Thanks so much to Porter Anderson (right) for this guest post today! Porter is a 28-year career journalist whose venues have included three of Time Warner's CNN networks, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media. He is a member of Digital Book World, the American Men's Studies Association and the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. Porter has registered for the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop this coming September. He responded to my challenge for guys to "man up"... who will join him? Here's his post:
Since my first days in journalism, when mentors were mentors and newspaper readers roamed the land, I have known, of course, that the lead of a good article never states what the piece is NOT about.
In the interest of clarity, however, I'm breaking that rule.
1. I do not say, believe, or mean to imply that there are too many women in writing workshops, webinars, seminars, book camps, book groups, or at conference events called (Whatever)World.
2. I do not say, believe, or mean to imply that women are doing anything wrong about anything, ever, anywhere, anyplace, for any reason, anytime, no way, Josée.
3. I do not say, believe, or mean to imply that I don't like women. Especially in literature. If I could become Joan Didion, I'd be the happiest former man alive.
Somewhat in line with that thought, in fact, I give you Maia. She is 4 years old. She lives in New Hampshire. She's the daughter of the formidable master of meditation and author Bodhipaksa(@bodhipaksa) of Wildmind.org. Maia announced to Bodhipaksa recently, "Daddy. I am Neil Gaiman." Maybe because I once at CNN interviewed the man I was told was Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself)—and figuring that Maia is registered for BEA by now—I believe we need to consider a subject we don't talk about much but should: When it comes to writing-community events, where are the guys?
How I came to write this
Susan Cushman (@SusanCushman), who's directing the September 23-25 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop was bold enough to point out on the workshop's website that women were leading men in registration, five-to-one. I told her I wasn't surprised.
• My first writer event was in 2006, one of Don Maass' popular weeklong "intensives" at Hood River, Oregon, about writing "breakout novels" or having a breakdown trying. Colleagues who were there concur with me, it seemed about 85-percent women.
• In another writing retreat near Biosphere 2 in Arizona in 2009, I was the only man who enrolled, and I worked for a week with 12 fine women writers. Some of them churned out prodigious reams of copy while I sweated over a paragraph and made javelina sightings in the cacti.
• On the Greek island of Skiathos in 2007, I was one guy with six women. No javelina. Unforgettable calamari. And an airport that's easily the best bus station I've ever flown into.
• In a just concluded "Build Your Author Platform" course with Dan Blank (@DanBlank of @WeGrowMedia), I was one of two guys. We worked with Dan and eight or nine women I enjoy thoroughly, good colleagues still in touch.
I have other examples, but you get the picture.
Why I noticed and care
The project currently kicking my ass (as @spressfield warns us) is a novel in the masculinities. It involves men's identity. While there's one male gender, men's studies experts recognize multiple masculinities that are "performed" more than they're genetically patterned. Which is to say, who was a guy before he learned his masculinity?
Having male colleagues with me at writer-training events would have been a huge help in testing my agonized prose against male ears, discussing plot and perspective points relative to varying masculinities' sensibilities, and sharing taxis to avoid having to ask directions to the airport.
Numbers from others
I've asked. We don't seem to know how many men and how many women are actually publishing books annually. What's more, that metric becomes ever more elusive as self-publication pushes more content into the system through largely unmonitored channels.
It's hard to get the attendance ratios at our big events, too.
• Some good people with the Digital Book World (@DigiBookWorld) Conference in New York in early February say they think they saw a roughly 60-40 female-male ratio at DBW11.
• Writer's Digest (@WritersDigest) Conference people say they think WDC11 was closer to 50-50. However, Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman), who is among the top observers of the national writing scene and the former publisher and editorial director with Writer's Digest, tells me that participation in WD's activities runs "probably 70-percent women—that's the case for nearly all Writer's Digest products and services."
• Association of Writers and Writing Programs (@awpwriter) Conference organizers say that among 1,168 of the 9,000 attendees who have answered their survey, 320 say they are male, 843 say they are female, and five decline either option. Realize, we may be gauging whether women fill out surveys more readily than men do, but it's as close as we get.
• O'Reilly Tools of Change Conference personnel had no ready ballpark estimates, but didn't disagree with my observation from mid-February: TOC might be the one such event I've seen that tips toward men because it's a summit of technology, which of course trends male. @MargaretAtwood was worth at least four rows of men in the plenary sessions.
• Christina Katz (@thewritermama), who has deftly positioned her suite of writer courses in the context of women's and parents' interests, nevertheless does see a few men enroll from time to time. I think that's impressive, a credit to her welcoming presentation.
• Last year, I explained my need for male colleagues to Montreal author and playwright Kent Stetson. He offers an extremely good Skype course based in E.M. Forster's bracing 1927 lectures at Cambridge. Kent pulled together a group of four swell writing men on two continents for an eight-week course, all of us working on material that in one way or another would benefit from the responses of other men. His normal enrollment draws more women than men. On May 14, he's starting a new four-week course unstintingly hashmarked #PorterEndorsed. Click here for more information.
Based on my own six years of events-going, unless that 4-year-old Gaiman and his fellows are high-heeling it in pretty good drag through BEA this month, even that writerly-communal confab will be peopled by more women than men.
So I asked
Author Bob Cowser, Jr, who's on the Memphis CNF Workshop faculty in September, told Susan Cushman that he thinks men can be uncomfortable sharing the intimate experience that goes into nonfiction. Fine as far as it goes. But my experiences of the missing men have been across the board, not just in nonfiction contexts.
Here are selected lines I got from women about it.
"Men tend to devaluate situations where there are a lot of women."
"Men want to do it, themselves, figure it out alone, suffer through it. They don't like sharing the process."
"Men don't tend to take advice from women. And they don't like to waste any time learning. Men want to write; they write; they just do it."
"Women tend to be more collaborative, while men are more competitive. Men also don't like to take direction, especially within earshot of anyone else. There's a lot of research in education, too, that shows boys learn by doing. That can be considered disruptive by some."
"I do find many of the other women I meet at writers' events looking at them as ways to get away from the house and socialize, at least as much as they see them as professional career trips. Those are the ones who get addicted to taking courses. They never write. They just go to events."
And here are selected lines I got from men about it.
"As a teacher and a coach, I was often reminded that men prefer to 'just do it,' even at the risk of failing, rather than seeking advice, assistance, mentoring, feedback, support. We've monumentalized the stubborn, hard-drinking, manly man, island-unto-himself icons of successful male writerdom in the West for centuries."
"The WDC11 won't be the last conference I attend. I was 90-percent finished with a manuscript for a novel and I needed to go drink from a fire hose... sort out the publishing industry... make contacts...use the conference date as a motivation to complete the manuscript."
"I attended presentations trying to primarily identify thought leaders I could follow up with. Many of the women were more 'in the moment' and trying to learn from the speaker at the podium."
"I've been to four or five writing courses...and yes, the majority were women...and, yes, they did seem to socialize a lot. I've spoken to some who have been working on the same manuscript for ten and fifteen years. It's almost like getting published is not the goal."
"Ego may also play a role where men feel they don’t need a primer course. And some men just prefer to work in isolation, the anti-social aspect, and just not talk about their work, keeping it to themselves."
I'm sorry more of the guys aren't with us. And that's in no way a criticism of the many women who are.
The last census figure I saw reported 50.9 percent of the US population to be women. And whether we're working in fiction or nonfiction, surely the way to make something of interest to humans is to maintain and explore our work together, as happens in life.
You remember life. Well, of course you do.
There's more about Porter Anderson, a journalist and producer, here.