I was invited yesterday to talk about Women Writing for Women on a panel at a writers event in Ventura.
I’ve always regarded my gender as a pleasant accident even while priding myself on my androgyny. Indeed I have rather avoided participating in ‘women’s’ events. I’ve worried that the presentation smacks too much of a ‘here come the cripples’ attitude, as if women aren’t good enough in their own right to compete with the rest of humanity.
In my work I’ve been more conscious of being half Chinese than all female. I would like to think that while I’m proud of and enjoy my sex, my sex is a private matter. I fancy that my work would be equally strong and little different if I’d been born male. I think my sexual orientation would have been homosexual then….
Prejudice is rife in all our lives, but complicated and confused. I’ve been denied a job for being half Chinese, I’ve been cursed out for being a ‘honkey’, I’ve been threatened for being a nigger lover, and spat at and struck for being Japanese. This last actually was a mistake since I’m not Japanese but Chinese, but that hardly matters. Ignorance is the partner to abuse. The point of my litany is that if people want to attack you, they will find something they hope to turn a weakness. Color of hair or shape of your nose, accident of gender or sexual orientation.
I’ve been told females need female role models. I don’t think so. I believe we all need female role models, male role models, transgendered role models, gender fluid role models… you get the picture.
I grew up in Africa on books like Fire Hunter by Kjelgaard, Dumas’ Three Musketeers (which incidentally was my Chinese mother’s favorite childhood book,) all of Gerald Durrell’s books that I could obtain. My greatest personal hero as a teen was T. E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia. He was what I wanted to grow up to be, and I never thought his sex mattered.
The one area in which, in my experience, the genders differ is taste in porn. Ones sex can’t get enough however unrealistic, the other wants situational, character-driven sex. But even here there are cross-overs. Generalizations require fudge factors, huge ones; good thing, since I like fudge.
I hate to disappoint you – I don’t write porn (which is a specialty in itself )– so what do I think about writing as a woman for women? First I’m not sure I am a woman. I’m gender queer and gender-fluid. That doesn’t stop me from being married to a man and having a child.
Woman as a single thing, a restricted pattern, does not exist.
But should we argue to break the trammels and chains of patriarchal oppression? Let’s be honest it is as much women who limit women as it is men. Biology can impair all sexes with its influence on temperament. Maybe freeing everyone is a worthy goal.
But in the end we write for humankind, no less.
In my other career I am a painter in oils and I have no sex. I was never aware until my gallery owner Frank told me, that there were patterns of composition the pundits call essentially feminine. Guess what, I hardly ever happen to use them. I apparently have what they term a ‘male gaze’.
Any limitation of the ideas women are supposed to like is dangerous, foolish and leads us back to stereotypes. Louisa May Alcott reported that she was startled at the boys and men writing fan letters to her about Little Women. You might be amazed to know how many men pick up a Harlequin, or a chick lit book so long as no one is watching… so there’s a stereotype we should break! For my part I love Max Brand westerns and war stories and non-fiction descriptions of battle. Let’s not shape our art to the box, let’s break that effing box to bits. We need the right to read as well as the right to write anything the hell we want.
Toni Morrison says she doesn’t write –ist novels. I’m with her. We need to honor all the genders that we are – gender queer, gender fluid, intergender, transgender. After all, to write to fit an audience smacks of condescension.