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Journalists: keep it simple!



An open letter to Eva Wiseman

Dear Eva

I read your recent piece on the Guardian website ("Is there anything worse than a man who cries") with mounting horror. I also noted the nearly 3,000 outraged comments below it and, I have to say, you brought it all upon yourself. I have no sympathy, but I am happy to help you by explaining where you went wrong.

The most important thing to note - and Eva, this will stand you in good stead hitherto should you hold it in mind - this is 2015. Why is that relevant? Well, this isn't 1928, for example, when a book like "A Handbook on Hanging" by Charles Duff could be published and people "get it". And you're no Henry Root, love, let me tell you. And can you imagine what the world would say now if Clive James's line about that Chinese president "whose name sounds like a ricochet in a canyon" was published on Twitter? There would be bedlam.

You can't possibly hope to get away with writing a piece that removes the reader, by even one degree, from the absolutely explicit articulation of what you mean. Frankly, you're a fool if you believe that people, Twittered to the bollocks, can grasp the concept of your satirical attacks on the behaviours and consequences of men showing their emotions. What were you thinking? I am not interested in your protestations. Shut up. 

Now I am not ready to label you a "misandrist", "misanthropist", "feminist bitch who should make me some toast", but I suggest you write more like Piers Morgan. We know where we stand with Piers. Or his mate Jeremy. Keep it simple, chuck some hate around. Indeed, it would've been so much better if you simply wrote "it is terrible that men feel they can't cry" on Twitter: time and a whole lot of pain saved (note to anybody from The Guardian management who might be reading this: cheaper, too. Just saying). Sure, there are some boring liberal types who will bleat about not having anything interesting to read, but I will say again, this is Britain 2015, love, and those people need to realise times have changed. 

To be honest, I am surprised that you didn't learn from your newspaper stable-mate Marina O'Loughlin who recently wrote an absurd piece about her "favourite" restaurants. I don't wish to be ungallant, but what a silly cow she is. How could she possibly expect a First World educated population to understand the difference between the words "favourite" and "best"? Is she serious? The torrent of abuse and opprobrium that poured down upon her was also, like your experience, fully deserved. It was a Rookie error to say that many of her "favourite" restaurants were in London - she might as well have said "all restaurants in Wales are rubbish". Honestly, no difference at all, and if she thought there was, she is a fool, too. This is, after all, a world in which Germaine Greer is compared to Nazis, for Heaven's sake.

You seem to me to be a decent person. You also look clever in your photo (word to the wise, you are a woman with red hair, know your place) so please, keep it simple, say what you mean and if possible, never use words of more than two syllables. People have feelings and when people have feelings, they don't usually have a brain as well. Nonsensical to think otherwise. So, by all means wear your sympathies and concerns with pride, but keep the vocab simple and never, ever, use irony, that is so 1928. 

Hope this helps.

Michael.




Comments

  1. Hi. Most of the outraged comments under Eva's piece explicitly say they realise the piece is satirical. I think it upset people because they didn't find it funny. It's pretty hard for anyone to find this ironic mocking of a crying man funny surely?!

    "Before the tears came, and as they came, as your eyes became children, how did you feel? Was it good? Did you like it?"

    Satire that isn't witty or funny appears nasty even though that is clearly not the intention of the piece.

    Stewart Lee manages to write satire on a wide range of sensitive areas without upsetting anyone apart from the Daily Mail. Journalists don't always need to 'keep it simple', it is a slur on the intelligence of the thousands of people who understood the piece and were offended by it to say this.


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  2. I simply disagree with you that most of the outraged realised it was a satire - but even so, I maintain they just didn't think enough about it. The piece clearly mocked not the men who suffer but the society that judges them. Is it "funny"? It is in a bitterly truthful way. And I am sorry, but if a person realises the writer isn't insulting men who cry, why would they still heap abuse and vilification on the author, as so many did in the most vile way?

    Indeed, the reaction to THIS piece from many on Twitter was spectacularly indicative of the problem; so many simply didn't seem to realise this is a joke too.

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  3. "I simply disagree with you that most of the outraged realized it was a satire"

    The first comment, which has 888 votes right now, reads: "I'll be kind and assume this is just a satire that has misfired. I can't see any other point to it."

    Most comments are in the same vein.

    Satire needs to be both well-written and from a source that can be assumed to have good faith, for it to be appreciated. Her article was neither.

    The Guardian employs writers from a certain feminist school that blame men for the troubles in the world. Male issues are rarely recognized and when they are, they are blamed on men. So the default assumption by many readers is that a Guardian writer is misandrist and attempts at satire will be viewed critically in this context. And this particular article has a deep vein of misandry, as blame is placed on "colleagues and peers" who would no longer invite the crying man to the pub. No mention of female disapproval of male vulnerability. And of course, the real cause is 'brutality of masculinity.' Not a certain kind of masculinity (like machismo), just 'masculinity' aka men.

    I admit that I may be biased due to a lack of hatred of men on my part and the article may be enjoyable to those who want 'the end of men' or who 'bathe in male tears' (as another Guardian writer likes to put it).

    PS. Your satirical blog post was actually much better written than hers, despite the fact that she has a huge platform, where one would expect quality content.

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  4. Aapje, thank you for your comments, but I simply don't recognise the misandry in her piece that you report. I also think it was well written and hit the mark - for me, at least. This is partly my point; half of us "got it" and the other half didn't, or DID, but refused to accept it. That's fine. But the writer simply did not deserve the abuse she received.

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  5. It's true that the misandry is not that overt. The continuous pattern of one-sided examples, one-sided blaming and biased framing is really grating, much more than each article individually. Imagine a writer writing about 'black' crime, then you could say that this is a valid topic. But if they only ever write about that, ignoring non-minority criminals, you'd have a good case to call them racist.

    However, it's not just the pattern that is problematic, as the article ends with this denouement: the 'brutality of masculinity,' which seems to be a direct reference to toxic masculinity. I've never seen anyone use the term 'toxic femininity' or use terms like 'brutality of femininity,' which demonstrates how this terminology is a one-sided attack on one gender. Framing men as violent/abusers is a keystone of misandry. A good example is the word microaggressions, which frames possibly upsetting words as violence (and the people who use the word usually blame white men). Of course, the word brutality also has connotations of violence.

    Anyway, if the article made you re-examine your male gender norms, then I'm happy it worked for you. However, the Guardian brand of feminism only criticizes male gender norms in a very limited way, while simultaneously peddling gender stereotypes that are quite damaging. So I suggest you read their stories critically and try to recognize their bias.

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  6. Aapje, you are coming perilously close to being patronising, but I'll forgive you for the sake of argument.

    Firstly, you should know that I have no truck whatsoever with one-dimensional, one-click Twitter feminism; I fully recognise the casual, misguided, misandry from half-arsed gender warriors who barely reach one dimension in their thoughts on matters relating to gender. I have seen the grotesque injustices and inequality of family courts, too, and the language you refer to being used therein. I also know that there are men who now see things equally black and white, who find misandry in everything women (with an overtly feminist agenda or not) say or write. In fact, these days, the debate on equality and gender is a bit of a fucked up mess and you have to work hard to find intelligent, sane, measured discussion.

    Your reference to the "brutality of masculinity" and your assumption that it equates to the term "toxic masculinity" is a case in point. In the context of the subject of Wiseman's piece, and the frame within which she placed the issue (satirically or not), it is easy, even for us men, to accept that our gender norms provide little space for a troubled man to express, and thus deal with, his depression or grief. I am assuming you agree that this situation exists, whether you like her piece or not, and as such would you not accept that there is a certain "brutality" in how we have allowed our masculinity to develop in our society? I see no suggestion from Wiseman in her piece that she conflates brutality in this context with the stereotypes of brutal, abusive men? Her piece was sympathetic to the plight of men.

    My view is that you are looking for trouble within any piece a woman may write on the subject of gender and as such miss what they actually have to say. By all means call out the bullshit, lazy, student-level feminism that a growing number of feminists themselves are calling out, but be careful you do not become the other side of the same coin.

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  7. The fact remains that the comment section of the article is filled with befuddled readers, many of whom see the article as anti-men or as making light of male issues (not in the least because female issues are actually treated seriously in the Guardian, rather than just getting 'sarcastic' pieces). Many of those readers recognize the attempt at sarcasm and still object, which negates your claim that these readers are just ignorant of this literary device (which was also rather patronizing). At the very least this means that the writer failed to write in a way that connects to most of her audience.

    As of your claim that I judge all women-written articles very negatively, you are guilty of ignoring my explicit references to the Guardians editorial agenda. I do admit that I am very critical of all Guardian pieces on this subject, but that is due to experience with this particular paper, not sexist prejudice. You have absolutely no evidence that I judge male Guardian writers less severely (although it is very telling that the Guardian rarely has a male writers discuss gender issues, as they are apparently not interested in the lived experience of half the population), or judge female writers who do not write for the Guardian the same.

    As for my 'patronising,' it's my opinion that feminism has never challenged many gender stereotypes about men and in fact has adopted them (and not just a small minority of 'student-level feminists'). Examples are the beliefs that men have an extremely aggressive nature, men exclude women (old-boys network) or that men are primary enforcers of gender norms. All these were very useful to feminists as all advocacy groups inevitably seek to portray their group as victims as much as possible, to effect social change. I do not fault feminism for this, but I do fault them for their claims that they work for men/equality, which they do not.

    Anyway, as counter-views like mine have never had real voice in the media, it's perfectly logical that most people have never found cause to critically examine some beliefs about men (which are disproved by a lot of scientific evidence). As such, be assured that my 'patronising' is not intended as a slight on your intelligence or character, but reflects my vexation with a general bias in the media that causes so many well meaning people to have sexist beliefs.

    However, criticizing this article is undoubtedly a bad strategy on my part, to change your mind, since it is hardly the most overt example of media bias.

    PS. I do accept that there is brutality in masculinity, but this framing doesn't exist in isolation. We live in a world where masculinity is derided and femininity is upheld as a virtue (to the point where people want to bring about 'the end of men'). Again, there is also great brutality in femininity, yet this is a taboo. In general, I see a huge bias where masculine attributes are judged negatively and feminine attributes are judged positively. Google 'school shootings masculinity' and you find CNN and HuffPo explain how masculinity caused it. Google 'Thalys masculinity' and you find no media sources explain how masculinity caused only male travelers to stop that terrorist attack. Both come from the masculine norm that men solve their problems, yet positive examples of this are not linked to masculinity, while negative ones are. Note that this doesn't mean that I am a traditionalist, but rather that a reasonable discussion needs to address all aspects of masculinity/femininity, not filtered through a sexist lens.

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  8. I agree with and am aware of many of the things you point out with respect to the portrayal of men. I simply do not believe Eva's piece indulged in them, even in a veiled way.

    Thanks for the chat, anyway

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