By andrea bennett
You are an early-career writer and editor, having graduated from Ryerson’s journalism program fairly recently. What was the gender distribution like in your journalism classes? Do you feel this distribution is reflected in publication bylines?
Ryerson’s journalism program is overwhelmingly female, but a lot of those women end up pursuing something other than journalism, like law or publishing or PR. In all the places I’ve worked, the male/female distribution of bylines has been pretty fair, and I’ve had an even split of female and male bosses and editors.
Has the shift from print to web affected the gender balance and diversity of writers and editors? Is there something to be said about the form or structure of web writing that offers an opportunity to even out the playing field?
Well, it certainly makes it easy for anyone to write something. The internet is the only reason why an idiot like me is allowed to make fart jokes for a living. It’s not exactly an “even playing field” though, since something like Gawker will still be read more than your mom’s friend’s blog. There’s just more opportunity to find good, new things. And a lot of opportunity to find garbage.
In a recent column for Hazlitt, you wrote, “There are so few women in positions of power that our perception of female bosses is inherently skewed,” and that “Women in power, however they’re represented, become the assumed version of what a woman as a boss looks like.” How do you think this phenomenon affects publishing and literary culture?
I have no idea! Literary culture is so overwhelmingly female, in what I’ve seen. There are some amazing women who work at Random House, so I’ve only seen plenty of good examples of female bosses. But what I meant when I wrote that is that when there are so few examples of females in power overall, the worst of the bunch becomes the example. There are bad male bosses too, but there are so many male bosses that we don’t bother to stereotype. Why else is it a big deal when Marissa Mayer does anything but it’s business as usual for [Jeff] Bezos? So, the only solution is to get more bitches in the corner office. Dilute the pool. Pantsuits! Pantsuits for us all.
I admire the candid, personal, outgoing, forthright nature of your writing, and I’m curious to know what you think about the early-2012 flood of “thinkpieces” rejecting the trend toward more personal journalism, like this one by Hamilton Nolan, where he criticizes the “huge appetite” for personal essays in outlets like Salon, Slate, Thought Catalog and XOJane. Do you read this as a gendered critique?
I’m tired of fighting over whether think pieces or personal essays or listicles are bad. I will read what I enjoy, regardless of how it’s formatted. I know the medium is the message but, Jesus Christ, sometimes the message is just the message. It might seem that women traffic more in personal writing but I don’t know if that’s true. For every Jane Pratt, there’s a David Sedaris or a David Rakoff or Chris Jones writing about how he wants better sex. But maybe women like reading first-person more because the female experience is so interesting and unique, what with pregnancy and motherhood and sexual violence and puberty and relationships and family and body image. Men don’t have all of that, at least not from the same perspective. But also we’re usually having our periods so this sort of writing just makes us feel better or something.
You’ve written several columns about sexual violence and predatory behaviour—about the experience of being roofied at a bar, about Stacey Rambold raping high school student Cherice Moralez, and about “India’s rape problem.” You’ve also written about your macabre fascination with serial killers, referring to a 2010 Social Psychological and Personality Science study that suggested that women “gravitate towards true crime, if only because it may provide survival strategies of sorts.” I’m wondering if you think this vigilance about being a woman in the world, hyper-aware of potential threats to bodily safety, affects your writing practice—the way you enter or occupy public spheres as a writer.
The world is a rapey place. I don’t think I’m hyper-aware, just merely aware. Most women experience some kind of assault in their lifetime, so I’m not talking about a rarity. So sure, that information changes the way I interact with public spaces because I rarely feel like being groped. I don’t know if it affects my writing other than the fact that I write about it. But I do write about it a lot. Maybe too much. I should probably think about something other than the things that could happen at my body.
Do you think journalism in Canada encourages diversity? What do you think can be done to improve gender balances and diversity in Canadian journalism?
Hire more women. Stop tailoring content to women by writing about lipstick and feelings and hair, exclusively. I like hair just as much as the next broad but the sports section is not a No Girls Allowed treehouse. Also, when are we going to get a Sunshine Guy? “Jake likes surfing, touching his own abs, and reading before bed.” Good old Jake.
Scaachi Koul is an assistant editor and writer at Hazlitt magazine. She can’t find her phone. Can someone call her phone?
andrea bennett writes poetry, fiction and non-fiction. She’s a contributing editor at Geist magazine, and her debut poetry book, Canoodlers, is forthcoming with Nightwood Editions in April 2014.