Women Writers Taught Me To Be Brave

“Why must you call them women writers? They’re just writers!” I know, right? Totally agree. Have you ever heard anyone say “men writers?” That just sounds stupid. Well, so does “women writers.” Type “men writers” into Google sometime and you’ll find there are “x-men writers” but there are no “men writers.” For the purposes of this piece, we will be using the term “men writers” as we focus on “women writers.” Seems fair.
Hillary Boles
Hillary Boles

Why do we need to talk about women writers as opposed to just writers?

First off, there are the statistics, reports, and articles that all address the gender gap in publishing and marketing of women writers.

Secondly, it’s important because of the limitations and expectations a woman writer must combat when she brings her work to the market:

We don’t want this book, because girls don’t like books about space, and boys don’t like books about girls.

But hey, don’t jump to conclusions. This common marketplace sexism runs deep. It’s not exclusively a case of men-versus-women. This casual sexism is held as a sort of common wisdom for many professional women who wish to succeed in the current marketplace.

What’s between the speaker’s legs really doesn’t change the content here. And yes, many of the women saying these things were honestly trying to help me! If I mentioned sexism, they would say, in effect, that they agreed with me, but that trying to succeed in spite of sexism could only be done by stealth and by making a lot of concessions to it. It may be that they were RIGHT and that by talking about women writers and writing female characters, I’ve harmed my career. I certainly often worry that by talking about sexism, I will damage my reputation and saleability.

Sophie McDougall

I don’t have such concerns. My reputation and sellability are of no consequence. Unaffected by the almighty dollar, I want to talk about this marketplace sexism because it’s some regressive bullshit. I want to talk about it for personal reasons, as well. It matters to me because both men and women think I’m kidding when I say Chelsea Fagan is a legit hero of mine. WTF? A dude can have a super femme writer as a hero. Have you read Chelsea’s stuff? She’s fucking hilarious… and consistent!

I may see the sexism and the market differently because punk rock taught me not to give a fuck about things like gender. If you were good, you were good. I don’t care if you stand or sit when you pee. But punk rebellion is ultimately adolescent. You have to deepen your worldview. You can’t always say: I don’t give a fuck.

It was women writers who taught me how to be brave when one day I started to give a fuck or two. They taught me how to be defiant, while in pursuit of what matters to me. They showed me how to seek community, and find a personal space in it. They showed me how to live on my terms, in balance with others. These are super valuable lessons that men don’t really discuss as much anymore. Sometimes it feels like men gave up all talk of a community with the death of the Western.

Are men writers and women writers different? No. And, yes, they are. Both answers are true and don’t invalidate the other. On some levels of analysis they’re both humans expressing themselves: identical and indistinguishable as writers. While on other planes of interpretation they’re as different as separate languages.

Sadly, it’s still necessary that we pay attention to “women writers” as such. We have further to go before it’s common knowledge that Arundhati Roy, Clarice Lispector, Alice Walker, and my homegurl, Joan Didion, wrote/write with the same fire, cogent analysis and sensual recollection as Joyce, Hemingway or Kundera.

Presently, we have Zadie Smith laying it down. She pens sentences with the same swagger as a young Norman Mailer. (Yeah, I said that.) Only her (cocksure) conviction comes from pain lived and considered, not from bluster and bluff, and pain craftily avoided.

Every day online, I read the work of women writers that makes me laugh so hard strangers worry about me. I pore over their thoughtful meditations that deepen my understanding of the world. I consider their impassioned rants and critical essays that offer me new insights into our culture and society. I’m often surprised by how their confessions can be so cathartic for me and others, or how their humorous admissions, often of things I will never do, build community from human foibles.

I’m thinking of seven women in particular. They write about whatever they want. The horizon is their border. Each day, they get up and prove the term blogger isn’t a pejorative but a cultural role.

These seven women writers of Thought Catalog are my everyday heroes.

In no particular order:

1. Kovie Biakolo

Known for her acrobatic mind, Kovie works at dizzying heights as she performs feats of mental daring. She dissects big ticket issues like: race, sexism, gender, power, class, social justice and their intersections, all with equal ease and aplomb. Imbued with the convictions of her faith, when you read Kovie’s work it’s impossible to walk away unchanged. Whether you agree with her or not, you will be better informed for having read her words. You’ll consider angles possibly unseen. You’ll be confronted with facts and stats as she deprives you any chance to say “I didn’t know that — no one ever told me that.” Kovie tells you. She’s concerned with life first and foremost. Although she’s academic, her interest in theory is how it affects hearts and minds, bodies and souls. She tries to deny it but Kovie cares, deeply. She cares about the world, about people, about strangers, about you, about herself and about the future we create. Her unifying factor is that she cares. Kovie’s work is that rare delight of great intelligence crafted with great heart.

“For Those Who Don’t Love Loudly” by Kovie Biakolo

2. Ella Cerón

Our resident badass in running shoes. The clean, mean, green juice-drinking machine. The only person I want as my Trivial Pursuit partner – whatever version you got, homies! Attuned to the rhythms of a life well-lived, shaped by challenges met and coffee consumed, health-conscious as your coolest friend, yet mindful that it’s important to pamper oneself and reward your body with “the little things in life,” those tiny pleasures that are often the best moments life offers, Ella is an artist of living. She’s joyful and fun, self-effacing and quick to laugh or joke, yet serious and loyal as gravity. To comprehend and share her experiences, in bold and vivid colors she paints word portraits of how “who we are” is always a matter of our own creation. Ella tells stories of love and friendship that show a life in relation to another, she tells tales of her adventures in having a human body, and she dreams and celebrates silliness in ways that inspire her reader, ironically, to choose commitments. She’s as fun as a one-woman Broadway show and proof that our boldest choices usually require the most vulnerability. And don’t sleep on the fact, my homegurl’s funnier than a loud fart at a funeral.

I Don’t Like My Thighs And Other Concerns Of Having A Body by Ella Cerón

3. Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan taught me to be brave. She showed me how to be a writer who publishes online. One thing that helps, keep a certain refrain quick and at the ready, it goes a little something like this, “Oh yeah, fuck you!” You never say this, or text it, email or tweet it. But you will say it to your screen when you read some of the comments from your new anonymous critics. I like to picture Chelsea, delicate and feminine as a porcelain doll, staring at her screen and cussing like a truck driver in a bar fight. Her writing is sharp, funny, socially-conscious and tickled by the vanities of pop culture. I naturally gravitate to the rhythms of her southern sentences. I recognize the punch and bite of her humor. I still marvel at the hate she takes on for being one of the funniest people on the internet. But she never quits being exactly who she wants to be. She’s impeccably defiant. For that, she’s a hero. She says what she’s come to say, no matter what. Chelsea’s got eggs! She didn’t come here to be sullied with any bullshit or sidetracked by nonsense. She’s got life to enjoy, love to share, friends to have fun with and experiences to savor. I celebrate the paradox that is Chelsea Fagan: a true southern lady, eternally graceful and wicked as sin on a Saturday night. Plus, you have to respect she’ll make a joke like this about cats:

They are shitty, shitty animals.

Not to mention the obvious, they shit IN BOXES IN YOUR HOUSE that linger for as long as you let them until you have to personally scoop them out and throw them away, a job that I thought would be the first we’d want to get rid of in a developed country.

Why Carrie Bradshaw Is The Worst Possible Person A Woman Could Idolize by Chelsea Fagan

4. Stephanie Georgopulos

She writes essays as earnest as a mobster’s deathbed confession. Her storytelling style is as nakedly exposed as a streaker at a ballgame. Her recollections are always lyrical. They might be as reminiscent and sentimental as a Billy Joel ballad, but they also hit heavy as a power chord and have all the soul ache of Kurt Cobain’s growl and wail. Gifted with a novelist’s eye for detail and turns of phrase, her writing is socially observant and wryly funny. Steph would be your favorite friend to travel with. Like, you really want to be the one who gets to sit next to her on a road trip. Reading her work has that same level of fun and intimacy. Just like the best road trips, her writing stays with you. Later on, you still recall her funny observations, her tender words of encouragement and insights, and the shared laughter at the sweet ridiculousness of it all. Life. Whatta ya gonna do?

What You Lose When A Generation Dies by Stephanie Georgopulos

5. Brianna Wiest

An imperfect collection of stardust dressed up as a barefoot hippie, a woman who takes counsel from the moon in empty fields at night. Brianna is a piece of the universe that’s considering what it means to be a piece of the universe. To her it’s a wondrous symphony of experience. This attitude informs the eloquence of Brianna’s work. Not all writers can juggle the grandest themes with such a deft touch. Her intelligence makes it look so easy and effortless. There are no obvious signs of strain, no telling mistakes of construction. Her sentences flow smooth as chilled almond milk down a sheet of silk. This is why you overlook the fact her writing does the hardest thing there is to do – it becomes invisible. You don’t read her work as much as you hear her voice between your ears like the sound of your better self. This is Brianna’s special talent – she lines a path for you with rose petals, and then leads you to a fountain and hands you a chalice, and warmly, she asks you to take a drink and imbibe the wisdom. Then let it work its magic. She’s a rare soul. People sneer at that word: soul; as if it’s now cliché or basic. Lucky for us, Brianna doesn’t bother too much with trends. She understands that hidden in basic things are timeless joys.

Artists Don’t Make Art With Other People In Mind by Brianna Wiest

6. Rachel Hodin

I got a soft-spot for Rachel Hodin. And it’s as big as Texas. She also gets more than her fair share of haters. The Internet is hard on a smart woman. But it’s because her anti-fans don’t really get her. Not everyone understands the appeal of the finer things in life. Snails, fattened goose liver and sturgeon eggs don’t sound like anything I wanna pop in my pie-hole. I’ll trust you if you say those are delicacies – that they’re the good shit. Well, trust me. Rachel Hodin’s the good shit. Sure, she can swerve nasty but her work is always a delicacy. Her mind is casually comprehensive. Her wit is sharp as broken glass. Her delivery is often as dry as your mouth after a meal of crackers and sand. Her attitude: pure NYC bitch. She knows it. And she don’t care. You wanna know what Hodin’s secret is? She knows that you don’t know her. She can talk modern art with a gallery owner. She can talk fashion with a CSM professor. She can cite Shakespeare just to prove a point. She’ll pull out Chief Keef lyrics because – you only know that shit if you know. That’s how genius like hers works, with a certain sort of causal arrogance. She’s up there on the world stage of the internet performing with a blitheness you can’t fake. Like a single rose that’s come to life: Rachel Hodin pulls herself apart and examines pieces, she considers why such a fragrant and beautiful flower is covered with sharp thorns and is standing in shit. Just like Billy Shakespeare once told us, you can call Rachel all the names you want: she’s still a rose.

I Wish Men Would Get Their Periods And Other Dilemmas I Face Daily by Rachel Hodin

7. Chrissy Stockton

If ever a person could be formed from the essence of one word, it’s Chrissy Stockton. The word that bears the mark of her soul is: Why? This one central question can send her spelunking into the darkest caverns of the internet, down k-holes most curious folk would likely turn back from after only a few clicks. But not Chrissy Stockton. Compelled by her need for answers, like a miner seized with gold fever, she digs deep for solutions to her essential question: Why? I like to imagine that raising young Chrissy involved a lot of explaining, until finally, one day, the task of providing information was turned over to her with the phrase, “Why don’t you go look it up?” Soon enough, no one ever needed to say that again. When confronted with a question that seizes hold of her mind: she looks it up. She happily rifles through Reddit stories, hunting through that online forest of first-person confessions, and she collects the anecdotes of others, capturing the Story. She’s gifted with an old school reporter’s sense. She knows salacious like a yellow journalist. But Chrissy’s far more than an aggregator. She can blow up a philosophical argument like a mad bomber. She seems to think in paragraphs. Debates excite her. Because of her strong opinions, she endures a ton of haters, too. Although, I’d never call her hip-hop, Chrissy takes the same approach as Nas as far as her critics, “You can hate me now, but I won’t stop now.” She embraces the hate boss bitch style. She believes open discussion, even heated confrontation, can lead to clarity. And occasionally, she cracks open her rib-cage and lets the world see what an amazing heart she has. I like those pieces best of all.

When Your Life Is Better Than You Expect It To Be by Christine Stockton

We’re lucky to read the work of these tremendous writers. It’s still a pity that sites like Wikipedia need to call them “women writers.” Once upon a time, we used that term because writers who were women were rare and the exception. That’s no longer the case. Qualitatively, women writers deliver the same hard-hitting impact. Growing up on Miller and Hunter S., Kerouac and Baldwin, Robbins and Hesse, men writers taught me to be a beautiful bastard, selfish, uncompromising and lonely. Women writers taught me a different sort of code of life: they taught me defiance as one seeks community. Most importantly, these seven boss bitches taught me to be brave as them. TC mark

[Author’s Note: Apologies to the many other talented women who regularly write for Thought Catalog, there wasn’t enough stage to spotlight you all. Perhaps, we should do this again soon.]

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