PRISM made a strong showing at this year’s Association of Writers and Writing Programs Annual Conference, or AWP, as mentioned in my last post. Most of our staff and many of our volunteers were able to experience it, including PRISM Designer andrea bennett.
While in Seattle, andrea made her BuzzFeed debut when they asked her what women writers are sick of hearing. Here was her response:
[Read the rest of “19 Things Women Writers Are Sick Of Hearing” on BuzzFeed here.]
I caught up with andrea and asked her if she wouldn’t mind elaborating on her whiteboard response for PRISM readers. This is what she had to say.
“I think I’d have to write you an essay,” I said.
I revised my answer for the purposes of being list-friendly, and ended up in the number 8 spot on this “19 Things Women Writers are Sick Of Hearing” list on Buzzfeed.
So, what would that essay say?
I think—I hope—it goes without saying, in 2014, that I’d rather not be trolled as a “feminazi.”
But shit like that doesn’t really bother me, because I grew up in a small town and I’ve had everything from invectives to milkshakes thrown at me, thanks to a combination of my gender and my gender presentation, and I tend to think of these kinds of things as the death-knell insults of a dying breed of entitled, weak-minded bigots. Yawn.
What actually does get to me is not a question, never phrased as a question. Rather, it’s the subtle, structural power dynamic that leads to the type of imbalance we see in the VIDA byline count, or the CWILA review count—the fact that the ecosystem of publishing still privileges men’s voices as authoritative, and women’s voices as a niche market. It’s the bias that claims women’s writing speaks primarily to other women, and men’s writing speaks to everybody. (If you don’t identify with that gender binary at all, then please make your way to the very back of the bookstore. We’ve got half of a quarter of a shelf for you, to paraphrase Ivan Coyote.)
This bias—this universalism vs. niche market bias—of course affects more than gender. It affects the way the publishing ecosystem reads and disseminates the work of writers of colour, or doesn’t; it affects the success of a novel that delves into class, language, sexuality.
Thankfully, I think the tide is shifting, and I think it will continue to shift.
Because the editors of my favourite magazines and book sections—Drew Nelles at The Walrus; Haley Cullingham at Maisonneuve; Sina Queyras at Lemonhound; Mark Medley at NP Books; Lisan Jutras and Jared Bland at the Globe and Mail—have all engaged, to one extent or another, in the conversation about the need to diversify bylines and reviews in Canada.
Because (can I say this without everyone hating my guts?) prestige is tightly knit with power, and in the backwater of Canada, where no one really makes that much money, where no one can really accrue that much cultural capital, where we’re all two or less degrees of separation from each other, it’s easier to effect change.