Monday, October 25, 2010

Writer Indignities

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne


I know writers across the centuries have suffered many indignities - denigrated, banned, ignored, committed to asylums and marginalized - but thus far I have survived on the belief that times have changed (well, no one has committed me yet!). This weekend, however, I suffered my first real indignity. While I am sure for many people it would be a minor issue, for me it opened up a whole host of outrages. My husband went to our new Australian bank to open a term deposit and when he returned, bearing the completed paperwork, I saw listed under my occupation two words that chilled me to the bone. Those two words? Home Duties.

So I asked my husband, with just a hint of sarcasm, wasn't there another occupation that could possible reflect what I do...I don't know, 'writer', perhaps?...He turned his startled, deer-in-the headlight eyes to mine and tried to explain how he had told the bank that I was a full-time writer, but apparently being listed as 'self-employed (which I guess was the only category they had) opened up a whole can of worms regarding verifying income etc. So for the sake of ease, they opted to use the term 'home duties'...because of course, in Australia, what else would any self-respecting married female writer wish to do?!
I suspect you may be able to detect my feelings on this matter - not that I have anything against those who wish to list 'home duties' as their occupation - it's just that that isn't how I define myself.
Now maybe I wouldn't be so sensitive about the issue had I not once been a lawyer who earned more than her husband (funny, I was never listed as 'breadwinner' on any bank forms then) or had I not recently moved to a country which seems to be imbued with a Mad Men view of women (I will blog/rant about that another time), but as it stands, I feel pretty indignant. I know the view of a bank is hardly indicative of the real value of anyone's occupation, but still it made me feel as though my writing was little more than a hobby. I was waiting for the bank manager to phone me up and suggest I take up knitting and macrame in my spare time.

So what about you? Have you suffered any similar indignities as you try to convince the world that writer is actually an occupation and (dare I say it) a pretty valuable one, regardless of its income potential (or lack thereof!)?

15 comments:

  1. Great post, Clare. This is one of those darker sides of being a writer that rarely get discussed. Walking into a bank or car dealership or anywhere you want to finance something can be a challenge. After all, stating that you have a job that pays you twice a year and you have no idea how much your salary will be does not go over well.

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  2. I know I should be grateful that my husband has a normal job and that the bank is willing to ignore my lack of financial clout:) but still, it makes me feel like I should buy myself a frilly apron, put my hair up in rollers and start canning some fruit and vegetables!

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  3. I think there are two issues here: The documentation complexities that come with working as a self-employed or contract worker, and the subtle (or not so subtle) respect issues that can come with being a woman in the commercial world.

    My most recent indignity actually came from a female writer. She keeps referring to my writing as a "hobby" as opposed to hers (she's a TV writer who makes Big Bucks). Whenever the subject of career pressure comes up, only her issues are relevant. It's very patronizing. Once, when her job prospects looked grim and I suggested that she write a book, she said she "can't afford to write as a hobby". Of course, my thinking is that if you're a "real" writer, it's never a hobby, regardless of the income. But try telling that to the bank, or to TV writers.

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  4. Recently I tried to get gas turned on in Mississippi at my son's house that was for sale. They wanted a deposit, so I said I'd had it on before and paid the bills by draft and shouldn't have to pay a deposit. My credit rating is very high. They checked out my creditworthiness and said that since I was self-employed I had to pay the deposit. I told them to use my wife on the form and there was no problem since she is employed. She and I have roughly the same credit score.

    Did it bother me? Somewhat. But I got over it. The world sees us differently than we see ourselves and we are rarely as well known as we think we are.

    Sorry, Claire. We all know you are a writer. Sorry you were a lawyer, but at least you fixed that.

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  6. It's true, writers, even people who can just write coherently, are often not appreciated until someone has to say something important. Next they are looking through the entire company to find someone who can put more than three good sentences together. For some reason they still won't call me a writer, or even marketing person, when they finally gave me a job title it was "newsletter editor". I always wanted know how something can be edited without being written first. (I guess they figure I do both so it's a done deal.) I'll show them...in my heart I'm a writer, they are just my day hobby!

    Sorry Clare- ignore them, no frills necessary. You can always threaten to put them in a frilly dresses and kill them off in your next book (or at least picture it in your mind for happy thoughts).

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  7. I taught school for about 20 years and am now writing full-time. I haven't run into any stumbling blocks yet but I haven't tried to obtain anything within the financial world with title of writer yet.

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  8. It's definitely a "self-employed" thing. I used to be a free-lance musician. In a similar situation, I'd say I made X dollars last year, so I shouldn't have to pay the deposit.

    Q. How much will you make next year?
    A. I have no idea.
    Q. Pay the deposit.

    "Home duties" was, as your husband hinted, probably just a way around the projected income issue. Had the tables been reversed, your husband might have been assigned an occupation like, "gigolo," or "wastrel." Banks are like that.

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  9. It's definitely a "self-employed" thing. I used to be a free-lance musician. In a similar situation, I'd say I made X dollars last year, so I shouldn't have to pay the deposit.

    Q. How much will you make next year?
    A. I have no idea.
    Q. Pay the deposit.

    "Home duties" was, as your husband hinted, probably just a way around the projected income issue. Had the tables been reversed, your husband might have been assigned an occupation like, "gigolo," or "wastrel." Banks are like that.

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  10. Clare, think of it as working undercover...no one needs to know what you do, on pain of death.

    Clare Langley Hawthorne: Agent Double-Oh-Inkpen, Licensed to Quill.

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  11. If I'm reading this right, you live in Australia now? Never mind the bankers. Beware of:

    1 - The Box Jellyfish
    2 - The Taipan
    3 - Blue Ring Octopus
    4 - The Stone Fish
    5 - The Red Back Spider

    Those things will hurt much more than your feelings. Good luck!

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  12. Luckily I have a thick skin and as you say it would happen to all self-employed artistes:) I quite like the Gigolo option - perhaps I could opt for Courtesan on our next bank forms!

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  13. For me, the most hurtful indignities come from well-meaning family members who say things like, "You're such a great writer. When are you going to write a real book?"

    Because, as we all know, crime fiction books exist largely in the imaginary realm.

    I'm in a similar position, in that I work more or less full-time, but currently make far less than I did as a freelance writer, when I was paid $1/word (oh, to relive those days again!) Our accountant recently informed me that I'd have to stop taking so many writing-related deductions on our return, since based on my income, writing was a "hobby," not a job.
    So we have it here, too, Clare.

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  14. Should the bank manager phone you, tell him that such duties as "seamstress" and "knitter" were formerly the exclusive domain of men. In the age of exploration, sailors didn't think women had the skill for it. Funny how things twist around after a few hundred years or sew. ;)

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  15. Hah Daniel! If you only knew how terrible I was at knitting and sewing...you would wish the men still had it as their exclusive domain!

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