A woman must be either wholly invisible or public property

Victoria Smith aka Glosswitch asks how much of themselves writers should reveal.

If you are male, it doesn’t really matter. You are the default human being and all experiences about which you write – regardless of whether or not you have actually had them – will be universal.

If you are female it is more complicated. Reveal too much about yourself and you are not a real writer at all, just an over-sharer, wallowing in the petty specifics of a non-male life. Don’t reveal enough and you are suspect, manipulative, a tease. Either way you can’t win.

Elena Ferrante avoided that bind by writing pseudonymously.

Unlike female authors who use male pen names, she was still identifiable as a woman – but as a woman who could only be judged by her works, not her background, her appearance or her personal life.

Well, how dare she, right? That certainly seems to have been Claudio Gatti’s view of the matter.

When a male author tells half-truths or plays with facts we don’t call this ‘lying’; we call it ‘being postmodern’ and consider it very clever indeed. When a woman does the same, cleverness suddenly becomes deviousness. If she was never prepared to give us the whole story, then she should not have told us anything at all. Gatti describes Ferrante as “the very first person to violate Elena Ferrante’s privacy.” It is an absurd statement to make, rooted in the belief that a woman must be either wholly invisible or public property.

And the belief that if she fails to be wholly invisible, other people get to force her to be public property, no matter how explicit and clear she is that she refuses.

The same male entitlement leads to women being told that if they don’t like abuse on social media, they should deactivate; if they don’t like being victims of revenge porn, they shouldn’t take photos of themselves; if they don’t like having their body ridiculed on the cover of Closer, they shouldn’t do anything that could remotely lead to them being considered famous. It is a way of controlling women by limiting the space they will dare to claim for themselves.

It’s so habitual and pervasive, this habit of treating women as public property, that I often despair of our ability ever to break it. The ice caps will melt long before we get anywhere close.

A female writer should not have to struggle through all this and then, once she has produced something amazing, have to contend with male journalists telling her what else it is their ‘right’ to know.

A female writer should not have to be public property against her will.

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