For a moment, I felt myself morph into my father, who sensed male predation in every situation that involved male/female interaction. Then I said, instead, yes, it's true. Boys always have to be out there, putting their egos on the line. They're usually the ones to call the girls, they ask the girls out, they hear a lot of "no." It can be tough to be a boy, I said. This all seemed the fair thing to say, rather than warning her off boys altogether.
Our exchange made me think of two things: the ongoing conversation spearheaded by VIDA about women and publishing and reviewing and submitting work, and my own encounters with 'boys' over the span of my life, because it never really ends. I wrote about this (not boys) not long ago, but it's still on my mind--the quest for publication, the tug of war over submitting not enough. The bottom line is, you must submit and submit and submit to get anything in print.
To recap the VIDA discussion: books by women are reviewed less than those by men, there are fewer female reviewers than male reviewers, fewer women appear in journals than men, and, not surprisingly, there are fewer women in the slush pile than men, and editors solicit less work from women than from men. And, some editors argued, even when they solicit work from women, women are far less likely to send something than men are. A Tin House editor put it this way:
Of solicited writers, I see a distinct gender difference. When I solicit male authors, the only ones who do not submit are those contractually bound by other magazines. For female authors it is closer to 50% submit after being asked.
Male authors, in the face of rejection, are much more likely to submit more work, (and sooner) than their female peers. This is true even when the female author is explicitly requested to send more work.
Yes. "In the face of rejection, male authors are much more likely to submit more work." And this made me think of all the ways (straight) women are socialized when it comes to gender and the mating dance. (Apologies to my gay and lesbian friends and readers--I'm a limited person and can only write about these gender issues from my perspective as a straight woman. Eileen Myles has written a much loved essay that touches a little bit upon some of this from a, perhaps, much more universal perspective than I am capable of.)
Even the words "submit" and "submissions" take on an eerie double-entendre when considered in this odd half-light of work and socialization.
Men are always putting themselves out there. (Or being pressured to believe they have to put themselves out there.) And they take a lot of 'no' for an answer. Any woman who has sat with friends at a bar or at a party knows this to be true. Men expect to hear 'no.' And then they move on and approach someone else. Ok, maybe not all men are like this. But it seems I must generalize a bit or lose my point. Or maybe my experience is most often with bolder men because they tend to get my attention as I am and have been most frequently oblivious in these matters.
I have a certain amount of affection for these sorts of bold, brash men. And I'm not talking about the point-scoring frat boys of fact and legend.
But that is the crucial distinction: how do you tell the bold good boys from the bold bad boys? Women are taught to deflect male attention, especially that sort of random male attention that ranges from sidewalk catcalls to the seemingly nice guy who tries to pick you up at a party? There's real emotional and physical danger bound up in response to this. Maybe you can't tell. So women have been socialized to deflect and reject. Some guy tells you you're beautiful? You wave it away. An editor implies that you're talented and would like to see more of your work? Maybe you don't really believe it. Hell, maybe you didn't wash your hair today and don't look good enough to send anything in.
Submission(s) are a risk. And if you submit too much, people may call you names. Women may call you names behind your back and men to your face. Because that's putting yourself out there, that's, in an old-fashioned term from my childhood, being "forward." And men and women are both are socialized to respond negatively to forward women. Which will make you timid if you're putting together submission packets of your poems and stories and nonfiction.
How forward can I be and still have him respect me in the morning?
Can I respect myself?
And then there's the hurdle of realizing that you have to do the asking. We, maybe, don't know how to put our egos on the line. Listen, I don't know if women really take rejection harder than men. But we have been socialized to be inhibited about asking for what we want, offering ourselves (our work) as a worthy prize. Men tell us we're the worthy prize. So our ego barrier is double. Which may mean we do take rejection harder.
If people are going to put you down for being forward, even implicitly, how can you be out there enough to feel that sense of accomplishment, of having earned what you receive?
And, at the level of our deepest, psychosexual beings, women are socialized to reject and despise those guys on the make at parties, in bars. We're not supposed to fall for that. We're not supposed to be like them. We're not supposed to like it or want it. That's bad behavior.
But the thing is, as writers, we have to want it. What keeps us going is that drive. To be a writer (of course).
None of this solves the problem of women and literary submissions. Or women and representation in book review sections. Somewhere, in A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf says something like, but that does not solve the problem of women and fiction.
Woolf also said, in her diaries, "I find at age 40 that I can begin to say something in my own voice, and so can go on without praise."
After I turned 40, men, random men, started paying more attention to me--you know, on the street, in a bar, at a conference. I found this strange, as it had not been a factor in my life in my 20s when it might have mattered. A few years ago, a male friend told me, it's probably because you have more confidence now and you exude that.
Confidence, ladies. Confidence. Submit and don't stop.