Sexism in writing & publishing: a romance perspective

[Note: This is just MY perspective, of course, my eyes being the only ones I actually have the rights to. I don't represent all women or all women writers or all romance-writing women. But I do like to pretend I have other eyes sometimes.]

I’m fortunate I haven’t had to deal with much sexism in my life. I’ve experienced the occasional flasher, butt-grabber, catcaller, personal-space invader, and uncomfortably pushy date. But I’ve never dealt with something so bad or so pervasive that I felt the need to blame, fear or confront “men” as opposed to “that man.”

Which in some ways makes me feel even worse when I see what other women — women who are in many ways like me: writers, lovers of fantasy, players in imaginary worlds — are facing.

If you’ve missed the outrages lately — beyond, ya know, the usual background simmer of “fake” gamer girls, the war on women, rape culture, etc. — these posts will bring you up to speed: Jess Haine’s and Jim C. Hines‘ recaps; Ann Aguirre‘s run-ins with unconscionable misogyny; and — particularly relevant if you are a member of Science Fiction Writers of America or could be — Amal El-Mohtar’s call for specific action.

[Note #2: The outrages go beyond sexism to racism and other -isms, but for certain fish-belly reasons, the anti-female sentiment is more within my scope. Read N.K. Jemisin's transcript for a better understanding of the racism aspect.]

I’ve always had strong and supportive writing communities around me. My teachers – male and female – in grade school and high school were unfailingly positive about my writing. My college newspaper where I worked had a good mix of genders, and the editor was a woman. In my first newspaper job out of college, I was assigned to the “living” section — a beat often assigned to a female — but I was also made assistant editor of the AP wire stories. (Remember stories “coming over the wire”? Yeah, that was a long time ago.) On my second newspaper job, I was the only woman beside the secretary… and never gave it a second thought, nor did my male colleagues.

Joining Romance Writers of America has been equally positive. Yes, RWA is mostly women, so I suppose sexism is bound to be less of an issue, but I’ve always found the men in the group to be shining examples of writerly humanity: funny, smart, open, curious, civil, inclusive.

I almost can’t (don’t want to) believe some of what I read in the experiences of fellow writers — women writers, writers like me — in other genres from their own peers.

Yet I know it’s true. And it hurts me in the same place from where I draw my stories, from this bone-deep conviction that people — all people, surely — want to connect, to grow, to love. I don’t just WRITE about heroes and heroines learning from each other’s strengths and weaknesses and becoming synergistically more than what they were alone, I BELIEVE that is what will make our world a better place.

Some of what’s out there is “just” depressing or disturbing, but to find real-life bad guys who choose to isolate, hate and destroy… I know the warrior women in the links above are more than a match for the villains facing them, and I’ve seen there are good guys (emphasis on the guy part here) ready to speak against the misogyny as well. I hope young writers like I used to be won’t see this uproar and think the writing world is all dystopian chaos and lit fic-style angst. Maybe it’s my romance-issue rose-colored glasses, but I have hope this ugliness is part of a turning point (a writing term for an event of high drama which sends the action in a new direction) that will eventually lead us to our happy ending, unified and all the stronger for that togetherness.

No doubt it will take us many more words to get there, but that’s as good a reason as any to keep writing.