It’s been a while. I’ve been slowly working my way through a sort of 2013 sum-up post about writing for two weeks, but last night something else came along and grabbed my attention.
Why do women get their own spaces in publishing?
Really, the question I want answered is why is this still a question that people are asking? But, seeing as they are, I’d like to talk about it.
I stumbled onto a writing forum where a few writers, male and female, were discussing women-only publishing. The actual publisher in question wasn’t, but it publishes only ‘women’s fiction’, so the topic came up in discussion. The writers on the forum generally seemed not to understand the reason for what they termed these ‘exclusive’ spaces.
Unable to help myself, I waded in to defend minority public spaces, particularly publishing ones, and ended up having some interesting discussions with the other writers. Unsurprisingly, I met some minor resistance/aggression from male writers, which then became much stronger, and sadly is something I have encountered before when discussion women-only writing spaces. I tried to make my explanation as non-confrontational as possible, and I’ll sum it up here:
Some people have less opportunities in life than others. This extends to the sphere of writing and publishing. Irrefutably, men have historically had more opportunity in this sphere than women. Some people address this by providing women-only (or Black-only, South-Asian-only, women-who’ve-suffered-male-violence-only) spaces. This is okay. If you don’t meet the criteria, you will inevitably meet someone else’s. If you think giving this particular minority more opportunities is good, promote them. If you just want to find your own opportunity, go and do so. The end.
Why the aggression?
Seriously, why? Some men I know are really understanding and embracing of women-only spaces, but others are less so. At the shallow end, they complain and fuss that they can’t submit. At the deep end, they call the premise ‘flimsy’, the spaces ‘exclusive’ and ‘pointless’ and question the need for them entirely. These are all things that were said on the forum, by both men and women.
It baffles me why people seem so resistant, even aggressive, towards these groups. They are causing no offence, and I believe that they are inclusive, rather than exclusive. By offering an opportunity to those who might not otherwise get one, they are including more people within the sphere.
We all can feel a bit miffed when we perceive that we are being left out or excluded from something, but it’s important to take a step back and look at who is being included, and why. I am very much in favour of a project that promotes opportunities for the homeless, less so for a project that welcomes only rich, white men. That doesn’t mean I’m going to say ‘oh my gosh, nobody should ever give opportunities to rich white men!’, but it is still the case that they have historically had more opportunities, and continue to do so.
I find there’s always (at least) one man who will call out reverse sexism, or claim that we’re strangling free speech – in this case I was accused of that by suggesting that it’s not cool to say minority-only groups shouldn’t exist; just try and wrap your head around that one! – and at this point I just back out of the discussion. Some fights you just can’t win.
But I’m a rich white man and I didn’t have that opportunity!
One man said to me on the forums that he could lie, make up a pen name and submit as a woman. His argument was that, because anyone could do that, the whole thing means nothing. I pointed out that of course he could, anyone could do that, but I believe the likelihood is slim. Someone who would lie and cheat just to impinge on a space set aside for a (generally) disadvantaged minority is selfish and vindictive. Having a women-only does mean something. It means potentially providing an opportunity for someone who might not get one otherwise. Whether others choose to exploit it is their decision, and the facilitators of these spaces know that, but choose to try and give that opportunity anyway.
How dare you attack men in this way!?
I know, I know. I’m a vicious, awful woman who should be ashamed for daring to suggest men don’t deserve their own space. Well, I’m not. I’m suggesting they already have it, and therefore others deserve their own space too. I’m also being incredibly even-tempered about the whole thing. Other bloggers are much less forgiving than me and would have posted this as a screaming rant. I’d very much enjoy reading that, and I’d probably enjoy writing it even more, but it’s not the way I want to have this discussion.
What do you think? I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on women-only publishing (and other exclusive groups). But if you’re only here to tell me I’m wrong, and that women-only spaces are unfair to men, then I’d just ask that you take those opinions and opine them elsewhere, please. ‘Reverse sexism’ is not a thing I enjoy talking about it, and I’ll just ignore you.