The Five Stages of Lace Curtain Censorship in Book Publishing
Censorship by Constituency
Why do books like No Good Men get published, but not No Good Women, No Good Blacks, or No Good Jews? And why do titles like Women Who Love Men and the Men Who Hate Them become big best-sellers while titles like Men Who Love Women and the Women Who Hate Them can't even get published? The spate of "women good/men bad" books (under the guise of "self-improvement") inspired one author to do a take-off on the genre: Men Who Hate Themselves and the Women Who Agree with Them.
Has this occurred because approximately 90% of relationship book readers are women and - as Jesse Owens put it - "You don't get nowhere by giving people the lowdown on themselves"? Yes. Why do women need this self-assurance? Both sexes need it when rejected. When rejected, a self-assurance book is to a woman what a bar is to a man - each disappears into a safe place of assurance. Why do women attack men? Because it is men who have rejected them. When you expected that man to save you, well, that's a long hard drop.
It's not that men who are rejected don't want to attack the woman, it's that it creates more of a conflict for a man: it conflicts with his male credo: heroes protect women; villains and sissies attack women. And that's in his genes. So men have to be really down and out before they could read a Men Good, Women Bad book. However, when women reject men, men also have their not-so-pretty defenses (gambling, porn, mid-life crises, drinking...). It's just that when men reject women, women's more likely defenses include reading.
The self-assurance book's job is to assure a woman she is better off without him, that she is better than he, that she lost him because she is capable of love, he is not. Thus, the three most ingenious titles: Women Who Love Too Much, the above-mentioned Women Who Love Men and the Men Who Hate Them and Everything Men Know About Women - the blank book that gets that knowing look. From there, they specialize...
If he is afraid to commit it must be because he can't love (Men Who Can't Love), is immature (Peter Pan Syndrome), is psychologically disturbed (Casanova Complex), or is a scared wimp (Cold Feet).
If he wasn't afraid to commit, but the commitment didn't last, she can be assured it is his fault - he was either Foolish Choice A or Foolish Choice B (Smart Women, Foolish Choices; The Field Guide to North American Males, a Peter Pan, Casanova, or some type of "man who can't love") or a woman-hater (Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them). Meantime, she is smart, mature and filled with love.
Worst of all, if he committed to another woman, a younger woman, a woman with a type of power she used to have, he will ideally be seen as having a psychological problem with a name (Jennifer Syndrome). The inevitable conclusion: For "self improvement," a woman must undo her addiction to loving these jerks too much. And if she fails? Read Why It's Always the Man's Fault.
Suppose, though, she is married to a faithful, dependable man, but she's feeling the stale air of his dependability and yearns for fresh air? She can run to the Bridges of Madison County; then, once addicted (when the stale air of the affair requires more fresh air), to any of a hundred thousand romance novels. What to do if he's the one to have an affair? Well, er...impeach him.
The newest layer of men-are-evil, women-are-victims books to make it big are Christian romance novels. Frank Peretti, the "king of the genre," spins tales of male serial killers in books like The Oath.1 In secular romances, these male serial killers are usually balanced by an idealized male hero. In the Christian romance, man-as-hero is replaced by God-as-hero, and the best men are vulnerable heroes unless they submit to the Lord.
The good news is the Christian romance encourages women to select men who can ask for help. The bad news is, the man is still expected to save her, but God is thanked when he does. In brief, the unadulterated seat on the Christian novel's bus of virtue is reserved for God.
Censorship by Editor and Writer
Most of this "I'm OK, He's Not" bias is generated by the power of a female constituency, but there is also the Lace Curtain in publishing. Which starts with the background of relationship book writers and editors....
Virtually no relationship book editor has the two experiences common to millions of everyday American men: job experience in a hazardous job, engineering, corporate sales, or career military with little choice of leaving because of responsibilities to be the primary breadwinner for both a spouse and children. A few relationships book writers have this experience, but they are more likely to have psychological and academic backgrounds with career oriented wives. Writers who are exceptions find it difficult to find editors who are exceptions. (If one editor is an exception, it is almost impossible for him to persuade his colleagues, in part because relationship books are bought about 90% by women - and so we come full circle!)
Here's how this works, based on my three decades among relationship book editors and other authors. Both the author of relationships books and the relationships book editor are usually a graduate from a top college, and a liberal arts major. I document above how these majors are taught largely by professors with a feminist orientation. The person who chooses liberal arts enters it knowing she or he is making a monetary sacrifice vs. going for an engineering degree or an MBA. It therefore selects for a more feminine sensitive and feminist sensitive personality than that of the teamster or engineer. The male editor and writer is more likely to have his wife's help with income (or have no one to support) than does the average American man; the female editor is more likely to have a man help with the children, or have no children.
That's the basics with the heterosexual male relationship book writers and editors. Among male editors, though, many are gay. The gay man, while subject to many biases himself, does not have the same pressure to take jobs that are high enough paying to give a wife the options to be full time or part time with the children. That's the key differentiation between the heterosexual family man and the gay family man. It makes it as difficult for the gay male editor to identify with the heterosexual male life experience as it does for the heterosexual editor to identify with books on the gay experience. This doesn't mean it cannot be done, but our life experiences are our most powerful single reference point.
Approximately three quarters of relationship book editors, though, are women,2 almost all feminists. A colleague of mine reported to me that his editor on a book about relationships (due to be published in 2000) made him take out all references to females who cheat on their husbands. No, it was worse than that. The names were changed so that real-life women who had cheated became men who cheated! He was forced to choose: the woman-as-victim point of view or not be published.
The nature of these backgrounds leaves most relationship book editors and writers believing what she or he reads in the news about the "new woman" being out there initiating sex, paying for dinners, marrying aspiring househusbands, and doing all those liberated things. Bottom line? When this combines with the purchasing power of the female book buyer, few books on the male perspective make it through this Lace Curtain.
Censorship by Acquisition
These perspectives lead editors to give $400,000 contracts to feminists like Susan Faludi to write a book on men because her last book, Backlash, sold well, and said men couldn't handle feminism. The fact that it was filled with hatred toward men and victim feminism made no difference, because for many in the publishing industry it fit their stereotype of men.
The acquisition process is acquiring another curious twist. Remember when our English teacher told us how George Eliot was really a woman (Marian Evans) who felt it wiser to adopt a man's name to prevent automatic rejection of her writing by 19th century publishers and readers? Well, today an estimated 10% of romance novelists are men with women's names.3
Jennifer Wilde is a 6-foot Texan named Tom Huff. Best-selling romance novelist Melissa Hepburne (Passion's Proud Captive) and Lisa Lenore are actually Craig Broude. Craig, though, needed some education about titles. His choice was Forgotten Glory; his publisher objected: It would help to have emotions and a victim. Try a captive. Craig agreed: Passion's Proud Captive. A best-seller was Craig's reward.4 Now, once you know a romance novel's real author might be a man, even reading the dedication can be fun. The dedication to Lisa Lenore's Dance of Desire is "to Craig Broude, my one true love."5 Funny, Craig.
Perhaps a century from now our Men's Studies teachers will be telling of how backward the 20th and 21st centuries were when men who wrote romance novels had to assume a female name to be published.
Censorship During the Writing
The book you are reading [Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say]has itself endured a Lace Curtain censorship experience, stage one. It was originally under contract with Simon and Schuster with a wonderful feminist editor named Marilyn Abraham, also a Vice President. Marilyn had been my editor for The Myth of Male Power. As her questioning and double checking my data left her satisfied she became my spokesperson at S&S. Unfortunately, Marilyn retired after editing some chapters for this book and my next one (Father and Child Reunion). At the time all the chapters were to be part of this book. They were soon turned over to another feminist editor, and that's when the fun started...
The new editor, let's call her Frances, has since left the company (I don't believe it had to do with the experience I am about to share except, perhaps, to the degree it was representative). To be fair to Frances, when she got to my chapters on fathers' issues, she had just become a first time mother. I was bringing to bear some cross-cultural data that showed that children living with only with dads fared better than children living only with moms. I made it clear that this did not imply men made better parents, but only that the type of man motivated enough to be a father today seemed more effective than the average mom. Nevertheless, Frances had a visceral reaction to these chapters.
Of course, Frances could not say "censored" directly. She said it indirectly by requiring I eliminate that material which described children of divorce and focus instead on the intact family. Of course, in an intact family it is impossible to separate out the influence of the dad from the mom, preventing me from articulating my core theme. I explained. She insisted. I submitted the manuscript essentially as it was when Marilyn had approved it. She rejected it, along with two chapters that now appear in this book (on domestic violence and housework).
When I received the rejection letter my brain gave way to a stomach that had lost its bearing. I suddenly deepened my empathy for the men from whom I receive calls reporting false accusations. I called other editors at Simon and Schuster who I had heard respected my work. They were empathetic but were fearful of becoming political. I suddenly felt isolated and lonely - me against the world's biggest publisher. I felt like David, with a broken slingshot, encountering Goliath.
The isolation abated a bit when I took my own advice and reached out to my support system. Certainly I was tempted to sue for censorship, but pretty quickly I submitted my material to other publishers and was fortunate enough to obtain an editor I thus far love (I have to wait to see what he does with this chapter!). I sit here with letters in front of me from other men who have been less fortunate. Some will publish with small publishers. Others, even brilliant writers like Fred Hayward, have clear voices yet to be heard. I hope this book will bring them some satisfaction our voices can be heard, but I know it will also bring them grief their voice was not the one heard, that they could have expressed this better than I.
Censorship After Publication
From The New York Times Book Review to talk shows, from feature pages to CNN news, the male-positive book encounters media land mines (or, on the air waves I suppose it's air mines) at every turn except radio. But the most important resistance it encounters returns us to the beginning of the cycle: the female constituency.
Nothing defeats censorship more than good sales. But I make that statement with caution derived of some strange experiences. For example, when The Myth of Male Power became a number one bestseller in Australia and a substantial first printing quickly sold out, Random House of Australia refused to do a second printing. When Andrew Kimbrell's first printing of The Masculine Mystique sold out quite quickly, Random House of the US refused to do a second printing, or publish it in paperback - despite sending Andrew the money for the paperback.6 Censorship? Coincidence? Conscious? Unconscious. Some things we'll never know.
1 Martha Duffy, "The Almighty to the Rescue," Time, Vol. 146, No. 20, November 13, 1995, p. 105.
2 Literary agent Ellen Levine estimates a 3:1 ratio of female-to-male editors handling books on relationships.
3 Craig Broude, "A Once-Proud Captive of the Romance Novel," Los Angeles Times, June 17, 1991, pp. E1-E3.
6 Interview with Andrew Kimbrell, January 28,1998. The first edition, of 11,000 hardcovers, is about twice the total average book sale in hardcover.