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Alison Roman, sell-outs and the privilege of ‘focusing on the writing’

Alison Roman, sell-outs and the privilege of 'focusing on the writing'

I’m too sad and angry and scared to think about (let alone write about) the Tory government’s abysmal and classist response to the COVID-19 threat right now.

I’ve been enthralled instead by the Alison Roman drama that unfolded on Twitter over the weekend (I refuse to call it the Alison Roman/Chrissy Teigen drama).

In an interview with New Consumer, nestled between descriptions of her eating habits (“I’m not a vegetarian — I eat everything — but because I live alone, I cook for myself, I don’t really cook meat for myself often”), her recipe development process (“There’s no formula. There’s no strategy. There’s no, like, “gotta have this, gotta have that”), and her new show (“I sold a TV show, but I was supposed to be filming it right now, and I’m not”), Roman talked about her career trajectory.

In discussing her plans to “build a bigger business without selling-out” Roman listed Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo (two other women with successful lifestyle brands), as examples of what she doesn’t want.

Roman characterised Teigen’s business ventures – successful cookbooks, a product line at Target and a popular Instagram page that Roman describes as a “content farm” – as something that “horrifies” her. Kondo’s product line “feels greedy” to Roman, as she derides Kondo’s decision to “capitalize on her fame and make stuff that you can buy”.

“I’m more interested in expanding myself as a writer,” she explains to the interviewer.

On privilege

In regard to Marie Kondo’s product line, Alison Roman used odd phrasing that reads like a mocking of someone – like Kondo – for whom English is not their first language. When this racist angle was pointed out online, the New Consumer quickly changed the phrasing, before then changing it back once Roman explained it away as an inside joke – apparently nothing to do with Kondo’s accent, or turn of phrase.

I’m not a woman of colour, so an opinion on Roman’s racism is probably outside my wheel-house to comment on, but lots of WoC on my timeline have pointed out the racism and white privilege in Roman’s comments.

At the very least, that both women she chose as examples of being a ‘sell-out’ are of Asian descent (Kondo is Japanese and Teigen’s father is Thai), certainly plays a part in how clearly her statements come from a place of privilege.

Additionally, it strikes me that, unlike Roman, both Teigen and Kondo have children. This point is less a comment on the individual circumstances of the women in this drama, but to note that for most women, ‘focusing on your writing’ is undoubtedly something that is harder to do with young kids. Both in terms of how difficult it is to take concentrated time to write while being a parent, and also the reality that ‘focussing on the writing’ is, for most people, a long-game career move. Building a body of work that allows you to make a living from writing typically takes much longer than the transactional career move of creating and selling physical products – and for women with children to support, time is of the essence

Roman also talks in the interview about needing to translate her fame into money but goes on to reveal that she has no debt. In another interview, with WealthSimple, Roman makes a number of statements which – show both the privilege she possesses and her lack of awareness of that privilege. I probably come from a similar background to Roman, but I understand that not everyone has the ability to “value freedom and happiness over financial stability”. I understand that it is, in itself, a mark of privilege and is, to some extent, predicated on knowing that no one depends on you and that you have a safety net to fall back on.

On selling-out

Roman instead insists that she would “rather stay small and always be myself”. But in what way are Kondo and Teigen not being themselves? Chrissy Teigen is known and loved for being her real, salty self on social media.

Why shouldn’t women ‘sell-out’? Why are we supposed to view ‘selling-out’ as a bad thing? We’re existing in a world that constantly reminds us of the dichotomy women have to adhere to: we should be beautiful, but not high-maintenance, we should be nurturing but not coddling, we should be successful – but not too successful.

If a woman is able to both enjoy what she does, and make good money from it, she is somehow seen as having too much.

We must fulfil either the harrassed ‘working women’ stereotype: wearing a suit and ‘making it’ an in a male-dominated field, whilst being married to our job, neglectful of our children and miserable at home. Or, we can do something creative and domestic (cooking, writing, being a minimalism icon) but if it’s something we enjoy, we expect to be paid well. Women building brands and businesses around their creativity, their passions and their lifestyles is a threat to the established patriarchal way of doing capitalism.


In a May 9th tweet – no doubt after realising that Teigen is producing the very show promoted in this interview – Roman insisted that “Being a woman who takes down other women is absolutely not my thing”.  In light of her attitude in the New Consumer interview, these seem like empty words.

Women Supporting Women is a movement. It’s an act of feminism, when women are often socialised to believe that other women are their competition and that there’s only room at the top for one. Women supporting women has to be more than a buzzword, or a hashtag or an Instagram caption. Supporting other women (and, by extension, not tearing them down) means supporting their careers and their choices, and understanding that they might be different to yours and celebrating those differences, but also recognising the potential for underlying, systemic reasons for those differences.

 

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