Recognising women’s literary achievements through specially designated awards is not about the authors and writers or even their works, all of which can and do possess merit and worthiness. What it is about is the men and women and institutions that are blind to them. And have almost always been. Kerryn Goldsworthy has explained this better than I can, as did Alison Croggon. It is about ingrained cultural unawareness, whereby people (mostly) unconsciously ascribe less importance to achievements, deeds and words by females. It happens when I’m passed over at the bar trying to buy a drink, it has happened in workplaces and in classrooms. It may have happened or will happen when my work is sent out into the wide blue yonder to stand on its merits.
My name, which possibly is the only thing that indicates my gender in my creative work (?), maybe my downfall.
Yet I am a woman. I don’t want to be a man. I don’t think I think, walk or talk or work or write (perhaps) as a man might (?) and unlike what some may say, this is not a bad thing. And my literary interests are not curtailed by the fact I am female. I don’t want to have to pretend by taking on a different name as a writer. However, I exist in a world shaped by decisions of generations of men. Men shaped how workplaces and businesses were formed and operated; they shaped formal educational and arts practices and our laws. Thus, to be successful, I must, on some level, act ‘like a man’ because those skills and attributes deemed masculine are prized over apparently more feminine attributes. And that’s another entire argument.
Let’s take the attribute of assertiveness. Some have said women writers and critics are less assertive in pursuing opportunities than men and that is one reason for their absence. Instead of business and creative cultures recognising this and introducing strategies to alter how they hire or assess candidates and works, they demand women change. Again. For me, I am not naturally assertive. It has taken me years to recognise my abilities and to highlight them to others. But still, it is a no win, because often when women are assertive, they are criticised as pushy or shrill, while assertive men are praised as confident, competitive and hungry for success. This is only one attribute, but go for your life and extrapolate them to others. I admit this is very much a First World Problem, especially when women elsewhere can’t go outside by themselves, or vote or earn an independent income, but big problems elsewhere shouldn’t mean we ignore smaller ones in our own backyard.
So, what’s a creatively minded writer like me to do?
I will continue, in the hope the culture changes, and in the hope of ‘blind’ review processes. I will continue in the hope of a ‘shared language’. I will continue because I must. I have a voice that is no less valid than any writer’s, even if at the moment, it is mostly constrained to this blog.