I was fresh out of New School when I came across an ad on Craigslist looking for writers. There are lots of ads on that site that say they want writers, but mostly they want very skilled people willing to do work for absolutely nothing. This one was different. This one paid. This one was looking for people to write novels that the owners of the company conceptualized. They were asking for resumes and writing samples. If they liked you, they would get back to you with an audition exercise.
They liked me. They sent me a young adult novel concept, and asked me to write several pages of it. Which I was happy to do, until I read the “love scene” I was supposed to write. It was kind of…well…rapey. The main character gets held against her will in the apartment of her love interest. They wanted to scene to be dark and frightening and sexy.
Except that rape culture isn’t sexy. Forcing someone to stay somewhere against their will isn’t sexy. Being scared by the person making advances on you isn’t sexy.
I wrote something up for them. I really struggled with it. On one hand, I was just getting out of school and really needed a job. On the other, I couldn’t morally write things like this for young kids, who I feel it’s even more important to write well for than adults. I wrote something, and they liked it. They wrote back to me, and at this point I engaged them on why what they had asked me to write wasn’t okay and made me really uncomfortable.
Um, well, they said. They would love to get back to me when they had stories for younger kids ready. Stories that didn’t involve “love scenes.”
And that was the last I ever heard from them.
The other day I went for a job interview at little, local newspaper in one of NYC’s boroughs. Since the paper isn’t online, I didn’t have a chance to read it before I got there. So when I arrived 15 minutes early, and the editor was still on a phone call, I sat down at one of the desks and opened their latest edition up in front of me.
The first few articles I read were alright. Nothing terribly hard-hitting, but, hell it was a little neighborhood paper. I wasn’t exactly expecting exposes. It was okay, for what it was.
Then I got to the opinion piece about how great it was that Obama had green-lighted Israel’s aggressions against Iran. And how diplomacy was stupid. Where, after all, would we get, it asked, if we used diplomacy with “our enemies the Palestinian Arabs”? Already pretty furious, I turned the page and found a letter to the editor full of Islamophobia. I closed the paper, knowing this was not somewhere I could work.
Still, I was there. It had taken me 1.5 hours to get from my apartment to the office, so I might as well go through with the interview, right?
The interview went okay, at first. I knew I wasn’t taking the job, so I was pretty relaxed through the whole thing. The editor offered to “let me” work for them for free for a few months to see if I fit in and could do the job. And then….then….
Then he began to hold forth about how America is an English-speaking nation. How parents shouldn’t allow their children to speak Spanish or watch Spanish TV at home. How if English speakers of the US are going to accept Spanish as a second language, they might as well learn Cantonese, too. How English is the language of success.
I listened, losing my cool more and more as he spoke. When he got to that last bit, I said, “Well, I guess that depends on what your definition of success is.”
“Spanish is a fine language to speak if you want to pick fruit in the fields,” he said.
At which point I threw his newspapers at him and declared the interview over.
If I were someone else, either of these jobs might have seemed okay for me to do. Yes, I might not agree with them, but a job is a job, I can change things as I go, I can make a difference from within. That’s what a lot of people would have said. But all I could think about in these instances is how much of a voice these people had. These people putting into the minds of young kids that rapey behavior is sexy. This old white man sitting at his desk talking about what is right for Latino families. That even if I disagreed with them, even if I had good intentions, even if I wanted to fix things and make a change, all I would be doing was giving a stronger voice to these voices that I thought were horrible.
Writers have a very unique position in this world. They are people that, if given the opportunity, can hold and captivate someone. Can speak directly to them, uninterrupted, and maybe even change some of the ways they view and think about things. Writers have voices, where so many people never get to. And to use that voice in any way that you cannot stand completely behind would be irresponsible and wrong.
That’s what this unemployed writer thinks, anyway.