Well apparently, they’re both requirements to become a really successful writer.
I’m talking about the kind of rock star writer that gets to bask in the sweaty, melanoma-inducing spotlight of fame, and shake hands with fans, and go crowd surfing across the internet on the backs of his own bloops and blurbs.
His own, I say, having I have just spent an hour and a half looking for the blogs of some successful women writers and coming up almost completely empty handed.
Not one witty blog. Not one hyperactive twitter account. All my favorite badass story-slinging ladies are slinging no words on the internet. They’re non-presences. They’re ghosts drifting around behind the fogged up windows of brief biographies and events’ calendars on their websites.
After twenty minutes of Googling, I stopped looking for the blogs of writer-ladies I liked, and started looking for the blogs of writer-ladies I just knew. Then, writer-ladies I’d read maybe one short story by that I sort of enjoyed. In the end, I even looked up Stephanie Meyer and Sherrilyn Kenyon, who used to be the kind of writer-ladies I lived to bitch about, because they wrote the kinds stories that academics revile and the media expects women to read. The mush and the gush stories with sketchtastic borderline-emotionally-abusive-yet-weirdly-accepted-and-romanticized male love interests. (I’m looking at you Heathcliff and Edward.)
After the long, caffeinated search across the vast, .com wastelands for evidence of the female voice on fiction, I’m wondering what plague of Dutch-Elm disease came along and wiped out all the women’s blogs? The male fiction writer is still blogging strong. He’s got entire forests of blogwood all to himself.
It occurs to me that I have attempted to read the books of ten times as many male writers who are guilty of exactly the same sins of fiction as Stephanie Meyer (and worse,) but I’ve never heard someone burst into a twenty-minute rant about them. People say, “Oh, I didn’t finish his book.” Or, “It wasn’t my kind of story.” Or, surely the most painful of all insults to the writer’s-ego, “It was boring.”
That’s the shape of the cat-shitapult projectile that gets lobbed at a male writer. “You’re boring. And personally, I didn’t like your story.”
Stephanie Meyer gets called a “dumb bitch.” A traitor to the female sex. A “a self-obsessed, narrsisistic, hypocritical and infantile woman.” (Thank you cracked.com.) She sits at the very tippy top of many a fiction-snob’s hit list, and will for the next decade or so at least, and all she did was write a mediocre story.
My shock at learning that Stephanie Meyer didn’t have a blog seems suddenly pitifully naïve. And she is only one, magnified example of the same verbal attacks and criticisms that all women writers receive. Every writer is guaranteed some amount of negative feedback. Even authors with the kind of social currency that, for example, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett have, are going to find themselves on the pointy end of somebody’s opinion.
But women in the business get it faster, get it harder, and get it meaner. This isn’t news: I’m a saber-toothed, foaming-at-the-mouth feminist for a reason. But now that I’ve got a sense of the magnitude, I’m discouraged. I’m disgruntled. I’m more disinclined than ever to behave and keep my mouth shut and my bad language to myself.
Nearly every blog of a male writer I follow talks at some point about the necessity of having a presence on social media for success. “Self promotion sucks,” they say “but it’s necessary. And if you do it right, it can be fun!”
The women don’t say anything.
I don’t think it’s because they have nothing to say.
I think it’s because women aren’t encouraged to have real confidence in their voices, where men are taught that voicing their opinions is an inherent “human” right. I think it’s because women become storytellers so that they can tell stories, and instead are expected to defend and categorically prove every single assertion they make in public, while simultaneously producing work that is absolutely perfect in every way and if they don’t, well, that’s not surprising, because, you know, they’re women.
I think it’s because they told a story, a fictional story, and what must feel like half of the literate world jumped down their throats with spears, over every misplaced comma and recycled archetype.
As a proto-writer (a writer who has not yet become published, but who fully intends to do so) I have always had this really, really huge decision to make. One which I am painfully aware is not the kind of decision my boyfriend has to decide on before he can get published.
It isn’t: Do I publish under my name or under a pseudonym? Although it should be, since that’s the kind of decision every writer has to make. Instead it’s: Do I publish under a man’s name, or a woman’s?
Because even now in 2014, I know that I am grossly more likely to have my writing accepted by a publisher and recognized by readers if the market thinks that I am a man. I am vastly less likely to be burned in conversational effigy for writing a carbon-copy of Harry Potter called Larry Flotter. I am entirely more likely to have my opinions listened to and respected.
But I don’t I have any interest in becoming another women writer’s specter on the internet. I have less interest in cosplaying as a keyboard with a penis just to get published. I have no interest at all in being perceived as a reclusive, never-makes-public-appearances male WASP, whose background is a mystery but whose diction is always perfect.
Maybe as a wasp…
(Vespula germanica Richard Bartz CC BY-SA 2.5)
Buzz, buzz, publishers.