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.

2 thoughts on “Sexism in writing & publishing: a romance perspective

  1. I was a member of SFWA back in the 1980’s for my short story publications. Because I’ve worked primarily in male dominated world (software or IT) most of my life, I guess I was so used to the slurs that I didn’t even hear them anymore. I left SFWA in the early 90’s primarily because I didn’t see a mentoring environment, and it seemed to me that the organization had devolved to flame wars and egotistical outbursts. In addition, my non-writing career had stolen all my writing time and I saw no reason to be part of the organization.

    I am happy to see the uproar, especially if it creates change. Those who are just 20 years younger than me don’t realize how fortunate they are to grow up in a world where there are laws about sexual harassment. It wasn’t until 1980 that the EEOC issued regulations defining sexual harassment and stating it was a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And it wasn’t until six years later that a case made it to the Supreme Court and someone was actually held liable for sexual harassment.

    I came of age in a world where sexual harassment was the norm. My first corporate job, at age 28 (after 5 years at an academic institution doing professional counseling with families and children) I joined a government contractor in the DC area which did software development for the military. I’ll never forget how my boss came onto me in his office one day, trapping me on the sofa, trying to undress me and have his way despite my protests. Fortunately, his secretary, interrupted. I later learned she knew his proclivities and had stopped him many times with other young women. She had a 5 minute rule to always interrupt whenever she saw his door close with a young woman in the room. Yet, the secretary had no ability to report this, and I had no means of reporting it or any expectation of things changing–except for my own behavior to never allow a closed-door meeting with my boss.

    I am not excusing the behavior of those at SFWA who continue to be part of the same type of “boys network” that was so acceptable when I was a young woman. There are many men at SFWA who are NOT like this, and I believe those men to be in the majority now. Of course, there are also many more women writing in SF and Fantasy then ever before. I trust the men and women together can change the organization from within.

    I hope people will take the time to read one other link on this issue, this one from Laura Resnick. I admire Laura very much and I think she realistically discusses her personal experience, and puts the onus of sexism not only as a part of SFWA, but also a continuing problem with some publishers and others in the book industry. It is an important and non-dramatic post without any flame throwing, but with reasoned observations. In the end education and speaking out is all that works.

    • Thanks for posting Laura’s link. And thanks for sharing your experiences, Maggie. My XY just finished reading a book on cultural shifts and it said only one of the original suffragettes survived to see women get the vote. I think we forget how long some changes take. We don’t WANT good change to take so long! And I think it’s equally easy to forget that it wasn’t so long ago we were in a worse place. We shouldn’t forget, and we shouldn’t let the possibility of not seeing real, positive change stop us from agitating for that change. Always forward. Always.


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