This was not written by a woman

I’m a man. It’s difficult to think of a reason this could matter or be of any interest to you. Okay, yes, I think what you and I have is something special but you’ve never given me the idea you’re, you know, shall we say, thinking of me. Like that. Though if you were, if you ever do want me to put some shelves up, I can do it. Otherwise, I’m stumped. No reason I can conceive of that you would pay my gender any mind.

And yet, I guarantee that you read that paragraph and you knew, you knew for certain that I am a man. It will be because I actually told you I was a man and then I hit on you so you’d be sure. But apparently you didn’t need either clue, you would’ve been able to tell simply through any of my non-gender detailed and non-pronoun-using writing that you’ve ever read or I’ve ever written.

Is it male that I itch to have a topical reason to bring this up today? I think it might be a bit male that I can find a reason and that it’s got something to do with sport. I don’t say that, “something to do with sport” in an offhand way, this is really about the level of my understanding of it. But there’s this Andy Murray guy, he plays tennis, he’s hired a coach and she’s a woman. This would not have penetrated my noggin but for how a man I know mentioned it and rolled his eyes.

Two seconds before, I barely held the word tennis in my consciousness, but now I really want whoever she is to coach this fella to win whatever it is. I’m that invested.

So that’s a topical reason to mention gender. There is also last September when author and literature lecturer David Gilmour said:

“I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.”

Canadian author David Gilmour sparks furore over female writers – Liz Bury, The Guardian (27 September 2013)

There is a kneejerk reaction to this jerk who should be kneed and it’s that one just starts rattling off a list of all the women writers one admires. But on the one hand, that feels as patronising and oh-how-generous of me as this Gilmour’s allowing one Woolf story does. And on the other, come on: we’d be here forever if I started doing that.

So instead I just dwell for a moment on the age-old question: is this guy a git or what?

Only, none of this is really the reason I’m writing about it to you today. It is all a depressing reminder that there are forever stupid people in this world, but it’s not the reason. The reason is VS Naipaul.

I’m only three years late to this.

In 2011, this fella disparaged women writers and said:

“I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”

VS Naipaul finds no woman writer his literary match – not even Jane Austen – Amy Fallon, The Guardian (2 June 2011)

He is very specific.

He means it. No woman writes as well as him and it is because they are women. He talks about their sentimentality, how – I don’t really follow this bit, but – “And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too.”

I hadn’t ready any of VS Naipaul’s writing before this and there’s obviously no point now. I don’t see how I could now ever get through a paragraph without thinking “Seriously? This is supposed to be superior to every woman writer alive or dead ever? Excuse me?”

That Guardian article does the kneejerk list of superb women writers. It also quotes the Writers’ Guild as saying they wouldn’t waste their breath on Naipaul’s comments, which I like.

But I don’t think this fella thought it through.

Well, okay, of course he didn’t. But I mean, even within his own worldview, he didn’t see what this claim means.

Follow. He believes women writers are inferior because they are women. Therefore, men writers are superior because they are men. Our talent, our skill, the very heart of our lives that we strive for as writers comes down to nothing but whether anything dangles between our legs.

That means all writing is bollocks.

There’s no point striving to improve if you’re a woman, I can relax because I’m a man. Nothing to do with me or you, nothing to do with your or my talent, our efforts, our hopes.

Naturally I don’t want to conclude that writing is bollocks as I am a writer and I’m afraid there is truly nothing else I can be. So I’m going to stop a little short of thinking this, I’m going clear my head of this man and of this topic and merely reflect on how fascinating we men can be.

When we put our minds to it, we men are capable of what I really thought was impossible: we can simultaneously be pricks and arses.