Warning: This article is about a controversial issue that women writers face. People may not want to read about it and that’s their decision, but I highly encourage everyone to continue. Even if you don’t personally relate to anything, you may gain a better understanding of other people’s struggles with this business. My language is probably not politically correct and I apologize for any offense I cause. I did my best but I’m only human.
Women writers, especially Women of Color (WoC) writers, are often given a hard time in the writing/publishing world. As a white woman writer, I have not experienced any negative bias based on my gender identity, let alone race. However, I’m just starting my writing career. Being a woman may, at one point or another, through obstacles my way in the future. I know for a fact that women writers still experience discrimination despite how far Western society has progressed. (I really cannot speak for anyone outside of Western society.) Perhaps the most notorious example is J.K. Rowling using initials so that boys would read Harry Potter.
Don’t believe me? Think it’s women whining about rejection or that it’s just “victim mentality”? Let’s look at two hashtags that have been making the rounds the past few days: #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear and #WhatWoCWritersHear.
According to Book Riot, #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear started with Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat. L.L. McKinney, a.k.a. @ElleOnWords, created #WhatWoCWritersHear. I followed the hashtags out of curiosity and what I’ve seen has made me furious that this still happens in 2017:
"Aren't you lucky, having such a supportive husband?" #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear
— Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) April 17, 2017
We'll use your initials rather than your first name so boys/men aren't put off reading your book. #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear
— Katy Picken (@KatyBadMum) April 19, 2017
"I'm so glad I didn't know you were a woman. I never would have picked up your book." #thingsonlywomenwritershear
— Victoria/V.E. Schwab (@veschwab) April 18, 2017
— Elizabeth Moon (@emoontx) April 17, 2017
Among other things, that last one acts as though single women, career women, lesbians, generally women who don’t rely on husbands aren’t writers (or don’t exist).
The things WoC writers have heard are no better. I can’t imagine what it’s like to hear what these women have:
"Why did you have to make it about race?"
I didn't. My character is…is just black.#WhatWoCWritersHear
— L.L. McKinney (@ElleOnWords) April 18, 2017
Imagine if someone said that to a white writer because their character was white.
#WhatWocWritersHear So your character is brown and Jewish and Yemeni and lives in India? It was too complicated. I couldn't follow. TRY
— Ayelet Tsabari (@AyeletTsabari) April 19, 2017
I don’t know why anyone would dare tell a WoC writer something like this:
Time someone said the only Mexican thing about my book was that someone ate a taco. It was set in Mexico, Mexican cast. #WhatWoCWritersHear
— Silvia Moreno-Garcia (@silviamg) April 18, 2017
"You are so lucky! Lots of agents and editors are looking for diverse books right now! You're lucky diversity is in!" #WhatWoCWritersHear
— Katherine Maria (@kmariawrites) April 18, 2017
Yes, they’re so lucky that they’ve been so severely underrepresented and oppressed that their stories are now (supposedly) in high demand.
Why am I talking about this if I haven’t encountered it? I can’t possibly understand if I don’t go through it.
That’s exactly why I’m writing about it. Just because it hasn’t happened to me does not mean it doesn’t happen. As a society we need to get that through our thick skulls. Some women may not have heard such remarks but it doesn’t mean they won’t in the future and it definitely does not mean other women haven’t.
As importantly, white women–white people overall–shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the experiences of WoC writers. White people can’t ignore them just because those aren’t their struggles. We can’t brush it off or call people ungrateful because “things are so much better in the Western world now”. White people are part of the problem–actually, white people, myself included, are the problem. Yes, many of us don’t actively participate in it. However, we allow this attitude to continue when we don’t speak up.
I’m not trying to bag on white people or men, and I apologize if it seems that way. I think that bias against anyone for their gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, culture, religion, etc. is unjustified and wrong. We need to acknowledge the bias and address it. Pretending the issue doesn’t exist won’t make it go away.
I also have to agree with one user’s Tweet about hearing about gender bias for men:
— Megan Tennant (@_Megan_Tennant) April 19, 2017
The only way we’re going to eradicate bias is to listen to both sides. I’m not saying that women’s grievances are any better just because men experience bias, too. Far from it. Rather than telling women “oh, we all have problems”, men should say “I understand the issue and I’ll do all that I can to help end it.” If we’re going to end this infestation, we have to work together, not tear ourselves apart.
I know I’m going to get grief for this. People get upset and lash out. It happens. Still, it’s my choice to talk about these Tweets and it’s your choice to ignore this post, if you like. I post plenty of articles that don’t have this sort of controversy, so you can stick with those. All I ask is that anything you say in response to this or any of my posts remains civil. I’m open to debate but only if we’re engaging in intelligent conversation, not pointless name-calling and bullying.
I’m not perfect. I don’t read as diversely as I should but I’m working on it. Please, if you have any recommendations for women and WoC writers, drop a line in the comments so I can check them out.
For the women and WoC writers reading this, do you have any stories like these to share? What do you think we can do to reduce the frequency of this issue? And to add some positive energy, do you have any stories of GOOD #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear (i.e. you inspired me, you helped me realize I wasn’t alone, you got me through a rough time, etc.)?
And keep an eye out for L.L. McKinney’s book, A Blade So Black, planned for release in Fall 2018.