Thursday, August 1, 2013

Write like a man: keeping my voice and maintaining my identity as a woman without sounding like a giant vagina.

Someone recently asked me “You write like a man. If I didn’t see your name, I’d never know you were a woman.” The statement was meant and I took it as a complement, but it begged quite a few questions. Why is that a complement? If being a woman writer who works outside of ‘typical’ female dominated genres puts you at a disadvantage, why not choose a gender neutral pseudonym?  Will the fact that I’m a woman overshadow the story I’m trying to tell? Do I have a responsibility to challenge the common conception of female writers just because my voice is considered a little atypical? Does having a strong voice mean I have to eschew or embrace my womanhood? Do I really give a shit what people say?

 L. Anna Lenz is not my real name, its Lisa Fox; a name that is so ingrained into my identity that I have chosen to keep over my husbands, but an established author with the same name prompted me to create a pen name using my husband’s last name (the decision which will forever be known as ‘the great compromise’ in our household).  The rest came about because I thought it sounded pretty. The fact that it was overtly feminine was inconsequential to me at the time.  I don’t want to trick people. “Oh you thought I was a man! Well….BAM! I got a vagina. How do you like me now?”  I don’t hide my true voice behind a masculine curtain to gain legitimacy or acceptance. Although, part of me is a little less confident that this is the greatest idea if I ever intend to pay the bills with my writing, I write who I be.

Write like a man! That phrase appeals to me and stirs up emotions of masculinity, toughness, grit- angry, steel balls of power. There is a stigma about women writers; that they are, I don’t want to say emotional because some of the most iconic stories written by men are gut wrenchingly emotional, but there is a perspective difference that is commonly associated with the stereotype of the sensitive feminine that appears in the voices of women writers. Those voices can be soft, warm and inviting or cold, strong and defiant, but all can still be inherently feminine.  I still wonder if there is anything wrong with that as we strive for equal footing in society, but don’t want to lose parts of ourselves in the process. I would be lying if I said being a woman doesn’t affect the way I write. Being a woman has been such a defining factor of what has shaped me as a person, but it isn’t the sole thing that defines me.

Although as an artist and a writer, I enjoy poking at the foundations of the pillars of our society, I don’t want to go into this thinking my work has any social responsibility whatsoever. I don’t believe that any one work of art should carry the burden of needing to uphold or destroy societal constructs in order to be “effective” art. Attaching that much weight to my stories would be detrimental to the entirety of the piece and would overshadow all of the other themes I want to express.

I wonder my voice is perceived as being more masculine because I paint my words with violence. All of my characters are shaped through violence, whether it is directed at them or through the violent acts they commit themselves.  I don’t know why but I’d love to hear people’s opinions. It is a creative and destructive force that has always fascinated me. Having experienced violence both on the giving and receiving end, how it is perceived differently between the sexes intrigues me. It is acceptable (in the sense that the core concept doesn’t blow our minds) for a man to express power dynamics, sexuality and internal turmoil through violent acts and for women to absorb it.

We might shed a tear, but we won’t bat an eye when a story is told about how a young man loses his innocence through a violent act that he has committed. A girl will rarely lose her innocence through a direct action of her own, usually it is by someone or something that happens to her. For a woman to express herself through violence it is often always perceived as an act of self-defense (or a direct, mostly emotional response to violent acts committed against her) a mental illness, or as a sign of being somehow unfeminine.

Girls can be angry. Women can rage, hate and spite just as well as any man. I was always felt more comfortable putting my fist through a plate glass window than writing my feelings down in a flowery journal, but I rarely did. Maybe it’s because girls are trained at a very young age to accept our place, to be comfortable being uncomfortable and not violently change our world to suit us.  It did help me become a better writer, but I wonder if that is why I want to strut my lady bits with pride.  Every bloody fist, every pretty dress, every time I powder my nose and every time I don’t want to cuddle after sex, all parts of me are feminine because I am a woman. I am proud of the dark, gritty, guttural epic I’ve written, and I like my pretty feminine pseudonym. If you don’t well, suck my giant invisible dick.