Every Friday I turn my blog into a couch and invite Dr. Sue O’Doherty to dole out some Writer’s Therapy. Today’s question is very close to my own heart and I love the doc’s advice. Please write to Dr. O’Doherty with your own questions at dr.sue at mindspring.com
WRITING LIKE A MAN
“There are two types of people in this world, human beings and women. And when women start trying to act like human beings, they are accused of trying to be men.”
—Simone de Beauvoir
Below, a writer struggles with the meaning of an ambiguous compliment:
Dear Dr. O’Doherty,
I'm a woman. I like being a woman. I like other women. I'm a feminist—or, at least, my own kind of feminist. But here's the deal. Whenever someone tells me that "even men would like your book" or "I didn't think I'd like your book because I thought it was more women's fiction" I bristle first. But then - and this is the part I'm embarrassed to admit - I'm thrilled.
And I hate myself for it.
But the truth is I don't want to be thrown in the girl ghetto. Am I a traitor to my sex for wanting to be out there with the big boys, too?
For most of the history of literature, it was understood that the ability to create high quality works of lasting importance depended on the production of testosterone and the possession of a Y chromosome. Naturally, no one believes this anymore—or, at least, no enlightened person will admit to this belief in mixed company. Even so, the playing field remains far from even. Books about concerns that have traditionally been labeled “feminine,” such as relationships, parenting issues, and the exploration of emotions must prove their legitimacy and seriousness in ways that books about business, war, and politics generally do not, and women who write about these “male” topicshave a harder time gaining a foothold. Writing by men dominates newspapers and general-interest magazines. And the disparity begins early: the majority of children’s books are geared toward a male readership.
Given that “men’s writing,” and books that are thought to appeal to males, remain the gold standard, it is understandable that you would be gratified by the remarks you quote. Don’t waste energy hating yourself for this perfectly understandable response. Instead, congratulate your readers on their open-mindedness and fabulous taste, and suggest that they continue expanding their worldview with other books penned by women. Then pat yourself on the back for writing books with universal appeal, and get back to work.
Susan O’Doherty, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with a New York City-based practice. A well-published author herself,she specializes in issues affecting writers. Send your questions to her at Dr.Sue at mindspring dot com.