Sunday, January 16, 2011

It Has to Be Said

There's a topic spoken of only in hushed whispers in erotica circles, and that's gender discrimination.

In science fiction, literary fiction, and  -according to a recent open letter to the editor -  the New Yorker, female writers are passively/aggressively discriminated against. In erotica the reverse is true. The now defunct publisher Black Lace was notorious for only publishing female writers. The excuse was that it was an important part of their marketing to assure women that their sexual fantasies weren't in the hands of icky boys who would turn it into porn. (That's not the way they put it, but that's what it meant.) Even now, Best Women's Erotica and many other erotica anthologies explicitly state that only female writers may submit.

I'm female. I benefit from this discrimination.

Or do I?

As witnessed by the huge percentage of female writers who contribute to open call anthologies, female erotica writers can compete on a level playing field with the guys. I think that this open hostility and discrimination against male writers only hurts the anthologies, and by extension, it hurts me as a writer.

So back to that idea of the marketing ploy. First off - how many readers pay that much attention to a writer's name? From a recent FaceBook discussion about author bios, I found out that few people read them, and those who do are usually other writers. So readers don't care. But that's the main argument for discrimination! Could it be that idea is antiquated at best, and probably just dead wrong? Second - who would flip pages past a story just because they don't want to read something by a writer of that gender? A reader would give a story a shot, at least a couple paragraphs. Either the story engages them, at which point they forget all about the writer, or it doesn't, in which case, they aren't gong to think "But it's by a woman, so I'm going to slog through it anyway!" No. That's not how readers behave. Third - it used to be that anthologies were produced by strict sexuality guidelines so that no reader would be exposed to something that might offend them (in erotica!) but now stories range all over the spectrum of sexuality in books aimed at heterosexual audiences and it hasn't hurt sales. 

Which brings me to this point.

Years ago, when erotica was coming out from under the counters and being shelved with the rest of the real books, there might have been a reason to treat the readers with kid gloves. The seventies and eighties were laden with so many sexual minefields that everyone trod very carefully. Probably too carefully. (The whole Heterotica 6, or was it 7, kerfuffle by overly PC committee comes to mind.) But we're a bit more savvy now, or at least our audience is. Isn't it time that publishers caught up?

Readers already get it. They don't care about the contents of a writer's underwear. Only the story matters to them.

It has to be said: The story is all that matters.

Publishers, let down the drawbridge and let the male writers in. I've met many of them in person. I promise that they aren't icky. More to the point, some are amazing writers. Why in the world should readers be protected from quality?


Sharazade said...

I second this: "The story is all that matters."

Actually, I do check bios, if they're provided, but not till after I've read the story. And just the other day I guessed wrong on a writer's gender, because her name to me sounded like a guy's name. I assumed that the story had been written by a man, when actually it had been written by a woman. My reaction? "Huh." Because it just doesn't matter!

The only time it would matter would be in a review where I referred to the author by "he" or "she"--but even then, it's not such a hardship. I wanted to use a pronoun once for an author whose pen name gave no indication at all of gender, so I think I wrote something like "he? she? I'm not sure" and left it that.

Makes no difference to me as a reader if the erotica writer is male or female, gay or straight, or identifies in some other way. It's a good story, or it isn't.

There's a nice line in the feel-good teaching movie "Stand and Deliver," when the disadvantaged-kids-who-made-good have their AP Calculus exam scores challenged by ETS. Their teacher defends them and accuses the inspector of singling them out because they're different--actually, that's the way it feels to the audience, too, so I think sometimes that the inspector's answer gets lost: it's something like "There are two kinds of discrimination, singling a group out because they're different, and NOT singling out a group because they're different." (That is, the scores would have raised suspicion for a variety of reasons, like every kid missing the same problem; and to NOT investigate them just because they were poor or racial minorities is another form of discrimination.)

All that a long way to say, I don't want an "extra chance" at publishing because I'm a woman, any more than I'd want to be penalized for being a woman.

Kathleen Bradean said...

Sharazade - It's been my observation that unless the privileged class - in this odd case female writers - lend their voices to the call to end discrimination, nothing will happen. We have to talk about this. No more hushed voices.

ryan field said...

I enjoyed this post. First, because I've always been outspoken when it comes to women writing m/m erotic romance. I've always supported them, and some of the best m/m erotic romances I've read have been written by women.

Second, because I've written more than a few erotic hetero stories and novels and I've been forced to use a women's pen name. Not forced in a literal sense by publishers. I made the decision because I wanted to play it safe.

Kathleen Bradean said...


Thank you for commenting. Yes, this works both ways, and all ways.

If a writer doesn't do a good job of creating characters, then an editor should reject the story. But rejecting the writer is simply wrong.

Anonymous said...

I'm just going to post the comment I made over at Ryan's blog:

To me, the gender of the author doesn't matter. A good story is a good story.

There was a a time when female authors were encouraged to use male pseudonyms just to get published. Harper Lee dropped her first name of Nellie. Mary Ann Evans became George Eliot. The Bronte sisters first published under the names Acton and Currer Bell.

As the romance genre became popular, we saw the reverse. Male authors used female pseudonyms in order to get published. If you've read a V.C. Andrews' book published since the early 90's, then it was probably written by the man who took over her name after she passed away in 1986.

Honestly, the only thing I worry about when it comes to the gender of an author is that I know what pronoun he/she prefers the readers to use when referring to him/her.

Nobilis Reed said...

I've talked about this in my own blog.

Thank you, Kathleen, for adding your voice.

CJ Lemire said...

As a male writer of erotic fiction, all I can say is, "Hear, hear!"

Janine Ashbless said...

Yep, I agree too. I was a Black Lace author, but I still didn't think it right to discriminate against male writers. Particularly as we had a male editor by the end - what sort of sense does that make?

Observations said...

Dear Kathleen,

I am a guy currently in college and secretly a writer of erotica. Have read your books and they are very tastefully done. Was wondering if you have any plans to make them into a movie or short film of some sort? Would like to help out, I love romantic movies and can shoot stuff. Thanks alot.


angus clarke said...

I've recently entered the world of erotica, and as a male am very interested in your discussion. It seems the story of my life that I'd try and become successful in a field where the odds are stacked against me! Anyway, I've recently started a blog including reviews of 'women friendly' pieces, and along the way I hope to catalogue my efforts to make my writing attractive to a female audience. I'd love to include a link to your site, and hope that you might give me some feedback. I hope you can spare the time.