Mumsnet: The unmasking of Elena Ferrante shows women writers can’t win

How much of yourself should you reveal when you are writing? The answer, of course, depends on whether you are male or female.

If you are male, it doesn’t really matter. You are the default human being and all experiences about which you write – regardless of whether or not you have actually had them – will be universal.

If you are female it is more complicated. Reveal too much about yourself and you are not a real writer at all, just an over-sharer, wallowing in the petty specifics of a non-male life. Don’t reveal enough and you are suspect, manipulative, a tease. Either way you can’t win.

See the full post at Mumsnet

On stepping outside

How would women talk if they knew men weren’t listening? This is something I’ve been considering a lot of late. How much is what we say to each other a performance on behalf of men? And if a woman speaks out of earshot of any man, does she really make a sound?

It isn’t true that men never listen to women. They do, all the time. When we say to men “you don’t listen” perhaps what we really mean is “you might use my words to judge me but they will never change your view of yourself”. It is not that our words are not heard, but that they don’t function in the way they are supposed to. All too often, there is no real dialogue. The listener takes our words and uses them to reform his perception of us. In doing so, he subtly changes our status; we are redefined from without. What we really wanted to achieve — an interchange of ideas, with all the shared vulnerabilities this entails — remains out of reach. “I am listening,” he says, “and later I will judge.”

So we get used to it. No point endlessly trying to achieve the impossible. If I put forward an argument, especially on twitter, I expect a large proportion of the men who hear it to understand it not as a challenge to their worldview, but as a means of positioning me in relation to them. “Where do I place this woman in relation to my rightness?” I lack the status to be an adversary or a mind-changer. Women generally do. Our words don’t penetrate. Penetrating others isn’t for the likes of us. Continue reading

Depression and the questionable value of telling stories

Hey everyone! Yesterday it was the turn of Caitlin Moran – today let’s all flame India Knight! These female Times journalists don’t half ask for it, don’t they? (Meanwhile, Rod Liddle treads the same old hate-filled path because, well, he’s just Rod Liddle. Funny, that.)

I have a feeling that Knight wrote something deeply offensive about mental illness in yesterday’s Sunday Times. This is just a feeling, though, since I’m not about to subscribe to the bloody thing to find out. All the same, I’ve seen the “taster” paragraphs and it doesn’t look promising: Continue reading

Female journalists: Like normal journalists, only annoyingly female

Women can be incredibly annoying, plus they don’t half witter on. How do I know this to be true? Well, I’m a woman and I do both of these things. And as for the rest of the female population – well, look around you. Just listen to them. Blah blah blah makeup blah babies blah vagina-flavoured cupcakes blah blah blah (by the way, are you female?  If so, is that not exactly what you sound like?).

Do you know what is even more annoying than women babbling on about total nonsense? Loads of things: wailing toddlers, Special K adverts, Jeremy Clarkson, the ongoing misuse of the word “empowering”. And plenty of other things besides, many of which are, as you might have guessed, precisely the type of irrelevancies that women see fit to harp on about. Which is ironic, when you think about it (which you shouldn’t, since it’s a total waste of headspace. Why not think about war or the economy instead?). Continue reading

Trying not to get tarred with the mummy smugness brush

I have never read a Maeve Binchy novel. They have always struck me as a tad “mumsy”, which is ironic since today, three days after her death, I found myself reading an article which argued that while Binchy “didn’t need the experience of motherhood to write about love and friendship in a way that charmed millions” (i.e. in a way that a cultural snob like me would dismiss as “mumsy”), had she actually been a mum “she might have dug deeper, charming less but enlightening more”.  Hmm. Allow me to put on my literary analysis hat. Now, I realise this is all hypothetical and that we’re still saying “might”, but even so, what a great big steaming pile of crap. Continue reading

Blog stats: Am I bovvered?

So, I’ve been blogging for nearly a month and a half and guess what? I fucking well love it! And there, right there, is one of the reasons why I do. The fact is, I can write whatever I like. It’s my blog and I can just sit here going blah [swearword] blah blah blah all day long (apart from that thing with work and children. I do that sometimes too. In between the swearing).

Of course, this isn’t the whole story. I’ve been able to write pretty legibly since 1982. By now I could have a whole mountain of blah blah blahs in a wide array of formats. But I don’t really want to express it if there is absolutely no one who might potentially hear it. What’s the point? I might as well just keep it in my head. After all, the blah blah blah-ing’s loud enough in there to begin with. The fact is, I want to put it in someone else’s head, too (born educator or mind-control megalomaniac? You decide).

I’ve always loved writing. I’ve even authored a book, albeit under my real name. That was quite cool. I liked signing copies for my mum and dad, and checking which libraries it was in. And sometimes, if I’m really drunk, I get my own copy down off the shelf and flick through it, thinking “crikey! I have thought some hard thoughts in my time!” That’s because the book’s an academic monograph, and if I’m honest, while I like the fact it now exists, I did not particularly enjoy the final stages of putting it together. The actual process of writing a chapter meant getting from A to B without jokes, or digressions, or silly analogies, but with solid, boring old evidence. Alas, I wasn’t too keen on that (and there are sections of my book where, I’ll admit, I’m still more “creative” than I should be). At one point, I even considered putting a disclaimer on the front cover (something along the lines of “this author is not a proper academic, so don’t expect too much”). Academic publishers do not however go for that kind of thing.

Blogging’s totally different from academic writing. I mean, you do get a kind of “peer review”, but through other blogs you find an audience that’s receptive to you (and a darn sight less competitive and cut-throat than academics are, or so my one-and-a-half month’s experience suggests). There is one thing that bothers me, though, and does really make me feel judged. It’s the whole thing about stats. How many views per day you get. I really can’t stand it.

I try not to look but right now, while I’m typing, I can see a little graph in the left-hand corner of my browser. This suggests quite a few people were reading my stuff an hour ago, but no one was arsed around lunchtime, and I’m still considerably less popular than I was yesterday. I know I shouldn’t be but I’m starting to feel a bit insecure. Why was “yesterday me” better than “today me”? And will I ever reach the dizzy heights of “me last Thursday” again?

I should be writing for the pleasure, and for the responses, and I am, but there’s also a “notches on the bedpost” mentality that’s creeping in (not that I think of you, whoever you are who’s reading this, as a one-night stand. You mean more to me than that. Hey, you know that, baby. I’ll give you a call sometime).

If I actually dare to click on the WordPress “Stats” tab, it will provoke, I guarantee it, one of the following responses:

  1. Fewer visitors than usual Damn! What have I done wrong? Either I’ve committed some massive blogger’s faux pas that no one will ever explain to me because they’re all too offended, or I’ve said all the interesting things I had to say. Either way, the heady days of blogging fun are over. Sob.
  2. Average number of visitors That’s okay, I guess. But why is it fewer than last Wednesday? What is it I did on last Wednesday that was different? Can I bring “Wednesday me” back to life? Because otherwise, while this looks fine, the very existence of Wednesday means my numbers are in fact going down.
  3. Massive surge in number of visitors Cripes! What’s all that about? I haven’t even written anything good today. Don’t these people have any taste? Where do I go from here? Should I just start writing bollocks from now on to feed the masses?

I think it over a million times and I never make any sense of it. I suppose that’s because, on a daily basis, there isn’t much sense to be made.

On a day when I have a lot of visitors, it could just be that one “influential” person has liked and tweeted the link to a post of mine. And perhaps lots of people have visited my blog but actually read three lines and thought “this is shit. My influential friend appears to be having something of an off day”. And on other days, when there are fewer visitor, it may just be that people have better things to do. I mean, I don’t know what could be better than reading my stream-of-consciousness rantings (a trip to Disney World, Florida? But they can’t all be there, can they?). Anyhow, what I mean to say is there’s no point whatsoever in trying to interpret it. No point at all, but hell, I’m going to keep on trying anyhow.

And what is the real point of this? Am I letting it become some measure of my worth as a person? Hell, I told everyone about that shag I had with Andy off CBeebies and nobody even deigned to like it?* When I’m writing stuff I really, really like doing it but I can’t stand the analysis afterwards. And the fact that I can’t stand it says something bad about me. Being bothered is all so vulgar. It shows I’m not in it for the passion, man. I just wanna collect numbers.

Well, this is all getting a bit self-obsessed. This is probably the point at which everyone decides never to read a post of mine again. And hell, I deserve it. I’ve no doubt committed that massive faux pas already by broaching this very topic. Maybe I am actually the only person who worries about this crap and everyone else just glances over now and then, out of vague curiosity. But not me. The truth is, I’m so vain, I probably think this blog is about me.

* Don’t bother looking for that post. I’m still finalizing the draft.

Things not to say to your boss 101

I will now share with you a genuine conversation that took place between me and my (now ex-)boss:*

Boss: I saw an interesting programme about sex last night.

Me: Oh, I think I saw that too. You mean that Channel 5 anal sex workshop in which the couples had to –

Boss [quickly]: No, it wasn’t that. It was a BBC 4 social documentary called Britain under the covers.

Me: Oh.

<very long silence>

Me: I wasn’t really watching that workshop. Just flicking through.

Now obviously I wish I could erase all memory of that little exchange but I can’t. Etched on my brain forever more, it’s yet another incidence of me revealing something I really shouldn’t have in an entirely inappropriate setting. I open my mouth and it’s all blah blah blah. If there’s any vague and ill-advised connection to make with what another person’s saying, I’ll make it. I think it’s nerves. But there are also incidences of me revealing things that I apparently “shouldn’t” on purpose. Sometimes I really set out to do it. So does that make me a bit of a prick?

There are various things that I go on about to the extent of making some people uncomfortable: anorexia; my sex life; issues with mental health. At times I believe there is a real value in it. I like people who use their experiences and are willing to lay themselves on the line. I’m uncomfortable with people who show too little of themselves and won’t take the risks that they expect of others (“the people who’d allow the Holocaust to happen again” is what a friend of mine calls them. I think that’s extreme, though. If there’s mass genocide on the horizon, I don’t think me gabbing on about how many shags I’ve had really makes me the better person). Anyhow, it’s got more extreme as I’ve got older, so I’ve started thinking about what the real roots for this need to reveal might be. Or to put it a different way, I’ve begun preparing a long-winded psychological back-story to use the next time my big mouth gets me into trouble.

When I was at university in the 1990s, irony-that-wasn’t-remotely-ironic seemed to infiltrate every aspect of student culture. Loaded and FHM ruled and we were told that all the sexist dirge was fine because none of it meant a thing, and anyone who thought otherwise simply wasn’t clever enough to “get” it. And in a way this was true; none of it was real. The fake magazine lifestyle only reinforced a sexism that was far more deep-rooted and traditional. I slept around a lot, for no particular reason (insecurity, kebabs), and came to identify a disapproving conservatism fermenting beneath the casual innuendo of the Loaded lads. None of them could have a conversation without mentioning blow jobs and anal, but deep down they were missionary position through and through. And what’s more, they didn’t like it if you weren’t too. When I got called a slag to my face, I knew they meant it in the worst possible way (in essence, the kind of woman who deserves to be raped).** And yet I couldn’t react because that would mean I didn’t get the “irony”, didn’t see the joke. So I became a bit more pushy about revealing myself. Fuck them, I thought (or not them, precisely. I think, to be honest, no one wanted to fuck the Loaded lads, which was part of the problem).

In reaction to this, I became more attracted to laying myself bare. I think if you don’t, everyone ends up drifting towards a world of casual, monocultural bullying. But sometimes I worry that actually that’s one massive excuse for attention seeking. Ha! Look at me! Aren’t I real? Aren’t I fucking edgy? And in all this you can cut too close to the bone and hurt other people. I don’t want to wake up one morning and find I’ve turned into Frankie Boyle. I probably swear as much as him already, but hey, I’m trying to keep on top of that.***

So anyhow, back to the anal sex thing. I really, truly, honestly was just flicking through the channels and I DIDN’T WATCH IT, at least not beyond the douching bit, which I really didn’t like. Although that’s not meant as a judgement on anal sex, which I’m sure is very nice. I just haven’t tried it yet, although one thing I have tried is <snip>

* The fact that she’s my ex-boss is entirely unrelated to that conversation. Or so I tell myself.

** I know, that’s most women in Daily Mail Land. But not amongst 1990s students, whose misogyny was strictly PC.

*** It would be appropriate here to add a sweary footnote, along the lines of “like *** I am”. But I’m not going to do that. Fuck no.