Tara Flynn: Be careful, men, this column might make you menstruate
Broadside: As we know, it’s not possible for men to read women’s words – they float off the page and distort
When women speak on radio, all the audience hear is a high-pitched “Eeeeeeeeeeeeee”. Photograph: Thinkstock
I am a woman. Let’s get that out of the way, right off the bat. I have written two satirical books, affectionate examinations of how this funny country could do better, from writers to water to weather. So there was fodder for all kinds of questions from interviewers or potential purchasers. But guess which was the top one, the most frequent question? Go on, guess. The one I was guaranteed to hear every single time. It was this: “Is it okay for men to read it too?”
I suppose it is a bit confusing. As we know, it’s not possible for men to read women’s words. They might be the same, identically spelled words, but when women type them, they go a bit . . . is it fluffy? Anyway, it seems that to some men’s (and women’s) eyes, these words, when set down by women, float off the page and distort. So I suppose it’s a sound, practical query.
To make matters worse, the word “woman” itself was in one of my titles. I had forgotten that when you read a book with “woman” in the title, you develop breasts and start menstruating, and those are the worst things that could possibly befall a person. So unless you already have them (or would like to), steer well clear. (Exceptions to this would be if the title were something like “Sexy Woman” or “Woman’s Words: What?” or “Giant Robot Woman”. These are acceptable for all and will leave most menstrual cycles undisturbed.)
There are surprisingly few words that can be understood equally by men and women. Extensive research has yielded only “at”, “multistorey”, “lozenge”, “the” and “door”. Whereas male creatives have the luxury of all the other words, the above are the only ones in women’s work that can be perceived by all genders. So it is understandable that some might be fretful about buying that work. Who wants to read about a multistorey lozenge? Unless, of course, it is being scaled by a giant sexy robot woman.
It’s even worse when we use words aloud. When women speak on radio, it has been said that all the audience will be able to hear is a high-pitched “Eeeeeeeeeeeeee”. I don’t hear it myself, but I agree it would be very annoying and would probably lead to people missing vital information about the news and weather and suchlike. It seems the only sensible way for women to make it in radio is to smoke our way to a more pleasing, manly timbre, even if it kills us.
Regularly, I see people tweeting the same question at the Irish Times Women’s Podcast account: “Can men listen to this podcast?”
Again and again they patiently reply: “It’s by women, for everyone.” Like women’s writing. Like “female comedy”. Like – and I know this might be radical – all work.
“Woman” is not a genre. In the creative world I am most familiar with – comedy – women do political, musical, improv, physical comedy and all the other styles. Of course, gender provides a particular focus, a prism through which we experience the world, but so do race, age, geography, disability and so on.
Gender might influence the starting point of a creative process, but it does not affect the value of the result of that process. It certainly doesn’t create a force field barring other genders from enjoying it. Or does it? Oh God, maybe I don’t know about the force field because I’m already locked in. So how do I get out?
Quotas are one way to address inherent bias, and although I agree they are necessary, I wish they weren’t. When the BBC stated their intention to avoid all-male panels by including at least one woman on every show, many comedians bemoaned the fact that this would lead to cries of tokenism – “She’s only there because they have to have a bird!” And – cheep cheep – it did. And it will, until they start including more than one woman per panel the odd time. Until they have an all-female panel without any justification – a show that’s not a novelty show, or a Mother’s Day special, or called All Female Comedy Vagin-Haha. Just a comedy show with women on it. Or, as some refer to us, “people”.
When I wrote my books I had no idea it was the law that, in the unlikely event that they be bought by men, it would exclusively be as a present “for my mum”. Which is lovely, by the way, and I hope she enjoyed it. But don’t you like jokes, too? One of the books doesn’t even have the word “woman” in the title, but because I wrote it, with my breasts, it lay untouched by some of the people who might have enjoyed it most. The belittling effect of terms such as “chick-lit” lingers. But don’t worry: I know a giant sexy robot woman who can sort it out.