Where are women writers?
Importantly, where are the writers who are women of colour? They are out there, not to mention some talented ones, but why are they so underappreciated or hard to find? This question is one that I’ve heard a couple editors ask and also one that I’ve asked myself. Based on some observations I have made, I wanted to unpack some issues that perpetuate under-recognizing women who write. We need to create a culture where women are valued for their work.
Here are some issues I’ve pinpointed:
There is too much reliance on unpaid labour.
Sure, producing a publication, especially a print publication, is expensive. There are many publications that operate on a volunteer basis which is understandable since it’s tough economic times. I myself consider volunteering to write since I’m young and it seems like something on a CV is better than nothing. However, unpaid labour becomes problematic when it’s the only labour you have access to. It’s easy enough for someone who is already successful to say “I’m not working for free” but what if you are starting off? Writing is not always lucrative of course, but I don’t even want to go into the work (editing and writing) I’ve done at no cost. It’s borderline exploitative. I’ve been in an unpaid archiving co-op position that was paid the next year. Unpaid work is also problematic since it diminishes the value of writers who are actually getting paid for the content they produce. Content and diverse content is valuable.
This is especially an issue for women since women won’t be encouraged to continue a practice where they are perpetually undervalued. Inter-sectionally, an individual’s class also has a lot to do with it. Writing is something that is considered academic and not everyone can afford to go into debt for a Master’s but still have something valuable to contribute. Essentially, these educational structures do not support diversity. I am interested in publishing, but for most opportunities, it’s either hard to get your foot in the door or they are unpaid. Social class is a huge factor if you need to know people to get yourself in. Not to mention, if you’re working to make ends meet it’s tough to find the time to write. I’ve spent hours researching a publication project and looking for grants, however, many of these grants don’t support young writers or artists who don’t fit the criteria box.
It’s still a male-dominated sphere.
It still remains a boy’s club especially if you’re a woman and writing about something that is historically patriarchal (art, the music scene, or sports). The reality is a lot of these spaces are still male-dominated and mainly white. Will a woman’s voice on the matter even be respected in the same sense? Is a room consisting mainly of older males considered safe for a woman, someone who identifies as queer or a writer of colour? These are all questions we need to ask to ensure that these safe spaces are made.
Although it’s common that the majority of art and art history grads are women, there are still systematic barriers that women have to face. I’ve had an instructor that was outwardly sexist, albeit rather “jokingly,” and I found myself irked with at least one thing every lecture. My main question is how many influential people are out there acting like this and shaping opinions? If there’s many, it sure isn’t helping.
There can be a lack of mentorship and constructive criticism.
I feel like it is partly lack of chances given. Or perhaps, creative risks that are taken and not properly acknowledged. I have had critiques of my writing that have been incredibly insensitive and if I didn’t have a thick skin I might have quit writing altogether. Writing is ultimately sharing your story and putting yourself on a stage. Without the confidence, women, transgender and queer writers won’t share on that platform, especially if it puts them at risk for violence (which is still a reality, too). People need to be given a chance, or some mentorship, to be able to flourish. Also, it makes a difference to be able to seek out help, to see what has worked for others and to receive support. We really should be creating a network and supporting each other.
So, support women writers.