Tag: Musings

Unnecessarily gendered language

Language Personal

Unnecessarily gendered language

I was chatting with someone the other day, and caught myself using “guys” – as in, “you guys” – when talking with a woman about her relationship with her wife. I’ve been sensitive to using that word for years now, and I stopped myself, explained that it was one of those unfortunate verbal habits I’ve been trying to break, and re-framed the inquiry with “you ladies.”

This is one of MANY examples of a time I’ve gotten frustrated lately with how unnecessarily gendered our language is.

Why does gender matter when you’re using a common phrase?

I know plenty of people who don’t understand why it bothers me so much that I use “guys” by default to refer to more than one person; particularly in a mixed-gender group. Those people argue that “guys” is understood to mean “people” and isn’t intended to be offensive to women.

I have two fundamental problems with that.

First, and most personal to me, as I age, I’m becoming more and more of a feminist. I’m noticing more and more ways in which our society is unequal toward women, and it’s bothering me more every day, with every new observation of how unfair things are. I know this isn’t new to other people, but it’s new to me, and it’s fueling an increasing sense of injustice in me, so even these “inoffensive” assumptions in our language are becoming offensive to me.

I am not a guy. I am a woman. If you want to use a gender-specific term to refer to a mixed-gender group, why shouldn’t everyone be “ladies” instead? Of course I know that would never be accepted (although I loved the nod to this in Tandy’s attempt to be “woke” in Last Man On Earth), and I’m not seriously asserting it’s a better solution, but it’s an equally viable option. It’s equivalent. So ask yourself why that would never be accepted, and you’ll understand a bit of why I find it unjust.

Second, out of sensitivity to others, just don’t apply unnecessary gender labels when you don’t have to. Period.

Why does this matter?

When you’re addressing an individual or a group, you may have no idea how those people identify themselves. Applying an unnecessarily gendered label may be very uncomfortable for them, even if you don’t mean it in a literal sense.

Take my “guys” example above.

I know a trans person who has sometimes had a hard time “passing” as a woman. People would sometimes identify her as male when we were out in public – using words like “sir” etc. when speaking to her. That made her feel miserable. Trans people are already far more aware of gender identity than cisgendered folks; calling unnecessary attention to gender identity in every day scenarios where it simply doesn’t matter is almost cruel.

If someone had addressed a group she was in as “guys” – that could set up a whole chain of negative thoughts. “Did I not pass again? Ugh, this sucks…” etc. Even if the person addressing the group didn’t mean it literally, it’s like probing an open wound. (I happen to know that this individual isn’t bothered by “guys” in a literal sense, but there are enough other unnecessarily gendered interactions that I’m always sensitive to it when I hear myself use the term.)

So, in this example, wouldn’t ladies be just as bad – but in the other direction? Doesn’t “ladies” unnecessarily gender a group of people, who may be equally sensitive to gender identity in an inverse way? Or even just somewhere on a spectrum; neither trans nor cis but something in between.

Sir, ma’am, ladies, gentlemen, guys, dudes, boys, girls; we are all people. Sometimes it’s useful to refer to gender identity, like when you’re discussing health concerns with a doctor – but I don’t see why it should matter in any other context. Certainly not in the millions of every day interactions in which we unnecessarily gender a person, or even an inanimate object. (Why are cars, boats, and the sea “her?” None of the reasons I’ve heard are flattering…)

This is something I’ll continue to work on in my own language and interactions with people. And I hope it’s something other people will begin to think about more as they go through the world and have these little interactions.

Some days are harder than others


Some days are harder than others

Some days, being a writer is hard.

You sit in a room, by yourself, pouring words out onto a screen through a keyboard. (Or a typewriter/pen onto paper, if you’re old school.)

You create worlds. They could be beautiful, or horrible, depending on what’s going on in your life. Your heroes could have wonderful adventures, or face Sisyphean struggles – or both within the span of a single story.

You have entire conversations in your head. There could be whole days when you don’t interact with another human being – you’re just alone with the people who have sprung from your mind.

When you start putting your work out into the world, you have no idea whether it’s good or bad. You think it’s good – or good enough, anyway – or you wouldn’t put it out at all. But it’s rare that readers go out of their way to say anything to you – good or bad. For all you know, your work could be falling into a void.

When you don’t hear much, you don’t know whether it’s because it was ‘good enough’ that people don’t have anything bad to say, or whether it sucks but people are subscribing to the: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” school of thought. But if you’re like me, the little Demons of Doubt like to sit on your shoulder and whisper into your ears, and you’ve constantly got to work to push them away.

But, if you’re really a writer, you can’t help yourself. Even though the Demons of Doubt are whispering away, and you rarely hear much about your work, and make only a modest living – you can’t stop writing even if you feel like giving up. Because writing isn’t something you do to make money, or to gain followers, or to become famous.

It’s just something you do because it’s part of who you are. You could no more give up writing than you could breathing.

So even if you go away, for a bit – try to wander off because you just don’t know if you’re accomplishing anything – you always find yourself back there, typing away, staring into the void as it stares back at you.

If you’re like me, and you’re having a tough day, just remember: we delve deeply into the stuff of life so that other people don’t have to.

We write about sadness, and heartache, and loss, because we’ve experienced it. The reader who shares your experience will find comfort in the threads that bind humanity together. And the reader who doesn’t will learn empathy for people who bear these burdens.

We write about struggle, and triumph, and joy – because other people need it. We write for the reader who is struggling, so he can believe he will overcome. We write about joy to bring light in the darkness, when the reader is daunted and sad. We write about love, for the reader who feels her life is lacking it. We write about family, for the reader who feels alone.

It is through this storytelling tradition that we as a species learn about things we have never experienced, discover that other people feel as sad or happy or lonely as we do, that none of us are as different as some may seem. It is this storytelling tradition that inspires us to dream, and strive, and dare to improve our lives – because someone has. At the root of every dream, every Herculean struggle, is a story of someone who achieved something.

We are the storytellers.

So if you write, and you’re having a hard day, just remind yourself of the story that inspired you. And think about the people who need to read the stories you have yet to write.

We write – because we can’t help ourselves. And we write – to help whomever might read it.

Oh, what a fickle business is publishing.


Oh, what a fickle business is publishing.

Or at least, the selling books portion of it is.

(Well, who am I kidding? That’s really all there is to it, anyway.)

Starting from scratch with a publishing imprint and unknown pen names was always going to be an uphill battle. Building contacts from scratch, establishing a brand with the new pen names… that was going to be challenging. Is challenging. I knew it would be time and capital intensive.

I’ve got a raft of Amazon ads going right now, which is driving a steady and increasing number of book sales, but I’m still outspending the book revenue with the advertising – a LOT. Fortunately, my paying work right now can fund this growth stage, but it’s a little nerve-wracking to see the ad dollars flowing out in a steady stream and the revenue trickling in a few drips at a time.

I’ve been experimenting with different ad copy for different target audiences, and tweaking the book description copy on the page, and conversions have steadily improved. But we’re still missing the very important Gold Stars. That’s right – Reviews, baby.

Without review data, it’s that much harder to get someone to click the “Buy” button. Even the best-written book descriptions in the world don’t mean much until we see “Oh, 109 people have rated this and it has decent reviews, so at least someone likes it.”

As a reader, I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. I’ll pass on books that don’t have many reviews, by unknown authors, even if the writing looks decent or seems like something I might enjoy. I can’t blame other readers for doing the same now.

I feel like if we can just get some reviews, the conversions will go up drastically. Some of the ads might even start paying for themselves. It will also jump-start Ye Olde Online Bookseller’s algorithms to market the book more effectively even when I’m not paying for ads – should boost the organic search results.

It’s just getting past this initial hurdle of getting the books into enough people’s hands to get reviews on them that’s the hard part.

In the meantime, book sales come in fits and starts. In the beginning, the marketing engine wasn’t really running, so there were no book sales (while I was trying to clear up some problems with the listing pages). Since the beginning of March, though, sales have steadily increased – first one, then one every day, then a handful of days with none, then a few… currently, in the past seven out of eight days, we’ve gotten at least one sale every day… multiple sale days are becoming the norm, versus days with none or only one. But that makes the days like today, with no sales, worse.

“Why did we sell five the other day, then three, then one, then four, and now none? Why no sales today? Is there something wrong with the page? Have the ads stopped serving? Why? Why?

The changeable uncertain nature of this business is tough. Plowing ahead when I don’t necessarily understand all of the variables involved, or when my sheer stubborn will isn’t enough to just make it work, isn’t always easy. I wonder if I’m doing the right thing, spending the money to try to get over this hump, or whether I should go back to something ‘safer’ and put the money toward household goals, instead. It feels kind of selfish to just be pouring this money into a fledgling business just to try to make it work.

On the other hand, I’ve gotten kind of accustomed to pushing at something long enough to make it give way and make it work. Pretty much everything in my life has been like that. “Hard, hard, hard – oh, wait, there we go, this is actually a thing that I can do.” Whether it’s starting my own business when I started freelancing a decade ago, or losing weight and exercising, or learning how to ride a motorcycle, or even just turning a wrench… there’s a point when you get the leverage just right and the thing becomes easy.

I guess being stubborn isn’t the worst personality trait. So for now, I’ll just keep trying different things and see what it takes to make this publishing thing work. It would really be nice to get to a point where it doesn’t take quite so much time, though, so I could get back to the thing I really love – writing.

Who would have guessed that starting a second business on top of my regular full-time business would leave me less time to do my hobby?