Women Who Hate Women Who Write The Wrong Things

Angry woman, Female head, nice nose, hair band...
Image by Wonderlane via Flickr

Fascinating and honest post by Emily Gould on how women hate women who write the “wrong” stuff and how annoying it is:

So I become, once more, the kind of person I can’t bear: the female critic who despises any female writer who doesn’t project what she feels is the accurate or ideal vision of modern womanhood. This critic believes it is her job to tear down women who are “off-message” because there is only so much publishing space allotted to women, and so more attention for them is less attention for her and other worthy types. This critic lives inside us all, but she is also embodied, occasionally, by real people. One of them, an online “feminist” columnist, once wrote a supposed defense of  “women’s voices” that dismissed something I’d written because the photos that accompanied the essay were of me lying (rather unprovocatively, to my mind) in bed. She’d said that the question wasn’t why my voice was being heard–the implied answer being, presumably, my bed-lying ways–but why others weren’t, “in a media landscape in which there are a severely limited number of spaces for women’s writing voices.”…[There is a ] kernel of truth at the heart of that columnist’s infuriating declaration that only a handful of women’s writing voices are heard, and that those prominent voices are too often salacious, self-revealing, “unfeminist”, or otherwise unworthy. Wrong as she is, she is right about one thing: women have not yet come so far that we can shrug off worries about being misrepresented.

It is tempting to feel resentful when we don’t see ourselves or our stories or our ideals reflected in the prevailing narratives of femaleness. Luckily, there is an alternative: instead of simply criticising other women’s stories, we can take it upon ourselves to make sure that our own stories get told. Creating something takes a lot more effort than writing a bad review or a dismissive blog post. But if we don’t make that effort, if instead we keep insisting that a mere handful of female writers are qualified to speak for us, we’ll miss out on the larger truths that are to be found somewhere in the chorus.

I love this and wish we were having that conversation more often.

But we’re not.

The blogosphere, by its nature, is disembodied and asynchronous. There are women out there, of all ages, writing stuff that makes me dance with joy and others whose neck I’d truly like to wring, utterly mesmerized by issues I find trivial and/or inane and/or so deliciously titillating  — lurid sex!! celebrities!! celebrities having lurid, preferably adulterous sex!!! — they’re absolutely guaranteed gazillions of pageviews, book deals, fame, fortune! (No doubt there are women whose hands might reach happily for my neck, too.)

It’s one reason I’ve given up reading most “women’s magazines”, and am so damn grateful for the alternate universe — literally — of the blogosphere. Magazines’ vision of what it means to be female is so narrow, white, thin (or dieting really hard to get there), middle-class, aspirational and, natch, dying to get married and have babies, stat! I know it pleases the advertisers, without whom there would be no magazines, nor the pay rates that make it worth my while to sell a story to a magazine editor. I get that.

Here’s something funny — not! We have a little system here at T/S called Zemanta that suggests photos to accompany our posts. Or you can type in what you seek. Here’s one it can’t handle — “angry woman.”

Seriously! It offered me photos of women mourning (noooo, grief is a little different) and this very, very, very old statue. This is what I’m talking about, the narrow gauge railway along which women are publicly expected to travel: be nice! make people happy!

Tonight I’m off to hear an author (male) talk about his new, raved-about history of Paris, with a new friend, a fellow Francophile and an author of two books about cops. We met recently at a writers’ dinner and — how cool is this? — turned out we know the same lovely, gentle retired NYPD detective, the one who saved me from the con man, whom she interviewed for her book.

The way she thinks, and writes, does matter to me: fearless, tackling tough stories, telling powerful tales that are hard to winkle out. I celebrate women who write cool stuff.

I tend to ignore, (not trash), other women who write stuff I find stupid. It’s only my opinion and millions clearly adore what I find risible or tedious.

An early women’s magazine had the delicious name of The Delineator, and it published from 1873 to 1937, a good, long run. I like the truth of its title. That’s what women’s magazines do — prescribe and proscribe what’s normal and OK and acceptable. Which is why most of them are booooooooring, because the monocultural values they enshrine encourage women to — buy stuff! get married! have kids! work really hard at a white-collar job!

Pretty radical. It’s probably why I sat at the guys’ table in our high school cafeteria and did some of my best writing — sports, guns — for Penthouse. (And, yep, I also wrote for Ms. Go figure.)

Here’s Emily’s blog (and a plug for her new memoir.)

5 thoughts on “Women Who Hate Women Who Write The Wrong Things

  1. inmyhumbleopinion

    I, too, have given up on magazines aimed at women for all the reasons you cite: same stuff over and over again, pushing recipes for chocolate cake while at the same time telling you how to LOSE 20 POUNDS IN 3 WEEKS! It’s refreshing to read women columnists and bloggers who actually have something to say, whether you agree with it or not. Love Arianna Huffington and the fact that her analysis of the political scene is so spot on; I run hot and cold with Maureen Dowd, but she’s a smart cookie and I respect that; I used to read Anna Quindlen and Ellen Goodman of the Times and Globe, respectively, when they were still employed by those papers.

    These days, I love reading essays and non-fiction commentaries written by women–“Bitch in the House” was a particularly good read, as was “Perfect Madness” by Judith Warner. Really great to see women questioning the social cards they’ve been dealt and offering both insight and possible solutions.

  2. Caitlin Kelly

    imho, thanks…I have to confess to (here I am doing what I said I would not, but tant pis) not loving “Bitch in The House.” I loved the *idea* of it and some of the essays. By the end, though, I wanted to throw it through a window (preferably an open one) because their “problems” were soooooo middle-class. It felt like being locked in a room with a bunch of women (like women’s mag editors) who see the world the same way. I didn’t see much serious questioning of the status quo. You know how this works — the editors want “big name writers” and/or call up their friends, most of whom are in the same socioeconomic circles.

    The single greatest problem for me is that too many of the voices we hear and see (on mass media, anyway) still tend to be white/privileged/upper middle class in their views, expectations and values. I’m always much hungrier to hear women from other races, cultures, religions, backgrounds, whether blue-collar or no collar.

    But, yes, any and all questioning is good.

    1. inmyhumbleopinion

      It’s a very good point. I’d say that Oprah tries to lend that perspective, particularly with her book club choices, but ironically her bread and butter is that white, middle class demo. I give her props for trying to broaden Middle American horizons, though.

  3. Caitlin Kelly

    imho, I guess it’s better to have some attention on books — and the “O” magazine does a lot of book reviews, including fellow T/S writer Gina Welch’s newest.

    marissao, these sound like fun. Thanks!

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