Danielle Steel is currently the bestselling author alive. Yes, alive. She's sold more books than any other person living and breathing on this earth. Whether you dig her brand of compulsively-readable-yet-schmaltzy romance novels or not (They've been this poet's guilty pleasure since she was a teenager. No Greater Love, holla!) you can't deny the magnitude of her success. That doesn't mean this incredibly successful female author is immune to sexism, though. Far from it, in fact, as Steel explained in a recent post on her website, entitled "Are you still a brain surgeon?"
Apparently, Steel is frequently asked, primarily by men, if she's "still writing." She says she's highly offended by this, the assumption that her writing is some kind of piddling little hobby:
"Yes, I am STILL writing. What this does is that it immediately puts my writing into the category as a hobby. As in, are you still taking piano lessons, doing macrame, have a parrot? I don’t have a huge ego about my work, but let’s face it, for me it is a job. A job I love, and I have been doing it since I was 19 years old. I have been in the Guinness book of world records repeatedly for having a book on the bestseller list for more weeks consecutively than whoever. Yes, for Heaven’s sake, I am still writing. It’s my work, my job, how my family eats and went to college....The comment is an immediate put down. It is a way of suggesting that what I do is really not very important. Women NEVER ask me that question. But SOME men do. The men who do, I find, are VERY uncomfortable about my success at what I do, and VERY annoyed by it."
"I never say to guys, “So are you still a lawyer?…A doctor?…A brain surgeon?” They would think I’m nuts if I did. But men who are annoyed by women’s success in business have to find a way to put them down. And what better way to insult someone than minimize what they do, imply that it’s really insignificant, and inquire if they’re still doing it?....But YES, I AM STILL WRITING."
Steel's post includes lots more infuriating sexist anecdotes from her life, as well as the lives and careers of other women she knows. She ends by saying, "Ladies, watch out for the men who resent the kind of work you do and make nasty comments. And Gentlemen, please be nice and please don’t make those comments about our work. Give us a break. And yes, I STILL write."
Now, I feel like I'm pretty up on all the sexist bullshit that goes on in the world, at least that gets into the news, so not a lot surprises me (OK, I was a little surprised by the sexist computer that was just produced in Scotland. I mean, really?) But I must say I was, at first, actually that Danielle Steel, one of the most successful authors who has ever lived, still receives this kind of treatment from men, especially the presumably educated, upper-class men that she meets at parties. And then I thought about a little bit and I wasn't surprised anymore.
After all, why should I be surprised that even highly successful women and their work are still denigrated, when men who are given prominent positions on TV talk shows flip out when reacting to female breadwinners? When women are screwed if they use their sexuality to get ahead at work and screwed if they don't? When LinkedIn removes legitimate ads featuring female web developers? When a radio station thinks it's fine to poll listeners about the "hottest" female news anchor? There's nothing to be surprised about in Steel's blog post. And that's the problem: This kind of casual sexism, this attitude that women's work and women's goals and women's accomplishments, are quaint and cute and lesser, are somehow not nearly as important as the legitimate things that men do.
I love Steel for speaking out, for giving herself a platform to talk about this ongoing problem, one that even she, as a privileged and accomplished woman, experiences on a regular basis. Kitty Pilgrim recently authored a piece "in defense of" Danielle Steel and her blog post over at the Huffington Post. While it's good to see female fiction writers rallying around Steel, I'd venture to say that Danielle Steel doesn't need anyone, not a man nor a woman, to defend her or her work. She's still writing, if you hadn't noticed.