I’ve been thinking about pissed off women lately. Or, rather, I’ve been thinking about why writer-artists like to portray women as pissed off, including female writers. Are women really as angry as art and pop culture say? If so, aren’t men equally angry?
Think Gertrude (as in Hamlet’s mother, not my cat).
I started writing this on my personal blog but then I decided I would post it here. I got the most gorgeous letter today from someone who read my latest short story, “Strange Gods,” in the current issue of Black Warrior Review. In her letter, she talked about how important the story was to her and things so flattering I kind of choked a little. It was such a, I don’t know what it was, it was something to have a complete stranger I have never interacted with say, “your writing is important; your writing reached me.” She she thanked me for reminding her to fight the good fight. I have a point here that is not self-indulgent, I promise.
I receive the most correspondence about the stories I write about women, stories that are often intense and dark and intimate. Most of these letters come from women who thank me for telling these kinds of stories, for bringing a kind of testimony to certain women’s experiences and when I’m starting to lose faith in my writing, it is really humbling to hear that sort of thing. It reminds me that my stories may not reach everyone but they do reach some people and I think that’s what most of us want, to reach people, to make them feel, to make them bear witness.
There are a wide range of women’s experiences. A woman’s story is not just about violence or rape or the loss of an unborn or barely born child though, admittedly, those themes are the foundation of most of my writing. There are happier stories, painful stories, easier stories, different stories that are just as complex and necessary and important. As far as I’m concerned, any story that speaks to a woman’s experience is important. Now, please don’t misinterpret what I am saying. To affirm one kind of story is not to disaffirm another. Men’s stories are just as important but this not about that.
The fiction section of the new issue (ETA: the set of stories that indicate they’ve been guest edited by Claire Messud) of Guernica is guest-edited by Claire Messud and she offers a brief essay, Writers, Plain and Simple, to introduce her selections, all written by women. In her essay, Messud writes of how Elizabeth Bishop did not wish to be known as a woman writer and she states:
As an American writer of the early twenty-first century, I agree with her wholeheartedly. An artist’s work is in no way limited or defined by her gender. To allot space, then—such as this fiction section of Guernica—to women writers specifically is, surely, to limit and define them—us!—by an irrelevant fact of birth.