(Women) writers: Differences are good

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I read an open letter this morning published on the Ms. Magazine blog to the New Yorker magazine denouncing the publication’s dearth of female writers featured in its pages so far this year. As a female writer, this naturally got me thinking about my own experience in the publishing industry.

Having come from the professional classical music world to the writing/publishing industry, I’ve definitely had experience with the (woman) musician/(woman) writer label. (In fact, I wrote my master’s thesis about Joyce Carol Oates and her criticism of the (woman) writer label.)

When in music school, my instructor told me before taking an audition that I needed to make sure I didn’t wear shoes that clacked, so the sound when I walked into the “blind” auditions meant to keep the judges honest, didn’t give away my gender. Because, naturally, women were less desirable as performers.

So I went sans clackers and won the audition over a man (my boyfriend at the time) who took the audition as well (and yes, the relationship deteriorated immediately after).

While working on my MFA at Vermont College, I discovered very quickly that there was serious literary writing and there was “chick” writing, which was obviously inferior. When I chose to write about disastrous romantic relationships (write what you know, right?), domestic or sexual violence, or pregnancy, I was told in workshops this was “inaccessible to half the population” and “very marketable if it had a pink cover.”

One instructor told me, of a story I had written about a girl who murders her older, violent and controlling lover, “don’t send me this garbage again.”

But I enjoyed exploring some of the darker sides of the human condition, so I continued to write about them, despite what I was told.

Since then, some of my “chick” stories have been published in literary magazines and newspapers without pink covers.

It’s been interesting working here at the Forecaster where, when I arrived, half the reporters were male and half were female, the editor male, the publisher female. Part of the reason I applied here was because of what I perceived as a solid gender balance.

Some may think gender has nothing to do with writing and reporting, but I would argue that it does and that that’s OK. Listening to my male counterparts doing interviews in the office has been truly eye-opening. We have very different styles. Is that because they’re male and I’m female. Maybe. Does it matter if we both get the information the public needs to understand an issue? No.

I remember reading Gloria Steinem’s book “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions” on the flight from Boston to Maui for my wedding (my husband, a self-described feminist, did, indeed, get a kick out of this) and thinking about her comments on communication styles.

Men and women have different styles of communication, she said, and we should just accept that and declare these differences strengths rather than weaknesses. This is both an enormous generalization, but also, for me, at least, very comforting.

It means that because many industries have been dominated by men for hundreds of years, women have the opportunity to bring something new and different to them.

Because, also, I don’t believe there are such things as “women’s stories” or “women’s issues.” Any story, well-told, is a human story, and any issue that damages society, is a human issue.

I hope to spend my life telling human stories, however they need to be told.

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