I’m not sure why it seems I’m always talking about stuff going on regarding the community of YA readers and writers when I don’t really read YA, but yet again, something really interesting as caught my attention (most YA may not be to my taste, but all the great conversations it engenders certainly proves, once again, that trivial it is not).
Apparently, there’s a secret cabal of YA writers who will ruin your career if they feel threatened by you/you don’t like their books/you have drama with them on the Internet. Or something. I’m not sure, because again, I’m just a tourist here. This post isn’t, ultimately, about this particular situation, but this particular situation is on the way to it, so please bear with me. John Scalzi has a piece refuting the existence of the cabal, which links to Holly Black’s comments on the supposed cabal, which contains other links to discussion of the supposed cabal in comments.
What sticks out to me about this is that Wow, I have so heard this one before. I heard it regarding interpersonal politics on a BBS twenty years ago, and I hear it in fandom all the time (this community, that community, OMG, BNFs! etc. etc. etc.) and it certainly rears its head with frequency in pretty much every publishing community ever. Hell, maybe people just like fretting about supposed cabals and mafias and all the secret clubs from which they may or may not be being actively excluded.
I mean, I did post that included the Native Society yesterday. It’s not just that everybody wants to be in a secret club. It’s that everybody wants to have the righteousness of being excluded from some secret club. If you think about it, it’s kind of a weird way of feeling important, but it’s certainly effective, and it’s nice sometimes to take the onus off of the far-too-broad-to-effectively-lay-particular-blame structure of society, or luck, or, as is relevant to this writing cabal nonsense, the quality of your stuff and the skill of your networking.
But that’s another discussion lots of people are having who aren’t me, so I’m going to leave that aside for where it’s already happening with more efficacy. What I can’t help but notice is this: these cabal accusations seem, almost always (Scalzi’s refutation aside, and I’m unclear as to whether he was referenced in this or another cabal paranoia or just felt like talking about it), to be directed at women. Maybe that’s because it is arguably in largely women’s spaces that I see this stuff go down (i.e., YA lit; transformative-focused online fandom; etc.), and this whole piece is moot because my lens is just too narrow, but I do think there’s some very real misogyny in play here that’s filled with tropes that go right back to the ideas of Eve and Lilith: as if women are all liars who just won’t stay in their damn places.
That I often also see these accusations also coming from women (but again, this may be a bias in my experience based on where I hang out), is even more disturbing. I don’t need to ask who told you that life is a zero sum game and that the only way to get ahead is to whisper, loudly, behind your hand. I went to all-girls school; I live in this world. I know from whence it comes. But the damage we do to ourselves and others by assuming that sixth-grade Machiavellianism is, not only the only way we can get ahead, but is surely the only way anyone else (any woman) could have possibly gotten ahead is massive. If nothing else, it makes striving unpleasant and introduces a distraction that is derailing to whatever it is we’re actually trying to do.
Look, am I saying there aren’t groups of friends in this world who may not like you or you work and are gossips? Nope. But if you think those groups of friends have complete control over anything, you’re not examining that everything hard enough. You think the world is full secret cabals? Then stop wasting time talking about them, and be sneaky yourself, by figuring out how to navigate around the obstacles you perceive. And the trick to that generally isn’t about complaining about groups of like-minded people who collaborate or support each other in their endeavors or just happen to know each other as colleagues because they work in the same spaces. The laws of the Internet don’t just apply to porn — odds are, if you’re making it, there’s someone out there who wants to buy it.
To be frank, I find the secret cabal talk embarrassing. To me it says, look at how well we’ve let others — not the supposed cabals, but entrenched social structures that benefit from the self-marginalization that occurs when we waste time tearing each other down and jumping at shadows — train us to hold ourselves down.
Don’t buy into that crap. It’s bad.
And if you hate some (successful) people? And their stuff? And their association with each other? If you’re jealous? Get mad and make something awesome. It’s not easy, but it totally is that simple.