Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And This Is Why I Read Bitch

From "The Ambition Condition: Women, Writing, and the Problem of Success," by Anna Clark:

Perhaps you know about Emily Gould’s cover story, “Exposed,” in the New York Times Magazine last May. Even if you didn’t take in all 8,002 words on the former Gawker editor’s gains and losses from blogging about her personal life, it would be hard to miss the criticism of the piece elsewhere... Whatever the valid faults of Gould and her article, the attacking comments were unmistakably gendered. “Attention whore,” was one favorite catcall. “Get over yourself, sweetheart,” advised a commenter. Another scoffed, “You are just a stupid little girl”—a comment 67 others recommended. What’s more, the comments were full of parental advice offered as if to a 10-year-old and intended to steer the writer away from, well, writing: “Don’t you have important things to do?”; “Like your tattoos, I’m fairly sure you’ll regret all this by the time you get into your 40s”; and, “You really want to find some meaning?… Go to the local VA hospital and volunteer to spend a week changing bedpans and rewrapping dressings. Or try teaching English as a second language to a new immigrant...or read to the blind.”

And then there was this one: “I suspect that one day, when a stalker appears in this girl’s life (you can’t call her a woman), she will have no idea that she brought it upon herself.”

Yep, it’s all the fault of the “girl” writer who put herself out there. Add the Gould Incident to the uneasy history of ambitious women writers told that they have nothing of worth to say.
Oh, and also:

So goes the equation of female ambition with selfishness and unhappiness. But the translation of this old story into the world of writers takes a curious turn.

Anyone who’s stepped into a literary community—readings, performances, writing workshops, MFA programs—will testify to the disclaimers that issue regularly from the mouths of women writers in particular. “This is just something I thought I’d try,” and “I’m not really a poet, but…” are words regularly uttered even by those who made drastic life changes in order to carve out time to write. I prepared for months for a major fiction contest in college, for instance, which I entered five years in a row, claiming to others each time that I just “threw something together.” Later, I applied to a single MFA fiction program, and told no one until I got in. I just didn’t want anyone to know what I wanted most. Perhaps I was preparing for failure: If I said openly that I not only wanted to be a writer but that I worked hard at it, my ambitions could be judged against external rewards—and easily dismissed when I missed out on them.
Oh, and:
Furthermore, to even say that you want to write lasting novels, garner hundreds of thousands of blog hits, or handmake a chapbook is to expose yourself to the “who are you to think you have anything to say?” sort of pummeling that Gould received. It can be tempting, then, for women in particular to write quietly and hope that the work will speak for itself. But by not owning up to her ambitions—whether they are in the public or private realms—a writer feeds the machine that discounts the aspirations and talents of all women writers. The silence is implicit support for editors who claim that their byline disparity is because women don’t want it enough. It sets an example for other writers that ambition is something to be ashamed of. Though it might be the last thing in the world she means to do, by keeping her intentions for her work hidden, a female writer allows others to make assumptions about her work, and to decide where it will and will not go.
Seriously, I may never stop quoting this piece. Read the entire thing. It's brilliant.

Also, since we've fallen onto the subject, most of my opinions on personal writing, and on the Gould backlash (which, by the way, did I mention that JOSH FUCKING STEIN wrote a nasty Page Six article about Gould which was met with just about zero backlash, even though it had his name on it and pictures of him brooding in a sweater, as opposed to her anonymous blog which disguised his name, and she was supposed to do what? Let him control the public representation of a difficult period in her life? Fuck that) were summed up by Melissa McEwan in a blog post that has nary a mention of Gould, so yeah, read all of that post, too:
Making the personal public and political is serious business. Because women's stories aren't told, it's incumbent upon female feminists to tell their own stories, to fill that void, to be unrepentant and loquacious raconteurs every chance we get, to talk about our bodies, our struggles, our triumphs, our needs, our lives in every aspect. It's our obligation to create a cacophony with our personal narratives, until there is a constant din that translates into equality, into balance.

Telling our tales is not a weakness. It's a strength.

No matter who says otherwise.
Correct. Also: if a woman writes something you like, tell people about it. It's not going to get out there on its own.


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