Thursday, March 12, 2015

Collective Bullying

Andrew Smith

Know him? Know his books?

Until yesterday, all I knew was this that I’d seen his book, The Marbury Lens, in my local bookstore. But I hadn’t read it. We weren’t Facebook friends. I didn’t follow him on Twitter.

Last night, my writer friend Matthew Macnish posted a series of tweets by authors in favor of him on his Facebook page. Including a link to a post written by another writer who accused Andrew Smith of being sexist. I’m not going to link it, but I will pull the supposed proof of sexism pulled from an interview:

Q: On the flip side, it sometimes seems like there isn’t much of a way into your books for female readers. Where are all the women in your work?
A: I was raised in a family with four boys, and I absolutely did not know anything about girls at all. I have a daughter now; she’s 17. When she was born, that was the first girl I ever had in my life. I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though.

From that presumptive question and Andrew Smith’s response, the writer concluded this:

The interpretation is that women are less than human, or at the very least, inherently different from men. That is one of the oldest sexist arguments in the entire world. 

and this:

Women are so different they defy his incredible imagination.

concluding this:

But shouldn’t it be harder for someone to willingly participate in a culture of sexism than it is for us to talk about it out loud, and publicly? 


1)   It’s okay to acknowledge that we can feel a little discomfort writing about someone who is a different gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity from us. What’s important is that we try. From the outpouring of support for Andrew Smith and his characters, it seems that he actually does write varied characters.

2)   If we are looking for people to out people who have made sexist comments, surely we can find a more overtly sexist writer. I know of a famous author who has made homophobic comments. Where’s the public outcry? Instead, his book has been turned into a movie. What role model is he for LGBT children and teens?

3)   If something someone says makes you feel uncomfortable and you say you want dialogue, contact the person privately or make a personal comment on a post.

As a result of the post and the link to it on Twitter, a witch-hunt ensued.

It got so bad, the author deleted his Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The author of the original post said:

FTR: nobody I follow on twitter has been vilifying Andrew Smith. My corner of the internet is discussing, sarcastic, angry, but not mean.

Does that make it okay? In response, I said this in response:

You took a comment for a question that probably threw him and made him a poster child for something he is not. Shameful.

I posted my own tweet:

So #AndrewSmith has been the target of a modern witch hunt based on flimsy evidence. We can do better, writers. Have we become the trolls?


I do believe having an issue with the content in a book is okay. But…

When did it become okay for writers to personally attack each other on social media, especially without having much information?

When did it become okay to ruin people’s ratings on Goodreads and Amazon because we wanted to punish the writer?

It’s collective bullying.


But then outpouring of support came out from people who know Andrew Smith a little better than the writer who started the attacks. They painted a picture of a man who is funny and talented. They waxed poetic about how his books saved them and made them better writers. Check the #AndrewSmith Twitter feed to find out.

The ones who spoke about Andrew the person were the most impressive.

Michelle Zink wrote this on her Facebook page:

Don't have time to write? Take a look at this. Not only is Andrew Smith an amazing writer, he has a beast of a work ethic. Get up at 3am to write BEFORE going for run which he does BEFORE he goes to his full time job as a teacher? Holy wow. And I thought I worked hard. Also, high five to Smith's wife, who must certainly pick up any slack at home. Now THAT is a partnership.

But the best evidence of what kind of person Andrew Smith is comes from Andrew Smith himself before this happened:
Here's Andrew Smith defending a woman (Meghan Cox Gurdon from the YA is too dark piece)...

Did what Andrew Smith say in that interview deserve what followed? No, it did not.

And so, today, I will support him the best way I know how.

I’m going to buy one of his books.






45 comments:

  1. I don't want to vilify the author who wrote that essay, which is indeed what she did to Andrew Smith over an innocuous comment. (She can tweet all she wants that she didn't vilify anyone. Call a person sexist, and that's what you're doing.) However, I fail to see how she leaped from his admission that he's not comfortable writing from a woman's perspective to he views women as less than human. She references his incredible imagination, which I suppose is a way of pointing out that he was comfortable writing about giant grasshoppers, but not women.

    Sure he is. The giant grasshoppers aren't going to go viral on the internet over his depiction of them.

    If the author of that essay was offended by his statement and wanted to write about it, she could very easily have left his name out, explained the type of response he gave, and discussed her problem with it in that manner.

    Still more, the question that was asked to him was pretty sexist in itself. Who is that interviewer to decide that his books have nothing to offer girls?

    I am so very tired of writers tearing other writers down. We are all in this together. Put yourself out there enough, and at some point you're going to be asked a question you don't know how to answer and/or put your foot in your mouth. Wouldn't it be nice to know that you aren't going to get burned at the stake for it?

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    1. Dianne, you're right in everything you say. I found myself nodding in agreement throughout your comment. The interviewer and writer of that post dismissed Andrew Smith, his books, and his characters.

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    2. Yes, I imagine he was hurt and taken aback by the question in the first place. He didn't have time to formulate an appropriate answer. To see another writer jump all over his words HURTS. Writers should KNOW we don't always get the words right the first time. We don't always convey the meaning we intended, and so we revise and edit. Sometime we say the wrong thing and don't have the opportunity to revise/edit our words. Writers ought to be more forgiving that other people when someone does that!

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    3. One of the best things about writing a story for me is that I have the time to make sure my characters get to say exactly what I want them to say. I could use a lot of do-overs in real life.

      You may have seen this already, but this blogger talks about the nature of misleading questions in our society and the problem of reacting to soundbites: http://roofbeamreader.com/2015/03/12/sexism-privilege-bullying-the-andrew-smith-fiasco/#comment-287238

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  2. I understand how writers use what they know from life, which is why he doesn't write about them easily. I personally did not see anything wrong with his answer. He explained how he was raised with all boys and doesn't understand women, so to be on the safe side (although he doesn't say that) he writes about male characters because that's were he's comfortable. In my opinion, it's better to not write about women then to write about them and get it wrong.

    All writers are more comfortable with one type of character over another. And there are tons of writers who find writing about characters of one sex easier. That's not a bad thing. It's just how our brains work. I've read many books with just female characters and I never ask where the men are. And I've read books with more male characters, but I never felt they were sexist.

    Social media is a terrible place for bullying. Kids bully each other, celebrities bully each other, we bully celebrities, and writers bully other writers. It's sad.

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    1. Chris, a lot of your points make sense. We all have our comfort zones. I think I can write women/girls best. But as a teen, most of my friends were guys, so I get them to a degree too. And I've often lived in diverse places and teach diverse kids, so I will write diverse characters. But unlike when I write white females, anyone else I write gets a lot more scrutiny to make sure it's as authentic as possible.

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  3. She made quite a leap with her statements. So he had a book with no women - so what? He admitted he was uncomfortable writing about them. My first book had only one minor female character and yeah, I heard the sexist thing. I wasn't comfortable writing them either and as explained in the second book, there was a reason for their absence.
    Glad he has the support of friends and fans.

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    1. Alex, I agree she did make a big leap. And from what I hear, Andrew Smith does have female characters in some of his books. I'll have to read and find out for myself.

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  4. I am the mother of boys only. Isn't it okay that some books be mainly about boys? My ten-year-old son will tell you it's okay. I just don't get that boy-centric book=sexist. I'm a woman (a feminist, too). And I think it's perfectly fine if a man wants to write about a boy's world without a whole lot of girls. I have added one of Andrew's books (Stick) to my Goodreads TBR list, which I plan to pick up and read this week. I'm so sad he's been subjected to this. Especially, since as you said Theresa, there are other writers who have blatantly made comments about segments of the population that are overtly derogatory.

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    1. I'm saddened tonight because an author I greatly admire is clearly believing this was a strike against women. I think it was making the wrong person a representation. As a result, it diminished the cause and writers in so many ways. Sadly, the original writer of the post doesn't seem to see it.

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  5. I am so glad you spotlighted this today. I feel so bad for the author because his response in an interview was blown way out of proportion. Isn't it okay to say you are becoming more comfortable with writing a certain type of character? He sounds like a great guy who has been treated unfairly. Thanks for letting us know. I hope he is not feeling too badly about everything, especially being a teacher and being accused of being sexist. Crazy and sad! Wishing him the best of luck!
    ~Jess

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    1. Jess, I'm wishing him the best of luck too. I bought one of his books today. I'm just so disheartened that the writer of the blog post is making light of it and that an author I've admired is supporting it.

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  6. And I read that comment and thought nothing of it. It seems like there are some people who will take the most innocuous comment and blow it up into something it is not. That tells us more about the writer of the article than the person she was interviewing.

    This reminds me of the video posted on i09 the other day: http://io9.com/this-video-will-save-you-from-wasting-so-much-time-argu-1690568642 It puts this whole brouhaha into perspective.

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    1. Liz, that's such an interesting article. Thank you. I'll have to watch the video later.

      The writer clearly wanted to promote an agenda without thinking of the person. If she'd dug the tiniest bit deeper, she would've found this: http://www.ew.com/article/2015/03/05/author-andrew-smith-keeps-ya-weird-%E2%80%98grasshopper-jungle%E2%80%99-and-%E2%80%98-alex-crow%E2%80%99

      In it we get a better sense of Andrew Smith. He states this: "“The book is really about the failure of male-dominated societies. Every single one of these male-dominated societies is really misguided, a failure—the survivors on the boat, too. They just think that they’re doing something that’s good and really, they’re not. They’re just steering themselves off the edge of a cliff somewhere.”

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  7. Hi Theresa .. such an interesting post - which shows us how 'dangerous' social media can be ... thoughts taken out of context, answers not thought about just pinged through .. and it destroys so many ... and causes so much stress.

    Collective bullying is so appalling ... I'm glad you highlighted this and supported him .. cheers Hilary

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    1. Thank you, Hilary. For years, I bragged about what a supportive community I found in children's writers. After a few incidents like this, I no longer feel this way.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Matthew. People who know Andrew better than me have written eloquent posts defending Andrew and raising many questions.

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  9. Thanks for this post, Theresa. I didn't know the whole story - only that my Twitter newsfeed was blowing up over yet another "controversy."

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    1. Julie, I hope Andrew Smith's life is getting back to normal. I hope this is the end of it.

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  10. I have read and loved both GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE and WINGER (and hey, I'm female!). You would like them too, Theresa. Andrew actually replied when I tweeted about being blown away by the first book (not every author does). He thanked me kindly for my tweet and (I think) said he was glad I enjoyed the book. Can't tell now. It's been deleted! But from what I remember his response was kind and respectful and humble.

    I do believe Andrew Smith was treated unfairly by the Twitter mob. I also feel the reporter's question was unfair in the first place.

    I don't go on Twitter that often anymore, just because of controversies like this (and in fact, I knew nothing of this brouhaha until I read about it in PW's Children's Bookshelf). I wish people wouldn't jump into these things without asking for clarification. Just ask him what he meant! Don't attack him. You're absolutely right that people who are uncomfortable with what someone says in an interview should contact that person privately. Not publicly.

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    1. Joanne, I have issues with Twitter for the same reason. I use it sporadically, mostly related to work I do for Vine Leaves Literary Journal. The mob mentality is frightening. Even the people who say they agree he was unfairly target, but they agree with the message are missing the point.

      I'm reading Winger now, and I am so impressed by the voice.

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  11. Great post, Theresa. I am finally reading about this controversy. And am stunned. He was being honest, and he writes what he is comfortable writing about. People need to learn to disagree diplomatically, share opinions in a respectful way as well as agree to disagree without attacking someone personally.

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    1. So true, Kelly. I'd like to see the same outrage waged at politicians when they make blatantly racist or sexist or homophobic remarks. They're the ones we need to worry about.

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  12. Interesting post! And I think it is definitely a good example of how this era is all about being politically correct; I understand that it's important to be considerate of other people, especially people who are different, but it seems like some people, like that person you described, will look for reasons to be offended. For example, I heard about a controversy at UC Irvine where some students voted to ban all flags, including the American flag, from a student lounge, because they said that flags "construct paradigms of conformity"? I mean, really? Now we can't even hang a flag without offending people? The ban was vetoed, but still.
    At least the author, Andrew Smith, isn't going to let that bully stop him from writing, and at least he has supportive readers like you. It's just a shame that it has come to this, and it's frustrating when some people like that other writer you described are wrong but they refuse to admit it and they refuse to take responsibility for their actions.

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  13. I didn't know about any of this. I must have missed it because of BIL. LOVE your response. I will order his book off Amazon. If anything, this has made his book sales stronger (I hope). Geez, another twitter mess. *sigh* What I can't understand is why attack the guy? Most writers are not like this. The response to all of this has been in favor of Andrew Smith and what he said, his honesty, almost 100%. I'll never understand some people, T. Thanks for taking the stand. I'm proud of you. xoxo

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  14. Thanks for visiting and commenting, especially with all you have going on, Robyn. I'm always disheartened when books are banned with everything else that's out there. So how can writers do it to each other? It boggles the mind. There are people out there--entertainers, politicians--who say and even do so many deplorable things against women. We have many places to put our rage. I know Andrew Smith doesn't deserve it.

    Matthew Macnish has read all the books and can make recommendations if you'd like. My local bookstore had Winger. I loved the voice, so I bought it.

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  15. Glad I missed this. There's something about Twitter that brings out the worst in people. (The one of Andrew Smith's books I've read was The Malbury Lens. Beautiful writing but I didn't much like the story. It had nothing to do with the fact it had few women in it. I don't think it was something i even noticed about the book). If the attack wasn't so hurtful, it would be laughable. Ridiculous, even. We need to have a little more understanding for each other, to be a little less eager to stomp in shouting accusations.

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    1. Lynda, I agree there's something about Twitter that seems to bring out the worst in people. I was provided a link to a writer who wrote a blog post that was somewhat reasonable about the issue, but then mentioned Andrew Smith's daughter on Twitter with some pretty inappropriate tweets.

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  16. This is the ugliness of the internet, how things are misinterpreted, overanalyzed, and retweeted/reblogged without the full picture. It is mindless. It is so sad that a witch hunt was carried out on this writer. I have a few of his books that I've been meaning to read.

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    1. Medeia, so many people are trying to say the message is important, so they're glossing over the damage. That's bothering me even more.

      I'm reading one of his books now. Really enjoying it so far.

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  17. That's pretty ridiculous that he was accused of being a sexist based solely on that! On the flip side, I tend to create families with all or mostly sisters, and frequently save the only boy in a family for last. It's all a matter of what the writer feels most familiar and comfortable with. It's also important to get out of our comfort zone and write different types of characters. That's how we get good at diversity in our writing, not sticking to the same old all the time. If we're not used to dealing with a certain type of character, it's not going to come to us immediately, but it can come with time and practice.

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    1. I totally agree, Carrie-Anne. It's easiest to write the skin we're in, but we need to push ourselves. From what I hear, he's done that in a few books.

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  18. So well-said! I've been horrified by all the bully-swarms that form so quickly on Twitter now -- and a little scared, too. It's expecting a lot to think that someone who has undergone so many interviews would always say exactly, 100% the right thing to please everyone who could possibly read what they wrote -- including the word-twisters who so frequently seem to want to be offended. It's crazy, and the end result will likely be a lot of people silencing themselves before they can be silenced by the public; and what a shame that will be, all those brilliant people saying nothing or only inane things in order not to cause offense and ruin their careers -- or at least their ratings.

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    1. Caryn, I just wish all sides would keep conversation from turning into personal attacks--especially the name calling. You're right--it's better to say nothing. Sometimes I wonder whether or not I should've written this post!

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    2. It's a great post, and I think you were right to share it. It definitely took a lot of bravery to do so! Your points were very valid without sounding like bullying, and you had a good motive for writing it.

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    3. Thanks, Caryn. That makes me feel better.

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  19. There are so many great things about social media, but there are those dark parts of it. Bullies suck, whether they're in person or online.

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  20. Wow. I missed this whole thing. Bizarre how something can be taken so out of context and turned into something else entirely. I feel kind of ill for the poor guy. Love your idea of support. I've bought a few of his books for my classroom - time to add a couple more!

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  21. Wow- I hadn't heard of this. And I'm going to do just as you did- purchase one of his books.

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  22. Thank you so much for posting this. Often bad people will jump on good causes (like gender equality) as a means of manipulating and controlling others, but it's the same thing it's always been: bullying. As others have noted, there's plenty of real-life sexism in the world without our targeting innocent people and doing major damage to their careers.

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    1. Searching the Story, that's how I feel too.

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