the ugly snobs of publishing
So, earlier this afternoon I tweeted some observations drawn from my experience as a female author in publishing, working alongside both female and male authors in publishing. The things I said were the result of YEARS of things I have witnessed. I did not, and will not, go into specifics, as that…
Please read this, because Lauren is so, so, so right about this. And over and over again, I see people say how their feelings about particular authors (male and female) are individual. But what’s disturbing is that those individual feelings seem to — over and over again — align with the same disturbing trend.
Lauren writes up in clean and simple prose things I may have already written angry and terrible poetry about:
And Jennifer Lynn Barnes has done mathematics to prove.
In the 249 books in the Times ‘best of’ lists, 76 books were written by women… and 173 written by men. (I’m no mathematician but I’m adding 2 plus 2 and getting something gross and biased is going on here.)
Lauren is right that going into specifics detracts from the larger point—but as she already said it so well I have nothing to add and as people often go into specifics to attack those people making larger points, I’m now going to go into some specifics to prove Lauren’s larger point.
Lauren mentions her book getting compared to Twilight. Twilight comparisons: they happened to every lady there for a while.
They certainly happened to me. There’s a comparison of Twilight on the back of the UK edition of my first book—which had a boy protagonist and no real romance on account of said boy didn’t have human feelings. (But Stephenie Meyer and I both have boobs. So, CASE CLOSED!) Also like Lauren, I was asked why there wasn’t more kissing. (Had I not noticed that I was a lady?) And yet at the same time, when I *did* write girl protagonists and more romance, suddenly my writing was so much less deep. (Sexism—gets you every which way.)
For a lady, having comparisons made between your work and someone else’s means something different. Dudes are doing a homage or ‘taking their rightful place in literary canon’. Women are scolded for being ripoffs.
It got so bad for L.J. Smith there had to be public announcements made, even though it was physically impossible for her to have ripped off Twilight.
‘L.J. Smith has been writing books for Young Adults since the 1980s. She wrote The Vampire Diaries in 1991, which (for those who can do basic maths) works out to nearly 15 years before Stephenie Meyer’sTwilight Saga was written. So please, for the love of all that is holy, stop saying these books are copying Twilight. If they were, L.J. Smith would have had to have mastered the art of time travel, and would likely have made her fortune that way and be living a life of luxury on a tropical island.'
Sounds like she might have received more than a few emails on the subject…
(I’m just going to quote here from another monster post I made a while back.
'Dudes get to write perceived-as-derivative/actually-derivative fiction all the time and it’s a HOMAGE, but girls can’t do either. People decide girls’ stuff is derivative and lousy all the time, whereas boys’ stuff is part of a literary tradition and an important conversation. This is sexist and terrible.
Neil Gaiman referenced Asimov in Neverwhere:
And G.K. Chesterton in Coraline:
And William Gibson in Neverwhere:
Yet I do not see Neil Gaiman getting chased around and called names.
I am very tired of seeing women insulted for things every dude in the world is allowed to do. It is not literary critique. It is violent misogyny.’
Still true, buds!)
More specifics: I think this particular discussion on sexism started with a debate about John Green, and John Green as a person is someone I owe a debt of gratitude to. Last summer I was the target of a lot of ugly internet stuff, which culminated of course in the usual dead-end alleys of hatred: public and private nastiness. I’m not sure which upset me more: public posts discussing how I talk too much, and how I’m pathetic, and of course how ugly I am, or the emails discussing how I should die and be raped and have my books burned. The public stuff actually seemed worse, because it’s shocking to receive that treatment from people who pretend to believe in social justice, and to see others agreeing with them in an orgy of hatred… but the private messages designed only to shock and upset me like an ugly whisper in my ear, to target me where every woman is vulnerable, were bad too. I went on meds. Last summer was the worst, guys.
John Green (who I don’t know personally at all) spoke up supportively, and it really meant a lot to me. Most male authors wouldn’t have done it. I see over and over dude authors saying that generally they support female authors, and never supporting any specific women, but always the Dudes in their Dude Club of Literary Awesomeness. So, personally I am very grateful. I think it spared me quite a lot of misogynistic horror I was in no place to cope with.
On a non-personal level, I’m happy that John Green’s lady-led movie was a big success… not least because I want to see the next step of a lady-led lady-written movie being a big success. Let’s not dismiss Twilight or the Hunger Games, because people dismiss them too much, but let’s also have our fingers crossed for the movie of Gayle Foreman’s If I Stay, which can only be helped by the success of Fault In Our Stars. And let’s look toward the next next step—some more lady-led lady-written lady-directed movies. There still is, disgusting though it is, a prejudice in Hollywood and everywhere else against female-led films (how else do we explain the treatment of ‘teen girl’ films? Where, when there is every financial incentive and every indicator it would be a success, is our Black Widow movie?) and that cannot and should not be ignored.
John Green has become, to a sexist media, an example of ‘a dude who did it right while silly YA WIMMIN were doing it wrong’—and that’s frustrating for everyone (including Green) who is aware of all the many smart women in YA doing it right, and it means there’s pushback against him as a symbol. Also he’s popular enough now that he’s getting the hatred and pushback that people just get for being popular, and that hatred and pushback is hideous. It drove Stephenie Meyer clean off the internet. It fills me with horror and sympathy for him, as it does for her… but at the same time, I know and have seen many female authors get that kind of hatred and pushback, for having far less popularity than any man.
It is super tempting to blame an individual instead of an institution, because an individual is much easier to take down. So blaming John for sexism is easy—and blaming Lauren for jealousy is easy—but it isn’t productive.
This isn’t about any individual person. It isn’t about jealousy of anyone or hostility toward anyone or any one imperfect person’s flawed behaviour. It’s about the fact the world is not set up to let women succeed in the same way as men do, and that’s something we are all unconsciously participating in.
Here are some more specifics to prove that larger point.
How many dude writers are getting requests for topless pictures, like Maureen Johnson did?
How many dude writers are getting both treated badly because of sexism, and then treated DOUBLE badly (funny how that happens… it’s like people are trying to prove your point!) because they discussed sexism, as happened to both Eleanor Catton and Clare Wright?
ELEANOR CATTON: What is she doing, having an opinion? Why isn’t she grateful? Why doesn’t she just shut her mouth and feel something?
How many dude writers are accused of SLEEPING WITH SOMEONE FOR A ENDORSEMENT!!! as Robin McKinley was?
(Note: Robin McKinley is a genius and I would describe several of her books as practically perfect. She has not offered me any saucy favours to say this.)
(Note: George R.R. Martin has often described his early blurb from Robert Jordan as influential in his books’ success. Oddly, I have never ever seen anyone saying ‘Oh Georgy boy, you little minx, what did you do to get it?)
All the specifics, as Holly Black says, form a trend.
We need to look at what everyone is doing. We need to look at what *we* are doing. We need to look at the way the world works, and change it.