Finding Feminism: A Woman In Publishing
If I Was A Car, I Would Run You Down
Four years ago, I would have probably said we don’t need feminism anymore. I would have said we’re doing ok as a culture and don’t sweat the small stuff like discrepancies in wage, promotion opportunities, and people yelling ‘nice tits’ when you’re walking down the street in the middle of the day. I would have said this stuff will disappear with time, or possibly denied they even happened. Of course, this was before I knew page three existed (because, no, it’s not normal and where I grew up it wasn’t a thing), before Robin Thicke, and before last week’s news that two of the biggest jobs in publishing, previously held by women, are going to men.
I am not suggesting that men don’t deserve these jobs. Both men seem incredibly well qualified to hold their respective positions. But every time something like this comes up, I am (and in fact most people are) reminded of how our industry is overwhelmingly female, and the top jobs are held overwhelmingly by men. I don’t know why that is. I also don’t know why there is a difference between men and women’s pay.
I found feminism partly through the fact that I noticed these problems, and partly through the incredible women I know who work in publishing. Because there are so damn many of them. The ones who stare you down; the ones that ask difficult questions; the ones with brilliant ideas; the ones working late and hard on a bottomless pit of a project; the ones that make me laugh with how much they cut through the shit when a conversation is in danger of spiraling towards circularity. These women inspire me to be ambitious.
Women don’t simply exist in publishing – we are a force. Last week, Virago celebrated its 40th birthday, and unveiled a timeline of celebrated memories in its history as a publisher for women. It is packed full of inspiring women and moments, not least an ad for a Fiat that reads: ‘If it were a lady, it would get its bottom pinched’ over the top of which someone has spray painted ‘If this lady was a car she’d run you down.’
I’m not writing this as a guilt trip to men. I’m writing this because women matter so much more than headlines give us credit for. I don’t want to be separated out into women only conferences in order for us to share our expertise in publishing (because we are incredibly under-represented at all other conferences – see Sam Missingham’s article from June last year). I don’t think we should get special kudos when women make the shortlist for book prizes. I just don’t want to ever have to consider whether something I have done has been brushed aside because I’m a woman, rather than just because it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s called the glass ceiling. I don’t want that.
The most successful of our gender are congratulated not for their achievements but for the fact these achievements were made by a woman. The majority of us won’t even get that. Pointing this out every time I feel vaguely self-righteous won’t really change anything, but I’ll say this: if we exist in the margins of publishing, then they will be the best damn margins you have ever seen – the kind creeping inwards to the text from the constant scribbling of ideas. The kind with small cartoons that are as sharp as our minds. The kind that define the whole book. And more fool the idiot who underestimates us.