What It’s Like To Be A Writer Who Is Also A Woman

12 Aug

You will always be a woman first and a writer second.

When people refer to you, they will call you a “woman writer,” or “feminist writer,” or some other variation on that theme. There will always be some kind of qualifier added.

When your works are published, they will be included in women’s anthologies, or perhaps taught in women’s studies classes, or shelved in the “chick lit” sections of bookstores. This will feel simultaneously empowering and isolating. You know that this fact will guarantee that large segments of the population will choose never to read your work based solely on these classifications.

It will be thought that only other women can relate to your writing. When discussed by literary critics, your books will be described as works that all women should read; no one will ever call them works that everyone should read.

When a man says flattering things about your writing, you will always be left wondering whether it is your work that interests him, or the fact that you are young, conventionally attractive and female. Most frequently it will be the former, but still, you can never shake off the fear that you are not so much talented as you are naïve and pretty. You often feel as if you are only valuable in so much as men desire to fuck you.

Speaking of men desiring to fuck you, you must be very careful when interacting with male readers of your work, especially if those men are also writers. If you are married or in a committed relationship, mention this up front. Watch every word you say and make certain that none of them could ever be misconstrued as flirtatious. Do not ever behave in a way that might lead you to be accused of leading a man on – especially in situations where the man is in a position to promote your work. Remember that all of your motives will always be suspect.

Speaking of men, the first attributes used when describing you will be your relationships or lack thereof.

If you are married and/or have children, these things will become the focal point of any brief biographical sketch made of your life. Any other accomplishments must take a back seat to the fact that you have managed to find someone to put a ring on it and then convinced them to procreate with you. Your name will always be preceded by something like wife-and-mother-of-two, as if those titles are more important than any other that you might earn in this life.

If you are unmarried, you will be pitied. If you don’t have children, you will be pitied. People will wonder aloud what is wrong with you; it will be thought that your devotion to your career has left you lonely and barren. Your appearance will be dissected, your life choices examined as if under a microscope; perhaps the idea of medical infertility might be discussed. Anyone and everyone will have a theory about why and how you failed to produce children.

If you write about yourself, about your life and your feelings, your writing will be called confessional. The word will be said with a sneer; it is not meant as a compliment.

If you write about issues larger than yourself, your work will always be touted as a feminist perspective or a woman’s perspective on the subject; you can never have a thought or opinion without it being viewed by the rest of the world as being coloured by your gender.

If you write about the discrimination and inequality that women face, and don’t immediately follow up with a list of double standards imposed on men, you will be accused of misandry. If you discuss violence against women without adding in that yes, sometimes women can be violent towards men, you will be accused of misrepresenting the facts. If you don’t qualify every discussion about women’s issues with the fact that, yes, men have issues specific to them, then you don’t believe in equality.

You will find yourself inhabiting a scarcity mindset. If another woman achieves fame or success by writing on the same subjects as you, you will assume that all praise and recognition have been used up. Having grown up fed on a media diet of cartoons, books, video games and sitcoms featuring only one or two token female characters, you will truly believe that there is room for only one woman at the top of any given field. This will lead to intense feelings of jealousy any time another woman succeeds; this will lead to the desire to tear other women and their work down, in order to make room for yourself. Should you experience any kind of success, you will find yourself the target of the same type of fear and envy. You will become the subject of take downs by other women who see you as an obstacle standing in their way.

You will quickly learn that being seen as someone who embraces the middle ground, someone who constantly qualifies all of their beliefs with statements like, but I can understand the other side of the argument, will be greatly beneficial to your popularity as a writer. Seeing issues as black and white will earn you the label of “extremist,” and cause others to distance themselves from your work. As a woman, you will constantly need to tone it down, bite your tongue, and above all else present yourself as being sweet and unthreatening. Otherwise you will not be taken seriously.

You will quickly learn that constantly equivocating will lead others, especially women, to dismiss you as wishy washy. You will be accused of backtracking. Men will tell you that they do not enjoy your writing because it is lacking in bombast and ego. You have to come across as firm, uncompromising, certain in your beliefs. You have to approach writing with a take-no-prisoners mentality. Otherwise you will not be taken seriously.

You will quickly learn that when you challenge the glaring inequalities in the old boys’ club of the literary world, you will be branded as angry. People will insinuate, or outright say, that any obstacles that you might face are evidence of your lack of talent and commitment, rather than a systemic and deeply ingrained misogyny. You will be called paranoid and crazy, accused of engaging in victimology; no one will want to acknowledge how very sad and frustrated it makes you that you have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good.

You will quickly learn that you cannot ever, ever win.


32 Responses to “What It’s Like To Be A Writer Who Is Also A Woman”

  1. danielleparadis August 12, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

    Yes Anne. This exactly.

  2. soma satori August 12, 2013 at 6:16 pm #

    Fucking amazing insight here.

  3. Britt August 12, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    I’m forever toning it down. All of this is just so true… and obviously, I can relate because I have two X chromosomes and you are adorable.

    • Faye Stone August 13, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

      I hereon vow to stop toning it down, if you will!
      In fact, I vow it anyway.

      • bellejarblog August 13, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

        Let’s all agree to stop toning it down!

  4. Jen Donohue August 12, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    I’m made rather sad by the notions expressed here. Of course, I’m not inundated with media, so I don’t always see the manner to which writers are referred. We don’t even have a “real” book store in town, just a local one and used ones, so I can’t even look at their shelves for that. I also can’t say that I doubt this bullshit happens; for every five people who live in the modern world, there are at least that many who are very much not.

    Maybe it’s lucky I’m a “genre writer”? There are many other strong, strong women who I am following, and I honestly have no idea regarding their marital or childbearing status.

    • Dana September 5, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

      It doesn’t take being modern to treat women with basic respect. It just takes being a decent person.

      I wish people would stop talking about social issues in the language of fads. It’s like the argument of chronological relativism: “you have to understand those were the times and that was what people believed,” often used to excuse away things like slavery or child abuse. It is always humiliating to be owned, no matter what year it is. It hurts when your parents hit you, no matter what year it is.

  5. soma satori August 12, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

    Reblogged this on Aggregate Confusion and commented:
    This is a really good article about patriarchy in action in writing; it extends to just about every other aspect of our society, but this is just one snippet of how society marginalizes and does not give equality to women.

  6. studentlondon3 August 12, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

    This interested me. I didn’t know it was still like that, but of course, I’ve never had any experience of this world. What an insight…

  7. Britni August 13, 2013 at 12:18 am #

    Reblogged this on Fiending for Hope and commented:
    I can’t do any better than this, so I’m putting it here.

  8. Alaina Mabaso August 13, 2013 at 1:13 am #

    I can relate to many of these, but I don’t ascribe to all of them. As an arts journalist, I’ve been irked for years by exhibition campaigns that tout things like “the world’s best women artists.” You’re right, it’ll never be “the world’s best artists” if we’re talking a women’s show. However, I haven’t met the “woman writer” label personally. My colleagues, editors, sources etc call me a writer and that’s the way I want it. I have run up against undue interest in my marital/family status though and rude comments about how this reflects on my writing (one editor actually speculated in the office how “funny” it would be if I got divorced).

    I like your insight about how the “token” woman’s role in various media forms infects us with a sense of jealousy, believing that there’s not enough room at the top to share. But I don’t live by that. I like to support my colleagues and often enjoy instrumental support from them. Giving in to that jealousy and that false belief about there not being room for lots of successful women in the world is a choice, and I don’t live by it.

  9. Louise Allan August 13, 2013 at 1:31 am #

    You could have called it, ‘What it’s like to be a (professional of any description) who is also a woman’. It’s the same in medicine, law, politics — I’m sure it’s everywhere. It’s probably even in areas considered traditional careers for women, like nursing and teaching.

  10. Veronica August 13, 2013 at 4:10 am #

    Simply amazing. Wildly accurate, succinct and concise. I couldn’t agree with you more and praise your honesty. Very well written post striking to the heart of all insecurities and gut-wrenching realities of “women writers”. Thank you, for all of us.

  11. ponderingspawned August 13, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    Eh fuck it, I’m going to keep writing anyway–and anyone who bothers to look down on me for the combination of parts and prose can prattle on to themselves about how important they are because I’m not listening. I’m too busy making new worlds to live in, and maybe one day they’ll come to life and overtake all this stupidity.

  12. mfennvt August 13, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    And yet we keep writing. Can’t stop the signal. 🙂

  13. Julia August 14, 2013 at 1:19 am #

    My first real experience of this double standard happened when I was participating in a writer’s feedback website, working on my query letter and outline for my novel. I didn’t think my story fit into any particular genre, so I defined it as “literary” in my query letter to agents. One (male) commenter on the website said that I wasn’t qualified to define my work as “literary” until I had some credentials or well-respected publications under my name – as if I were putting on airs, when I hadn’t paid my dues.

    I said I wasn’t aware that “literary” indicated a level of experience or quality, just the fact that this was fiction that didn’t fit into a genre (like mystery or romance). It was suggested to me that I use the term “women’s fiction” instead. Which just reeked of sexism to me, the more I thought about it. I hadn’t written what is widely considered “chick lit.” It wasn’t a lighthearted, easy read, focused on weddings or fashion or gossip. My story just featured a woman as the main character, and was written by a woman.

    If a man wrote a story featuring a male protagonist, would he be asked to call it “men’s fiction?”

  14. Merry August 14, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    After being downtrodden for decades by a male dominated family, facing the writing world with the same archaic opinions of a woman’s value is met with a sneer and a F-U from me. Because it’s not that they don’t recognize our amazing abilities. It’s because they do. And they fear them.

  15. My Inner Chick August 16, 2013 at 12:46 am #

    SUPERB Insight.

  16. Dara August 20, 2013 at 7:21 am #

    This is pretty bleak stuff. It isn’t anything I hadn’t already thought of but as a man I suppose I underestimate the scale of the misogyny you face and how it can manifest itself in so many unedifying ways. I have become so accustomed to this lazy, reductive sexism in men that I just put a little mental note beside their name in my brain which simply says ‘yet to evolve’.

    The compulsion to categorise and pigeon-hole reflects a rigidity of thinking that is wholly unimaginative and can only result in limiting options instead of broadening horizons. The prevailing male mentality needs profound recalibration and the change has to come from men themselves.

    I’m with your other commenters – fuck toning down. Give them hell.

  17. east1956 August 21, 2013 at 9:25 pm #

    I am not so sure that non-women don’t experience exactly the same things, but they don’t have the get out that it’s due to prejudice. A rejection letter is a rejection letter telling you that your work isn’t good enough, or what the market wants at the moment, or etc etc.
    As for the Fuck Business, well it is perhaps different – oh beware the female who after a few words makes it clear that it would be fun to fuck a poet & to have you as some bauble to go with her other possessions or use sex as a way to insinuate herself into a vampire like relationship in which she drinks your anguish, because it’s easier than dealing with her own mess. There are predatory people everywhere regardless of their genitals. But the experience makes for good copy so perhaps we shouldn’t complain, and it’s over safer than charging off into the deserts or jungles or wars for experience.
    And when women writers are the latest thing, being vaguely male simply results in a greater frequency of rejection or more likely no response at all.
    And don’t we writers, published or not, sit in our little world enclosed by our words and imagery and ever so gently feel sorry for ourselves from time to time.

    • Dana September 5, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

      Someday women will be able to talk about our experiences in a public forum without someone coming along, male or female, accusing us of whining because men have it ever so much worse.

      But that day is not yet.

  18. ninasusan August 26, 2013 at 6:58 pm #


  19. ThroughTheLookingGlassAndDownTheRabbitHole September 2, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    You bought up some very valid points, and I agree with them. I think that sadly a lot of them apply to women regardless of whether they are writers or not. I’m not a writer by trade, but I can relate in my current job.

  20. alicebrook1502 September 4, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    This is why I will one day be dubbed as “female Harlan Ellison” (for the temperament, not the quality – I have yet a lot to learn). My blood is already boiling reading about this.

  21. P Smith September 15, 2013 at 4:40 am #

    I only ran across your post today, linked to on another site.

    Regarding the point, agreed. When only white males are described as “writers” and “qualifiers” are ascribed to (read: dumped on) everyone else, it perpetuates the idiotic notion that we white males (yes, me included) are “normal” and everyone else is somehow “less of a human being”.

    Women should be able to write under their own names and be treated equally and not harassed or judged, not require a male or neutral pseudonym, but too many knuckledraggers make that difficult (and I’m occasionally guilty of it). Writing criticism of a flawed status quo shouldn’t be seen as “revolutionary” or “feminist”, it should be seen as corrective. But those who benefit from bias, bigotry, secret handshakes and the old boys’ club don’t like seeing it challenged.

  22. lordrumfish September 27, 2013 at 5:17 am #

    Regarding this paragraph: “If you write about the discrimination and inequality that women face, and don’t immediately follow up with a list of double standards imposed on men, you will be accused of misandry. If you discuss violence against women without adding in that yes, sometimes women can be violent towards men, you will be accused of misrepresenting the facts. If you don’t qualify every discussion about women’s issues with the fact that, yes, men have issues specific to them, then you don’t believe in equality.”

    First, let me say that men are more violent than women, period. I think it’s genetically encoded; in a world where most of “gender” issues are social constructions, I think the act of overcoming violence is struggling with male genetic makeup. It doesn’t excuse violence in the least, I’m just saying that it’s silly to feel the need to point out that women can occasionally be violent too.

    As for the first and third sentences: I see the need to reiterate these statements for the men who don’t think about the issue. For someone who is constantly considering political correctness and the viewpoint of others, like me, this is essentially preaching to the choir. I’m not saying you don’t have a point; I’m saying that some days I’d like to not feel guilty about being born white and male and in America. Until we have true equality though, these statements will need to continue and those of us white males who are on your side cheering for you will try not to feel guilt and shame over the actions other white men do. I’m just as indignant when a man in power says or does something ridiculous and misogynistic, but I can’t help the feeling that I have to carry some of the blame when I haven’t done anything wrong. It’s as if I carry the sins of my fathers or the sins of my neighbors.

    I don’t really have a solution. I’m not going to tell you to stop writing, because so much of the population really does need this pointed out to them in excruciating detail. I guess for all of the bullshit women have to put up with, I can put up with a little myself. Ultimately, I *am* cheering for you, and if something is flawed in the way I interpret this (I admit to being defensive in all aspects of life, it’s a side effect of being bullied) I don’t mind it being pointed out politely. Feelings are always weird that way though, and they don’t always make sense, I felt like sharing them though.


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