Archive: The first fiction of “women writers”

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1. Women writers write women’s writing

Time for a quick pop quiz, kids!

What was the profession of the following people? Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain.

  1. Manwriters
  2. Malewriters
  3. Dick literati
  4. Men with pens
  5. This is ludicrous

And you’re absolutely right, this is ludicrous. These men are simply “writers”, defined by what they accomplish, no prefix needed, no niche occupied, qualified to speak for the human condition (and willies, too).

Gerard ter Borch's Die Briefschreiberin

A lady-writer, lady-writing (Gerard ter Borch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The danger of treating women’s fiction as “women’s fiction”, a sub-category that is far more common and far more natural-sounding than any of those above, is that it pigeonholes women and burdens us with the responsibility to represent our experiences as women in our writing. Thus you freight our work with expectations, denying us creative freedom. Let my soul soar whither it will, and then shall you see the true me. Shackle it to an agenda and it won’t even limp to the starting line.

Besides which, what do I know about every woman who ever lived, or who never lived? All I have to go on when writing about a Mongolian orphan girl, the two crinkly-faced Japanese women making scandalous jokes at the next table, or a Bride-Warg in moon-blood exile off the Rouge Alliance world of Hoth-G’Hah-Aaargh, is my imagination. We all have one of those, whatever other equipment we’ve been given. Despite popular opinion and the continuing efforts of the Bride-Wargs of the Rouge Alliance, there is no oestrogen hivemind.

And that’s why reading one woman won’t help you understand all women, and why you shouldn’t expect it to.

From here on February 11 2014.

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