I am going to say “bitch” a lot. I do not like or use the word much, but I’m going to be talking a lot about reaction to female creators, and this is the only way I know how to discuss the experience of getting that word over and over again, until it is expected, until the chorus becomes a dull roar. It’s a word that shows up every day in my inbox and in the inbox of too many female creators. There were “this-bitch’ and ‘this-bitch-again” tags on Goodreads. These tags (and other things, such as one of my friends having “Why Are YA Authors Fat” posted as a “review” that topped her review list for her newest book for months) made it impossible for me to be altogether sorry when some Goodreads reviews were scrubbed. I don’t want reviews censored–but I also do not want to read reviews that are misogynistic and personal. I have had it explained to me countless times that it’s okay for malicious strangers to call me a bitch.
I understood that this response to female creators talking was born of misogyny, but recently I read this article, and felt like my eyes were opened. What people are responding to so badly is professional women trying to do something that is an element of their jobs.
One promotes oneself and one’s work in order to succeed. And yet women are discouraged from promoting. Almost like there’s…some sort of system in place to discourage women from succeeding.
Here is something true: many people act like women have no right to a space in the world.
In book publishing, guys have more chances of self-promotion than women: they’re the ones who get more professional reviews, and they’re the ones who get the opportunity to write more professional reviews. They are the ones who get the most promotional money. They get invited to do more events, and headline at more festivals and conventions, and have more paid speaking gigs. I do not get to do appearances often myself. I would love to do more, I admit to being jealous of those who are more successful and get to do more than I do, but I know the situation is complicated. The women who do go on tour are doing so with joy and the knowledge they’re lucky: but also with the sinking feeling someone will take a photo which will be laughed at on the internet for years, or will find a quote which will be held up to prove they’re awful. You get sick on tour, often, as you’re not allowed enough sleep and sometimes not enough food, and a woman needs to put in far more time into her appearance (even less sleep!) And that is all part of being a public persona–but it is difficult to know that guys aren’t experiencing the same fear: that they can roll out of bed five minutes before an event and not have people go “So sloppy!” and that he can make jokes without people criticising him for being vulgar, or talk seriously without people accusing him of thinking too much of himself. You have to fight for publicity, and you know that means hate. Every woman I know doing a job that requires self-promotion is so tired. A lot of them make themselves life-threateningly sick from not sleeping or pushing themselves when they’re already sick. And when they get attention, what kind of attention is it?
SF writer Ann Aguirre talked about how she was treated by readers and male writers (who were in the majority) at conventions here, and edited it to add the hate mail she received for that post. My lovely and brilliant YA writer friend Jennifer Lynn Barnes wrote up some hard facts on male privilege and how it plays out in publishing here, and in 2010, VIDA introduced The Count, which presented the numbers on how far fewer women get reviewed in major literary outlets than men. Roxane Gay widened the discourse by doing The Count for authors of color, demonstrating that women of color are also reviewed less frequently then men of color.
So, women are often left in a situation where if they want to succeed, they have to promote themselves, via being a person on the internet. And then, people say: “Lady, when you promote yourself, it is bad.”