Observer freelancer Jacques Hyzagi’s “Elle on Earth” piece was a quite fascinating, entertaining piece as a standalone—a drunken bar brawl of a curio. As a curtains-up, jabby and somewhat fantastical piece of media criticism, it invited criticism of its own across the fashion and media internet, including here at Jezebel.
But last week, after Hyzagi was allowed to publish another piece of meta-criticism at the Observer—an essay detailing the act of interviewing comic artist Robert Crumb for the same publication in October—and in the wake of that publication’s endorsement of Donald Trump for President, fellow Observer writer Jennifer Ashley Wright wonders if the paper is fostering an environment that is hostile to its women writers and editors.
In “This Observer Writer Grows Weary of That Observer Writer,” Wright begins plainly, writing, “I find I do not like the articles the Observer is putting into the world,” and citing Hyzagi’s most recent R. Crumb piece:
There are so many ways I could question this freelancer’s work. I could marvel at his ability to turn a single event into many pieces for various publications. I could wonder at the possibilities of having a “writing partner” to accompany me on my assignments. I could surely question his disconnected, incoherent writing style. When he exclaims in a fury over the fact that there are thousands of women bloggers who think they are more qualified to write for Elle than he – hell, I can think of thousands of dental hygienists more qualified to write for Elle than Jacques Hyzagi.
But more than anything, I am insulted by his attitude toward female journalists, depicting them in his words as “thousands of women bloggers” who are “gender conflating skanks” and “twitter twats.” My editor, who describes Mr. Hyzagi as “a real sweetheart” explained that he assumed Mr. Hyzagi meant men and women. However, given that the publications Mr. Hyzagi references – Jezebel, ManRepeller, and the Cut – are largely staffed by and targeted toward women, and that the words come on the tail of his description of these people as “women bloggers,” I doubt very much that is the case.
Hyzagi’s passage in question, regarding “gender conflating skanks,” reads as follows:
Please don’t unleash the races of Dungeons and Dragons on me, I’m already running away like in this 1925 Buster Keaton film Seven Chances from thousands of women bloggers from Brooklyn who decided that they should write for ELLE not me. (If you look closely, you can see the power and gender conflating skanks from Guest of a Guest and Manrepeller as well as Jezebel, The Cut, Paper, Flare, W dish, Racked, Fashionista and other Twiter twats.)
As Wright notes in her piece, almost every publication listed here is helmed and staffed primarily by women, and Hyzagi’s assertion that those of us calling out his conformist misogyny are somehow “conflating power with gender” is familiar. Last month, in a series of since-deleted tweets to me (I screengrabbed), Hyzagi wrote, among other things: “the way you have me refusing to b edited is corporatist and patriarchal, it never went that far. you conflate power and gender.” (He also wrote, “yr fixation on models I dated is unhealthy. Its ok not everybody gets to b attractive, who cares. I suggest contacts.”)
While I still find his tweets entertaining (in the sense that I thoroughly enjoyed laughing at them with my friends), his assertion that women are “conflating” power and gender is absolutely idiotic. Power is predicated on gender in a patriarchy. (Hello, pay gap, the plainest example of this.) And it’s this concept of power and gender that Wright questions in her piece, specifically about the climate of her workplace:
Maybe Mr. Hyzagi’s insults would less offensive if this was an isolated incident. If, for instance, Rex Reed, another New York Observer male columnist, didn’t break out with references to Melissa McCarthy as a “female hippo” who is “tractor sized.” This event happened a few years ago, and, it would have been nice if it had at least raised the Observer’s sensitivity as to whether it’s cool to say horrible things about women.
Which, alas, leads us so seamlessly to the recent Observer endorsement of Donald Trump. It is certainly not surprising that the Observer would support Mr. Trump. What is disheartening is that supporting a candidate who blithely refers to women as “pigs” and “bimbos” doesn’t seem like a far stretch even if Observer Publisher Jared Kushner wasn’t Donald Trump’s son in law.
And, as a woman, there are only so many times that you can hear women referred to as pigs, or hippos, or skanks, or cum dumpsters, and see this view tacitly or overtly accepted by the people who employ you – and who you admire – before you begin to wonder if it is true. That is a very disheartening position to be in.
To outsiders, this may seem like media inside baseball—writers lobbing barbs at one another, from within the same institution, to boot—but Wright’s piece very saliently shines a light on the way that theoretically well-meaning male bosses can foster an inequitable work environment: in this case, by allowing childish men to behave boorishly and then praising them, in a fashion that women all know we would never be allowed in regards to ourselves. As Wright puts it, about an editorial staff she says is “about 2/3 women”:
It’s wonderful that The Observer doesn’t have a problem hiring women. It’s wonderful they don’t have a problem writing about interesting women. Unfortunately, they also don’t have a problem overlooking the words and actions of men who demean them.
Read Wright’s full piece here.
Image via Jef Thompson/Shutterstock