Friday, March 20, 2009

I want to write this post without appearing to be vain in drawing your attention to a nice thing said about me, but the nice thing is relevant!

Jenn Ashworth
was interviewed at Dogmatika
part of the interview is reproduced below:
AK: There are some fantastic female writers of the Offbeat Generation, Emily McPhillips, Sally Cook… Do you feel female writers are overlooked in the underground writing scene or on an equal footing with the lads?

JA: Sally Cook and Emily McPhillips and Sara Crowley and Emma Lannie are doing sparkling, vivid, original work and although they are hardly overlooked, I do think there should be more of a fuss made over them. I can’t speak for them, but I wonder if this lack of online attention is about gender, or if it’s about our unwillingness to get into that kind of ’scene’, a scene that is very incestuous and doesn’t quite represent what we do.

The definition of ‘offbeat’ is becoming narrower and I wonder if as readers and writers we are growing up and if it might be time for something else now. I don’t know what that something else is going to be, but I think the women we’ve mentioned are among the writers who are going to be doing it.


Now obviously I am enormously chuffed that she has said such kind things about my writing, but also I am fascinated by her response in general. I wonder what you think? Is there a boys club? I have been musing about this since I first read the interview, a week ago I think. The problem is that the whole world I live in is a bit of a boys club. When younger I thought all was equal and would remain so. I am entirely comfortable calling myself a feminist, despite the negative connotations some people add to that label. I have always had many male friends, they would not feel that I am inferior, or I that they are superior. The world that surrounds me though, that is different in many ways. It can be subtle, it can be blazingly obvious, but especially since becoming a mother it has been ever more clear to me.

Last Saturday I went for a drink after work with a female friend. We sat in a pub in Brighton, and at a nearby table three men yelled and swore and pushed and rowed with each other. A couple of tables away three men I work with were sitting drinking beers. Their presence comforted me, I wasn't worried by the rowdy guys, if they had bothered me I knew my work mates would have helped me. I was with neither group of men, but still, them being there meant something to me, one a threat, one a protection. I left earlyish as I don't like to brave a late train back from Brighton, so at nine thirty I got on a train. Two drunk guys sat in front of me, one wanted to be sick and I was concerned he was going to puke on me. Across from them sat a muttering older guy. A young bloke got on and stood despite there being plenty of available seats, and he stared at me, making me feel nervous. There was no direct threat, but I felt uneasy all the way to my station. When I got off the train I went to the cab office. Five guys sat inside the small cabin and made jokes about who the lucky one to take me home would be. I smiled, uncomfortably. The man whose car I got in started revving his engine and told me he was going to give me a smooth, fast ride. He then started ranting about the police and told me how his friend had punched one. I got home and felt utter relief at closing the door.

Sometimes when I go for drinks with male friends I become suddenly aware that I am the audience, they like me when I appreciate how clever they are, how funny. Sometimes I am "one of the lads", and that is meant as a compliment. I don't want to be one of the lads though, I want to be me, I want to be one of the humans. It's not all men, it's not all the time, but it is what surrounds.

What this has to do with writing is debatable, but I think that online can be a bit like being in the pub, sometimes women are included and at other times shown off to, flirted with, sometimes women are protected, and sometimes, sadly, bullied. Women only things like The Orange Prize and Mslexia magazine are derided, the assumption being that females need a separate competition or whatever because they are not good enough to compete with men. Many women agree with that too. I have no conclusion, this is more a wondering, meandering thought that could change at any moment! I'd love to hear yours.

7 comments:

Kirsty said...

Yay Sara!!

Kirsty said...

I think you raise some really interesting points. Firstly, it sounds like you had a bit of a beastly evening (being with your friend excluded) and I completely sympathise. The thing that strikes me about the blokes you encountered, especially in the taxi office, is the casual sexism. I'm sure those men wouldn't even consider for a nanosecond that they were being sexist, and THAT'S the sad thing. It comes down to you "not having a sense of humour" if you don't like it, or "being easy" if you play along. Women just can't win.

Interesting that you talk about women being marginalized and bullied online as I've just read two blogposts about it elsewhere:

First this from SXSW via AlphaMummy http://timesonline.typepad.com/alphamummy/2009/03/women-bloggers.html

And this from feminist journalist Cath Elliott http://toomuchtosayformyself.wordpress.com/2009/03/16/the-blokeosphere/

I know this isn't specifically to do with the kind of writing you do (which I love, BTW) but the questions you raise definitely have a place within the wider feminist debate.

Kirsty x

Nik's Blog said...

V cool. And she's not wrong...!

Nik

Douglas Bruton said...

I think if I was in the pub you first described, that I too would feel the threat and the protection... so it's not a woman thing here...

As for the taxi drivers... Well... I am a teacher and I battle this kind of 'ingrained' sexism all the time ... not with my peers but with the pupils - both the boys and the girls!!!

Do I think it is a man's world as your picture seems to paint... No, I don't. Do I think it is a perfect world... No I don't. But there is good and bad on both sides.

As a woman you might feel threatened... but don't think for a minute that the world isn't without its traps for the male of the species... and he doesn't know yet the role he has to play now that the goal posts have shifted... heck it isn't even football anymore... he isn't sure any more if shorts are required and shin pads and studs on the boots.

As to men's and women's clubs for writing... the Booker and the other long-established comps are in principle at least open comps and not men-only places. I don't think I know of any men-only comps. To have a women's only club seems to me to be a backward step... like having your cake and eating it too... maybe this kind of positive discrimination is required... but it makes me uneasy. All about us we see a dismantling of the cultural sexism... and men having to let women in. And yet there is a cheering on of 'women only comps'. Does that feel right to you?

I think a more positive view of the world is all that is needed. It's not perfect... but it's pretty good and it's getting better.

No?

D

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Dunno much about blokes. I guess I'll know more about them by the time I die.

But the writing thing is interesting. How many 'coolio' ezines do you find with male eds, and how many with female? What is the male/female split as far as the chosen contributors are concrned?

I think we know, dont we?

and a question:

How much of what you are doing is a question of the voice that is Sara's? It's unique. But you also write very well, from what Ive seen. Unlike (if I may say) a huge number of the contributors to these so called coolio ezines.

I didnt really get what the nice comments were actually meant to mean, really.

Jasmin said...

Interesting subject, Sara, I would like to add a few of my thoughts, even though they might not be coherent enough.

A few years ago I joint this writing group, people were nice,intelligent and supported each other with good constructive criticsm. We were mostly women,but there was this one bloke who turned up regulary and always read one of his stories. After a while I noticed that he always made sure that he could read (there wasn't enough time for everybody reading) and very often he would leave shortly afterwards with a mumbled excuse. When I talked to the other women about it, they mainly said that they didn't mind because it was good to hear stories from a "male angle". So I chose to talk to the guy alone after one meeting and told him that I found his behaviour really disrespectful and offensive, because he used us an audience but wasn't prepared to give anything back. He was really surprised and it was obvious that he never really thought about the way he acted.
So, what's worse, the bloke who behaves arrogant and thoughtless or the women who let him get away with it?

I was always a girls' girl and I am sincerely thankful to have some wonderful, intelligent, talented and passionate women in my life. But outside this "safe circle" I often find that women lack a sense of solidarity and rather see a man get the "top job" than another woman.
And I think they have to show more self-confidence in fighting the daily sexism. I know that in a train compartement full of sleazy drunken blokes it could be dangerous and it's not worth the risk, but how often do women ignore sexist remarks in perfectly risk-free situations because they do not want to spoil the "fun".

But I also think that there are enough good guys out there who respect women and what they do. Women just need to find and to be/live/work together with them and we all win, women and men.

Jenn said...

Hi Sara

I'm still not sure if this uneveness that I see sometimes is because of men excluding women, or women refusing to get involved. There are certainly very high profile online lit mags that I've never submitted to because I don't like the way they are so obviously an in-crowd, but there are also magazines I have submitted to and been rejected - and I'm sure that is to do with my writing not being right for them rather than me being a woman. It is a conundrum.

One of the points mentioned was solidarity - I think that is so important - to be supportive, without also creating a 'girls' club - because I really don't think there's anything fundementally different about a woman's writing when compared to a man's.

Perhaps its just that two or three of the high=profile sucessess of the offbeats have been men - and they have all their hundreds of imitators, that also get their slice of the pie. I think we must be original, and the really original online writing that I'm seeing is being done by women, who aren't imitating the men who've already got mainstream success.

I'm not sure though. Just chucking ideas about, as usual. Thanks for this link and kicking off an interesting discussion. We should do more with this.

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