Taffy Brodesser-Akner. Photograph: Ali Smith/The Guardian
If we’re lucky, like Tolentino said, the soul-crushing machine of self-promotion will come for us and the capitalist imperative we hate will become one with the art or work that we love. So maybe there’s something to be said for throwing oneself into it wholeheartedly, without shame, maybe even skipping the part where you fritter away underpaid labor in the hopes that someone higher up will notice you. How many women wrote revealing first-person essays and came up empty handed? If we’re not lucky, the machine doesn’t come at all.
Women as writers as influencers
I’m not immune to any of this. I am acutely aware that I lack Gevinson and Prickett and Fry’s effortless knack at existing online – that I am neurotic and prone to self-doubt in a way that stifles organic self-expression – and that makes me anxious. Then I think about what it would mean to supplant that natural instinct with an intentionally crafted persona, and that makes me hate myself. I consider being more vulnerable on Twitter, then I consider all the ways in which that could backfire; I consider posting selfies; I consider writing personal essays and then I consider how all the ways I could mine my life for content make me want to crawl into a hole. The fact that all of the above is agonizing for me to think about makes me feel I am not cut out for this industry in its current state.
I consider also how the women whose work I most admire, whose careers I most want to emulate, are also women who I want to be. Whether or not that is by design, I can’t help but feel it is no small part of what continues to drive me to click on their links and buy their books.
It does not escape me that I have been considering only women, that the question of how to optimally present oneself online feels distinctly feminine, and this feels unfair even as the skill is somewhat advantageous, but mostly it feels inevitable. We are socialized to be highly attuned to making ourselves palatable for an audience, to be pleasing to the eye and the ear. This is the case as much on Twitter and Instagram as the physical world. And so we are slotted into this category, seen as much for our apartments and outfits as our writing, left to compete on every level at once.
Meanwhile, the hard-bitten male longform journalist posting Instagram stories of unknown jungles is not treated or viewed as an influencer; he doesn’t even worry about his influence in the first place. Nor does the male blogger-turned-venture capitalist who tweets and podcasts constantly. Nor the male mid-level editor bragging about an obviously four-figure fashion purchase on social media. The age of the famous “dudeitor” – middle-aged bros casually dominating media in a laid-back, unaffected posture – is over, even though their domination no doubt remains in the background. (Anonymity is a luxury.) Instead we have the age of the woman writer-influencer, both journalist and celebrity.
I’m not sure that there’s an answer here, only that while I wring my hands over whether to press send on a tweet or make my private Instagram public, Caroline Calloway is meeting with producers interested in turning her Insta-memoir into a movie. I still do not think she is primarily a writer. I do, however, think we have entered a point of no return in the realm of media-industry success that necessarily brings us closer to her than we would perhaps like to admit.
Those who insist that the job of the writer is simply, only, to write are deluding themselves. Editors whose advice is to get off Twitter, put your head down, and do the work are missing something fundamental and indispensable about digital media. It’s that all the things that invite derision for influencers – self-promotion, fishing for likes, posting about the minutiae of your life for relatability points – are also integral to the career of a writer online. At least if you want to be visited by that holy trinity when it comes time for your book launch, you must be an influencer in all the ways that matter.