In Defense of Chrissie Hynde: Why NPR Needs to Change and Why David Greene is a Sexist Fool

Twitter isn’t always the best yardstick when it comes to pinpointing the vox populi’s whims and anxieties, but given the way that the digital horde reacted to Chrissie Hynde’s interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, you’d think that it had just survived the Battle of Stalingrad or an unscheduled viewing of The Human Centipede 3:

“Not for the faint of heart,” “still recovering,” “gamely soldiering.” These are not the phrases one typically associates with a junket interview. But the Pretenders founder adroitly decided that she didn’t enjoy being subjected to David Greene’s insipid questions. Greene, a man apparently terrified of a woman with an independent mind and a fuddy fuss who muttered “bleeping’ instead of “fucking” when quoting a passage from Hynde’s new memoir, Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, made several mistakes. Instead of asking Hynde for the story behind her 1979 rock anthem “Brass in Pocket,” Greene wrongly assumed that Hynde would subscribe to his reductionist thesis that this was “a song that empowers women”:

Hynde: You know, it’s just a three minute rock song. It’s…I don’t think it’s as loaded as that.

As someone who has interviewed close to a thousand authors, filmmakers, and other celebrated minds and who fully cops to an exuberance involving overly analytical takes on an artist’s work, I’ve seen plenty of moments like this unfold before me. What you do in a situation like this is backtrack from your prerigged thesis and let the subject talk. The whole purpose of a conversation is to listen very carefully to what someone else is saying and ask questions that specifically follow up on the other person’s remarks. There was an opportunity here to get Hynde talking about how her music had been appropriated by ideological groups or whether a three minute rock song could ever have any real cultural stakes. But Greene, with an almost total lack of social awareness, could not read Hynde’s clear cues and sustained his foppish interlocutory thrust to the bitter end:

Greene: People certainly thought in its day [sic] as being very different and really emboldening women.
Hynde: Okay, well I’m not here to embolden anyone.

From here, the NPR producer cuts away in aloof and hilarious fashion to a lengthy clip of “Brass in Pocket” to pad out time, leaving the listener wondering what embarrassing (and possibly more interesting) bits were left on the cutting room floor. Perhaps there were many minutes in which David Greene, a man who seems incapable of improvisation, was left with his tongue capsized in a Gordian knot. Greene tells us that “Chrissie Hynde is a really tough interview,” even though Hynde sounded perfectly relaxed with Marc Maron last December and, most recently, with Tig Notaro.

Nice try, David. The fault here is clearly with the stiff interviewer and NPR’s despicably antiseptic culture, which is all about soothing the listener with pat platitudes easily forgotten in a morning commute haze. It’s telling that Greene speaks of Hynde “sharing her story,” as if the rock and roller’s rough life was akin to a child showing off a hastily composed watercolor painting at nursery school. Greene condescends to Hynde by calling this 64-year-old music veteran “a Midwestern girl” and trying to use her Ohio roots to presumably appeal to NPR’s easily shocked demographic. If Greene had truly been interested in Hynde, he might have described her in less innocuous and truer terms. Moreover, Greene can’t even deign to praise the Pretenders. Instead, he gushes over the Rolling Stones rather than the band that Hynde has been a member of:

Greene: And the Rolling Stones. They came — I mean, I, I loved reading about how you sort of took some of the staging off to take it with you, almost as a souvenir.
Hynde: Yeah. Do you want me to repeat the story?
Greene: I’d love you to.
Hynde: Is that the question?
Greene: No. I’d love you to.
Hynde: Can I just not repeat the stories that I’ve already said in the book? Can we talk about things outside of that? Is that possible? I don’t want to do a book reading, as it were.

Let’s unpack why this is terribly insulting to Hynde and why Hynde, much as any woman should, might react as hostilely as she did. Here is someone who has been creating music for many decades. She’s not a neophyte. She’s an accomplished rock performer. Instead of talking to her about The Pretenders, Greene has opted to paint Hynde as some Rolling Stones groupie plucking staging as souvenirs. Hynde has given Greene a big clue, pointing out that she’s not some automatic doll who performs book readings.

Compare this with Greene’s fawning treatment of Stones guitarist Keith Richards back in September. Not only was Richards permitted the courtesy to smoke inside the studio, but Greene gushed about Richards’s considerable accomplishments (children’s book author, raconteur, solo artist) in a manner so obsequious that you’d think he was the Pope. It would never occur to a sycophantic sexist like Greene to ask Richards what he thought of the Pretenders, much less paint him as some febrile fanboy.

Instead of recognizing his clear mistake, Greene digs in the dirk further, demanding that Hynde, presumably because she is a woman, express her “emotions” about an experience that is nowhere nearly as germane as her rugged life:

Greene: No, I would just like to hear some of the emotions of why you love the Rolling Stones so much. I mean, you were — you were taking some of the notes that people had written for Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and taking them home with you. I mean, what was driving you?
Hynde: Well, well, I just loved the bands. That’s what drove me all my life is that I just loved the bands. Back in those days, nobody thought I wanted to grow up and be a rock star. Nobody thought about fame. Nobody thought about making a lot of money. I just liked music and I really liked rock guitar. I didn’t think I was going to be a rock guitar player because I was a girl. I would have been too shy to play with, you know, guys.

It’s bad enough that we have to suffer though NPR’s crass abridgements of complex emotion into superficial seven minute segments, but it’s hard for any progressive-minded listener to hear a talented and interesting woman, one who emerged from an uncertain blue-collar existence to a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, reduced to something akin to a toy.

If Hynde were a man, this interview wouldn’t be a controversy. One would think that the Twitter crowd, so eager to denounce such demoralizing portraits of women, would have glommed onto an autonomous voice being diminished by an incurious and inattentive fool. But instead the shock is with an interview departing from mealy-mouthed form. The time has come for more women to stop letting “nice guys” like Greene diminish their accomplishments and for all radio producers to be committed to organic conversations. If NPR insists on being a forum for gutless toadies and the celebrities who tolerate them, then perhaps the cure involves opening up the floodgates to every voice on the spectrum with thought and compassion. Of course, podcasting has been doing all this quite wonderfully for years. So if Greene cannot adjust his timid mien to the 21st century, then perhaps his stature should perish.

Jennifer Schuessler: “Literary Occupation: Housewife”

On September 21, 1832, Maria W. Stewart became the first African-American woman to lecture on women’s rights. She was jeered at by male crowds, who pelted her with tomatoes. A few years later in Philadelphia, Lucretia Mott received a similar reception when she pointed out that it was “not Christianity, but priestcraft” that had subjected women. Mott’s remarks, along with those of other women, were widely ridiculed by the press. On November 5, 1855, The New York Times would write of Mott:

The evident sincerity of feeling and intensity of thought produce a strong impression on the mind, but the utter absence of imaginative power stripped the impression of those almost higher attractions which beauty of illustration lends. Still, though the absence of this quality may neutralize the effect as far as popularity with a general audience is concerned, the effect on those who came with a preconceived sympathy with the ideas of a preacher, is likely to be more powerful, in proportion as the enunciation is simple and unaided by the poetical assistance of sensuous flights of imagination or classical touches of cultivated intellect.

In other words, Mott was merely some sincere country bumpkin who could only preach to the already converted. As far as The New York Times was concerned, Mott’s rhetorical approach, despite “a large and eager congregation,” could never reach the higher plains of cultivated intellect.

These ugly and prejudicial avenues were revisited on June 4, 2011, when The New York Times published a baffling article by Jennifer Schuessler. Schuessler suggested that, any time a woman author tweets a 140 character message, she is engaging in a literary feud. Was Schuessler longing for a presuffrage America? Or a continuation of the complacent and sexist approach from 150 years before? It certainly felt that way. Despite claiming that feud watchers “question whether Twitter feuds really qualify” (and who is a feud watcher anyway? Jonathan Franzen when he’s not watching birds?), Schuessler condemned numerous women for speaking their minds. By criticizing the establishment, numerous bestselling authors were somehow transformed into a mindless mob. And if Schuessler has possessed the linguistic and argumentative facilities of her 1855 counterpart, she might very well have claimed that these women carried an “utter absence of imaginative power.”

After serving up a laundry list of all-male literary “feuds” (Theroux v. Naipaul, Vargas Llosa v. Garcia Marquez, Moody v. Peck), with the feud defined as “a willingness to throw actual punches along with verbal jabs,” Schuessler writes:

If the literary feud has lost its old-school bluster, it might be tempting to lay the blame with what Nathaniel Hawthorne might have called “the mob of damn Twittering women.” These days, in America at least, it’s women authors who seem to start the splashiest literary fights, and you don’t need a stool at the White Horse Tavern to witness it.

The problem with this logic is that it assumes that those who have tweeted critical comments (the names cited in the article are Jennifer Weiner, Jodi Picoult, Ayelet Waldman, and Roseanne Cash) wish to engage in physically and verbally aggressive behavior, or that they have little more than barbaric contributions to offer to public discourse. In Schuessler’s defense, there is a modest case that Waldman, in defending her husband, was engaging in ongoing ressentiment towards Katie Roiphe. But the other women cited in Schuessler’s piece were not. If Weiner and Picoult “led a Twitter campaign against what they saw as the male-dominated literary establishment’s excessive fawning over Jonathan Franzen,” one must ask whether a campaign constitutes a feud.

The feud, as described by Schuessler, is one predicated upon hatred for another person. When an author receives a black eye or a knockout, this is little more than an ignoble pissing match revolving around egos. When Paul Theroux writes a poison-pen memoir condemning his former friend Naipaul, does this stand for any corresponding set of virtues?

Yet when a group of women is trying to raise serious questions about the manner in which books are covered by the media, can one really call it a feud? The evidence suggests nobler intentions. In an August 30, 2010 NPR article, Jennifer Weiner stated that the establishment is “ignoring a lot of other worthy writers and, in the case of The New York Times, entire genres of books.” On August 26, 2010, both Weiner and Picoult were interviewed at length by The Huffington Post‘s Jason Pinter about their positions. And it becomes clear from Pinter’s piece that the purported “mob of damn Twittering women” isn’t just “a Twitter campaign,” but an attempt to start a discussion.

Schuessler also condemns “a similar crew” who “took aim at Jennifer Egan” after Egan declared chick lit as “very derivative, banal stuff.” But in refusing to identify the “crew” in question (and only getting a quote from Katie Roiphe, who had little to do with the “feud”), Schuessler proved herself to be an irresponsible journalist. The conversation about Egan’s remarks extended well beyond Twitter, with detailed essays appearing for and against in such outlets as The Frisky and The Millions. Does such a debate really constitute a feud?

When Roiphe says, “The nature of Twitter is you don’t need to think about what you’re saying. Most of us need to think more about what we’re saying, not less,” she demonstrates her total ignorance of the way in which Twitter works. As seen by the Egan remarks and the Franzenfreude statements, there was an initial emotional outcry on Twitter that became dwarfed by a more serious discussion. People formulated their thoughts and wrote lengthy online essays. If the comments to those essays were somewhat heated, there remained numerous efforts by thoughtful people to maintain a civil debate.

So when Schuessler gets Waldman on the record to speculate about how Jane Austen might have engaged in a Twitter debate over Naipaul’s recent comments, Waldman (perhaps unwittingly) upholds the status quo: “Only those of us with impulse control issues take our snits into the ether.” But this falsely suggests that Twitter encourages nothing less than our worst impulses and that one’s initial outburst can’t be tamed into a more rational discussion. It also upholds a dangerous double standard: a man is permitted to speak his mind and punch somebody out (presumably for the amusement of “feud watchers”); but if a woman does anything close to this, she’s little more than “a damn Twittering woman.” If the purported paper of record — an outlet that suggested a few months ago that a gang-raped schoolgirl had it coming — is seriously equating today’s talented female authors with Freidan’s “happy housewife heroines,” then it is clear that The New York Times is ill-equipped to operate in the 21st century.

The Super Bowl: Madison Avenue Misogyny

It was a great game, perhaps the most gripping final NFL showdown of the past five years, with a second half opening with a daring onside kick and Garrett Hartley becoming the first placekicker to make three field goals over forty yards in any Super Bowl. Marvelous. And I might have come away from the annual experience howling in the streets for my avenged Jets, had not my viewing been sullied by an atavistic rash of misogynistic commercials.

Granted, your average redblooded spectator does not necessarily watch television sports commercials with the intent of seeing women presented as positive role models. We’ve become used to seeing women objectified, often dressed in bikinis and/or using their anatomy to sell some vacuous commercial experience. But Super Bowl XLIV’s commercials were much different. They were cruder and uglier, going well out of their way to not only objectify women, but to suggest that anyone with a vagina who asserted herself should be ridiculed.

There was the Motorola commercial featuring a naked Megan Fox in a bubble bath, referring to her phone as “this little guy” and permitting her objectified photographic form to cause a series of disruptions. But that was comparatively modest with the misogyny to come. There was the FloTV commercial in which a man suffered from an allegorical injury in which his girlfriend had removed his spine, “rendering him incapable of watching the game.” FloTV’s underlying idea, of course, was that women could not possibly enjoy football and that women are natural ballbusters who force their boyfriends to go shopping. There was the Dodge Charger Commercial, in which various men are seen, with their internal thoughts voiced by Dexter star Michael C. Hall, who announces the perfunctory domestic demands from other women: “I will eat some fruit as part of my breakfast. I will shave. I will clean the sink after I shave.”

But the real big-prick offender was probably Bud Light’s Book Club ad (which can be viewed above), which combined its misogynistic message with an anti-reading subtext. The commercial begins with a woman describing how there’s “so much passion” within the book she’s reading. A man then arrives wearing a sports T-shirt and shorts, saying, “Have a nice book club. I’ll be at the game.” He then eyes several chilled bottles of Bud Light and then sits down on a couch between two women, rudely interrupting their discussion. “So what’s the story?” he says, as some rock and roll music emerges onto the soundtrack. “We were discussing the relationship of two women…”

“Two women,” he interrupts, immediately connoting a lesbian fantasy, perhaps with the two women he is squeezed between.

“…who are thrust in by war,” continues the woman.

“Oooh,” he replies. “Thrusting.”

“A war neither of them understands,” she continues, offering a modest nod that indicates her role as either patient nurturer or someone barely able to understand the book that she’s discussing.

“Awesome,” he says. “Good times. I love Book Club!”

And in a rather sly move by the director, sealing the woman’s objectified place, the woman’s red sweater slips down her left shoulder, revealing more of her anatomy.

We cut back after a product announcement and observe an exchange between the man and another woman. The book club has degenerated into a beer drinking session.

This new woman says, “So then do you like Little Women?” (Little, get it?)

He says, “Yeah, I’m not too picky. No.” And the commercial then stops, ending on this open-ended sexual proposition.

Here then is the ad’s anti-women and anti-reading worldview: Women, no matter what their goals, aspirations, or interests, have no other role in society other than getting fucked by men. Let women have their “little” book clubs, which can be easily interrupted on a masculine whim and which women will never dare object to. They will set everything aside to give you head or to serve you beer.

And, by the way, if you’re a man, you don’t even need to read to get ahead in the world. (Indeed, one of the commercial’s curious philosophical positions is that one cannot both enjoy beer — at least the stuff better than the undrinkable swill that is being sold in this commercial — and books. Speaking as a man who enjoys beer, books, and football, and who finds intelligent women far sexier than empty-headed centerfolds, I happily refute these stereotypes through my very existence.)

Some might argue that the advertisement is not intended to be taken seriously — that it is a jocular offering to be easily disregarded. But because the Super Bowl is watched by close to 100 million people and because the Super Bowl commercials are subjected to such intense post-game scrutiny (to cite one example, as I write this essay, a message now appears at the top of YouTube: “Watch and Vote on Your Favorite Commercials from Super Bowl Sunday. Vote Now.”), it is perhaps more important for us to consider the impact that one Super Bowl commercial has on its audience. Let us assume that 1% of the Super Bowl audience (or about 1 million) take the Book Club advertisement seriously. Will they, in turn, be inspired to avoid books and break up female book clubs?

The great irony here is that these misogynist commercials were aired, including an anti-abortion Focus on the Family advocacy ad, even as CBS rejected a gay online dating commercial. And, indeed, if women are deemed so problematic by the Madison Avenue hucksters, then why shouldn’t the audience consider a man instead?

The open-ended question of whether Super Bowl commercials should be guided by some morality was indeed broached by Chicago Tribune religious reporter Manya Brachear. To this, I would respond that Super Bowl XXXVIII’s infamous Nipplegate controversy established very clear moral guidelines. Show part of a woman’s breast (adorned with nipple plate) and you will be hounded by the FCC and Christian moralists. But feel free to objectify a woman’s breast all you like. Because the need to sell more Coca-Cola outweighs human dignity.

[UPDATE: A reader correctly points out that, in this essay’s original form, I confused this year’s Teleflora ad, which involved a similar setup, with last year’s Teleflora ad. Accordingly, I have removed the following description from the piece, preserving it at the end to demonstrate another example of Madison Avenue’s commitment to Super Bowl misogyny: “Then there was the despicable Teleflora ad, in which a woman receives flowers and the flowers talk back, ‘Oh no! Look at the mug on you! Diane, you’re a trainwreck. That’s why he always sent a box of flowers. Go home to your romance novels and your fat smelly cat,’ followed by another sully: ‘Nobody wants to see you naked.’ The Teleflora commercial presented an additional punchline: a male office worker named Gary who comes up to Diane not to ask if she’s okay, but to announce, ‘I’d like to see you naked’ (surely a violation of sexual harassment law), before being cut off by the humiliated Diane.]

[UPDATE 2: Survival of the Book’s Brianoffers a thoughtful response to my post, pointing out one minor point I neglected to mention — that the women were the ones who procured the Bud Lights for their own enjoyment in the commercial. This raises the possibility that they were trying to get rid of the jock so that they could enjoy their beer with their books. It’s a fair interpretation: one that I might entirely agree with, had the women not been presented as sex objects in the latter portion of the commercial. Brian’s interpretation permits the Book Club to serve as a male fantasy. But if this crude male fantasy involves sneering down at women and books, then I stand by my original assessment.]

Dave Sim: The Stalin of Comics

In case you haven’t heard the news, the once great Dave Sim has demanded that anyone who corresponds with him must pledge that Sim isn’t a misogynist. The whole business has erupted into a sad and terrible train wreck in which Sim has nearly alienated his friend Chester Brown and spurned long-time fans. And it’s all because Sim doesn’t appear to be acquainted with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Calling Sim a misogynist is not libelous. It is the truth. A misogynist is someone who hates women. And the man who wrote, “It wouldn’t be that big of a stretch to categorize my writing as Hate Literature against women,” in Issue #186 of Cerberus, speaking in his own voice, is most certainly a misogynist. For years and years, Sim has been spewing out this bile. And rather than take his lumps and be the man he thinks he is, he instead wants to set terms and alienate everyone in the process. These are not the actions of a civilized person.

For years, I’ve tried to overlook Sim’s hateful ramblings for the great wonders contained within the early books of Cerberus. But if Sim is going to set terms for us, I’m going to set a few terms for him. Until Sim can confess that he is the working definition of a misogynist, I will never buy another comic written or illustrated by Dave Sim or acknowledge Dave Sim in any way ever again. The great talent Dave Sim has been replaced by an atavistic creature who now calls himself “Dave Sim,” who believes himself to be some small-time Stalin and perpetuates this sad despotism as long as his delusional hubris will let him. He has now fully disappeared from my cultural radar. And it’s too damn bad. Because when he was still sane, he was an innovator.

I Need a Husband!

About six months after I continued to remain happy and childless, I saw a woman sitting with her son on a blanket. Her name, I later discovered, was Lori and she was there with her friend Caitlin. It was a sunny summer weekend, and there were parents and kids picnicking nearby.

The day had been going fine, until Lori started checking out my ass in a really intense way. Which was odd, because I have an okay ass. Nothing to write home about. I guess it was an ass you could settle for. Of course, when pressed, I can shake my booty as well as anybody else. Still, it was somewhat disheartening to have someone checking out my ass without even having the courtesy to introduce herself.

“Excuse me,” said Lori. “Are you married?”

“What? Why, no,” I said.

“Do you shout ‘Bravo!’ in movie theaters?”

“Sometimes. When it’s an action movie.”

She introduced herself. She then asked if she could smell my breath. I told her that I needed one minute to suck on a breath mint. She told me that breath mints weren’t necessary. I informed her that her request was quite unusual. And she then grabbed the roll of BreathSavers out of my hand and stomped my mints into chalky powder. She insisted that I had halitosis. This was not true.

“Hey, you owe me a buck for those BreathSavers!”

“I want a husband,” she said.

“What for? What do you really long for?”

“An angle for this Atlantic article I’m writing. Well, actually, a husband. I’m very worried about that. Every single woman I know feels panic about this. I need to marry and reproduce.”

I then noticed that she was taking notes.

“You know, you don’t need a husband to be happy,” I said. “Mr. Right often comes along when you least expect it.”

“I need a husband now.”

Lori didn’t blink as she said this. I was starting to get an Ira Levin vibe.

“Yeah, and I’d love to write for The New Yorker. It’ll probably never happen. But that doesn’t stop me from writing or living.”

“You don’t understand. I need a husband now.”

“Well, if that’s the case, go get one.”

I started to walk away. I considered calling 911. Lori was starting to give me the creeps. There was a wild look in her eyes.

“Will you be my husband?”

I was unnerved by Lori. I knew many well-adjusted single women in their thirties and forties who were living fantastic lives. And they were doing this entirely without partners.

“Are you The One?”

“No!” I shouted.

She then consulted a complicated Powerpoint presentation on her laptop. There was a red text box with the words MUST MARRY MAN NOW! flashing in bright white text.

“Are you my soul mate?”

“Look, Lori, I don’t know you, but I think you need help.”

“I need to marry somebody. Someone who can help me pop out 1.2 children from my uterus. Will you marry me and help me pop out 1.2 children? I have one son. I need 1.2 more so that I can live the perfect dream. Are you Mr. Good Enough?”

“I’m Mr. Champion.”

Lori then complained to her friend Caitlin that I wasn’t cooperating. Caitlin suggested that they should go home and watch the final episode of Friends to get some additional ideas for Lori’s article. And that was the last I saw of them.

I didn’t understand Lori’s problem. If only she would stop with the whole “I need a husband” nonsense and accept that life happens when you make other plans, maybe she might get her wish.

But it was good to meet someone who wrote for The Atlantic. I was pretty sure that Lori would read a few books on the subject, talk to some noted experts on relationships and human behavior, cite a few studies, and write a very thoughtful article without a single generalization about gender. After all, The Atlantic was a respected magazine that attracted only the best writers.

Sam Tanenhaus: Let the Cheap Sensationalism Continue

Have you heard the latest from Sam Tanenhaus’s dismal literary tabloid? Writers should be pilloried for writing the sentence “Men are rats.” It’s an absolute scandal. Toni Bentley, presumably recruited because this offered the boys another opportunity to pump her for more thoughts on posterior probings, proceeds to characterize Katha Pollitt’s latest book as another volume in “[g]roaning and moaning from clever, sassy women.” After spending three paragraphs attacking the right of intelligent women to write about being burned by men (in a remarkably sexist term of art, Bentley characterizes these women as “vagina dentata intellectualis”), while failing to point out precisely where Pollitt went wrong in her work. Four paragraphs into the review, we still have no explicit quote from the book that will support Bentley’s thesis, but we do have this extraordinary sentence:

It’s hard to tell if she’s coming into her own, trying to sell more books or has lost it entirely.

I don’t see how speculating upon the mental health or financial motivations of a writer offers any thoughtful insight into a book. It’s clear enough that Bentley hated the book. I get that. Pollitt is a polarizing figure. But as a reviewer, does not Bentley have the obligation to tell us why specific passages reflect what she perceives as inadequacies? Instead, Bentley merely summarizes some of the essays and spends most of her review offering limp wisecracks. (“Not being in drowning mode, I, for one, am bringing a cliché-proof life jacket to the party.”)

It is stupendously irresponsible to take a sentence like “Men are rats” and not provide any additional journalistic context to offer us a few clues about what Pollitt was writing about. In publishing such a piece, it seems evidently clear that Sam Tanenhaus has no interest in examining social issues with any degree of maturity. It is bad enough that he would resort to cheap sensationalism. But it is the act of a thug to permit a piece that would attack Pollitt’s character rather than her words.

Apparently, David Remnick Also Thinks Women Aren’t Funny

remnick.jpgBenjamin Cohen has a gender breakdown of contributors to the New Yorker‘s “Shouts & Murmurs” section. The results are extremely troubling. It seems that only 17 of the 133 authors who have appeared in “Shouts & Murmurs” since 1992 have been women. Patricia Marx is the female author who has appeared most, at seven times, but her work is occluded by Steve Martin’s 29 appearances.

So does Remnick subscribe to the Christopher Hitchens hard line? (It’s interesting to note that Hitchens’s essay also appeared in a Conde Nast magazine.) Why haven’t women been assigned to this section? And while I’m on the subject, why does Steve Martin get an interview slot at the New Yorker Festival, but not Marx? Okay, so some chick named Susan Morrison is interviewing him, because this is the 21st century and some faces have to be saved. But I’m truly astonished that the magazine which frequently published Dorothy Parker, an inarguably funny woman, seems to have reverted to some backwards 19th century idea about gender on this subject.

Roy Den Hollander: A Man of Limitations, A Man of Principle

Several groups of men have, at long last, discovered the true evil that lurks beneath the nightlife underbelly and have initiated the appropriate legislation to exact justice for the greatest threat to equality since they bussed in those dark-skinned kids into schools some decades ago. It turns out that those goddam women, who continue to complain about the apparent injustice of a woman making two thirds the annual income that a man makes, have now spawned a grand plan in collusion with nightclub owners to disrupt the natural patriarchal order. Not only do these women have the temerity to order drinks at a price lesser than that of a man, but they often get into these nightclubs for free! FOR FREE! Doesn’t a woman know that her only role in life is to a man’s pliable arm candy? Doesn’t a woman know that she must abstain from pursuing a career and do nothing more in life than cook, clean and reproduce?

Thankfully, there are brave men like Roy Den Hollander, who has tired of “being treated as a second-class citizen.” It’s bad enough that Mr. Hollander’s penis size is smaller than the norm. To dwell upon this personal topic is to open up a healing wound. But now Mr. Hollander has to suffer the indignity of paying one or two more dollars for a drink than a woman! Well, enough is enough. If you ask me, the only real solution here is to castrate Mr. Hollander and begin the appropriate court-enforced pre-op transexual procedures. It’s the only way to be sure. As a woman, only then will Mr. Hollander understand the gender chasm. As a woman, only then will Mr. — make that Ms. Hollander know the meaning of “second-class citizen.”

(via Jason Pinter)

“Unlike a Lot of Women, I Like Beer!”

Well, who knew that there weren’t a lot of women who imbibed beer in the 1970s? That is, if we believe Michelob.

There are important questions that must be answered:

1. Who determined that “a lot of women” didn’t like beer? (And this stereotype, despite some progress, has remained a problem in recent years.)

2. How did they decide upon the seven ounce bottle? (And why seven? I mean, if these domestic women drinkers were ostensibly dainty, why not settle for four or five?)

3. Considering that the first shot is very careful to include a gesture of this woman putting down her purse, was this beer an attempt to market to the professional woman? Or the more civilized housewife trying to create a more level gender playing field? (Sentence in this commercial to support the latter rhetorical question: “And he likes it too!” So is the husband the one here making the compromise? Or is MICH VII intended to be the compromise to maintain happy marriages?)

I can find no trace of what happened to MICH VII, although several vintage mirrors seem to be available on eBay.

Screenwriters: All White, All Male, All the Time

Hollywood Reporter: “With the exception of female TV writers, women and minority scribes have made little progress of late in seeking fair employment and earnings in Hollywood, according to a report commissioned by the WGA West released Tuesday.”

The report does not appear to be available online, but I certainly hope that the WGA follows up with these claims by releasing these regrettable income disparities to the public.

Garrison Keillor: Spokesman for Sexist Hunter-Gathering Revival Movement?

Garrison Keillor: “It’s a guy thing, shoveling snow. It’s a form of marking. You shovel the walk to show other males that you’re on the scene and operating at full capacity lest they think about stealing your woman, though ironically your shoveling has made it easier for them to reach your house.”

You know, the last time I checked, chicks shoveled show too.

Comedy: Rated XX

Christopher Hitchens: “If I am correct about this, which I am, then the explanation for the superior funniness of men is much the same as for the inferior funniness of women. Men have to pretend, to themselves as well as to women, that they are not the servants and supplicants. Women, cunning minxes that they are, have to affect not to be the potentates. This is the unspoken compromise.”

From Dana Goodyear’s profile on Sarah Silverman: “Several years ago, Jerry Lewis, then in his early seventies, reportedly told an audience at the Aspen Comedy Festival that he didn’t much care for female comedians and couldn’t think of one who was any good. Lewis’s views were criticized in public but upheld by some, in modified form, in private. ‘When you went home alone and did the math, he was just kind of right,’ Penn Jillette, the magician-comedian, says.”

Michael Williams: “All the funniest comedians are male, in every media — stand-up, TV shows, movies, books, you name it. When women are in the comedy genre, they usually play the straight ‘man,’ putting up with the male comedians’ nonsense with a sigh and a shrug. Furthermore, most comedies are aimed at men, and those demographers know what they’re doing; I bet that female-targeted comedies bomb in the box office.”

* * *

One might presume that laughter’s universal palliative would have rendered gender distinctions null and void and that the issue of whether a comedian is funny would rest upon a joke’s qualities, its delivery and its impeccable associations, rather than the comedian’s gender. But there remains a palpable stink in the air that must be examined. Women, say these pundits, are not funny. Or if they are funny, they are somehow lesser to men.

The comedy scene, despite advances in recent years, is dominated by men. And it’s interesting that many comediennes must employ shock value in order to be noticed. Consider Sandra Bernhard’s sexual candor or Sarah Silverman’s comic experiments with racism. Margaret Cho, who I believe to be very funny, has developed a loyal gay following. But why is Cho, because she is a self-avowed “fag hag,” lesser to Silverman because Silverman is, according to Goodyear, “approachable though deranged.”

Let’s consider Goodyear’s modifier: “approachable.” This suggests then that if a woman is funny, by the logic employed by The New Yorker, discounting the requirements of audience appeal, she must somehow stifle her comic impulses rather than greet the audience in her naturally tailored persona. And even when she’s a comic as successful as Silverman, there’s still the troubling problem of coming across as “deranged,” as if comedy, a science often rooted in madness, is a loony byway as closed off to women as the Herbertstraße.

Perhaps this is because humor is associated with intelligence and some men, terrified by the notion of a level playing field among genders, view the advent of funny females as a threat.

Which brings us to Hitchens’ article, as true a confession of Hitchens’ gender fears as it is a regrettable surrender of hearty logic. Relying upon an absurd array of generalizations, Hitchens first claims that women have no need to appeal to men in a humorous manner. And then, relying upon a Stanford University School of Medicine study, Hitchens views women’s “greater emphasis on language and executive processing” as the apparent smoking gun that women are “slower to get it.” But one might just as easily adduce that this uptake in brain activity involves women processing the jokes in a more holistic manner, paying more attention to the semantics and the environment in which the joke was delivered than their male counterparts. Hitchens also pooh-poohs women who were “swift to locate the unfunny.” Could not this cerebral celerity mean that women might just be better attuned to ferret out humor by way of identifying it?

If we infer that women are more mentally equipped to deliver the goods, why then is there a stigma? A Psychology Today article attempted to examine this issue, suggesting that men and women use humor differently, with men using humor to compete and women using humor to bond. While this assertion by no means foolproof and cannot account for humor’s rich complexities, perhaps it is this competitive urge that causes funny women to be marginalized and Christopher Hitchens to have a severe lapse in judgment.

Erma Bombeck once observed, “When humor goes, there goes civilization.” If women cannot be accepted for their humorous contributions (too great and numerous to list), then what hope civilization?

[UPDATE: Apparently, if you are a woman who expresses a serious disagreement with Hitchens’ piece or asks why it was published without being looked at, you’ve just another humorless bitch, as imputed by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. More from Sklar at the Huffington Post. (via Maud)]

Credibility Gap

New York Times: “The panel dismissed the idea, notably advanced last year by Lawrence H. Summers, then the president of Harvard, that the relative dearth of women in the upper ranks of science might be the result of ‘innate’ intellectual deficiencies, particularly in mathematics. If there are cognitive differences, the report says, they are small and irrelevant. In any event, the much-studied gender gap in math performance has all but disappeared as more girls enroll in demanding classes. Even among very high achievers, the gap is narrowing, the panelists said.”

I Assume This Has Something to Do With the Invite She Got to the Flanagan Barbeque

Guardian: “Telling women not to expect orgasms but to fake them, and to praise their partner lavishly afterwards, is not advice normally associated with a woman who has been in the vanguard of feminism for four decades. Nevertheless, Fay Weldon gives short shrift to the views for which feminists have fought so bitterly over the years. In her latest book, she not only warns high-flying women that they should expect to end up single, she also suggests that sexual pleasure may be incompatible with high-powered careers and that women should simply accept they are less capable of being happy than men.” (via Booksquare)

Harlan Ellison: The Norman Mailer of Speculative Fiction

[Photo removed at the request of Keith Stokes. Offending image available here.]

[UPDATE: Keith Stokes continues to play a game of cultural revisionism, regularly changing the filenames of his photographs to prevent people from seeing what happened for themselves. The photo, as of Tuesday, can be found on this page.]


This is not just a matter of “Harlan being Harlan,” as Ellison’s defenders will likely phrase it. This is not a matter of being politically correct. These are the actions of a boorish pig. It is unacceptable for anyone to get away with this. And the almost total silence of the science fiction community on this is appalling.

It’s one thing to goof around at a party — when the people know the other people involved and a little bit of this kind of nonsense sometimes occurs.

But when a woman goes up on stage and cannot be respected as a writer, particularly a writer who’s as great as Connie Willis, when she must be groped and demeaned as a sex object in front of an audience, then the time has come to re-evaluate the merits of the organization that hosts the awards ceremony, as well as the has-been “legends” who go up to claim and present awards.

Likely, speculative fiction writers will remain silent about Ellison’s groping. After all, Harlan Ellison will go after them or make phone calls or engage in sociopathic behavior or essentially intimidate anyone who disagrees with him. His loyal cadre of sycophants, who accept his every word and action without question, will stand back in awe as the man that they have inflated beyond belief continues to walk mighty and unquestionable steps.

If the SFWA has any balls, they will demand a censure. If Connie Willis has any dignity, she will demand a public apology. If Harlan Ellison has any honor, he will atone for his despicable conduct rather than revel in it.

If Harlan paralyzed a writer for life, would it be a case of Harlan “just being Harlan?” How does one writer stand so above the pale?


Goblin Mercantiel Exchange: “The difference, then, is quite stark: it’s between dead-enders and people who actually have some kind of connection to the 21st century world at large–you know? The 21st century? Where shit like this shouldn’t happen?”

Gavin Grant: “What’s up with these dirty old men? They’re taking all the fun out of being in the genre and not inspiring anyone with anything but horror and the urge to vomit and throw out their books.”

Catherine Morrison: “So Harlan Ellison. What to do with him? The even more sad part of all this is that I don’t think people will particularly remember this in a year or two except as part of Ellison’s general assiness. Because groping a woman without permission doesn’t get you shunned in this world.”

Laurie Mann: “Connie is a much better role model for writers than Harlan Ellison.”

Lis Riba: “What does a woman have to do to get a little respect in this industry?”

And as of Monday night, there has been nothing about the groping from Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi, Bonig Boing, Rick Kleffel, and of course Harlan himself.

UPDATE: From Come Love Sleep on Gaiman: “(he basically says, he’s not gonna touch this situation with a ten-foot barge-pole, and other woman have been accusing him of being “complicit by [my] silence” in Harlan’s “public attempt to rape Connie Willis”, which is pretty stupid. Under those circumstances I’d find it pretty hard not to be really pissed off.)”

Meanwhile, Lis Riba suggests that “we can channel this energy into something positive,” while Ian McDonald notes that he found the grope “entertaining.”

UPDATE 2: Greg Frost talked with Connie Willis. (via Gwenda)

UPDATE 3: As reported by C. Billings in the thread, Harlan is now claiming that he did not grope, grab or fondle Connie Willis: “Would you, and the ten thousand maggots who have blown this up into a cause celebre, be even the least bit abashed to know that I apologized WAY BEYOND what the “crime” required, on the off chance that I HAD offended?” (The full response is in the thread.) Further, on the Harlan Ellison message board, messages criticizing the grope are being removed and IP addresses are being banned.

UPDATE 4: The thread has turned into what Ron has correctly styled “a shit-flinging contest” (and I am just as guilty). I have disabled comments. I suggest full contact jujitsu at your local gym as a surrogate.

UPDATE 5: Video and screenshot.

Otto Peltzer Gets Cozy

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This post, as you’ve probably already gathered, is a parody of Otto Penzler’s New York Sun column. But since Mr. Penzler has threatened me by email, I have added this note to state that THIS POST IS A PARODY, and it is reflective of a character named “Otto Peltzer,” not Penzler.]

It was just after I duct-taped my lover to the concrete slab I keep in my study and caused her a considerable amount of discomfort that I realized she was better that way and that this was probably much better for our relationship. It’s sometimes the only way I can obtain an erection. When you’re a man like me who hasn’t laughed once since 1992, it’s easy to give into this kind of passive-aggressive violence. Bitter New York Sun columns simply aren’t enough for a man with my hopeless desperation.

But I thought I’d extend this metaphor further and apply it to all the bitches who are out to get me. By bitches, I refer to those base mystery writers who lack the grand grace of a Y chromosome. Who are these women and why do they think they can write? If they’re going to write cozies, should they not be shackled to the kitchen, preparing our meals and otherwise agreeing with every single one of our commands?

Call me cynical, but the time has come for the publishing industry to stop using these terms. Mysteries are mysteries, and anything less is folly. Who knew that these bitches would dare to adopt terms of reference? This feminist axis of evil hopes to communicate to the world ideas of what they call mysteries and I call poppycock. In fact, I’ll simply call it poppy, since I’m the one with the cock around here and they aren’t.

Now excuse me while I ignite the stack of feminist propaganda (read “cozies”) into a cozy conflagration.

PBS is Sexist and Spineless

PBS has fired Melanie Martinez, host of The Good Night Show. Her crime? Appearing in this amusing thirty-second video, which doesn’t feature Ms. Martinez naked but has her making fun of “technical virginity.” If this Puritanical move is what it takes to get fired, to (in PBS’s words) “undermine her character’s credibility with our audience,” current American society is about as unenlightened as the Dark Ages. Not only was Ms. Martinez fired, but, in a Stalinistic move, her segments are being replaced by “short-form content.” It will be as if Melanie Martinez never appeared on PBS.

Here’s the question: if a male children’s television host had mentioned some passing remark about oral sex ten years ago, would he be let go like this?

Why Boris Johnson Won’t Get Laid Any Time Soon

Boris Johnson suggests that the world can be described as one involving women who read and men who don’t. Actually, it can be divided as follows: people who think, people who don’t, and lower life forms who have just discovered that they can use their opposable thumbs for masturbation purposes and who are inexplicably hired by The Telegraph to write foolish articles. (via Bookslut)

A Nation of Forensic Vagina Inspectors

New York Times: “There are other countries in the world that, like El Salvador, completely ban abortion, including Malta, Chile and Colombia. El Salvador, however, has not only a total ban on abortion but also an active law-enforcement apparatus — the police, investigators, medical spies, forensic vagina inspectors and a special division of the prosecutor’s office responsible for Crimes Against Minors and Women, a unit charged with capturing, trying and incarcerating an unusual kind of criminal.”