Wednesday News: creativity, gender, parenthood, and “lady authors”
Homme de Plume: What I Learned Sending My Novel Out Under a Male Name – A fascinating and frustrating piece by Catherine Nichols on her experience sending out her book manuscript under her own name and under a man’s name. Not only did she get more responses with a male pseudonym, but even her writing was characterized differently. She wonders, among other things, if there’s a perception that women must be writing “Women’s Fiction,” which often garners less respect, and she has some interesting insights about the way, as a woman, she had been “conditioned . . . against ambition.” And she wonders how class and ethnicity markers affect the reactions of agents and publishers, as well.
I sent the six queries I had planned to send that day. Within 24 hours George had five responses—three manuscript requests and two warm rejections praising his exciting project. For contrast, under my own name, the same letter and pages sent 50 times had netted me a total of two manuscript requests. The responses gave me a little frisson of delight at being called “Mr.” and then I got mad. Three manuscript requests on a Saturday, not even during business hours! The judgments about my work that had seemed as solid as the walls of my house had turned out to be meaningless. My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me—Catherine.
I wanted to know more of how the Georges of the world live, so I sent more. Total data: George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25. –Jezebel
This Is How ‘Lady Authors’ Were Told to Promote Their Books in the 1960s – This photo essay from 1969 featuring Jeanne Rejaunier, whose book The Beauty Trap drew on her experiences as a model, reminds me a bit of that article featuring Romance novelists dressed in costume-like outfits, posed in bed, and posed in other extreme contexts. And given the Nichols piece, it’s difficult to see these photos as all that satirical or tongue-in-cheek, nor does the overall picture for female authors seem particularly great when it comes to respect for craft, artistry, or business acumen.
In a LIFE photo essay called “What it takes to be a lady author anymore,” Rejaunier posed for shots that demonstrated how a woman should promote her literary work. A successful lady author, the captions suggested, must “swim a little,” “exercise in a bikini” and be “photographed in bed.” The essay attributed the success of her book, a novel based on the dark side of the modeling world, to Rejaunier’s beauty rather than her literary talents: “Just possibly because she smiles so prettily on the book jacket (the back and the front of the book) The Beauty Trap is now in its fourth printing.”–Time/Life
Netflix Announces Its New ‘Unlimited’ Maternity And Paternity Leave Program – In brighter news, Netflix is giving its employees unlimited maternity and paternity leave during the first year following a child’s birth or adoption. This program is great both because it applies to both mothers and fathers (often men feel more pressure to remain on the job following the birth of a child), because women are not being punished for wanting to take time off from work to have children, and because Netflix seems to recognize that employees can be more productive when they don’t feel like they need to choose between work and home.
We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances. Parents can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed. We’ll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay. Each employee gets to figure out what’s best for them and their family, and then works with their managers for coverage during their absences.–Tech Crunch
A Maternal Rite of Passage in the Democratic Republic of Congo – To me, the most interesting aspect of this story is the ritual that that the women from the Ekonda tribe of the Western D.R.C. undertake after having their first child. Patrick Willocq, a French photographer who grew up in the D.R.C., created sets that represented the stories the women were telling, and he says that his photographs are intended to celebrate the women as they undertake their ritual storytelling. Wary of this use of photography to “celebrate” womanhood (see above story from Life Magazine), I checked out Willocq’s website, which contains more of the photos, along with the stories that the women are telling. It appears from his site that he worked with the women to represent part of the personal stories that they were telling, hopefully making the photos more collaboration than objectifying idealization or indulgence.
For several years after giving birth, the young women live in semi-seclusion, separated from their husbands and cared for by other female tribe members. Covered daily in red powder made of Ngola wood, which is believed to ward off evil and disease, the women, known as Walés, or “nursing mothers,” avoid strenuous work or sexual relations. When the time comes to reënter society, each woman puts on a show for the community, translating the lessons learned during seclusion into song and dance. –New Yorker