Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Writer Privilege

So I deleted a post on Facebook about a bookstore--Loganberry Books in Cleveland, Ohio--that wanted to show how sexism affects publishing by turning all the books written by men, spine inward in their fiction section. Store owner Harriett Logan — with the help of her employees and a few volunteers — deliberately flipped around all the fiction books written by men, hiding their colorful spines from view.
"I wanted to do something provocative and interesting for Women's History Month that also displayed the disparity of women working in a certain field," Logan explains. And that field, naturally, was book publishing.
"Although it might seem like there are just as many women as men writing books and working in publishing overall, power structures and implicit bias still influence which books get published and reviewed and, as a result, reach commercial success."
Some men commented on my post, taking exception to the "silencing of men" --something it said on the sign in the bookstore in the accompanying photo above. And I was snarky and patronizing about it in my replies to them. On purpose. Because it simply wasn't understood about the point being made, and that when WOMEN point it out, we are criticized.
They doubled down.
They still didn't get the point of the exercise. When women step forward to make that point, there is huge pushback from men, who start to say things like "reverse discrimination!" It's a bit like understanding white privilege. Poor white men who are out of work don't think they have privilege. They don't get that they still do, even if they don't have the fancy job and fancy car. That they can walk anywhere, anytime, and not be looked on suspiciously or have the cops called on them. There's a blindness when it comes to slaying sacred cows, white privilege, male privilege. The simple fact is, there is inequality in publishing. Men have the advantage. It is no secret why J.K. Rowling went with initials for her name. She didn't want readers to know she was a woman so that boys would read her books (and that's a whole other blog post right there, folks). She went a step further when she decided to write her Cormoran Strike mystery series and wanted to be just another writer out there...and chose a male name.
There are reviewers who simply will not review female writers, insisting that their work is inferior. There are lower advances for women, less publicity, less everything, and, apparently, less shelf space. And it's a huge economic problem. When we aren't reviewed, the eyes of readers--paying customers--don't see our work. Sisters in Crime, the mystery writer and reader organization, was founded on the inequality of reviews and became much more than what it started out to be. Their mission statement is to Promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers.
So men, this month-long "protest/demonstration" takes nothing away from you. In fact, you should be standing behind it. When one of us fails, we all fail. Don't get affronted, get educated.


  1. As women, we've always had to work harder & smarter to be "accepted as equals" by our male counterparts, staring in childhood. Those men who feel threatened by having half the world's population wanting to be read, heard, etc. are oblivious to the realities, as yo9u're described so well, Jeri.

  2. Thanks, Mindy. It's a crime that in the 21st century, we still must explain it.

  3. Education is painful for those who need it most.

  4. Thank you for this, Jeri I'm sorry FB has gotten so toxic, but thank you and Loganberry Books for pointing this out.

  5. I've been around for a while, and there has been little progress on this issue, which is so clear to those of us who write. Women writers are ghettoized, as are the genres many women read. I directed a fiction writing program at a big university and the faculty prejudice against all genre fiction, but romance and mystery in particular, was frustrating. Female writers--forget it. Even the students suffered from these delusions and those students who did read female authors didn't often speak up. Thanks for the thought provoking blog.

    1. Yes, Carolyn, I remember about ten years back when I took a writing seminar at my local university--one of the first in the country to offer a Masters in creative writing. And they certainly looked down their nose at genre. I was a little shocked and a lot insulted, frankly.