I’ve noticed that the critics who seem most obsessed by the question of your gender are men. They seem to find it impossible to fathom how that a woman could write books that are so serious—threaded with history and politics, and even-handed in their depictions of sex and violence. That the ability to depict the domestic world as a war zone and willingness to unflinchingly show women in an unflattering light are evidence that you’re a man. Some suggest that not only are you a man, but given your output, you might be a team of men. A committee. (Imagine the books of the Bible…)
Have you heard anyone say recently about any book written by a man, It’s really a woman who wrote it, or maybe a group of women? Due to its exorbitant might, the male gender can mimic the female gender, incorporating it in the process. The female gender, on the other hand, cannot mimic anything, for is betrayed immediately by its “weakness”; what it produces could not possibly fake male potency. The truth is that even the publishing industry and the media are convinced of this commonplace; both tend to shut women who write away in a literary gynaeceum. There are good women writers, not so good ones, and some great ones, but they all exist within the area reserved for the female sex, they must only address certain themes and in certain tones that the male tradition considers suitable for the female gender. It is fairly common, for example, to explain the literary work of women writers in terms of some variety of dependence on literature written by males. However, it is rare to see commentary that traces the influence of a female writer on the work of a male writer. The critics don’t do it, the writers themselves do not do it. Thus, when a woman’s writing does not respect those areas of competence, those thematic sectors and the tones that the experts have assigned to the categories of books to which women have been confined, the commentators come up with the idea of male bloodlines. And, if there’s no author photo of a woman then the game is up: it’s clear, in that case, that we are dealing with a man or an entire team of virile male enthusiasts of the art of writing. What if, instead, we’re dealing with a new tradition of women writers who are becoming more competent, more effective, are growing tired of the literary gynaeceum and are on furlough from gender stereotypes. We know how to think, we know how to tell stories, we know how to write them as well as, if not better, than men.
Because girls grow up reading books by men, we are used to the sound of male voices in our heads, and have no trouble imagining the lives of the cowboys, sea captains, and pirates of he-manly literature, whereas men balk at entering the mind of a woman, especially an angry woman.
Yes, I hold that male colonization of our imaginations—a calamity while ever we were unable to give shape to our difference—is, today, a strength. We know everything about the male symbol system; they, for the most part, know nothing about ours, above all about how it has been restructured by the blows the world has dealt us. What’s more, they are not even curious, indeed they recognize us only from within their system.
As a female writer I take offense at the idea that the only war stories that matter are those written by men crouched in foxholes.
Every day women are exposed to all kinds of abuse. Yet there is still a widespread conviction that women’s lives, full of conflict and violence both in the domestic sphere and in all of life’s most common contexts, cannot be expressed other than via the modules that the male world defines as feminine. If you step out of this thousand-year-old invention of theirs, you are no longer female.