This will be one of my few open posts, because I feel it's important enough to share beyond my friends list. Note that
Kameron Hurley (whose Bel Dame trilogy is amazing) wrote an essay for Locus Magazine
, which is also quite excellent. The essay is worth reading in its entirety, but in it, Hurley speaks about feeling like she had to make excuses for what she wrote.
A couple excerpts:
Yet I contributed to this very narrative about my work. Instead of talking about my books as serious (or at least fun) literature, I found myself falling into the same self-conscious trap I had as a kid, when I muttered about how I was writing a story about an expedition to Venus where the volcanos erupted with flowers. I said stuff like: ‘‘Oh, you probably won’t like it. It’s pretty weird,’’ or ‘‘It’s not for everyone,’’ or ‘‘You’ll only like it if you read a lot of science fiction.’’
Her reaction made me re-evaluate how I talked to people outside of SF/F about the books I love. In SF/F circles, we delight in complexity and sense-of-wonder. We spend millions upon millions of words debating about the slim difference between ‘‘science fiction’’ and ‘‘fantasy.’’ But folks outside of it really couldn’t care less. People outside of the SF/F bubble just want to know, quickly and simply, what it’s about.
While there is definite truth to what Hurley is talking about (and let me say that I am not
criticizing Hurley for not speaking about this; I am fairly certain it is something she is aware of herself, but there are many reasons she may have chosen not to address this), there is another factor that she hasn't addressed, and that is gender. Women are specifically taught from childhood not
to "show off". Instead of talking excitedly about things we are interested or things we are creating, we are expected to be demure, humble, and even self-deprecating. Heaven forfend we actually take pride
in our work.
It's difficult cultural training to overcome. Moreso if you also have social anxiety. Almost all writers are taught that it's just a hobby, that it's not real
work, but there is a pernicious sexism when it comes to women. I'm considering some of the panels that I have seen, where there were both men and women on the panel. The men were exuberant and raring to talk about their book; the women visibly struggled to describe their books. These are all published authors.
I do not see the issue as much in romance, where men are uncommon. I see women excited and ready to share their stories, and full of pride about them -- well, so long as they are in groups where romance writing isn't considered "trash". In SFF, even now, there are is still the old boys' club, and while people are working to dismantle that, it takes time, beacuse there are people (usually men, but not always) fighting every step of the way.
While I have talked about being raised as male (long story, but the TL;DR version is that I was homeschooled and dreadfully isolated, and my father wanted a son; after my mother had my sister, she said no more children -- therefore and ever after, my dad dubbed me the son he did not have), I did not actually start talking about my writing much until I started embracing my femininity and womanhood. It was something I noticed, and it is something that worked its way into my subconscious.
It ties in, too, with Imposter Syndrome, which affects women at a higher rate than men. The downside of encouraging self-deprecation is that women start to believe it.
When you believe that your work is shit and not worth anything, it's not surprising that women back down for fear of reprimand or scolding. There is a definite subset of people who seek to knock women who are confident about their abilities "down a peg."
In light of that, how can
we expect women not to make excuses for their work? It's ingrained. It's there in our very society, and it is certainly there in writers' communities and organizations. It's insidious, to the point many of us don't even know we're doing it.
The solution? Become aware. Know that it is affecting us. Fight it when and where we can (and if and only if it is safe to do so; as important as it is, ideology is not worth someone's physical or mental well-being). At the very least, be proud of ourselves
, even when we can't speak up. When we can, tell our stories
, and tell people what they're about. Sometimes that means memorizing your blurb until you can say it in your sleep (I can't be the only
one whose thoughts fly out of her head the moment she's put on the spot). Sometimes it means having the strength and will to just say it -- and it's hard to say, make no mistake.
But each time, it gets a little easier. (At least, it does for me.) If you're not able to, don't beat yourself up; there will be other chances. This is not an all or nothing game; this is a progression. For every two steps forward, there will be one step back. This is still progress.
Write what you love. Stand up for your work. Or don't, if it's not safe. But most of all: Be proud
, because you have
your work, and nobody can take that away from you.
I must also add: A great big thank you to Kameron Hurley for writing about this, because it's an important topic. I urge again, for anyone who is interested in a science fantasy Muslim based future setting with plenty of POC, a foul-mouthed and tough-as-nails queer assassin protagonist (who puts all the supposed "ass-kicking, tough-as-nails" women protagonists to shame), and an awesome team of characters that includes shape shifters and bug magic with a very devout but not so very good magician, and their many adventures -- CHECK THESE BOOKS OUT, THEY ROCK. (This series is probably my favorite from the entirety of 2013.)