This article published on the website of the National Book Critics Circle is so disturbing that I have a hard time rereading it even if it was just to order my thoughts for a rebuttal. It makes me very upset and while strong feelings are a good base for fiction, they are not a good starting point for a reasonable, civil discussion. But I am a woman and I am going to own my strong emotions. I am going to accept them and use them in my favor (hopefully). For too long women have been dismissed as hormonal and unbalanced.
I am tired of seeing all the spheres of women’s interests being ridiculed, disparaged and considered unworthy. I am tired of having to defend crying, pink and other “girlie” accoutrements in front of my daughter who has started rejecting them in an effort to fit in the judgmental kindergarten social space.
So according to the author of this article, women writers should behave more like men if they want to be taken seriously: they should not do girlie chat on stage in front of an audience, speaking about going shopping, doing yoga and having lunch, like Elizabeth Gilbert and Ann Patchett did recently in Portland. They should not write about the mundane, the domestic, although it is a big part of their life, because such topics will always fail to produce the kind of literature that is appreciated and valuable. And they should not, by any means, sit comfortably with their legs tucked up on cushioned chairs. Horror of horrors! Can you imagine? Chatting “like girls at a slumber party?” (I can feel my blood boiling just by writing this quote.)
I personally would have loved to be in the audience and see these two women act like women, be natural and offer me a slice of understanding of what they really are about as people. I would think it shallow and close-minded to considered them less competent and worse writers because they put their feet up and created a more casual atmosphere in that lecture hall. Since when have we stopped allowing even the creative people to manifest their creativity?
I am suspecting a generational issue here, although I do not know who the “admin” of this blog is. The comments on the blog are also closed. What’s wrong with girls and their slumber parties, pray tell? Why is that so bad, while the image of grown up men playing like boys is so endearing, heart-warming and thoroughly acceptable?
The thing that bothers me the most, however, is the idea that a book written around topics that are, for whatever reasons, closer to a woman’s heart are deemed of less importance than topics that are more “manly,” like war, let’s say. We are returning here to that spiny problem of the domestic life and work being seen as less valuable than work outside of the home. It is a prejudiced attitude that doesn’t take into consideration the huge impact on humanity that the domestic work and home life have. Nurturing children and families has been a woman’s problem for … ever. I am not going to comment on why. But this work of women has been keeping our children and families feeling whole, happy, safe and sane. Why is working outside of the home and bringing in money more valuable than that? Why are the problems of the world bigger and more important than the microcosm of the home and family, when all the world’s bigger problems stem from here? Why do we, women, always try to change ourselves to fit some external, male-generated value system instead of realizing that maybe we are not that flawed and maybe we can change a tiny bit of that system so that it incorporates our point of view too? There is nothing inherently wrong with us, is there? Our perspective is just as valid and valuable as any other.
I believe women writers need to write about whatever makes their lives full, be it yoga, politics, healthy diets, fashion, economics or war. I don’t think we need to feel embarrassed of denigrating labels anymore and just do what’s right for us. That is how value is created. Change will happen and real value will become visible. Someday. Right now, let’s just start by folding our legs in armchairs and telling ourselves that we are not broken and what matters to us is important and serious, and it simply matters.