If you’re a boy writer, it’s a simple rule: you’ve gotta get used to the fact that you suck at writing women and that the worst women writer can write a better man than the best male writer can write a good woman. And it’s just the minimum. Because the thing about the sort of heteronormative masculine privilege, whether it’s in Santo Domingo, or the United States, is you grow up your entire life being told that women aren’t human beings, and that women have no independent subjectivity. And because you grow up with this, it’s this huge surprise when you go to college and realize that, “Oh, women aren’t people who does my shit and fucks me.”
And I think that this a huge challenge for boys, because they want to pretend they can write girls. Every time I’m teaching boys to write, I read their women to them, and I’m like, “Yo, you think this is good writing?” These motherfuckers attack each other over cliche lines but they won’t attack each other over these toxic representations of women that they have inherited… their sexist shorthand, they think that is observation. They think that their sexist distortions are insight. And if you’re in a writing program and you say to a guy that their characters are sexist, this guy, it’s like you said they fucking love Hitler. They will fight tooth and nail because they want to preserve this really vicious sexism in the art because that is what they have been taught.
And I think the first step is to admit that you, because of your privilege, have a very distorted sense of women’s subjectivity. And without an enormous amount of assistance, you’re not even going to get a D. I think with male writers the most that you can hope for is a D with an occasional C thrown in. Where the average women writer, when she writes men, she gets a B right off the bat, because they spent their whole life being taught that men have a subjectivity. In fact, part of the whole feminism revolution was saying, “Me too, motherfuckers.” So women come with it built in because of the society.
It’s the same way when people write about race. If you didn’t grow up being a subaltern person in the United States, you might need help writing about race. Motherfuckers are like ‘I got a black boy friend,’ and their shit sounds like Klan Fiction 101.
The most toxic formulas in our cultures are not pass down in political practice, they’re pass down in mundane narratives. It’s our fiction where the toxic virus of sexism, racism, homophobia, where it passes from one generation to the next, and the average artist will kill you before they remove those poisons. And if you want to be a good artist, it means writing, really, about the world. And when you write cliches, whether they are sexist, racist, homophobic, classist, that is a fucking cliche. And motherfuckers will kill you for their cliches about x, but they want their cliches about their race, class, queerness. They want it in there because they feel lost without it. So for me, this has always been the great challenge.
As a writer, if you’re really trying to write something new, you must figure out, with the help of a community, how can you shed these fucking received formulas. They are received. You didn’t come up with them. And why we need fellow artists is because they help us stay on track. They tell you, “You know what? You’re a bit of a fucking homophobe.” You can’t write about the world with these simplistic distortions. They are cliches. People know art, always, because they are uncomfortable. Art discomforts. The trangressiveness of art has to deal with confronting people with the real. And sexism is a way to avoid the real, avoiding the reality of women. Homophobia is to avoid the real, the reality of queerness. All these things are the way we hide from encountering the real. But art, art is just about that."
Junot Diaz speaking at Word Up Bookshop, 2012 (via clambistro)
Once at a festival I went to a discussion panel with sci-fi writers and someone asked them how they would write a pregnant character.
And all three of the male panelists said that they couldn’t, because they literally couldn’t even begin to put themselves in the position of being pregnant.
These are sci-fi writers. They make their living writing about space lizards from Mars, or alien invasions, or futuristic dystopia where everyone breathes through their fingers or whatever
Their entire function is to write unimaginable, crazy, out-there stuff. That is the whole point of their existence. And they couldn’t even try to imagine what it would be like to be pregnant. It’s seen as this inherently and totally mysterious female thing, that no man can ever even think of representing, even though as men they write things that none of them have ever or will ever experience.
It made me realise - In the world of sci-fi fiction, alien experiences are more human than women’s experiences.
So last semester in my intro fiction writing class, I called out this kid who had written the most vomitus and sexist short story, but I knew he had no idea. There is a huge void between thinking, “I didn’t write anything disrespectful about women!” (More or less what he said to me) and acknowledging “huh, I guess the female characters in this story existed purely for objectification and the perpetuation of the Mean Girl who won’t go to prom with you because someone asked her first and the Miracle Dream Girl who wanders in at the last moment and flatters every ounce of your sexist delusions about what kind of attention you deserve from women.”
Thankfully my (male) teacher, an older, married male student, and several other girls in my class joined in on this commentary, although these girls and I admitted after class that we could and should have been harsher. Thankfully, this kid will never be published. But some of the guys who didn’t mention the fact that the whole story was sexist crap? They might, or they might be working in submissions at a publishing house one day, and they won’t be looking for it.
Basically, this is the realest.
I don’t know what asshole invented the idea that teenage girls are the cause for all evil, but I really hope that person never has to raise one. I don’t want him to see her dissolve in his fingers as society tells her to eat less, be thinner, be the damsel in distress, be something for a man to fix, be different but not too different, be special but never ever a special snowflake - I don’t want him to watch as she realizes that no matter what she loves, she’ll be made fun of for it. She can simply like her coffee from Starbucks and suddenly she’s vapid and thinks herself poetic. She’ll want to play video games but be called a fake nerd, particularly if she poses in any remotely flirtatious way because for some reason despite the entire community playing games with poorly dressed women they still hate it when a real girl wears less clothing, she will be seen as trespassing in a specifically male space - but when she falls in love with a female-based television show for children, she’ll watch as men step on themselves to sexualize it. If she wants old-fashion romance she’s seen as being naive but at the same time is told to keep herself ‘pure’ for some dude that might not hurt her. If she admits to being anything, she makes herself a target. She will be told her worth is based on how much a man values her. She might love to cook but she’ll hate being asked to stay in the kitchen, she might love to read but get told she’s too introverted by half the population and ‘not that special’ by the other. If she loves to go out and party, she’s ‘just another college co-ed,’ if she loves to spend her friday nights watching anime, she’s a shut-in. God forbid she be proud of something: the words “I’m different from other girls” are a death sentence because we live in a society that doesn’t want to see women like that, a society that doesn’t like the idea maybe we all are actually different and not carbon copies of each other, maybe we all would like to feel unique and loved and worth knowing - maybe the real problem is that she will be raised to believe being a girl means silicone and photoshop and dying as a way to move forwards a plot - and she doesn’t want to be seen as that. When she says “I’m not like other girls,” she means she’s not like the girls she sees on tv, these invented two-dimensional creatures that say one line and then get chased down by monsters.
She can try all she likes. She’ll be shut down at every single fucking turn. What she doesn’t know is that they’re getting her ready for when she’s grown up because she’ll be so used to being stepped on she’ll just give up. Why respect women when you don’t even respect little girls?
And when she is burning up, when she mentions that her insides are volcanoes and her skin is too thin to contain them: she will be told she is hysterical, that she’s doing it for attention.
I don’t want him to watch as she shuts down, as she learns to live as a paradox, I don’t want him to see her rip herself to shreds in order to be perfect, I don’t want him to realize that there’s no way she’ll get help because she’s only doing what she’s told."
"You know why LGBT people have such a bad impression of Christians? It’s not because of protesters with “God hates fags” signs. We know they’re extremists. It’s because of daily being dehumanized by the Christians who lecture and preach at us, treating us as issues instead of as human beings—and because of the Christians we know who stand idly by, thinking that if they’re not actively hating us, that counts as loving us."
OK THIS THIS THIS ESPECIALLY THE LAST LINE OK
"I tell my students that when you write, you should pretend you’re writing the best letter you ever wrote to the smartest friend you have. That way, you’ll never dumb things down. You won’t have to explain things that don’t need explaining. You’ll assume an intimacy and a natural shorthand, which is good because readers are smart and don’t wish to be condescended to."
"Changing the way we talk is not political correctness run amok. It reflects an admirable willingness to acknowledge others who once were barely visible to the dominant culture, and to recognize that something that may seem innocent to you may be painful to others."
all women were bigger and stronger than you
and thought they were smarter
women were the ones who started wars
too many of your friends had been raped by women wielding giant dildos and no K-Y Jelly
the state trooper
who pulled you over on the New Jersey Turnpike
was a woman and carried a gun
the ability to menstruate
was the prerequisite for most high-paying jobs
your attractiveness to women depended
on the size of your penis
every time women saw you
they’d hoot and make jerking motions with their hands
women were always making jokes
about how ugly penises are
and how bad sperm tastes
you had to explain what’s wrong with your car
to big sweaty women with greasy hands
who stared at your crotch
in a garage where you are surrounded
by posters of naked men with hard-ons
men’s magazines featured cover photos
of 14-year-old boys with socks
tucked into the front of their jeans with articles like: “How to tell if your wife is unfaithful” or “What your doctor won’t tell you about your prostate” or “The truth about impotence”
the doctor who examined your prostate
was a woman and called you “Honey”
you had to inhale your boss’s stale cigar breath
as she insisted that sleeping with her was part of the job
you couldn’t get away because
the company dress code required
you wear shoes designed to keep you from running
And what if
after all that
women still wanted you
to love them?