Today’s blog post is brought to you by the letter F: for fatigue, feelings, and feminism.
So here I was, all ready to talk about my blog fatigue, when something actually sets a fire beneath my ass and gets me posting again. (Although to be fair, I have been writing; I just haven’t been blogging.)
I think, though, that what I want to discuss today and my blog fatigue are somewhat related. As far back as May I said that it was getting difficult to blog, mostly because blogging had evolved into something that was hard to maintain: a platform. I’ve been blogging more or less consistently since I was 17 (Nearly 10 years! Perish the thought! I am old.) and have since witnessed the online world grow and develop, from small “private” and personal Livejournals/Xangas/Diarylands/et al to the concept of a “blogosphere”. I’ve seen my own blog style evolve: from the shallow, silly, fannish witterings of a teenage girl to recountings of the social and career misadventures of my early 20s to contemplations about books and literature to…whatever my blog is now. A soapbox? (I hope not.)
Whatever it’s become, it’s clear I simply cannot continue as is. Blogging has become essay-writing. I don’t mind writing essays or papers (I know I am one of a rare breed); in fact, I enjoy expository writing, to the point where I nearly majored in it at university. But writing an essay day after day, week after week–and an organised essay at that–with a proper thesis, theme, and structure is exhausting, but moreover, it is daunting. The personal has gone out of my blog, and I, like any other self-centered and narcissistic human being, miss talking relentlessly about myself.
But talking about myself isn’t as easy as it once was either. My day-to-day life is terribly, but comfortingly, dull and therefore unsuitable for blog material (save the occasional trip to Europe). On the other hand, my emotional life is as varied as ever, but I have conditioned myself to hide those feelings away, to maintain professionalism, to be cool, rational, and neutral (insofar as I am able to be neutral, that is).
The end result is that I have become stifled, hemmed in by constraints I have built myself. Despite my fondness for expository writing, it’s not my natural way to write. I have always written from a place of emotion, ever since I was a wee JJ with her pink ballet shoes diary and glittery purple pen. I have feelings, and sometimes I even have FEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELINGS–about people, about books, and about Publishing. (More on that later.)
I have opinions. Lots of them. Those acquainted with me are quite aware of this, especially those who are on the receiving end of my email rants. (I am sorry for burdening you, by the way, but sometimes a girl needs an outlet and this blog isn’t one anymore.) It’s a strange thing; when I was younger, I wasn’t what you’d call an activist, or even terribly socially conscious. I lived in a very privileged bubble, and things that made it past my protective bubble to actually enter my consciousness were generally written off as “Oh, that sucks, but that’s just the way the world is”.
The older I get, the more “principled” I become, in ways I never realised I could be. This is good in a lot of ways, of course, but it’s also incredibly frustrating. I am now in a position of (relative) power, where I can enact social change, only to be held back by commercial constraints. Oh god, the word “commercial” and I have become mortal enemies, and I don’t want us to be. I don’t even have anything against the word “commercial” on a fundamental level; it’s what the word “commercial” has come to mean. It no longer means “what sells”, but “what we believe will sell, based on our previous experiences”.
This is probably sound business practice. Except I don’t want to believe in it because frankly, “what we believe will sell” is offensive and problematic. It does what I, as a conscientious person, try not to do.
In fact, it does more than generalize; it makes broad, sweeping generalizations about the “commercial audience”. Some things about the commercial audience are true and can probably be borne out by statistical research. For instance:
- The majority of fiction buyers are women. They comprise something like 80% of fiction-buyers.
- The majority of these women are part of a socio-economic class/age group with disposable income.
- The people in this socio-economic class tend to be white, although that is changing.
These are facts, but facts change. I don’t dispute the facts. What I take umbrage with are the conclusions which are drawn from these facts. It’s these conclusions I find offensive. These conclusions may include:
- Women only want to read about themselves.
- Women want to read about the idealized versions of themselves (generally white).
- Women want to read about the idealized versions of themselves in romantic situations.
- Women want to read about the idealized versions of themselves in an idealized and romanticized setting.
- Women want to read about the idealized versions of themselves engaged in romantic situations with idealized partners (which will be male, if not human).
- Ergo, anything which deviates from these conclusions will not sell.
I find these conclusions problematic on nearly every level, mostly because I consider myself part of the commercial audience (as both an editor and a reader). These conclusions aren’t nearly as overt as I have made them out to be, but I brush up against these them often–often enough that it starts to irritate me. And more than irritate me, it makes me angry.
Hence the feelings. I want to publish with principles, something I hadn’t expected to discover about myself, but perhaps it’s because I didn’t think I needed to make my principles so obviously known. I’ve always wanted to publish good books, but “good” is, of course, subjective. Yet I also think “good” is universal–that “good” stories are the ones that speak to the truth of the human condition: our struggles, our desires, our failings, our successes. If the human condition is universal, then why not make the conscientious effort to sell other narratives within a commercial context? Why must it always be the white and heteronormative narrative?
Because that is what we believe will sell.
The numbers, of course, haven’t proved us wrong. And yet, there’s something the late, great Steve Jobs once said that resonated with me:
It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.
I also believe this is true of books. How many times have we all seen something being touted as “the next Harry Potter, the next Twilight, the next Hunger Games?” If we don’t write, if we don’t represent, if we don’t publish books which are diverse and different, then we won’t buy because there won’t be anything to buy. In some ways, I know this is an incredibly idealistic and naive way of looking at the world, but I can’t believe I am the only person with this belief. Markets can be created, and moreover, markets can evolve. Instead of publishing to what I call “the lowest common denominator”, I would rather believe the best of my broad commercial audience. Instead of chasing trends, I want to be creating them. I don’t want to believe that the audience only wants “more of the same”.
A while back, I wrote a column about how feminine is not a dirty word. I had made the assumption that other educated young women of my age would also understand that “feminist” is not a dirty word either.
Here’s something that enrages me: when young women of my generation tell me they aren’t feminist. I quite literally see red when they say this.
“Do you believe women should be treated equally and fairly in society?” I would ask.
“But what? You don’t? You believe that women are only conditionally equal?”
“But what? You do, or you don’t.”
What I find most young women objecting to are the connotations of being a feminist: that being a feminist means you hate men, you are angry, you’re a lesbian, you burn bras, you look down on all things “girly”, look down on women who choose to be housewives and mothers, etc. But that’s another broad, sweeping generalization of feminists, and feminism, like any other movement evolves. And if those connotations of feminism are what is keeping you from proclaiming yourself as a believer in women’s humanity, then change it. I am a believer in proclaiming my feminism because I want to buck the stereotypes. I do not hate men, I am not angry (most of the time), I don’t burn bras, I certainly don’t look down on girly things, and I fully support another woman’s decision to stay at home and raise children because it’s her choice.
What feminism means to me doesn’t come down to gender essentialism, although being cisgender, I will admit that privilege. It’s not about men and women, or men vs. women; it’s about women being treated as whole human beings. Perhaps, in this way, I am more accurately a humanist, but where I am the most passionate concerns females and female empowerment. But it’s not just empowerment either; it’s challenging the notion that a woman can’t have her own narrative, life, and story outside of the privileged male-centric one. What that narrative is is less important than the acknowledgement that she has one. I’m fairly certain all my female friends of my generation don’t believe they are satellites to Planet Privileged Male, or at least I hope so.
Therefore, I feel compelled to announce my beliefs, and to enlighten people when they are being (usually unintentionally) sexist. Does this make me insufferable? Probably. But I am done being nice; I’ve never been good at “nice” anyway. It’s like disciplining children: you have to let a child know when s/he’s being inappropriate, otherwise s/he will never learn. Do I have the right to discipline the world? No. But I can’t help but speak out when I feel uncomfortable, even if it makes other people feel uncomfortable.
So that’s it, really. That’s a large part of the reason for my blog fatigue: that I have been constrained by the social idea of “niceness”. I would like to blog more, really I would, but sometimes I’m not sure I can. What do I have to say? Not much, not without really and truly offending a lot of people. I don’t mind that so much on a personal level, but I don’t want what I say to reflect badly on the people for whom I work.
Not to mention I just want to write about myself again, but that’s rather boring, isn’t it?