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Eileen Myles on being female


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http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/myles/image/myles_reading.jpg

An oldie-but-goodie from 2011, here’s Eileen Myles on being female via the Awl. Full version here.

When I think about being female I think about being loved. What I mean by that: I have a little exercise I do when I present my work or speak publicly or even write (like this). In order to build up my courage I try to imagine myself deeply loved. Because there are men whose lives I’ve avidly followed—out of admiration for their work or their “way.” Paolo Pasolini always comes to mind. I love his work, his films, his poetry, his writings on film and literature, his life, all of it, even his death. How did he do it—make such amazing work and stand up so boldly as a queer and a Marxist in a Catholic country in the face of so much (as his violent death proved) hate. I have one clear answer. He was loved. Pasolini’s mother was wild about him. We joke about this syndrome—Oh she was an Italian mother, but she could just have well been a Jewish mother, an Irish mother, an African-American one. A mother loves her son. And so does a country. And that is much to count on. So I try to conjure that for myself particularly when I’m writing or saying something that seems both vulnerable and important so I don’t have to be defending myself so hard. I try and act like its mine. The culture. That I’m its beloved son. It’s not an impossible conceit. But it’s hard. Because a woman, reflexively, often feels unloved. When I saw the recent Vida pie charts that showed how low the numbers are of female writers getting reviewed in the mainstream press I just wasn’t surprised at all though I did cringe. When you see your oldest fears reflected back at you in the hard bright light of day it doesn’t feel good. Because a woman is someone who grew up observing that a whole lot more was being imagined by everyone for her brother and the boys around her in school. If she’s a talented artist she’s told that she could probably teach art to children when she grows up and then she hears the boy who’s good in art get told by the same teacher that one day he could grow up to be a commercial artist. The adult doing the talking in these kinds of exchanges is most often female. And the woman who is still a child begins to wonder if her childhood is already gone because she has been already replaced in the future by a woman who will be teaching children like herself. And will she tell them that they too will not so much fail but vanish before their lives can even begin. These pie charts don’t surprise me. They just demonstrate that a lot of us can easily become just a few of us or even just one of us. I am mildly curious about whether the situation in book reviewing (or even publishing) was actually better for a while during and right after the 70s, the heyday of feminism, but you know I’m not that curious. That thrilling rise then dogged fall would only underline the sad fact that the increased interest in women’s writings for a decade or so was a kind of fleeting impulse, like the interest-in-incest moment, just “a thing,” not a deep cultural shift like the comprehension that slavery or human sacrifice are wrong and we just won’t ever go there again. But to have such a deep sea change in a culture and keep it you have put the reins of its institutions permanently in other hands and let them stay there. “They” would have to have become “you.” And you (whether you were male or female) would have long concluded that women’s writing is either just writing or no different than men’s or equally interesting, or even better. And that perspective would by now be so embedded in our cultural sense of self that the Times or Harpers or The New York Review of Books would no more likely to be short changing women’s books today anymore than they would pull quietly away from reviewing books written in English in order to uphold a belief that the only good work being written today is by African, South American or Icelandic authors. And think nobody would notice. Reasonable people of course would smile and insist that the NYRB be renamed The New York Review of African Books or South American Books or Icelandic. It would have to happen, the NYRB would have to own their bias eventually, what they were doing, the editor would have to issue a statement or else the publication would become a total joke. But to publish a review today that purportedly reviews “all” books yet in fact is dedicated to the project of mainly reviewing men’s without acknowledging that kind of bias sort of begs the question—the operating presumption must be that “we” “all know” that men’s writing is in fact better or more important than women’s—is the real deal and the only thing disputing this is feminism and since that’s “over” (phew) we are back to business as usual. When I say business I mean that there’s just a whole lot of money talking. That’s what’s going on. The more culturally generous moment we’re all missing (whether it ever truly happened or not) was tied to a booming economy. Men weren’t actually sharing space in the 70s and 80s—the doors just got a little wider for a while. And now that there’s less money to go around in book publishing and the surrounding media it seems like what’s getting shoved out is women. That’s what I believe is happening, don’t you. I think we can do this, right? The editor might ask his staff holding up the cover of the next great all-male issue that dare not speak its name—and his staff probably includes a few females and queers—who want to be in on “the conversation.” Who could blame them for that? Well I can. Can’t you? I mean what are we doing here after all.