The Hazards of Writing While Female
Why has the literary world gone crazy for Sally Rooney? Is it her age—28? Is it her two acclaimed novels, Conversations With Friends and Normal People? Or is it her “sensuous lips”?
According to the Swiss critic Martin Ebel, it is all three. In a recent articlepraising Rooney’s work, he wrote that the hype around her was helped by “promising” photographs where she “looks like a startled deer with sensuous lips.” The phrasing prompted a Twitter hashtag—#dichterdran, meaning “that’s more like it”—that was full of sarcastic suggestions for how male authors could be written about in future reviews.
Ebel’s piece points to a larger problem in the media: an asymmetric value system where men do, and women are. Elif Shafak, the author of 10 novels including 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, told me that she was once interviewed by an American writer in Istanbul. They had a wide-ranging conversation about literature, history, and politics, “and then when his travel book was published, I saw in horror that he had mostly written about what he thought I looked like.” In Shafak’s telling, “a male novelist is primarily a novelist. Nobody talks about his gender. But a woman novelist is primarily a woman.”