Friday Speak Out!: Defying Stereotypes, Guest Post by Beth Cato

Friday, February 08, 2013
When people find out I'm a writer, sometimes they ask straight out: "What do you write?" Other times, I get a response that makes me fight the urge to snarl and froth at the mouth.

"Oh, you write children's books?"

It's not that I have anything against children's books. I love them to pieces and have hundreds on shelves throughout my house. As I grew up, Stan and Jan Berenstain, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and C. W. Anderson were demi-gods of literature. The thing that drives me bonkers is the assumption that because, 1) I'm a woman, and 2) I'm a mother, therefore I must write children's books.

There were several years there, when I first started writing, and I was afraid to tell anyone. If asked about my job, I said I was a stay-at-home mom. I always felt like a liar when I said that, though, because I wasn't happy with that role alone. Now, I'm honest.

I love being a mom, I love my kid, but I'm also more than that.

I may be home all day, but my brain is not confined to these walls. I'm on Wikipedia, looking up poisons and how to resuscitate people who fall into icy ponds. My mind travels to steampunk fantasy worlds, flits across the universe faster-than-light, and reads paranormal western novels before bed. I'm googling how to set up trip wire bombs and make meth labs, and probably flagged on more than one FBI watch list. I write dark stories about grandmothers who morph into cockroaches, or light tales about toilet gnomes who use magic to keep plumbing in good order; I also write feel-good Chicken Soup stories about beloved cats, or raising my autistic son.

I'm complicated, and proud of it.

When people assume I write for children, I politely correct them. "Oh, no. I write science fiction and fantasy, mostly, but I've also had stories in a number of Chicken Soup anthologies."

I get a lot of funny looks when I mention I write fantasy and science fiction. It confuses them. That's okay. I confuse myself sometimes.

Even if they shift awkwardly and change the subject after that, I know I have broken their concept of me, and broken the assumption they established for all writers who are also mothers. And most importantly, I've been honest with them and with myself.

Maybe, just maybe, I will write children's books someday, but I won't be confined by any genre or age group. I'm a mother and a writer, and my imagination is too big for any cage.


Beth Cato is an active member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, with stories in Flash Fiction Online, Daily Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories, and many other publications. She's originally from Hanford, California, but now resides in Buckeye, Arizona, with her husband and son. Despite how often her husband's co-workers beg, she will not quit writing to bake cookies all day long. Information regarding current projects can always be found at Sometimes those projects do include cookies. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Yes, saying "I'm a writer," gets odd responses.

Grandmothers that morph into cockroaches? Sounds quite intriguing...

Unknown said...

Nicely done! I had a comment once, from a parent of one of my daughter's classmate, that really struck a nerve. She asked, "what do you do?" and I responded that I wrote a little poetry, a little creative nonfiction. Her response was, "Oh, you don't really work, then." GRR.

Anonymous said...

When I say "I write Fantasy", I either get "Like Harry Potter?" or "Like 50 Shades of Gray". I don't know which bugs me more...

Anonymous said...

I'm a woman and mommy but never been asked that one. I do get the usual questions: what do you write, where have you been published, do you make a living at it? It's easy to let the questions offend. After all, we hear them over and over or they hit a raw nerve (living?). But I try to remember most people are just curious, or asking a simple question. They don't know how common a question it is. I think most occupations probably have their set of stereotypical questions and I've probably been guilty of asking a few of them!

Margo Dill said...

This is a great post. :) I love how you write about balancing the mommy act with the writer hat!

As for questions, my friend's husband is always saying, "So you write any books lately?" As if you just sit down to your computer and write a book in a day. . .

I really try hard not to ask annoying questions, but as Julie said, I'm sure I do.

On a side note, my husband is an air traffic controller and the response he usually gets is, "Oh, did you see Pushing Tin?" As if a movie shows truly how a career is--that would be like asking a doctor, "Oh, did you see Grey's Anatomy?"

@Jkathleencheney--I can't believe when you say you write fantasy, that people ask, "Like 50 Shades of Grey!" Egads--I thought everyone at least knew what fantasy was--the genre that is. :)

Love this post and discussion!

Anonymous said...

Haha! Love your energy and attitude, and your stories sound fantastic. I'll check out your website.

MKHutchins said...

I enjoyed this. I usually have people ask me if I write romance, and I get those same, strange looks when I say SF/F.

Marcia Peterson said...

I get annoyed when asked (by a family member) if I'm "still writing." I know people mean no harm with questions like that but geez. Great post, Beth!

Tamara Marnell said...

No offense, but it might do you some good to chill. I don't know why anyone would give you funny looks or get confused when you say you write SF/F, unless they sense they've touched a sore spot.

Every profession has its stereotypes. "Oh, you're a doctor? I've had this pain in my back..." "A lawyer, huh? Have you heard the one about the lawyer in the hot air balloon?" In high school I had a history teacher who was six foot plus and shaved his head. When he told people he was a teacher, they always said, "Oh, you teach PE?" So he would respond, "No. Interpretive Dance."

Whenever I see my FIL, he greets me with, "So when are they turning your book into a movie?" When I contact old acquaintances, they say, "Last we talked you were doing some writing. You still at it?" They're just trying to make conversation; there's nothing offensive about it. Writers are much too sensitive about "being taken seriously."

Angela Mackintosh said...

Great post! At least they don't look at you and automatically assume you write erotica or horror. LOL

I laughed when you said you're probably on an FBI watch list--I always say the same thing! :)

Laura said...

It's like there's a genre stereotype for every kind of writer. As a young-ish writer, I get the, "Oh, like Twilight?" a lot. Or worse, "Oh, like Twilight fanfic?" I do look a lot younger than I am, but that doesn't mean I write Twilight fanfic about my fantasy boyfriend. :P

Von said...

THANK YOU for speaking for women writers everywhere. I love what you had to say and how you said it. I will definitely check out your stories. :)

Mel Kinnel (@TizMellyMel) said...

I've never been asked if I write children's books but I have been asked what I do write, where I've published and when is my book coming out. I'm not published anywhere--yet--so those questions can be a little annoying but I figure non-writers don't know any better.

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