pic from Privilege Denying Dude
When I was just a wee Lora in junior high school, I joined the co-ed golf team. For the 13 years of my life leading up to that, my father had been grooming me to become a professional golfer. It wasn’t something he forced me to do. I truly loved smacking those freckled white balls around, watching them fall to earth with a gentle bounce on springy fairway grass, hearing a happy “clink” when they fell into the metal cup on the green. Golf was my identity, my life, outside of church and school (I was a decidedly boring preteen).
My dad would drive me to golf practice at Knob Hill, the local yokel course. The first hole literally bordered a cow pasture. There were maybe 12 to 14 boys and four girls on the team. The coach was a squat old man with hair the color of a gently used golf ball. He was also a RAGING MISOGYNIST.
I went to every practice, dragging my chubby, insecure, anxious butt to the course and pitting myself against a lot of rich, popular boys. I WAS DEDICATED, DAMMIT. And yet, the coach ignored us girls at practice. He never told us when the games were. I remember just one match I actually attended. I wore my hideous emerald green team polo all day long. My dad drove me 45 minutes from Floyds Knobs to Seymour, Indiana. I ate a homemade sandwich and did my geography homework in the car on the way. When we got there, just one other girl had shown up. We hung around the coach, anxious to meet the young ladies from the opposing team. They never came.
“Oh, yeah. They don’t actually have any girls on their team. But you two can play each other,” coach said. So my dad drove us around in a cart and we played the most depressing round of golf ever.
At the end of the year, we got our yearbooks. I had never been called on to take a picture with the team, so imagine my surprise when I flipped to the sports section and saw a picture of that very same golf team. Or, rather, a picture of the male members of the golf team, with that fat, white-haired sadist grinning behind them.
I quit golf just two years later, after a humbling stint on the Mountain Dew Amateur Tour (which sounds way more awesome and prestigious than it actually was). But, in many ways, my life as a writer has mirrored that one year on the golf team. Sometimes it feels like a party that I’m not invited to. A Penis Party. Only penises allowed.
It’s not that Ball State University doesn’t have a fairly diverse (at least in terms of gender) writing program. Sure, the poetry readings are often male-dominated, and it doesn’t seem like guys have to work as hard to get recognition. But, overall, I’m lucky to be a part of such an awesome undergraduate program.
It’s the world of writing in general that concerns me. It’s a male-dominated profession. I think that one of the reasons that we felt a need for this blog is that most of us will be entering the “real world” soon, and we have to think about how we’ll fit in as women. I read not too long ago (and here’s me spouting off some facts I heard but not linking you to any raw data, although here’s a little somethin’ about it) that while women are completely fine with reading books by both men AND women, men are less likely to read books written by female writers. What is it about the female experience that is so polarizing?
I think readers genuinely see books with male authors to be on some higher level of artistry than books with female authors. Even the best books written by women can be so easily dismissed as “chick lit” (no affiliation to this blog). Granted, there are some writers giving women a really shitty name (thank you, Stephenie Meyers). But is Dan Brown really that much better? For every sappy romance or tear-jerking “sisterhood” novel out there, there is a crap action-packed thriller featuring men named Roger Dangerson and Joe Victory. Hell, I often wonder if the Harry Potter series would have done so well had J.K. Rowling gone by Joanne Rowling. Heaven forbid a man would pick up a novel written by a woman – be it My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult or the very awesome Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison – and actually admit that they liked it without that vomit-inducing qualifier, “It was good… for a girl book.” What does that even mean? What in Jesus H. Christ’s name is a “girl book” supposed to be?! Is there something inherent in the writing of ALL women that I’m unaware of? What is it that men are seeing in these books that I’m not?
A Chick Book by Some Chick
translated by Manly A. Man
I woke up and got my period and then my uterus hurt so I ate some chocolate then bitched at my boyfriend because I’m a shrew and then I begged him to marry me because all women are obsessed with weddings. Later, I called my sister and we talked about our vaginas and then cried about our dying grandmother who has breast cancer because that’s the only disease women can get. Then I watched Beaches and fell asleep amidst a sea of tear-soaked Kleenexes. THE END.
See, the problem isn’t entirely that no one is reading the work of female writers. The problem is that women have to work so much harder to be taken seriously. As Jennifer Weiner, author of In Her Shoes, said, “I think it’s a very old and deep-seated double standard that holds that when a man writes about family and feelings, it’s literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it’s romance, or a beach book—in short, it’s something unworthy of a serious critic’s attention.” It’s true. A man could write about his mother and be lauded for touching on such an emotional subject. But if I were to write about my mother, it would probably be written off as “just another book for ladies.” It’s something that came up not too long ago, after the New York Times published not one, but two, glowing pieces about Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Suddenly, a few people realized that the Times often publishes profiles and interviews and flattering critiques for male authors (The New Republic has a nice story about it here). During the fallout, Random House editor Chris Jackson blogged that he couldn’t remember the last time he’d read a work of fiction by a woman, despite the fact that he is IN PUBLISHING.
It’s also not unlikely for women to be ignored or underrepresented in end-of-the-year best-of lists. For example, the Publisher’s Weekly Top Ten Books of 2009 list was completely populated by guys. Ten spots, ten books, ten dudes.
I know I sound enraged, but it hurts to know that my sex is going to (not “is probably going to”) affect my future career. It especially weighs on me now, as I’m straddling that line between college and the adult world. This is simply something that I – and my fellow lady writers – have to ponder. Should I neglect certain topics in my writing – emotions, sisters, mothers, grandmothers, parenting, dating, romance – just because they will cause my writing to be blown off and ignored? Should I write about cars and infidelity and academia and politics instead?
Will I ever be taken seriously?
Women’s stories are too often dismissed. A male editor I once worked with tried to dissuade me from the personal: “Who cares about what happened to you?”
The most subversive thing a woman can do is talk about her life as if it really mattered.