Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Demotion

I've noticed a negative shift in how others react to my writing, one that I think has to do with subtle sexism.

I used to spend most of my writing time on technology journalism. Most of my professional interactions were with men. They were the vast majority of my interview subjects, readers, and editors. My career also played well with men. At dinner parties, I invariably found myself in long discussions with the men about the merits or flaws of the iPhone, or similar subjects.

My career commanded respect. People took me seriously and never asked things like, "Is there enough work?" or "Do you make a living writing that?"

Things are different now, and I'm writing a much larger proportion of erotica. Most of my professional interactions are with women. Women are the vast majority of my writer friends, readers, and editors. I have a "coming out" issue when asked about what I write. Do I talk about it at all? Is whoever I'm talking to going to react strangely? I avoid the subject at dinner parties.

When I do tell people about my writing, I often get asked, "Is there enough work?" or "Do you actually get paid to write that?" or "When will you go back to writing 'real' stuff?"

Some of this may have to do with the taboo subject of sex versus the socially acceptable subject of technology (ironically, frequently written about using terms borrowed from the language of sex). However, I think some of the sense of demotion has to do with writing in a "woman's world" versus in a "man's world." I get added support for this theory because I sometimes play softball by saying I write "romance," which seems to inspire even more questioning about whether I am actually doing anything -- despite the fact that romance sells beautifully.

I sense loss of respect from conversation partners, but also within myself. Over and over again, I have to remind myself that I'm writing erotica more because this is what I enjoy writing the most. I am doing this for pleasure, and because I seem to be pretty good at it. And yet I feel strong pressure to write more about technology to regain respect.

When I ask myself why, I keep coming up with ideas like this writing is frivolous, less valuable, or self-indulgent. I should note that this runs directly opposite to my deeply held beliefs, and my personal experience of the power of writing and reading erotica. I frequently uncover beliefs about how this writing isn't as serious or well-crafted, despite knowing how hard I work on it -- in many cases, much harder and with more concern for art than was the case when I wrote about technology.

The sense of frivolity or lack of value keep bringing me back to subtle sexism I've found in my thinking. I grew up with the sense that I should try as hard as possible to act as little like a woman as possible. I didn't want to talk like a woman, have emotions like a woman, or behave like a woman. In writing erotica, I really embrace my femininity -- much more powerfully than I did in my technology writing. The sense of demotion that comes with that feels sinister to me, related to that deeper underlying sense that I should avoid being female wherever I could manage to do so.

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