I am very grateful that the Feministe crew saw fit to bring me in, but I must admit to being very surprised and not feeling quite deserving. I want to deconstruct some of the patriarchal influence that had its role in shaping my reaction.
Now, I’m hardly in a position to judge the value that my writing might have to other people, because I’m coming from inside my own head. I can’t speak to what another person might find valuable; I am speaking to express my ideas, connect with the lovely blogosphere and share awareness of issues that matter to me. But I can say that I frequently worry that my writing isn’t good enough, that there’s some standard that I’m failing to meet, that I will be unmasked as the fraud I really am, who knows how I’ve lasted this long? This worry is so bad that I feel nauseous when going to see blogger friends in person.
And I’m acquainted enough with the patriarchy to see that it’s rearing its head in this thought, and that other women have this problem, too. (Well, I don’t know about the nausea, maybe that’s just me!) Irrespective of what value my writing actually has to the universe – and who can judge something like that, really? – this kind of thinking has a component of misogyny.
Women have long been told that our writing isn’t good enough, that writing is the domain of men. There’s a famous story about feminist science fiction writer Alice B. Sheldon, who wrote as James Tiptree, Jr. Before she was unmasked, one of her editors, Robert Silverberg, wrote about the rumours she was a woman: ‘It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing. I don’t think the novels of Jane Austen could have been written by a man nor the stories of Ernest Hemingway by a woman, and in the same way I believe the author of the James Tiptree stories is male.’ Not so much, mate. (Then again, people also thought Tiptree was a pseudonym for Henry Kissinger. Fun fact.) But it’s telling that Sheldon had to become a man to tell women’s stories, and it’s wonderful that in doing so she shook the science fiction establishment. And how many women besides Sheldon have written under masculine or gender-neutral pseudonyms just to get a toe in? How many Internet-based writers have been flamed because of their gender? Women’s words cannot be of value, because recording history, having ideas and being creative are surely the realms of men.
To return to the idea that one will be unmasked as not good enough after all, this is colloquially known as imposter syndrome. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a fair bit lately. Imposter syndrome is when you think you haven’t earned your place. I feel it in my friendships, – how problematic to have social ‘leagues’! – in my creative work, so many aspects of my life. On some level I know I have these friends because we care about each other, I do this work because I am talented, I have earned my place, but there’s always the idea that I didn’t earn it. I’m sure most of you know the feeling I’m talking about. It emerges from the same reason why an insult is more cutting than a compliment is affirming: we think the bad stuff must be true. We learn to approach ourselves in a warped fashion: my body isn’t good enough, I sound silly, I’m not smart enough, professional enough, lovable. From our appearances to our emotions to what we have to say.
In daily life, women’s words are seen as less than. I know I’ve stopped myself commenting on blogs many times because I thought, What could I possibly have to contribute to this conversation that anyone would find of value? I frequently silence myself, let a man go first, let him interrupt me, rather than incur wrath by continuing to speak. It’s an old habit, and one I’m trying to break. But the fear of deep booming angry voices is a hard one to overcome. I can’t think where I read this now, but I remember a story about a professor who was careful to let the women and men in his class speak equal numbers of times. There were complaints from male students that the female ones were dominating the conversation. There’s a reason for a stereotype of the irritating talkative woman. Patriarchy finds women’s voices terrifying. We use our voices to speak out against it. And the patriarchy uses its strategies of shaming and delegitimising to make us shrink our opinions and ourselves, smaller, smaller, until we fit the way it wants us to.
So, I am writing here, and the patriarchy – the kyriarchy! – had better watch out. This woman will not shut up.
- Iran and Women’s Rights by Cara February 21, 2009
- Wesleyan women’s rights activist shot and killed by Jill May 7, 2009
- Women Across the Globe Speak Out on International Women’s Day by Jill March 10, 2008
- Germaine Greer Paints a Portrait of Transphobic Feminism by Cara August 22, 2009
- Today in selling misogyny… by Chally January 21, 2010