On Women, Strength and Competition

Last week on International Women’s Day, I was exposed to the most wonderful poet: Fleassy Malay from Melbourne, Australia, and her incredible poem, “Witches.” It’s actually not about witchcraft, but strong women. Please take a moment to watch it.

If you liked it, you can buy a print of the text on Etsy. Until March 18, 50% of the proceeds will be donated to The Global Women’s Project.

I seriously have a girl crush on Fleassy now and immediately followed her on Facebook. The other night she posted a Facebook Live to explain why she wrote the poem, which isn’t necessarily why you might think. Among other things, she said something like “we’re really good as women at calling each other out on our shit, but we don’t really have a system for celebrating one another.”

That really stuck with me. I’m a highly competitive person, so I naturally want to compare myself with others, and I’ll admit to getting pretty jealous when others achieve the things I dream about before I do. Oddly enough, my Twitter friend Summer posted something similar the other day:

I know we all do that to some extent, but I have a problem with it. I’ve always thought it was just a flaw in my personality, something I need to work on – which it is – but now I wonder how much is societal. From what age are we taught to compete with one another, especially with other females? Does it start when we are old enough to watch television or even to consume fairy tales where women (sometimes even mothers and step-sisters) compete over the same man? How and why does this bleed over into other parts of our life? From where does this mindset of scarcity come? It’s not like there is a limited number of men/success/book contracts/what-have-you for which we have to compete Hunger Games-style. Yet we do it. Every single day.

I see memes like this one all the time and I want to say, “Hell yes!” because they are true. But in my heart, I can’t. As a feminist, I’ve long been ashamed of myself for viewing other women first as my competition and second as my sisters. It’s weird, but when the topic is something I’m not competitive about, I’m ALL ABOUT the sisterhood and the congratulations. But throw in something I think I lack and it gets ugly, at least on the inside.

Getting back to Fleassy’s question, how do we create a system to help build up one another? Social media seems to both help and hinder this idea. It helps because we can signal boost each other, offer our well-wishes, etc. And that is a great start. But social media also allows us to see what is happening with others on a much more regular basis than we otherwise would. It shows us the external, polished veneers of other women’s lives, and when we compare ourselves to them, we feel bad, which takes us away from celebrating their triumph. Many people call it the Instagram effect. What we don’t see is the hard work and tears that go into that success or the other issues that the person might be dealing with. This accolade over which we are green with envy might be the only thing keeping that person from despair.

As evidenced by my personal reactions, these platitudes are so much easier to say than to live. I don’t have any easy answers to these questions. It is a change that needs to happen at the societal level, but like everything else, likely needs to begin at the personal level. Hopefully, if each time someone we know/love succeeds at something, we try our best to be genuinely happy for her, we will slowly change the world. Share her posts, lift a toast, and dance for joy with her. Even if our hearts hurt, we can transform that pain into determination to do more/better in our own lives, and that can only make us stronger. And as each one of us glows brighter, we will collectively burn until we’ve changed this mindset of scarcity and competition into one of collective appreciation and abundance. Or so I dream.

I know I’m going to try. And like the rest of my fellow “witches,” I won’t come quietly.

PS – Does anyone else think Fleassy looks like Cosima from Orphan Black?

 

Cover and Title Reveal!

When I went to check the schedule to see who was about to drop the  ball and miss their posting date I realized, as you can probably guess, it was me. Yup. Go team leader!

tumblr_ojym90eixm1si3gq6o1_540

But that’s okay. I had no idea what to post for a second and thought I was going to continue my series of “I’ve run out of creative juices, but I’m still trying!” posts, which I know, by post three, are just riveting.

tenor1

And then I remembered! This is the week I’m revealing the title and cover of my forthcoming YA apocalyptic novel! Huzzah! I have something to post! Go team leader!

good-place-gif-1

If you’re familiar with my Ash & Ruin Trilogy, this book is a spin off of that world. Well, it’s a spin off of a spin off. My first spin off (say spin off again), was Dandelions, a novel about Gwen, a young teen orphaned by the plague, waiting for her sister, Maggie, to make it home at the end of the world. While I was writing that book the character Maggie became more and more interesting to me. Gwen barely recognizes the person her sister has become, so I wondered what happened to her to change her so drastically.

And thus, Maggie’s first book was born. This first book in Maggie’s tale gives us a glimpse into the horror and panic she’s facing trying to get home as the world is falling apart around her. I had thought this story would be a duet, but there’s a chance it might be a trilogy too. I’m not sure yet. Yay adventure!

But I do have the title and cover ready. Pre-order date to be announced soon. Anyway, I hope you guys dig it!

Blackbird

Lessons About Women Gleaned from Stock Photography

Maybe we need more female photographers to contribute to stock photo sites.

I’m putting on my feminist hat (okay, it’s a crown) for this post, so be forewarned.

I was looking for pictures for the cover of my next book yesterday and I noticed that you can really draw a lot of inferences about our culture just by looking at the way women are portrayed in stock photography.

To give you context, I was looking for a middle-aged woman with a sword for the final installment of my trilogy. The original mock up my designer and I came up with has been bugging me for months and I finally figured out why: the model we used is too young for where Guinevere is in life in this story. So I’m looking for an older one.

You would think there are stock photos out there of queens, right? Yeah not so much, unless you want one who is maybe 18 or you can pay thousands of dollars to a photographer period images. I can’t, so I used Adobe Stock and ThinkStock, which produced some rather…interesting results. What I found was pretty consistent on both. I realize that this likely has more to do with the specific searches I was doing than the diversity of images overall on those sites, but my results were still pretty telling:

  1. Keywords: Woman with sword. Many of the women with swords were very young and most were scantily clothed. Some were licking the swords in what I guess was supposed to be a seductive manner. (Eww…) This clearly comes from some sort of male fetish and is obviously meant to cater to the male gaze. I guess this shouldn’t surprise me, given the lack of strong female historical role models, but you would think with all the fantasy novels out there, there would be more images that were appropriate for books that aren’t anime-like or erotica.
  2. Keywords: Dark haired woman. Finding pictures of middle-aged women is very hard. I can find young models and elderly woman in spades, but like with Hollywood rolls, women in middle age are ignored. This makes me feel like our society wants to hide the period of life when women are no longer traditionally desirable, yet aren’t the crones we like to trot out at Halloween and ignore for the rest of the year. As someone approaching 40, I find the lack of representation of women near my age very troubling. I know I no longer look like I did when I was 18 so I don’t want a child representing me or subconsciously conveying I should still look like her. No. I earned every one of my wrinkles and age spots. I want my characters to be able to show the beauty of aging, too.
  3. Keywords: Middle aged woman. When you do find middle-aged women in pictures they are smiling. In and of itself, this isn’t a bad thing, but when you’re trying to find one in which the woman looks like she wants to be taken seriously, this is a problem. I began to think about the types of products these happy images might accompany and most of them were intended to solve some sort of “female” problem: child-rearing, cleaning, eating healthy so they can look young (see above). Then I remembered the old idea that women should always be bright and happy for their men; looks like that is still alive and well. God forbid we show a woman who could go toe to toe with a man! We’d rather have vapid, smiling Barbie dolls.
  4. Keywords: Middle aged woman serious. If you ask for serious faces, most of the images you get are women who aren’t wearing makeup. Um…what am I supposed to do with that? Does that mean that photographers think serious women are ugly or plain? Or that a woman can’t be desirable and serious at the same time? Are the only ways to be serious and female to be sick, tired or depressed? Because that’s what these search results look like.
  5. Keywords: Fierce woman. Fierce women apparently like to bite things: chains, whips, pens, hot peppers (don’t ask, I don’t know either, but it was there). And they like to exercise and yell. That’s seriously (no pun intended) all you get in this type of search. Where are the businesswomen, pissed off mothers, and women thinking deep thoughts? Where are the warriors, military women, doctors, police women, etc.? The message this sends to me is that I can only be considered fierce if I’m a dominatrix or I’m working out, both of which end up feeding into ideals put in place by men for how women are supposed to be. And that is bullshit. I’m fierce every single day, even when I stay in my pajamas!

As a feminist, I find these results deeply concerning. If women ever want to be taken seriously we need to break through the stereotypes that run rampant in these images.

Right now I really wish I was a photographer so I could start consciously integrating more positive and diverse female images into my work. But I am a writer, which means I’m going to have to keep writing strong female characters who demand a different image on their book covers. Write enough of those and the pictures will change. Or at least that is my hope.