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It’s interesting how often people who talk about literary merit and artistic worthiness are so quick to assume women aren’t writing about real problems, or that the differences we do see in common elements of writing based on gender have clear divisions between what’s nutritious and what’s empty calories. There are more women than men in this world, and still our thoughts, issues, and lives are thought marginal.
First, these are all slightly exaggerated and paraphrased from real quotes by men about women’s work. For context, here they are:
- “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think it is unequal to me.” [Women’s work presents] “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world. And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too.” —V.S. Naipaul
- [Women exhibit] “lack of range—in subject matter, in emotional tone—and lack of a sense of humor. . . . the embroidering of trivial themes; a concern with the mere surfaces of life . . . hiding from the real agonies of the spirit; refusing to face up to what existence is; lyric or religious posturing; running between the boudoir and the altar, stamping a tiny foot against God. . . . ” —Theodore Roethke
- “[R]omance novels, like racists, tend to be the same wherever you turn. It’s pointless to spend much time impugning these books as writing because they really aren’t meant to be considered as actual writing, the same way a Twinkie wasn’t meant to be considered as actual food.” —William Giraldi
The common theme here is through some combination of bad experiences with literature, socialized disgust for and condescension toward anything that women enjoy, sexist attitudes toward women in general, overreliance on “award-winning” literature as if the awards are given objectively through some distant assessment of pure merit, overexposure to men’s work as deep and “classic” and women’s work as lowbrow and “popular,” or simple assumption that women’s stories aren’t relevant/applicable/interesting to them . . . these men conclude that they can and should write off literature about, by, and/or for women.
And what’s really interesting is how many men, when challenged on this, will have one of these two explanations for why they aren’t interested in women’s work:
- They just . . . just aren’t INTERESTED, inexplicably, and don’t know what to say when you ask why or what they could possibly believe about ALL women’s work being “not for them.”
- They have indeed tried women’s work and didn’t like it, insist that the sex of the author has nothing to do with that, and feel justified in generalizing their reaction as applying to any and all literature by women.
You KNOW they have not concluded men suck at writing whenever they read a sucky book by a man, or when they encounter a genre or subject primarily written by men that they aren’t interested in. Yet somehow, even though they’re totally not sexist, guys!, reading a comparatively small number of books by women has given them all they need to know about all women authors–they all write the same, or about the same things, or with the same lower or basic quality that they’re sure they objectively assigned to the sample they’ve read.
I guarantee you some of these men’s favorite books were written by women writing under an androgynous name or deliberately under a man’s name.