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.