When I decided to leap over the abyss of common sense and devote myself to writing, I came across the infamous “Write Like a Motherfucker” essay by Cheryl Strayed.
So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker. —Cheryl Strayed
I held onto Cheryl Strayed’s words all through college. When I needed help, I turned to my Facebook Binders group. I met women there in various stages of their careers were always willing to help with whatever question I had and to celebrate even the smallest of victories.
I feel as if being female is a super power—we have this whole community that is eager to help each other. Sometimes, it is more comfortable to promote someone else’s work than your own, or to advocate for someone else instead of yourself. Women are good at buoying each other up. All my blurbs were written by women. My editor is female and so is my publicist.
But I don’t write like a genderless motherfucker. I am aware the my work is mainly aimed towards women and nonbinary readers. I write like a woman, and I’m strong as a Mother.
My writing is inherently female, but I don’t see being female as negative. Girlish would be an entirely different book if it were written by a man. Exploring my own place in the female experience is intrinsic to my work, and not just in regards to my memoir. My essays are examinations of my life, my gender, and my sexuality. The poems I churn out with regularity every 5-6 years are also inherently female.
Andrea Fekete and I co-edited an anthology of women’s voices entitled Feminine Rising (Cynren Press, 2019) which I am incredibly proud of. In the anthology we asked women, “When has your gender made you feel powerful? When has it made you feel invisible?” The resulting collection would not exist in the same way if we were men.
I have had some wonderful male teachers and know some phenomenal male writers. I often do readings with Ken Schneck, a local author. His memoir, Seriously…What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew, and Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home have similar audiences, so it works out well.
I neither resent nor envy men. I was raised believing that my chances at life were no less than my brother’s, and even if that is not historically true, focusing on negativity doesn’t make me a happy or successful person. I’d rather invite positivity into my life.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying I’m ok with a smaller piece of the pie, or that the publishing world isn’t sexist. I have read that more women write but more men get reviewed. But I also grew up on biographies of women who ignored the supposed limitations of their gender and went on to do great things. I watched J.K. Rowling become one of the most successful writers of my generation.
Why not me? Why not you?
I have an abundance of incredibly successful female role models, and the ones I met in real life were astonishing in their kindness. That’s who I want to emulate. Men can keep their good ole boys club. I am proud of the company I keep.
Look at the Debutante Ball—all five of us started as complete strangers, yet came together to support and promote each other. In the words of my (male) SigO:
“Men would never do that. We’d stab each other in the back, but face-to-face. Which is really face-stabbing.”
Yeah, I’m happy to be publishing as a woman.
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