There’s been some bruhaha over in the hallowed halls of RWA lately. One of the special interest chapters, Women’s Fiction, is being disbanded because their mission and bylaws don’t match RWA’s. RWA, being the Romance Writers of America, has the mission of furthering the romance genre. The Women’s Fiction chapter deliberately focused on fiction for women that are not romances. The chapter bylaws were apparently quite clear on this and some members were even asked to leave (with no acrimony, dues refunded) because their work did not meet the Women’s Fiction definition. All of this has come into play because of increased IRS scrutiny of non-profit tax-exempt organizations. Organizations with this status cannot have subsidiaries with bylaws that are in conflict with the umbrella organization.
All very dry and not really what I want to talk about today.
Amidst all the debate – and there’s been a fair amount of lively and mostly polite debate on the forums and email loops – one person said that RWA had never done one thing to advance her career. A couple of people called her on it, but I’d like to take it a step further.
I am a believer in professional organizations. The strength in numbers created by people of like minds can have a massive impact on the world, creating a smooth path that newcomers sometimes never appreciate.
I think of this with the women’s movement. So many young women refuse to identify themselves as feminists. That’s because we have the enormous luxury of not needing to. We can vote, hold office, walk about unescorted, obtain any job we wish, control our own money, cannot be owned or traded like property. All important qualities for being an independent human being – and all things that women did not use to have, and that many women around the world today do not have. It’s only a non-issue for the women enjoying the rights the women before us fought for.
Unions are a huge topic of conversation today. The impact of unions on our economy, creating in many cases unsustainable – even ridiculous – organizational and fiscal scenarios. But we can’t forget how unionization changed the face of our world following the industrial revolution. We take for granted our five-day work week, 8- or 9-hour days with breaks to eat, as if these are basic rights. Of course little kids go to school and can’t work in factories. But all of these “basic rights” are only there for us to take for granted because our predecessors banded into unions and fought for it.
Now, comparing a professional organization for writers of romance looks a bit weak in the face of these profound battles, but the principle is there. For a romance writer – and member of RWA – to say the organization has never done one thing for her only demonstrates that we have no idea what we’d be facing if RWA had never existed.
There’s a reason that the RWA president has to have published at least five books (I think that’s the right number), because our president must be experienced in the industry, with a credible level of clout for dealing with publishers and literary agencies. What if romance writers never had that public face to represent us?
We all know that romance has long been the sneered-upon bastard stepchild of the reading world – despite its tremendous sales. What kind of conversations would we be having about romance without those sales numbers that RWA compiles and shouts to the world?
For myself, I can vouch that RWA has opened more doors for me and provided the greatest community than any other writers organization I’ve been part of. And I’ve been in quite a few – from arts councils to small critique groups. The conferences, local chapters, online chapters and other communities in RWA have given me an array of tools and friendships that I could never attempt to quantify.
More, I feel certain that those writers who banded together back in 1981 created a smooth road for me. There are all sorts of things I take for granted that might not be there without our powerful and respected professional organization.
I’m proud and grateful to be a member.