The Feminization Of Writing

One thing that struck me when I did the MA(Writing) was that the women far outnumbered the men on both the faculty and the student body. I also felt that some of the topics were very feminist oriented and at times there seemed to be a slightly bemused tone when a man would make a blokey post. Did anyone else feel that at any time to any degree? Nothing overt or outwardly hostile, not even antagonistic or belligerent but to my perception there was on occasion definitely ‘something’ in the air.

I read yesterday a Foreword by Tom Keneally to the 2006 edition of ‘An Introduction to Australian Publishing’ where he makes the same observation; that there are increasing numbers of women in the industry, both as writers and on the publishing side of the bed. Two thirds of the contributors to the book are women which seems to back him up a tad.

Put aside any defensive (no matter how subliminal they may be)responses because quite frankly it makes no difference to me, I can’t see this as a ‘bad’ thing for writing and publishing. If it were the other way around I would feel there was less chance of a fair suck of the savloy for all given the history of the ‘old boy’s net’ in many industries across the decades.

In some respects one shouldn’t be too surprised as publishing (and writing) have always been occupations where women could apply their talents other than in the scullery. For middle and upper class ladies in the 19th Century there were few occupations they could pursue that were not considered scandalous and the literary industry was one, along side teaching and medicine. The Bronte sisters and Jane Austen spring to mind and later Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie and so on. Publishers often hired females to do the hack work and eventually realised perhaps they had as good a nose for a marketable manuscript as any of the men on the payroll. When the two world wars took many of those men away, women stepped in and took over the reins more than adequately.

After the second world war and with the advent of contraceptive measures that freed women in so many ways, changes in society have found more and more women in the workforce and increasingly it seems in the writing business. And why not?

Traditionally roles were split pretty clearly into domestic chores rearing the kids for her and something sweaty and tiring for him. Middle class people had ‘standards’ and ‘appearences’ and thus a woman wanting a career often reflected poorly on her husband’s capacity to provide for her. So for the sake of his ego and cultural norms of the time, I wonder how many female intellects rotted away doing the valuable and necessary work in the home but never really reaching their potential?

I can fully appreciate why many women are miffed at mankind, emphasis on the first syllable. We men (not me personally I hope all you ladies will accept) have been too clever by half. We have invented more than enough labour saving devices to do most of us out of jobs and to put the rest of them at risk of competition from the fairer sex. Even that, ‘fairer sex’, sounds chauvinistic and patronizing when one comes to think about it.

Perhaps as we continue deeper into the 21st Century we will shed ourselves of many of the old attitudes and adopt many of the newer ones that simply accept we are equal in many respects yet sufficiently different to offer good reason to have some diversity in any group, to get the best of what men and women can do and without consciously remarking on it every time.

I confess I read very few female authors. Not because I don’t like them but because the genre I enjoy reading for pleasure are mostly catered for by male writers. Female writers tend not to write too many thrillers and adventure stories. They do now and then and I have read a couple of great ones. I’m not into the Barbara Cartland stuff or anything remotely close. Sue Grafton I adore and I enjoyed Patricia Cornwell but I am hard pressed to name any others. Ruth Park (Harp In The South)was a great read also but so too Frank McCourt and ‘Angela’s Ashes’.

I also note my daughters play with dolls and do girlie things without any prompting from me or their mother. They naturally want to nurse dolls and even play house. I joke that most of the toys on sale at K-Mart are stereotyping the domestic female role from birth but the reality is stereotypes have to come from somewhere.

So perhaps the new acceptance of women by us men has to be tempered with some allowance for ‘stereotypical’ behaviour, no matter how sexist it might seem to a pusher of feminist theory. The neat thing about so many women being in the writing and publishing game is that the words we read and hear do affect the words we think with and speak. In time we might find we have been having our attitudes adjusted gently for decades and only just now might be realising it. And now is too late to regress although letting go of old thinking and embracing the new is always the most threatening part of any process of change. Trust the ladies to do it gently enough we hardly noticed until we started to like it!


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