Did you know that women can die in battle, but they’re lacking a certain gene that allows them to write about military history?
Thanks to the American Prospect’s Tapped, we heard news of a recent lecture titled “New York Times Book Review as Cultural Gatekeeper.” Barry Gewen, an editor at the NYTBR, had promised to offer insights into the mysteries of the publication.
And boy did the guy deliver. According to Tapped, he explained that so few women reviewers grace the NYTBR pages because they can’t write for a general audience about such topics as military history. Reportedly, Gewen went on to add that he and his fellow editors recruit writers by talking to colleagues and finding them in other publications like the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books and the New Republic. According to the Harvard Crimson, Gewen admitted that the publication could do more outreach to women and minority writers, but that the idea of searching for a writer because of their ethnicity made him “squeamish.”
Taken as a whole, this is the kind of offhand, arrogant insider blather that seems to beg for ridicule and little more. But the multileveled nature of this stupidity needs some parsing. Military history? No. 1, how many reviews of military history books does the NYTBR actually publish? (Not terribly many according to my searches — certainly not anywhere near as many as compared with softer, infinitely more feminine topics like culture, art and love.) No. 2, what sort of ignorant tripe is this? Does “The Guns of August” ring any bells? But equally mortifying (for Gewen, that is) is his admission that the NYTBR gathers its writers from a closed pool shared by a tiny collection of elite publications.
As one poster so aptly spoofed him: “We can’t hire any competent women or minorities because there are so many more incompetent white men who haven’t written for us yet.”