This is not a fun birthday post, but don’t feel bad for me. I wrote it yesterday night and I assure you I’m being normal and having a good time today on my actual birthday, so no pity. Alright, on to the real stuff. Yesterday, I was cruising along on the interwebs and I came upon two articles that were both upsetting and completely unsurprising and then even more upsetting because of how unsurprising they were. Jill Guccini’s piece about the ability of YA literature to educate students on rape culture acted as the primer. Reminding me of the Steubenville rape case (how sad that I forgot so quickly), the misunderstandings and lack of empathy that is perpetuated in a constant cycle, the inherent difficulty in changing your views and upending everything you’ve subconsciously understood about your society, it really got me thinking. It’s a great article and also made me excited to read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson to get a glimpse into a world and an experience that I otherwise can’t know. Then I stumbled onto Deborah Copaken Kogan’s article detailing the struggles she’s been through as a woman in the publishing industry, among other things, and the confluence of these two articles just hit me like a ton of office supplies.
What the hell, men? Really. What the hell? I mean, sometimes I just feel ashamed to be a man (and a white man, at that). How oppressive and obnoxious can we possibly be while being handed the best opportunities and the clearest paths? And in publishing especially. Every statistic that I’ve ever seen shows that women read more than men. A good bit more, too. Like a 65/35 split, last I heard. So if ever an industry should be dominated by women, cater to women, and work to improve women’s position in society, it would be the publishing industry. But, no. Men still hold most of the executive positions and do most of the reviews (of mostly male-written texts). Sure, the marketing is aimed towards women, but it is done in the most condescending and stereotypical way possible. “Women don’t want to buy a book with the word suicide on the cover! Or a book with no flowers! Or without a pink background! They are far too delicate for that!”
A lot of times, I let publishers off easy. It’s a profession I respect and aspire to be a part of. I personally know quite a few people employed by publishers and they are hard-working, open-minded people. I did an internship with a publishing company, and I understand the pressure that is pushed down the ladder to make profits, not statements. I want to give them a break. It is a business, after all, and they need to sell books to stay afloat, so of course they have to satisfy dominant cultural ideals with most of their books. But, the thing is, publishers are also curators of culture. They have less power these days with the dominance of television, movies and other media, but they still play a significant role in the development of our society. By ceding the intellectual battleground, publishers are perpetuating current norms instead of working to improve them. This is, of course, a generalization. Certain publishers and certain employees do more than others, but overall there is a tendency to stick to the program and keep the boat steady. And it’s depressing. The publishing industry should be a huge advocate of women’s rights, equality, and empowerment. Instead, they’re letting things stand so they can concentrate on the bottom line.
Even beyond publishing, it’s pretty grim out there. Take Lena Dunham, for example. Talented woman (should I say girl? Her show is called Girls, after all). Good writer. Solid actor. But she is criticized to no end. Why? Well because she’s A. a woman and B. not a stick model. That’s America. If you’re not a conventionally attractive woman with a BMI that borders on malnourished, then we’re not interested. In fact, even worse than not being interested, we’ll be rude and spiteful and ignore your talent while we criticize your looks. I’m not even a huge Lena Dunham fan. I think Girls is good, but there are only a few episodes that hit me as stand-out great. I think she’s a pretty good actress but, honestly, I felt Zosia Mamet and Jemima Kirke are more consistently on their game in the series. Yet, I find myself rooting hardcore for her to succeed, stomping down detractors and dictates on her climb up.
It’s to the point that I don’t want to be lumped in with “men” anymore. That’s how terrible we can be. That’s how hard progress is to come by. If being a man means holding down everyone who isn’t like you, telling them what they can and can not do with their bodies, their careers, their sex lives, their clothes, and their words, then I wish you could count me out. Just try, men. Let’s just try to imagine that everything wasn’t easy for us. Try to imagine how you would feel if you got catcalled when you walked down a city street. Try to imagine being marginalized in every conversation. Try to imagine someone purposefully limiting you because they have specific expectations from your gender. Then try to imagine being sexually assaulted just to find out that your society cares more about you ruining the life of the attacker than what the attacker did to you. It’s pathetic, and we’re pathetic for allowing it to continue.
I know this isn’t the right method to fix things. Insults don’t usually inspire people. Men who read this and disagree will feel attacked and stick to their original argument. Men who read this and agree will think they’re part of the solution and not part of the problem. But, we are part of the problem. We are part of the problem. If that’s not clear enough, I’m including myself when I say we. I’ve used “slut” to describe someone with sexual proclivity greater than my own. I’ve used “bitch” to describe actions that our culture deems unmanly (my mother got my head straight enough not to use it to describe women. One point for Gryffindor, on that.). I’ve used “rape” to describe a particularly lopsided basketball score, for goodness sake. Think about that for a second. It’s a largely accepted part of our culture to compare a game where you throw a ball through a circle with sexual assault. That’s a freaking problem. I’ve cut down on these moments a lot, but I’m still trying to get better. Ridding yourself of bad habits is a difficult process and it doesn’t come all at once. But, I don’t deserve to use those terms. I’ve never had to experience them being hurled at me insultingly, so I’m trying the best I can not to use them from here on out. The sad part is, I actually had a leg up on a lot of other men. I was raised in a house by a single mother and an older sister. I’ve grown up around women and had them as close friends my entire life. I’m an empathetic person and I want to treat people well. But, I’m still the problem and I still don’t understand the solution. I am trying, though. And I guess that’s better than nothing.
Even for a birthday post, I’ve been decrying long enough. My only parting wisdom is to read Jill Guccini’s article and Deborah Copaken Kogan’s. They are better than mine. Think about them. And let’s all try to do better. That can be my birthday wish.