Friday, 28 October 2011

Michael Krüger versus Womankind?

The publisher, poet, novelist, friend-of-the-Nobel-prizewinners and all-round old-school literary superhero Michael Krüger is smoking a cigarette on the front page of yesterday's arts section in Die Zeit, and talking to Iris Radisch. About what a superhero he is and how he can't retire from running the Hanser publishing house because who could possibly do such a good job as he does?

There's some interesting banter about the new imprint Hanser Berlin - to be run by Elisabeth Ruge, who stepped down at Berlin Verlag after Bloomsbury reined in its subsidiaries. She seems to be taking a few writers with her, including Richard Ford, Jeanette Winterson and Péter Esterházy, and Krüger says he wants a foot in the door in Berlin and its "so-called intellectual life".

Then comes the best bit though – perhaps, Radisch speculates, Elisabeth Ruge might take over from him when he does retire in 2014? At which point Krüger seems to get rather flustered. "I can say that quite clearly. She absolutely won't." And why? The wrong type of person, too much for her, and she has two children.

At which the (German literary) world is up in arms. Richard Kämmerlings wrote in Die Welt at 6:37 this morning: "Why are we even discussing quotas for women executives in DAX companies if a proven expert is considered unsuitable to run even a medium-sized family firm as a mother of two?"

Here's what I think: what we should really be discussing is not whether Michael Krüger's statement is sexist. Maybe it is - what a surprise. What's really important though is whether working models in publishing are compatible with parenting per se. By 2014, according to my calculations, Elisabeth Ruge's children will be 17 and 19, so not quite as demanding as a pair of toddlers. But if we look at Michael Krüger's work schedule as laid out in the article at hand - first meeting at 8.30 a.m. every day, off home at 8 p.m. every day, "with a pile of papers under his arm" - it's hardly a family-friendly model. Anyone with children - whether a man or a woman - would be crazy to take on a job with that kind of expectations attached to it. Even many of the editors I know work ridiculous hours for ridiculous wages, and I know of one foreign rights woman who said she wanted to work in publishing but also wanted children, so editing was out of the question.

Incidentally, I met Michael Krüger in Frankfurt. I was eating sushi using splintery wooden chopsticks while balancing the plastic container on my knees at the time and may not have made a particularly good impression. Certainly, he didn't offer me a job as his successor. But then who'd want it?

Update: So a lot of people think Krüger's statement definitely is sexist. And worth talking about sexism in publishing (where, yes, like so many other industries with not terribly high pay, women do most of the work and gain few of the prestigious positions). They're probably right but I'm giving the guy the benefit of the doubt in this particular instance because I really don't know whether he'd have said the same thing about a man or not. The thing is, I would say the same thing about a man, and I think that's where we ought to be heading. 


Donna said...

Interesting points, Katy. But I disagree with your "maybe." Of course Krüger's comments are sexist, there's no maybe about it. He would never have said such a thing of a male colleague. It's not worth discussing, I agree with you there, but it is worth it to call a spade a spade.

rasha said...

I do agree with Donna, of course it is a sexist comment, but I also agree with you on "what a surprise"; an man who feels free to pat his female employees on the backside (not mentioning any names) can't be expected to be respectful towards women ... I'd like to know what Iris Radisch had to say about it, having a bunch of kids herself ...
And I do think it is worth discussing, since Krüger obviously is an important persona in the publishing world, and this whole attitude just seems to reflect the level of machism (misogynism) which prominently rules the (german?) world of publishing. - Where the women (or more, girls) are the worker bees and the big boys play the big field ... welcome to 1951 ... ok, I'll shut up now ...