Selene, do you have any thoughts on the article “Homme de Plume”?
“Homme de Plume: What I Learned Sending My Novel Out Under a Male Name” by Catherine Nichols may be a two year old article, but that doesn’t render it out of date or irrelevant. If anything, I find that it’s increasingly evident and irksome. My thoughts might only be a rant, but I do feel incredibly strongly about this issue.
As a gender nonconforming individual, I often wonder if it’s my place to speak on these issues; however, I have a feminine name. I have a feminine face. I have a feminine… everything. And in a way, I find myself affected by these issues because of others’ perception of me.
Nichols article rehashes, in a better way I think, Francine Prose’s “Scent of a Woman’s Ink” without the… potential for transphobia and a different, more modern take on Virginia Woolf’s plight that she discusses at length in many of her works.
Nichols tackles what it means to have your novel be addressed as “Women’s Fiction,” which is, ironically, one of the most batshit things that could have happened in history, considering that science fiction was literally created by a woman and novels were created by and for women in order to entertain themselves and were highly frowned upon for inciting so much fervor in their constituencies. The mere fact that women are being degraded and cast aside for what they’ve written when the world itself would not perceive literature in this way had it not been for women… It’s astounding the depths of ignorance from which these Academic Elites shout down their dissent.
Not only this, however, but Nichols also tackles the rampant racism in the writing industry by saying that “My name – Catherine – sounds as white and as relatively authoritative as any distinctly feminine name could, so I can only assume that changing other ethnic and class markers would have even more striking effects.” This is a huge issue in the writing community, and we all know it.
So the question is… how do we fix it?
I think this is a multi-part answer with no… well… real, clear answer.
It’s come to my attention that certain reviewers, such as the London Review of Books and the Boston Review, qualify those of nonconforming gender as men and lump these individuals into the male qualifier, cutting down on another valuable issue – queer author erasure. That’s another rant for another day. This skews data in such a way that would render any of their data compilations as inaccurate and therefore not useful to truly compare the numbers. It also takes away from those gender nonconforming people and forces them into a binary standard that they’re clearly leaving, which is simply erasure.
Women authors are being forced into using only their first initial (or using a masculine pseudonym) in order to gain any initial traction. Authors like the C. Applegate, author of the Animorphs series, and Jo Rowling, who we all know. Why should this be necessary? Quick answer: It shouldn’t.
By first taking these accurate data readings to those who have control over these situations, we can start to turn tides. But not all of us have those types of connections. So how do we small people manage to change what seemingly is unchanging?
Challenge the canon. Challenge why people think writing by men is good when it’s really terrible. Challenge mediocre writing. Talk about it on social media. Write angry blog posts. Talk to your friends and family and immerse yourself in women’s writing. Bring a validity to it despite a system that says that these writings are the least valid. Fight back through compassion and ratings and reviews. Do book critiques. As Virginia Woolf said in “Professions for Women,”
Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in my hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered: “My dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure.” And she made as if to guide my pen. I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself, though the credit rightly belongs to some excellent ancestors of mine who left me a certain sum of money–shall we say five hundred pounds a year?–so that it was not necessary for me to depend solely on charm for my living. I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing. For, as I found, directly I put pen to paper, you cannot review even a novel without having a mind of your own, without expressing what you think to be the truth about human relations, morality, sex. And all these questions, according to the Angel of the House, cannot be dealt with freely and openly by women; they must charm, they must conciliate, they must–to put it bluntly–tell lies if they are to succeed. Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. She was always creeping back when I thought I had despatched her. Though I flatter myself that I killed her in the end, the struggle was severe; it took much time that had better have been spent upon learning Greek grammar; or in roaming the world in search of adventures. But it was a real experience; it was an experience that was bound to befall all women writers at that time. Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.