Nowra vs Greer, Razer vs Naperstek

So I was wandering around on Facebook this morning, when I noticed one of my friends had posted a link to an article about International Women’s Day. The post had swear words in it so, curious, I followed it.

It led me to Helen Razer’s website, Bad Hostess. I don’t know a whole lot about her (though I feel that I should) but from what I can gather she’s a fairly well-published Melbourne freelance opinion writer (The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, Crikey!, lots of ABC stuff), and not knowing her comes down to ignorance on my part.

The tagline to the website warns that this house is an untidy one, and the article certainly is that. She’s a ranter, and though the general theme seems to be feminism, the article starts off condemning various forms of vaginal enhancement, and then jumps rather abruptly over to condemning Louis Nowra for his his recent article about Germain Greer in The Monthly, and in turn the magazine’s new editor Ben Naperstak.

Now, I haven’t read the article in question in full. Mainly because I’m in the Czech Republic and The Monthly and its article are in Australia, and the website only offers the first couple hundred words or so. From what I can gather from its critics, though, Nowra’s essay is a bit of a rant itself, basically arguing that Greer really didn’t achieve very much after all because women still like shopping and his mother never became a feminist and that Greer is pretty old and ugly now, or something along those lines. The first couple words seems fairly level-headed, but who knows, maybe it gets crazy later.

And it’s stirred a lot of people up, which makes sense, considering how controversial the issue is. After reading Razer’s article, I wandered on and followed a few of her links. Anne Summers calls the article a “cruel and very personal attack” in The Age; Kathy Marks closely details its attacks on Greer in The Independent; someone called Kim describes it as an “amazing rant” on the Australian group blog, Larvatus Prodeo.

My qualm isn’t with the attacks on Nowra however. I can’t read his article, so I can’t really comment on the attacks of it. What bugs me are the nature of the proxy attacks on Naperstek.

Ben Naperstek has only recently taken up the editorship of The Monthly and, when he was picked, many an eyebrow raised at his age – or lack thereof. He’s twenty-three – one year older than me – which, yes, is pretty young to be picked as editor of such a publication.

And (like being a female politician without a family, possessing over-long eyebrows, a funny voice or silly dress sense) it’s a pretty easy and obvious thing to attack.

Nowra’s “piece of shit” article, complains Razer, “was commissioned by a very young piece of shit called Ben Naperstak, a twelve year old whose stewardship of the August Periodical might be kindly called uneven.”

Summers, from her Age article, agrees: “Instead we have an editor, smirking from the safety of his extreme youth, seeking to ridicule her. It’s a cheap shot.”

Nowra attacks Greer for being old, Summers attacks Nowra’s editor for being young. Bit cheap, really.

If you’re going to attack an editor, attack their editorial decisions – that’s fair game. Age is not. Attacking an editor for being 23 is very much like attacking a feminist for being 70.

To quote Razer’s summary of one of Greer’s main arguments: “can we please get on with the business of living outside of “man” and “woman” as we have known these categories?”

I say we try to escape from young and old while we’re at it. Let’s stick with editor, writer, feminist, reader – they’re categories that have a little more to do with the subject at hand.

– Zoe Barron

My qualm isn’t with the attacks on Nowra however. I can’t read his article, so I can’t really comment on the attacks of it. What bugs me are the nature of the proxy attacks on Naperstek.

Ben Naperstek has only recently taken up the editorship of The Monthly, just before I left Australia actually, and, when he was picked, many an eyebrow raised at his age – or lack thereof. He’s twenty-three – one year older than me – which, yes, is pretty young to be picked as editor of such a publication.

And (like being a female politician without a family, possessing over-long eyebrows, a funny voice or silly dress sense) it’s a pretty easy and obvious thing to attack.

Nowra’s “piece of shit” article, complains Razor, “was commissioned by a very young piece of shit called Ben Naperstak, a twelve year old whose stewardship of the August Periodical might be kindly called uneven.”

Instead we have an editor, smirking from the safety of his extreme youth,” agrees Summers from her Age article, “seeking to ridicule her. It’s a cheap shot.”

Cheap like attacking an editor for how many laps around the sun they’ve completed. If you’re going to attack an editor, attack their editorial decisions – that’s fair game. Age is not. Attacking an editor for being 23 is very much like attacking a feminist for being 70.

To quote Razor’s summary of one of Greer’s main arguments, “can we please get on with the business of living outside of “man” and “woman” as we have known these categories?”

I say we try to escape from young and old while we’re at it. Let’s stick with editor, writer, feminist, reader – they’re categories that have a little more to do with the subject at hand.

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7 Responses to “Nowra vs Greer, Razer vs Naperstek”


  1. 1 Helen Razer March 8, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    You pinged back to me and I was led here. Check this: http://www.crikey.com.au/topic/ben-naparstek/ Naparstek revulsion is nothing new.
    Given that the substance of Nowra’s piece had much to do with Greer’s age, the age of the commissioning editor is fair game.
    Besides which, the guy has clearly not had work experience sufficient to the job. Unlike 26 year old Amelia Lester who was appointed editor at the New Yorker after proving her self at the Paris Review.

  2. 3 mary March 9, 2010 at 12:07 am

    I’ve stopped being surprised at the constant references to Naparstek’s age. They’re often quite sly, too. Like calling him ‘young editor’ instead of just ‘editor’.

  3. 4 Helen Razer March 9, 2010 at 3:21 am

    FFS, I wrote a blog post. Not a piece for critical review paid at a Nowra rate. On my own webspace in my own time, I can be as hypocritical as I wish if I feel it will raise a smile.
    Summers, on the other hand, might want to be a little more careful in the forum of print.
    The plain fact is: the guy is a shit editor. Regardless of his age. As afore-linked he has screwed up magnificently several times. I don’t care if it due to naivete or innate malfunction when he said, “political correctness is the enemy of intellectual debate”. I just know that he said it.
    And I know that my references to his age were scant. It just amused me to say “nursery school”. Again, something I would never think of offering in print or more “traditional” online fora.
    And I know that he enacted, in the fashion of much older men, a reflex of which I have become very tired. Viz. To critique a woman solely on the basis of her looks and, by extension, age. Moreover, one of the most widely read Australian intellectuals in history.
    Fucking get angry about that. Naparstek doesn’t need your pity. Unless, of course, you’re trying to pitch to him. Good luck with that. Get in fast. It’s only a matter of time before Schwarz realises his mistake in appointing an unqualified man to the post.
    As mentioned. The New Yorker editor, a 26 year old Australian, seems to be doing a fine job.

  4. 5 zoebarron March 9, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Yep, no worries, many of you criticisms are fair. I’m very frustrated by the judgement of women based on shallow aesthetics as well. But I’m not even in Melbourne anymore and I can tell that these condescending, easy digs at Naperstek’s age are getting pretty tired, own webspace, humour or not. Be hypocritical all you want, just don’t expect that people won’t pick up on it.

  5. 6 Geoff March 11, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    Interesting. Yeah, I don’t like all the age comments. If someone thinks he’s a dick, then he’s a dick, regardless of whether he’s a young dick or an old dick. Jonathan Green’s article on Naparstek’s appointment was incredibly condescending (work experience kid, Year 12 English, blah blah blah). Whether or not it’s true, it just makes it look like Green’s jealous that the kid landed a sweeter job.

    Nowra is claimed to be just as objectionable, but he’s not young. So his age doesn’t come into it. You could claim inexperience as a factor, sure. Like with the Eric Ellis case – Ellis doesn’t exactly respond to Naparstek with elegant restraint, but I’d be pretty livid too if I travelled to another fricking country to research a commissioned article, and then had it rejected a few days from print with no proper explanation. That might be inexperience, but it’s not related to youth. People are criticising John Howard’s appointment to the ICC on the basis of his inexperience in sports administration, and JH is hardly in the first flush of his sporting prime.

    Then again, Razer’s article was fucking hilarious, which is pretty well always first priority for me. I drooled into my keyboard while cackling. I can’t say if Naparstek is good or bad at his job, I’ve been out of the country since he started, so I haven’t read any of his mags. Maybe I would think he is awesome. He certainly has a pretty awesome CV. And I’m insansely jealous of his time-management skills. But what I can say is that the topic of jewel-encrusting one’s vagina could not have been handled by anyone but Helen Razer, and that she did so with poise and flair. So that’s the real winner out of all of this.

  6. 7 Geoff March 11, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    I also loved the alternating praise and rampant abuse that Razer’s post got. The abusers are never that smart. Apparently you have to unplug your brain to plug in your PC. Like the amount of people who take Ben Pobjie seriously. He’s a genius, writes the best fucking satire in the world, and still gets muppets after every post going ‘You’re a sexist!’ because he’s advocating starting up Domestic Violence Day. Poor misunderstood Ben.


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