I blogged previously about how the London Review of Book’s “complications” in finding women reviewers was largely down to a problem in breaking the tradition of how they approached commissioning reviews. If commissioning editors are genuinely interested in presenting a certain type of review, they have to find and ask the right type of reviewer. If you want to find a poetry reviewer, find a poetry reviewer to ask.
If you want to get your writing published, do your research and find an editor who publishes writing like yours. A poet who wants to get their sonnets published is asking for rejection if they approach a magazine that focuses on experimental poetry and whose editor hates sonnets. The poet would need to find and approach a magazine editor who will include sonnets.
If you want the right answer, you need to ask the right question of the right person. Anyone who’s used a search engine or tried doing research of any kind knows, or soon finds out, that a great deal of time and effort can be wasted shifting through irrelevant results if the wrong search terms are used or the wrong question asked.
Children learn to ask the right question of the right person quickly. They soon learn which parent is more likely to say yes to certain requests and will direct their request at that parent. At nursery or school, they will ask the nursery nurse or teacher for help rather than the child nearest them. But as children grow up they learn that parents and teachers don’t have all the answers. A friend might give a white lie rather than the rather more unpalatable truth to questions such as “Does this outfit look OK?”
A rejection might be avoided by sounding out a friend to find out what the opinion of a person you want to ask a question is. “What does he think of me?” might be masking the real question, “If I ask him on a date, how likely is he to say yes?” It’s easier to indirectly ask a person whom we think will give a positive response than directly ask someone whose response is unpredictable. It’s easier for a commissioning editor to commission a review from a reviewer they’ve used previously than approach someone new and risk them saying no.
It’s much easier to avoid directly asking someone whose response is likely to be abusive and unpalatable.
This has been the problem behind the question “How do twitter users stop other twitter users sending abusive tweets?” By abusive I don’t mean tweets that contain insults. I mean those tweets that threaten serious assault or suggest bombs have been planted: tweets that actually break the law and are subject to an ongoing police investigation which has already resulted in arrests. Fortunately those on the receiving end of such tweets have spoken out, primarily as a way of highlighting the problem and encouraging others to report abusive tweets to both twitter and the police. Speaking out also triggers a debate about the problem and asks what can be done about it.
There has been debate, but it’s faltered around the key question of why the perpetrators did it and what can be done to stop them. The victims are a key part of the debate and have rightly spoken out. But they are not the right people to ask, why did this happen and how do we stop it happening again?
It’s easy to speculate that the perpetrators see words on a screen and overlook or forget that there’s a real person behind the avatar they are targeting, that these are disenfranchised loners who feel that their standing in society has been eroded so attack others with displaced aggression. But not all the identified perpetrators so far fit that profile. Not all of them belong to one gender either.
Whilst the debate has been a useful source of support and sends a message that abusive behaviour is not acceptable, it won’t provide answers. We need to start asking the perpetrators why they do this and what would have stopped them. They may not provide answers and, where provided, those answers will be unpalatable, but the questions have to be asked.
By Emma Lee Twitter: @Emma_Lee1.