WHAT WOULD GEORGE CLOONEY DO? by Kate Maruyama

When my novel HARROWGATE came out in 2013, I knew I had to promote my book and myself as a writer. I was terrified. I sent out a few emails and lined up some readings in friends’ reading series. I asked my network of writer friends and agreed to do some guest blog posts, interviews. But I stopped there, hoping my publishing company would do the rest, because it was somehow unseemly to self-promote. People would get sick of me. After all, it was one little book. When the interviews and articles started going up and the readings I’d scheduled happened, I felt overexposed, tired of seeing my face, and figured the world was as sick of me as I was. So there was a little flurry and I was done promoting my book. And, as a year and a half has gone by, I realize that there was probably quite a bit more I could have done.

Several years ago I had just graduated my MFA program at Antioch and had a few pieces published. I was making my way in the writer world and I was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I asked my fellow alumni if I should even post about it because doing so felt egotistical to me. Terry Bailey, guitarist, educator and very smart feminist said, “Men would not hesitate to boast and take full credit for a Pushcart nod or some other honor. When women boast it’s regarded as conceited; when men boast, it’s confidence.”

This hit me. Why did I hesitate? Why wouldn’t I be crowing about my first public recognition as a writer? I was raised privileged in so many ways. I grew up a white girl in the seventies on a liberal college campus, by a feminist and a writer, who knew full well she needed to hustle to get her work out there, get it noticed. I was never told I couldn’t or shouldn’t do anything career or skillwise simply because I was female. I grew up in the full belief that everything I did was as big a deal as what my brothers did. Despite coming from this enormous place of privilege and support, I still I had to stop and ask if it was okay to state publicly that something kind of terrific and validating had happened in my writing life.

So where does this reluctance come from? The idea that we, as women, don’t want to toot our own horns? That we should be quiet, and understated and wait for accolades to come about organically? If we work hard enough, the rest will follow, right? Why is it a guy can point to something he’s done or achieved and say, “hey, so this is cool,” and get slapped on the back and congratulated? He’s not criticized for it because it’s customary for him to do so. There are many scientific theories on the subject, the most comprehensive consideration I’ve read is “The Confidence Gap” which ran in the Atlantic. Recognizing that this is an issue is the first step in fighting back against our lesser demons.

Recently, I was talking to LaToya Jordan, my poet friend whose truly accomplished, worked on for years, fabulous book of poetry, THICK SKINNED SUGAR was due out from a press that needed 65 pre-orders in order to afford its publication. This book wasn’t going to happen unless she got these orders. She had sent out an email to her email list of friends explaining her plight, but felt bad about plugging herself further.

She felt bad about promoting her work in order to have it succeed. This sounded painfully familiar. So I told LaToya (and I tried to sound convincing as I try to tell myself this daily) we need to promote ourselves like white men. White men accomplish something, they don’t even think twice, because they’ve been raised to say, “Hey, look at what I did.” And, in fishing for which white men to model our self-promotion on, I thought of George Clooney. Because when George Clooney accomplishes something, he will say with confidence and aplomb, “Hey, I did something here, you might be interested.” He will do the work necessary to promote whatever that is, from a movie he’s starred in or directed to his work in the Sudan. But he won’t be an asshole about it. He’ll do it in such a classy way that people don’t even blink. They say, “Hey, look what George did. Awesome.”

So what I’ve been asking more lately, is not what is wrong with our system, what is wrong with society, but rather, the more answerable question with conquerable results:

WHAT WOULD GEORGE CLOONEY DO?

When my lady friends win an award or publish a piece or a book, or do something worthy of notice, I will definitely hoot and holler and tweet and post it, but I will also challenge them, “What would George Clooney Do?” because you know what? He would say, “Hey, I did something here, you might be interested.” And no one tells this guy he is conceited or full of himself, because, well…it’s George Clooney.

Men are raised to conquer the world and praised consistently for their accomplishments. I know there are a different set of pressures set on men by society, but the goal of these questions is not to put men down, but to take a closer look at how we can lift women up, and, so importantly, raise ourselves up without thinking twice about it.

My friends Ashaki Jackson, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Lisa Cheby and Tisha Reichle are making great strides with their Women Who Submit in an effort to get women writers out there submitting their work. They saw not only the disparity in numbers in publishing, as reported in the VIDA count but knew that there were women around them simply not submitting their work. The perfectionism spoken of in ‘The Confidence Gap” was at work. Women Who Submit represent only a few of the women doing wonderful work out there, encouraging and supporting women to get their voices heard.

My own girl is growing into a teen as self-confident as her brother, if not more so. She truly believes she can do anything she sets her mind to in her life. I can’t take sole credit for her self-confidence, this child has always known exactly who she is. My husband and I simply haven’t taught her any different. My mother raised me to believe I could do anything in this life, so how did I come to this impasse? How can I help my daughter ward off whatever this negative message is that we have somehow gotten by osmosis from society? All I want is for her to, without thinking, be able to point to something and say, “hey, I did that.” And that she will cheer her sisters in life on as they go out in the world and accomplish their own stuff.

George Clooney

So when I saw the above image of George Clooney, in his full blown awkward period of junior high. And I think of how suave he’s become, how far along his career, it only hammered home this question as we move forward: What Would George Clooney Do?

WWGCD, ladies?

KateMaruyama

Kate Maruyama’s novel HARROWGATE was published by 47North in 2013. Her short work has appeared in Arcadia, Stoneboat and Controlled Burn as well as on Salon and The Rumpus and other online journals. She holds an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles and she writes, teaches, cooks and eats in Los Angeles where she lives with her family.

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