Here at Crikey, we won’t have a bad word said about our former boss Jonathan Green. We can, however, outsource that work to him. This week, Green, an editor respected in near unanimity by Australian writers — including me, and the guy has shafted me, twice — apologised for approving a blot on the current cover of the journal he now edits, Meanjin.
When acclaimed reporter Amy McQuire remarked that the erasure in red of “Meanjin”, the Turrbal word for the territory now marked as Brisbane, felt “weird”, Green immediately agreed. Of course, The Australian has since stroked itself numb re the masochistic-onanism of “the left” but really missed an opportunity to decry “the left’s” branding incompetence. A progressive magazine that vandalises the Aboriginal land for which it is named? This makes as much business sense as a Murdoch daily leading with a story on the blameless poor.
This incident might seem like just more media sector gossip. But, it has produced more than a gripe from C Kenny.
First, we’ll never have to hear that old joke about Meanjin again. Perhaps now, “Frank Moorhouse” will be known as the English term for “erotica rejected by Penthouse”.
Second, the queens of the Australian liberal-left have been newly reflected, perhaps even to themselves, in an unflattering light. About time. And, no, it’s not the “internalised misogyny” that produces this criticism. It’s a sense of hope that five years of tortuous delusion by self-serving neoliberals who claim to be feminist is finally at its end.
Perhaps you have encountered the term “feminism” these past years in Australian popular media and felt unsure about the principles it conveys. Femsplainers will ascribe your confusion to society’s deep and lifelong hatred for all women. They are wrong. Let’s blame, say, the Blairite, John McTernan, instead.
It was in 2013 that Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave her “men in blue ties” speech. The launch of Women for Gillard didn’t do much for Gillard, nor, I suspect, did it advance the career of her imported adviser. It did, however, signify a shift for the event’s hostess, Ms Clementine Ford. In this moment, the Third Way was revived for Millennials by means of a bold-patterned dress.
Now, Ford is not a particularly awful writer and deserves no more reproach than, say, Van Badham, and certainly less than Chris Kenny. The cultural turn of the Left is not her fault and she can hardly be blamed for obliviousness to the plight of those without access to nice things. This is a disorder common among the media class.
It is a pity that Ford, whose memoir-essay on the “Me Too” hashtag inspired the Meanjin masthead wreck, is enduring a bad moment. But, it is a relief for those who despair for the easy idealism of our best-known progressive thinkers. It is a chance for those, like writer Karen Wyld, to coolly challenge the one-size-fits-most hegemony of a feminism produced in conditions of great material and cultural privilege.
McQuire has written often about the seeming inability of our popular “sheconstructors” to truly acknowledge the difference between a white life and a black one, and Nayuka Gorrie has written, with no little comic force, about the residual fear our virtuous white maidens have for monstrous black men. None of these critics give it to Ford personally, although it is, of course, the neoliberal feminist tendency to read the world in personal, individual terms. And, it is, of course, a plain old sexist tendency to read a woman writer’s critique of another woman writer as “just jealous”, so I’m sure those ladies copped it.
I am not pleased — truly — at all to know that Ford, who appears to have withdrawn from a public engagement in relation to her Meanjin memoir-essay, is copping it. But, gee, who with a feminist urge wouldn’t be pleased by the possibility that more than three to four feminists will be permitted to describe feminism for a mass audience?
Perhaps a mass audience is now tired of calls for representation by empowered women in sitcoms and a little unconvinced that “challenging sexism wherever you see it” is a prescription for genuine social change. Perhaps all those who encounter abuse at work are unconvinced that Tracy Spicer’s crowd-funded legal service is a good private sector substitute for legally guaranteed rights against abuse at work.
Perhaps Ford, and others, can move out of the Third Way and into the truly “inclusive” millennium of which they have seen themselves as champions.
Or, perhaps, all critics of the progressive neoliberal tendency will just be called jealous bitches. Either way, Meanjin has not provoked this much conversation in decades.