When Jack and I strapped the leashes of Chesty and Rocca to our wrists, came out of retirement in the lovely tropical country of Panama, and returned to the USA – specifically to Northwest Arkansas – our families and friends were flummoxed.
“You’re moving to the Ozarks? Isn’t that hillbilly country?”
“Well, at least you’ll save money on dental care. Fit right in when those teeth just fall right out.”
“Seriously? The Ozarks? Are you crazy?”
Since we heard the exact same incredulous tones when we moved to Mexico, and when we immigrated it Panama, neither Jack nor I argued with the stereotype, but neither were we swayed. There is no stronger bias than that which is based on unsubstantiated beliefs.
Besides, we had those two giant mastiffs to worry about getting back onto the passenger section of a Delta jet in order to return to the states. We had our hands full.
We’ve been in Fayetteville, Arkansas for coming up on four years now. I’m not going to list all the things we enjoy about the area. Frankly, those of us who live here don’t really mind that others lump us into an image that keeps home prices low. But I do want to tell you about the women of the Ozarks. Some are home-grown, a few, like me, are transplants. The dozen or so women with whom I am now sister-tight friends are the strongest, most courageous, most generous people I’ve ever met.
Most of my friends are members of the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop and I admit that writers, in general, and women writers in particular, must possess those qualities. Why, I fervently hope you ask, do women writers in particular need strength, and courage, and generosity of spirit?
Well, first of all, I have many male writer friends and these men also possess these qualities, so I don’t mean to make this a contest of any sort. But, the fact is that women writers, even now in the year of our Lord 2015, are not treated equally with men in the publishing world. It’s not easy for either sex to make it as an author and I certainly do not mean to take anything away from the talented men who manage to get their books out there and sell enough to keep putting gas in the car to make it to the next book signing.
But, consider this, women are severely underrepresented in the publishing world, published far less in literary magazines, and far too often our work is relegated to the a genre known as women’s fiction.
Want to get a rise out of me?
Refer to The Perfect Victim or Noisy Creek as women’s fiction. The term actually, physically, feels like a pat on the head by a lecherous misogynistic grandfather.
When a man writes about social issues, employs the age-old technique of exploring the social and economic issues in the life of one man in order to illuminate the internal struggles of all men, his work is literature. Now it may be good literature or it may be bad literature, but it’s labeled literature and marketed to both genders.
When a woman uses the exact same method to delve deeply into the psyche and day-to-day life point of view of female character, our work is labeled women’s fiction. The implication being that our book is of interest to women only. I have had men, good friends, people I adore and trust, tell me they read my books because they like my writing, but they rarely read books with a woman as the main character.
Still, I continued to write and do my best to ignore the biases within the publishing industry and in the general population.
Now, something has occurred that cannot be ignored, and which, as my dad used to say, makes me madder than an ole wet hen.
The Ozark Writers League (OWL) meets four times a year in Branson, Missouri. We writers get together the night before and catch up with one another, trade information on publishers and editors, and blow off a little steam. The following day, for thirty years now, Owls gathered at the College of the Ozarks to hear speakers and browse the newest books by our members.
Our next meeting is February 21st. Our president, Casey Cowan, and the other members of the board worked hard and long to put together a conference in celebration of Women in Writing. In a coup, Casey got Paris Bonds and August McLaughlin, both nationally known authors, as our two keynote speakers. Airline tickets were purchased. Motel rooms booked. Hundreds of OWL members studied the schedule, made plans to attend. The list of workshop facilitators and speakers for this conference include: KD McCrite, Linda Apple, Velda Brotherton, Ronda Del Boccio, Jan Morrill, and me, Pamela Foster.
Two days ago, so that would be seventeen days before the conference is scheduled, the College of the Ozarks informed our president that because of the content of the conference we were no longer allowed to meet on their campus. Casey Cowan offered to change the titles of some of our workshops, did his best to understand the college’s objections, and to appease. In the end the college simply terminated its association with Ozark Writers league and left us with just over two weeks to secure another location for the event.
Now, to be fair, The College of the Ozarks is a private institution, supported by a conservative Christian base, and they have every right to determine who uses their facilities. But, to cancel a thirty year relationship and put OWL in the position of finding another venue, and notify hundreds of people that the place we have met for thirty years is now closed to us – that seems a bit extreme to me.
The college’s objection to the conference centered on August McLaughlin and on one of our own beloved OWL members, Velda Brotherton. August, who is a nationally known speaker on women’s body issues and anorexia, and writes a blog called Girl Boner, which has a massive following, will be speaking to us on marketing. Not a particularly sexy topic, but my guess is that Girl Boner deal brought a hand or two to the chest of college administrators.
Velda Brotherton writes western historical. She was, in fact, honored by the Washington County historical society a few years ago at a luncheon I was lucky enough to attend. This veteran author and speaker also writes western romance and what, if she were a man, would be called literature. Her latest release, Beyond the Moon, has been submitted for a Pulitzer.
At the OWL conference on the 21st of this month, Brotherton is teaching a workshop on how to write a love scene. You’re Never Too Old for Sex is the provocative title. Will there be any graphic discussion of positions and body parts and Shades of Gray type talk? Well, of course not. But when the college saw the title, I’m guessing they panicked, shut their ears and minds to facts and canceled the conference, forcing us to find another venue. I imagine they had visions of Dr. Ruth putting a condom on a banana.
Is this an issue of censorship? Not exactly. No. Not in a clear sense. However, canceling two weeks before the event and giving our president no opportunity to appease or change titles or even topics for this one conference while we looked for another venue for our next meeting – to many of us, that does smack of trying to keep us, not just from speaking out on their campus, but from speaking out at all.
For me, that two week notice of cancellation with no opportunity for compromise is tainted by those damn grandfatherly pats on the head and all those “a woman’s place is in the kitchen and bedroom” remarks and, really, by an entire historical precedent to shut women up.
Ozark Writers League has a new, much better venue, and the college is, I’m sure, relieved that the gates have been barred from the heathen. So everything worked out fine. But through these last couple of days, I have been unable to stop comparing the opinions and biases of my west coast friends, when Jack and I moved to the Ozarks, with the blind bias of a college administration.
“Isn’t that hillbilly country?”
Well, yes it is. But some of us hillbillies ain’t near as dumb, or as easily silenced, as we used to be.