Max Gets Mail (The First Response Is In)

When people first find out about Submitting Like A Man, their reaction is almost always an expression of excitement, quickly followed by, “I can’t wait for your results!” Ah, yes, results. “Have you heard back from any of the submissions yet?? Will you tell us when you have? Do you think they’re going to be depressing?” Well, wait no longer. The first response is in, and I’ll tell you what it is, just as soon as you read the other things I want to say first.

First and foremost, let me take this opportunity to remind you that I know this project is totally, completely non-scientific. You will notice I use the word “project” instead of “experiment,” and that’s intentional. I consider SLAM to be art, not science; it’s a lens I’m using to examine an experience, not a set of quantifiable data coming out of a controlled environment.

woman-157445_640Bearing that disclaimer in mind, there are several “interpretations” that can be made based on the responses Max gets to his submissions over the course of the coming months.

If Max is marginally more successful than me, then it’s my opinion that there isn’t a lot to glean. Since this is so non-scientific, I feel it’s safe to assume that a small disparity is just random chance. A friend of mine disagrees with this reasoning, and believes any discrepancy between Max and I is significant, since it’ll mean someone said yes to him even though they passed on me. I think there are too many other factors at play to make anything of it in that situation.

That brings up the next scenario: What if Max is wildly more successful than me? I hear from a lot of people who simultaneously want Max to succeed more than me because it will make a [non-scientific] point, yet also do not want him to be more successful than me because it would be depressing.


I hear from a lot of people who simultaneously want Max to succeed because it will make a [non-scientific] point, yet also do not want him to be more successful than me because it would be depressing.


In my opinion, if Max were to be clearly, distinctly more successful than me, it would indicate this business needs to take a long, hard look at itself. Maybe there would be viral outrage (#DownWithMax), and maybe things would change for the better. For example, perhaps we’d create an industry standard requiring blind submissions, as many people have been advocating for years, and which famously worked wonders for orchestra musicians. That kind of progress would be great, although since we’ve been calling for change in theatre, TV, and film for a long time and not much has happened, it may be too optimistic.

What I think would actually be the worst about this outcome—Max being wildly more successful than I—would be the unavoidable feeling for me (and by extension many others too, I imagine) that I have seemingly been discriminated against. It will imply I’ve lost years of experience and opportunity that could have furthered my career, and it will be hard not to feel angry and cheated.

The final scenario, of course, is that Max may end up being equally or less successful than I have been. If Max is no more successful than I, it could be interpreted as a sign that I don’t need to worry my rejections ever necessarily had anything to do with my gender. But this outcome has a catch, because it means SLAM isn’t showing a gender bias—my writing just isn’t good enough.

You may think I hate the idea of that outcome, but it’s actually not something that would bother me; I am already accustomed to how tough it is to make it as a writer, and I’d happily accept that my writing isn’t good enough if it means I can confidently feel I’ve been treated fairly. If Max’s success rate is on par with my own, I can proceed with my life as a writer feeling that my gender is respected and equal, at least in the scope of this project.


The comments and messages I’ve received from men and women alike indicate that we, on the whole, are eager to follow this journey because we more or less expect Max to get different responses than I did.


So, are you ready to hear what happened with Max’s first response?

He was rejected. Just like me.

You’re probably not sure if you should “yay” or “boo.” In a way, although I would’ve loved an acceptance for the program that rejected him, it’s kind of the best rejection I’ve ever gotten, because it was a win for fairness.

Beyond this actual response and its happy/sad duality, what I think speaks volumes more is not the outcome itself, but the conversation growing around it. As I’ve spoken about in Thank You for Not Being Trolls, I have been so pleasantly surprised at how well SLAM has been received. Aside from a few dissenters who aren’t on board with the project because it’s not scientific enough, the comments and messages I’ve received from men and women alike indicate that we, on the whole, are eager to follow this journey because we more or less expect Max to get different responses than I did. It’s almost shocking—we live in a world where it’s normal, perhaps even obvious, to think there would be a difference in acceptance of the exact same piece of writing when it has a male versus female name.

We should live in and strive for a world where this project would be pointless. But from the feedback I’ve gotten, we don’t think it’s pointless. Even the dissenters agree there’s a point to be made. To me, it’s this conversation, and the cognizance of and agreement about this subject, that says more than any actual results ever could.

Originally published on Howlround.

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2 thoughts on “Max Gets Mail (The First Response Is In)

  1. This is an interesting corollary to your project:

    “When a group of computer science students decided to study the way that gender bias plays out in software development communities, they assumed that coders would be prejudiced against code written by women.

    After all, women make up a very small percentage of software developers 11.2% according to one 2013 survey and the presence of sexism in all corners of the overwhelmingly male tech industry has been well documented.

    So the student researchers were surprised when their hypothesis proved
    false code written by women was in fact more likely to be approved by
    their peers than code written by men. But that wasn’t the end of the story: this only proved true as long as their peers didn’t realise the code had been written by a woman…”

    http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/feb/12/women-considered-better-coders-hide-gender-github

    Like

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