Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Room

The type of freedom I think most often of is the freedom to write. And I think I do it because when I was in college, being fed a diet of Charlotte Bronte and Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen, I realised just how precious that freedom is. How amazing.

Not only am I free, as a woman, to write, but I'm also free to write about sex.

That fact seems remarkable to me, sometimes. I mean, 150 years ago, women barely wrote. And if they did write anything, most people got sniffy about it. And if they didn't get sniffy about it, it's only because they thought the woman in question was actually some bloke called Currer Bell.

And even then they probably had some snide remarks to make about how often the book in question talked about curtains and dresses, and how that undoubtedly meant that Mr Bell had received a lot of input from his wife while writing the book.

Which is kind of familiar still, even today - oh of course women write about that romance nonsense, and about hair and shoes and things - but hell. It's better than the era Woolf was writing in, where women weren't even allowed rooms.

Though sometimes I think a bit of that remains, too. Not a lot. Just a little. I mean, I hear so many of my author friends talking about it - that lack of space they've been permitted, to pursue writing. There's always the kids they've got to look after, or the dinner they've got to cook, or the house they've got to clean, or the errands they've got to run.

As though their dreams, wants, hobbies, desires are so much less than the man of the house and his needs. I mean, I'm fairly certain that in most of these households the husband gets to come home and watch TV for five hours, or go out on weekends to play golf. And I doubt he feels guilty about any of this stuff. Why should he? Everybody Loves Raymond says that's perfectly acceptable and normal behaviour.

But I don't think a lot of women see "right, I'm going to go work on my novel for five hours" as perfectly acceptable and normal behaviour. Even the most liberated, the most free, the most modern of all of us seems to think that going to write is something they've been "allowed" to do.

And it doesn't appear to matter, either, if the women in question is earning a buttload of money from this career. It's not a career. It's a vice we're indulging. A hobby. Less than a hobby, in fact, because golf's a hobby and most men still seem to be given more time to pursue it than women are given time to write.

Even I feel a twinge, I have to say. I'm extremely fortunate - I get a lot of time to write, and my husband never questions it - but I still sometimes think: I should be doing more than this. I should be doing something less "frivolous".

Which I suppose stems not only from the fact that I'm a woman, but also from the idea of writing in general. It's just your thoughts on a page, after all. Who cares about that? How self-indulgent, etc etc.

But whenever I do feel that way I try to remember Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf. Everything stood in their way. Society's expectations and prejudices. Their own feelings on the matter. Publishers who would never want them just because they were female. Their families.

And yet they did it anyway. They had a kind of freedom: the freedom to just fookin' do it anyway. And they paved the way for you and me, so I'm not going to squander that with excuses.

This is my room, and I'm going to write in it.


  1. Yep. Agree with everything you've said.

  2. "This is my room and I'm going to write in it." Sounds like a solid manifesto to me.

    You might enjoy Joanna Russ' "How To Supress Women's Writing" http://www.amazon.com/Suppress-Womens-Writing-Joanna-Russ/dp/0292724454

    You may not learn anything new but the humour makes it worth the read

  3. Amen. My husband's office takes up a lotta space in our tiny house, and my little desk in the bedroom very little. Then again, I rule the kitchen with an iron fist.

    I'm very fortunate that my husband supports my need and right to write. I hear what some other female authors go through- only being allowed to write in the wee hours of the morning when everyone's gone to sleep- and I realize how good I've got it.

  4. Amen! You've said a lot in a brief space, Charlotte. (And BTW, being in a lesbian marriage doesn't eliminate female writer's guilt, even though I once thought it would. Someone has to cook, clean & run errands. Not doing it means expecting your spouse to do it, or munching leftovers in squalor.)

  5. Kathleen- Thanks!

    Mike- ooh, thanks for the rec, Mike! Have put it on my wishlist (it's out of stock on Amazon at the moment).

    Daisy- Have you ever been on Romance Divas? The stuff I've read there about the struggles some women go through...it's just horrendous. And then you've got idiots like VS Naipaul still talking about how shit women writers are...

    Jean- Excellent point! It's not just about the mens. It's a general thing to do with writing, I think.

  6. My husband is amazingly supportive of my writing habit. But I still have problems doing it. I often say "Wife. Mom. Housekeeper. Healthy Eater. Friend. Writer." Pick Three.

  7. Oh YEAH. You're so right, Charlotte! I don't have kids. I have a husband who supports my writing. I have a part time maid, for heck's sake, to do the heavy lifting on housework! Yet I still feel as though I have to get my job responsibilities, household financial management, social communications and the other things that are part of my contract in the relationship done, before I can settle down to write.

    Thank you! This is a perfect post on this week's theme.

  8. Lynn- Yeah, exactly!

    Lisabet- aww, am glad you liked it! I never know what posts people are going to respond to. Am glad this one worked!