Green Eyes for the Boys: Gender and Envy in the Writing World

gender & envyWhile women are conditioned to compete with each other, most of my envy has historically been toward male artists.

Men were in charge of many of the writing spaces, and favored male artists. In progressive circles, they always would have at least one woman on the bill. I guess some women competed with each other to fill that one space, but I just got mad at the sexism of the whole setup.

In my 20s, male writer peers seemed to have every possible advantage. Not only were they favored with preferential treatment in the work, but socially as well. Their ambition made them extremely attractive to female (or male) partners. But my ambition made me “intimidating.” In my 30s, I began to find creative success in spoken word, which only made me “unapproachable,” while my male peers were “husband material.” So while my male counterparts found plenty of long and short term companionship in the writing community, I finally found a partner via CraigsList personals. So I was no longer lonely, but the gender gap continued.

My heterosexual male colleagues had girlfriends who not only accompanied them to their gigs, but would play helpful roles in moving their careers forward. My sweetheart was a lovely but introverted computer geek who ceased accompanying me to readings after our initial courtship, and complained bitterly when I began to travel for out of town performances. Meanwhile, I had male colleagues whose girlfriends dropped their careers and became their full-time managers, traveling along and making the road a home away from home for them.

The gender gap followed me into the MFA world. I was bitterly disappointed when a male teacher “didn’t have time” to read three pages of my novel inspired by his class, but had nothing but time to hang out in the bar with a group of male students. You know. Just shooting the breeze…

The gender gap followed me into career-building. Male peers who showed a similar level of promise seemed to have a never-ending array of older male and female mentors who wanted to help ensure their success. The charismatic ones often had legions of women who wanted to bed them, but would settle for being part of the “team,” and eager young fans who looked up to them and were excited to volunteer in any part of their endeavors. Female charisma didn’t translate the same way.

And then the gender gap with parenting seemed to be the final straw. As I approached my 40s, my male peers began to become fathers, with only the slightest hiccup in their touring and productivity. Their female partners got pregnant, gave birth, nursed, changed diapers, and lost their identities, but the men didn’t miss a gig. I know it wasn’t easy on the dads—both parents are affected by the birth of a child, but the moms’ flights were grounded indefinitely while dads’ flights were briefly delayed due to weather. I can’t count the number of women artists I saw who were poised for vibrant careeers, but made their art into a side hobby after having children.

Since becoming a mother, I feel torn. I continue to envy the success of my male peers, but I also love the sweetness and depth of my connection with my kid. I am grateful to have had the full, overwhelming, avalanche experience of motherhood. Even as I lament the slow-down it has caused in my writing trajectory.

As I move toward my publication date, I am grateful for the circles of women I move in: my agent/editor/publicity dream team, The Debutantes, Word of Mouth – Bay Area, Binders, and my community of women writer friends. To be honest, I think this is one of the reasons that I chose women’s fiction. I grew up with a single mom. Women have always been my support, my strength and my salvation. I don’t need male approval for my writing or even actively seek men as consumers for my novel. Women are the biggest book buyers, anyway. If men want to support me, that’s awesome, but it’s not mandatory. I can live without their reviews or even any of their prizes. The sticking point is the disproportionate resources that male writers get. Prizes and reviews mean visibility and sales. Sales means money and money means time. Time. Time is precious as a writermom. So yes, I’m still envious, but by now I’m used to it. It’s just a green haze in the background of my career–like smog–with a glint of bright green every now and then, when I see light reflected off the dollar amount of some male writer’s advance. You blink, but then you get on with it.

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Aya de Leon directs the Poetry for the People program in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley. Her work has appeared in Essence Magazine, xojane, Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Mutha Magazine, Movement Strategy Center, My Brown Baby, KQED Pop, Bitch Magazine, Racialicious, Fusion, and she has been a guest on HuffPostLive. She is the author of the children's picture book PUFFY: PEOPLE WHOSE HAIR DEFIES GRAVITY. Kensington Books will be publishing her debut feminist heist novel, UPTOWN THIEF, in 2016. For more info, go to ayadeleon.wordpress.com.

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