How Not To Have Your Eureka Moment

Sometimes, for those of us with any measure of privilege, the unraveling of that privilege begins with a Eureka moment.

By this, I mean the moment where a circumstance forced your eyelids wide, and made you see the ugly things you’d previously had the privilege to pass on by: racism, for instance, or sexism, and oppressions of all kinds. Maybe you thought you understood the issue, but never gave it too much thought — and then one day wham, this Thing happens, and you realize you had no idea how much privilege you’ve got.

I remember some of my Eureka moments. I’m not proud of them — or rather, I’m not proud they had to happen for me to grasp what millions had been saying all along. They were jolting and uncomfortable, a rough hand to shove me straight out of a cozy little nest. But I am incredibly grateful for them. They made me a better person, in the end.

Well, film critic Michael Calleri recently had his Eureka moment about sexism.

Or, as the brilliant Melissa McEwan put it: Man Notices Misogyny.

It began when the movie reviews he wrote for the Niagara Falls Reporter began to disappear into the ether. When he confronted his publisher about it, the publisher responded with an email railing against promoting movies “where women are alpha and men are beta. where women are heroes and villains and men are just lesser versions or shadows of females.”

By this and other rants about feminist “moral rot,” of course, the publisher was referring to Snow White and the Huntsman which, just, yeeaaaahhhhhhh okay then.

Yeah, it sucks. It all sucks. And it does suck for Calleri, who lost a writing gig in a world in which writing gigs are increasingly hard to come by. In the large scale, just add it to the list of damages that misogynists wreak on society every damn day. But on the small scale, I empathize with the shock and discomfort he must have felt.

Because boy oh boy, was Calleri shocked. Like really super shocked.

From the blog:

What you are about to read may shock you. It’s all true, and it happened to me. It involves censorship and the movies and one man’s loathing of strong contemporary women.

One man’s loathing of strong contemporary women? Well I gotta admit I’m entirely not shocked at this point, but goooo onnnnn….

(It goes on.)

This story, with its villainous treatment of strong women, is so appalling, that it borders on being unbelievable. It isn’t. It deserves to be told and really does require a detailed explanation. Many writers will recognize the trail of experience I have traveled. But I wonder if any writer has faced what I ultimately faced.

This is where I have to pause. As much as I want to salute a man’s Eureka moment that sexism is real, here’s where Calleri’s arrow officially sails far, far past the mark, clattering harmlessly into a haystack beyond. While cows look at the arrow curiously. And a baby squirrel perches on the top of the arrow, chattering tunefully.

That’s far, guys.

Again: I understand that Calleri was shocked by the raging misogynist email he received from his publisher. It would be shocking to absorb that kind of bald-faced hate for the first time, had you been sheltered — by virtue of your gender — from being on the butt-end of it before.

What is strange is that in all the time end effort Calleri poured into writing about the experience, it apparently did not occur to him before he got to just this paragraph is that yes, writers have faced this before: women writers have faced this before. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of women writers have faced this before, dating back centuries and still alive today.

We talked about it too, because we also believed it “deserved to be told.” But we found, over and over, that people didn’t want to listen.

Perhaps we were just having trouble with intergalactic communications:

I got my answer in the form of an email that is so shocking, it seems to come from another galaxy, an evil one.

N.B.: The email he received is basically half the everyday inbox haul of the average woman blogger of any renown (more if you’re Anita Sarkeesian!), so it appears the Evil Galaxy may be closer to our own than originally measured.

Way to suck, NASA.


I’ve been lucky in my career.

From the time I was 18, I largely worked for women editors and producers; where I didn’t, I never personally encountered misogyny as overt as this. I have felt it in emails from readers and read it in truly countless articles, blogs, forum posts and website comments — but never have I felt a sting so harsh from anyone in a position of direct power over me.

But having spent many years talking to women writers, I know this: thousands of us have experienced just the sort of nasty, silencing, career-limiting sexism that Calleri had thrust upon him. We’ve told what not to write (“woman stuff”) and how not to write it (“women talk too much”), passed over for certain beats or denied editorships.

In other words: it is telling that I just said I’ve been lucky in my career. It’s telling that this is how I have to think about it, as being in terms of luck.

The good news: based on reams of anecdotal experience, I absolutely believe it is getting better.

But it’s still not best, it’s still not done.

And as much as I am glad that one film critic had his Eureka moment, so I wish he had considered more deeply what working under that publisher, or men like him, would have been like for a woman. And what women writers must have seen. And what they may know. And what they may have committed to writing already, but had it be blown off as “overreaction,” shrugged off and ignored.

In short: the fact that his column is shot through with more shock than empathy suggests that we still have a long way to go.