Being a Modern Female Writer
Even though I’ve been writing stories since I could hold a pencil, I have always struggled with calling myself a writer. It never felt like something I could do. Growing up, a majority of the books written by female authors didn’t appeal to me: I enjoyed things like The Princess Diaries and anything Jaqueline Wilson churned out for a while, but I quickly felt like I had outgrown the chick-lit romance-centred stories. That left me twelve years old and an avid reader, falling into genres saturated by male writers like C.S. Lewis, Phillip Pullman and Terry Pratchett and I internalised a gender divide without even knowing it. As far as I knew, women wrote books about fairy princesses, sexy vampires or long-lost soulmates and men wrote the exciting, brazen adventure novels filled with magic and mystery. My stories had always been about spooky houses on hilltops or adventures in peculiar forests; I didn’t write romance or royal fantasy, so I couldn’t be a ‘writer’.
Without knowing it I was part of the problem, actively avoiding reading female writers for fear of falling into another romance trap and groaning at the thought of having to read Pride and Prejudice. But without studying literature for as long as I have, I don’t know if I would have been able to call myself a writer. Investigating the intricacies of literary movements and uncovering the cogs in the machine beneath the star-studded names of the canon feels like a brazen adventure in itself. The roots of the Romantic movement are found in poets like Charlotte Turner Smith, but despite having studied the Romantics over and over again, I’d not heard of her until last year. We all know about Mary Shelley bringing the Gothic to life with Frankenstein, but deeper inspection reveals scholars doing their best to attribute the bulk of the work to Percy Bysshe. The achievements of women in the literary world have been consistently undermined, and we need to learn these stories and use them to incite change. This is where the modern female writer comes in.
In our current political climate, feminism seems to be having a strong resurgence and solidarity amongst women is stronger than ever. Social media has been the spark igniting movement upon feminist movement, particularly with Time’s Up and Me Too campaigns giving women the platform to speak out against sexual violence. Since its release in October, the anthology of essays Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and other lies) has already become a staple on bookshelves around the U.K., along with other incredible women-led projects. This has helped me to realise that not only can I brand myself a writer without writing romance, but I can write about things that motivate and inspire me. We need women to write fiction so that young girls can pick up a book and recognise themselves in the characters. We need women in the film industry; statistics have shown that in 2016, 86.2% of movies in the U.S. were written by men, leaving only 13.8% by women. We need women to write opinion pieces and essays so that they are involved in the never-ending political buzz. It’s not all bad: the Man Booker Prize shortlist this year was two-thirds women and the publishing industry is consistently dominated by women. It isn’t perfect – it still lacks diversity and is overrun by the white middle-class, but it’s a start. We make up half the population and are entitled to the same level of representation.
I was once cautious to call myself a feminist for fear of being mocked, and I was cautious to call myself a writer for fear of being told I was ‘doing it wrong’. The last few years I’ve been lucky enough to watch empowered women empower other women, learn about the astonishing writers who have forged a path for us today and laugh, cry and share stories with female friends and realise that in some ways, we have all felt the same over the years. Being a female writer is powerful, important, and necessary. We may have to shout a little louder, but it’s time for us to be heard.
by Maisie Prudames