Back in January, a college professor who writes for Salon wrote that she was tired of her girl students writing about boys.
Lorraine Berry teaches college (I'm not sure where -- her bio says "in the Finger Lakes," which are generally considered America's most giggle-inducing lakes) and had noted that her female students tend to submit work that reads more like breathless journaling, mostly dedicated to endless forensic detail of their breakups.
None of her boy students write about girls! They're too busy writing about exciting topics like being abused, "hunting trips with their fathers" and "the thrill of learning to race motorcycles." Go race motorcycles and hunt more, you stupid girls!
Much has been written recently about "Pink Topics," and women have been criticized for writing internally instead of invesigatively and critically. Write what you know is one thing, unless what you know is sad breakups and your body and your friends.
This article in particular on Salon is a few months old, but it has bothered me in particular because it was written by somebody who teaches writing.
Hey, XOJaners. You guys have gone to A School at some point, right? Have you ever experienced this crazy phenomenon, of a teacher who maybe favors the writing of men a little?
I mean, I don't want to be paranoid and point out a pattern or anything, because "math." But this is weirdly reflective of that thing that happened a few weeks back where no female writers were nominated for the ASME journalism award ("Zzzzzzzzz whoSME?" -- everybody) and some people said it was because women write about their feelings instead of Iraq. And motorcycles and hunting, I guess.
"I have to still my hand from writing 'WTF?' in the margins," writes Berry in the Salon post. Yes, probably don't write WTF in the margins, or ever, as you are a college professor.
She also goes on to say that she, too, wrote about her relationships back in the day so she can't judge too harshly. Except that she does. On Salon. (Girls who write about girls who write about boys who should write like they're boys. Always should be someone you really love, though right?)
Am I being a girl about this? Or is it possible that, as in the workplace, teachers are just harder on women than men? There are loads of studies on the subject, and the ASME thing is sort of a reflection of gender bias in professional and academic environments. Or something. I was on a motorcycle once, with my mom's boyfriend at the time. He had long hair and was cute. They broke up. (Oh no! See what happened there?)
It's also kind of funny given that one of the few places where female writers and journalists are making headway is in op eds, and here is a female writer who chooses to write denigrating and reductive stuff about young female writers. I can't say I see how this "do as I say, not as I did when I was your age" kind of writing is beneficial. Why not focus on the quality of the work instead of the subject matter? Or do as a writing professor of mine once did, and on the first day of class say, "No stories about suicide." (Apparently kids love to write short stories about suicide.) She could do this with a "Nobody wants to hear about your boyfriends, but I am very amenable to your motorcycle, abuse and hunting essays."
But Barry is, I suppose, writing an oped about her own personal/professional experience. I'm tempted to share my own, as a writing major who now works in writing. I should really be marginalized for being an idiot who doesn't write well, but it's usually because I have a noticeably female first name and also occasionally write about boys or sex or my perfect breasts and how they look in bathing suits (great!).
I would love to tell you all about the mostly-female playwriting and screenwriting and fiction and journalism classes and writing jobs and production offices I've been in, where the most middling contributions of The One Guy have been treated with reverence based on the fact that he's The One Guy. Man, how jealous and bitchy and female would I sound doing that.
Let's go facts and numbers, then, because they are manly and many. Fact one: writing and english and journalism are female dominated, both as majors and as professional fields. Fact two: men comprise the majority of our bylines and our subjects and our Nominations for Awards Nobody Has Heard Of. Conjecture: in writing, we tend to treat men like the youngest sons in hypothetical, highly stereotyped ethnic families. The male voice has authority by virtue of being male and special. It's why SE Hinton had to write "The Outsiders" under euphemistic initials, because people unequivocally respect the writing authority of teenage boys. Which is stupid for many reasons, mostly because: teenage boys.
I wanted to be a novelist growing up, and decided early on that I would write as "J. Smolinski" so publishers and readers would be more likely to purchase my epics, which would rely heavily on doomed romance and filthy sex. This is sad and stupid, mostly people would still know I was half Polish and the secret of me being dumb would be so out.
But I agree with some of this! Women in college should not write constantly about their breakups. There are other things to write about than boys, like, for instance, how stupid other girls are. So stupid, right?
OK, young women writers in writing classes. This is your clarion call. If your really want to change the ratio, write about hunting and motorcycles and Iraq instead of stickers, boys and watermelon body spray.