On Women Writing

In response to this article on Slate,

“Can a Woman Be a “Great American Novelist”?

If you doubt unconscious bias exists, you live in a man’s world.”

By Meghan O’RourkePosted Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010, at 10:10 AM ET


I wrote this:

The whole world reads about itself through the eyes of male writers.  Stories of male coming of age, male crises, male power, male ambition, male sexual proclivities, even female sexual proclivities,  and stories about women, in the voices of women, all written by men, who are amazing writers, BUT, write from the perspective of male experience.

How many people in the world have read about the world as seen through the eyes of female writers?  How many films about women do men go to see?  Everyone goes to see films about men.

Material that is female based, is labeled “chick – whatever”, and dudes don’t indulge.

I had a guy recently tell me that I needed to read some Jack London if I wanted to understand the male experience.  I said that the whole world is the male experience!  And when I asked him what women writers he’d read, to understand the female experience, he couldn’t name one!

A few years ago I wanted to find out if the “Modernist” canon was all male – except for Virginia Woolf – because only men wrote stuff then.  So I went on a hunt, and found some amazing women writers – I’ll mention Rose Macaulay and Rebecca West here.  But I’ve never heard of them on any reading list. (Note: I’m referring to the Modernist list, not the list of women writers post 1960, which is thankfully a bit more representative of the world in general.)

Anyone who doesn’t think this kind of representation is discouraging just hasn’t experienced being on the margins.  When most writers that young girls read/look up to are male, and when her opinions are everywhere shushed, or often based on how she looks and acts, she might get the idea that she may as well keep it to herself.

I worked in a very gender conscious writing center recently, and we planned a tutor-based reading event.  Despite a staff of 50-50, the sign-ups were 90% male.

When I started asking the women, most of whom write, why they didn’t sign up, it turned out that almost every one of them was concerned about the reactions of the males to their writing, concerned about being dismissed, about being belittled, concerned that they weren’t writing about the same things the dudes were writing about, so they wouldn’t be taken seriously, being vulnerable to the male opinion, which carries the supreme weight, whether we like to admit it or not.

When we decided the next reading would be the women writers, everyone was afraid the dudes wouldn’t even show up.  And of course, many didn’t.

If a woman can get past all of that, and pull off a novel, and actually get it published, and then get it read, wow!


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