Monday, September 29, 2014

Vulnerability, Feminism, and Writing While Female

Recently, I was going to write a post that started with an anecdote that -- well, let's say it was an anecdote that showed me in a personally vulnerable light.

And at first I thought -- well, wtf, why not? Showing vulnerability can be a hallmark of good writing. When an author shows their weaknesses and self-doubt -- their insecurities and uncertainties, their neuroses and pain -- the reader connects with them, is drawn in, feels their own self-doubt and pain assuaged. One of the noblest functions of literature -- making us all feel less alone -- is thus attained.

And yet, in the end, I was like "Nah, I don't think so." Perhaps not surprising. You may have noticed that this blog often foregoes the narrative, introspective, personal, emotional style for one that is more declarative, outward-looking, and opinionated.

As I've said and I'll say again and again, this is not because I don't care for the narrative, introspective kind of writing. In fact I love it. But sometimes I don't do it, sometimes for reasons that I don't do it has to do with the whole problem of "writing while female."

Because I feel like when you're writing while female, things that might otherwise be read as "brave person opens up and lets us see his vulnerable side" instead get read as "weak woman reveals her weaknesses and and lets us see her weak side."

It's like what happens when women try to use self-deprecating humor. Instead of it being like "oh, funny, you were making fun of yourself!" people just take your remarks at face-value. You: deprecated. If a male professor says in a joking tone that Gee, despite having a PhD, they just can't keep their appointments sorted out -- oh ha ha. If a woman says it? People start falling all over themselves with suggestions for tweaks and improvement. So. irritating.

Recently the comedian Jen Kirkman has been brilliantly showcasing this effect by publicizing and responding to the inane and inappropriate responses that she gets to her stories and jokes. If she makes a joke about her romance situation, it's like "Don't worry! You're pretty! You'll find someone!" If she makes jokes about her modest popularity it's like "Don't worry! You'll make it! Fuck the haters!" To both of which she is like "People! They are jokes. I am a comedian. I am not asking for sympathy." As someone who listens obsessively to Marc Maron on the WTF podcast I can tell you: men making self-deprecating jokes do not elicit that kind of reaction.

And same thing too with hedging and uncertainty. A man who qualifies his statements by pointing out that it's not always so and there are exceptions and maybe I don't have the whole story sounds like a man who is confident enough to acknowledge that the truth is complex. But for some reason, when a woman qualifies her statements, it's like "Oh she's uncertain, must not know what she's talking about."

Ever since I encountered this dating advice for women from an expert (blogged previously here) I've been brooding about the way that at some deep level, men just like it if a woman hedges, and doesn't make too many declarative statements, and doesn't check her smartphone.

The way self-doubt and vulnerability, when expressed by women, prop up the attitudes certain people have, of women as self-doubting and vulnerable, and of wanting women to be self-doubting and vulnerable -- well, it makes me grouchy and combative.

It makes me want to put my game face on, and say what I think about things, and leave out the anguish and hurt feelings, and leave out the stories that make the reader picture me, metaphorically unclothed, with my vulnerabilities exposed for the world to see.

So that anecdote? Sorry: you'll never get to hear it.

No comments: