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DorothyParker.jpgSo said Dorothy Parker, quoted in a recent NY Times book review of the book A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, by Elaine Showalter.

Since I myself have been told -- repeatedly and derisively -- that I write "like a man," I grimaced reading Parker's prayer.  If I were the praying type, my prayer would be: to live in a time when writing like a man was marketable!

That said, I've never been too fussed about whether I write in a gendered manner, or whether I can be classed as a "woman writer" -- a category that many of the renowned females who are the subject of A Jury of Her Peers rejected.  I understand their objections.  The task of all writers, whatever their genitalia, is to develop a voice, to write in a manner distinctive to their individual persons.  Having crafted unique voices, why should women writers be subjected to critical generalizations that lump their achievements into the denigrating sub-class of "women writers"?  And what male writer would find himself in an anthology of "Writers with Penises"?

Still, violent antipathy to being classed with one's peers bears with it a whiff of mythologizing ("I'm the most unique woman ever"), as well as self-loathing ("Don't group me with women -- contemptible").  It's also unreasonable.  "Women writers" is as legitimate a classification, and as useful a basis for comparison, as "British writers" or "Post-colonial writers" or "detective fiction authors."  Such classifications are external to the writing process, devised by critics (non-writers) to aid the understanding of readers (non-writers), and in their hierarchy of values, Stella Gibbons' vagina is more important to understanding Cold Comfort Farm than her internal process of developing an authorial voice, and the influence that P.G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh or any of the other great, male, British, comic novelists might have had on that process.    

If critics and readers find such classifications helpful, god bless, as long as they're reading.  It makes no difference to my task as a writer, which is the honing my own authorial voice.  In the service of which task I pray: Dear God, please make me stop writing like an unpublished author.

(Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe.)

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