Susan Brownmiller and Why I am a Journalist
Ok, You want to know why I will never cease being a journalist?
This whole kerfuffle today over a post on my blog, which had perhaps a 100+ followers this morning, about the state of journalism which has gone viral and attracted the attention and comments of hundreds of thousands of people by a few hours later, has drawn supportive comments from umpteen number of people. Plus a few nasty ones.
Among the gems was this comment from someone who asked to be a FB friend: “Nate, I’ve been reading about your Atlantic controversy all over the place– and I remember how generous you were to me in Phnom Penh in the 1990s, in a journalists’ bar, when you asked what I was doing in the city and I said “Doing a story on The Temples of Angkor” and you said–so spontaneously- “The guy you want to speak to is sitting over there…” You are such a great journalist, and the reason I subscribed to the Far Eastern Economic Review for so many years.”
Honestly, I don’t remember the encounter. But I do know, now, who this person is.
Susan Brownmiller is a US feminist, journalist, author, and activist best known for her 1975 book Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, in which she argued that rape was “nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” That book sent the then equivalent of cyberspace atwitter, prompting a slew of reactions and criticism which forced the debate of women being treated like chattel up for public debate. Angela Davis said her book was tantamount to an “unthinking partnership which borders on racism” and that was friendly fire.
Later, the New York Public Library selected Against Our Will as one of 100 most important books of the Twentieth Century.
Brownmiller spent four years investigating rape, from ancient criminal and civil law to the way rape was reported in contemporary media, literature, film, and popular music.
Brownmiller changed the course of the human debate on the rightful role of women in society, and pissed off far from a few people in the process.
Today she asked to be my friend on face book. And she sent me supportive comments for standing up to big media companies trying to fleece journalists to increase their profit margin.
She wrote in a post today I was tagged in on face book: “He was so generous to me in Phnom Penh– he was the dean of the journalists’ community. I was sitting with Kevin’s drunk journalist friends, who were telling their war stories, aggrandizing themselves, when this guy, Nate Thayer, the expert on Pol Pot, came over to our table and with his insatiable curiosity asked me what I was doing in the city–which none of Kevin’s friends had bothered to ask. And then he neatly pointed me in the right direction…giving my Angkor story for Travel&Leisure a depth it wouldn’t have had. I’m so glad his kerfuffle with the dummies at The Atlantic has gone viral.”
Susan wrote some time ago “My parents were so intense about…newspapers and the radio that I became very intense about these things too. My dad worked as a sales clerk in Macy’s and my mom worked as a secretary in the Empire State Building. I was lucky to go to Cornell University for a couple of years on scholarships. When I left school, I was determined to be a Broadway actress. This was, in my case, a very mistaken ambition. So I found a little tenement apartment in Manhattan, got jobs as a file clerk, did some waitressing, got fired a lot, and studied acting. Quite accidentally I started backing into editorial-type jobs for some confession magazines, and learned” how to be a journalist.
Journalism has permitted me to be in the mix of people like Susan Brownmiller—whose unyielding, curmudgeonly refusal to accept what is unacceptable, has directly contributed to making this a better world for uncountable millions.
Thank you Susan.
You, and that, is why I will die being a journalist.