Competitions, inner toddlers, and what happened when I entered the Stylist #girlswritingcomp with Pan Macmillan

I have a strange relationship with competitions. I am cynically distrustful and stupendously hopeful every time I enter, and even though outside I shrug when I do not win, inside I have a toddler screaming and shouting (I give him ice cream later on, so that front is covered).
You see, the hardest pill to swallow usually is a competition that sounds relevant to your interest. Sure, I would like to win a random draw with a trip to the Maldives up for grabs, but I would love to win a writing competition with an all day workshop as a reward; meeting industry insiders would be an added bonus; and if it was organised from one of my favourite magazines in conjunction with one of my favourite publishing houses for one of my favourite TV shows, I would just get the kind of hyperventilation similar to a teenage girl’s reaction had she bumped into Robert Pattison in full Twilight costume.
So when I actually read that the Stylist (say what?) in association with the Pan Macmillan Group (palpitations start) did a writing competition (difficulty breathing now) based on the TV series Girls (why is this brown paper bag not working) for a chance to win 1of 10 places in a writing workshop with industry insiders (paramedics rush through the door), I was, well, really excited.
I put it in my diary, set time aside every day, skipped the gym quite a few times (although maybe that was just an excuse), and wrote about the story of a functionally dysfunctional friendship. No, I was not reinventing the wheel or writing the sequel to War and Peace, but I was quite proud of the 999 words I wrote (the limit was 1000 and I decided to play it safe).
So I read it, re-read it to the point of memorising it, laughed at my own jokes, sent it to my partner and after reassuring him that it was perfectly fine to not like it (I think my exact words were ‘tell me if you think it’s shit‘) I breathed a sigh of relief when he said he liked it, then spent the rest of the afternoon interrogating him why he just liked it instead of loving it, then reread it to make sure I did not have any sentences that were as big as this one, picked a name, saved it, attached it in an email, and help my breath while my finger pressed ‘send‘.
So a few weeks later I found I was holding my breath again when I was opening the email from Pan Macmillan; and then I exhaled. I was told that the competition was fierce. I was thanked for entering. I was reassured they would love to keep in touch with me. It was a no.
Now, my first reaction was the shrug-screaming toddler-where is the closest Ben&Jerry’s default reaction. Then I thought about it. Yes, maybe my story did not cut the mustard and the rest of the entrants were on the same par with Tolstoy (or E.L. James– depending on the judging criteria), but what if that was not the case?
There was the thought that the fact I am a guy worked against my chances of being part of the list of 10 winners. After all, Stylist is a female-oriented magazine, and besides that every time I have entered in anything they do, I never hear back (once they did a ‘be one of the first 50 people to email us and win a signed copy of a book’. I got my copy from the neon yellow uniformed Stylist distributor before he even unloaded the stack from the van in central London -where it is distributed one day before-, and emailed as soon as I saw it. I never heard a word).
They often do events, or nights, or workshops, and in the pictures I have not seen any guys there. I am a proud male reader, as I find the themes discussed truly fascinating, going above gender and exploring the human psyche without any genitalia assigned to it, but maybe I am looking at it through (literally) rose-tinted glasses.
For a magazine that advocates equality and singles out sexism, I think that this an interesting omission in their inclusion plan (I wonder how many male competition winners or event participants they had throughout the past year). Judging from the pics they posted on their twitter from the day, there were no guys among the winners.
You see, I think male authors can capture the female experience, and vice versa. That is what cheeses me off. From the male entrants of this competition, wasn’t there anyone that achieved that?
Yes, I am used to not hearing back from The Stylist, but the reason it stung this time is the fact that I really wanted to take part to that workshop. I don’t want to sound petty or a sore loser (although I am aware that I probably sound exactly like that), but I can not help but wonder if there is a female-solidarity-sister-independent-woman-part-II-sisterhood-of-the-travelling-pants criterion, that if applied on a male magazine would be classed as sexist.
Will I read the Stylist again? Possibly in a few weeks. Has it lost a bit of its magic? Maybe. Will I enter another Stylist competition? I don’t know really… Would you?




3 thoughts on “Competitions, inner toddlers, and what happened when I entered the Stylist #girlswritingcomp with Pan Macmillan

  1. A feminist friend of mine once told me that part of equalizing gender opportunities includes summarily denying opportunities to men simply because they are men. She agreed that not all men are oppressors or have been on the receiving end of unwarranted privilege, but that it was necessary to lift up women because they are women due to the fact that men as a group usually have the advantage.

    I don’t know. It still sounds like sexism to me. But being transgender, I’ve been able to look at sexism from multiple points of view.


  2. I totally understand where you’re coming from. I used to love Stylist until it advocated retail therapy as a great way to beat the blues. It was a shallow letter from the temporary editor while the main one was on maternity leave.

    Stylist is doing something amazing. It’s a free magazine distributed to so many people. And it’s feminist. It’s the most feminist magazine ever read. I was impressed.

    However, I believe that ‘retail therapy’ can do more harm than good. If people believe that they can buy their way out of misery, they will not find healthy ways of actually trying to be aware of why they are unhappy, and attempting to solve the root of the problem. ‘Retail therapy’ is the result of our shallow consumerist culture, where we value each material object less because everything is replaceable, and we don’t care about what happens to the products when we’re done with them, leading to environmental problems.

    In my opinion, this is one of the major bad points about our society – one that I admit to being part of! Stylist suddenly clashed with my values when it championed retail therapy because of its influence in our culture. I’ve never been able to fully trust it again.

    Good luck in the next competition enter. I hope they don’t judge you based on your gender or anything else apart from the quality of the work.

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