Author Carolyn Haines stops by with another thought-provoking post in her guest blog series. It's amazing all the work she gets done. She teaches, she has a new book in her successful Bones series coming out in June ... just a few weeks now!
... she's writing the next Bones book, she's just put this year's Daddy's Girls Weekend to bed after months of planning ... it makes me tired thinking about it all. Oh yeah, and she runs a horse farm. And that's just the stuff I know about ...
ONCE MORE AROUND THE OLD BLOCK
by Carolyn Haines
An incident that occurred in recent weeks has put me thinking about issues of gender, equality, the literary establishment, and the perception of female writers. Since I’m writing this on Mother’s Day, I think it’s an appropriate topic.
I gave a speech with another writer, a male, at a library. The good news is that the event was covered by two newspapers. The bad news is that a reporter for the major daily in the area dispatched me with one line from a Wikipedia entry. One line. “Alabamian and former newspaper reporter Carolyn Haines, a prolific writer of romance and mystery novels.” The rest of the article, about 800 words, was about my co-speaker. A female reporter for the same newspaper did a more balanced story.
My co-speaker, who writes humorous general fiction set in the South and is indeed a fine writer, is the bigger name in non-mystery circles, no doubt. But a female reporter managed to put some balance in an article. But the same cannot be said of a community newspaper reporter, also a male. I fared a little better in the local reporter’s article. A whole paragraph, to a much longer story including even where my co-speaker went to college.
Two male reporters, all about the male writer. One female reporter, a more balanced story. Was it my gender, the fact that romance (albeit they were romantic mysteries) was mentioned, or was it the label “mystery” that made two male newspaper writers decide that I wasn’t worth a few paragraphs of copy.
Back when I was a journalist my editor would have gnawed my ear off for such a blatantly unbalanced piece. Then again, journalism isn’t what it used to be in the 1970s when good reporting brought a crooked president down.
Certainly this isn’t the first time, or the last, that a female writer will be given short shrift. It’s happened to much bigger writers than me. Jodi Picoult made a dynamic stink about it recently. (Yay!)
But this is 2012, and surely things have changed. Then again, I’ve heard the words “War on Women” repeatedly in the last month. By god, I believe it’s true. I believe there is a concerted effort to keep women “in their place” or at least relegated to a lesser place. And I think these male newspaper writers are unwitting accomplices in this prejudiced attitude. On this Mother’s Day, I’ve just passed another birthday. I am of an age where I’m pretty sick and tired of this BS. I’ve heard this kind of crap for a long time.
When I was working as a reporter and covering a tense story of a knifing in a high school, I was told by a superintendent of education that I was “unnatural.” That a “normal woman” would be at home taking care of her husband and kids. I was “abnormal” and “unnatural” because I held a job. A man’s job to be more exact. I wasn’t a secretary or bank teller or school teacher or nurse (everyone knows these are women’s jobs.)
The problem wasn’t that I was an “unnatural” female. The problem was that a tragedy had occurred and it would not look good for the superintendent. But the first line of defense was to attack my gender and the fact I was doing a “man’s job”-- in his opinion.
When I worked in PR at a university and asked for a raise, I was told, “You don’t need more money. What you need is to get married and let your husband take care of you.” These are clearly gender biases. But this latest newspaper reporter—I’m just not sure where to file it: gender bias or genre bias. Maybe both.I’m a woman who’s chosen to write in genres that some people don’t value. Had either male reporter bothered to read any further in the Wikipedia entry—or heaven forbid, gone to my web site--they would have learned that I’ve also written general fiction, short fiction, crime fiction, and biography. I’ve been given the cold shoulder by elitist bookstores where I’ve been told their clientele doesn’t “read mysteries.” Oh, really. Perhaps they just buy them elsewhere.I found these figures on the National Romance Writers of America website. These are recent totals of sales in each genre.
Romance: $1.358 billion
Religion/inspirational: $759 million
Mystery: $682 million
Science fiction/fantasy: $559 million
Classic literary fiction: $455 million
Statistics fascinate me. Of course, they can be manipulated to tell any tale the author chooses. So I won’t attempt to interpret them. They are what they are.
I work at a university, so elitism toward popular fiction is no stranger to me. Mostly I have a good sense of humor about it and just realize that those who disdain a career in mystery writing would likely give a lot to have one. And I educate my students to the stupidity of this kind of peculiar vanity. To define one’s intellect by the books one reads is hysterical to me.
I am indeed a “genre slut,” because I’ll read any kind of story that is compelling and well written. I don’t care what label is slapped on it. I guess the bottom line here is: Don’t judge a book by its cover (the author probably had very little say-so on the cover), and don’t judge an author by the genre she writes in, or her gender.
In 2012, this shouldn’t have to be said, but it does.
Carolyn Haines is the author of the Sarah Booth Delaney Mississippi Delta mystery series. Among her awards are the Harper Lee Award for Distinguished Writing, the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence, and two of her books were listed in the top 5 mysteries of the year by Library Journal--in 2004 (Hallowed Bones) and 2006 (Penumbra). She is a former award winning journalist and runs an animal rescue. She urges everyone to please spay and neuter their companion pets and adopt from shelters.