After my recent series of blogs on the VIDA count, some of my writer friends and I began discussing the differences between men and women writers. We began by listing writers of the opposite sex whom we enjoy reading. Mine included Annie Proulx, Lorrie Moore, Zadie Smith, Marilynne Robinson and many others. Right there I have four writers with styles and subjects as distinct and varied as any four writers you care to mention. (The links, btw, are to interviews with each.)
When we speak about “differences,” what are we really judging? The difference between a “male” writer and a “female” writer, or a male and female anything for that matter, is primarily physical and cultural. The male is defined by the job or role he chooses to take on. The man is a writer, or a cowboy, or a bus driver, or a chef, or whatever. The woman is a woman first. Her career choice, in most cultures, is secondary.
This difference is reinforced to a tremendous degree by culture. But it stems from our different physical natures—roles that are dictated by our bodies, which have not evolved nearly as much as our brains. And unfortunately our brains have not evolved enough to accept our physical differences as only that, and not as a symbol of what’s inside us, in our minds.
That is not an excuse for men to degrade women. The perception of our differences is not fair. But it is a fact. It’s the cross that every woman must bear. It’s especially difficult for women writers, since writing is a completely intellectual pursuit—it requires only thought, yet those thoughts are judged by the body in which they are contained. And as our writer friend Jon said, “We’re bigger than you.” It was just a joke, but it’s also true.
Way down, beneath the claims over how many men this and how many women that of the VIDA count, is this physical and cultural foundation.
As a man, I am not qualified to advise women on how to deal with this inequity. But I would suggest, at least, that it not keep any woman from writing, nor from writing about any subject. Some members of society may consider you a “woman” writer. Let them. You will know you are simply a writer.