I’d Rather Be A Screenwriter: the vagina in the room
“What do you want to do after your GCSEs, Madelaine?” my headmaster had asked me, flexing his enormous hands. Ah. Hadn’t thought past my final exam. The word escaped me without thinking.
He looks at me closely. It’s a small private school, so he taught me English for a year. “You certainly have a lot of potential,” he says, uncertainly. “But I should warn you, the pay in an area like that is somewhat uncertain. You could always do it on the side…”
I sigh, nodding. As much as I loved writing plays and short stories, it wasn’t a job. Well, not really. Something to impress the parents with on open days. A pretty little hobby for a home counties gal.
Luckily for me, I had quite possibly one of the greatest role models of all time. Heidi Thomas, the screenwriter to Call The Midwife, was the mother of one of my friends.
With almost all of the screenwriters and authors in my childhood being largely white men called Hugo, Heidi quickly became one of the most important inspirations in my teenhood ambitions. She proved, to me, that my desire to write wasn’t something limited to Oxbridge old men. A woman could do it without being a hobby.
So I began to take my scribblings more seriously. I submitted my poetry to Foyles, I left my short stories on my teacher’s desks and I gradually built up my confidence. I don’t think it really hit me that I could actually do this until I felt my letters printed in an actual book.
When I got my first jobs at papers and online publications, I suddenly realised that I could consider this a much of a career option as my male peers. If I worked as hard, kept pressing myself for better manuscripts and ideas, this wasn’t going to be a collection of raw A4s in my husband’s desk.
The problem, however, is still how people perceive women who write.
People continue to feel question as to why I don’t write ‘women’s lit' or ‘plays for women’. I am caged into a genre of mummies, romance and romcom, while men get to freely stomp around horror, thriller and sci-fi without so much as a flicker of disapproval. When I write about an unpleasant character, I am met with a disgust that hasn’t changed much since Emily Bronte’s Heathcliff. Women should, it seems, stick to light, pretty things that are made for other women.
I don’t gender my work, and that can be weird for some people. When I write, I think about plot, realism, scenery and character. I don’t think about whether a woman is likeable or a plotline too inhabited by women to be understood by men.
If there is one question I would love to see wiped out in my lifetime about women’s work, it would be this:
“Why would men want to watch a story about a woman?”
This misogyny: truly, this hatred and disgust towards women- makes out that the experiences and lives of women are too beneath men to relate to them. This I would challenge, fiercely. I have seen men cry watching a woman say goodbye to her husband of fifty years, I’ve sat next to men enthralled by a female character fight the asylum system. We all feel grief, loss, desire and love. These aren’t ‘women' subjects. They are human ones.
I think the world would be a better place if men could read a book or see a play with a female protagonist, without fear of ridicule or disgust. No one calls a woman weird or pathetic for seeing a crime film; why shouldn’t a man see a film dealing with the realities of infertility? Or adultery? The sooner we can deconstruct the walls between what adults can relate to, irrespective of gender, the better.
In the mean time, I’ll keep writing. I’ll get better, I’ll fight for a chance to go up against male screenwriters and authors for opportunities, I’ll keep writing what is good and not what is right for a young woman to relate to.
The glass ceiling may be coming down, but many women are still trapped under shards of misogynist logic.