If you’re a single woman under the age of thirty there is one topic that you are allowed to write about without equivocation: dating. If you’re a man there is one topic that when you write about it will get you blacklisted among women: dating. Is there a double standard? I’ll let you be the judge. What I can say is that I’m a college student and I’m a writer. I’m not a typical college student. I’m what people label as a “non-traditional student,” which I guess means that I’m a couple years older than most of my fellow students. I’m also not a typical writer. Writing isn’t something that I do when I have free time or something. Writing is my life. School is what happens in between my marathon writing sessions and occasionally school falls in the middle of a writing session which means that not a whole lot of learning is going to be happening during that time.
Many people are surprised that someone my age is as dedicated to something as I am to writing. What I say to this is: writing is all I have. It’s why I wake up in the morning and it’s what keeps me up at night. I work on projects like any other writer and I’ll write essays when I need to get something off my chest or when the creative ardor sweeps me into a subject that I’ve neglected. Right now that is my personal life; something that I am usually loathed to talk about. Mainly, I want to write about my terrible dating experiences not just because they’re terrible but because many times they’re hilarious. But, I can’t do that. Society has determined that this is something that men simply don’t do or rather shouldn’t do. This is a subject that when I write about it I get labeled affectionately as “that asshole” who needs to be a dick about everything. When women write about their dating experiences however they are cast in a much different light because as a society we have accepted that this is what young women talk about. In many cases men will say that this is all women have to talk about and let me be clear that this is not the argument that I am making.
I attend writing classes and workshops every week. I’m in writers groups and spend a great deal of my time editing the work of peers. What I’ve found is that young women aren’t just encouraged to write about relationships, many times they’re told that this is the best thing that they can write about. When a guy writes about relationships though, holy shit, you’d think someone just went off on a racist rant or something. Now, I get it; society has determined that it is okay for women to write about dating because they’re the sentimental ones and that it is not okay for men to write about it because all we’re interested in is sex. What happens when someone bucks that norm though? I submit my case study for your consideration. A few semesters ago I had an online writing class where I decided to write about relationships as part of my major project for the semester. I didn’t assign names to my characters or gender roles for them. I simply used many different forms of “we,” “they,” and “I.” My teacher thought highly of my work and suggested that I submit it for consideration in our schools annual writing awards. I didn’t think much of it but I submitted my work because I couldn’t think of a reason not to. It should be noted here that my name is Chris and while most people associate that name with a man I quickly found out that some do not. When I received an open letter from the judges asking me to re-write the pieces using gender specific pronouns I was caught off guard.
Most people in college like to go out and party, get drunk and do stupid things, which is fine by me because I’ve exhausted my reserves of stupid decision making. If I make another mistake in my life I’m screwed. Kids in their twenties – and I’m going to call them kids because they sure as hell aren’t adults – either go to school, work, or assume some sort of hybrid David Wooderson role in society a la Dazed and Confused. Some call it a trying time, others call it the time of our lives, and those of us who’ve lived through it call it hell. However, some people contend that your twenties are the most important decade of your life. Life in college for me has been anything but normal. I study harder than my classmates. I read more than anyone save my professors and I dedicate what some have said is an unhealthy amount of time toward understanding my subjects in school. One professor encouraged me to go out there and live life. Who knows what that meant? I do have a personal life for those who like to pry, but I’m not interested in sharing much of it with the world. What I do share is on my terms and will be extremely limited in terms of character identification and details in general. I’m not interested in embarrassing anyone. I just need to tell my story. Some ask why I need to do this and my response is simple: writing is like therapy for me. I need to write in order to get my feelings out there and because a great deal of my identity comes from how I am perceived by my audience it is very important for me to publish my work so that others can read it. This is the long way of saying: “it’s not you, it’s me.”
So, what happened with the writing awards? I withdrew my work from consideration. Why? Because my work shouldn’t be judged based on whether the protagonist is male or female. Because gender shouldn’t play a part in writing anymore than it should play a part in anything else in our society. It annoyed me greatly that they were unwilling to judge my work based on the content contained therein and felt compelled to tell me to clarify which characters were male and which were female so that they could judge the work according to society’s standards instead of a fair standard that should be applied to all writing. Men should be able to write about anything they want to without being judged for it just as women should be able to do the same. If I want to write about my many failed relationships I should have the same right to do so as the many women in my writer’s groups who prepare this material week after week. I don’t want to be stereotyped as that adolescent male who is a jerk for writing about something that wasn’t expected to be written about. I don’t expect that my activities in a relationship will get written about either but oftentimes that winds up happening. I may complain about it, but the truth is that I can provide a counter-point to that narrative because I am also a writer. What I suggest is that we refrain from judging people for what they choose to write about and start doing so based on the content of their writing. I shouldn’t have to apologize for writing about my personal life anymore than women should be forced to apologize for doing likewise. Yes, there is an expectation of privacy but that should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and if you really have a problem with something that is written why not contact the author rather than try to defame them by pointing fingers and making bold assertions that, at least in my case, had absolutely no basis in fact.