Long time geek, fangirl, mother, and reader. I've got a lot to say, you might not like it all, but it will be honest and hopefully helpful.
Today on Twitter a New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Lauren Dane tweeted this:
[What does a picture of your breasts tell people about your books/what you do? Why is it your avatar?]
Followed by this:
[It could be you chose that deliberately and if so, awesome. If not?]
It’s not the first time I’ve seen this kind of comment come from other women. Honestly, it would be a challenge to find any (cis)woman who hasn’t been asked similar questions in a kind, but condescending tone by other “concerned” women. Someone who is “just trying to help” us by pointing out how our behavior can "invite negative attention."
In fact, when I replied to Dane’s tweet and explained how I took her tweet to be slut shaming and condescending, she responded it was never intended that way. She explained that she was trying to give advice to authors about being more marketable, appealing to a broader audience. That an avatar featuring breasts could close an author off to more mainstream readers.
When I challenged her again, explaining that while marketing advice might have been her intention her execution missed the mark, she ended the conversation with this:
[Well, I can only go by the comments and responses by people who seemed to understand my point. You didn’t, we elaborated.]
Now let’s take a look at the responses from people who understood Dane was speaking about marketing.
This exchange below in particular makes the shaming nature of the tweets very clear, and casts doubt on Dane's argument that she meant it as marketing advice.
So is Dane really trying to help other authors understands the marketing impact of explicit avatars on Twitter or is this just a classic case of slut shaming in shinny new "professionalism" packaging?
The sad answer is yes to both.
People of any genders can be sexist, even other women. This brand of passive aggressive shaming, diminishment and group celebration of superiority at expense of others is nothing new in professional and intellectual circles. It's daily fair in the publishing industry.
Sadly, many women who employ this tactic do not consider themselves or their behavior to be sexist. Even as they give each other and anyone watching their conversation free reign to devalue, laugh at and even dismiss women who do the unspeakable sin of using breasts in their avatar. Even going as far as to advocating not buying the authors books. All because of a pair of boobs in a Twitter avatar.
Dane and those who agree with her are part of a much bigger, and subtle form of institutionalized sexism that we all experience so much we often don’t even see it. Much less admit to it being one of the most common ways women support and perpetuate our own oppression.
I call it the “stupid slut” clause, and it’s based on my personal theory that many women forgive or even perpetuate sexism when the focus of it is a woman they perceive to either be lesser than, unintelligent or overtly sexual (aka slutty). The “stupid slut” makes other women look bad. She needs (better, smart, more intelligent) women to help her understand she’s making herself look like a “stupid slut.” Few things help women bond together over their own inherent superiority like pointing out “stupid sluts.”
The sad part of this is that if/when these women are subjected to the same dismissive bullshit from men they flip tables and scream about sexism. All the while never realizing that they played a hand in it. That there are men and other women watching while they laugh at and pick on "stupid sluts."
Those witnesses, who are laughing along, may not see any difference between the "stupid sluts" and the women who point and laugh at them. They may see all women as "stupid sluts" and may feel justified in doing so because of these types of conversations, because "even other women said it, so it's okay for everyone to say and think it too."
Because at the end of the day, sexism is the reasons a female author who uses breasts as her Twitter avatar cannot be taken seriously, the reasons other women make fun of her and treat her like a joke. Because most people buy into the sexist idea that a women has to earn the inalienable right to be taken seriously, to be treated like a human being no matter what her Twitter avatar looks like.
Women who have cartoon characters or members of a boy band as their avatars suffer the same criticism. Women who do not wear skirts and high heels in their workplace hear the same criticism. Women who wear a short skirts and complain about get harassed by strange men get this criticism in response. Often from other women.
When is the shit going to stop? When are women going to acknowledge the sexism, even when we have to accommodate for it in our professional lives? When are we going to stop to saying shit like "it's common sense?"
Sexism and inequality are NOT common sense. Stop perpetuating the lie that it is. Just because you've had to accommodate sexism through out your entire life doesn't mean it's acceptable or should continue one second longer.
Why is it so hard to say: “Having breasts in your Twitter avatar can alienate you from more mainstream readers. While it is completely unfair and sexist, it is a reality that women must conduct themselves even more conservatively in business (even when that business is writing erotica and/or romance) than men in order to be taken seriously by others.”
That’s the ugly truth that Dane was trying to explain in her tweet. It’s the truth we all need to say out loud and over and over again so we’re clear about who is to blame for the unreasonably, inequitable "business" standards that women in every profession has to adhere to in order to make a living. We have to stop slut shaming and victim blaming women for sexist double standards that hold ALL of us back.
Stop spreading the lie that we’re tying to help other women, when we’re really trying to punish them and by extension ourselves.
The irony that Dane is an author of erotic romance makes this entire situation that much more sad and aggravating, but not at all new.
Side note: This coded language and shaming tactics is not restricted to just sexism and women. Ask anyone in the LGBTQA community and most of them will tell you they've been on the receiving end of these kinds of "talks." Where concerned family, friends, or even other LGBTQA people shamed them for their behavior. It's a subtle form of policing that is deeply tied to victim blaming. It is so insidious many who do it honestly believe they are being helpful when they tell little Billy to "stop acting gay cause he's asking to get beat up." or tells Sally she "should rethink that top cause she's asking to get raped."
[Additional info: Here's our very long Twitter exchange.]