A lucky few writers, who get so much publicity that they can take it or leave it, have made second careers of trashing the medium and any writer who uses it. This speech is for the rest of us.
This pretty much sums up the premise of PEN American Center's DIY event with author Jennifer Weiner, which took place at the Ace Hotel in New York on April 6. Part entertaining monologue, and part social media how-to session, Weiner spent the night highlighting the many reasons Jonathan Franzen is so wrong about social media, and underscoring the necessity of the medium for today’s writers - particularly female writers.
In the middle of some arguably entertaining jabs at Franzen, Weiner offered a few broader insights on how writers can and should use platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. While some shy away from social media, Weiner maintained that it’s actually great for writers. “It’s not a bad place for us, it’s the best place.” And at its best, social media opens the door to an authentic connection between writer and reader. She reminded us, “Twitter is a conversation, not a soliloquy.” It is a place to interact, to converse, to create a two-way relationship with one’s audience.
“In the car on the way here, Judy Blume tweeted at me and my 12-year-old self died.” I chuckled as she shared this Twitter exchange, reminded of the time Madeleine Albright favorited one of my tweets. Weiner and I had the same response to this momentary social media brush with celebrity - best to just retire now because it’s surely not going to get better than that. These are a perfect examples though of how authors - or former Secretaries of State - can take full advantage of social media.
While I walked away from the evening with a few tips about how to perhaps improve my own social media presence, what really stayed with me - and what I’m still pondering today - is the underlying theme of the night of the trivialization of women’s writing. Throughout the evening we heard about how women’s fiction isn’t published as often, how it’s not promoted as highly, and how it’s ultimately still read as “the Other.”
The trivialization of women’s work is one of those things you know still happens, but you wish you were mistaken in believing this to be true. I mean, there’s just no way someone in this day and age would minimize my contribution as a writer simply based on my gender...right?
I found myself wanting Weiner to be wrong when she claimed, “I believe that if I were a guy writing the books I’m writing...I don’t think my books would be read the same way, I think they’d just be novels.” Instead, however, the term “chick-lit” is attached to most of her work, as well as that of many other female authors.
This problem is obviously not particular to fiction writers. Gender issues exist in many realms, including that of international relations and foreign policy. Lauren Bohn and Elmira Bayrasli recently launched Foreign Policy Interrupted as a response to the silencing of women’s voices in foreign policy discussions. It should be noted, by the way, that both of these women maintain lively Twitter accounts.
Ultimately, I don’t have any groundbreaking solutions to offer here about how to gain better gender parity in literature, or how to change how audiences and those in the publishing industry view the work of female writers. This is something that will require far more than one voice on one page.
What I did take away from this event though, and what I would encourage you to take away from this brief blog post, is a greater awareness of how we allow the identity of an author to influence the way in which we read their writing. I, too, am guilty of letting my preconceived notions of how a certain type of author might write influence the way I select my books.
So the next time you walk through your local bookstore, glance at the bestsellers table - likely filled with the books of female authors - and take a moment to think about who you’re choosing to read and why.
Social Media, Gender