20 September 2010

Look back at the leopard like the leopard

I've been watching, with some bemusement, the whole 'Franzenfreude' uproar.

Sexism exists. It's a problem. It's going to continue to be one. I have seen it myself. I attended a university where the official response was to shrug when the head of the school of history asked two female postgrads why they were wasting everyone's time trying to get advanced degrees, because they were just going to get married and have babies. That conversation happened in the 1990s, for the record, not the 1890s.

Unconscious sexism also exists, and it too is a problem.

But I think the thing about the whole debate that has baffled and outraged me most is the suggestion apparently presented by C.E. Morgan that all we really need to do is just start producing 'more and more work of indisputable genius.'

Excuse me? Is that really what you meant to say? All we really have to do is just keep proving that women are human beings capable of brilliant thought and expression, over and over again and eventually the rest of the world will fall in line?

Sorry, no. Women have been expressing themselves brilliantly since before Sappho took up the lyre, and the world has clearly not fallen into line yet.

I understand and sympathise with the desire to step outside the shouting and just write great stuff. It's my own preferred way of giving the finger to all the people who think I can't write well / think clearly / earn a PhD/ et cetera. But just writing more and better does not end the larger problem, and to suggest that it will seems suspiciously like blaming the victim. If you were just a better writer, this wouldn't have happened to you.

Is this the twenty-first century, or did I make a wrong turn somewhere?

And then I heard (via Quid Plura?) about how Molly Norris, the Seattle cartoonist who suggested, tongue-in-cheek, 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day' has been singled out as an appropriate target for death by an extremist cleric.

So far as I can tell, this particular piece of news hasn't been covered in any significant way by any national news outlet. (Something cynical in me wonders if this is in part because the 'women's issues' page has been filled up with fatuous Franzenfreude stories).

This sort of thing is chilling to any writer or artist, obviously. But I find it particularly chilling that it's happening to a woman, and no one is talking about it.  When Salman Rushdie was placed under a fatwa for The Satanic Verses, it was world news.  The threats against the Jyllands-Posten, and against Lars Vilks, have been covered extensively.  Why is coverage of the threat against Molly Norris limited to a handful of bloggers?

Randall Jerrell


  1. Hey--belated thanks for the link!

    For what it's worth, I think the Norris story hasn't gotten much play because it makes people uncomfortable. "Banned Books Week" kicked off today, and it takes zero effort to condemn some prairie scold who wants to raise a fuss about The Catcher in the Rye, because we know the book won't be "banned" in any meaningful sense and the would-be censor is a buffoon. By contrast, the Norris story is a minefield of issues involving free speech, immigration, religious tolerance, even foreign policy, while thinking about Norris requires each of us to look at whether we're guilty of holding different religions or groups to different standards. That sort of principled self-reflection is painful; goodness knows I'm not great at it myself. As Eliot quipped in Murder in the Cathedral, "humankind can not bear very much reality."

    The bottom line, though, is that I think you're absolutely right to see this as a "woman's issue" that's far more important than all the Franzen chatter.


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