You might have heard about this Andrew Smith thing. It sucks. It sucks because it’s just another moment in the daily lives of women being otherized, mocked, shamed, or disregarded. It sucks when I think about how I’m treated like a less-than-human all the time, like last Wednesday when I was walking down the street to go to a yoga class and had a man start following me in his car, yell at me, ask me “Can I be your friend?” and then when I shook my head and kept walking, pulled into the next parking space and got out and shouted that he wanted my number. I hate that I had to be glad that he only did that and didn’t keep following me. I hate that I should be grateful that it didn’t get physical. No one should feel grateful that someone only somewhat harassed them. And, in this Andrew Smith situation, no one should feel grateful that Andrew Smith thinks of women as more of a mysterious, Other Thing than gigantic grasshoppers just because he’s “trying” to be better. Of course he was being facetious when he said his daughter was the first woman in his life – that being nitpicked over is absurd, annoying, and a way of excusing what he actually meant – “I don’t really care about women because I don’t get them and I don’t find them valid” – instead of engaging with it.
No, Andrew Smith is not the biggest jerk in the world or the only person who thinks this way. But he said it, and it’s a chance to engage with sexism, and anyone who says that criticism is the same thing as bullying (see the Stop the Goodreads Bullies movement of a couple years ago for other misinformed idiots who decided that attacking and threatening book critics was somehow righteous) is not helping.
It is an outrage that women are consistently referred to as if they are foreign and invalid. And it is more of an outrage that this has sparked the ridiculous #KeepYAKind movement, and even further that this hashtag seems to be spearheaded by women YA authors. Don’t get me wrong: EVERYONE should be offended by sexism. But to see women working in the very field where we are trying to have a productive conversation about imbalance, about prejudice, about otherizing, about criticism saying, “Hey guys, we think you’re being mean by pointing out that we are treated badly,” makes me really sad. It’s unsurprising – women are socialized to keep things kind and friendly and to accept sexism. But this is a chance to stand up, not to turn fair and warranted criticism into accusations of meanness. This is not the time for kindness. Kindness has nothing to do with sexism or literary criticism. Kindness has to do with playground politics and human decency on a day-to-day level, not societal change. Kindness here is derailing.
I like to think that I have some righteous and productive rage over the things I’m passionate about, especially in literature and especially online, where I’ve made really great, really real friends who share my passions and frustrations and like to engage in making literature a better place. But every once in awhile I step back and remember that my rage, which I think is a brand of hipster, educated nerd rage, probably looks to other people like Angry Black Woman.
I guess it’s my own fault for forgetting that I’m black. To be fair, I’m actually mixed, and while I’m no Nella Larsen in my looks, my socioeconomic status gives me privilege and my physicality leads me to maybe be seen as Latin (for better or for worse, depending on who is doing the seeing), and that lets me slightly move around in the racial world. Also, I was lucky enough to be raised in a community that, while not short of microaggressions, overall did a pretty good job of telling me that I was a valid human being who was valued and seen as a Person. I was also adopted, so I was raised in a brownish family, but not an African American one.
Now that I’m an adult, living off in my own world and meeting people not filtered through my family’s association with them or through institutions, it really hurts me not to have been raised with more of an awareness of being a black person. And more than that, because I was actually aware that I was different, I didn’t really have a good vocabulary, a thick skin, or a filter through which to express my frustration or explain to the people around me what racism was.
So now, I think I end up burned or not listened to because people are just seeing an Angry Black Woman, whereas the amazing women who are writing amazing responses to this issue are mostly (all? not sure) white women.
You’re welcome not to listen to me because you don’t like what I think or disagree with me. You are welcome not to care. You are not welcome to do so because I’m black or because I’m a woman.
This is why, even though I feel very strongly about this issue and this occurrence of it, I’ve been mostly silent. Because I see the white women speaking out are getting bullied and harassed and threatened and told to shut up and told they have no right to their feelings. And because nobody will see my arguments as valid and reasoned if they see my picture. I have every right to my rage, but it’s not even seen as the same kind of rage that other women have, and sometimes I’m willing to let that be, and other times I’m just tired. Today I’m tired.
I’ve always been seen as a somewhat negative person, or told I am, or both. I’ve also been raised Jewish, which means there is also a cultural tradition of kvetching, though that’s different. More importantly, that Judaism has taught me to always question, always consider, always fight, always push forward. But nobody looks at me and sees a Jew. They see a black woman. And so today I’m not really bothering to add my voice. Today I’m tired.
There are a few men who are fighting the good fight on this, like Chuck Wendig, but I’d rather link to you to the women who have been fighting for longer and not getting credit for it but are saying amazing, well written things that need to be read and understood and considered. Alphabetically, some of them are
Edited to add: I fed a troll below. I am really sorry about it. Please don’t judge me.