The idea that, as a woman, I might not be taken seriously in the writing world dawned on me very early on. I prepped to accept that the glass ceiling was going to be set above my head and that when I pressed against it, like Alice after eating cakes, I would bust through. But, that glass sometimes is made of bullet proof material. It doesn’t shatter easily.
The problem lies in society, our culture as a whole. How women are viewed in every day life is how they will be viewed in the work place (yes, writing books is a work place). They will be viewed with these limits in education and opportunities beyond the office. So while, we’re coming up the pipe, we’re already being hacked at–limited, hobbled and labeled.
The things we read are dictated to us right along with the things that we watch, wear and eat. How we’re supposed to act is constantly shown to us through media, and society ostracizes the woman who doesn’t conform. Imagine being transgender (so proud of you Caitlyn! Don’t let them tell you that you knocked women back) or being the ‘wrong’ color–things you can’t just snap your fingers and ‘fix’ for the approval of others.
Via this long road of conditioning, we form the opinions of how we’re going to conform, some having more wiggle room than others. By the time we come out the other side, having decided who we want to be, those choices are shaped by that wiggle room and other people’s opinions, like it or not–we are influenced by the group we want to belong to, spend the most time among and the groups who affect us. It’s inescapable. Some will be quite content and that is fine, while others will buck against that ceiling, demanding they stand at their full height, and they have every right to do that–every right to not accept things as they are.
Coming through that pipe, becoming an author was something for which I strived. And, all of the above happened in the middle of that, regardless of how I felt about it. Putting on my big girl pants, I decided not to listen to the naysayers and go right on ahead. It’s a tough road. At one point, while Blue Honor was being considered by a major publishing house, the topic of what genre it should be placed in rehashed the whole battle for me. Literature or Romance? With my eyes gleaming, I was hopeful of being labeled literature, after all, I spent long hours researching this book and forging a topic fraught with social issues. It was far more than a story about Emily landing her man. The idea that it would be limited by the Romance genre, sat wrong with me.
Don’t get me wrong. I read my share of romances in my teens. However, I grew past them. I grew past the limited future they posed: woman is only happiest when she’s landed by a man. People are just so much more complex than their romantic encounters. Indeed, those books can be a relaxing or steamy read that we can escape into. But, Blue Honor is not relaxing nor is it steamy. It meets social questions head on, challenging the status quo of the Civil War Era and thus questioning how little growth as a society we’ve had since (race and gender inequality). The small amount of sex that laces the book is hardly enough to quality it as steamy, and the topic likely prohibits relaxation. It’s a thinking book.
As I walked away from that encounter with the publishing house, I decided that my book required that it be taken seriously, and being labeled a romance wasn’t going to accomplish that. Romance novels, though taken seriously by their fans and authors, get little respect, because they’re marginalized women’s reading. That is hardly fair, considering the work authors put into them and the value readers put on them. Although I don’t find my book fitting this genre, it is a serious genre and the lack of respect given to it is housed in the ideas centered about women and women’s life.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, struggling to be published one said: “America is now wholly given over to a d[amne]d mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public is occupied with their trash.” His position on women writers has had a strangle hold on the industry since. Though women probably make up the majority of authors, it is men who make up the majority of successful authors. Men’s work is taken far more seriously because society views them as resources for honesty. Women are viewed as emotional basketcases who write trashy romance. Of course, there are several authors who come to mind that combat that view: Jane Austen, The Bronte’s, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Anne Rice and others. They are few compared to the cannon of men–and they’re not held to the same ranks…just lucky scribbling women, Hawthorne would bitterly say.
Perhaps the changing tide in which we’re in will finally break that glass ceiling. I make headway, but it has yet to crack. I will call my works literature, but to make sales and to make them likeable to the world, they will be labeled otherwise. Time will tell.
Take heart, women writers, there is room for you, if you are brave enough to climb to the top of the mountain and take your seat.