When I first wrote Martin of Gfenn, a colleague and friend of mine (male) asked why I thought I, a woman, could write about a man! How could I expect to understand male feelings and motivations! I couldn’t understand that statement, not at all. Many of the most convincing women in literature have been the creations of male authors. How are men able to do what women are (allegedly) not able to do? He wouldn’t read my manuscript. He was steeped in the modern world of “genre” literature, the mouth-smashing mumbling French word “genre” now used to cover things other than tragedy, comedy, fiction, non-fiction and poetry. This is a direction the word has taken without the word’s permission (or mine) to cover literature written by women, minorities, lesbians, gays, transvestites, etc. Those are now genres
I just thought my friend was an idiot and went on my merry-way creating my male character living in his all male world doing his all male things. Yeah, there are a few women in Martin of Gfenn but only one has a name and does something; she’s not a major character though she is critically important to both Martin and his story.
Lately I’ve been reading articles that remind me of things I read in Godey’s Lady’s Book when was working on my thesis. For those who do not know, Godey’s was a woman’s magazine. It was quite amazing. The editor was a woman (Sarah Josepha Hale) and there is probably NO American who is not familiar with her poem, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and few Americans who do not sit down with friends and family to dinner sometime in November -- a holiday envisioned by Sarah Hale. Month after month she argued against “female literature” and for “literature.” Much of the work published in her magazine was written by women -- but not all of it. Edgar Allen Poe was her literary editor for several years in the 1840’s. So here we are, in 2012, and this argument persists. Should women write and publish using their own name? Should they use just their initials (J. K. Rowling, for example)? Should they adopt a male nom de plume (George Eliot, for example?)
My personal belief is that gender studies in literature, “genres” based on gender, have retarded the progress of women writers. Segregating anything makes it more visible. That there is Norton Anthology of Literature by Women is something I find appalling. If anything, gender/genre has served to perpetuate the notion that work by women is intrinsically DIFFERENT from work written by men and that there are male subjects and there are female subjects. Perhaps in describing literature written in the past (key word here, DESCRIBING) an argument can be made for the existence of such a difference, but there is no rational argument for that being a prescription or a justification for expecting a woman to write THIS and a man to write THAT UNLESS the life experiences -- in the largest sense -- are absolutely different for the two genders. They are not. Love, loss, confusion, heartbreak, fear, isolation, joy, redemption, death are universal human experiences. If feminism has done anything it has brought the daily life experiences of men and women closer together.
Men are not locked out of the delivery room when their children are born. Men are no longer perceived as “the bread winners.” In most families today that is a shared responsibility. While women still earn less than men for doing the same work, men and women no longer experience such dramatic employment segregation. So IF the goal of all this is to distribute both the wealth and the work more equitably between the genders, to open experiences to both genders, where is the rationality in continuing to think that men write about certain things and women write about others?
My two novels are “male” novels. The protagonists of each are men who live in very male worlds. Their experiences, however, beyond the obvious superficial experiences of going on Crusade or getting a blow job, are more universal. Yes, universal. I fell in love with that word and that idea back in AP English when my teacher was involving us in Aristotle’s Poetics. I was captivated by the idea that we share a core that is beyond gender, age, financial status, education, beyond everything, and that core is capable of feeling pity and fear. It is the human soul. Tragedy -- if it’s good -- lifts us, the audience, above the petty mechanical tags of our daily animal lives. From it we learn to be MORE than we were before we witnessed the drama (read the book, listened to the poem).
Still and all, I live here now and am puzzled by the possibility that my novels -- though compelling, well-written, meaningful and convincing -- might not have found publication in the conventional arena BECAUSE I am a woman and I have written about men. What puzzles me further is that back in the day when I was actively attempting to find an agent, the vast majority of agents dealing in historical fiction were women. Perhaps I need a male nom de plume, or, at the very least, to write as M. A. Kennedy. No. I don’t think so. I think this is my line in the sand.