getting sick of female YA authors crying about every little bit of criticism they get. “oh boo hoo I’m a girl and I’m getting criticized so it must be sexist”
like hey yeah maybe you’re just bad at writing? maybe you need to break out of your circle jerk of well-to-do writer friends who just pat each other on the back and say, “no no it’s fine if people don’t like your writing it’s not because you’re a hack, it’s because they’re a meanie poo poo head”? maybe you need to get people who aren’t emotionally invested in you to read your shitty stories and give you actual feedback so you can improve as an author?
but what am I saying, I’m not a NY Times best-selling author
This was tagged ‘Sarah Rees Brennan’ and ‘whiny babies’, so I presume it refers to me and the recent post I made.
Now, I’m going to have to ask for my readers for a little help here. I promised myself that this once, I would react to this stuff, and show it to people so everybody knows about the things women writers usually keep quiet about. But I don’t want to set people on anybody. I don’t want anyone else called names, and I definitely don’t want anyone to become a target for defending me. So… please, please don’t message this person. Trust me. I can take care of myself, and I’m trying to do so. Thank you in advance, my crystal vases of clear water: I appreciate you.
So here we go. Original poster, I am sorry that female YA writers talking about sexism bores you, because I fear we are not going to stop.
More bad news: sometimes adult-fiction female authors discuss it as well!
There are a few misapprehensions in this post.
1) Misapprehension 1—I was talking about book criticism.
On amazon and goodreads and tumblr there’s plenty of criticism of every book in the world, including my books. That’s excellent. I would fight to the death for anyone’s right to leave a review on my book that said ‘Total poop.’ (I vow not to go looking for the inevitable goodreads review that says ‘Total poop’ after this post.) I’m not going to say I don’t care—but I respect anyone’s right to criticise the quality of my books. It’s subjective. It’s their opinion, and they get to express it.
My post was not about book criticism.
I was pointing out that women get judged for their hobbies in a way men don’t get judged for theirs.
I was pointing out that a man can do the exact same thing as a woman, and yet nobody criticises the guy for it.
Having your school visits cancelled because of malicious strangers, getting death threats, being publicly insulted at book signings, being threatened with—as another author who reblogged this was—acid in the face… none of that is book criticism.
2) Misapprehension 2. I am a NY Times best-selling author and very well-off…?
Okay, the NY Times bestseller thing is a technicality. Technically I am one. But it’s for stories I co-wrote, and it’s because those stories are about a super-popular character I did not create. I think it’s wonderful he’s so popular, I think it’s a testament to the fact readers will embrace diverse characters, I’m proud to be a part of the project, but I can’t take the credit. And it sure doesn’t make my books bestselling. I worry every day that I won’t ever get another book published. (Um… clearly if I didn’t, it would be good news to some.)
As for being ‘well-to-do’: well, yes again, in a way. I can live and pay rent on the money I make, and have luxuries like travel and lots of books, and without being subsidised by another job, or a parent or a spouse. (My parents would fire me out of a cannon if I asked, and nobody has as yet been convinced to take me on in holy matrimony, so it’d have to be another job.) Someone on twitter did the maths and described my yearly income as pretty average and that’s about right (for a privileged person in a privileged position, which I am). I’m super lucky to be able to support myself, for the moment, on my earnings as a writer. But I don’t have that many expenses—I don’t own a house, I don’t have kids—that’s how I make my life work. I certainly can’t afford an assistant to weed out all the hatemail I get, or to go through my tumblr tag for me so I don’t have to see hate there. I want to be clear that I’m very lucky, but also make clear that I don’t know why anyone would decide I was wealthy enough for it to be commented on.
I’m also… not sure why I decided to announce to people who don’t like me that I’m not rich and popular.
I’d be delighted to be rich and popular! I don’t mind if people who dislike me spend their time going ‘That SRB… her life is so great’ even though I’m actually spending my time catching up on My Mad Fat Diary and I haven’t brushed my hair since yesterday.
What I’m thinking is that I want to make the same point as in my first post. The point is twofold.
a) The assumptions people make (often about women) often aren’t true.
b) Said assumptions are often hurled as accusations against women, and that’s unfair whether they’re true or not.
Jennifer Lynn Barnes, in her amazing follow-up post to mine, discussed parasocial relationships and the way people come to believe they know other people whom they do not know.
So I share all this personal information to show… well, clearly this person doesn’t know me. None of us know the people we only know from the internet.
But to the second point—if I was well-off or bestselling, would it be okay to call me names? I think I was called ‘well-to-do’ and ‘bestselling’ to highlight this person’s belief I don’t deserve success.
Women in many fields are told that they are not deserving of success, money or recognition. It’s kind of a thing.
And we tell ourselves we suck, too.
(Er. Oh dear. Talking about sexism again! Funny that.)
3) Misapprehension 3… I don’t have anyone to critique my work who is not emotionally invested in me.
… But of course I do?
They’re called my editor and my copyeditor. That’s their job.
Extra critique is an optional extra, something I ask for from some people whose professional expertise I trust, as an add-on to the publisher’s feedback I already get, because I really want my books to be as good as they can possibly be. Some of these critique partners are very well-off, some of them a lot worse-off than me. Some of them are emotionally invested in me (that’s how things work with your friends) some of them couldn’t care less about me but do it because I will critique for them in return, or because I pay them. I wouldn’t keep them as my critique partners unless they critiqued me thoroughly.
All my critique partners do critique me extremely thoroughly, and none of them have ever told me that other critiques were mean. ‘Go meaner’ they murmur to themselves as I writhe on the floor, then pick myself back up again and write. ‘MEANER.’
If there is a strong objection to writers being friends, please go back in time and make a complaint to Shelley, Byron, and Keats, the original mean girls clique. Also to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.A.W. Bennett—a bunch of people who loved initials. Thank goodness nobody ever liked something they wrote.
(Some bunch of losers.)
Wait no, they’re men, and people don’t critique men for being friends or colleagues, even though dudes being colleagues means way more benefits for dudes than for ladies:
(There I go talking about sexism again! Sorry, sorry, it’s a sickness. It’s not like it comes up all the time.)
4) Misapprehension 4… I don’t care for being called ‘whiny’ as it’s a pretty gendered term.
(I don’t know what it is with this compulsion of mine to say that things are sexist… when I think they’re sexist. It’s so weird.)
As for being called a ‘hack’… that was actually a perfectly fine thing to say. This person doesn’t know me. I can tell them that I love my work, and that I work very hard, and that I try to produce stories that feel original and exciting to me, but they don’t have to believe me.
If the ‘shitty stories’ (thanks for reading my work, original poster, and I’m sorry it wasn’t your cup of tea) I write struck them as ‘hastily written (they weren’t), routine or commercial (I wish!)’—I looked up hack, it’s in the definition—that’s fair. It’s a judgement of my writing and that’s fine.
It is, however, a judgement more often made about women than men.
We’ve all heard that women can’t write. People come to books thinking ‘oh lord, a girl’ or ‘I can’t stand her’ and it’s very hard to read a book you’re prejudiced against fairly: it’s very easy to decide women are lousy writers.
If you’ve called men hacks too, just as often, then fine. If you’ve given the matter serious thought and gone: yes, even if this person was someone I really liked I’d think the writing sucked, fine. Call me a hack. You have my permission, and you didn’t need my permission in the first place.
Here’s a thought to close with, about insults that aren’t about writing. You can call me a hack if you like, but there are other words (which the original poster didn’t use) which I do find unacceptable.
I get called a bitch a lot. It’s not a word I like.
If someone honestly spends their time going ‘God, when will these stupid whiny bitches stop talking about feminism? Sexism exists, but this bitch isn’t suffering from it! What a bitch, why doesn’t she shut her stupid bitch mouth!’ and they don’t see a contradiction there, okay. I don’t get it, but it happens a lot. It’s happened to me a lot.
But here’s a suggestion: a good way to make me stop talking about being called a bitch would be to stop calling me a bitch. And I’d enjoy being called a bitch less often. Everybody wins!
Guess what? I’m sick of talking about this too. It would be better for me if I just shut up. It’s scary for a writer who’s (as extensively discussed) not that popular, and terrified about her career. It’s scary for a woman who is concerned about her physical safety. I don’t want people calling me a bitch or a whiny baby (and as you can see, they do). I don’t want people making fun of a picture of me up on Oh No They Didn’t. I don’t want people picking apart my books because they’ve decided they dislike me. I don’t want people telling me that I’m imagining negativity when negativity comes at me every day.
I’d like a world which doesn’t punish women for talking about their own damn lives, though. I want the world to be different. I think it’s important to talk about this.
So I will.