Mamamia is an Australian web site created by one Mia Freedman, who is famous Down Under. (She is a Personality who, back in the day, was the youngest editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan. Today she frequently opines on work-life balance and appears to be a mashup of Ivanka Trump, Arianna Huffington, and Elizabeth Wurtzel. Here is a profile of her in the Sydney Morning Herald.)
Recently Mia’s Mamamia (I see what you did there, Mia) had Bad Feminist and Hunger author Roxane Gay on as a guest on its podcast. If you’re already up to speed, feel free to skip ahead to the analysis of the abysmal apology.
First, here is the episode’s description.
This is terrible. “Will she fit in the office lift?” Gee, Mamamia, pretty sure she can fit in an elevator, what with being human. And how nice that you’re worried about the number of steps she’d have to take from the elevator to the microphone when Gay has never said she has trouble walking.
Mamamia, you are manifesting what the kids today call “concern-trolling” — pretending to be a caring ally while actually being judgy and mean. “None of this is disclosed with a mean spirit” is the equivalent of “I’m just worried about your health?” It is a message that fat women have heard since time immemorial. (See also “I totally share your social justice goals but I have some issues with your methods?” and “I know you’ve said that breastfeeding didn’t work for you, but it’s really what’s best for your baby and have you talked to a lactation consultant?” JUST DO NOT. DO NOT.)
Anyway, the Twitters were rightfully irked.
As it turns out, when you talk to Aussie feminists, fake-sisterhood from Mia Freedman is not a new thing. Please enjoy this delightful close reading of her memoir. Ponder the existence of numerous tales of how difficult she is to work for (hey, here’s one) and about her lifting stories from other outlets (here’s one). Know that for years she had a reputation for not paying writers and for taking advantage of the cheap labor of much younger women who idolized her. And she airily opines about women’s choices without seeming to fully understand or explore the fact that being a millionaire does have an impact on one’s prospects. (Moguls and heiresses! They’re just like us!)
But back to Mamamia’s response after being called out for Gay-baiting. First, the company disappeared every trace of the original description from its podcast and social media. (Why bother? As SorryWatch has often noted, the Internet is forever.) Then Mamamia issued a terrible statement. It is a vaguely apology-shaped object.
(I’ve copied rather than linked for two reasons: Because Mamamia clearly has no compunctions about trying to erase criticism and the record thereof, and because I don’t feel the need to give Mamamia traffic.)
Why is this a bad apology?
- There are TWELVE PARAGRAPHS before the words “we apologize” appear. THOSE WORDS BELONG IN THE FIRST PARAGRAPH.
- The statement opens with three paragraphs of wankery about how much Mamamia loves Roxane Gay, followed by a self-serving link to the podcast episode. THIS IS NOT A TIME FOR SELF-PROMOTION, PALS.
- Then we get a weirdass paragraph protesting, “Roxane Gay talks about how people don’t accommodate her fatness! IT’S IN HER BOOK!” In the apology biz, we call this “creating a diversion” or “blaming the victim.”
- In the sixth paragraph, we finally get the word “apologetic.” But it is surrounded by bullshit. We have the self-congratulatory “As a publisher that’s constantly championed body diversity” and the faux-humble “disappointed our execution of this story hasn’t contributed the way we intended.” Hey, Mamamia, no one was talking about the “execution” of your interview; people were talking about the horrific promo copy for your interview. Further, please bear in mind for future screwups that in apologies, intentions do not matter. What matters is what you actually did. And the bullshit capper to this bullshit paragraph is the sly “in this instance” — implying that every other time Mamamia has been simply awesome.
- The next SIX PARAGRAPHS protest, “We just wanted to make our hugely fat guest COMFY! We did EVERYTHING! She talks about people failing to prepare for her fatness, so WE ARE HEROES!” (Also, more victim-blaming.)
- Paragraph 12 uses a variant of “intend” two more times (rinse and repeat: intentions are close to irrelevant in apologies; what you said and did are what matter). The phrase “we are mortified” is about your feelings, not the apology recipient’s. It’s not about you.
- OH JEEZ THE THIRTEENTH PARAGRAPH. It says, essentially, “we did everything right when we found out Gay was upset, including deleting ‘all references to the questions asked by her publishers'” — so it’s THEIR FAULT, NOT OURS. Wait, no, it’s hers! No, it’s theirs!
At no point does this apology say what it’s for. It says that Gay was upset (which Mamamia implies makes no sense) and that the publisher supplied the questions that upset her (which Mamamia implies means that Gay should be upset at the publisher, not at them). It does not say why many people, not just Gay, were horrified by what Mamamia wrote. It does not say, GEE, WE SENSATIONALLY IMPLIED THAT OUR GUEST WAS TOO FREAKING HUGE TO FIT IN AN ELEVATOR AND THAT IS BAD, ESPECIALLY WHEN WE LIKE TO TALK ABOUT HOW BODY-POSITIVE AND NOBLE WE AT MAMAMIA ARE. And the “statement” is unsigned, so I have to keep saying “Mamamia” instead of “Mia Freedman,” which annoys me. There’s no indication that Mamamia/Mia have learned anything. There’s no indication that they won’t do this again. There’s no indication that there’s clearly a systemic problem in tolerance, in taking responsibility for mistakes, in creating an institutional memory of those mistakes. Mamamia has not only not taken responsibility for its own words, it’s tried to erase the record of them ever existing.
Gay has spoken out about the interview itself, unsurprisingly, being a “shitshow.” A former Mamamia staffer, Rosie Waterland, tweeted that as a plus-sized woman she’d tried daily to educate and sensitize her office’s culture without success.
Mia Freeman finally apologized in the first person singular a few hours ago.
Again, I’m not linking. It’s clear she still doesn’t understand what she did wrong. Again, she starts off talking about herself, about people’s responses to her, about her own emotional journey (“searing”!). She notes, “I should never have been so cavalier in revealing details about my interview with Roxane Gay that should have remained private.” DUDE. AGAIN. THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU SOMEHOW BETRAYING CONFIDENCES. THIS IS ABOUT YOU INSULTING YOUR GUEST AND BEING A HYPERBOLIC HOSEBEAST RECOILING IN HORROR FROM THE VERY NOTION OF HER UNEARTHLY HUMUNGOUSNESS. YOUR REACTION IS PRECISELY THE SUBJECT OF THE DAMN BOOK! STOP PROTESTING THAT YOU ARE ALL ABOUT SIZE ACCEPTANCE!
“The irony of me…”? Again, it’s not about you, and it’s not ironic, given what you’ve written and erased and rewritten in the last 24 hours. Your feelings of mortification (oh hello, that word again!) are not interesting. You are being disingenuous or lying when you say you’ve always thought Roxane Gay was beautiful. Your promo copy depicted a monster, not a beauty. Own it. Then you can try apologizing legitimately for it.