Why We Are CHICKLITZ, or Layne Takes a Moment to Be Meta

13 Dec

The first person who ever encouraged me to read poetry for monthly readings at a local martini bar a year ago said, “It’s a poetry sausagefest up there.” And he was right – all dudes, all the time. Dudes’R’Us. This was a big part of why I was hesitant to sign up, feeling a strange not-belonging-ness, that the fact I was female could require a little extra proof that I should have a microphone at all. And when I did first read, I told no one I knew to come see me in case I bombed. (I don’t think I did, which is nice.) I remember wearing Converse slip-ons and a loose button-up, feeling like I was more acceptable, could expect to be taken more seriously, silly as it may sound, in the boyishness of those things.

Fast forward a few months. I’m taking a non-fiction class with Abby and Lindsey, women I’ve known but not all that well. Abby wears dresses that remind me of sailboats and Lindsey eats green beans from the can in class. Solid individuals. Then I find out in workshops Abby’s writing is powder blue and home movies. Lindsey’s is laugh laugh laugh oh my god. Oh my god. In their ways, both make words glow like whoa. Neither of them had ever read or published, and to me this was ridiculous. I asked Lindsey why she’d never read; she was nervous, afraid she’d bomb, didn’t know if what she did was good enough.

Fast forward again to this fall. I’m in advanced non-fiction, taught by the fabulous Jill Christman, with Abby, Lindsey, Ashley, and Lora. I also get to know Elysia and her writing via the Ball State Writers Community, and again, pretty quickly realize there are women around me with significant talent that is largely not getting recognized – even Ashley, whom I’d seen read her lovely prose and perform stand-up several times, still had never been published. And conversations start happening, about how reading/publishing/etc. can be an intimidating creature. And how there is conflict between wanting to write like ourselves –as in, not men – and feeling pressure to drag our individual writing styles closer to a default male voice to be taken seriously as creative people.  And I start thinking that this pressure is compounded by the fact that in our little creative community, almost all (if not all) of our peers getting recognition are male – deserving males to be sure, but these women I now knew deserved some spotlight just as much.

It happens I have to do some sort of publishing project for another class, and decide this is a perfect opportunity to give credit where credit is due. I ask Elysia plus non-fiction chicks to give me writing for a chapbook, and when I look through their pieces I am so impressed, and proud, and so badly don’t want any of us to feel the need to play down our sex as though it were a handicap. I will say it: having a vagina is not a creative defect, and unfortunately, for years I have semi-consciously carried around an attitude that says it is. I have said things like, “she’s good, for a chick” and “yeah, she’s a chick, but she’s good” – like an audience should assume femininity is inferiority. I thought dressing like a dude when I read gave me more legitimacy. All of it’s such bullshit and I love these women and what they can do too much to keep thinking that way.

Please don’t think we dislike/resent/whatever the male species. There are a number of men who have been nothing but supportive and encouraging to me as a writer, and I’m sure the rest of the chickz could also talk about the awesome dudes in their writing lives. Yeah, we’re CHICKLITZ, but as Ashley has said, what we’re doing isn’t just for chickz. We love our dudes and what they do for us as writers.

So, you’ll be seeing things here about writing and living and not-having-a-penis-ing, and etc. etc. etc. We hope to see you read and comment and be part of our conversations. We’re all stoked to have found each other and stoked that you found us.

Welcome to CHICKLITZ.

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6 Responses to “Why We Are CHICKLITZ, or Layne Takes a Moment to Be Meta”

  1. j.ro December 13, 2010 at 7:37 pm #

    yay! … and congrats on first place the other night layne!

  2. joeyhaney December 14, 2010 at 8:44 pm #

    I had no idea there was so much pervasive masculinity in the BSU English department.

    From where I sat, perched upon my Y chromosome, the English department seemed quite feminine, at least demographically.

    IS the culture there that strongly male? I’m not trying to deny it, it’s just a facet of the BSU experience that my testicles won’t allow me to be fully aware of.

    • Layne Ransom December 14, 2010 at 10:28 pm #

      I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more female students than male in the English department. From what I can remember, my classes have usually had more women.

      This is a thing I can talk about for myself – other chickz can for themselves if they want also.

      In my experience, more than “strongly” male the culture has been…subtly male. It didn’t occur to me for a while that it was strange to go to reading after reading and see the occasional one female reader per lineup, if that. Or that I rarely heard about female peers getting published. I can’t think of a female author in contemporary literature suggested to me by friends/peers before this semester, three women (all suggested by women) compared to – I mean, shoot, tons of male authors. (Writing classes I can think of have generally been more balanced, so good deal.) And those male authors, they’re fantastic. It’s not that they’re not deserving; it’s just that there are females equally deserving whose names I hear/read much, much less.

      It’s not that I’ve experienced some sort of malignant, intentional sexism; it’s more that “maleness” seems like a quiet, assumed default.

      To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have even caught on that was a phenomenon at all were it not for other women bringing up things like feeling pressure to adhere to a “more male”-sounding writing style, because of the semi-conscious creative bias I’ve had for…pretty much ever. I’ve always been harshly skeptical of female writers and musicians before having a clue about their work or talent, and have said things amounting to, “They’re women; they better be really fucking good.” And I know this at least partially has to do with the fact that of creative folks whose writing/music/whatever else I care about or enjoy, the vast majority generally considered respectable artists are male. The more people, male and female, I talk to about that imbalance, the more I find it’s not unusual.

    • thenerdynegress December 14, 2010 at 10:54 pm #

      I think Layne pretty much summed it up.

      I don’t believe (though I don’t know for sure) that any of us feel slighted as much as we feel our gender has not been equally as celebrated. I could say the same for race, but let’s not go there, yet 🙂

      We’re just a group of women who have found that we enjoy each other at our most genuine, and that sometimes means feminine, selves and we wanted to create a space where we could foster our growing friendship and individual voices.

      Not for one second do I believe that our professors or peers have purposefully excluded us. If anything, I feel out department has been rather progressive in the hiring of female faculty and promotion of good literature written by women. I am also sure that they realize there is still more to be done in the way of literary equality.

      It is because of this department that we feel strong enough and worthy enough as women, to come together and say that we can support and critique each other in a field where the stereotype is that few of can be good and even those who are will not get along.

      We are an extension of the progress our department has already made. We are able to recognize and imbalance and address it with action and positivity. That’s something we’ve learned.

      I like to think we are honoring the English Department at BSU.

  3. Layne Ransom December 14, 2010 at 11:21 pm #

    “I like to think we are honoring the English Department at BSU.”

    Agreed. I should make clear that I mean nothing here as a slam on the English Department in any way. In fact, because I feel like I’ve been given such genuine, consistent support by faculty, I feel more secure in reaching out to female peers to encourage them in their writing and acknowledge that imbalances exist.

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