Joel Stein Is A Sexist Ass

Posted: March 30, 2012 in Critical Hit
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cards on the table: I had never heard of Joel Stein until five minutes ago. Nonetheless, having just read his oh-so-condescending op-ed for the NY Times on why, in his estimation, adults shouldn’t read YA, I feel qualified to make the above assertion.

Why a sexist ass, you ask, instead of just the regular kind? Because certainly, his regular assishness isn’t in doubt. After all, any adult who’ll personally vouch for the suckiness of an activity he refuses to try on the grounds of having intuited said suckiness from afar – much like a toddler declaring his undying hatred for unfamiliar vegetables – is clearly deserving of intellectual mockery. But where in that is the sexism?

By way of answer, allow me to compare Joel’s opening paragraph –

The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading “The Hunger Games.” Or a Twilight book. Or Harry Potter. The only time I’m O.K. with an adult holding a children’s book is if he’s moving his mouth as he reads.

with his last:

Let’s have the decency to let tween girls have their own little world of vampires and child wizards and games you play when hungry. Let’s not pump Justin Bieber in our Saabs and get engaged at Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland. Because it’s embarrassing. You can’t take an adult seriously when he’s debating you over why Twilight vampires are O.K. with sunlight.

The bolding is mine; take note of it! Because rather than a critique of the content of YA novels, what this piece actually represents is the following assertion: that it’s fundamentally embarrassing for grown men to share any interests whatever with teenage girls. In fact, according to Joel, it is actually more embarrassing for a man to identify with a teen girl via the medium of literature than if he were publicly demeaning and sexualising her via the medium of pornography!

In five paragraphs, the only gender pronouns he uses are in those paragraphs: male to describe the adults who shouldn’t read YA, and female to describe the intended readership of the books to which he’s specifically objecting. Five paragraphs does not a lengthy article make. Certainly, it’s not long enough to enter into a nuanced discussion of why adults read YA (what then, I wonder, does Joel make of the adults who write it? or does he imagine that YA books spring full-fledged from the legs of hipsters, like Athena sprang from Zeus?), the changing face of the genre, or anything approaching an intelligent, reasoned argument.

It is, however, more than long enough to demonstrate his sexist credentials, and the nature of his real fear, which is that men might voluntarily be enjoying stuff written for girls. Oh noes! The horror! What could be worse than adult men identifying with the demographic they’ve historically most oppressed! GENDER EMPATHY IS SCARY AND TERRIBLE AND UNMASCULINE AND PLANES WILL FALL FROM THE SKY.

Those damn tween girls with their Bieber and their Twilights. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting the vote and refusing to act in pornography. The HUSSIES.

  1. Thank you for this! I read Stein’s idiocy and once my rage settled down enough for clear thinking, I felt like there was something sexist about it. I couldn’t bring myself to read it a second time – I’m finishing a PhD in children’s & young adult literature, so my investment in the issue is pretty huge – but I did think about the “real” adult fiction he references – David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon. And that the authors of all three YA texts he dismisses (The HUnger Games, Twilight, and Harry Potter) are women, and two of the three have female narrators/protagonists. Which reminded me of the discussion started by Jennifer Weiner a year or so ago, about general antifeminism in Literature – centered around the critics raving over Jonathan Franzen’s *Freedom.* You’ve done far better by attending to the creepy gendered language of the entire article.

    • fozmeadows says:

      The gendered language really leaped out at me – even in the case of right wing or sexist turkeys, it’s comparatively unusual nowadays to see ‘adults’ referred to using only male pronouns, even if that’s what the author seems to be thinking.

  2. davidjfuller says:

    Great post. You’ve pried into a disturbing underlying message in that piece. I merely came away from it thinking, “what an incurious, ignorant writer, who doesn’t grasp that ‘young adult’ implies the readers are ‘adult’…” I also wondered who in their right mind would bother to go and read his new book, having listened to him tear a strip off not just a book he couldn’t be bothered to read, but an entire GENRE he couldn’t be bothered to read. Ludicrous. Why would I trust his judgment?
    BTW I read “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” when I was neither a girl nor young teen, and loved it — because it was a funny, great story full of truth.

    • fozmeadows says:

      People who criticise from a position of deliberate ignorance annoy the crap out of me. How do they know it sucks? They just do! Why does it suck? It just does! It’s an amazingly juvenile bias, as I know from personal experience: as a teenager, I used to go around claiming sushi was glorified catfood, never having ONCE tried it. Then I did, while drunk, at a university party, and do you know what? Sushi was fucking DELICIOUS. And I don’t even care that he might try YA subsequently and still decide it’s awful – by this point, he’s already demonstrated an agenda in wanting to reach that outcome. So mature!

  3. coop says:

    As an adult (heterosexual, I say this because I assume he is the type that would think otherwise based on my next statement) male who enjoys dystopian fiction, yes even young adult fiction, I find this person’s statements laughable. Seems typical of the insecure frat-boy type of mentality that permeates conservative thought.

  4. doc says:

    I’d like to rant about this idiot a bit but he’s really not worth the effort.

    Too bad–he really gives you a lot to work with…..

  5. Hurray!!! Exactly what I was thinking when I read the piece. Plus, anyone who uses David Foster Wallace as their go-to example of mature adult fiction is clearly verging on illiterate himself. Not that I don’t thoroughly enjoy some of Wallace’s stuff, but it really seemed to be a wildly inappropriate example.

  6. katecopeseeley says:

    I think that YA MALE writers would be equally insulted by his post. I’m sure that Christopher Paolini, M.T. Anderson, Scott Westerfeld, John Flannigan and MANY others would be very interested to know that YA books are only for tween girls.

    • fozmeadows says:

      I totally agree. Something tells me Stein didn’t even consider that grown men might write – and therefore read – YA for a living. It’s like the concept is alien to him.

  7. Juan Pazos says:

    I’m a 39 years old gay man who has read Twilight and is currently reading The Hunger Games and I just love you, Foz Meadows.

    I’ve also read Shoujo Manga, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Javier Marías, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Almudena Grandes, John Donne, Tolkien, Tolstoi, J. K. Rowling, Proust, Calderón de la Barca, Mishima, tons of comic-books and some philosophy and I loved them all… for different reasons.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Cheers! 🙂 Policing people’s reading choices, let alone the reasons behind them, is seldom a good idea – and especially along gender lines.

  8. de Pizan says:

    I haven’t read much of Stein, but what I have read just reinforces this. He had a recent “expose” of EMILY’s List campaign secrets–all about how now having 15 women senators means male politicians are in danger of disappearing entirely; how women run for office the same way they sell Avon; and how women can make anything, even running for office, “just like scrapbooking.”

  9. […] month ago, columnist Joel Stein decided it would be a good idea to formally declare himself as a sexist ass by decrying grown men with a penchant for female-oriented YA novels. Now, however, another […]

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