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a new low for literary journals

If you visit the Quadrant homepage today, you’ll find, nestled amongst the usual batty climate denialism, a section entitled ‘Quadrant TV’. The lead headline runs: ‘We’ve found a new editor for the Monthly‘. Beneath it, there’s a You Tube clip entitled ‘Dumb blonde: are you smarter than a fifth grader’, in which a young woman provides wrong answers to a quiz show, to much canned hilarity.

The joke, you see, is that former Monthly editor Sally Warhaft is a woman with blonde hair. Therefore, her academic and other accomplishments count for naught. Under her editorship, the Monthly defied all predictions to became a financial success, building a circulation far higher than any comparable publication (including, it goes without saying, Quadrant). But that doesn’t matter. Though no-one in the current dispute has ever suggested that Warhaft is stupid, for Quadrant, she’s just a dumb blonde, not as smart as a fifth grader.

Now, websites are less considered than print journals, particularly since most of us maintain them on top of our normal workload. So one has to ask, is Keith Windschuttle aware of what’s passing for humour on Quadrant‘s front page? Does he consider Benny Hill-era sexism appropriate for a supposedly reputable publication? If so, where next? Back in the days when crass misogyny passed without comment, there was a wide array of other prejudices into which humourists regularly dipped. So will Quadrant TV showcase gags about the sexual preferences of Quadrant‘s enemies? Their skin colour, perhaps?

Quadrant‘s supporters need to ask themselves where their journal’s heading. It’s not a good place.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Jeff Sparrow is the former editor of Overland. He is the co-author (with Jill Sparrow) of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, the editor (with Antony Loewenstein) of Left Turn: Essays for the New Left and the author of Communism: a love story, Killing: Misadventures in violence, and Money Shot: A Journey into Censorship and Porn.  On Twitter, he's @Jeff_Sparrow.

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  1. This is highly offensive. I do think a government funded journal needs to be held to some kind of standard – this slips well under any I can imagine people would find acceptable. Indeed the gender politics of the whole debate have been gob smacking. Warhaft described as a ‘tall willowy blonde’ in the Australian. Schwartz’s depiction of her as ‘brittle’ and generally difficult to work with – men’s behaviour in the workplace is never discussed in these terms.

  2. It’s just possible to read this as an attack on the putative sexism of the publisher and board at The Monthly, as in “We’ve found someone who, unlike Dr Warhaft, will not have a mind of her own, which is clearly what they want.” But I doubt that’s how it was intended.

  3. Except that the clip’s not about someone being pliable. It’s about the stupidity of blonde women.
    I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the dispute at the Monthly. If Quadrant wanted to argue that the Monthly board was sexist, well, they could have done that. But it’s hard to see how the Youtube clip could be read any other way than a general sneer against women in public life.

  4. More than anything, I’m just appalled that one person’s personal (and obviously incredibly difficult) decision over something as big as this is being scrutinised and examined so publicly. And Sophie’s right, you wouldn’t see this kind of attention being brought to the internal conflicts of an organisation comprised of men. Hell, it happens all the time and no one blinks an eye. I’m quite flabbergasted actually.

  5. okay, so we’re horrified but not really surprised by this, right? i mean, we’re talking about the same guy who self-published a book arguing that the mental universe of aboriginal peope was so defective as to account for their demise on contact. so we should be ready for anything.

    a discussion that i just got into on facebox though, raises other interesting questions. a precis…

    a correspondent of the journal writes:

    ‘Bob Ellis is guilty of perpetuating the same stereotypes. Is Overland Literary Journal outraged about that?’

    to which overland replied:

    ‘Is he? If so, than yes.
    Obviously, though, we’re not responsible for everything that people we publish might write or say elsewhere.’

    leaving aside the ‘is he?’ [come on, you know he is], i am going to put the proverbial cat among the pigeons and say that he did, in fact, make sexist remarks on our watch and that we should take the hardest possible line against it.

    calling penny wong ‘the chinese lesbian bureaucrat that kevin rudd wishes he was’ is sexist, racist and homophobic – the trifecta!

    as i said, the latest puerile attempt at humour from quadrant *is* despicable. but it should also give us pause for thought and move us to engage with sensible critiques of overland in an honest way.

  6. i meant aboriginal people not peope. maybe my mental universe is defective – i *do* have blonde hair and a vagina.

  7. Was Bob just being satirical when he said that? Is the truth his excuse? Is any of this going to save us from global warming?
    We’re just the lefty rabble, safely ignorable.

  8. Hi KP,
    On the Ellis line, we did discuss it at the time. It seemed to us that Ellis was arguing that Rudd would like the connotations of belonging to oppressed groups but without having to deal with oppression or struggle. In other words, the line was another manifestation of Ellis’ argument about ‘muscular timidity’, that Rudd is about style rather than substance.
    The argument might be right or wrong but there’s nothing sexist about it.
    Of course, it’s possible we misinterpreted his point but that was how we took it, and why we let it go through.

    Rudd

  9. okay, so on that particular point we disagree. i still reckon reducing penny wong to a “chinese lesbian bureaucrat” because he thinks her politically odious [and to make a crack about kevin rudd's lack of masculinity] is not okay.

    but can we agree broadly that bob ellis is pretty sexist? and that he’s one of our guys* so he gets away with it? and that overland itself has not been entirely innocent of male chauvinism?

    i think that’s what i [and the other commenter] was asking. can we open up the floor for a discussion about that?

    *full disclosure – i LOVE tons of ellis’ writing and i do think he’s an amazing satirist and political commentator. i just recognise some of his flaws as anachronistic and not cool.

  10. I can’t see where he makes a crack against Kevin Rudd’s lack of masculinity. He writes: “Penny Wong [is] a mesmerising, Orwellian figure of comprehensive secrecy. No word she utters is completely false, and no paragraph means other than ‘more of the same’. She is spin incarnate. Though a South Australian senator, she shows no concern for the Coorong, and though Environment Minister, no anxious concern for the melting ice, the rising seas, the dying species. The Canberra joke that Penny Wong is ‘the lesbian Chinese bureaucrat Rudd wishes he was’ has a certain kick to it lately. It is hard to know what she is for; she is the acceptable face of Rudd’s warm inner glow.”

    Hence my reading of it: he’s saying that because Penny Wong belongs to two oppressed groups she has a cachet that Rudd would like (‘she is the acceptable face of Rudd’s warm inner glow’).

    If I’ve misunderstood, well, my bad. Write a letter to that effect and we’ll publish it in the next edition.

    On the more general point, as a journal we don’t have to take responsibility for all the positions of the people we publish. I don’t, for instance, share Ellis’ enthusiasm for the ALP. And, yes, we should critique sexism or racism when it manifests itself on the Left.

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