Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

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My One Suggestion Is She Pick a Better Pseudonym than ‘Hermione Gray’

with 3 comments

Yesterday on Ladyblog, someone using the pseudonym ‘Hermione Gray’ posted a response to Charles Blow’s NYT op-ed on “hooking up.” I’m disinclined to take anyone who uses the words “hook-up culture” seriously in the first place, so I’ll spare you my thoughts on Blow’s op-ed (let’s just say Ding, Dong, Laura Sessions Stepp* is dead, and see Gawker for the rest), but I will say I thought Gray’s response was relatively harmless. After criticizing the lack of originality of Blow’s topic, she wrote:

Critics of hooking up rely heavily on the unsupported myth that women are more interested lasting romantic attachments than are men. But according to a 2003 survey of 12,000 men and women, Nearly 66% of men, compared with 51% of women agree with the statement, ‘It is better to get married than go through life single’.

She went on to suggest that “the ritual of traditional dating—in which you took an attractive, near-stranger to dinner to get to know her better—was popular in the era of gender-segregated colleges and workplaces,” but that “a cultural shift that has permitted men and women to form more and deeper platonic attachments” naturally leads to less of this sort of thing and more blurring of romantic/sexual lines between opposite-sex friends. Not exactly radical stuff, here. The most inflammatory, from a cultural conservative view point, part of her post was probably the last paragraph, which cited an academic paper showing people usually hook up with friends rather than strangers, and suggested “the hook-up culture may encourage more rather than less responsibility” and “today’s paradigmatic hook-up partners know each other better than a typical 1950s couple on a third date at the drive-in movie theater.”

It was a short post and, as you can probably gage from the above selections, well-written (content aside, it was pieced together logically and coherently, and in a relatively even-handed and cordial tone). But things got weird. Joe Carter, managing editor of Culture 11 (where Ladyblog is hosted), deleted the post, and offered this by way of explanation:

I was embarrassed to have the post on our website. It’s not just that the supporting premise (women are no more interested in lasting romantic attachments than are men) is weak or that that conclusion (the hook-up culture may encourage more rather than less responsibility) is unsupported by both empirical evidence and common experience. In fact, my decision has less to do with Gray’s post than my preference, as both a conservative and an editor, for discouraging moral stupidity.

In the comments section, Ladyblog editor Jillian Bandes noted:

For the record, the removal of the post was not my decision. I was very much looking forward to other posts that countered Ms. Gray’s, which I know were in the pipeline until Joe took it down.

And Will Wilkinson took us into a discussion of whether this was an affront to the “intellectual integrity” of C11:

Man, what a huge embarrassment. This is an instance of moral stupidity. Ladybloggers: You’re on notice! You are NOT taking part in a forum where free inquiry and open debate are valued. Think twice before posting an independent thought, because your reactionary, lady-policing editor might send it down the memory hole! God forbid this blog become interesting. I know and respect a lot of people who write for C11, and I hope they’ll honor their sense of intellectual integrity and push back against a very effective attempt ruin this website’s reputation.

J.P. Freire responded:

Will Wilkinson, you know what editors do. They decide whether something fits in with their publication. It’s Joe’s prerogative as an editor to make that determination.

Which is fair enough. It is certainly within Joe’s prerogative as a managing editor to take down Gray’s post. I’m just wondering why he exercised it in this instance. As Philip Primeau noted:

It can be argued that an editor is a censor, an enlightened one. Editors, broadly speaking, have the right and the responsibility to play gatekeeper. They can not (must not!) publish every submission. They are smartly empowered to weed out garbage logic, shoddy writing, threats and libel, anything grossly shocking or incendiary (unless, I suppose, that’s the essence of the project). This culling function is entirely legitimate, entirely necessary. It is crucial to attracting ad money, pleasing subscribers, growing readership, and generally maintaining a solid reputation.

Hermione’s post was not illogical. The writing was fine. It contained neither threats nor libel. It was not grossly shocking or incendiary. Was it offensive at all? Sure, the title was vaguely confrontational, but what of the content? Pretty vanilla. Smart, perceptive, but vanilla verging on boring.

Perhaps I shouldn’t point this out, but I regularly write posts on Ladyblog that I imagine would be much more offensive to cultural conservatives then Gray’s tepid defense of casual sex. As a libertarian, I’m unabashedly socially liberal, and most of my posts there reflect that. I once even called Joe Carter’s position on gay couples and children “unspeakably cruel” in a post there and, to his credit, Carter simply responded in the comments section. Phoebe Maltz has also regularly engaged with Carter on Ladyblog about gay marriage.

So it just seems very strange why, in this instance, Carter didn’t simply respond exactly as he did (denouncing Gray’s opinion, stating his embarrassment, distancing it from the prevailing C11 view) but while leaving Gray’s post in tact. Then, if Gray regularly continued to post things that Carter felt ran radically athwart of C11’s mission, further action could be taken (although, I would hope this wouldn’t happen; as Jillian mentioned, every time someone posts a slightly liberal viewpoint on Ladyblog, it spawns a slew of comments and reacting blog posts, and it makes the whole endeavor more interesting. A whole bevy of social liberals on the blog would certainly mar C11’s editorial mission; but a blog entirely of social conservatives and you’ve got every prevailing Republican Web site).

And I know this is one of those strange and insular situations that probably only other bloggers and journalists could love, and even then only a very small segment … but it’s perhaps (somewhat?) interesting in a broader sense because of the meta-argument on what responsibility upper-level editors at online publications should take for the blog content on their sites, as well as for what it means for the ongoing evolution of Culture 11, which I think a lot of people in the conservative/libertarian DC and journo and blog arena are watching with interest.

[Marianne has a good post about the actual content of Blow and Gray’s posts here]

[*In another blog life, I did a little research on some of the girls quoted in one of Stepp’s articles—and the way she sort of exploited them—which I think is worth linking]

Update: C11 CEO David Kuo to the rescue!


Written by Elizabeth

December 15, 2008 at 6:47 pm

Posted in Culture, Feminism

Tagged with ,

3 Responses

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  1. and, to his credit, Carter simply responded in the comments section.

    One of the vagaries of this sort of situation is that it moves the chains for what exactly constitutes minimally courteous behavior. So here. It is most certainly not “to his credit” that he argued with you rather than censoring you, at least not beyond the sense in which it is to anyone’s credit to do what basic propriety requires of them.


    December 15, 2008 at 7:00 pm

  2. Well, I just meant that this at least seems to be the first time he’s decided to just up and delete a post he doesn’t like. That does speak better of him that had he done it regularly, so *technically* to his credit. But you’re right—I am sometimes tepid with my criticisms and ample with my qualifiers. Which is why I am always glad for people like you and Kerry and Will and J.P., who rarely, shall we say, mince words?, no matter how oppositional the viewpoint may be.


    December 15, 2008 at 7:10 pm

  3. […] Nolan Brown has, as she mentions in the comments, an excellent post up at her site that speaks to some of the larger implications of the removal that I dismissed perhaps somewhat too hastily. Brown […]

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