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Business of Writing, Criticism, Literature, Publishing

Hard to Port: No Thanks Blokes, We Don’t Need Your Help

It must be fun to sit back in a well-worn leather chair, single-malt in hand, and pontificate about the state of literature and gender politics while getting one’s drunk on. All the way from merry old England we bring you Port, a self-described “global quarterly men’s magazine,” which recently lit up the Twitter feeds and blogosphere with its pronouncement of a “New Golden Age of magazine publishing,” featuring seven of the biggest magazine editors in America.

The fact that all seven editors are waspish white guys had a lot of women and a good number of men pretty upset that not a single woman or person of color made their little club. Plenty of the more journalistically minded magazines and web sites, such as The Atlantic and Huffpo[1] responded with scathing criticisms of Port’s judgment (or is that prejudgment?).

As you can guess, I take Port’s proclamation for just what it is: a gust of pseudo-journalistic halitosis, bourgeois blowhardery at its very hardest. After all, in those same gin-soaked pages Port has the chutzpah[2] to proclaim that glossy, printed magazines are making a comeback! Wow! I just love reading such unbiased reportage. Yes, here’s Port, giving us the inside scoop, poo-pooing the rise of the internet and e-zines, and predicting the shining future of glossy, printed magazines—and oh by the way we just happen to publish a glossy, printed magazine. Well, if you blokes say so, it must be true. (Good lord, how gullible do you think the average reader is? Don’t answer that, I’m afraid to know.)

But all this is not to say I’m holding hands in solidarity with the ladies of VIDA, who take pains each year to point out that the literary country club is run by a closed circle of Port-like chauvinist pigs.

I’ve blogged before about the limitations in the VIDA “study.” While they do have a point to make about the top tiers of publishing being virtually closed to women, there’s more to the situation. A lot more. Check out the mastheads of a vast majority of literary journals and you’ll find that they’re more than 60 percent women.[3] It’s an issue that deserves far more scrutiny than just tracking a dozen or so magazines. And if anything the bigger issue is the lack of minorities in all aspects of American literature. But that’s a systemic, educational and class issue, and few talk about those things anymore, especially during an economic downturn.

But let’s tack back to Port. Gents, you’re just not helping. Debate on any issue should be a balance, not a polemic. Why does modern discourse so often devolve into unilateral babble, where made-up “facts” are presented as truth, and acknowledgement of the other side’s arguments ist verboten? From within your paneled cloister does it really seem like the only good editor is an old white guy? Please, look up from the glossy broadsheets clutched in your pale, wrinkled hands and take a look at the rest of the world. Pack your prejudices away in an old portmanteau. We don’t need them. They’re not helping and neither are you.

Hey, it ain’t easy criticizing both sides in an issue, but sometimes someone’s got to do it.


[1] Well, compared to Port, Huffpo is like The Congressional Record.

[2] Chutzpah? Nah, they probably don’t like Jews either.

[3] I know, I tabulated the names in about 200 journals.

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About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.

Discussion

15 thoughts on “Hard to Port: No Thanks Blokes, We Don’t Need Your Help

  1. Ah, for the perfect literary world! Well, Jon, the onus is on you–we’re counting on you to start up what is as close as possible to an ideal literary magazine (not only including columns and features by women, but also a column on squirrel-chasin’ and flea-scratchin’ and snooze-takin’ and just general ol’ doggy fun by Henry. You, of course, will have to be Henry’s designated scribe).

    Posted by shadowoperator | June 22, 2013, 1:14 PM
  2. Last week I heard a couple of speakers make some interesting comments along these lines.

    First, Tin House. After the first VIDA study, they said they looked closely at the way they read submissions and choose stories. The most surprising finding? When they responded to a man’s story with, “This piece doesn’t work, but please send us more,” they receive one or two of five more stories from him immediately, within days. When they responded to female writers with the same comment, they mostly never heard from them again. They found they needed to make a more aggressive effort to convince women writers that they meant what they said, that this one rejection was really an encouragement. —- I’m not yet sure how I feel about this.

    Second, there was a speech by poet JD McClatchey, the editor of the Yale Review. In the midst of much verbal tap dancing, he basically said, Don’t bother submitting to us, we take agented work. He then went on to say a piece has to capture his attention in the first one or two sentences, that he often does not bother with so much as the first paragraph. And his big close, the one that brought a giant collective gasp in his audience of 100 writers (and I’m paraphrasing here), Of course ALL writers go to college, and even grad school, he chuckled, everybody goes to college these days!

    Posted by Teri | June 22, 2013, 1:18 PM
    • Wow. I wish someone would do an asshole report for all major pubs. Then we’d have better info about which to buy and where to submit. (Wait– Joe and Teri, maybe you’re the ones to ask. Is there an asshole report I just haven’t heard about?)

      Posted by girl in the hat | June 22, 2013, 2:20 PM
    • *headdesk*

      Posted by Averil Dean | June 22, 2013, 3:45 PM
    • Those are very interesting anecdotes, Teri, especially the first comment. Perhaps we need a study to determine aggressiveness in pursuing success–is the system skewed towards men’s characteristics? How do the sexes read the same message differently, and why? What can be done to balance the system?

      That’s a study I’d love to see, as opposed to the one reported on last night on the PBS Newshour: rich people tend to cheat four times as often as the rest of us. Duh! They needed a study for that?

      Posted by jpon | June 22, 2013, 4:42 PM
  3. Cheers, Joe. Great post.

    Posted by Darrelyn Saloom | June 22, 2013, 3:31 PM
  4. As a COWG (Certified Old White Guy) I must disagree. We COWGs serve a valuable social purpose. Without us to piss the rest of you off, nothing would ever get done. We speak of this often at the COWG club: What outrageous thing can we promote next in order to instigate change? What buttons can we push to get the masses organized? It’s a tough job, but it gets easier after a glass or two of port.

    Posted by jonzech | June 22, 2013, 4:17 PM
  5. Well ,this post helps solidify my opinion that the powers-that-be within the traditional literary world are dreadfully out of touch and behind the times.

    Posted by Gwen | June 27, 2013, 12:05 PM
  6. Regardless of your skin color, whether pink or polka-dot, you have to be aggressive in pursuit of excellence and publication. The world favors the brave; no whining allowed.

    Posted by Nadia Ibrashi | July 11, 2013, 2:34 PM

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