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Fair’s Fair? Thoughts On Feminism and Publishing

Confession time: I don’t consider myself to be a feminist.

Don’t get me wrong, I subscribe to most feminist beliefs – I just prefer to think of myself as an equalitarian (because ‘egalitarian’ is a stupid word), and that’s kind of the problem.

You probably already know that I spend a lot of time on the internet. One of the problems with that is that you see a whole heap of pointless arguments. A case in point is the “Black Lives Matter” versus “All Lives Matter” debate. I can see both sides, and I’m pretty sure that people are arguing semantics. The “Black Lives Matter” people aren’t saying that only black lives matter, and the “All Lives Matter” people aren’t saying that black lives don’t. What they’re both actually in favour of is equality – they’re just approaching it from different perspectives.

To me, that’s a shame. Granted, I’m a heterosexual white male and so I don’t have a whole lot of experience when it comes to discrimination, but it often seems to me as though we’re all on the same side. Instead of arguing semantics, we should tackle the serious repercussions of oppression instead of arguing about whether thinking Emma Watson is attractive makes you a sexist pig. Or maybe I’m naive.

One of the things that’s been annoying me lately is the number of literary magazines that publish female writers only. The idea is usually to redress the fact that women have been underrepresented in the literary community for hundreds of years, but I don’t buy that. I’m not denying the fact that women have been underrepresented – I just think it’s less of a problem now, especially thanks to self-publishing putting power into the hands of readers.

Personally, I think the book market is now so saturated that your gender doesn’t matter – at least, not to me. At the same time, I have a friend who writes under the name of ‘J G Clay’ instead of his actual name, ‘Pardip Basra’, and that’s at least partly because readers are more likely to buy from Clay than Basra. It’s an unfortunate consequence of our inbuilt prejudices as a society. I also know a few men who write erotica under female pseudonyms because for some reason, female erotica writers are fine but it gets a bit weird when erotica is written by a man. There’s a perception that it’s the same guys who are still inexplicably buying X-rated magazines from the top shelves of newsagents and carrying them home in the pockets of their flasher macs.

But to me, that’s exactly the point. It shouldn’t matter who the author is – in fact, I always said that if I launched my own lit mag, I’d read all submissions blind so that I can’t be subconsciously biased towards a writer based on the name they provide.

I just think everything should be fair, for everyone. But y’know.

When literary magazines only accept female writers, it’s divisive. To me, as a male writer, it’s a bit of a kick in the teeth. It’s like when you see a group of your friends in a pub, go over to say hello and they all just ignore you because of your genitals. I should point out that this doesn’t happen often. Only when I try to gatecrash hen parties.

Now, I understand the idea of promoting women in literature. I think it’s a noble idea. I just don’t think that excluding people based on their gender is the way to do that. Why not create a site that’s inclusive – while still meeting the same objectives?

It doesn’t have to mean huge differences. Instead of only accepting submissions from women, why not only accept submissions about women? Welcome people to contribute no matter what their genitalia, as long as they write about strong women. After all, that’s not divisive – it’s a theme, and people love themes.

When you only accept female writers, you alienate men. When you only accept writing that features a strong female character, you encourage men to think more like a woman – to try to understand them, to portray them more realistically, and basically to become better writers. And you can still have blind submissions if you don’t trust men to pull it off, so to speak.

The funny thing is that this entire blog post was inspired by David Mitchell (the comedian, not the novelist). I was reading one of his books and he pointed out that sometimes things have to be unfair against men – because if things were unfair against women but not against men, it wouldn’t be fair.

He’s right, and I hate that we live in a world in which that’s a truism. It made me rethink my entire thought process on sites that only publish women – and it seems like a small price to pay considering the pay gap.

Sometimes you’ve just got to gracefully accept a situation that goes against you. Women have to do it all the time.

Published inNon-Fiction

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