What’s Really Behind “Middling Millennials”

Edward Champion
Edward Champion

When I was eighteen I went to an alcohol-fueled party with some school friends, and I kissed and made out with someone for the first time. The boy in question was older than me, hence he was able to legally procure the half a dozen shitty coolers I was drunk on, and it was rumored the whole night that he was high as well as drunk. As a sheltered young woman, that was not a bridge I was willing to cross. When he asked me to spend the night with him, I asked if was true he had done cocaine earlier in the night. As he stumbled over what answer he should give me that would benefit him, I devised a compromise with him; I would stay over but we were not doing anything more physically intimate than what we had already done right now. I wanted him to sober up and I would consider doing more.

Literally thirty minutes later, shortly after I told my friends they could go ahead and leave me there, he tried to force himself onto me naked and told me he wanted a blowjob. I reminded him this was not what we had agreed to and he started yelling at me “I’m a good guy. What’s wrong with you?” He called me a cock-tease and that definitely set off red flags. I managed to hop into my friend’s car, as she was seconds from pulling away.

Then he told our friends at school I had sucked his dick and gave him the worst blowjob he’d ever had.

Edward Champion wrote an essay this week that reminds me a lot of that incident. His anger is directed very specifically at Emily Gould and other female writers who “confuse the act of literary engagement with coquettish pom-pom flogging.”

It takes ‘axe-grinding’ to a whole other level. It reads like a man scorned because he didn’t get something he felt he was entitled to.  What that was, I have no idea nor do I much care, but there is a real sense of “I’ll show her” behind every line in it.

There’s definitely history between Gould and Champion; if you Google both of their names you can see these two have referenced each other in back biting pieces as far back as 2007.  But this guy next leveled the argument for sure.

He wrote an 11,000 word essay and approximately 9,500 of those words were about how Gould is singlehandedly destroying literature. A good portion of the essay also pointed towards confessional writing, especially by young women, as somehow bringing forth the downfall of Western Civilization. Eleven thousand words; that’s a lot of energy spent.

Picking on women producing confessional writing is nothing new. It’s honestly boring and pretty unoriginal, frankly. As someone who could probably be accused of being a confessional writer, there is a big difference between what Elizabeth Wurtzel has sadly turned into, versus writing by someone like Lidia Yuknavitch or Cheryl Strayed. Those of us women that write about personal topics, those that often make others uncomfortable, hope we fall somewhere on the Yuknavitch/Strayed side of the scale, with the idea that whatever terrible baggage we reveal about ourselves will somehow serve a purpose, and hopefully help someone else feel more connected. Sometimes we wander and we have the ability to get lost along the way. Art is not linear and not a correct answer on a multiple choice test. It can get messy.

There are so many parts of Champion’s diatribe that made me outright laugh when I read them. For one, he calls her a narcissist for titling her blog “Emily Magazine”, which led her to work for Gawker. Keep in mind, his whole 11,000 word gripe-fest is found on his website. The address you type in to get there? Edrants.com. Then, he calls Gould a cowardly writer and yet he refuses to explicitly state the overall message of his rant, but it is implied oh so heavily, especially in the 1,500 words that aren’t directly referring to Gould.

Women writers between 18-35 are shit, unless they write for some of the publications in his chosen golden circle he has deemed “real literature.” He outright names the shit publications as places like The Rumpus, n+1, The Awl, and Gawker. Then for the rest of his essay he dissects basically every media appearance, tweet, piece of her writing and quotes in interviews he can find.

It is thorough and it is disturbing. Honestly, I’m concerned for him.

Later in the day Roxane Gay openly called him out in social media saying, “There is criticism and there is cruelty…this was cruel.”

I actually haven’t read much of her work, and what I’ve read hasn’t floored me. It is fair game to subject a writer to criticism and the media outlets they work for, but this was so much more.  If this had been an intelligent critique of her work, her technique, ethics and what kind of marginalized writers are being set aside because of writers like her, that would be a whole other story. A hell of lot of that critique is deserved and Gould has definitely been a part of some questionable actions as a writer/editor at Gawker. Everything finally came to a head when Jimmy Kimmel rightfully called her out for her role in printing salacious celebrity gossip for them in 2007.

Champion even attacks Gould for “playing victim” and revealing in an interview that she suffered panic attacks after the Kimmel incident and went into therapy. No stone is left unturned. He suggests that her father, who has worked in public relations, somehow orchestrated this story. It was all a ploy to gain respect back according to him.

Gould’s experience is a bit too relatable. I bet the scrutiny she faced after the Jimmy Kimmel disaster was a bit more than that. Let’s just say from personal experience that when a woman writer is being lambasted on the internet, the tweets and comment threads get very personal and very rapey very quickly.  My twitter account has been completely locked down due to a series of threats I received in 2012 after one of my essays was published. After an essay of mine unexpectedly was picked up by Gawker last year and the trolls rolled out in full force, I got legendarily blackout drunk with a friend and enrolled back in counseling the next week for several months.

First we had #SurvivorPrivilege and I’m just going to start #PTSDPrivilege and tag Edward Champion’s account in every tweet. After all, it’s such a coveted status to be nutso now, apparently.

Oh, another point– plenty of amazing essays and writing in general appear on terrible websites (see: Gawker). But, plenty of shitty writing appears in “legitimate” publications (see: The New Yorker).

The idea that navel-gazing, vapid, mid-twenty year old female writers, with no real back-stories and backpacks full of privilege, are the only women being published on these “hoary outlets” is asinine. The logic that The Rumpus, whose essay section is curated by Roxane Gay (a black woman, who actively tries to represent marginalized authors and experiences with the essays she publishes), is somehow only showcasing white airheads from Brooklyn…well…it’s not logical. Hey, here’s a revolutionary thought: Maybe women writers aren’t airheads at all. Perhaps that’s a convenient excuse you use when you disagree with us.

Nikki Reimer wrote a fantastic essay about the unexpected death of her little brother, and the process of grieving his loss through digital media. Amy Butcher wrote about her mentally ill male friend who’s now locked up in a psych ward for stabbing a woman twenty-seven times to death. Both of these essays (which are on The Rumpus) are unflinching, challenging, painful, cathartic and most importantly they are fantastic. Women of a particular generation wrote these essays and that shouldn’t even fucking matter, but it always does and I kind of feel like it always will.

That’s why we’re here.

5 thoughts on “What’s Really Behind “Middling Millennials”

  1. Thank you for writing this critical and fair-minded take Despite my disagreements, it does raise many important issues. First off, I’m very sorry to hear about this vicious man who sexually assaulted you. I am also sorry that you received threats on Twitter in 2012. That is terrible, but I greatly admire your courage in chronicling it and surviving through it.

    Having said that, we are dealing with words here, not actions. I did not grasp Gould’s hand and force her to read the piece. Although the language emerged as fierce and I now see why the words threatened people, I never had and do not have any intention of physically harming or confronting her. Furthermore, while I understand why some people have perceived my unfiltered essay as misogynistic, I did speak glowingly of several women writers (esp. Kate Zambreno and Adelle Waldman, whose paragraphs I cited and unpacked). I clearly don’t believe that all women writers are airheads. (Most of the recent guests on my podcast, [Editor’s note: REDACTED], have been women.) I am very much for confessional writing, especially from perspectives that are underrepresented — as I think the Junot Diaz section makes clear. I also agree with you that there is plentiful mediocre writing appearing in high places.

    One of the problems here is that we’re all seeing ourselves as “opponents,” as Mary puts it above, and that certain online behavior and representations are reinforcing this either/or perception, the armchair psychoanalysis of people we’ve never met in person or bothered to meet. I made that mistake with Gould and I allowed it to gnaw at me for years. Now that I have had some time to ponder the essay that poured out of me in four days, I realize that I was inadvertently copping to my failures as a writer and a person, that I was pushing myself into a sizzling arc light revealing a good deal of pain, that I wanted to purge all this accumulated hatred I had for Gould (not as a woman, but as a writer and as a “journalist” and as someone who had harmed the careers of some utterly kind friends). That terrible negativity vanished after writing this piece. But I am now seeking help to work on the remaining painful impulses.

    Again, thank you for writing this response and for challenging my views. I am sorry that you were disturbed by them.

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    1. Thanks for your comment and more thoughtful comments are always welcome. Essentially, Emily and many of the rest of us on this site are tired of this he said-she said game that pollutes web publications and Twitter feeds. Many of us viewed what you wrote as a purposeless attack piece that also derided the hard work of young women writers. Perhaps the increased exposure to your site will encourage you to write pieces that are thoughtful, but that do not tear down a group of hard-working individuals in the process. You (Ed) get to determine what issue to spotlight on your site, of course. I hope that you use that light for some greater good in the future.

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    2. Edward, I hope you’re doing okay. I’ve seen some screen captures of some of the tweets you wrote when the digital avalanche of comments hit you. As someone who’s gone through that, much like Gould did after the Kimmel interview; your brain can really become your worst enemy in those situations. I really hope you are getting the help you so desperately need. Two friends of mine took their lives jumping off bridges, one month apart just over a year ago, so I hope to God you are getting a supportive team of health professionals around you to help.

      I want to clarify something—I actually don’t feel like that incident I described in that bedroom at that party all those years ago was a sexual assault, at least not for me. This definitely had the potential to go that route, and maybe if he hadn’t been so wrecked, it could have ended that way. The reason I brought up that story was because of his actions afterwards. He used his words and told everyone at school that I gave him a shitty blowjob. Every interaction I had at school suddenly became a his word against mine battle. The actions in the bedroom were bad enough, but it was the cruelty of the words after that really hurt. Let me spell it out for you—that guy was my first kiss and then he went and spread false rumors about me that even professors were asking me about. He felt so betrayed by a lack of a blowjob when I left that bedroom, so he did the one thing he knew he could to shame me for months to come. He used words and he did a pretty good job of making my life hell.

      I find your argument that “we are dealing with words here, not actions” extremely interesting as we’re writers. Words are our currency and they certainly matter to us, so this idea that they aren’t important in the same way seems, well, kind of odd for a writer to think. Again, like I stated above, the words the guy I knew used bothered me deeply. You know what the tweet was that sent me over the edge and made me put my account on lockdown? “I hope you are taken out into the street, kicked around like a dog, raped in front of everyone you know and killed, you fat slob.” I’m willing to wager a guess you’ve never had the threat of rape held over your head as a male writer. As a female writer, and a female in general, I’ve lost count of how many times I have.

      Also, we all know that as writers, even if you don’t actually read critiques of your work, they have ways of getting back to you. When my essay came out and prompted 400+ comments, I got random texts, emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls from people going “did you see when that guy said (insert misogynistic garbage here)?” So while you “did not grasp Gould’s hand and force her to read the piece”, I can guarantee that she’s probably received a hell of a lot of email over the last 48 hours. You have had a hell of a couple shitty days Edward, but she got dragged into this too and didn’t really have a choice. And I’m not really sure how as a woman you can’t be bothered by an 11,000 word essay about you that includes lines like “when a minx’s head is so deeply deposited up her own slimy passage, it’s often hard to see the sunshine”. As many have stated, who hates someone so deeply they write 11,000 words on them?

      Edward, saying that you praised Kate Zabreno and Adelle Waldman, hence you obviously don’t have issues with women writers, is naïve. It reads like “but some of my best friends are women!” I hope you’ve already thought about this, but how many women writers who are your friends felt deeply uncomfortable with what you wrote about Gould? How many of them feel so uncomfortable that they will never tell you how uncomfortable you’ve made them feel?

      It still really comes across in your comment that you feel that you are entitled to certain things, including a certain level of professional recognition and when you see someone you perceive less talented than yourself getting that recognition, you feel threatened. I heard this amazing interview with Tori Amos years ago where she was asked about what she thought of Britney Spears and the millions of dollars she makes, and she could tell the interviewer wanted her talk shit about her. She said they were essentially doing two different things with their music so Britney’s millions didn’t bother her. She said something like Britney Spears was like an inexpensive wine that you could find in every grocery store, while Tori was more of a small batch winery. You can obviously have a good time and get drunk on both, but Tori knew her music had more flavor and body, and while she wasn’t making Britney Spears level money, she’d have a strong core group of aficionados that would drop by the winery often. If your writing deserves accolades and Gould’s doesn’t, I guess it’s my philosophy that eventually, somehow karma, fate, whatever…will sort that all out in the end. I believe you and others when they say Gould has done some unbelievably shitty things to people as a writer/journalist. Unfortunately, Edward, you now have too.

      Just a note– I edited the name of your podcast out of your comment. The idea that you would try to promote your podcast, in light of everything over the past couple of days is…unfortunate.

      Be well, take care of yourself today, and if you’ll excuse me—I have some soccer to watch.

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