[process] Privileging the extroverts

, talking about the process of writing, made an offhand observation that struck me as very powerful.

Face it, extroverts are privileged in our society. That everyone else should have to follow suit in order to gather more attention and, thereby, success, is exhausting to those of us who simply are not extroverts.

Though I’m not sure “privileged” is exactly the term I’d use here, I take her point. Society skews toward people who can speak well, exude social energy, draw constructive attention. Eric Witchey has used the term “bending light” to refer to this kind of interaction.

I’ve written before here about my own struggles with being forced by cancer and chemotherapy into an introvert’s lifestyle despite my nigh-pathological extroversion. My emotional and social needs are still those of an extrovert, but my body’s needs are very much those of an introvert. With all love and respect to my variously introverted friends (and you guys definitely know who you are), how the hell do you do it?

What does this privileging mean? I don’t know. Another of those things I need to untangle for myself a while. But it does seem important, especially given the wide variety of socialization and public behaviors we as writers are notoriously stereotypical for.

Are you an extrovert?

Does society (or writerdom/fandom) privilege you for that?

Would you be if you could?

I miss bending light, myself, down here inside the chemo well. But I’m climbing out.

13 thoughts on “[process] Privileging the extroverts

  1. CKHB says:

    I am also an extrovert. Since I’m unpublished, I have yet to see any specific examples of my nature “privileging” me, but I think it sounds reasonable that I am/will be benefited by it.

    It’s been weird to enter a community of writers where so many people are introverted, as compared with the world at large where extroverts are more common. (The Meyers-Briggs people say that 75% of the population is extroverted, I think.)

    I’m married to an introvert and I don’t know how they do it, either.

  2. kaolin fire says:

    I think I’m an omnivert. Or perhaps bi-verted. My druthers’d be to have a small group of friends I hang out with regularly. As part of trying to market GUD and market myself, and filling in for not having a small group of friends that I’m local to, I spend a lot of time on social networks–which means I have a lot of friends that I hope I’m somewhat close to but really don’t know as well as, well, physicality and more shared experiences would give.

    I’m not shy, though–just, well, torn. I’m lucky with my health, at the moment. I abuse it frequently. Hmm. Scattered. Working. Back to it….

  3. Mary Kay says:

    It’s about where your energy comes from? If being with people exhausts you, no matter you like & enjoy them, you’ll take all the alone time you can get to recharge.

  4. Mary Kay says:

    It’s about where your energy comes from? If being with people exhausts you, no matter you like & enjoy them, you’ll take all the alone time you can get to recharge.
    MKK — Introvert

  5. As with so many things, I fall right on the borderline. I have nurtured the extrovert skillset carefully, partly with an eye to congoing and parties and making contacts. And it does help in publishing; I’ve no doubt of that. Chatty sociable fun people are going to get noticed and be remembered favorably; Jessica’s comment seems, to me, to be obviously true.

    But for me it’s not all some weird mask I developed for my job. I need and seek a lot of human contact; which is why I write in a noisy cafe, and maintain so many friendships.

    All that said, alone-time is key to my sanity too. And when I’ve had enough human contact, the need for solitude trumps just about everything. And I’m not shy about saying so… or about anything I need. Kind people call this being good with my boundaries. I call it the Wall of Alyx. Because sometimes, I’ll notice someone looking at me like they’ve just run into a wall… and jeez, all I said was “You’re not getting what you want here, so can we jump ahead to the point where you’ve realized that and I’m walking away?”

    A friend today posted a “This reminded me of Alyx” on her blog today and the picture was a T-shirt with the following slogan:

    “You’ve read my T-shirt. That’s enough social interaction for one day.”

    Yeah. When I’m done in, there’s no doubting it.

    (My response was: “I would never wear anything so overtly antisocial.” Which is true. I’m not a conflict seeker, and I don’t go out of my way to be rude.

    But I admit I followed this comment up with “Among other things, the very people I’d be trying to discourage would mistake it for an invitation to negotiate.”

  6. Polenth says:

    It depends a bit what sort of introvert you are. Some are introverted to the point of being hermits. Some like social things, as long as they can recharge inbetween. I’m an introvert, but I do like spending time around people. I enjoy blogging and chatting to people on Twitter, as long as I can take breaks when I need them.

    That said, I think extroverts tend to get more short term attention. They’re more likely to get noticed when they walk into the room. In the long term, it evens out as people get to know the introverts too.

    1. I like this comment, but I’d take it further. I don’t think it’s only degree of introversion/ extroversion, I also think it’s kind of introversion/extroversion. As the friend who sent me here has heard me carry on about, we make this sound like a dichotomy when in fact we all know (and many comments in this thread reflect) that it’s way more complicated than that.

      Some introverts don’t like people. Some do, but are tired out by people. Some would like to like people, but believe they are themselves unlikable. Some, like Jay, are forced into introversion by external forces. Most misanthropes are introverts, but most introverts are not misanthropes.

      Some extroverts like parties. Loud parties. Bars. Mosh pits. Some extroverts (like me) only like people when we can see, hear, and listen to them. Some extroverts don’t like other people, but do like attention. Most drama queens are extroverts, but most extroverts are not drama queens.

      1. This comment really captures the subtleties, Debbie–I enjoyed it!

  7. Joy R says:

    Personally, I test off-the-scale in terms of introversion, a la the Meyers-Briggs/Kersey scale. In practical terms what I have found this to mean is, if there is a crack, I will fall thru it. I can not rely on people who have met me in person remembering me. I interview poorly. I often come across as snobbish, aloof or distant. As I rarely speak unless I feel I have a qualified opinion, (and because speaking is such an expenditure of energy for me) I find it infuriatingly frustrating to be dismissed or ignored when I do make the effort to contribute. Because I can jump up and down, paint myself purple and run nekkid thru the streets without managing to gain the sort of notice a true extrovert can get from walking into a room and doing absolutely nothing at all. Most of the time it doesn’t matter, I know. But when it does… it really, really does. For the extroverts and the introverts, both.

  8. Meran says:

    I want that t-shirt and Joy, I think you might be in the closet next to mine. I know of every one of those cracks, could draw the maps in the darkest of darks.
    If there’s an awkward or wrong way to say it, I say it (hey, but I don’t lie well, if at all; sometimes it comes out of my mouth just because it’s true and maybe someone should say it 🙂 )
    I was shy until about 35. Then I began teaching art classes, small ones, and trying to sell my work. That made me do better with social stuff. Then I met James, the social butterfly; we now live together, have for almost 18 yrs (wowsers)
    Online friends don’t count as extrovert points, btw. The interaction goes at a nice comfotable rate of “when I want it”; groups if more than 5 slam my doors down.. I find a corner to hang out in or a nice task like maybe doing the dishes (and yes that means even in someone else’s house.)
    How do I cope? Don’t do parties, or at least not often… Read… Play with the kids or the pets…
    And yes, Jay, it’s obvious you’re an extrovert 😉 I’m beginning to think most writers are… How else can someone take something they’ve written and then WANT to expose their thoughts to the World? How the F&$@ can someone do that???
    It’s hard enough for me as artist to show my paintings… And there are some I’m not brave enough to show.

  9. Meredith Schwartz says:

    Extroversion is a big help in promotion. It is not, however, a big help in writing — at least I find my desire to go out and be with people at odds with my desire to sit my butt in a chair by myself and pound a keyboard all day after sitting my butt in a chair and pounding a keyboard all day for the day job.

  10. Cora says:

    I’m another introvert. I need a lot of time for myself to recharge my batteries and get positively antsy when forced to interact with people for too long.

    I’m not actually shy in the classic sense. I’ve never had any problem with public speaking (I gave the graduation speech for my class), readings and actually did the “making an idiot of myself trying to flog the mag” promotion thing for the university lit mag. Unlike a lot of people, I also don’t mind whether I’m speaking in front of 2 or 200 people, it’s all the same to me.

    I have worked as a teacher and as an interpreter, both jobs which require interaction with others, and did all right. Teaching is a lot like public speaking and if everything goes right, interaction with students occurs within clearly defined conditions. And interpreting is more like being a medium for other people’s conversations than an actor of my own. Nonetheless, both teaching and interpreting are physically and psychically draining for me.

    What bothers me is social interaction at parties, in normal office situations, etc… I have no problem with people I know well and am comfortable with and in strictly prescribed contexts such as teaching or interpreting. But social interaction with people I either don’t know well or have little in common with is difficult for me. Family functions are particularly draining, because I’m obligated to attend, the event often takes longer than I am comfortable with, I am forced to interact with people I don’t particularly like or only meet once a year at one of those events and withdrawing for some quiet time is frowned upon. Plus, I am confrontative, e.g. when some idiot pontificates about how immigrants are ruining our country, etc…, I will call him/her on it. And the fact that I have a rather loud speaking voice, which is actually good for teaching and public readings and the like, is an issue in social interactions, because particularly for women a loud voice is viewed as rude and unladylike. In short, I always fear I’m being rude and will embarrass myself and everyone else. As a result, I will often hang around with neglected old ladies or children at parties.

    An added problem is that my mother is an extreme extrovert (she can be so bubbly with virtual strangers that a classmate once asked me, “Is she on drugs or is she always like that?”) with not a lot of understanding that I function very differently from her (on the plus side, she likes interacting with me and doesn’t mind when I blabber about films or books or writing), which means that I had to endure a lot of family interaction growing up and still have to, because people will inevitably invite her and often me as well. My Dad is more introverted like me.

    As for whether extroverts are privileged, I wouldn’t use the term privilege with all the political charge it carries in the US, but I do think that modern society is designed more for extroverts than introverts. Most modern workplaces, particularly office settings, emphasize teamwork and social interaction, which can be problematic for introverts. There’s also the personal issue that friendships and relationships can be more difficult for introverts, particularly when the other party is an extrovert who needs a lot more together time than the introverted party.

    I actually think that writing is one of the professions where introverts have less problems than elsewhere, simply because writing is largely a solitary activity. And while the promotional aspects might bother someone who is extremely shy or suffers from stage-fright, writing still requires less regular interaction with others than a 9 to 5 office job or a retail or service industry job (my personal nightmare). That said, I don’t do cons, partly for geographical reasons and partly because I suspect I wouldn’t be very happy there. I used to think cons were like a mixture between an academic conference (which I can handle) and the Frankfurt book fair, but the reports and pictures I’ve seen suggest something I wouldn’t be comfortable with.

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