I'm forgoing my usual Mid-Week Review to talk about something that came up yesterday during my blog
A request for guest bloggers isn't any kind of exceptional news, but I thought the way they framed the request was: Their hopes were to get guest posts and thoughts on reading from writers/people with minority perspectives. Cool idea. I'm all for giving those with the fewest voices the opportunity to be heard. However, most of the post in question seemed to hammer on the idea that 'fringe' or minority basically meant anyone other than a man, or a heterosexual white man to be exact.
I'm not one to play up the 'plight' (lol) of the white man or anything, so please don't take this as me trying to make a case for pity, applause, or the like. What bothered me was this: I'm a guy trying to make my way was an author. I happen to also be white. It's pretty common knowledge, or at least I thought it was, that the majority (over the total of publishing, not talking genres and sub-categories) of current authors AND readers are female. How does that make me the status quo or the establishment? Since I've started writing, there have been plenty of times I've felt like the only guy doing this on the planet. Please don't tell me my opinion/experience is somehow automatically erased because society has somehow favored me. Last I checked, I'm still waiting on Random House to e-mail me my 'Dude Card' so I can skip the whole agent thing and walk right in with my manuscript and cover design requests.
According to a 2009 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau, of the 75,000 people identified as being employed as "Author/Writer", 43,000 were women. That's roughly 57%. As a male, does that make me a scathing minority? No. Does that put me in the majority? No. However, when you look at genres, etc. I'd wager the gap between gender types widens. (I'll talk more about that in second ...)
I will not argue that so called classic literature is dominated, unfairly so, by white male authors, perspectives, and characters. I'm also aware that there were times when female authors had to publish under male names (most notably the Bronte sisters) to be accepted and taken seriously. In the United States, our current President wouldn't have been "allowed" to learn how to read or write 150 years ago because of his skin color. Consequently, you don't have to convince me that there hasn't been a ton of diversity in literature cumulatively speaking.
However, I do not write classic literature. I write for young adults. The ones that live, breathe, and read right now. Furthermore, this isn't 100 years ago, or even 40 years ago. Right now, boys of every color are reading less than girls. Additionally, if the statistics are accurate, males are less educated than females and that trend is growing.
Why do boys/men read less?
I'm a mental health counselor by education, as a result I've read and believe countless studies on the power of behavior modeling, especially as it pertains to young people. Over the years, lots of people have asked these types of questions: Why don't we have more black attorneys? Why aren't there more female physicians? Why are the children of college educated people more likely to go to college, and graduate, than the children of non-college educated people? These questions exist outside of the obvious socioeconomic reasons, meaning even if we're all on the same footing socially/financially there still seems to be an issue. A phenomenal amount of research has been done, and the findings frequently point to the same types of things. We don't have more black attorneys, because young black people don't see a number of people who look like them working as attorneys. We don't have young women aspiring to be physicians, because they don't see/know grown women who are physicians. Children of non-college educated folks tend to not aspire/desire to be college educated, because it hasn't been modeled for them in their own environment.
Regardless of anything else he accomplishes, President Obama achieved his most lasting feat when he won the election: He created a pattern.
Let's take this back to reading/writing. I work closely with young people in educational settings, and it's always noteworthy to see a young male reading. That's the sad truth of it. I think it's because there aren't models for them. It's been widely reported that men don't read as much as women, so if their dads, uncles, and brothers aren't reading, why should they? I see writing as an extension of reading, so you could probably use a similar argument for why fewer males are choosing to pursue careers in writing. This is particularly true in young adult/middle grade fiction. I read a lot, and most of it is YA. It's not to say there aren't great books written by men (I'm a die-hard Artemis Fowl and Percy Jackson fan), there just aren't nearly as many. It's not to say there aren't stories with male MCs that boys can identify with, there just aren't that many. This is not to say there is some kind of blame to be placed on women, because I don't think there is any kind of internal movement in YA publishing to give opportunities to women over men. I just think fewer men are trying for the opportunity.
Relatively speaking, I haven't been chasing the author dream all that long, but in the little time I've spent doing so my writing cohorts/friends have been about 10-1 female to male. I have 27 blog followers, and only 1 is a man. I attend a local writers group which typically yields 15-20 folks and it's usually 3-1 female to male. I mess around on Absolute Write, GoodReads, and the Writer's Digest forums and I can safely say that females are represented in much higher numbers.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not scared. In fact, every career I've ever been a part of up to this point (education/mental health) have all been predominately female occupations. I'm comfy in my own skin.
The point of this entire post is to say that I'm tired of people creating classes, and drawing boxes around anything (be it minorities or majorities). Declaring 'you don't count because you're too white, male, majority, etc.' is just as bad as saying you don't count for any other reason. I believe to be human is to be unique, therefore being a minority is something we've all shared in some form or fashion. Just because I haven't experienced first-hand what it's like to be you, doesn't mean I can't sympathize and/or relate.
So the next time we see a backward societal norm overturned, someone special who is allowed to voice their opinions for the first time, or a stereotype erased, instead of beating our chest and saying, "it's about time!", let's instead make certain that we're not exchanging one negative cultural norm for another. Let's make sure we're not creating new chasms while we're trying to fill in the old ones. Let's not focus on turning the tables, but instead make certain that everyone has a place to sit. Life is about inclusion, not exclusion.