ROSA Spotlight: Romy Sommer

In an effort to really get to know each other, we thought it would be a good idea to publish a series of interviews with fellow ROSA memb...

Monday, August 10, 2015

Happy women's day!

To all the romance writers and readers out there (yes, even the rare men) I hope you're enjoying having a day off work today. All that extra reading time!

South African author Helen Moffett has posted her annual rant about Women's Day, and it's well worth a read. Just beware that the post contains some bad language and shouting. But it's thought provoking. Every day should indeed be Women's Day!

I also highly recommend this post by Jen Thorpe.

You're probably wondering why, on a day that should be joyful, celebrating the strength of women and their many amazing contributions to the world we live in, there is such an outpouring of negativity from women.

The answer is simple: equality between men and women is still a myth in South Africa.

This was brought home to me three times over this last week.

First, it was the leaflet distributor at the red traffic lights who leaned clear across the hood of my car to press his leaflet against the windscreen immediately in front of my face. When I did not joyously acknowledge him, he moved to stand by my window, again waving his leaflet. Not getting a reaction, he finally drifted to the car behind me, driven by a man. I watched my rear view mirror in fascination as he paused beside the driver's window, waving his leaflets at almost twice the distance he'd stood from my window. He didn't shove the leaflet in the male driver's face.

The implication is clear. As a woman, I do not deserve the same 'space' in the world as the man behind me. The leaflet distributor clearly felt he had a  right to get up close and personal and in my face, in a way he would never do with another man. The implication being that I, as a woman, am a lesser human being, less deserving of respect.
Less powerful.

But it's not only the uneducated men handing out leaflets in the backed-up traffic who perpetuate this inequality.

This last week Books Live announced the line up for the 2015 Open Book Festival to be held in Cape Town next month. 102 authors! Wow - fantastic! Then I scan down the list and though there are many women writers involved, none of the topics seem to cover women's fiction. There are about 120 sessions taking place during the Festival, and not one features the genre most read by women: Romance. Nor is there a single romance writer included among the speakers.

There are the usual talks on politics and race that occur at every book fair in South Africa (yes, these are important, but nearly 50% of the line-up at an event about BOOKs, not politics?). A handful of sessions are devoted to comic books, and there's even a talk on the connection between hip hop and the spoken word. (Not the written word, you notice, even though this is a BOOK festival). There's also a talk about loadshedding by a man who has written a book about Eskom. Because really, that's more relevant to South African literature than the world's most profitable book genre? I suppose I should be satisfied that there is at least one talk about YA (Young Adult fiction).

But I have to wonder: How is it possible that the highest earning genre of fiction world-wide is not represented? Why is there not even one session out of the 120 devoted to the genre written mostly by women, for women and about women?

The implication is clear: because in the literary world as much as on the city streets, women are less important. Unless we write a genre that is of interest to men (non-fiction, politics, sports, literary fiction) we are not worthy of inclusion.

Finally, the last straw in my build-up to Women's Day, was this article on Jezebel.com showing that men are eight and a half times more likely to succeed in publishing than women. Not for any obvious reason, except that people in publishing, as in all things in our supposedly equal society, seem to have a subconscious belief that men are better than women. (Except in Romance which, as the article points out, is the one genre in which it is an advantage to be a woman!)

I don't really need to say that this pervasive attitude towards women is (a) wholly unfair and (b) complete and utter tosh, do I?

Women make up half this planet's population. Interestingly enough, we're the half that ensures the survival of our species. In fact, pretty much the survival of all life on earth, if you exclude sea horses, hermaphrodites and single cell organisms. I'd say that makes us just a little important, don't you think?

Many of us raise the next generation alone, in the face of rampant daily inequalities which threaten not only our ability to earn, but even our ability to stay safe, and alive. In subtle ways we find ourselves pushed back, even while men who should be our equals are pushed forward. We are exhorted to behave more like men in order to get ahead. We are forced to endure twenty seven Marvell comic reboots as we await the one romantic comedy that made it into production in male-dominated Hollywood.
Yet we survive. We thrive. We love. We rise above.

Women are incredible. On this Women's Day I honour all the women who went before me: my grandmothers, my own mother who is the most amazing person I know, my friends and my female colleagues, the authors who have written words that inspired me, and the 20,000 women who marched together in protest on this day 59 years ago.
Thank you.

And I hope that you will all stand beside me as we take this march forward, as we push back against those pervasive attitudes, as we prove that women are in every way deserving of equality and safety. Not just on Women's Day, but every day.

2 comments:

  1. Great post Romy. You are so right, the moment people hear we write romance stories they automatically classify it as fluff pieces. It irks me to no end! The romance genre ought to be recognised based on its earnings and given the credit it right-fully deserves. Many of us wouldn't write or even read romance if the genre didn't whole-heartedly appeal to us.

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  2. Sumi - that's a great point. If we didn't write romance novels someone else would have to, because readers love them and want them. That's enough for me!

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