Writing What Women Know
I heard these words often as a child. And Little Women, one of the most popular novels for girls, offers me the same moral. Jo writes sensational and imaginative tales, but the Professor, whom she comes to respect and love, doesn't think such stories are worthy of her. He essentially counsels her to write what she knows, and subsequently, she publishes a successful novel about her family.
One summer, when I was a playwright-in-residence at a regional theatre, a fellow female playwright wrote a script about a man sent to prison for committing heinous crimes, and frequently, I overheard other residents express disgust that she would pick such a "disgusting" subject. (Which begs the question: would Silence of the Lambs be disgusting if a woman wrote it?)
In a college writing class, I wrote highly romantic stories which my teacher held in contempt. He wanted me to write "reality." Thus, in order to raise my grade, I crafted a silly story about a man and woman chain-smoking and breaking-up in a café. My teacher loved it. I was writing what he thought I should know.
Are women encouraged too strongly to write solely within the realm of our experience?
In a recent post, MysticGypsy writes passionately against a notion that Emily Bronte couldn't have written Wuthering Heights if she hadn't experienced romantic love. And some scholars suggest that Frankenstein was written or heavily aided by Mary Shelley's husband, as if a woman could not possibly write such a "monstrous" story alone.
Do we link a woman's personal life too intimately with her writing?
Without a doubt, Harry Potter is a smash-hit, but statistically, male writers dominate science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction, and ever since longing for a "friendly female monster" in a previous post, I have begun to wonder...
Is this at all probable if women are directed to write what we know? And by the way, do men generally receive this same memo?