Monday, February 20, 2012

Women and Children First

As a children's writer, I find myself contending with a lot of different social issues in my work. My personal background and my interests lead me toward topics that can be seen as controversial, especially when these writings are directed at young people.

I often write about race, and about characters with diverse racial backgrounds, and about the history of race relations in America. I sometimes write about sexuality, and teen characters experiencing first romances, dealing with attraction and coming to understand their sexual orientation. I write both boy and girl characters, and sometimes I face questions about what it means to be a woman and write from a boy's perspective.

All of these issues--race, sexuality, gender--fall under the larger umbrella of "identity," which is what a lot of literature (especially young adult literature) deals with. Thus, I spend most of my time thinking about how these issues are portrayed through my characters, within the life of my novels. I spend much less time thinking about how they affect me as a writer.

To be more specific, perhaps I should say that I spend less time thinking about how they affect me professionally. Of course I think about race and gender and sexuality in my own life as a human person, but I've never been the type to consider myself at a disadvantage because of where I stand in the world based on my gender or the color of my skin.

Last week I published an article online with VIDA: Women in Literary Arts about gender and children's literature, in which I took time to reflect upon the social significance of being a woman who writes for children. Here is the article. I came out of the experience of writing the piece feeling great about what I do, but not so great about the place children's literature currently holds in the world. Most children's writers are women, and I think that plays a role in why this culture looks at children's literature as simple and not worthy of much respect. So much of women's work--essential work, like raising and educating children--is looked down upon and disrespected, and that really needs to change. The sooner the better.

Have you ever stopped to think about how gender impacts you in your job or profession? Or, is it obvious? Do you feel the impact every day?

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