Women have traditionally had two choices when it came to the arts: to express truth, or be acknowledged.
Let too much pain show through and you’ll be dismissed as sentimental. Express the female condition too accurately and eyes glaze over. Don’t, whatever you do, reveal that you know what makes men tick… And never make the mistake of writing “like a man” as Andrea Dworkin did, or you might find publishers rejecting your work on that very basis.
“I was not supposed to say, for example, “Women are raped.” I was supposed to say, “Green-eyed women with one leg longer than the other, hair between the teeth, French poodles, and a taste for sautéed vegetables are raped occasionally on Fridays by persons.” It was rough. I believed I had the right to say what I wanted. My desires were not particularly whimsical: my sources were history, facts, experience. I had been brought up in an almost exclusive tradition of male literature, and that tradition, whatever its faults, did not teach coyness or fear: the writers I admired were blunt and not particularly polite. I did not understand that–even as a writer–I was supposed to be delicate, fragile, intuitive, personal, introspective. I wanted to claim the public world of action, not the private world of feelings. My ambition was perceived as megalomaniacal–in the wrong sphere, demented by prior definition. Yes, I was naive. I had not learned my proper place. I knew what I was rebelling against in life, but I did not know that literature had the same sorry boundaries, the same absurd rules, the same cruel proscriptions.”
*I had been warned early on about what it meant to be a girl, but I hadn’t listened. “You write like a man,” and editor wrote me on reading a draft of a few chapters of Woman Hating. “When you learn to write like a woman, we will consider publishing you.” [Bold and Italics mine] (Dworkin, Our Blood)
You can always attempt to write under a male pseudonym which seems to have been an effective strategy for some women. JK Rowling deliberately did not reveal her full name because she knew boys wouldn’t buy a book by a female author. But even so, you can’t journey too far into the truth lest publishers or the public become suspicious.
How much harder than men have women had to work, then, while balancing on the tightrope between truth and acceptance? Given that they have had to compress the truth they knew into palatable bites in order to be published, be taken seriously, or for anyone at all to understand what they were writing, it is amazing that so many women have actually achieved acknowledgement over the years.
And it is no mean feat that they managed to do so while writing and competing alongside men who themselves did not have to choose: men simply wrote their truth and were acknowledged.
Here’s a hint for you. If you want to succeed, add a twist of misogyny and stir. Or a shedload. The more misogynistic the work, the greater its chance of critical acclaim and success.
Write a book about raping a little girl called Lolita in order to titillate yourself and your male readers, who will then pretend you have created insightful art and proceed to mock anyone who questions the white-male-middle-class-analysis as unsophisticated bumpkins, and you will find your place in history as one of the Greats.
Write a book about murdering your wife before anally raping your maid, who secretly wanted it, and of this you are certain because you walked in on her masturbating, and you will go down in history as one of the great literati. Just as Norman Mailer did. You could then go on to stab your wife in real life. Just as Norman Mailor did.
Women who morph and adapted to their surroundings may be very successful, but the crystal clear sound of integrity which lies at the root of true art will be absent.
It is time for women to reject mainstream culture in all its forms and create our own. The process has already begun. We no longer need to tune into male-directed dramas and soaps which make us feel as though we’re being slowly lobotomized. We can log online and chat with other like-minded women. We can activate some of men’s greatest fears: the concept of women bonding together..and possibly scheming. Research has shown that what men fear most when walking past a group of women is that they might be laughed at. (Incidentally, the same research revealed that what women fear most when walking past a group of men is death)
As Bidisha pointed out:
“It’s all the more galling given that women equal or outnumber men as attendees of arts festivals, concerts, readings, discussions and debates, and as arts and humanities students at university. Women write, read, edit and publicise more fiction than men. Women make up the majority of executive, PR and organisational staff in arts and cultural institutions. Women’s ticket revenue, licence fees, book purchases and entrance fees are being used to fund events at which women artists and thinkers are marginalised with breathtaking obviousness.”
We need no longer buy men’s books, or take anything they say seriously.
We will create a new culture… the internet is a perfect tool…and not just for writing, but for singing too and many other art forms. We can reject the painted, mannequinesque , starving and silliconed vision of “beauty” that men’s minds have created for us to emulate, and present ourselves as we are. And if men don’t find us beautiful (as I suspect they do not), and if they do not like, or understand, our art (as I suspect they do not), then we will have to live with that.