Monday, 7 December 2015

It's Time To Stop Calling Women's Writing 'Self-Indulgent'


I recently decided to start keeping a list of all the things that make me irrationally sad. 

I know, it sounds melodramatic as hell, but with an often concerning mind, I'm hoping that when I see these things written, I'll realise how ridiculous they are and get over it. And I was writing one of these silly woes today when I really thought about it, and realised that maybe it wasn't so ridiculous after all. That maybe it was something which actually is kinda sad. 

And it's about women who tell stories.

I've always been an avid reader, but recently my passion for literature has begun to fuel me more than ever, and my mind feels sharper and more refined as a result of it. On a roll, I signed up for Goodreads, so I could keep track of the books I've read, and the books I've loved, and it filled me with a swelling kind of excitement. 

Now, they say don't read your own reviews. Do they? Maybe. I don't know who they are, but if they don't say that, then they should. Because in a weird way I think we're addicted to self-destruction, hungry to hear others slate us apart and analyse our every move. 'Cause that's the only way we can see ourselves outside the gaze of our own reflection.

As they also say, we exist as a curation of the things we love. They don't say that. I even googled that one. But I'm sure someone has said something both similar and better, because I believe it a lot. I feel so fiercely proud over the things that I love and the things that move me, because they have become a part of me now. 

And so what I'm getting at, is; don't read reviews of the things you love. Because the criticism of those things will hurt as sharp as a slander of your own soul. 

Which I found out via fucking Goodreads.

I've always loved creative non-fiction, specifically the female-authored memoir, because there's nothing quite like getting into the mind and life of someone who has lived so differently to you but at the same time so similarly. One of the most magical aspects of womankind is that through a varying array of contexts and settings, we all seem to have versions of the same stories to tell. And within the walls of femininity I feel both safe to share my side, and open to accepting others' too.

Yet here, the comments on these books - from other women too - shocked and astounded me, cutting effortlessly straight through to my heart. Because here I found the same words cropping up in the countless one-star reviews of books that mean everything to me; self-indulgent, clichéd, insignificant, egocentric, melodramatic, selfish, whiny, immature, self-pitying, pathetic.

These are words that have been used to demean and demoralise women for centuries, and I was in shock to see them used so harshly and so brutishly as a synonym for what I would just call... honesty. I just could not and can not fathom how these women can be so unforgiving.

The books I saw criticised here both follow a similar format, the conflict, rock bottom, experience, self-discovery, growth, resolution kind. The happy ending memoir that takes a hell of a lot of pain, catharsis and eyebrow-raising behaviour to get to there.   

And that's precisely why, in my eyes anyway, they're so powerful. Because even in all their imperfections, they are perfect.

Literature is the most immersive form of human art imaginable, the closest thing we have to actually living someone else's life. And in these memoirs, these women are raw, shameless, flawed and problematic, but they are unapologetic and empowered, they wear their vulnerabilities like a badge of honour and they brazenly admit the full truth of just how much they fucked up. It's an immortal testament to the power of the woman in it's rawest form.

And, to put it bluntly, I'm just not down for slagging that off.

I read a great article about creative non-fiction recently, and it suggested the message and the purpose of the memoir is because, 'The world needs true stories.' which I thought hit the nail on the head. Good things that happen in fiction are entertainment. Good things that happen in non-fiction are hope.

The main difference between the two is that protagonists are created to be liked, and fictional characters are formulated to fit the story, but the narrator of a memoir is simply wild. They are unpredictable, irrational, foolish and brutally human. Even the shit they say that pisses me off and I hate, I love. And the only thing self-righteous and egocentric here would be a reader who doesn't find being a mess, by all accounts, relatable as fuck. 

These stories are so remarkable because they are essentially irrelevant, because they're self-obsessed, because they 'could happen to anyone so I don't know why SHE of all people got a book deal for it'.

 I want to read my story. I want to say 'shit! that happened to me too'. I want to see myself in print, looking back up at me in all her faults and misgivings, to know that I'm not alone. To watch her grow steadily from the the ink on paper and know that one day I'll be able to grow too. To know that just because her story is generic, it doesn't mean that it's not important.

They say that every person has at least one good book in them. (I'm just rolling with it now.) 

And you know, maybe we'd all be more empathetic, more understanding and more connected, if we too each wrote a shitty self-indulgent memoir that was so remarkable, simply because it wasn't. 

'Cause no-one does human like you, just like nobody does it like her. And that's all the excuse needed to deserve being heard.


16 comments :

  1. *wince* Ouch. Memories of me, 19-through-22 are starting to come back. I used to think I was a more mature person on Goodreads and that I wrote thoughtful reviews, but that wasn't always the case. Then again, the community wasn't the same a few years before as it is now.

    But you make a good point. Too often, women's writing has been put down as self-indulgent. Even if a certain book rubs a reviewer the wrong way, there's a better way to say it than to fall back on the easy language.

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    1. I know what it mean, it just seems cheap to me to go for something as 'self-indulgent', there's a reason it got published in the first place! x

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  2. I haven't really read many women's memoirs to-date but actually I can understand what you've said here even just in relation to reviews I've read of books with female protagonists. One example I can think of was Rachel from 'The Girl on the Train'. Goodreads fucking hated that character. I personally think it was because she was a bit too honest, a bit too real, it made people uncomfortable, and they didn't like it.

    I was actually shocked to see how differently I'd interpreted the character from how others did on Goodreads. I saw a woman who was the victim of a manipulator and narcissistic emotional abuse, who struggled with addiction and mental illness, trying to cope without any sort of support network. For me, in the end, it was a story of triumph. Yet on Goodreads I've seen her described as "pathetic" (x100000), "a hot mess", "whiny" , and "annoying". I do wonder how much that has to do with her being female, as I think as a society we're quick to judge and criticise women for displaying certain kinds of emotions, like anger or sadness, frustration, or desperation; when in men they seem to simply be understood, glorified or romanticised. In any case it does seem as though readers aren't as sympathetic towards female characters and narrators, and it sucks.

    Beth | Alphabeth

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    1. That book is on my to-read list! Yeah, I feel like we've grown to *have* to put up with the shit that men do, yet when a woman does something we ain't keen on we come down on her (or her creator if she's fictional) like a sack of shit because 'she's broken and should be fixed' or whatever. It's real life goddamn it! x

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  3. I actually use goodreads but tend to stick to fictional stories and now I feel even more compelled to get stuck into non fiction! xxx

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    1. I massively recommend it Jess, they're so inspiring! I'm so obsessed, my Amazon wishlist rn is insane haha x

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  4. You're making me want to grab all the memoirs I can right now; they're my favourite kind of book too! And damnit, I couldn't have explained why better than you just did. Every word.

    It's shocking to hear about those comments; perhaps they've missed the point. Do the same comments appear for male memoirs/autobiogs? Probably not.

    Anna
    http://thecornishlife.co.uk

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    1. Thank you so much for reading Anna! Absolutely adore memoirs, but every single one seems to be followed with these negative comments ripping the narrator apart but... how can they be wrong if it's there own book?! x

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  5. On the other hand, reading 1 star Goodreads reviews of books you hate will make you feel amazing.

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  6. Loved your thoughts on this! It's one of the things I fear most: me or my writings being called self-indulgent. On the one hand it would make me feels silly and selfish and ignorant of the world. That's why I struggle to share blog posts I write with friends and family. But on the other hand I'd be proud if someone called it that (even if it's as an insult and also because then someone would read what I write) because if it's anything else but self-indulgent, it can't be true. How can you write anything, especially about yourself if you don't truly 'get yourself' and your views? Does that make sense? I hope so.
    I loved your/their quote that we are a curation of the things we love. I'll have to write that down!

    Best wishes,
    an inspired reader.

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  7. Oh my god, I had trouble with the exact same thing, except it was fiction by a woman! I thought The Bone Season was reaaaally good and I felt 'ah shit I could never do that, that well' about how she built up a world and put information here and there till the reader got the full story. And goodreads hated it for the exact same reasons why I loved it, and really ripped it to pieces using the most exaggerated phrases. I even asked the author on tumblr how the hell they deal with it!
    And especially with non-fiction stories of journey's, I absolutely hate how authors put themselves out there, absolutely stripped, they help people through their own emotions, and the people just don't hold back explaining exactly how crap it is. It makes me want to send out a questionnaire to anybody who wants to read anything I would have written, just to check whether they can empathise or appreciate something that isn't their cup of tea. YES it makes me so angry. I'm so ready to leave behind certain words that can be thrown at anything written by a woman! Thank you xxxxxx

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