I’m a woman who writes about homicide, abuse and corruption. Get over it
Why are people so upset by a woman choosing to write about dark material?
“I don’t like to read books by women, if I’m honest,” a completely twat tells me over a coffee. “ All mindless dribble about husbands and children. No substance. No creativity. No innovation.” I refrain from pouring my latte down his expensive suit.
It’s not a view that I’ve never come across before.
Throughout my various publications, online or in collections, I usually come across someone who is horrified by what I have written. How can a 21 year old girl with a breathy voice write about a serial killer, a rapist or a religious woman experiencing a miscarriage in church?
Hardly kittens, Darcy and bonnets. Why don’t I write about a happy marriage or a romance? The bottom line: Society doesn’t like knowing that a young woman can empathise with the most macabre elements of masculine culture.
That makes me unattractive, dangerous, predatory. If I can get inside the head of a deeply unpleasant, cruel or self serving character, then obviously I must be similar. Because as a woman, I am rendered sterile of creativity or intelligence, and my creations must be based on my own experiences, my own autobiographical nature. If I don’t write about lusciously pretty, humble young women finding love, what am I? An old crone with a macabre obsession with the obscene?
A man can imagine himself to be a detective, a killer, a president, doctor or a cannibal astronaut. No one will raise an eyebrow, or think that he was unpleasant person. He will be praised for being able to sit in the mind of the most chilling of men, for his emotional intelligence, his bravery.
I, however, am rendered soluble only to princesses, wives and love interests. When I break out of this, and write from a masculine perspective, particularly an aggressive, non-passive one, people immediately attach distrust to me as a real human. I must flit prettily between dreamy scenes of children on beaches and arguments in the kitchen. That’s where I belong in literature. In the kitchen.
Write prose, posies and princesses. Emily Bronte got told off for writing non-passive characters and decidedly nasty humans, and no one has stopped talking about it since. Even today, in your local WH Smiths, it is obvious that publishers prefer women who write about Sally’s Sexy Holiday to anything more rattling. Crime, dystopia and psychonoire is all neatly packaged by men under names like IRON WILL and STEEL CRIME: genres choked and seeped in the masculine voice.
I showed one of my stories to a very close male friend (I won’t name him, I do like him in many ways). It wasn’t particularly unusual for me; a man follows a girl home on the underground but finds out that maybe she wasn’t the prey. But it really, really upset him. For most of the evening, I was interrogated about it. How do you come up with this? Why is it so real? Do you think these things?
Just the idea that I could empathise with and create a predatory male, as a young woman, was impossible for him. The only explanation was that I must in some way experience homicidal thoughts myself. Again, this just illustrated to me how much female creativity is belittled as either copying or voicing their own experiences.
Why don’t I write about love and marriage? Because, if I’m honest, it doesn’t interest me. I write because it allows me to explore and untangle bits of society that frighten or bemuse me. If I spend a few hours trying to understand the man who groped me on the train, I take some of that power back. I take that experience and use it to understand and speak about the world around me. If I felt the same draw and curiousity towards Sally, The Mother from Margate, I’d write about her. But I don’t. In the same way you wouldn’t expect Stephen King to write a toddler pop up book, I’ll be damned if I get pressured into writing traditionally female stories. Besides, there are plenty of women who do that excellently.
I’d like to finish with a list of 7 authors (one for every day of a week) that I think you should read if you don’t think women can write creatively or with any ‘real’ skill;
- By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept, Elizabeth Smart
- The Double Shadow, Sally Gardner
- Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
- The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold*
- The Woman in Black, Susan Hill**
- Half a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- The Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
*Yes, it is popular. But read it before you mock it. The prose and depth is extraordinary.
** Not the film. The book. Read the book. Read the book and tell me that you think it’s a chicklit. But the film is also a cinematographic masterpiece.