Gender labels, writing, and…oh, who am I?

I’ve never been fond of labels. But our world seems obsessed with them.

That’s just one of the things I can’t help thinking about when we raise the issue: “Am I a writer? Am I a female writer? What the hell am I?”

Yes, I was the third writer at the Purple Ink dinner that Donna posted about. To be fair, I walked in late to the discussion and missed much of what was talked about. But I did clearly see that my two friends have a strong differing opinion on the use of gender as a label. I can see both points of view, and I think both are equally valid. But as usual, I’ll introduce viewpoint number three. Isn’t that what we humans do? See things subjectively?

Anyway, I consider myself both a writer and a female writer. Like Margaret, I think it can be hard to step out of how I’ve been socialized as a woman to write more objectively. I’m not even sure that’s possible. Like Donna, it bothers me when people feel the need to take note of my gender when I’m doing something that isn’t gender-specific. Writing isn’t something that only one gender can do, so why make mention of it?

This becomes a much broader, much more important issue when you consider that it’s not just three ladies on a blog talking about it. A lot of fiction is sold based on gender, and it’s still the case that women are less likely to sell thrillers and men are less likely to sell romance unless they both use gender-bending pseudonyms. The gender label also caused a huge SFWA blowup earlier this year. Is it sexist when you put nearly naked ladies on a book cover, sexualizing them, while you don’t do that to the men on the cover? Um, yeah, I think it is.

Google famous science fiction writers, followed by famous female science fiction writers, and see what kind of lists you come up with. In fact, Google the most important books you should read and see how many are written by men versus women. It’s not like women don’t write books. But as Margaret noted in her post, it’s hard for women to have what Virginia Woolf called “a room of her own,” a place where she is free to be herself and to create without societal obligations that prevent her from doing so. But since women have a lot to say, isn’t it actually a great loss that we’ve inhibited women’s freedom to create and be heard for so many centuries in so many cultures? I think it is.

On the other hand, emphasizing gender even in a positive sense just calls attention to gender. “I am woman, hear me roar.” An understandable sentiment, since there are a lot of people who think women are incapable of roaring, of being great, of standing tall or however you want to interpret that lyric. But I say, let’s get to the point where we can all say, “I am ME, hear me roar.”

There’s no shame in appreciating your gender. I am glad to be female because it’s a big part of who I am as a person. But I also believe I’d be a writer no matter what gender I was born with. And I appreciate that too. I can call myself a writer. I can call myself a female writer. Both are accurate. And neither  tells you nearly enough about who I really am in all my fullness.

That’s why I prefer, bottom line, just to be called ME. There’s no other label that fits so accurately.


3 thoughts on “Gender labels, writing, and…oh, who am I?

  1. Pingback: Gender labels, writing, and…oh, who am I? | Todd DeanTodd Dean

  2. Pingback: The Us vs. Them Mentality | Drunk Catalog

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