A lot of people thought that the If Jane Austen Got Feedback from Some Guy in a Writing Workshop piece was just the balls*. It’s been linked, relinked, commented upon, and generally well-loved.
The comments on the piece were where it lived for me. Notably, there was some outrage over the inherent “mansplaining” in the piece. Yes, it was satire, but when readers take it seriously enough to express negative feelings about it, it’s not just a knock-knock joke. It deserves a little analysis.
If you use the term “mansplaining” unironically, you will not enjoy the remainder of this post.
To avoid the mansplaining problem, the solution is to simply segregate your choice of interlocutors so that you, as a confident woman, won’t have to listen to the mansplaining. Whenever presenting a piece for feedback, simply say, “Men need not apply.” It’s okay to do that. No men, no mansplaining. (You can change the term “Men” here to “Guys” or, if you’re so inclined, “Dudebros” to really make an impact.) If the 21st century has taught us anything, it’s that it isn’t the value of the information presented that matters, but the gender, race, age, and political viewpoint of the presenter. Choose who you communicate with wisely, and speak your truth as bravely as you can manage.
Failing that, there are publishers who will cater to you. It’s all good.
What follows will be some offensive mansplaining about related issues. This is your trigger warning.
My years of employment in the publishing industry have taught me something that should be self-evident to anyone who has worked in or run a business, but is not because the truth is ugly and shitty and hurtful: businesses exist to make money. This is especially true for publishers. The vast, vast, vast majority of them care about how much money they can make from publishing your book, and that’s it. Very little else matters. Including your gender. And your color. And your sexual orientation. These qualities are only important insofar as they affect marketing. If publishers aren’t publishing your books, it’s because they don’t think they can sell your books.
Isn’t the demand for a carve-out to cater to your particular needs an admission that you can’t succeed any other way? Do you really want any success you might achieve to be directly attributed to some kind of affirmative action for writers? Don’t you want to compete?
Extra bonus content about writing workshops:
I did writing workshops as an undergrad decades ago, and I won’t do them again. The best way to get better at something isn’t to submit your work to a committee, but to do it over and over again until you’ve done it right. That doesn’t mean you should publish every piece of deathless prose you ever write: it means that you need to do a lot of reading and writing and critiquing and self-critiquing before you achieve competence as a writer. That’s just the beginning: do you really want to be just competent? You really do have to read. A lot. And you have to do it with both eyes open and find out what you like about what you’ve read and figure out why you liked it and examine it to determine why it worked so well and how you can do it yourself in your own way. Over and over and over again. Some of it’s unconscious, some of it isn’t. Cultivate mindfulness in reading. Then do the same for writing. Easy-peasy. Anyone can do it, right?
*“The balls” is a dudebro (that is, male) term for something that is impressive. As in, “Yo, that patriarchal way you mansplained your position to that chick who asked you a question was the balls!”