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May 23, 2012

On not being part of the problem

I spend a ridiculous amount of time being frustrated at the way women (artists in particular) are misrepresented and unrepresented in the media and in the world. It is not even the lack of appreciation for women’s work that bothers me as much as the perpetual lack of acknowledgement by so many critical voices and outlets that women artists actually exist.

So accordingly, I find myself particularly attuned to issues of diversity in my own editing work, whether at 49thShelf, or in another editing project I’m undertaking at the moment. (I wonder: is this attunement a womanly thing? Does it take one to know one?). And it’s hard, it really is. The people I know and the people I like tend to be like me, and it’s so easy to look around this bubble I inhabit and forget it’s not the world. It takes a lot of trouble to reach outside my own limits, my own contacts. It also makes me uncomfortable to consider that a writer might think I was approaching him/her for reasons of diversity– this just seems offensive. Though I suppose that if a male editor got in touch with me one day and said, “Hey, I was just looking over my contributors and realized I’d forgotten about women and this is a problem,” I’d be more than happy to help fill the gap. I’d also probably think that the editor was a pretty classy guy.

But not being part of the problem extends past my work as editor. Though I realize that the problems I’m writing about here are very much systemic, I am willing to take some responsibility for having been being part of that system sometimes. For being that woman writer whom editors approach and never hear back from, of being nervous, intimidated, not brave enough to take myself and my work very seriously, to ask for what I deserve. I am willing to take some responsibility for the number of times I haven’t been brave at all.

But for a while, this has been changing. For an even longer while, pretending not to be scared has been my very best counter to fear, but lately genuine fearlessness has been easier to come by. A huge part of this is being a part of an incredible group of women writers, friends and mentors among them who bolster me. It was after one of our gatherings last winter that I got the nerve up to respond to an editor who was giving me an opportunity I wasn’t sure I could measure up to, that I had the confidence to take myself as seriously as this editor obviously did for having approached me in the first place. If things are going to change, these mentorships and support systems are the best chance there is. It also helped to have read Tina Fey’s Bossypants, which sounds inane, I realize, but there’s that line, “I don’t fucking care if you don’t like it”: seriously, my life has been remarkably better since I got it stuck in my head.

Eventually being brave, which is the same thing as taking responsibility– it becomes a kind of habit, a reflex. It’s the thing you’ve got to do to not be part of the problem. And it works, this whole not being walked over thing, in a way that’s kind of remarkable. It’s a delightful combination of not taking any shit and not giving a shit, and maybe it’s something you’ve got to wait until your 30s to learn, or else perhaps I am just a late bloomer, but the world opens up when it happens. And then you’ve got the strength, the power, the articulateness to continue take on the parts of the problem that weren’t you and which still remain.

7 thoughts on “On not being part of the problem”

  1. Heather says:

    Is that you on top of the world? CN Tower?

    Fantastic post.

    I think being brave sometimes means trying to bend people to a kinder, gentler — perhaps less adversarial — way too. And by this I do not mean a less rigorous, intelligent or hard-working way. It angers me that women have no choice but to fit into an existing ‘male’ paradigm in order to succeed. But I do see how it is often necessary…

  2. Kerry says:

    Being brave has made me a worse adversary, which is just the way I like it. Now when you don’t like me, I don’t care.

  3. patricia says:

    Speaking as a woman who is approaching her 50th year and is just starting to think about this kind of stuff, I can say with some authority that no, you are not a late bloomer.

    Excellent post. Top of the world, baby!

  4. Heidi says:

    I’m going to be keeping these last couple paragraphs in mind as I walk around giving too much shit almost all the time. Love this post.

  5. Maria says:

    As a proudly crotchety fiftysomething I say there’s a difference between passively complaining and articulating a very real problem, one that has an insidious way of pretending to be solved. I think you do a lot of the latter and that IS brave.

  6. Diana says:

    Thanks, excellent post.

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