Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sexism and Criticism

I've been link-hopping through the article that a friend thoughtfully provided for a little writing group I'm in, on sexism in Young Adult publishing, and finally hit this thoughtful article about critiques -  specifically critiques for/by female reviewers:

"The idea is, apparently, that women are so exhausted by the intellectual labor required to produce the text in question that we are unable to withstand any subsequent critique, and ought instead to fall back on some kind of rosy-cheeked sorority of lady writers, exchanging stain-removal tips and sob stories."

*sighs and reclines onto fainting couch*

The article makes some good points.

I think this goes further than just a fear of publishing criticism in YA. Across a hundred subjects and disciplines, from literature to food blogging to college classes, people have backed off strict criticism in favor of hedged, softened words of gentle advice or worse, silence. I'm guessing this change is due to a misguided sense that communities striving to be "diverse", "inclusive", and "welcoming" can not under any circumstances allow criticism - even constructive kinds.

But let's get this straight: Constructive criticism is not mean, it is not intentionally harmful to minorities (although unintentional harm should be part of the larger discussion) or non-inclusive or unwelcoming and it is the responsibility of the author when putting their work out into the world to accept the possibility that not everybody is going to love it and further that it is an author's responsibility to duly consider all reviews, both positive and negative and not to take them as personal attacks but as what they are - reader opinion which may or may not figure into the writer's personal growth.

Critical reviews are an integral part of growing and improving as a writer. Ignoring the negatives because they make us feel uncomfortable should not be an option, and expecting that women (or men, or teens, or authors of color, or anybody else) can't handle the discomfort of a critical review is just plain insulting. We should at least read our reviews before we discard them as useless to us; we might find that a reader has pointed out a flaw we didn't see, or a habit we have fallen into without noticing. We might also find that our style or voice is better understood by certain kinds of readers. What we do with that information is our choice but I think the information should be available, which means encouraging reviews that are not all "I LOVED IT!".

This does not excuse the sorts of people who use the umbrella of constructive criticism to fire harsh words at authors they do not like. So we need to be talking openly about what constitutes _good_ critiques vs. attacks, and how we can educate ourselves as readers and reviewers so that when we read something that doesn't sit well with us, we can address it honestly and kindly.

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