"And it’s a powerful thing, the learnt reflex to look at a woman and see someone who is by definition unaccomplished, a novice; someone’s disciple, companion, muse; someone with no power or expertise of her own."
The longer I move in the circles that I do, the more stories I hear whose kernel is the attitude encapsulated in that paragraph above. A man... is born knowing his craft, apparently. Even when he is bad, he is by definition somehow, better than any other poor fool who does not share that gender. It is just THAT easy to dismiss a woman at a gathering like this as a lackey, an assistant, a secretary, a junior editor who's been allowed out of the office/schoolroom as a treat for the child (as it were). That, or the "disciple... companion... muse" mentioned above. A man is born knowing his craft; a woman is incapable of ever transcending a certain level of foothills, as it were, because it is not for her alone to breathe the rare air of the high literary mountains unless she happens to be a disciple, a companion, a muse.
*I am not a Muse*.
Or, if I have inadvertently been one to anyone at all, it is not as an ethereal damsel floating in the first pink flush of the dawn light whispering wondrous words into someone else's ear, to be claimed by someone else's mind, and pen. If I am a Muse at all, it is my own Muse, listening to my own wondrous whispers at dawn. As much as some might seek to scoff at such claims, yes, I HAVE walked those mountains without either leaning on the arm of a man for support or floating before him as a wispy spirit guide into the dizzying heights above the eternal snows.
Why is the distillate of a man's mind automatically wisdom and truth and holy writ, and of a woman's nothing more than lullabies and sweet romance and laid-down fine needlework? Why can a woman's writing not be great and powerful and wise? WHy can it not be heard, and understood, and given its due? What is it that makes men walk into literary gatherings only to have their eyes slide over (the few) women in the group as though they were not there at all, as though they were there by accident, or (worse) by *permission*? What makes my mind inferior to that housed in a body which happens to have different plumbing than my own?
Time and time again women have taken the name of a man in order to stake a claim in the literary arena. Take the Bronte sisters (who ended up being the Brothers Bell). Take George Sand. Take James TIptree Jr. And it's a known thing (pace JRR Tolkien and GRR Martin) that all too frequently a woman author who wishes to hide her gender identity will take refuge behind the shield of the initials, just like JK Rowlings did.
It's insidious, a bitter little thread in the tapestry - it's known to happen, because it needs to happen, because so few of us who have to lay claim to a feminine gender finally have the stamina to stand our ground, to stay the course, to expect that at some point in our lives and our careers we might be seen as WRITERS - and by that I mean as writers of substance, and not just dismissed as those girls who just dabble in this writing lark, who write "silly penny-dreadful romances" or "children's books". Not LITERATURE. Not ever that. Our puny little fluffy brains cannot stretch to that. Literature is defined by men, apparently, and its first commandment is that its progenitors have to be men, too.
I believe I will speak for many of my (fairer) sex when I recoil from this patronizing head-patting, gather myself up to my full and not inconsiderable height, and declare... I AM NOT A MUSE - I am nobody's muse except perhaps my own. I am a writer. In my own right. I do not need to be a man's amanuensis or inspiration in order to have my own ideas and words heard. Never MIND the battle of the genders of the actual authors - I do not believe that my WORDS are tainted by my being female, or made worse by it. And neither are those of my sisters in the pen.
We are not here to guide you anywhere, gentlemen. Find your own way up the mountain. The only thing the "girls" ask of you is not to get in our way when we try to do the same, or, worse, attempt with all of your might to tell us that the mountains are just an illusion and we should lower our eyes and look back down to the ground, as we should, enver raising our gaze from the toes of our shoes. Don't tell me where I can't go. And if you can't get there by yourself, don't expect me to lead you there and then bow out as you plant your own flag on the summit and claim it for your own.
I am not a Muse. I am a WRITER. Get out of the way.