My memoir is going to be total chick-lit.
You know. One of those books about women and their lady-friendships and their girly feelings and their search for silly woman things like self-love.
My memoir is going to be chick-lit, because the story of my life is the story of my female friendships.
The story of my life is the story of a girl growing up into a strong woman, supported and encouraged by other girls finding their own paths to strong womanhood. It is a tale of sleepovers, long letters, late-night phone calls, and tearful hugs. It is a story of love surpassing distance, and time, and monumental life changes.
It is a story that will get published (if it is published at all) as a fluffy, sentimental “beach read.” Its cover will be a gently-glowing, airbrushed, extreme closeup on an attractive woman. Maybe she will be silhouetted by a sunset, on a beach. Maybe it will be just her hands, forming a heart-shape. Maybe she will be leaning out the sunroof of a car, arms spread wide in freedom!
The title will end up as something like “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Vaginas” or maybe “Chocolate Frosting and ALSO FEELINGS, AMIRITE LADIES.”
The vast majority of men will never so much as pick up my memoir, because everything from the cover to the title to its position on the bookstore shelf will indicate that this is a book by ladies, for ladies. Because I am (obviously) a brilliant writer, my memoir will be featured in Oprah’s Book Club, and possibly be optioned for a movie. But it will never be reviewed by the New York Times, because books by ladies, for ladies, are not important enough to get reviewed in the New York Times.
And that, my friends, is a damn shame.
Because my memoir is going to be freaking brilliant. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It will make you believe again in the power of friendship and the triumph of the human spirit. It may genuinely change your life, that’s how good it’s going to be.
So why should it be packaged in a way that excludes and discourages half the population from reading it? These men and boys, they deserve the tears and laughter and wisdom that my memoir will bring them. They deserve the chance to stumble upon it, to read about it in the New York Times Book Review, to read it openly and tell their friends about it, without fear of being ridiculed for their lack of “manliness.”
And not to mention, my memoir deserves to be packaged in a way that communicates its importance, or at the very least allows it to speak for itself – not in a way that declares it to be sentimental woman-fluff.
Why should it be silly, or fluffy, or unimportant, that the story of my life is the story of my female friendships? That the story of my life should be a story of strong women, growing and learning and laughing together?
Here I am in a hospital bed, exhausted from chemotherapy. Here are these women, with me. They flew and drove for hours to be there, supporting me. The curled up in bed with me and held my hands. They strengthened me and brought laughter and love into the darkness.
This is important.
Here we are, years later, at a dear friend’s wedding. We will be at all of each others’ weddings. Celebrating the best times of our lives together, as we have pulled together through the worst times.
This is important.
These friendships have held me together at the worst points in my life. These women are the people I call when I am crying too hard to speak. They are the people I call when I am falling in love and delirious with a combination of terror and delight. They are the people I call when I don’t know what to do with my life, when I have forgotten who I am or who I am trying to be.
How, exactly, is that unimportant? And what, exactly, about my story should make it inaccessible or uninteresting to half the population?
The cultural assumption that men cannot and should not be interested in friendships that involve hours of heartfelt talks, lengthy hugs, and shared tears is a) utter horseshit and b) limiting and cruel to men.
Imagine this: two men are sitting together. One man is visibly upset, and telling the other man a long story about the thing he is upset about, or sharing a highly emotional revelation. Their body language is open, and oriented towards each other. They are making eye contact. They are holding hands. At the end of the emotional revelation, the two men hug. The supportive man says “I believe in you, and I love you. I’m sorry you’re going through this.”
Maybe you have lived this scene, or know male friends who have friendships that look like this. But I bet you have never seen anything like it portrayed in movies, or television, or most even (probably) books.
You might see a narrative of male friendship that looks like this: Two men sit at a bar together, facing forward and not making eye contact. They are both drinking steadily, almost grimly. One man tersely offers a piece of information that is upsetting him, but does not expound on his feelings about it. The other man says something like “That sucks” or “Stop being a pussy” and punches him on the arm, by which we are all meant to know that he is being supportive in his manly way. Then they drink some more.
And we are all led to believe that this is an especially sentimental scene. A less sentimental narrative of male friendship pretty much looks like The Hangover.
The only time men are allowed to show gentleness or compassion for each other in mainstream cultural narratives is if they are gay (and therefore feminized, and therefore marginalized).
And that really, really pisses me off. Because I can’t imagine going through life without the hundreds of explicitly supportive, emotional interactions that I have had with my friends, both male and female. I can’t imagine making it through the shit I’ve been through without having the option to break down sometimes, without shame. Without having the option to ask my friends for help, to share my troubles, to get as many hugs as I need.
Why do we not have a single representation of these kinds of friendships for men? Why are the representations we do have – those packaged exclusively for women – viewed as inferior and unworthy of serious attention?
I don’t have the answers today. But I do have the start to a seriously kick-ass memoir, and when I finish it, the publishing world had better watch out.