Breathing through Writing

“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.” – Anais Nin

I have been invited to participate in a panel discussion on the 29th of May. It’s a Toronto International Festival of Authors event held at the Harbourfront. The Topic is “When Women Write.”

I have been scratching my head about this one for a while now. What does it mean to be a woman writer? How does my gender influence my writing? How would my writing be different if I was male or transgender?

I lacked the courage to share my writing for the longest time, because I am a woman. I thought writing was for smart people and I pictured smart people as old and male and generally, white. And always well off, because only the well off have the time to sit back and think, but importantly, only the well off have the resources to get published.

It is hard to go down the road, and at every juncture, imagine how things would have been different had I been a boy, but I do imagine this, quite frequently. Had I been a boy, I would be more confident. This I know for sure because I come from a long line of male and female misogynists. Had I been a boy, I would have had the kind of brand name education which helps get one’s foot in the door. Had I been a man, my career would take precedence over everything else. I would not be expected to care not just for my kids, my parents, and my parents in law but to do so, without any acknowledgement. Just the day before, my mother-in-law scolded me on the phone for not calling her often enough. When I told her that I don’t call anyone anymore, including my parents and siblings, she retorted that it was my job to call and therefore, she doesn’t care who else I call or don’t call, I must call her. Of course, my own mental health is irrelevant.

I recently submitted a manuscript in which I have retold many of the tales from 1001 Nights. I replaced Aladdin with Aliya. Sinbad with Sumbul. I placed a woman at the centre of each story. I asked someone to read my manuscript and his response was to ask me what my purpose was in doing all this. To his mind, I had obviously just wasted years of my life doing something unnecessary.

It’s not even just that men are published more often than women. It’s that even when the writer is a woman, the likelihood of getting published is greater when the protagonist is male. Even female readers generally prefer reading stories about men.

Would I have been a better writer had I been a man? I have no doubt that I would have been better for I would have had a better education, more access to resources, and probably, greater mentorship opportunities.

I don’t write because I have important things to say. I write because I have no other choice. If I cease to write, I will cease to be, because I only really exist within the margins of the pages I write upon.