Friday Five-0: Why so many women in writing classes?
Dear Friday Five-O
When I look at published writing, there is probably a roughly equal number of men and women being published, yet whenever I take a class in Grub, the class makeup is often 90% female to 10% male, and sometimes 100% female. Is there a reason why more women than men enroll in Grub writing classes?
Dear Mary –
The answer to your question is simple: More women take Grub classes because women are smarter than men. They understand, in a way that most men can’t fully grasp, just how awesome Grub Street classes are.
Well, OK. Maybe that’s not quite right. Men are, after all, pretty smart at stuff like math and grilling and starting wars. And, as you note, they publish roughly the same number of books per year as women. (Although I do actually wonder if women have the slight edge here these days, particularly in fiction…)
So, here’s my completely subjective, totally uninformed, gut instinct opinion on the two main reasons for the gender imbalance at Grub and, perhaps, many writing classes for adults. And, please note that this is based on VERY broad, absurdly sweeping generalizations. (Nevertheless, I'm sure I'll offend at least a few people out there of both genders.)
1. Women are generally more social than men. We like to gab and share and process things by talking. We form book clubs. We organize “girls’ nights out.” Hell, we even go to public restrooms together. (Again: broad generalizations here. I personally never feel the need to go to the restroom with a “buddy.”) We tend to draw our energy from other people to a greater extent than men do. Maybe it’s biological, maybe it’s societal, maybe it’s a little of both.
So it follows that many of us look for a community to support us as we practice that most solitary of arts. Meanwhile, the men peck away at their short stories and novels at their lonely desks, chain smoking and swilling whiskey, getting up only for the occasional trip to the local saloon or big game hunting expedition.
2. Women tend to seek approval to a greater degree than men. For better or for worse, and probably due in great part to social/cultural influences, I think that women are more likely to want external validation for their choices and abilities. Enter the writing workshop. (Oh, the irony…) Seriously, though—scathing critiques aside, which, admittedly, don’t happen too often in Grub classes, as it’s a culture that favors gentle and constructive criticism—a writing class is an opportunity to be recognized for what you do well, or are learning to well.
It’s also, by the fact of its very existence, an affirmation of writing: Yes, it’s worth your time and energy to do this. No, you’re not crazy to try it. Well, yes, maybe you are crazy, but so are the rest of us, so you’re in good company. (And, by the way, your shoes are adorable. Where did you get them?)
Men? Well, I think they’re a little more likely to say screw what anyone else thinks. I’m just going to do this, dammit. I don’t have to ask for directions, so why should I have to ask anyone to tell me how to write? Or maybe they just pretend that’s what they think. To conform to societal expectations of manly self-sufficiency and a romantic vision of how the Great Male Writers write/wrote. Think Hemingway ever took a writing class? The Johns Cheever or Updike? Pshaw!
Whatever the case may be, there are times when I find myself very jealous of this sort of confidence (or arrogance, if I’m feeling less charitable, or if the person in question is a jerk.) Maybe all of us gals could do with a bit more of it—and not just in writing. Of course, then we’d risk being called bitches, battleaxes, ball-breakers, and all the rest.
Hm. I seem to be getting a little off course here. I’m starting to sound like a college freshman after her first Women’s Studies 101 class.
So, I’ll stop and open it up to you, the readers. What do you think? Why the gender imbalance in writing classes?