As you all know, now and then I air my pet peeves, so here goes.
There is a phenomenon that I have encountered for a long time, years, which I always take personally, has irritated me considerably, and I figured that people just do to me to be annoying. I just discovered that I am not the only one it happens to, and I think it is something that only men do to only women, and not just to me.
It goes like this, I run into a man I know or meet at a dinner party for the first time in a long time. After hello, they open with, “So, are you still writing?” Hmmm…..this immediately suggests to me that they have not read the NY Times (bestseller list) in many years, the Wall Street Journal, or maybe they don’t read at all. Yes, I am STILL writing. What this does is that it immediately puts my writing into the category as a hobby. As in, are you still taking piano lessons, doing macrame, have a parrot? I don’t have a huge ego about my work, but let’s face it, for me it is a job. A job I love, and I have been doing it since I was 19 years old. I have been in the Guinness book of world records repeatedly for having a book on the bestseller list for more weeks consecutively than whoever. Yes, for Heaven’s sake, I am still writing. It’s my work, my job, how my family eats and went to college. People said that comment to me when I was 35. Now when they say it, I get even more insulted because I think they’re suggesting I must be too old to write, but it’s actually not about that. (And I’m not that old yet). The comment is an immediate put down. It is a way of suggesting that what I do is really not very important. Women NEVER ask me that question. But SOME men do. The men who do, I find, are VERY uncomfortable about my success at what I do, and VERY annoyed by it. The other really ridiculous comment is “You have an AGENT?” Of course I have an agent, I have written 130 books that are sold in 69 countries in 43 languages—they think maybe I write letters by hand and send them to publishers around the world to sell my books? Of course I have an agent (a fabulous one I love). I never say to guys, “So are you still a lawyer?…A doctor?…A brain surgeon?” They would think I’m nuts if I did. But men who are annoyed by women’s success in business have to find a way to put them down. And what better way to insult someone than minimize what they do, imply that it’s really insignificant, and inquire if they’re still doing it? Are you still bungee jumping off your mother’s roof?? Having contests to see how many grapes you can squeeze into your mouth?? (That was so much fun when I was about 8). I was actually a pogo stick champion when I was about 10, and no I am not doing that anymore. But YES, I AM STILL WRITING. In fact, I finished a book about an hour ago. It is SUCH a dumb question coming from an intelligent person. If you walk into a bookstore, open a newspaper, or whatever, you can see that I am ‘still’ writing. The worst form of that was at a dinner party I went to years ago. I sat down, I smiled at the man next to me and I’m a shy person, and he barked at me, “Who do you think you are?” Was that a trick question? No it was a man who was so uptight about what I’ve accomplished that he needed to be insulting before he even met me, to make himself feel better. The other comment men like to make is another winner “My maid just loves your books”. Really, well thank God for her. There are LOTS of men who DON’T have an issue with women being successful in business, but unfortunately some who do. I love talking to men who aren’t threatened by women who work, do it well, and do well at it. It’s a pleasure to talk to them. But the ones with a chip on their shoulder really are a bore and not much fun.
I think some people are threatened if one is enterprising or has many/varied interests. I studied design in college and went to design school as well as NYU. And I still do interior design to this day. I had a contemporary art gallery for 5 years. I do some art pieces myself, and have recently started selling them in 2 galleries. I curate contemporary art shows for a gallery in San Francisco. I began writing song lyrics 2 years ago with 3 composers in France, and am now signing for an album of those songs. Doing different things keeps life fun, but that threatens some people too, which really is too bad. Is it jealousy? Or just bad manners? When I opened my gallery, a man I know (though not well enough for him to insult me) said, “Well, we always knew you were crazy, now you’ve proven it.” Why would ANYONE say something like that? I sure wouldn’t. And women don’t make those comments to other women. Unfortunately, some men do.
This is stuff I have lived with and put up with for many years since my first book got published in my early 20’s. But I was speaking to a woman tonight, a good friend and she started a business a few years ago, and now SHE is getting those same comments. And that suddenly made me realize that it’s not about me, it’s about men who don’t like women getting out there, doing something new or innovative and accomplishing something. Why are we not just in the kitchen cooking? (In my case, because I’m a terrible cook!!) The friend I was speaking to is a very talented interior designer, and has been successful at it for many years. A few years ago, 3 or 4, she decided to do something completely different, and she started a shoe company. Unbelievably brave, to do something that far afield from what you normally do. In order to start it intelligently, she traveled to Viet Nam, China, Brazil, and more recently Mexico to learn more about production. In the past 3 years she has traveled to China constantly, learned all about production, and has produced some VERY nice shoes that are now selling well. Now SHE is getting those same snotty comments from men who are annoyed by what she’s doing. I personally am floored by the guts and creativity she had, I wouldn’t know how to start a shoe company, and I would be scared to death to travel all over the world to figure out how to make a shoe. But she’s done it, and it’s a great shoe line, she’s selling them in good stores, in the US, and now even in one of the best stores in Paris. Hats off to her!!! And she works hard at it. And how amazing to be that brave and creative. But now she is getting “Are you still doing ‘those’ shoes?” Yes, she is, and doing damn well at it, thank you.
In our conversation, we figured out that certain lines of work are considered acceptable by the men who make those comments. Interior Design is not threatening, it’s okay. Being an artist. Probably being a model, cooking, and a flight attendant. But go into business, make a product, cross the line into a business a man would do, or like to do, and you’re in trouble, and suddenly you’re a threat. We’re not trying to take jobs away from men, or make them look bad. We’re working. So are they. And if we’re selling art, or making shoes, or writing, we’re working as hard as everyone else, and deserve some respect for how hard we work. Ladies, watch out for the men who resent the kind of work you do and make nasty comments. And Gentlemen, please be nice and please don’t make those comments about our work. Give us a break. And yes, I STILL write.