Let it first be said with tedious clarity: as a public intellectual, Mark Latham makes a mediocre fashion blogger. From a Quarterly Essay that reheated Keating economics well past their best before date to his recent anti-feminist turn in the AFR, the guy imparts little of policy value with a stunning lack of skill. He confuses aspiration with labour rights and deems thinking an act of class warfare. There can be no defence, medical or otherwise, for his statement that post-natal depression was an effect of middle-class languor and, honestly, I wish someone would buy the old coot a subscription to Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine so he could spend his time painting a scale locomotive in red instead of his former party’s dangerously diminished legacy in shit.

His work is of no interest to anyone who is not (a) an editor seeking to stir interest in a publication that has suffered a double-digit plunge in circulation, or (b) an idiot. His public persona may be of limited interest to clinical students of narcissistic personality disorder, but his influence is imaginary, having no scope beyond those taxi drivers forced out of physical fear to listen to his rot and so should be of interest to no one.

But, like so many things without real influence, Latham’s writing is today the subject of a change.org petition that seeks to ban it.

There are, of course, many stupid petitions on change.org, and you could argue that that which seeks to “remove” writing  by Latham is a specimen of the hopeless and justifiable rage felt by so many citizens. Except, of course, this one has been initiated by a writer of a profile immodest enough to discount the need for empowerment and has been circulated by her best-known client, Fairfax.

Let’s set aside for the minute that the author and her very public champions cannot claim the excuse of recourse to the amateur in the face of their professional “silence” — the same kind of “silence” Andrew Bolt famously described himself as suffering on the front page of the Herald Sun. Let’s ignore altogether that the utopian nature of a change.org petition allows for any plea, and that simply asking to stop Latham from chiding “female writers” instead of an entire gender seems a bit self-interested; the guy was actually describing all middle-class women and not just those few who write for Fairfax. And let’s not even bother thinking about the possibility that this petition is the latest in an ongoing faux-war waged by Fairfax to get its boys and girls profitably arguing like a Morning Breakfast Crew called Knackers and The Vadge. It wouldn’t be the first time a Fairfax piece clumsily decried women before Fairfax women clumsily decried it back a day later. Or the first time a Fairfax man accused a Fairfax woman of “silencing” him. If not actually manufactured, these stoushes are certainly opportunistically geared by Fairfax. We see PR “debates” that tell us far less about gender than they do — as in the case of AFRDaily Life — about how print journalism is now peopled by those with egos unmatched in heft by intellect.

“Like any feminist who has some basic regard for herself, I would also prefer not to look like a pussy.”

Jesus, it’s tired. Reducing what could be a complex conversation, in the Latham v Edwards case — about maternity, medicalisation and class — to “You’re a dick!” “No, your face is!” reduces us all. But even beyond the charges of “you’re silencing me!” and the brand-building stupidity of the journalist-versus-journalist crap readers must now endure in place of news analysis, what does such a petition — even supposing it came from a “silenced” woman and not a corporate adviser who writes regularly for Fairfax — achieve for women? Or, excuse me, “female writers”?

If, as most of the writers for the Daily Life are convinced, every act of media “sends a message”, then the message this petition is sending is that “female writers” are fragile princesses who cannot defend either themselves or their feminism and must have offence removed. It’s not as though Latham published a picture of one of their children, Kerr-style. It’s not as if he said anything worse about any one of the Daily Life “female writers” than Daily Life writers have said about me. When the Daily Life called me “deranged” or, as the author of the Stop Latham petition did, “ignorant”, I did not claim that I was being silenced. I did not submit a complaint to the Press Council, which might have been a better course of action for the Latham complainant. Like any writer who has some basic regard for reason, I know that making myself the story in the press is a professional abuse. Like any feminist who has some basic regard for herself, I would also prefer not to look like a pussy.

But claiming personal trauma to make a point is the stock in trade for a certain kind of publication. And that’s a shame, because talking about oneself constantly as the subject of trauma has, in this particular case, the effect of making you look like a bit of a frail phony. More broadly, it has, to use the language of the Daily Life, the effect of “silencing women”. When the primary way of describing a social problem is using yourself or your colleagues as case studies — and we can see how threats to a “female writer” can be used effectively to publicise and legitimise writing on the Daily Life very often — you have far less space to talk about larger systems. In fact, speaking only about larger systems becomes something that is largely unacceptable for “female” or other writers from marginalised social groups to do. A description of one’s personal trauma has become the hallmark of legitimacy, whereas white blokes get to retain the privilege of talking about systems.

Anyhow. I’ve had enough. And I could link to all the articles that demonise me for a steadfast refusal to talk about my personal trauma or send you copies of the threatening emails I receive for my “insensitivity” in failing to describe my own feminist sensitivity. But I won’t because that is the work of idiots who think that women or brown people or disabled people or whomever should be consigned to the dreary fate of personal writing.

Instead, I am going to start some petitions about media I do not like. I am going to start one to demand that News quit championing neoliberalism. I am going to start another one to demand the immediate removal of all articles championing the I Quit Sugar diet. And then, I am going to start one to get the writers of the Daily Life to quit kvetching about the hard day they had on Twitter and to stop conflating the real goals of feminism with hurt feelings.

Harden up, princess. And by princess, I mean “female writer” liberal feminist privileged of a wide audience and an education that leads you, surely, beyond this pointless public wank. And by harden, I don’t mean your heart. Harden your analysis. And that’s what will fell Latham-like nonsense a thousand times better than the petition of a tattletale crying “bully” on a pretty impotent kid.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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