Walk like a man, write like a woman

Art by Zena el Khalil

Writing is not a neutral space; it is gendered like much everything else. You can know it in the content that women produce in flippy think pieces in Reductress, or in the genres they convene most in (home and garden, not anthology or literary criticism, poetry).

Do I write like a woman? When my words are read what kind of image comes across your mind’s eye? In mine I see a hapless young woman who’s been sat down too long. To write from self-doubt, the desire for self-effacement, or a paranoia, speak in non sequitur, and fail to arrive at a conclusion in general, is it to write like a woman? This is the point that Virginia Woolf argues that made me double over in a placebo effect of debilitating menstrual cramps. My one private space to explain and confess, it too is not yet free.

Let’s put this into perspective. I’m going to write about my night in first as I naturally would, and then again in as much gender neutral language as I can conjure. Here we go…

Test 1: Got home a little on the early side since I’m not on the schedule for testing this week, should be a great opportunity to get some errands done, write, gather myself altogether. Maybe I should call someone, I could be in the mood for a nice long chat. It’s cold and I’m beginning to doze, could put off the laundry till tomorrow, the next day or whatever. What I’d really love right now is a lovely spiced coffee and to wrap myself in a shawl and finish watching a series. Put on some music and choose outfits for next week, too. I’m in the mood to experiment, God bless this season for its potential to build layers. It’s hard pulling off a tribal goth look in 35 degree subway steam heat. It’s not even 4 pm, I’ve got all the time for — well, one thing I have got not to do is think about the dates I’ve been on this week. Save that complicated stuff for swimming, when the water is beating against my eardrums and I can think and stroke, think and stroke, long pulls and countless motored kicks. Killing it with the outfit choices here, this Touareg music has my creative juices going, I should strike the journal now while it’s hot, while the perfect concoction of starlight is alighting on my muse. My muse would be a beautiful, tall, strong, ethnically ambiguous, richly accented, Afro haired woman with wild eyes and giving limbs. Her name would be something simple but unconventionally spelled, like Merene or Arzu.

Test 2: Got home earlier since I’m not testing this week; this is a great opportunity to get some work done, write, gather my thoughts and plan. I could call someone if I want, its a good time to catch up. It’s cold and I’m beginning to doze, I’ll do laundry some other time. A spiced coffee would be great right now, and I’ll put on my shawl and finish watching a series. Put on some music and coordinate my clothes for next week, too. Bet I could make something new of my loads of clothes, this season actually has the potential to build layers. Not sure I could wear so much black and lengths of fabric in 35 degree heat down in the subway. It’s not even 4 pm, I’ve got time for many things, so many things which do not include thinking about dating. I will save that for swimming, when the water is in my ears and I can think and stroke, think and stroke and breathe. This ambient North African beat is good, I like what it’s inspiring me to choose out of my closet. I should write in my journal while I’m flexible to the idea. If I had a spirit animal that could help me channel my inspiration, she would be a beautiful, athletic, exotic but hard to place Afro woman with some kind of accent and glinty eyes.

So we find that it’s true, I do appear as scattered and feminized as I naturally sound. If I wrote like in test 2 would you be so sure I was who I am? Along with the intellectual constriction, gone would be the sidebars of conscience. Gone would I be.

Good Muslim Bad Woman?

I listened to the Good Muslim Bad Muslim podcast, and really enjoyed the things I was hearing through my ear holes. I connect greatly to Taz when she said she notices microaggressions everywhere daily. I can’t type out how difficult it is to reconcile broken identities as a creative Muslim second generation woman of color. If we apply the Virginia Woolf test here then maybe that podcast would never exist, and the enormously talented hostesses would have no legs to stand on. Of course, they would be criticized for not presenting enough feminine perspective, for being bad at being Muslim women.

So it follows that to accept women writers we cannot de-feminize them, we can’t separate the consciousness out of their work. We have to analyze the structures instituted in their ways of seeing, and criticize those, not the woman. The veil of the mind, as Sadaawi says.

And in order to fulfill the broader quest to reclaim the feminine, we too need muses, male muses. Why do only men get to seek creative partners where women are just left to alone to think our own up? No wonder the muse is a sexualized, mythological creature of fantasy.

I think about why men say that women’s writing is pigeonholing what should be a free art, like we’re littering the free space of writing with femarchist zines and flypaper. I was thinking about this while looking through the Turban and Beard movement on Instagram, and how their reclamation of religion and masculine identity is so welcomed. Reclaiming terms is not pigeonholing. And further, who cares about categorical thinking when identifying yourself helps shape your perceptions and those of others toward you? To be a woman writer should not preclude your womanly ways of thinking because without it we aren’t we, we aren’t free.

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