If I were giving myself advice about how to introduce myself on a new blog, I would certainly say, “Never write your first post on a Saturday.”
Nevertheless, here I am — and it’s Saturday. My name is Rachel Swirsky. I’m a writer and a feminist and a cat-owner and an atheist and an Aries and any number of other labels. My best piece of writer’s cred is that I went to the Iowa Writers Workshop. My best piece of street cred is… yeah, I don’t have any of that, actually, so never mind.
I recently changed the bio on my website to talk about the weather (real fascinating, huh?), but I used to relay a few interesting facts about my family, and in the hopes that these will prove more interesting than my own boring biographical information, I will give a few here:
1: My great-grandmother was afraid of grass.
2: My great-uncle’s addictive streak was so strong that after he gave up gambling, smoking and drinking, he became addicted to milk.
3: My father’s father joined the KKK when he was young, but quit because he “didn’t like their methods.” Their goals? Fine. Just not their methods. He died before my father married my Jewish mother, so he never met his Jewish granddaughter, but I like to think my existence would have eaten slowly away at him.
However, I didn’t come here just to yammer on about myself. I came here to link to Jeff Vandermeer’s commentary on support for your writing in which he talks about how a writer can set up his or her personal life so that writing is easier.
He’s pretty biased toward people who are in partnerships here, and he seems to be mostly thinking about childless people, and people who are monogamous. But it’s fodder for thought. I liked this bit:
Play Habits. A vital element of stimulating the imagination is play, which means writers can be pretty silly sometimes. A partner who doesn’t engage in reciprocal play with you may actually be stifling your ability to recharge your imaginative batteries. At the very least, reacting negatively to a playful situation will make it harder for you to be creative over time — especially if that sense of play involves sex.
I don’t know if this will apply to all writers, though I know that personally I think sex is rather silly (if also rather fun). And while I’m sure Jeff’s point is true, and probably a matter of some difficulty to writers who are having a problem with partners who see sex as serious business, I’m going to be all playful and indulge my desire to pretend that there are lots of fiction writers with pie fight fetishes, running up to their partners with a lemon meringue pie, thrusting it into their partner’s face, and then darting away while shouting, “You can’t blame me! Don’t you want me to finish my novel…!”
Over on his own blog, Jeff Vandermeer adds another dimension to the conversation by adding that women face particular challenges toward establishing a home life that will facilitate their writing careers. One difficulty is what feminists often call the second shift, wherein working wives and mothers put in a full day at the office and then come home to put in a second shift doing chores at home. Data suggests that women tend to spend a lot more time on this than men do, even in households where partners report they have an equal division of labor. Even if labor is divided equally, women are more likely to be held responsible for an unclean house, and so they’re often under more pressure. Jeff’s wife Ann (herself the editor of a major magazine) writes:
There are definitely more societal expectations on women for household responsibilities, regardless of how far we may have come. I work a very demanding job outside the home, in addition to my volunteer work and editing/publishing projects. My husband works at home all day. And yet if our home isn’t kept clean and beautiful, if the yard is a mess, people tend to look askance at me, not even considering this is also Jeff’s responsibility.
If a woman supports her husband’s writing career, it’s expected, because traditionally a woman is SUPPOSED to support her man. However, when a man supports his wife’s writing, some look at it as a HUGE sacrifice and a favor and oh, what a great guy he is…blah blah blah. I am waiting for the day when both men and women who support their creative spouses get the credit due them.
Another time gap that feminists sometimes talk about is the beauty gap. Setting aside the pressure on women to be beautiful, let’s just look at the pressure on both sexes to maintain an appearance that’s considered acceptable. The amount of effort involved for men to maintain an appearance that will be seen as acceptable is lower than the amount of effort involved for women to maintain an acceptable appearance. Some of this is because women are judged more harshly than men; some of it is because femininity has been defined in ways that require more labor. Either way, most people can’t just opt out of grooming standards — one may be able to eschew vanity, but looking less than acceptable can impair social and professional opportunities. For a full-time, at-home writer like me, this isn’t a big deal; I just skip it on days when I’m staying in the home office. But most writers have a day job, and men and women who work outside the home need to put in time to look presentable — a task which takes more time for women than for men.
There are any number of ways that systemic sexism interferes with women’s careers, but one of the most direct is time. Time spent on housework is time not spent on writing. Time spent on hair and clothes and makeup is time not spent on writing. If women put in more of this time (and overall in America, they do), then that’s fewer woman-hours that are available for writing stories. When we start to address unequal representation in magazines, it’s important to ask questions on the editorial level, the content level, the submissions level, and so on — but it’s also important to interrogate the gendered ways in which sexism blocks opportunities for writing to occur in the first place.
ETA: Jeff and Ann VanderMeer kindly point out that the six points in Jeff VanderMeer’s list are originally from Bruce Holland Rogers and paraphrased with permission.