Welcome to Women’s History Month

March is going to be a beautiful month; I level up (ringing in the last year of my 20s as another candle is added to my cake). On top of that grand event, we are also celebrating women’s history month: a rabbit hole I can easily shimmy down for hours at a time. I had big plans for February, but found them waylaid after a car crash left me hurting more than I care to admit. While I am still far from 100%, I am desperate to get back into my regular life, and my soul has been aching to write. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to dive back in.

Women’s contributions to the world are often overlooked and underappreciated. The advocacy for the female sex is typically demeaned and condemned. Women are underrepresented in the entertainment world, which hit particularly close to home as a writer. We are the ones with the power to sway perception and portray a deeper truth; we must live up to the challenge.

I am a feminist, and I do not apologise for this fact, although many decry my choice. I have faced the violent verbal vitriol that many who hold my views have had spat at them. I remember the day that a man told my little sister that women should understand that their place in the world is that of a dog. I remember the day that a man told my mom that if he paid for dinner and he wanted sex, then he would get it. I remember the first time I was afraid for my safety because of my gender- an occasion that has arisen more times than I can count. I remember hands touching my body when they had no right to be there, I remember the way my heart pounded in my chest as I tried to react. I remember the first time a friend of mine cried to me after admitting she had been sexually assault. And I remember the friend after that, and the friend after that. This is why I am a feminist; because I believe that I should be able to go for a jog in my own neighborhood without a weapon or large dog.

I believe in feminism because I believe that all people should be treated as equals, no matter your gender, race, age, sexual orientation, or any other societal demographic we are labeled with. That’s really what feminism is all about- equality. It’s about the privilege of self-determination and personal autonomy. It’s about being able to decide how I want to live my life; whether that means dancing backwards in high heels through the corner office, or playing patty-cake with a chubby-cheeked cherub who shares my eye color. Its about living your life as you see fit.

Are there issues within the movement; absolutely, it is a human invention and is therefore inherently flawed. It is discouraging how portions of the movement espouse the very privilege that they are trying to point out. The traditional story that you hear is the plight of the middle class white woman, and yet the struggles that women of color faced were crucial and should not be ignored. I am a story teller, and these are the stories that must be told. As they say, my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.

I don’t have much to offer the world, but I have my stories. I don’t have a big platform, but I have this little rock to stand on; I think it will do nicely. This month we celebrate strength and diversity because they go hand in hand. I hope you are brave enough to join me down this dangerous path; the stories of our past will shine a light on our future, the tales of our heroes will inspire our own souls to greatness. We must never forget the roads we have travelled and the stories we have heard, because these are the things that change worlds.

The Ladies of Literature (the gender gap and other surprising revelations)

Raise your margaritas my lovely ladies, in honor of International Women’s Day. Today was beautiful; the last time I saw this much female love and empowerment was in the bathroom at my favorite dive bar. Admit it my female friends- we will never be as kind and supportive as we are when we meet in the restroom after a couple of drinks. If we could bottle that mentality and carry it over to our sober selves, the world would be a much happier place. Given our current political climate, today was ushered in with an unusual amount of fanfare and excitement. As a woman who proudly carries the title of feminist, I have found so much hope in the outpouring of love that I saw today. 

March is National Women’s History Month, and many bookstores are celebrating with discounts and special events. I’ve never paid much attention to the gender of the authors that I read; my tastes are all over the board, I voraciously read anything and everything. I always just assumed that I read predominantly female works, or at least a fairly equal amount for both sexes. But I decided to try a little experiment, one I hope you will consider attempting yourself: can you think of the last five or ten books that you have read? Do you have them in your mind? Good. Now, out of that list- how many of those authors were females?

Does the answer surprise you? Because it shocked the hell out of me. Out of the last five books I’ve read, every single one of them was written by a man. Out of the last ten, four were written by a woman. So I decided to delve a little bit deeper, I was curious- surely I read more female authors than that. I keep track of all of my books on Goodreads, I am a chronic list-creator; it makes me happy inside (don’t judge too harshly). So I looked through the list of every book I have read so far in 2017. And do you know what I found? Only 25% were written by women (several, in fact, were written by the same woman). How is that possible? Is there really that much of a disparity in the literary world, or have I just been following an insular pattern when selecting my books?

There is a used bookseller in Cleveland, Ohio that noticed this disparity. Harriett Logan, owner of Loganberry Books, noticed that there was a vast difference in genders of the authors she carried in her store. She estimated that out of the roughly 10,000 pieces of fiction in her shop, nearly two-thirds were written by men. To illustrate this point, she decided that art could speak louder than her words alone. Together with several employees and volunteers, they went through the fiction section and flipped around every single book written by a male author. The visual is astounding.

The point that they were trying to make was that the gender gap in publication can still be a very real issue that aspiring female authors may have to face. Are you suspicious of this claim? Truthfully, I was too, so I decided to run my own little investigation. My conclusions surprised me, to say the least.

In 2015 author Catherine Nichols decided to try her hand at an interesting experiment. She sent out identental queries to dozens of agents under both her own name as well as a male pen-name. The length of time it took to garner a response was much shorter for her male counterpart; after sending the first six queries under his name, she received her first response within minutes, to be followed by four more- three of which included requests for a manuscript (many more were to follow as she continued her experiment). On the other side of the equation, after fifty queries were sent out under her own female name, she only received two requests for a manuscript. At the conclusion of this little test she found that George (her fictional male alter-ego) was 8.5 times more likely that she was to get a manuscript request from an agent. Let that sink in for a moment. As she so elequently put it, he was “eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book.”  

This isn’t as isolated an incident as I had originally thought. As it turns out, there are many authors who choose to publish under a male pen name, or in the alternative, have their work published under an ambiguous name. Take J.K Rowling, for example; her publisher was afraid that a woman’s name on the cover would hurt book sales- and thus, her initials became famous. She isn’t the only one either; Emily, Charlotte and Anne Bronte, Mary Ann Evans (aka George Eliot), Ann Rule, Louisa May Alcott, Nelle Harper Lee, and Nora Roberts, have all worked under male pseudonyms. 

Some studies suggest that one of the problems that women face when it comes to finding a good foothold in the literary world comes down to publicity. An Australian study conducted over a lengthy period of time (from 1985 to 2013) found that female authors were less likely to make it into book reviews and similar publications that would help boost book sales. Over this particular time period, two-thirds of the books written were by female authors, and yet two-thirds of the books featured in publishing reviews were written by men. These numbers haven’t changed much in the past 30 years and have shown be consistent with global trends. Male authors also have a higher probability of winning awards for their work as well as being included on school syllabus reading lists.

Now, these observances aren’t in any way meant to demean the work of our male counterparts; we all share the same passions, and as such, we share the same joy and excitement to see the successes of others who share in this crazy way of life. That being said, as a female author who carries the dream of being published someday, I find these statistics to be disheartening, to say the least. It is a reminder that, though we have come so far and etched a place for ourselves in this complicated society, there are still fields where we will have to openly face gender bias, whether intential or not. It is a stunning reminder that I will have to decide if my work will be best sent off into the word under a name that is not my own. It scares me, to be honest, that I may have to fight that much harder than my male counterparts to achieve the same dream that we both carry. Breaking into publishing is challenging enough without feeling like the deck may be stacked against you.

And yet, we live in a world of constant change. Modern technology has transformed everything about our daily lives, and the publishing industry was not exempt from these trends. The current shifting taking place in the publishing world; the opening up of the market through the use of self-publishing is categorically changing the game. If you couple that with the fact that women are traditionally the largest consumers of literature; you realize the power that we have to change these traditional trends. We can choose to market our work under our own name, we can choose to publish our work directly to the masses and use social media to publicize it. We can keep on submitting out work, continue to fight for those cherished dreams. Through adversity our work will flourish, it is during the struggles that we discover our true message and our voice. Ladies, let them hear your stories, don’t let them look away or shuffle you to the bottom of the pile. My name is Kaitlynn, I am a female author, and I am damn proud to be one, even if that means my road will be a little bit bumpier. 

The Fears of a Woman

I was raised to be a strong woman. I was taught to demand respect, to be soft when compassion was needed, to be tough when circumstances called for it, to stand my ground when the world wanted to push me around. I was raised to believe that I could do or be anything. So when did it become okay for faceless individuals to decide that what I had to offer the world amounted to no more than boobs, an ass and a pussy? That sounded a bit crude for my usual work, didn’t it? Yea, that’s what I thought too. And yet that is the world that we live in. A place where I am judged by the body parts that I possess and what I am willing to do with them.

My daddy never taught me that boys would be boys and could say whatever they wanted about me as they passed me in the street. My older brothers never shrugged their shoulders at the prospect of a man following me down the sidewalk making lewd comments. My fiancé never mentioned that it should be viewed as a compliment for a man to catcall me or reach out and grab my butt on the street because it meant that I was desirable. No, these were not things that I was ever taught. And yet they are the excuses so easily given and readily accepted. I don’t have daughters, but I have nieces. I have a mother, I have aunts, I have a sister. These rationalizations are not okay, and yet we shrug our shoulders and say boys will be boys. I don’t mean to overgeneralize, I know the vast majority of men don’t fall into this category- the men I am close to in my life- they respect women. So where did this idea come from that this behavior was acceptable?

A comedian once asked a sold out auditorium how many of the women had been sent a picture of a man’s penis on their phone- virtually every hand rose. If you pick ten random women on the street and ask them if they have ever been sexually assaulted or felt in fear because of the aggressive overtures coming from certain members of the opposite sex, I can guarantee you will have almost a unanimous yes. Every two minutes another person in America is sexually assaulted. In the amount of time it takes you to read this- how many people have been hurt, have been scared, have had the fabric of their lives forever altered? One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape, and nine out of every ten victims of rape are female.

I work in the court system, and one aspect of my job includes a process known as voir dire, although most refer to it simply as jury selection. During this process a group of random people from the community are gathered together in an open courtroom to answer very personal questions pertaining to the subject of the case that we happen to be hearing that day to determine if they can be impartial. We handle a lot of sex cases, and as such, we have to ask these random strangers to voice their own histories. The court or counsel will ask the question ‘Have you or someone you are close to been a victim of sexual assault?’ I was shocked the first time I saw so many hands raise, and even more disheartened when I heard how many people raised their hands for themselves. And then the next question, ‘How many were reported’- it was like a tidal wave of fingers falling from the sky, leaving a solemn few raised alone.

Is this the world that we want to raise our daughters in? Are these the lessons that we wish to impart on our sons? The justifications of what we call social norms have a profound effect on our younger generations and what they will deem to be acceptable. Most young women believe that sexual assault is common, that catcalls and booty-grabbing in the halls of the high school are normal; and sadly, they are right- but that doesn’t mean that they should be. During a 2014 study, sociologist Heather Hlavka questioned young women regarding their views on sexual harassment and assault. One young woman’s answer speaks a terribly revealing truth, “They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it’s okay, I mean … I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone.” These same young women were also very candid about the fact that they probably wouldn’t report any such events, believing that they would be ‘making a big deal out of nothing,’ many didn’t even view it as assault until it crossed that threshold into the realm of rape. When asked why they wouldn’t report it, they stated that they were concerned that they would be labeled as whores, sluts, or be accused of lying and exaggerating. Their silence, our silence, speaks volumes.

The majority of sexual assault victims are under 30 years of age. Females between the ages of 16 to 24 are four times more likely to be the victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault than the general population, the statistics for those enrolled in college drop only minimally- to a mere three times more likely. This was when it happened to me. And I know that I am not the only one carrying the burden of an untold story. In fact, it is estimated that out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, only about 344 are actually reported to the police. How many of your friends, coworkers, or family members have one of these experiences that they simply haven’t told you?

Infographic reads "The majority of sexual assault victims are under 30." Statistic is broken down into five age groups.

All too often the finger gets pointed at the wrong person. It becomes a matter of what the victim did to incite the behavior- as if men are mere animals with no sense of self-control. People assume she must have been flirting, dressed provocatively, over imbibing in alcohol- a million different justifications, as if they excuse the transgression, as if she was asking for it. When I finally told someone about my assault, the response that I received was ‘well, now you know how to not get yourself into that situation again,’ as if it were my actions that forced his hand. When my friend finally found the strength to tell a police office what happened to her, the response that she received was ‘good luck with that.’ My friends, victims of assault find enough reason to blame themselves- and is it any wonder? When we are told that our actions are the cause. Last time I checked, no still meant no, and my body was still mine to decide what to do with. No one has the right to take those decisions from you.

I keep hearing that women objectify themselves; as if dancing provocatively, wearing a crop top and short-shorts or reading a smutty romance novel suddenly invalidates a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. Try reversing this picture: if a man chooses to wear skinnier jeans that show off his assets- I don’t go up and pinch his butt or grab him from the front. If a man opts to watch porn, that doesn’t give me the right to run in and jump on top of him. So how are these examples any different when viewed from the perspective of a woman?

Someone I know recently posted a comparison to a very controversial book relating to some of the political conversations surrounding this topic:


But you see, there is an inherent flaw in this reasoning. My issues with the statements that he made have nothing to do with the ‘naughty words’ that were said. My issue was the intent of those words- it was in the insinuation that a rich man can grab a woman’s intimate parts and that it is okay, hell, that it is desirable. To me that is a far cry from reading a risqué book about the fetishes of two consenting adults. It is the fact that a grown man believes that this is an appropriate way to talk about women- regardless of whether he is in the presence of only men or not. To compare the two is an attempt to minimize the true intent of the statement and to ignore the truly insidious problem we face as a society.

Most men are good men, this I believe. But that doesn’t change the fact that a large portion of the female population will wind up on the wrong side of this equation at some point in their lives. We have cultivated a sense of rape culture by normalizing behaviors that should not be shrugged away. No more ‘boys will be boys’- they know better. We can teach them better. And no more girls blaming one another or themselves for decisions they were not given the opportunity to make. No more calling names likes slut or whore, no more raised eyebrows as we ask what she could have done to avoid the situation. Our bodies are our own, and until that basic human right is given the respect that it deserves, this battle will continue. I don’t know about you, but I am terrified to have my little nieces grow up in a world where they will have these same fears that I had. I am enraged by the fact that so many of my friends and family have a painful history that echoes my own. We are sisters in our suffering. And it is not acceptable.

How many minutes have you been reading this? How many more people have been hurt? While it is true, that the numbers of sexual assaults have been slowly declining over the decades, that does not mean that the problem no longer exists. These are conversations that must be had, stories that must be brought out into the light, experiences that need to be understood to be stopped. This is not a complicated right to be requesting. What do I want? I want to know that I can walk into a bar with my friends without someone reaching out for a touch, that I can go for a jog in my own neighborhood without clutching a can of mace and keeping one earbud out to hear approaching footsteps. I want to know that my sister can walk down the street without fear from the man that started catcalling her and moved in her direction. I want to know that my nieces will be able to walk down the halls of their high school without being touched or put in fear. I want to be able to go out and dance or read a smutty novel without someone acting like that means I have given away my rights to simple decency. I want to be treated like the lady that I am, the ladies that we all are, not an object to be yelled at, taunted, touched or used. That is the world that I want to raise a daughter in. That is the way I wish to raise a son.