Thursday afternoon, I received this email from a woman who wants to remain anonymous.
I work in publishing, which means I receive a ton of free books from a "young person in publishing" list I'm on. Some of the galley letters are a bit ridiculous (as I'm sure you've seen as people in media) but this one came with a free copy of Kate Siege's new book from PRH about her "crazy Jewish Mom." It is supposed to be funny but is the most offensive and ridiculous thing I have ever read. I don't understand how any self-respecting publisher could send this out. Is this the point of the Crazy Jewish Mom Instagram!?!? Why is this popular?! This isn't good enough to be satire. It's assuming I'm in my field to meet men. It's assuming I'm wasting my life if I'm not procreating.
She added, "Yeah, even our publicists were horrified. I get what they [the sender of the email] were going for, but this is no joke a double-sided 8.5 x 11 printed list of ways to meet a man if you work in publishing."
She posted excerpts from the message to a feminist Facebook group.
Shortly after, I noticed a PDF of the Penguin Random House letter was going viral.
Online comments about the promotional tool ranged from disgust to rage. Here are some of the things women said about the promotion, the book and the Instagram account:
"There are a million things wrong with it."
"After the endless diversity in publishing initiatives going on right now, it's obvious they're assuming the person who is reading this is a white straight female!?"
"It sounds like it's written in 1935. 'Go places where the eligible manmeat roams!' No."
"They needed to give it the context of being related to the Instagram. You can't just send it out like this with zero context."
"It came with the book. It's promoting the book based off the instagram. But i STILL don't find this at all funny."
"Why are we promoting these kinds of attitudes?"
"The Instagram itself is offensive so I don't follow. So to have these words forced in front of my eyes when I did not ask to hear this shit is upsetting."
"Even promoting this type of stuff sends us back 50-100 years."
The letter ends with "go forth, gentrify Brooklyn, and procreate!" which some found particularly offensive, partially because it assumed they are a gentrifier, but also it could be upsetting to people who were pushed out of their homes and neighborhoods because of gentrification. Apparently PRH didn't get the memo that gentrification is no laughing matter.
Maybe the larger discussion here is about changing attitudes in media and publishing. What was once considered standard fare — a book about a crazy old-fashioned parent, articles about "fashion trends that men hate," guides that teach women "how to get a man" — are now widely rejected and even met with disgust and outrage.
Women don't want to be marketed to as if they're one-dimensional caricatures. If the publishing industry wants to keep up with the times and remain competitive, or even relevant, they need to respect that women hate being generalized about and they really hate condescension. From choosing their own pronouns to increasingly rejecting traditional family structure, females are taking more control of their individual identities. Gender roles are become more fluid. Assuming anything about a person because of their biological gender is out. Publishers who don't understand this yet will evolve or die.
On the other hand, maybe the discussion is about checking our sensitivity. This was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek promotional tool used to hock a book about a crazy mom who says ridiculously outdated things. So naturally, the promotional content says ridiculously outdated things.
Kate Siege can chronicle her experiences with her mother in whatever way she sees fit. She should be able to do so without being judged. If the Instagram account is truly based on the pushy and outrageous opinions Siege suffers via her mom, why can't she tell us about it? Is it that we don't even want to be reminded that this type of thinking still exists?
Publishers can't be tone deaf, but we also can't clamp our hands over our ears and pretend this type of stuff doesn't happen. That's what children do. They also stomp their feet and have a tantrum when they experience something they don't like.
Or maybe, for women, stomping our feet and throwing the wildest of rage tantrums is long overdue.