it -- she's literally a bestselling author who has received a large number of positive reviews. She quotes Dylan -- "When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose." Yes, I think. Yes. Seriously?

But heaven forfend someone mention narcissistic tendencies.
posted by leopard at 6:58 PM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I, too, have never heard of this woman before today, nor have I read any of her books, so I too feel qualified to explain her lack of credibility.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 5:56 AM on April 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I just bought Between Here and April and read samples of Kogan's two nonfiction books. I'm finding her interesting. She has gotten quite a bit of coverage in the Times, but as a personality rather than strictly as an author. Is that good or bad for an author? It's hard to tell. You could say that the letter she wrote complaining about her lack of reviews was biting the hand that feeds her, but the press at that level has a way of eating its young.

While I didn't care for The Red Book, I wish DCK nothing but the best. If this article turbo-charges the sales boost from her nomination, well done. If that sounds cynical-- again, I'm convinced she is making a sincere point and I think it's rather fine of her to come forward like this just when one could might she is being fully embraced as an author with this nomination .
posted by BibiRose at 8:10 AM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Unpleasant women (which I don't know if Kogan is, never met her, haven't read her books) experience sexism too. You don't have to be a saint to be a victim of sexism, oddly enough. How it usually plays out is that awful things a man does (sleep around, treat others like shit, flake out, be obsessed with himself, trash hotel rooms, maybe even rape 13-year-olds) is handwaved away by people who like his work/what he has to say. The awful things a woman does, well, that's just because she's an untalented psycho who can't handle criticism.

This is the shitty thing about sexism (and other prejudices too); it skews our ability to have conversations about the achievements and qualities of actual men and women, because you never know if that filter is being applied or if what you're hearing/what others are saying is the way it really is or some sort of unfair judgement.

Thus the skepticism that lots of women have whenever a woman is accused of things like narcissism. It's not that women can't be narcissists. It's that lots of women who aren't narcissists but are simply assertive get called narcissists on a regular basis. Given that respected woman scientists still get obits that focus on their kids and recipes rather than their scientific achievements, that women running for office consistently get criticism about what they are wearing and what their hair/makeup is like, that the effing NYTimes still puts stories about prominent women or women's issues in the effing Style section rather than in the "real" news, it's hard to not take the stance that a given media report about a woman is probably full of sexist bullshit.
posted by emjaybee at 8:29 AM on April 12, 2013 [14 favorites]


How it usually plays out is that awful things a man does (sleep around, treat others like shit, flake out, be obsessed with himself, trash hotel rooms, maybe even rape 13-year-olds) is handwaved away by people who like his work/what he has to say. The awful things a woman does...

I read the parentheses in this quote as "some examples of 'awful things' artistic men typically do". Is that a fair reading? If so, could you name some awful things that artistic women might typically do?
posted by 0 at 8:56 AM on April 12, 2013


The same things, 0; an artistic woman could do any of those things, but the difference would be in how much slack/forgiveness she receives for them as opposed to a man doing them.
posted by emjaybee at 9:25 AM on April 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Cool, so I think I must have misread the examples as "male". Thanks for clarification.
posted by 0 at 9:27 AM on April 12, 2013


I, too, have never heard of this woman before today, nor have I read any of her books, so I too feel qualified to explain her lack of credibility.

I have read reviews of Kogan's books, and found them vastly better than what I expected based on her letter. In particular, her complaint about being described as a SAHM in certain reviews seems entirely disingenuous, gaining credibility mainly because we're all familiar with the uncountable double standards women face every day.

hydropsyche wrote above: "One of the awesome things about feminism is that one woman is no longer expected to represent all women." -- 55 favorites -- and yet the discussion now is about how commentary about Kogan is actually commentary about all women.
posted by leopard at 10:24 AM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not speaking for anyone else here, but my perspective is not Kogen=all women but that many women are suspicious of certain kinds of criticism currently being aimed at Kogen because of their own lived experiences of sexism aimed at themselves and others.

Sexism clutters the landscape. But neither can we pretend it's not there, or that it only happens to wonderful talented women whom we like.
posted by emjaybee at 1:47 PM on April 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


I am not suspicious of all of the criticism or all of the reviews. I am not even discounting everything said in the two reviews she specifically calls out. But I do agree that the sexism she calls them out for is present in the reviews and part of larger sexist narratives. The OP isn't really about her books but about the sexism she has faced in her particular niche.

yet the discussion now is about how commentary about Kogan is actually commentary about all women

She doesn't represent women but the experiences she recounts do indeed recall sexist patterns that crop up time and again. I don't need to know anything about her or her books to identify the sexism I've pointed out. I can try to explain why I think these things are sexist if that would help.

- Describing her as having had sex with "half the foreign press corps". This statement minimizes Kogan's experiences, reducing her to a "slut" and presenting this as a decidedly negative thing. I did a google search for the phrase "slept with half" because I have previously identified this specific phrase as a signal for "slut here" but I wasn't sure if this was confirmation bias on my part. Okay, I knew it wasn't but I'm trying to cite things beyond my own experience. The results indicate that this is a common meme for someone who presents themselves as "virtuous" but is actually a "slut" and a slut is not to be trusted.

This was not the only slut-shaming in the Salon review. At the same time, criticism of Kogan's writing about her sexual experiences is not, in and of itself, necessarily sexist. It is the specific phrases and ideas that are used in the criticism that stand out as sexist. Criticism is possible without the sexism. For example, I read the Salon reviewer as complaining that there is too much narrow focus on Kogan's specific experiences and not enough connecting those experiences to any larger narratives. Thus, the book is somewhat shallow and not as interesting as it could have been.

This may be a legitimate critique (haven't read the book), but there are ways to get that across without insinuating that Kogan is not a real "victim" (by putting the word in quotes like that) because the rape was a "date rape" or that she is playing the victim by bringing up sexist incidents at all. Minimizing acquaintance rape and accusing women who talk about sexism of playing the victim are sexist narratives that are never true, not legitimate critiques of anything real.

- Kogan specifically calls out a reviewer for referring to her as a "soccer-mom". The New York reviewer does indeed do that (she "wasn't always a soccer mom in training"), so it is not a lie. Since she is not actually a soccer-mom clearly this phrase is a shortcut, a signal of some kind, just like slept with "half the foreign press corps". From the tone of the review it's clearly a negative meant to indicate she doesn't care about anything anymore than obsessing over her children and domestic life and has no career beyond that. The phrase "soccer mom" is used specifically to reduce a woman, it is not a neutral descriptor (again, here it is not even true). It is also an extremely common way of reducing a certain "kind" of woman, another signal that she is not to be taken seriously:
An American mother living in the suburbs who spends most of her time driving her school-aged children from one athletic activity to another, often over scheduling them. Typically White, upper middle class, probably college-educated, most drive SUVs and talk on the cellphone while driving making them prone to cause traffic accidents. Urban Dictionary
I would submit that "sluts", "women who make their rape seem worse than it was" and "soccer moms" do not actually exist. They are words to let us know what kind of woman we're dealing with here, with the express understanding that being a "woman" is enough to minimize her but we need to identify the specific category of "bad woman" she belongs to. The reviewers are thus not identifying and critiquing real things but using sexist shortcuts to let us know Kogan's book is bad.
posted by Danila at 2:38 PM on April 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


Further comments from Kogan.
posted by BibiRose at 7:58 AM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


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