The New York Times Thinks Male Magazine Founders Are Intellectuals But Their Female Peers Are Fashionistas


Congratulations to relatively new “intellectual magazines” The New Inquiry and Jacobin: the New York Times thinks you’re both worthy of coverage! Well, not equally so. The 20-something female founders of The New Inquiry were deemed “literary cubs” in a November 2011 Styles section profile, while Jacobin, the brainchild of 23-year-old Bhaskar Sunkara, was featured on the Books page this weekend.

Back in 2011, the paper described The New Inquiry‘s co-founder Rachel Rosenfelt as “young, Web-savvy and idealistic.” She wore “a black sweater, miniskirt and combat boots.” Her cohorts donned “untucked oxford shirts and off-brand jeans” and, shockingly, “despite the fact that everyone was young and attractive, no one seemed to flirt or network” at a staff meeting. Imagine that!

Overall, the magazine’s founders came off as intelligent but also naive; The New Inquiry was “a scrappy online journal and roving clubhouse that functions as an Intellectuals Anonymous of sorts for desperate members of the city’s literary underclass barred from the publishing establishment.” I’m a fan of The New Inquiry now, but I didn’t know much about the magazine when I read about it in the Times back in November 2011. I’ll be honest: I was turned off by the profile. Based on the piece alone, the editors came off as pseudo-intellectuals who were full of themselves and playing dress-up.

Here are some excerpts from this weekend’s article on Jacobin:

It has also earned Mr. Sunkara, now a ripe 23, extravagant praise from members of a (slightly) older guard who see his success as heartening sign that the socialist “brand” – to use a word he throws around with un-self-conscious ease – hasn’t been totally killed off by Tea Party invective.
“I had no right to start a print publication when I was 21,” he said in an interview in a cafe near his apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. “Looking back, I see it as a moment of creative ignorance. You have to have enough intelligence to execute something like this but be stupid enough to think it could be successful.”
His multitasking work ethic hardly shows signs of flagging.

Sunkara sounds (and is) young, but also deserving; not so much “scrappy” as unapologetically wise beyond his years, a man to keep on our radar. What do you think he was wearing?

On Twitter, a number of The New Inquiry‘s contributors and fans said they were happy that Jacobin was profiled, but were upset by the gendered coverage. A few pointed out that The New Inquiry wasn’t the only female-founded magazine to be delegated to the Styles section; a recent piece on The American Reader also fixated on the founder’s stunning looks and wardrobe. (Sample line: “Sometimes there is cat-eye makeup. Sometimes there is not.”)

It’s bullshit to pretend (as NYT social media editor Michael Roston is arguing) that there’s no difference between being profiled on the Books page and on the Styles page. There’s a massive difference. Books reporters don’t typically focus on what their subjects are wearing or whether they enjoy flirting. They don’t typically profile their subjects in a slightly patronizing manner, as if they were not founders of an exciting new publication but extras on Girls.

This is not to say that fashion is less important than literature. But The New Inquiry and The American Reader are not fashion magazines. The lead Styles section story this weekend was about Jenna Lyons, executive creative director of J. Crew; the lead Books story was about a New Yorker writer’s investigation into Scientology. Why did editors decide that only the female-founded magazines had more in common with Fashion Week than critical thinking?

Roston tweeted that “more people probably read Styles” and all criticism was “trolling” because “concern with ‘gender’ presumes that Styles is only for the ladies, and is thus taken less seriously. It isn’t.” Rosenfelt’s argument — she pointed out that “lots of minor biases and thoughtless decisions add up” and tweeted a Vida link detailing gender discrimination in the literary world — is more convincing. She’s right, and those who go out of their way to deny that are part of the problem.

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