I read this because Phyllis Webb mentioned reading it in Talking. In that book, Webb called it an “essay”, and that’s what it is, but it is also a 172-page book. When I think essay, I think a piece of writing I can get through before falling asleep at night. Androgyny was hard work, and I wasted my time. I say that because Heilbrun spends most of the text dissecting literature that is required reading, and I was unfamiliar with most of it.
Fortunately, I was able to get the gist of what she was saying: male novelists should seek inside themselves to temper their creative output with femininity, and female novelists the converse. I’m at a crossroads with my own work where I question the value of this, and of how far I should lean into my understanding of the feminine when writing. This is not something I’m conscious of in the first drafting stages: it comes out in editing. And I’m only conscious of it these days because it was so prevalent in the social media content I was poisoning my brain with for so many years.
I think, as a writer, that if one writes for men, one will get an audience made up of mostly men. If one writes for women, one will get an audience made up of mostly women. And if one tries to write right down the middle… what kind of audience will that produce? If I’m to write for myself, a man, then the choice for me is obvious. Anything else would require degrees of creative artifice that go beyond the basic energies expended in normal drafting, and it’s hard enough for me to muster even those precious sparks. Not only that, but such work would be inevitably disingenuous, to the point of pandering. I don’t think I’d like that one bit.
Perhaps it is enough simply to write, and let the cards fall where they may. If we, as a species, are destined to move towards a sexless, androgenous society that fully embraces the masculine and feminine to such a degree that the product becomes a perfectly balanced creature of aggression held in check by gentleness, then so be it. But that’s not the world we live in, not yet anyway.