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Sweetbitter: On Womanhood and Writing
Or, Girlhood, Ambition, and the Nuance of Being a Woman
I think often of the trials, delights, tragedies, and nuances of being a woman, especially of the journey that is girlhood to womanhood and how both manifest in a draw of blood and loss, of hope and love. “Being a woman” isn’t a one-off—this isn’t to say that parts of being a woman aren't universal, but that each woman experiences womanhood in a niche and defining way based on a cocktail of her culture, girlhood, griefs, ambitions, traumas, privileges, and more. But there is universality in hearing womanhood and going yes, I too have experienced this divine grief.
Girlhood is a gift. Lately, I’ve been hearing the phrase “We were just girls together,” and it takes me back to my own childhood: swinging in the backyard with my neighbor, writing stories with my best friend, braiding my sister’s hair, exchanging fears and hopes with girls I no longer know. We were just girls together. Girls that knew the world was terrible to women and who were catcalled before we even first bled, girls who wanted to explore the world and escaped into books and who had no idea just how girlhood could be so easily taken from us. But we knew each other like no other and in that is the gift of girlhood—that camaraderie of being girls together.
But girlhood ends, and womanhood begins. I’m halfway to 25 and it’s a terrible wonderful thing. Just a few weeks ago, I watched the Barbie movie and found myself so thankful for it. The speech given by America Ferrera’s character not only rang true for my personal experiences, but it put a voice to what I’m sure many of us have been thinking: womanhood is a series of hypocritical and contradictory expectations we can’t escape (yet). Barbie’s reflection on her own standing in the world also stayed with me as she realized she wanted to be more than just someone’s idea: “I want to do the imagining, not be the idea.” Girlhood is the movement from imagining to enacting our own ideas, if we’re given the chance, and I fear standing still in the pressure put on women from the world. If we’re too ambitious, we’re trouble. If we don’t have any ideas of our own, we’re boring and wasting our time. If we hesitate, we’re not cut out (publishing, I’m looking at you and your cutthroat tendencies here). If we know exactly what we want and how we want to get it, we’re entitled. There is no way to engage with the world that hits the mark. We’re always losing the score in one way or another, and trying to reconcile that with our own personal definitions of success and happiness can be a challenge. It’s looking in a mirror and realizing no one will see you, or your life, the way you do—or maybe that you aren’t seeing yourself correctly either because someone else has blurred the mirror.
On Writing and Womanhood
”Paradox: Woman and Writer are separate categories; but in any individual woman writer, they are inseparable.” - Margaret Atwood, On Being a Woman Writer, 1976.
Being a woman who writes is another niche experience all on its own. Most of the women I’ve looked up to throughout my life are writers: Taylor Swift (yes, she is a songwriter, too), Sappho, Audre Lorde, Mary Shelley, V.E. Schwab, Anne Carson, Gabriela Mistral, and countless others. I often consider how these women have navigated their lives and their writings with the nuances that come with womanhood, and what the future holds for women writers like myself and others.
I agree with Atwood that historically being a woman and being a writer has been perceived as separate entities in various dialogues. Men are permitted to be writers while we are women who write, female writers. You get the idea. Anything we do is painted as the “female” version of it, and we are not permitted in the same space as men who are allowed to occupy any talent or hobby or occupation they want without their gender being tied to it. There’s this collective subconscious, sometimes conscious and explicit, undercurrent that anything women do is not enough, that femininity and womanhood undermines our successes and ambitions and works. I consider here the women that throughout history have used aliases to publish their works or whose works were stolen by their husbands, published in their names instead. For marginalized and minority women, this fate of erasure and undermining is worse and harsher, and prevails still.
I do not have answers, only dialogue and reflection. Being a woman does, in fact, infiltrate my literary works. I enjoy works in which I see myself within them such as women written by women. As I writer, I enjoy the same. I write women who are explicit in their womanhood. I write “female rage.” I write women who are messy and sometimes terrible, who love with their hearts wide open, women who are afraid to love, women who know being a woman is an experience that complicates how they will engage with their world. In doing so, I’m acknowledging that womanhood is crucial in my own life, and in the ever-changing dialogue of the world. I do so to show that we are here, that womanhood is not always a treacherous thing full of challenges. That there is joy and love and truth, too. That womanhood is one aspect of the human spectrum and it is just as important as any other. And this isn’t to say that all we are is women. We’re also writers, inventors, creatives, and whatever else we want to be and not simply the female version of these roles.
We are the imaginers, and not simply the ideas.
What I Read in July
In July, I was privileged to read five books, including two ARCs (BRING ME YOUR MIDNIGHT and TOGETHER WE ROT). I immensely enjoyed SABRINA AND CORINA, a short story collection that explored the stories and lives of various women in Colorado, which I cannot recommend more from a craft perspective. But if you’re looking for a good read, I’d recommend picking up any of these five books.
TOGETHER WE ROT also comes out THIS month, so there’s still time to preorder! TWR is a paranormal horror written by the lovely Skyla Arndt. I’ve included below the preorder campaign info along with my review.
TOGETHER WE ROT preorder campaign:
This month, I’m looking forward to reading WHAT THE RIVER KNOWS by Isabel Ibañez and whatever else I can get my hands on before I return to university toward the end of the month.
THE LIBRARY OF SHADOWS
I also need to share that today officially marks one month until the release of THE LIBRARY OF SHADOWS by Rachel Moore! I adored this paranormal romcom with mystery elements, and everyone needs to read it ASAP. Mateo is one of my favorite characters of all-time, and I enjoyed the dark academia aspects that will make it the perfect fall read. Plus, I’m a sucker for any story that involves archives (yes, I’m a nerd).
THE LIBRARY OF SHADOWS preorder campaign: https://twitter.com/byrachelmoore/status/1674102598138200066
Writing Snippet: #SaintWIP
Since July, I’ve been querying my young adult romantic fantasy TROUBLE BECOMES US ALL. As we all know, querying can be a slow and time-consuming process and often one that embodies the phrase “hurry up and wait.” While I’m waiting, I’ve begun working on a new project that for now I’ll refer to as Saint WIP. This new project is a YA (NA, really) dark fantasy that explores the themes of reclamation, consent, power dynamics, and female rage. This is a story I’ve carried in my heart for a couple of years now, one I knew I’d want to write after I finished with TBUA. I’m enjoying exploring this new story and getting to know my main characters, Adelaide and Elias. You’ll soon meet them too.
For now, I hope you enjoy this snippet from Adelaide’s perspective. Until September.
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