My entire life I’ve never doubted I could do anything that I was willing to work to accomplish. It’s pretty much proved true because nothing has ever really held me back. I never felt like being female stood in my way or that I needed doors held open for me either literally or figuratively. That said, on rare occasions when people do hold doors for me I thank them politely because I consider it a gesture of kindness not sexism that we can all do for each other. I hold doors open for people all the time – literally and figuratively. It’s just a nice thing to do.
I don’t get up on the feminism high-horse often. I suppose that’s because I have the privileged delusion of believing sexism doesn’t impact me. Then along comes something like this article, and this equivocation, and this transcript, where a writer with some acclaim denigrates women writers. Damn it! Now I have to use my pretty-little brain and think hard thoughts.
I know better than to pose or claim to be something I’m not. I’m a writer whose book is so heartrending to read that many people can’t get past the first chapter because my nonfiction lacks that Jodi Picoult “This is Fiction, This isn’t Real” emotional escape hatch. I’ve gone to book readings/signings where other writers tell me they aren’t going to buy my book because it would hurt too much to read it but then ask for advice about how to get published (this has actually happened more than once).
Truth is, I write pretty words about terrible and real shit, and it’s not terribly popular; honesty rarely is. However, my work provides catharsis to some of the world’s most traumatized parents so it has its place. My next two books will have a place too. They may not be popular and that’s OK; they will be relevant to the people who read them. I’ve never been traditionally popular, but I do relish my relevance. I was relevant enough for the American Academy of Pediatrics to ask me to write something for them, and they’re only popular with doctors. I also publish to itsy bitsy literary journals that don’t receive many non-fiction submissions, and some of my poetry has been published . . . yeah poetry, that’s popular. No, I’m not popular but I am a woman, and at its roots, this isn’t about me; it’s about my membership in Club Vagina.
I am not a girl. I never minded being called a girl until I actually had a girl and watched her unfurl from a tiny bud to a flower just about to bloom. I had to live with and be responsible for a girl and witness how different we are to realize that I am, in fact, a woman. As a woman, a writer, and a reader, and the mother of a girl, this article, pseudo-apology, and original interview really bother me. I still live under the implacable delusion that I and my daughter can do anything we want to do, and so can my son and my husband. I believe, in spite of all other voices, that ambition, determination, and hard work are what make successes of people, and these are attributes available to all people regardless of gender, race, etc. Yet, this story still bothers me and I had to figure out why.
Then it occurred to me – this man is popular. He has popular books and has enough prestige and success as a writer to avoid a day job, like mine, that has nothing to do with writing (unless Power Point slides, Excel spreadsheets, and bean counting are considered writing – no? didn’t think so). Mr. Gilmour has what all writer’s want – popularity, success, and a pulpit. He has authorship with the implicit authority that entails.
While I may be delusional about my ability to do anything, I’m not delusional about how freaking hard I would have to work, while working a full-time job, to make enough money off my writing to give up my day job or trade it in for an academic buffer. Those things don’t happen to most writers.
Because he is the exception, Gilmour’s pinnacle purview that women writer’s work is not as laudable, inspiring, or as worthy as the authors he actually “loves” is painful. It sounds like, “Give up, you’ll never be good enough.” Its echo also sounds a lot like the phrase “Mommy-blogger” used to dismiss people like me as minivan driving soccer moms who tweet on their smart phones and do too much Pintrest (only the Twitter is within my truth). While I usually drown that noise out fast with my own, “I don’t have time for your shit because I’ve got my own shit to deal with, I’m almost 40, screw you old man,” brain patter, I worry about the women and girls whose brains aren’t yet pointy enough to ignore this irrelevant point-of-view, no matter how popular it might seem.
It also troubles me that most North American readers, book buyers, and college students are women, and yet most major literary awards are won and a disproportionate amount of published literature is written by men. I don’t want men to not be published, but when popularity defines success on a larger scale it just makes it that much harder for our inherent worth and relevance to be seen more broadly. This imbalance is something real that I cannot understand at all, especially when some of the best-selling books of the past two decades were written by women. My confusion must be from my wee little lady brain and my inability to grasp popularity.
No, I’m not popular, but I’m diff’ernt. I’m different in a good way because I don’t allow anyone else to define me or what should make me happy. I hope my daughter is different like me too, because anyone’s opinion outside of your own is is entirely irrelevant to your life or your aspirations, unless those opinions create barriers that make success harder for you than your peers just because of your genitalia. I worry that there are women writers who I should be reading who were not published because they wouldn’t be popular enough or their books were wrapped in pink and tucked in the area nearest certain shades of grey. When another person’s capricious opinions harm your ability to achieve, that’s detrimental. I don’t think Gilmour is relevant enough to harm anyone’s aspirations, but this entire story has the stink of bigger problems like legislated trans-vaginal ultrasounds for rape victims and passive acceptance of misogynistic ideals.
Yes, I’m bored and tired of Axe Body spray, 63 year old men who think they’re “middle-aged” (dude, you’re gong to live to 126, really?), and Maxim magazine, but as sleepy as that all makes me, it’s not relevant to who I am or what I will do with my life. It’s not relevant to my daughter either, but I worry she might someday take it as relevant because it’s so popular. I worry that the re-surging and “ironic” popularity of misogyny isn’t being called for the irrelevant bullshit that it is.
Well, today, Sept. 25, 2013, I officially call BULLSHIT. I’m not calling the PC Police, I’m not whining, “unfair,” I’m calling it what it is – it’s bullshit. Jesus, my dad was a gun-toting, bowie-knife-wielding-Missouri-Synod-Lutheran-long-haul trucker who was centuries more enlightened on women than the bullshit I’m hearing lately. Grow up insecure-boy-backlash-wave, your mommies still love you, and women are human beings, not lesser beings. Women made everyone, with their literally f’ing vaginas, true fact. Dear God, what a novel and difficult concept that half of humanity might have something relevant to say or be capable of expressing it in a meaningful way. Bullshit on misogyny, can we move on now?
With misogyny or literature, relevance and popularity are mutually exclusive. Gilmour might be popular in the literary world but the Kardashians (bored with them too) are popular in the world at large, and what does this say about our world? Neither party is remotely relevant to what I want to do with my life. I’ll keep writing, even if what I write isn’t broadly popular. Which leads me to my conclusive humanist rant that applies to people of all genders and walks of life and broad ranges of astronomical insecurity.
Yes, we all have to think a bit more to discern the difference between what is popular and what is relevant to us, but therein lies all of the power, all of the responsibility, and all of the difference to a meaningful and satisfying life. Relevance is mine. Relevance is yours. Take it and make your life relevant, no matter who you are. Maybe if we all tried to be more relevant and less popular we could ignore the noise and focus on what matters most to each of us. Maybe if we did a little more hard-thinking, the tides of popularity would turn from the vapid and trite to the interesting and enlightened.
Cue John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Yeah I know, I know . . . relevance doesn’t sell in our fast-paced, money-obsessed, modern times when a professor cannot respect a journalist well enough to think about his answers to give her more than 15 minute “over the shoulder” comments, or choose his words wisely (why should an acclaimed writer need to choose his words wisely?), and willfully admits he’s only apologizing so he can sell his book. Bullshit on his authority – this is a man impressed with a man’s writing about men eating dirty maxi-pads; Christ we used to beat the dog for that. Bullshit.