The Challenges of Being a Woman Writer: Feminism Part 2

The Challenges of Being a Woman Writer: Feminism Part 2

Note: You can read the first part of the series here. 

The woman writer was, for most of human history, a novelty. For every Sappho, Enheduanna, or George Sands, there were scores of men writing and defining our history and our culture. It’s not difficult to see why women did not have the same opportunities to become writers: For much of civilization, women were treated as either pretty chattel, nursemaids, wives who were enslaved to their husbands, or were expected to give up their person hood to bear children. In essence, sub-human. Unless they were prostitutes or rural workers, women were not expected to work in business. They were often confined to the home, having nothing but their children and husband and the occasional family member or social visit to define their worlds. Women who managed to be writers often had to be affluent enough to have the time and education to be given the space to write. Only a few woman, in comparison to their male counterparts, managed to achieve this with the restrictions they had on their person throughout our human history.

Women today have many more opportunities than they have had in the past. There are female powerhouse writers like J.K Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Joyce Carol Oates, and Margaret Atwood. However, many bestselling lists are still dominated by men and some women report getting more responses from publishers using a male pseudonym. I asked some of my friends on Facebook, both male and female, what they thought the challenges were that women writers faced today. A pattern began to emerge in the answers: Women writers face challenges that men do not, although their effects are often subtle, personal, and difficult to prove. Like any other occupation a woman chooses – she cannot discard her inherent “femaleness.” It is a part of her identity, in which her work is filtered through. Some women said they faced no discrimination, while men on my Facebook decried their involvement in any misogyny. (Which, was not the question I asked, by the way.) Sexism, misogyny, and other ways that people are subtly dehumanized are not always easy to track, and oftentimes for a woman trying to break into the scene, they feel the pressure to downplay sexism from men, lest they be seen as a troublemaker, or someone who isn’t “serious about their work.”

Although women in developed countries are no longer treated like chattel, the effects of thousands of years of history do not simply disappear. It was only 97 years ago when women were legally given the right to vote in the United States, and sexual discrimination was not legally prohibited in the workplace until 1967, less than 50 years ago. And the woman writer is in many ways still seen as a novelty. Every time I go to a convention, I am mostly surrounded by men. Whenever I get a friend request on Facebook or a follow on twitter from a writer, it’s usually a male. And although a lot of times women will get more attention at conventions, this is often not because of their talents, but because of their femaleness.

So what did people have to say about the challenges women in writing face?

People don’t think I can write scary/angry/masculine/swear words/blood/guts/horror/war/bad things happening to babies or women/et cetera. When I wanted to write a big bad Marcus Fenix-esque male character in SWTOR, my lead actually said, “Hmm… I was actually thinking you could write this other female character? Because her whole thing is that she’s sweet and charming and feminine, like you.” – Jessica Sliwinski

The unwanted attention from men who don’t really give a damn about the writing at all. And then, watching as women are routinely left off favorite books/writers lists until February (Women in Horror month), when all of a sudden everyone is sharing long lists of women writers. Once the month is over, cue the invisibility again. I think what saddens me the most is seeing all the press and attention given to male writers (even if they’re mediocre) while brilliant women writers are mentioned as afterthoughts, if at all. – Damien Angelika Walters

My guess is you’re often dismissed, praise is often given in condescending or patronizing tones, and criticism is both disproportionately intense and trends toward personal attacks. – Ian Adams

I actually feel that being a female author has helped me in my career. People are more apt to trust women, so in person event sales are great, and most magazines and publishers are always looking for women authors to even things out. – Jessica Baumgartner

I think women have an easier time getting noticed, but a harder time being taken seriously.. – Donald Mohr

I was stunned, initially, by the degree to which women writers are bombarded with open misogyny. Sexist attacks, unsolicited dick pics, and “fans” who really don’t care about the writing at all. It’s just so alien to my experience as a man. Then there is a second layer of more subtle sexism in the field in terms of the small, every day decisions about who gets invited to an anthology, what stories get picked, who gets put on a panel, and so forth. – Kenneth Vaughn

Probably the biggest obstacle would be the fact that a lot of readers and writers alike are under the false impression that we as a society somehow grew to the point where women no longer have any forces working against them and in fact because of the occasional woman only submission call actually have advantages in the industry.  – Garrett Cook

At writer’s group:

“I really think you need to describe the character’s breasts more.”

Me: “She is actively dying from a gunshot wound to the chest. I’m not writing snuff.” – Emily Godhand

In my horror, my male characters who do questionable things are described as “daring,” but when my female characters do questionable things they are “unrealistic” or occasionally “damaged.” – Molly Moss

I think Virginia Woolfe said it well, that a woman needs “a room of her own” in order to be a creative artist. While I think that is true of both male and female artists, I think it’s less likely for women to have that “room,” which is not only a place but, metaphoriclly speaking, the time, space, and means to produce artistic works. Women with kids and a job have it especially tough, because there is no real down time, and when there is, they are too exhausted to create. – James Anderson

Any article, review, etc of a work or body of work always feels the need at some point to remind me that this is a woman writing this (same with any non-white writer’s ethnicity too).

I’ve yet to read a reference to an author’s works that feel the need to point out to me that he’s a white male.

Even if unintentional, that leaves a unverbalized, between the lines “this is great…. for a girl.”

Erik Wilson

In addition to openly misogynistic and disrespectful gatekeepers in my industry? I have to deal with sexual and sexualized harassment from fans and colleagues, two schizophrenic stalkers in the last decade (one currently ongoing), very few job offers and opportunities which are appropriate to my level of skill and experience, a generally hostile climate for women as creators, leads and consumers, plus all the difficulties associated with being a woman with any professional ambitions–balancing my family and personal life with my working life, being paid less and valued less for the same or greater work, imposter syndrome and difficulty being promoted and taken seriously.. – Arinn Dembo

In my small spectrum of experience as a man, I still see a tremendous amount of sexism at many levels. It’s apparent even if it’s even subtle. I’m still seeing a lot of woman being simultaneously objectified and vilified.

Over the past decade, I’ve certainly seen things improve on many surface levels, however, there still lurk baked in attitudes and conditionings. – John Palisino

In my experience it depends on genre. Women have more trouble being taken seriously in SF (so often use initials or pseudonyms) and men have more trouble being taken seriously if they dare to write romance. – Mike Cooley

I don’t mingle with people so part of these problems are lost on me and my misanthrope cave, but speaking as a reviewer, I get queried like 8 times a day and 99,99999% by white men. Your book Ecstatic Inferno was referred to me by John Skipp, who’s a white man. I talked to several female authors and publishers about this and the problem is deeply rooted in the fact that female writing is not valued and not just valued by publishing, but kind of dismissed by everybody in general. It’s a problem that is sprawling over arts and entertainment in general, but that more female book executives and publishers would solve. I would be all for that. There’s a lot of women int he industry, but I somehow doubt that there’s a lot of women calling shots. – Benoit Lelievere

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