Last week, VIDA, the women in literary arts folks, released their yearly round-up of just how few women appear as writers in national outlets. By "writers" I mean both as the people writing articles and as writers worthy of being written about. As you can see, as it is every year, it's pretty abysmal.
Our own Steve Haruch took a look at the Scene's numbers and they are also pretty depressing.
Every year this comes up in some fashion or another. And every year we have to endure some huge discussion about how maybe women just don't want to write. Or maybe we just suck worse than men. Or, you know, whatever people can say to make it seem like there really isn't a problem. Evidently there's just a giant mystery of the universe we should all learn to accept — the gender that is stereotypically gifted with language skills until the age of 18 has no use for them after that.
I think the problem is three-fold. There are indeed just huge assholes out there who don't believe women can write, so they don't publish us. All that we can do about them is wait for their peers to say, "Holy shit, you are a terrible bigot and shouldn't have your job."
There are also a lot of people who have nothing against women, who may even themselves be women, who just aren't thinking about whether there's anything strangely lacking about the number of women they're publishing. The VIDA numbers have been a good and stark reminder that there's work to be done. And I think it's great that there's an annual discussion about this.
But third, I think that it's true that there probably aren't as many women submitting pieces or pitching stories. I am only me, of course, but I am a woman, and I know it never would have occurred to me to even attempt to blog here if not for Pete Kotz asking me. And I think everything I've written for the Scene has happened because I said something off-hand and Jim Ridley said, "You should write that up for us."
My suspicion is that we women hear so often that we have to be twice as good as men to be taken as seriously. But the truth about writing is that you have to be willing to flounder a little bit and be awkward and willing to do so in front of strangers. If you don't know how to pitch something, it's easier to not do it than to stress about doing it wrong. It's a kind of double bind women are in. We want to seem super-competent (twice as good as men) in a realm in which opportunities come to the persistent, even if they don't do it "right." We're waiting around for someone to tell us what to do so that we can excel at it, instead of knocking on every door until someone lets us in.
But thinking about this, I realize that every nice thing that has happened to me has happened because someone encouraged me to try something I wasn't comfortable with. And you, dear reader, might need that same encouragement.
So, let me say this. I am not the only woman who knows anything about politics in this state or has an opinion that's worth hearing. We need more women's voices on platforms politicians don't ignore (and I'm sorry, but they're ignoring your Facebook status updates, no matter how clever). We need more women writing stories and publishing them places strangers can see them. We need more women demanding to be heard. Tennessee women half the state and the things that matter to us are NOT A PART of the public discourse. We need you.
Okay, so you don't know how to pitch to an editor or how to submit to a magazine. Fine. Believe me, everyone else is doing a weird fucked-up job of it, too. Nobody knows what they're doing.
But why wait any longer to try?