Heroine of the Day: Deborah Copaken Kogan

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by Melissa Silverstein
April 11, 2013 2:00 PM
3 Comments
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Yesterday a shit bomb was dropped on the internet in the form of an essay by photographer/TV producer/novelist Deborah Copaken Kogan entitled My So-Called Post Feminist Life in Arts and Letters which was posted on the Nation's website.

I found this piece to be one of the most compelling and brave pieces I have read in a long time.  There are so many important things in the piece but I think the most important line for me is:

This is what sexism does best: it makes you feel crazy for desiring parity and hopeless about ever achieving it.

I feel that is a very important point.  The sexist world we live in makes us think we are crazy.

Kogan wrote the piece after reading the obituary of rocket scientist Yvonne Brill whose accomplishments in making beef stroganoff superseded her work as a rocket scientist according to the NY Times.  (If you read the obit now you will see that has been changed following the huge outcry.  Here's a link to the first paragraph from the old obit.)

This piece clearly has touched a nerve as it was emailed to me several times moments after it hit the web.  No one is going to agree with everything she has to say, but the arc of the piece, that the world is still full of inherent sexism even from well meaning people, resonates far and wide.  This is an accomplished writer and author and writing this piece was a huge risk.  Her husband tried to get her not to publish it.  This could potentially be career suicide.

Here's what she said to me yesterday about what might happen:

I think it will be tough.  Maybe somebody who's sympathetic to this will give me work or buy my book.  I'm writing a new novel right now.  But I do worry about coverage.  A book could live or die over its coverage.  You need to get the review in the NY Times Book Review, you need to get some sort of profile somewhere, just to get your book noticed above the fray and all the noise.  I am worried about the daggers that might come a year or two from now when I am publishing my next book.

This fear is what makes us self censor.  It's why actresses in Hollywood tolerate the shit they go through to get gigs.  It's why the female directors in Hollywood can't complain.  They need the next job.

But this woman said no more.  This piece poured out of her one day and then the next question for her is who would publish it since EVERYONE was implicated.  She reached out to Katrina van den Heuvel whom he had met at a party long ago and sent it to her.  She thought she needed a woman and one that would be able to be self-critical, which Katrina was.

I her about the title.  Why my so-called post feminist life...?

I was thinking about the TV show My So-Called Life and I came up with my so-called post feminist life because I am not living a post feminist life... because there is no such thing as post feminism.

No such thing as post-feminism.  

Deborah Copaken Kogan may have been a novelist two days ago but today she's an activist for gender justice.  She wants to start a prize for women fiction writers like the one she is being considered for in England.  She sees herself as part of the conversation started by Jennifer Weiner and continued by Meg Wolitzer and built on the painstaking work of the women at VIDA who give us the statistics annually.  

This work transcends the literary world.  There are people doing this work, myself included, across all sectors in theatre, art and film.  

I see this piece as a line in the sand.  It's up to us to continue to cross it.

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3 Comments

  • Janet Van Sky | April 23, 2013 4:18 PMReply

    Yes, she is brave. And, Melissa, so are you!!

  • Holly | April 11, 2013 4:22 PMReply

    After that article, I will read everything she has ever written and buy everything she ever publishes in her lifetime.

  • kristin | April 11, 2013 2:51 PMReply

    I agree- this line spoke to me, "This is what sexism does best: it makes you feel crazy for desiring parity and hopeless about ever achieving it."

    I was so inspired by her bravery to write the piece. I think it is a true call to arms. I own Shutterbabe but I bought another version for my Kindle yesterday after I read Deborah's article.

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