John van Tiggelen caused quite a stir last week when he sent a scathing email to Ben Naparstek, his counterpart at The Good Weekend. The editor of The Monthly accused Naparstek of paying female freelancers less than men:
“Within my first few weeks in the job, contributors to The Monthly were letting me know you were offering them $1.50 a word. I kept a list; within a month there were eight on it. Interestingly, they were all male. Yet you denied this, both to me and publicly (to TheAustralian). You were lying, but you had to, as you were simultaneously insisting to other writers (who, interestingly, were all female) that 80 cents a word was as high as you would go … Then, a few months ago, you offered me $1.50 a word to write for you.”
Sexism wasn’t the only thing van Tiggelen accused Naparstek of. He also wrote that Naparstek compulsively pursued The Monthly’s contributors, calling him a “stalker” and such actions “despicable”. He also attacked Naparstek’s editorial direction, saying The Good Weekend “has never looked more bereft”.
I have to agree, in part, with this last accusation. There hasn’t been a piece in The Good Weekend that I’ve loved in a long time. I haven’t laughed at Danny Katz since I was in high school. The ‘Two of Us’ column has so much – ordinary people often have the most extraordinary stories – but lately it’s been so boring I’ve wanted to peel off my own eyelids. And don’t get me started on that page devoted to Neil Perry. I mean, can the guy please cook something that’s not red meat for once?
A magazine that is read by around 1.4 million people each weekend has the potential to be a great educator and the driving force for cultural change. To an extent I feel that The Good Weekend does succeed in doing this – there have been articles on transsexuals, porn stars, plastic surgery. In last Saturday’s issue Alzheimer’s disease got the spotlight. But then there was that article on polyamory a little while back and, well, little more needs to be said.
A lot of people were understandably outraged at van Tiggelen’s accusation that Naparstek pays women less than men. Destroy the Joint, a feminist group with over 25,000 Facebook likes and 5000 Twitter followers, was quick to condemn female freelance writers being paid less than their male counterparts. They urged followers to email Naparstek and ask him to support equal pay.
Yes, women should be paid the same as men. Hurry up and make this happen already, OK? But we shouldn’t pour all our bitterness and vitriol into Naparstek’s inbox (I mean, the guy would get enough crappy pitches as it is, give him a break). If he is paying men more than women, I would suspect that it would be because he is paying high-profile writers more moolah. I don’t believe for a second that The Good Weekend’s male writers are more talented than its female writers. But the scrutiny and hard-hitting questions should be aimed at the industry – and our patriarchal culture – not thrown onto one editor. The guy was born in 1986 for goodness sake. It’s highly unlikely that he gets his female writers to make him sandwiches and give him back rubs while he yells at the interns.
For publications that don’t have a flat rate for all contributors, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of their highest-paid freelancers are men. I’d be depressed and would want to do something about it, sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised. This doesn’t let Naparstek off the hook – I suspect there will be a lot of women featured in The Good Weekend from now on (hopefully their wallets a little heavier than they would have otherwise been).