“Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.”
–Malclom X, Malcolm X Speaks
When I look around it’s impossible to ignore how people train their children. The boys, while often programmed for reactionary modes sometimes bordering on psychosis, are at least told they can achieve. Girls, on the other hand, seem to be summarily discouraged from pursuing serious art, serious athleticism, and serious musical pursuits. Parents consistently joke to or in front of their daughters that they’re a ditz and/or they’ll need to marry a rich guy when they grow up because there’s no way they’ll make it on their own.
Sure, you want to draw a heart? A pony? A rainbow? Okay. Permission granted. You want to sing? Go for it! Think you can play an instrument or compose music? Try again.
When does a girl become a woman? You know, a self-sufficient adult with their own goals and beliefs? Checking out our society it’s hard not to notice teenage boys being referred to as men, while women in their thirties are constantly referred to as girls. Again we come back to a bad joke: which came first? Language framing thought, or thought constructing language?
So, as a woman-girl setting out to be an author you should know some things. We kinda live under apartheid rules. There are fewer of us guys if you look at the numbers, so if us guys want a fair shake we need to ensure you women get an unfair shake. Go attend something like AWP–the Associated Writing Programs conference. Most of the university-level writing programs are represented here. You check out the crowd and there seem to be waaaaaay more females than males. That’s strange because genre and literary fiction seem skewed toward male authors and male audiences.
But look more closely. There seems to be strong pressure, well into adulthood, informing our woman-girl writers: no, you’re wrong again. Pursing a career as an author is only acceptable if you A) limit yourself to poetry (yes, there is contemporary poetry being made! Not that you’d know it outside of university presses…), B) you limit yourself to writing fictional histories of families (because the whole point of women-girls is reproduction and, you know, the family thing), or C) go into teaching and just use publications as a way to ensure tenure.
In fact, that last one is the best option. Go into teaching where you can support and cultivate others, while drawing a steady paycheck until a man deigns to take you to his castle. Leave the advance and royalty system to us men. It’s high-pressure scary stuff, and your constitution probably couldn’t handle it. And anyway, serious literature tackling issues of politics and society involve heavy thought. Best keep it light with family stuff (because family dynamics are never political, right?). And all that genre stuff requires imagination, which we’ve been wringing out of you women-girls from day one. Please don’t prove us wrong and write something surreal. It would anger us. Mostly because it means you’re lesbian and, as such, sexually unavailable to us. Or maybe it means you’re one of those dark-meat types from some place that doesn’t sound English or Christian and, as such, socially despicable (but perhaps sexually available to us? Holla if you’re down for a despicable hook up…). And if you’re composing poetry, well, I guess you can do whatever you want because nobody’s going to read it anyway.
See, writing is like math. Math with letters instead of numbers. Girls are bad at math. We men know that because we’ve told you such time and again and discouraged you from pursuing it. Here’s how it works: man plus idea = viable. No matter how hackneyed and lukewarm the dead horse burgers he’s serving, he believes he’s a master chef and will insist the editors take a bite. You + idea = it’s not ready yet.
What we want you to think: I’ll work on it for a few more years and show it to somebody then, or maybe just get to work on the next one and hope that’s better, or I’ll show it to somebody I know and seize on the one negative thing they say after I coerce them into saying something critical–because I know all praise has to be bullshit.
What we want you to think: I don’t want mommy to laugh at my beautiful idea, not again. I don’t want daddy to say, “That’s great, honey,” with a sour expression while barely taking two seconds to glance at my study of light and dark on a planet with three suns and two dozen moons. My brother sketches an apple in art class and he’s Michelangelo! My cousin speculates on an unstable and unsustainable design at the family picnic and he’s Einstein! Whatever. I’ll just keep it to myself. Or, better yet, I’ll do everything I can not to think of this stuff to begin with. At least I’m exposed to 400 advertisements a day telling me what I should look like to snag that rich husband…
So, what does an author look like? Usually he’s smiling and leaves the top button of his shirt open. He’s got books in the background, suggesting intellectual prowess, or he’s outdoors with greenery in the background, suggesting an active lifestyle. Aren’t you supposed to be in the kitchen with nothing on your feet? A background of plates, suggesting a gaggle of males and children unable to feed themselves? How is it you’re even reading this? In South Africa it is statistically more likely that girls will experience sexual violence than learn how to read. See how well we treat you here in the USA by comparison? These woman-girl authors and their nerve, desiring more than we’re willing to allot them.
Hmm. Or do they desire it? Perhaps “she wanted it” does not apply here. Maybe women-girls are just as happy to write cookbooks and family dramas and poetry and the romances we men don’t pen under pseudonyms. Maybe it’s wrong to think women might be missing out on something. Genre and literary fiction…perhaps all that stuff is for boys who refuse to grow up. The worst of it is, certainly. But what about movies and television and sequential art, the big-money stuff? Seventeen percent of the writers in Hollywood are female. Oh, right, you’re bad at math, so believe me when I tell you seventeen percent is not a bad number. Forget the screenwriter gender pay gap has been widening in recent years. I won’t bother your tender sensibilities with the numbers.
In short be a good girl. Because there’s nothing to say regarding over half of our species if it doesn’t involve them being victims for creatures and madmen, or wearing revealing outfits during action sequences, or being killed early on (that is, before she can do anything that deviates from what the male protagonist finds pleasing) thus enabling the male lead engage in revenge violence that would otherwise cast him in a bad guy role (because every level of violence is permissible so long as women are involved–interpret that as you will). Nor is over half our population qualified to not write about women–men should write about men. Write what you know, girls. Ponies, rainbows, hearts. Cooking. Family. Or, communist anti-family lesbian abortionist conspiracy poetry–you can keep that territory as well. The rest of the literary world belongs to us.
“If we all got angry together something might be done.”
–J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
(author’s note: In the interest of fairness I’ve only quoted men here…oh, wait a minute…never mind.)