Today is photograph day (well, technically yesterday was photograph day), but I spent this weekend doing taekwon-do. I took over a thousand photographs of other being doing taekwon-do meaning as well which meant I didn’t quite get around to the challenge I had set for the week. Rather than pulling an old photograph out of the archive and pretending that I took it this week I’ve decided to write a different post instead.
Today a friend sent me a link to an article about an ongoing twitter thread started by @gwenckatz (you can also check out the article from Electric Lit here). It is a conversation that is both hilarious and horrifying (the way all the best conversations are) because we get to indulge in the pleasure of calling out an idiot, and having a rant about how appalling some of the representations of women in fiction really are. The gist of the thread is this: a male author announced to the world that his characterisations of women are so on-point that the #OwnVoices movements (calling for diversity of representation) is unnecessary. This is because, his post suggests, a writer’s skill essentially lies in their inhuman ability to inhabit and empathise with perspectives that they have never experienced (don’t get me wrong, some writers actually do have this ability). This makes sense because talented writers possess innate extreme arty, mind-bending, talent. We all know that a writer need not be a woman, an indigenous Australian, a Syrian refugee, mentally ill, elderly or any other marginalised group in order to skilfully represent their experiences, opinions and world-view—I mean, what could experience possibly reveal that watching a bit TV doesn’t? This is because, he says, “It’s called writing”. If by writing he means the mechanical act of putting words on the page, then sure, he’s completely correct. He CAN write as a woman. All you need are some words: blah, blah, blah, she, blah, boobs, blah, blah, periods, blah, blah, crying. Right? Totally representative of women.
@Gwenckatz provides a myriad of examples of just how this guy aced what it is like to be a woman. His insight into the female psyche is uncanny, almost as though he was a woman. I don’t know about you, but when I think about my appearance, phrases such as “I’m hard to miss”, “a nice set of curves if I do say so myself” and “I blushed on demand (standard southern belle trick) and tossed my hair” (—Take. A. Deep. Breath.—) instantly pop to mind. For instance, I’m not typing these words, but rather I’m playing with the keys, teasing them with the light, feathery touch of my fingertips—obviously. I’m also revelling in the sumptuous curves of my love-handles—just so you know.
Outrage has rightly ensued in this twitter feed and sparked a call to: describe yourself like a male author would.
I love this challenge. I love it in so many ways. So here goes:
I could see him shudder when I spoke, both repelled and saddened by the words that came unbidden from my mouth. Opinions don’t make up for heavy thighs or bland, off-skew features. Quiet is sexy, I know that. I was sometimes considered okay-looking in that “it’s 1am and nothing better has come along” kind of way. In that beer-goggle kind of way. Though I’m not the kind of girl guys want to show to their friends.
I also thought it might be fun to flip it around and describe a male character in a way that men write about women. What do I mean by this if you haven’t linked through to the article above? Well here are some more examples that sparked this challenge in the first place:
“I could only imagine the thoughts that were running through his head. Naughty thoughts.”
“I could imagine what he saw in me. Pale skin, red lips like I had just devoured a cherry popsicle covered in gloss, two violet eyes like Elizabeth Taylor’s.”
“And, of course, my boobs. I had them propped up all front and centre, in a perfectly ladylike way. Well, kind of.”
WTAF? The secret is out. When I describe myself to other people, when I imagine what other people are thinking about me, I often conjure up images of oral sex, and there’s nothing quite so delightful as being thought of as “naughty”. Being infantilised and sexualised at the same time is as we all know—Just. The. Best. (I might be hyperventilating with rage right now).
What would happen if I described a man this way?
She watched me from across the room, pretending to look at her phone, but I knew what she was doing. She was imagining me naked, picturing the sway of my hips as I saunter from the shower to the bedroom, the swing of my cherry popsicle covered in gloss and what it might taste like. I like the feeling of her eyes on me, the knowledge that I’m driving her crazy. I smile at her, then look away, teasing. She has to earn the to right to see the real thing. I watch her though hooded lids…
Maybe I just vomited into my mouth little. You get the picture, I actually can’t write like that, even as a joke. It is beyond ludicrous.
As much fun as it is to make fun of this guy, it speaks to a bigger problem. This writer essentially wrote some male-centred erotic fiction for himself, changed the “she” to “I” and declared that he had nailed the female perspective. There are many male authors out there who can write women as completely formed human beings, but writing from the perspective of the other is not a simple matter of changing the pronoun. Fiction is supposed to help us explore the human condition. It is supposed to envelope us in story, history, and culture, and open up worlds we would otherwise never understand. Thank you @gwenckatz for calling this guy out, and if this turns out to be a masterful joke, thank you anyway because it got us talking.