Friday Speak Out!: Which Dude has the 'Strongest Female Voice?'
By K. Alan Leitch
The community here at WOW, who could be forgiven if they chose to exclude me, have instead been the most supportive I have found toward my fledgling efforts as a writer. The problem I have fitting in, you see--here, and in most contemporary writing groups--is that I am from the very gender that may have caused the need for this organization. That's right: I am a man.
Before you resent the many unfair advantages my gender admittedly brings me, however, take five minutes to browse through the wish-lists of any random sampling of agents. If you parsed them for the most common phrase that occurs, I would place a bet on that phrase being what agents describe as, 'Strong Female Voices.' As a die-hard fan of Die Hard, I think you can understand how the expectation to write these might intimidate me.
So... what's a boy to do?
Setting aside for a moment the many interpretations of what constitutes 'Voice,' I'd like, instead, to consider what distinguishes female voice from male. Is it sensitivity? Empathy? Uncertainty? Surely not, as these are all stereotypes, and as such imply weakness rather than strength. Is the answer, then, to invert these: to conjure female voices that are distant, or have trouble expressing feelings? I think anyone, of any gender, would have to agree that is not 'strength,' either.
After raising so many questions, I can't help but shrug at the agents, and ask them what it is that they think makes a female voice strong. The agents, sadly, generally answer this question with a form-letter rejection. I'm not sure they know the answer.
I do know that I have more work to do than simply featuring female protagonists and narrators. My voice has been male for so long--longer than I care to admit--that the narrator of Labels is likely to whine too much about some sniffles while she copes with her glimpses of wrongdoings in the gazes of others; the protagonist of Death Imitates Art risks being too focused on her painting to notice the murders going on around her; and Olivia of Olympus might just be a little bit too harshly critical of the bumbling Greek gods she is trying to defeat. Perhaps a female voice needs to rise above these typical areas of male weakness... perhaps it needs to be stronger in every way than the male voices around it.
Or, perhaps, every voice is just a voice, carrying with it all the persistence and frailty endemic to this species that women share with men.
Maybe 'Strong Female Voices' are simply those that seem the most... human.
* * *
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!