Perhaps I’m imagining it, but sometimes it feels like the only thing women get to write about is women. We can’t just write a straight article; everything that we churn out has to be given a “pop spin” or a “feminist spin” or a “feminist pop spin”. It seems to be the only way that we can make any sort of name for ourselves at all, as writers. Look, I’m doing it right now. Here I am, being a woman, writing about being a woman. Again.
A brief scan across the comment pages of a major newspaper last week brought up pieces by men about US foreign policy, human rights in Ukraine, the debate surrounding GM and the Irish referendum. The featured pieces by women, on the other hand, are on body image, watching telly, watching adverts on the telly, and watching films in the cinema.
It can’t be that women just aren’t interested in supposedly “drier” topics, so what’s going on? Obviously, when it comes to issues surrounding feminism, misogyny, and sexualisation, women inarguably have more things to say; after all, these things affect us on a daily basis. It’s hardly a surprise that we want to write and talk about them. But how come we struggle so much to get ahead whenever we try to talk about anything else?
There’s certainly some level of tokenism at work here. Even the women in the public eye who aren’t writing or talking about feminism or gender are still questioned about it; female comedians are continually questioned about what it’s like being female and a comedian, female comic artists are continually questioned about what it’s like being female and a comic artist, female musicians are continually questioned about what it’s like being female and a musician. Things we would never dream of asking a man. Our very refusal to be defined by our gender is, in itself, defined by our gender. It’s like being stuck inside a matryoshka doll of Having A Vagina.
So who’s to blame? Is it the people (yes, like me) who write these articles? Is it the editors who commission the articles and choose the blog pieces? Is it the newspapers and websites and magazines that publish those articles? Is it the readers, by reacting encouragingly to the articles?
Part of me wants to conclude that it’s because, in most sectors, women are still failing to reach the highest levels. With the departure of Tina Weaver last week from the Sunday Mirror, there is now only one female editor of a national newspaper in the UK (Dawn Neeson, Daily Star). In the US, women make up 37% of newspaper employees, but less then 10% are in “supervisory or upper management positions”. And research announced recently by the BBC has found that women occupy only a third of senior positions in the workplace. The highest achievers in most professional arenas are still men, for a variety of complex and interlinking reasons: society teaches them from an early age that they should “go for” things more, that they “deserve” them more, that they can achieve and master things with more ease. Perhaps the main reason that women are only permitted to write about womanhood, feminism, and gender equality, is that these are still the only areas in which we are definitively and inarguably seen to have authority on the subject?
The truth is, when it comes to writing and having an opinion, we’re still only publicly accepted in a very narrow range of roles. There’s The Mother: the mumsnetty blogger who starts every other sentence with “As a mother”. The Lover: the writer of confessionals about their failing lovelives or torrid sexual affairs. And The Shrew: the shrill, pseudo-rabid feminazi who probably just needs a good lay (hi).
There is, of course, another form in which woman regularly appear: that of The Muse. But of course she, by definition, is never permitted self-authorship.
I’m not saying that I don’t want to see women writing about pop and gender and feminism. That would be staggeringly hypocritical of me, and besides, they’re some of my most favourite things. But I also want to see more women writing about science, about politics, about economics, about sports, about finance, about music; about everything at all under the sun.
(Actually, I take back the sports one. I don’t want to see anyone writing about sports at all, unless it is précised by an enormous headline saying “THIS IS NOT NEWS, OR INDEED IMPORTANT IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER AT ALL TO ANYONE EVER”.)
But enough of all this moaning; I have a very important article about tits to write. We can all look forward to the inevitable response blog to this article: ‘Why is it that all women ever get to write about is women writing about women?’